In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Douglas Haig

  • Introduction
  • Published Primary Sources
  • Personal Memoirs of Haig
  • General Biographies
  • Military Biographies: Studies of Haig’s Generalship
  • Haig before the First World War
  • Haig and Military Operations in 1914
  • Haig and Military Operations in 1915
  • Haig and Military Operations in 1916
  • Haig and Military Operations in 1917
  • Haig and Military Operations in 1918
  • Haig and Military Technology
  • Haig, Military Thought, Operational Art, and Tactics
  • Haig and Intelligence
  • Haig, Logistics, and Communications
  • Haig and Other British Generals
  • Haig and the Staff
  • Haig, Politicians, and the Press
  • Haig and Allies
  • Haig and the British Empire
  • Haig’s Troops
  • Haig’s Last Days
  • Haig and the Official Histories
  • Haig, “Myths,” and “Myth Busting”

Military History Douglas Haig
J.P. Harris
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0220


A Scot, born in Edinburgh into a family made wealthy by distilling whisky, Douglas Haig (b. 1861–d. 1928) is historically important because he held senior commands in the British army in the First World War. A professional army officer, he served on the Western Front throughout the war, rising to command the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from 19 December 1915 to 15 April 1919. Haig’s BEF remains the largest military force the United Kingdom has ever put in the field, and the Western Front was the bloodiest theater of operations in what is still (in terms of British and British Empire casualties) its bloodiest war. The BEF played a major part in Germany’s defeat in 1918. Yet controversy surrounded Haig’s command of it from the outset, became more intense after the opening of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916, and has never entirely ceased. Critics have alleged that Haig’s methods were wasteful of the lives of his troops, while defenders have tended to see the heavy losses as inevitable and have commended Haig as a highly professional, resolute, and ultimately victorious commander. Haig is an iconic figure who has come to symbolize a range of institutions, actions, and approaches, all of which were (and some still are) highly emotive: the British Empire; the British army as an institution: British involvement in the First World War and British military concentration on the Western Front (confronting the major enemy directly as opposed to a peripheral strategy of “indirect approach”) being among these. Only when biographers and historians have penetrated through Haig the icon and examined Haig the individual is it possible for them fairly to assess his specific contribution to British and world history. This has not been easy, and while scholars agree on most of the facts about him, their judgments of him still vary considerably.

Published Primary Sources

Haig kept diaries for much of his life and corresponded with many important people, including royalty. Scott 2006 is very helpful on Haig’s pre–First World War years. Boraston 1919 presents Haig’s official view of the war while he was commander-in-chief. There are different versions of Haig’s World War I diaries. Haig and Lady Haig edited them after the war, expanding some entries and, in some cases, endeavoring to put Haig in a better light. Blake 1952 was very useful to scholars in its day. It is now largely superseded because it is based on the typescript version of the diaries, edited after the war. Sheffield and Bourne 2005 uses the original, manuscript version and is enormously useful to the modern student of Haig’s career.

  • Blake, Robert, ed. The Private Papers of Douglas Haig 1914–1919. London: Eyre and Spotiswoode, 1952.

    Once indispensable, this edition is now largely superseded by Sheffield and Bourne 2005.

  • Boraston, J. H. Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatches. London: Dent, 1919.

    These represent Haig’s official accounts of his and the BEF’s doings, as presented for public scrutiny, during and just after the First World War. While still useful for Haig’s view of events, they need to be viewed critically.

  • Scott, Douglas, ed. The Preparatory Prologue: Douglas Haig Diaries and Letters 1961–1914. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword, 2006.

    This edition of Haig’s earlier papers, compiled and edited by a member of the family, is most useful to scholars.

  • Sheffield, Gary, and John Bourne, eds. Douglas Haig: War Diaries and Letters 1914–1918. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2005.

    A very scholarly edition of Haig’s First World War papers, useful to all interested in the subject.

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