Publish date:
Updated on

Sir William Robertson is appointed chief of the Imperial General Staff

Shortly after Sir Douglas Haig is installed as the new commander-in-chief of the British forces, his steadfast supporter, Sir William Robertson, is appointed the new chief of the Imperial General Staff, with King George’s backing and over the head of the embattled British war secretary, Sir Horatio Kitchener.

Robertson, who first enlisted as a private solder in 1877, became the only man in the British army to risefrom such humble beginnings to the rank of field marshal by the end of the Great War. His impressiveascent included stints as an officer in India and South Africa; positions in British Intelligence in both the Russian and colonial areas; head of the Foreign Section of the War Office in London; chief of the general staff under Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien; commandant of the Staff College from 1910 to 1913; and finally director of military training at the War Office, where he was serving when war broke out in August 1914.

With the start of war, Robertson was plucked from his duties in London and sailed to Boulogne, France, asquartermaster-general of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), then led by Sir John French. When Haigreplaced French on December 19, 1915, the new commander-in-chief saw his chance to appoint his allyto replace Sir Archibald Murray as chief of an Imperial General Staff that had been allowed to weaken under Kitchener’s watch since before the war.

The strong-willed Robertson had already concluded by the time of his appointment that the war could only be won on the Western Front. He wrote to Kitchener on December 27 that “we can only end the war in ourfavour by attrition or by breaking through the German line.” In this view, Robertson coincided with Haig, but the force of his personality ensured that he would be more that just Haig’s puppet. In his new role, he effectively served as a liaison between the army and the government. He supported the ousting of PrimeMinister Herbert Asquith in December 1916 in favor of David Lloyd George, then clashed bitterly with LloydGeorge over the latter’s attempts to subordinate Haig and Robertson himself through the formation of aSuperior War Council that would direct the war’s policy. In early 1918, when the new council created a strategic reserve corps of its own, against Haig’s wishes and out of Robertson’s command, Robertsonresigned his position. He was replaced by Sir Henry Wilson.

Robertson subsequently returned to London. After the war, he served as commander in chief of the BritishArmy on the Rhine. In March 1920, he was made a field marshal. He published two memoirs about his military career: From Private to Field Marshal and Soldiers and Statesmen. Sir William Robertson died in 1933.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


De Gaulle elected

Three months after a new French constitution was approved, Charles de Gaulle is elected the first president of the Fifth Republic by a sweeping majority of French voters. The previous June, France’s World War II hero was called out of retirement to lead the country when a more

Apollo 8 departs for moon’s orbit

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, is successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, Jr., and William Anders aboard. On Christmas Eve, the astronauts entered into orbit around the moon, the first manned spacecraft ever more

Pan Am Flight 103 explodes over Scotland

On this day in 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York explodes in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. A bomb hidden inside an audio cassette player detonated in the cargo more

“Old Blood and Guts” dies

On this day, General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. 3rd Army, dies from injuries suffered not in battle but in a freak car accident. He was 60 years old. Descended from a long line of military men, Patton graduated from the West Point Military Academy in 1909. He more

Hobey Baker killed in plane crash

On this day in 1918, the 26-year-old collegiate and amateur ice hockey star Hobey Baker is killed in a plane crash in Toul, France, just after the end of World War I. After beginning his hockey career at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, Baker played four seasons of more

Nixon meets Elvis Presley

On this day in 1970, rock star Elvis Presley is greeted at the White House by President Richard M. Nixon. Presley’s visit was not just a social call: He wanted to meet Nixon in order to offer his services in the government’s war on drugs. Three weeks earlier, Presley, who wanted more

Earthquake sends tsunami toward Japan

An undersea earthquake on this day in 1946 sets off a powerful tsunami that devastates Honshu, Japan. About 2,000 people perished and half a million were left homeless. This was particularly devastating to a community that was already reeling from the horrors of World War II. more

Sunny von Bulow is found comatose

Wealthy socialite Martha “Sunny” Crawford von Bulow is found in a coma—the result of what appeared to be an insulin overdose—on the marble bathroom floor of her Newport, Rhode Island, mansion. Following a long investigation, Sunny’s husband, Claus von Bulow, was charged with two more