Talk:Battle of the Ancre

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Where are they?Keith-264 (talk) 22:09, 2 December 2012 (UTC)


Have added more detail and narrative.Keith-264 (talk) 14:37, 8 December 2012 (UTC) More this weekend.Keith-264 (talk) 11:46, 10 December 2012 (UTC)

14-15 Nov narrative to do.Keith-264 (talk) 18:20, 10 December 2012 (UTC)


Paul, I reverted your edit temporarily as it's quite a significant point for the historioraphy of the battle and I think that two sources shouldn't be overruled by one. By coincidence I remembered my copy of P & W today and dug it out so I'll look at it later with a view to agreeing a form of words we can both accept. I'm inclined to put both views as a list. Fair enough?Keith-264 (talk) 16:39, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

No, it isn't fair enough. You can't expect to write whatever you like and then delete other people's contributions, under the pretence that there is "no consensus", until they obtain your permission to make changes. Reverting perfectly valid edits is inflammatory behaviour and best avoided.
You'd managed to add a footnote which gave the impression that "some sources" claim that the attack was motivated by political reasons. In this case the Chantilly Conference business is documented by at least two bits of contemporary evidence (Haig's diary and the Neil Malcolm memo, which you'll also find quoted in Farrar-Hockley's 1975 biog of Gough) - I don't have easy access to any of Gough's memoirs so I'm unable to comment on whether he felt himself under pressure, but I'm sure you're aware that the British Army at that time had a pretty ruthless culture of sacking officers, however senior, who refused to attack without very good reason.
You'd also misquoted Philpott on this topic - the page in question expresses no opinion one way or the other on whether the renewed attack was necessary for Chantilly-related reasons.
I have no idea of what you mean by "two sources overriding one" or your comments in the edit summary about "the source it comes from".Paulturtle (talk) 17:39, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

You admitted ignorance in your edit summary and call paraphrase a misquote. I question your good faith and have re-reverted accordingly.Keith-264 (talk) 17:56, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

No, Robin Prior's view that Gough was under pressure to attack is perfectly valid, and I was merely making an informed speculation as to where further confirmation might be sought. Historians seldom invent things altogether (which is why it is one of the worst forms of amateurishness to grandly announce that some historian or other is "conjecturing" and that this is "disproved" by a single document that X has seen - the narrative will have formed over time from all sorts of diaries, documents and contemporary recollections). You have "paraphrased" Philpott to the point of distorting his meaning, even if this was a genuine case of reading what you want to read into it, and added it to a footnote which claims that "some sources" claim the attack was politically motivated and then suggests that this is wrong.
Anyway, the bottom line is that I made a perfectly valid edit, cited to the works of two respected contemporary historians, pointing out that that political motivations of the attack are found in at least two contemporary records, which you have now attempted to revert twice. It's just not acceptable for you to behave in this way, and it's a great pity that you have to be so childish.Paulturtle (talk) 18:19, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

No you didn't and if you can promote some historians over others, so can I or justify it with "informed speculation". What I want to do is study all the sources with a view to establishing consensus as I mentioned above and leave the text alone in the meantime. This isn't a point scoring competition. As for P & W, where are the French and Germans? Why emphasise Hiag's plans for the 4th Reserve and 3rd armies pp 263-265 in detail yet gloss over the drastic reduction in the plans by 7 October p 271? Far too much of P & W reads like polemic with the French and Germans out to lunch. I recommend a look at Sheldon for a view of the state the Germans were in and Philpott too for the French side of things and the dubious quality of German reinforcements. In the meantime I have put the text back to its original state and hope that you'll agree to discuss the sources here.Keith-264 (talk) 18:45, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

I was rather under the impression you would get into trouble at this point for repeated hitting of the "revert" key, and I most certainly did make a perfectly valid edit - citing the works of two respected contemporary historians, pointing out that that political motivations of the attack are found in at least two contemporary records - and it is simply not acceptable for you to attempt to delete those facts, along with wholly unjustified accusations of bad faith - for which, incidentally, you still owe me an apology - no matter how you dress it up with nonsense about "seeking consensus". Would you like me to delete all the edits you have made here and on the Somme page, on the grounds that you did not first "obtain consensus" and "invite you to discuss the matter"? I am not "promoting some historians over others" - I am not stopping you from getting your information from the Official History or any work of that vintage.
As it stands at the moment you are attempting to prevent me from posting perfectly valid information and attempting to allow a misleading footnote to stand ("some sources" say Haig put pressure on Gough, Kiggell lobbied the OH to say this had been his fault, followed by a "cited" sentence from Philpott stating, as if it were fact, that an attack was necessary - in fact Philpott's little para is presenting, without comment, the supposed case that the attack was necessary for political reasons - he makes no comment one way or the other although I suppose one could infer that he doesn't entirely agree).
I am perfectly happy to discuss "sources" with you. Whether Prior is too anti-Haig or whether Sheldon and Philpott contains more material on the German and French side of things may or may not be true but it simply isn't the point. It does not alter the fact that contemporary evidence confirms that Gough was under pressure from Haig and Kiggell to launch an attack for political reasons. If your boss and his deputy turn up separately at your desk and "urge" you to do something, it is normally a good idea to do it, unless you have exceptionally good reasons.Paulturtle (talk) 21:19, 19 December 2012 (UTC)


my comments added in indents.Paulturtle (talk) 15:44, 20 December 2012 (UTC)

Terraine 'Haig', pp. 228-229, no mention of politics.

Sloppy of Terraine then. Some documents did not become available until later in the 1960s, after TES was written, but the Haig diary quote in contention is in the 1953 Blake edition. I used to love Terraine’s books when I was younger, although nowadays I find it easier to see why other historians often regarded him as such a laughing-stock for much of his life.

Sheldon 'Somme', pp. 371-372, parochial German concerns tending to bear out Beach.

Strictly speaking, that is not directly relevent. Haig may or may not have entered into an attack on the basis of intelligence, but whether the intelligence was accurate or known to be accurate is a separate issue – it does not alter the factual question of why he entered into the attack.

Beach 'Intelligence', pp. 178-179, information about state of Germans better quality than earlier in the battle and favoured continuation of battle.

Those pages refer to actions in October – Haig scaling down his plans for spectacular cavalry exploitation, but nonetheless Germans supposedly demoralised and surrendering freely etc etc (quite a well-known quote … as I’ve explained to you a number of times, very little of this stuff is anywhere near as “new” as you, in your newness to the subject, once imagined it to be).
Beach discusses November on p180 – “At the end of October GHQ seems to have been primarily encouraged by a perception that attrition had worn away the German Army’s will to fight. This generalised assessment perhaps contributed to the decision to prosecute operations into November but other fresh or specific intelligence to justify their continuance is not apparent.”(italics added) Nothing about politics one way or the other, but then you wouldn't expect there to be - it's a thesis about intelligence.

Simpson 'Corps Command', pp 75-77, GHQ applied pressure due to the conference, reference "Fifth Army S.G.72 81 Memorandum on Operations. 13th November, 1916." given in support, containing details of different opinions on the state of the ground, Fanshawe on the timing and referral of this to Jacob and the divisional commanders, no details on any political motive. Fifth Army S.G. 72 90 WO 95/518, PRO. (16 Nov) on Fanshawe wanting to attack again, discussion of tactical details no politics.

That is the Neill Malcolm memo to which P&W and Farrar-Hockley refer, unless he wrote another with the same title on the same day. Well then, it is a fact that GHQ put pressure on due to Chantilly, although other factors were also taken into account.

Green, 'Writing', p. 64, Kiggell (1938) claims to originate mention of political ramifications re Ancre (Lloyd G) and wants Haig's mentioning of this point to Gough omitted from OH because of ammunition for detractors. Contradicts Travers on nobbling of the OH narrative.

Kiggell’s claims are interesting, worthy of inclusion in the article and possibly even true. Nonetheless, he persuaded Haig (if that’s what happened) enough for the man to write it in his diary.

OH, pp. 476-477, Haig mentions politics to Gough but doesn't want too many risks taken, questions Gough on details of the "limited operation" substituted for the big plan around 7 October, pp. 456-457, (big plan described, p. 427).

Doughty, 'Pyrrhic', pp. 304-305, September, Joffre insisted on battle going on, Robertson and Haig agreed, battle fizzled out in November. No mention of politics.

Yes, I checked Doughty yesterday to see if there was any evidence of Joffre putting pressure to attack as late as November. As you say, Doughty doesn’t present any (which is worse – it suggests, if true, that DH was concerned with saving his own face even though the French were past caring) but Joffre had his own problems by then. None of that alters the facts of the Haig diary entry and the Neill Malcolm memo.

Sheffield, 'Haig', pp. 193-194, time for one more effort before winter, modest success, strengthened Haig's hand at the conference.

So politics was a factor then. Given he edited the 2005 edition Haig diary it would be a bit remiss if he didn’t think so.

Farndale, 'RA', pp. 154-155, all artillery, no politics.

Of no relevance then.

Philpott, 'Bloody', p. 414-416, Ancre demonstrated who won the Somme. Political "suggestion" followed by description of the details of the ["political motives" ascribed. Seems to be a slap at P & W going by references]. Detailed description of the tactical circumstances of the battle by comparison with 1 July, 7,000 p.o.w.; quotes from Ludendorff, Blunden, Waterhouse that Germans beaten.

Although this book contains a commendable amount of information about the French role, it is in places just as much a tendentious polemic as you accuse other books of being, (eg. asserting that the Ancre “proved who had won” and that it was all about attrition) and it’s a great pity you can’t see that. Blunden and Waterhouse were both junior officers and their memories do not tell us anything other than that the Tommies on the ground thought they had won a tactical success (and if one cared to look, there may be memoirs cursing the whole operation). They are not a source for whether or not it was worth the effort, still less why it was entered into. Ludendorff said that the Germans had suffered “a heavy blow”, not that they were beaten.

P & W 292-294, political, cynical, petty, incompetent (Cavalry!). No discussion of Haig at politico-strategic level of war, Gough operations-tactics, all Haig involvement for disreputable reasons, no discussion of other schools of thought. Seems to be based on a breakthrough-manoeuvre model of battle rather than attrition. Why would Haig need a cosmetic victory in Nov when he'd seen Joffre off since 1 July?Keith-264 (talk) 23:11, 19 December 2012 (UTC)

There is quite a lot of discussion in this and other Prior books about the UK political-strategic background, although I don’t entirely agree with it and as you quite rightly say it is too Anglocentric. He does, towards the end, discuss the Anglo-German casualty rates and how it is debatable whether the Somme was actually much of an attritional success.
It is based on the maneouvre-wearing out-breakthrough-pursuit model, because that is how Haig thought, based on the principles of Napoleon and Stonewall Jackson which he was taught at staff college, as evidenced throughout his writings and as picked up on by numerous historians over the years (“breakthrough”, of which people very often talked until at least early 1917 if not later, is sometimes rendered as “breaking the enemy line”, i.e disintegration of the enemy as used to be suffered by Napoleonic armies - nobody was really expecting trench warfare – Haig once wrote that the pursuit from Marne to Aisne in Sep 1914 was the only bit of “normal” war in ww1). That is why in the run-up to 1 July 1916 he wrote of preparing for an “1806” pursuit, i.e. a total disintegration of the German Army like the Prussians after Jena, and why he drew up plans for a spectacular pursuit after Flers-Courcelette – so well-documented that even Philpott can’t avoid mentioning them. Robertson and Kitchener were both more cautious. Now, of course one can debate how much of this was “contingency planning”, but you can’t wish it away altogether, or assume that Haig somehow foresaw that the German Armies would have shuffled back shoulder-to-shoulder like they actually did in 1918 (to deal with a point which I once recall you picking up from some internet forum or other), or misread his repeated comments (even as late as October 1918!) that the Germans clearly weren’t beaten yet and needed more wearing out etc etc that he aimed to win the war solely by wearing them out. In Haig’s mind, attrition was a prelude to a breakthrough which never happened, not an end in itself. To quote Prior himself, such a claim misrepresents both what he aimed to achieve and what he claimed to have achieved (German losses exceeding Allied, which as we know they didn’t). “It may be what he actually achieved, but that is a different matter”.
To which I also add J.P. Harris. p286 et ff he discusses how Haig “may have been” under political pressure and provides a footnote referring to the Haig diary entry and (eureka! My informed guess seems to have been on the money) Gough’s 1931 book “The Fifth Army”. He writes about how Haig had nursed unrealistic hopes of a spectacular and possibly even war-winning breakthrough at Flers-Courcelette, and how he kept on insisting on further attacks throughout October (Transloy Ridges) despite the state of the ground, until Cavan demanded a halt. More germane to this discussion, he also writes that the final attack on the Ancre was mainly Gough’s initiative but Haig was happy to give the go-ahead, and this small success helped to save his face.

Political ramifications[edit]

I have tried to accommodate your views about the politics of the battle by listing recent judgements as they refer to the OH version. I have put the lot in a note since it's a lot of text and because we have indulged in modest OR. I hope that you are willing to accept this as an attempt to reach agreement to disagree if nothing else. Oh, I notice that some of our sources are different so I assume that your Prior takes the same line as my P & W.Keith-264 (talk) 11:00, 20 December 2012 (UTC)

My views are neither here nor there, and the bottom line is that Kiggell turned up at Fifth Army HQ and put pressure on them, and Haig told Gough that an attack would help with Romania, Russia and Chantilly (in that order), and it mattered enough to him to record it in his diary. Those are documented facts, end of story.
That said, we’re making progress at last, although I don’t see any basis for your claim that I am engaged in “modest OR”, although I’m sorry to say that you yourself do seem to be rather guilty of this on this and other occasions. I have spent a great deal of time replying to this at length, and am happy to accept that you are acting in good faith (a greater courtesy than you extended to me), and are putting in a good deal of honest, if at times misguided, effort, although it’s a pity that it has to be accompanied by the sort of disagreeable behaviour exhibited above – trying to stop me from editing (even if cloaked in talk about “seeking consensus”), and slinging out wild and faintly lunatic accusations that I am not acting in good faith, am not making a valid edit etc etc.
My thoughts on what you’ve added:
This is far too much to go into a footnote. It should be a para in the article.
I wouldn’t go as far as to claim that this is “a dispute” – I do not see any modern historians who explicitly deny that politics may have been a factor. Many of the books you’ve mentioned above don’t discuss the matter one way or the other, whilst Philpott presents the political arguments without overt comment. It really would be bad OR to create a false impression, inviting the general reader to assume that the political factors were just some conjecture which is “not accepted”. (Whatever one thinks about the political factors, incidentally, it ought to be flagging up warning signs that although GHQ and its press allies were keen to trumpet the Somme as a victory, this view was not, in private, as universally and unequivocally held as might be thought from a cursory reading of Philpott.)
Prior & Wilson “claim” is a bit weaselly.
Philpott’s views (actually, they are tendentious “claims” but the article can be a bit more neutral) on the effects of the Ancre are perfectly quotable, but don’t belong in this section. They should be in a separate section on the effects of the battle. They have no direct relevance to the question as to why it was entered into (what if it had been a total tactical failure?).
Similarly, the comments about Philpott “directly contradicting” P&W are a bit weaselly and not entirely relevant as they refer to the War Committee meeting on 9 October, at which the politicians declined to discuss Haig’s claim that “far reaching results” were possible in the near future. P&W dismiss this claim as “flights of fancy” and is critical of them for not taking him up on it as they were too busy bickering about Salonika, Romania or whatever – a great many historians have, after all, taken the line that the Somme should have been called off earlier – whereas Philpott argues that far-reaching results were still possible. I think that’s probably a somewhat fairer way of putting it, and this probably ought to go into an article on the early October battles.
The fate of Romania – yep, that was indeed the main bone of contention, in the way that disputes sometimes latch onto silly little things. No need to present it as a claim of Philpott.
Your discussion of the Haig diary entry is a bit off – yes, Haig did commune with his diary about political concerns (the antics of French and Churchill, worries re Joffre etc) on those previous occasions, but that is a bit different from turning up at an Army HQ and urging the GOC to attack for political reasons, which is what we are concerned with here.
I note that on your recent Somme changes you managed to drop Haig’s hopes for a spectacular and possibly even war-winning breakthrough at Flers-Courcelette from the main page (to be fair, it is in the sub-article, but it’s important enough to need a sentence mentioning it in the main page). It also seems to me that the retreat to the Hindenburg Line is being discussed in a somewhat misleading way – my recollection is that the German commanders on the spot thought their positions tenable, but they were overruled by Ludendorff as troop shortages (to which the Somme was a partial, but not the sole, contributor) made a line-shortening necessary. IIRC this is in Sheldon’s book on the Somme. So these ought to go in (or back in, in the case of the former).Paulturtle (talk) 15:44, 20 December 2012 (UTC)
Does J.P. Harris have anything to say about the Ancre? Keith-264 (talk) 08:26, 21 December 2012 (UTC)
P. 268 "Fortunately from the point of view of British prestige...." P. 270 has the initiative for the attack coming from Gough.(!)Keith-264 (talk) 08:54, 21 December 2012 (UTC)


Altered sources from orig pub year to edition years, added maps and pics, snippet from new source, isbn-13d the references.Keith-264 (talk) 11:47, 25 March 2017 (UTC)