Field Marshal Douglas Haig? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Horses were used effectively in warfare for thousands of years. On many occasions horse-mounted cavalry units were decisive on the battlefield. But the development of machine guns, barbed wire, and armored tanks dramatically changed military tactics. The quotation I am interested in has been ascribed to Sir Douglas Haig who was a field marshal in the British Army and a senior officer during World War I:
I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity of the horse in the future is likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse—the well bred horse—as you have ever done in the past.
These words were supposedly spoken in 1926 when many military strategists had already concluded that mounted soldiers were vulnerable and near obsolete. Is this quotation accurate?
Quote Investigator: On June 4, 1925 Douglas Haig was given an honorary diploma at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. He addressed the group and spoke about the future use of horses during warfare. The next day “The Times” newspaper of London described Haig’s remarks. Stylistically, the account did not present the comments in the form of direct quotes. For example, the phrase “he believed” was used instead of “I believe”. Here is an extended excerpt to provide context. Paragraph breaks have been added for readability: 1
Some enthusiasts to-day talked about the probability of horses becoming extinct and prophesied that the aeroplane, the tank and the motor-car would supersede the horse in future wars. But history had always shown that great inventions somehow or other cured themselves; they always produced antidotes, and he believed that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future were likely to be as great as ever.
How could infantry, piled up with all their equipment, take advantage of a decisive moment created by fire from machine-guns at a range of 5,000 to 6,000 yards? It was by utilizing light mounted troops and mounted artillery that advantage could be taken of these modern weapons.
He was all for using aeroplanes and tanks, but they were only accessories to the man and the horse, and he felt sure that as time went on they would find just as much use for the horse—the well-bred horse—as they had ever done in the past. Let them not be despondent and think that the day of the horse was over.
Since the reporter did not use quotation marks it is possible that some of the text was a summary of Haig’s speech and not a verbatim transcript.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1925 June 5, The Times (UK), The Cavalry Arm: Lord Haig On Value in War, Page 8, Column 4, London, England. (Times Digital Archive GaleGroup) ↩