Remembrance Day 2
(Part 2 of 3)
….. But how did the Allies push to victory within 6 months?
In my opinion, the answer is John Monash.
Monash represents everything that is good about an inclusive Australian society. In any other country, particularly England (with its rigid class structure), Monash would not have reached any level of prominence. His background would have precluded any advance.
His German parents (Monasch) were born in Prussia, (modern day Poland).
He was born in Dudley St, West Melbourne.
He was never a member of the military but of the Militia or the Reserves as they are known today.
He was Jewish.
He studied at Scotch College and pursued a successful career as a civil engineer.
His first encounter with enemy fire was at Gallipoli at age 49.
He was a deep thinker and well versed in the history of war. Monash was among the first to understand that utilising 18th Century methods against 20th Century firepower resulted in significant and unnecessary carnage.
His insight and meticulous planning caught the eye of his commanding officers and they gave him greater responsibility in what was becoming an increasingly hopeless situation.
In July 1918, Monash commanding four Australian divisions won a decisive victory at Hamel, Somme. The battle was planned and executed by Monash with breath- taking precision.
He established faux machine-gun nests to fool any advancing Germans. The battlefield was littered with smoke bombs causing the Germans to reach for their gas masks (fearing mustard gas)thus reducing their peripheral vision. Planes droned overhead covering the sound of slow moving tanks. Monash was able to get his tanks to the front of his line without German artillery interference. He deployed lightly kitted bands of soldiers to swoop on and overtake German positions.
The Germans were overwhelmed.
Flushed with success from Hamel, Monash was charged with the task of planning the recapture of Amiens. It was an important objective and could turn the War in favour of the Allies.
Monash with his usual rigour, spent July 1918 surveying the ground and assessing the strength of French, British and Canadian divisions. He recalled the Australian First Division so that for the first time all five Australian Divisions would fight together under Australian command.
He reviewed every ridge, every hill, the vegetation, the water and every other feature of the battleground and beyond. Every contingency was considered nothing was left to chance.
He had an abiding faith in the tenacity of the Australian soldier. In four years of fighting and defending they had developed a formidable reputation, even among the German troops.
The Australians numbered 166,000. He placed the Australian Divisions at the front of his attack.
His plan was counter-intuitive and faced many detractors. He wanted to narrow the Allies’ front which was over 14 kilometres long to nearly half that length. He didn’t want to advance to one bank of the Somme, he wanted to capture both banks. He planned to advance and capture an unthinkable 8 kilometres!
The troops were buoyed by their recent victory under Monash. Success breeds success.
Monash not only established the master plan and its goals but set time limits by which they were to be achieved. Such was his attention to detail.
On the eve of battle he wrote the following message to the Australian troops
“For the first time in the history of this Corps, all five Australian Divisions will tomorrow engage in the largest and most important battle operation ever undertaken by the Corps. …
Because of the completeness of our plans and dispositions, of the magnitude of the operations, of the number of troops employed, of the depth to which we intend to overrun the enemy’ positions, this battle will be one of the most memorable of the whole war; and there can be no doubt that, by capturing our objectives, we shall inflict blows upon the enemy which will make him stagger, and will bring the end appreciably nearer.
….I earnestly wish every soldier of the Corps the best of good fortune, and glorious and decisive victory, the story of which will echo throughout the world, and will live forever in the history of our homeland.”
TO BE CONTINUED
References drawn from Roland Perry’s Monash – The outsider who won a war