AUSTRALIAN lieutenant-general John Monash played a key role in turning the Allies’ fortunes in World War I , yet is overlooked by history.
Monash, the Australian Army corps commander, made a huge contribution to victory at Hamel on the Western Front with his holistic battle method. This was followed by the Battle of Amiens, then on to Mont StQuentin and beyond.
“Monash was, according to the testimony of those who knew well his genius for war and what he accomplished by it, the most resourceful general in the whole British Army,” wrote British prime minister Lloyd George. Anthony Eden, the PM after Winston Churchill, reputedly said of Monash: “There was no greater soldier in World War I.”
Field marshal Bernard Montgomery said that if Monash had replaced Haig as commander-in-chief in early 1917, “World War I would have ended one year earlier”.
Monash went ashore at Gallipoli one day after the first landings, learned much during the disastrous Dardanelles campaign and August offensive, and repaired to Egypt for retraining in December 1915. On April 25, 1916, the brigade commander initiated the first field Anzac Day service. Then it was on to the Western Front and the dreadful stalemates that dominated 1916 and 1917. It was not until July 1918 that he was given command and orders to conduct a battle from start to finish.
A thousand soldiers from the 33rd Division of the US Army swept into battle alongside 7000 Australians on July 4, 1918, at Le Hamel to take the village and surrounding plateau from the German army. Not only did it represent precision in battle, it was a turning point. Tanks were inserted with platoons for the first time. The artillery barrage was precisely co-ordinated to protect the infantry, and battle orders were explained up and down the chain of command…..
If there was ever an Australian story that’s just waiting to be made into a big budget Australian movie its the Battle of Hamel. It was the first time Australians and Americans ever fought together and they did it under the command of an Australian. We have Monash, the outsider Jew, the conflict between him and Pershing as well as Aussie Diggers and American Doughboys getting to know each other. Unfortunately it remains the great Aussie movie never made.