Aeroplanes and Tanks Are Only Accessories to the Man and the Horse

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.

In 1966 the following version of the commentary was given in the reference “Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations”: 2

Some enthusiasts today talk about the probability of the horse becoming extinct and prophesy that the aeroplane, the tank, and the motor-car will supersede the horse in future wars … I am sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse—the well bred horse—as you have done in the past.
Sir Douglas Haig: Interview, 1925

In 2006 the author Max Boot presented a version of Haig’s statements and viewed the words critically: 3

There were indeed some purblind Colonel Blimps who continued to insist that tanks would never replace the good old horse. As late as 1926, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig would write: “Aeroplanes and tanks…are only accessories to the man 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.”

In conclusion, the 1925 newspaper report provides good evidence that Haig made remarks that were very similar to the statements given by the questioner. Note that he was speaking sympathetically before a group of veterinarians. Later versions of the comments were typically presented in the form of direct quotations. It is possible that these later versions were derived directly or indirectly by grammatically modifying the text given in The Times in 1925.

(Thanks to Ian Macfarlane whose inquiry provided the impetus for QI to fashion this question.)

Notes:

  1. 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)
  2. 1966, “Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations” edited by Robert Debs Heinl, Category: Cavalry, Page 46, Column 1 and 2, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland. (The incorrect spelling “entusiasts” was used for “enthusiasts” in the book) (Verified on paper)
  3. 2006, “War Made New: Technology, Warfare, And the Course of History, 1500 to Today” by Max Boot, Quote Page 218, Gotham Books published by Penguin Group, New York. (Google Books preview)