‘Lions led by donkeys’ How accurate is this assessment of the British army on the western front in the First World War?

8 August 2016

How accurate is this assessment of the British army on the western front in the First World War? The statement ‘lions led by donkeys’ means that there were brave soldiers led by incompetent generals. The statement blames the generals for the number of lives lost, although England did eventually win. The statement is therefore untrue as the generals fulfilled their duty as their army and country were on the winning side. There are many reasons why the generals cannot be blamed, although there are a couple of reasons why this could be true.

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Firstly, the statement ‘Lions led by donkeys’ is an inaccurate assessment of the British army in WW1 because of the technological advances, which made the war unknown. For example, the invention of barbed wire affected the war greatly as the generals’ tactics weren’t up to date with it; Haig’s idea of using shellfire to destroy barbed wire was unsuccessful as shellfire simply picked up barbed wire and dropped it back down again. The new technology made it easier to defend and thus harder to attack. On the other hand, one could say that the statement is true as there was a stalemate, meaning that England lost a lot of men, to gain very little.

This is because their tactics were outdated and they were doing the same things repeatedly- there was no longer an element of surprise. The soldiers often simply marched into ‘no man’s land’ and started fighting. Another tactic was bombarding the Germans with many shells, this lost its effect as the tactic became overused and the Germans expected it. (However, no one on either side had less costly ideas, in terms of lives lost). Contrarily, the statement is inaccurate as the generals had many years of military experience.

This is proven as the battle of Somme and the battle of Passchendaele both achieved their objectives, although there were a staggering number of deaths. Haig lived in a quiet countryside, behind the front line. This point is both for and against the statement. It is against the statement as one could think that this shows that he was getting inaccurate reports of what was going on at the front line, which he could not be blamed for- Haig was simply being safe by not living on the front line as it was not compulsory`. However, it could be perceived as cowardly, that he lived behind the front line, because he was ‘too scared’.

This resulted in him no knowing what the situation was like, in terms of morale on the front line, which could be a reason why one may think the statement is accurate. The statement is false, as the generals cannot be blamed for the astounding number of lives lost. This is because they didn’t have a professional army- many of the men on the front line were conscripts. This means that they were forced to fight in the war. Also, the statement is false, as the generals did not have complete control over what was occurring on the front line; the generals had to alter some of their plans due to political interference and pressure.

The generals weren’t completely in charge, as they had to support the French. Furthermore, the statement is inaccurate as Haig was very popular- 100,000 people attended his funeral. Obviously, they wouldn’t have done so if the men involved in the war thought that Haig should be blamed for the number of lives lost in the war. To conclude, the statement ‘Lions led by donkeys’ is an inaccurate assessment of the British army on the front line in WW1, as England did eventually win. And, the generals cannot be blamed for the stalemate. Although there are a couple of reasons that support this statement, there are more that are against it.

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