First World War Commanders

The First World War was a conflict characterised by trench warfare and the senseless loss of millions of lives. Here we profile three major figures from the period - Paul von Hindenburg, Sir Douglas Haig and Sir John Jellicoe.


Paul von Hindenburg

Born in 1847, Hindenburg had enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the Prussian Army before returning from military retirement to take part in the First World War. Promoted to the rank of Field Marshall after victories against the Russians, Hindenburg became a national hero and Germany's supreme commander in 1916.

His name is synonymous with the Hindenburg Line, the defensive fortifications which ran across the Western Front and which the German army believed to be impregnable. It was eventually breached in September 1918 during the Allied Hundred Days Offensive and German surrender soon followed. After the war Hindenburg turned to politics and was elected as President of Germany in 1925.

In 1933 he signed the enabling act which allowed Hitler's government special powers and paved the way for Hitler to appoint himself as Fuhrer. Hindenburg died in 1934. .

WWI Soldiers

WWI Soldiers

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig

Field-Marshal Douglas Haig was the commander of the British Army during the First World War. A veteran of the Omdurman Campaign under General Kitchener as well as the Boer War, Haig served in India before organising the British Expeditionary Force which was sent to Belgium in August 1914.

Haig's name is forever associated with the catastrophic loss of life sustained during the battles at the Somme and Passchendaele - the Somme was responsible for over 400,000 British casualties, with 20,000 of these occurring on the first day – and Haig is a symbol of military failure and incompetence. .

World War 1 Bullet Shells

World War 1 Bullet Shells

Admiral Sir John Jellicoe

Promoted to Admiral of the British Grand Fleet at the start of the First World War by First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, Jellicoe would go on to command the fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. The battle and his role have been subjects of controversy ever since.

Described by Churchill as "the only man on either side who could lose the war in an afternoon", Jellicoe certainly had a great deal of power at his command. At Jutland the British lost fourteen ships and over 6000 men – statistics which cemented the battle as a failure in the eyes of the public. Jellicoe was personally criticised for allowing the German fleet to escape when the Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty was convinced they could have won another Trafalgar by destroying the German fleet.