| Tim Fischer | November 08, 2008
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.
Monash wrote in his diary that if all went to plan, the battle would take 90 minutes. In fact, it took 93 minutes, and far fewer casualties than expected. Never again did the German army move forward. They were broken in spirit and broken apart on the ground. After Amiens on August 8, the German leaders sought terms for an armistice. Within three months the war was over.
Monash is rarely recognised as our greatest general. He was Jewish, of Prussian descent, a colonial and too old for some. But the main reason was because he was not the product of a military academy. He should have been Australia's first field marshal.
Prime minister Billy Hughes denied him promotion to full general in late 1918. Monash resented being kept down the scale after all he had done. And now he is airbrushed or too often spun out of the history of Australia.
When asked to lead a coup during the Depression, he gave a firm no, adding: "There is not too much wrong with Australia that the ballot box and good education will not fix."
Monash deserves a higher place in the history of this nation. The Government can confer retrospective promotion, an option that should be considered between now and 2015 or 2018, key World War I anniversaries.
Tim Fischer is a former Australian Army second lieutenant and deputy PM.
ABC1 will screen Monash: The Forgotten Anzac on Tuesday at 8.30pm.