Chris_Baker, on 07 April 2012 - 09:08 AM, said:
This is a book well worth reading for its scholarship and insight into how the army worked. Personally while I agree with the author that things are not black and white and there are aspects of Haking's work that were positive and that should be recognised as such, the blood-soaked ground of Aubers, Fromelles and Richebourg brings me back. Had for example Plumer been at XI Corps for these actions, would they have been as ill conceived, ill planned and ill executed? Even with the benefit of Michael Senior's excellent work on Haking, I doubt it.
I agree about the scholarship. This, coupled with the author's writing style, makes the book easy to read as well as very informative. Senior quotes extensively from primary sources, particularly GHQ, army and corps level orders and other associated documents (such as the records of meetings between commanders). As Chris points out, this information allows the reader to gain insights into how various levels of command operated in the war. This information needs to be heavily caveated, however. Senior himself notes that the study of Haking is just that. On the one hand, Senior is rightly cautious about extending insights gained from such a study more widely across the British army. On the other hand, he does make several general conclusions (pardon the pun) that should be treated with caution.
Haking had a particular command style. Senior brings this out very well. It is not surprising that Haking never rose higher in the command structure, bearing in mind that he did serve as acting commander of First Army for a short period but the War Office did not ratify Haig's recommendation for Haking to retain this role. I think it is equally significant that Haking's Corps never served in an active part of the Western front, apart from the defensive operations in response to Operation Georgette and the very late phase of the last 100 days. Some of Senior's comments about corps-style command must be taken in this context IMHO. I have studied corps-level war diaries across several corps and in relation to numerous battles. While it is true that orders down the chain mirrored what came from further up the chain, other corps commanders were more likely to influence army and GHQ levels of command than Haking illustrates. In many battles, this meant that what came down the chain had already been influenced by what higher level commanders had already received by way of feedback, analysis, etc from subordinates. Haking does not come across in this way. This adds further insight into his character and how he behaved as a 'dutiful soldier'. It means, however, that Senior's analysis must be regarded in this context.
On the issue of Aubers, Fromelles and Richebourg, I don't have a particular opinion FWIIW. It was very interesting that Senior contrasted Fromelles with an equivalent size operation mounted by Haking's Corps in 1918, following the Spring offensives. The comparison is excellent and well worth reading. On whether Plumer would have handled Fromelles better, there is a fascinating quote in relation to Plumer and Haking. When Haking was planning an operation, he sought support from Plumer whose Army was operating on Haking's left flank. With all the demands at that time, Plumer had to turn down requests for extra artillery support. Plumer's reply noted that Haking would have enough to mount the operation successfully when Haking, quite rightly, felt this wasn't the case.
An excellent book and highly recommended.