Sir Henry Rawlinson is most associated with the Battle of the Somme fought in 1916. Henry Rawlinson was subordinate to Douglas Haig, who had supreme command at the Somme. Rawlinson’s desired a limited infantry offensive – a view that clashed with Haig’s belief in an all-out military offensive – a belief that led to one of the most infamous battles of World War One.
Sir Henry Rawlinson was born in 1864. His father was a diplomat. Rawlinson joined the British Army and served pre-World War One in India, the Sudan (1898) and in the Second Boer War. When World War One broke out, Rawlinson was handed the command of IV Corps. This unit was dispatched to help Belgium defend Antwerp. Rawlinson also took part in the fighting around Ypres.
In 1916, Sir Henry Rawlinson was appointed Lieutenant General of the Fourth Army. He had an important part to play in the planning of the Battle of the Somme. Rawlinson visited the fields where the battle was to be fought to reconnoitre the lay of the land. To assist the French at Verdun, Rawlinson supported the idea of an attack on the German lines at the Somme – but only a limited infantry offensive. His plans were at odds with those of Douglas Haig.
Haig believed that once the German lines had been destroyed by British and French artillery fire, the infantry, en masse, would only have to walk across the fields of the Somme for success.
Rawlinson represented Great Britain on the Supreme War Council from February 1918 on, and his Fourth Army was also successful when it broke through German lines near Cambrai in August 1918.
In 1919, Sir Henry Rawlinson was sent to Russia to command the Allied forces gathered there to fight and to overthrow Lenin’s Bolshevik government. After this command, he was sent to India (in 1920) to command the British forces there. Sir Henry Rawlinson held this post until his death in 1925.