French does not lead the B.E.F. - who does?

Who leads the B.E.F. in Sir John French's absence?

  • Charles Douglas

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • James Grierson

    Votes: 2 13.3%
  • Douglas Haig

    Votes: 7 46.7%
  • Ian Hamilton

    Votes: 1 6.7%
  • Lord Kitchener

    Votes: 2 13.3%
  • "Wullie" Robertson

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Horace Smith-Dorrien

    Votes: 3 20.0%
  • James Wolfe-Murray

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    15
  • Poll closed .

Coulsdon Eagle

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A little while back I was contemplating a timeline where Sir John French, having resigned as CIGS in April 1914, was not appointed to command the Expeditionary Force (later to become the B.E.F.) when war was looming. The PoD would be pressure from the Conservatives & Ulster Unionists following his part in the muddle of the Curragh Mutiny. Originally my idea was that James Grierson would be an obvious replacement, only to die of an aneurism as OTL and be replaced on Kitchener’s say-so by Smith-Dorrien.

However in my research, apart from it being obvious French was the only candidate for the role in the Government’s eyes, I came across Kitchener putting Hamilton forward to replace Grierson as O.C. II Corps, but this being declined as Hamilton was too senior, so S-D came out as opposed to French’s choice of Plumer.

So, assuming French is considered persona-non-grata by some of the frock coats, who would lead the B.E.F? Douglas, his replacement as CIGS, or his successor Wolfe-Murray? Promote the corps commanders Grierson or Haig? Hamilton as proposed? Smith-Dorrien? How about Robertson or even K of K himself – he was rumoured to desire the post of CIGS as well as Minister of War so could he resist taking up the baton?
 
Douglas and Grierson, were, as events proved, not physically up to the demands of the job;

Hamilton had annoyed too many people- he was always something of an odd man out, perfectly urbane and charming but perhaps too much so;

Wolfe- Murray would have been terrible- 'twas he who acquired the nickname of "Sheep" Murray;

Robertson was very, very Staff, and would not have been a great field general, if he had even wanted it;

Kitchener was too senior by far, and too important at that stage in the planning of the war;

that leaves Smith-Dorrien, Plumer and Haig- and of the three, Smith- Dorrien is senior, but seems to have been a pessimist about the likely cost and conduct of the war from an early moment on, not what you want in a general; Acknowledging that he was good, I have to question whether, in Napoleon's phrase, he was lucky. Doesn't seem so.

Haig, we all know far too well- grim optimist with good connections, who got the job eventually- Plumer, at this stage in the war? Hmmm.

Most likely Plumer, then. No great controversy around him, no obvious other calls on him, a good competent man.
 
Putting aside the physical issues IIRC Grierson was senior to Haig by promotion date and apparently defeated him during the 1912 Army manoeuvres whilst commanding the smaller force, fluency in French and having served as military attaché in Berlin make him seem like the obvious choice. There are however the political, both governmental and internal Army, factors that have to be taken into consideration.


Haig, we all know far too well... Most likely Plumer then. No great controversy around him, no obvious other calls on him, a good competent man.
I'm not really following your logic of discounting Haig with your 'we all know far too well' comment. Since this is hindsight that's not available to the decision makers back then if there's nothing that really sets Plumer apart then I would have expected Haig's political connections to see him edge Plumer out.
 
Usually I get accused of being on the other side- point being that it's almost impossible to discuss Haig without getting into an impassioned shouting match in which pre- prepared positions are trotted out, there is enormous heat and almost no light, and everyone goes away snarling. A great many British people still passionately hate him, almost ninety years after his death.

The manoeuvres of 1912 are interesting and more complicated than usually recounted; both sides had similar air reconnaissance assets available- except Haig, usually pictured as relying on cavalry recon, was in fact doing anything but; he had his cavalry concentrated for operational manoeuvre, and was relying on the air for forward scouting, rather more than Grierson- who in the event was much luckier with his air, the sequence of mechanical problems and navigational errors that left Haig almost blind and with no back up plan played right into Grierson's hands. The two men still somehow remained friends.

Which is more than can be said of much of the army high command at the time, a small group in which most of them knew each other very well, and didn't like each other much; there are a lot of rivalries and jealousies that were well known at the time but concealed by judicious official history and tactical memoir writing, and some that came out afterwards when they declared war on each other in the press. Look at John French's 1914.

Haig was, like Hamilton, respected but thought too clever for his or anyone around him's good, and his role in the Haldane reforms had raised hackles. He wasn't Kitchener's favourite person, for a start. Also, like Robertson, very staff; some good cavalry work in the Boer war, but primarily one of the back room boys.

Plumer was less political, largely out of temperament, which in a situation like the one in the OP would have given him an advantage.
 
Robertson was very, very Staff, and would not have been a great field general, if he had even wanted it;

I honestly do not think that this is the problem.

Isn't Robertson the man who is the only soldier in the British Army to rise from Private to Field Marshall? All of the higher-ups shunned him because he was "not a gentlemen" of their caliber.
 
I honestly do not think that this is the problem.

Isn't Robertson the man who is the only soldier in the British Army to rise from Private to Field Marshall? All of the higher-ups shunned him because he was "not a gentlemen" of their caliber.
. Getting to the very top of the British Army is poor evidence of being 'shunned.' Usually someone 'shunned' is an outcast. Generals like Haig were forced to work with him
He had joined the Cavalry traditionally the most expensive and upper class of the Army branches, his route through the Cavalry was through Staff work, which was cheaper than the costs of riding a horse.
 
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