Field Marshal Lord Haig, the British Commander-in-Chief in the First World War is portrayed in the film Oh What A Lovely War and the television series Blackadder Goes Forth as an uncaring idiot.
His Diaries prove that image is unfair.
Haig was not a brilliant strategist like Napoleon, but he was a competent professional who cared about his men and understood a few basic truths about how to handle them. One of his virtues was respect for the chain of command.
For example, on 22 November, 1917, when he found a Cavalry Division in what he considered the wrong place, “I personally would very much have liked to have given him [the Divisional Commander] an order to return but restrained myself because it is impossible to be successful if more than one commander is giving orders, and Woollcombe Commanding IV Corps had the Cavalry Division under his orders”.
As Commander-in-Chief, Haig would have been well within his rights to give orders directly to the Divisional Commander, without reference to the intermediate Corps Commander, but he was right to be reluctant: the chain of command demands that everyone in the organisation receives orders from a single source and knows who that source is. Orders from two sources lead to confusion, uncertainty, and loss of direction.
Napoleon would not have hesitated to ignore the chain of command in such a situation. Confident of his military genius, he was always intervening personally and giving direct orders to subordinates of all ranks.
Yet there was a price to be paid for that appearance of decisiveness and leadership. Those in the intervening grades became used to the Emperor intervening directly, and so they never became confident in their own exercise of initiative. That lack of initiative among his principal subordinates was a crucial factor in Napoleon’s defeats in Spain, in Russia, and, finally, at Waterloo.
So the great Napoleon was defeated in the end and died in exile, while Haig, the unimaginative professional, won his war and died in his homeland, greatly honoured.