Honour Monash - A great Australian


The 1918 Monash Diary


As the centenary year 2018 of the time when Monash proving to be the most advanced thinker of all senior officers on the Western Front worked for a democratic future.

Month by month as the year unfolds the current month will display, you can also click on the other month buttons below to read what happened. Click again on the same button to hide the detail for that month.

The Australian Front Line June 1918

June saw four divisions of the Australian Corps in defence on a line running from Dernancourt in the north to a point on the railway line 2 km south east of Villers-Brettoneux. The line was by no means straight. The Germans held a salient that included most of Hill 104 and the village of Le Hamel. The deployment was a front of three Divisions and one in Reserve. Divisions being rotated out of the front line into the reserve position in order to give rest from front line tension and the constant patrolling of no-man's-land. The First Division was not yet under the command of the corps. It was in the Hazebrouck and Merris Area under command British Fifteenth Corps with its presence there considered indispensable

10 June saw Rosenthal's 2 Div carry out a well conceived and planned minor enterprise. The attack gained a slice of the important ridge between Sailly-Laurette and Morlancourt. It bagged 330 prisoners, 33 machine guns and valuable information. The enemy seeking a softer target was turning its attention from the Australian sector, moving resources south to attack the French.

With the Australian front secure, Monash was concerned that the war could not be won by defence alone and that idleness did not suit what was by 1918, after four years of war, the character of the Australian soldier. The Hamel salient struck like a thorn into the Australian front line. Monash hatched a plot to push it out.

Gathering information he organised to visit Major General Hugh Ellis, commander of the Tank Corps. He was introduced to the new Mark 5 and Mark 5 star tanks. The Mk5 finally had the steering problem solved. No longer did the driver have to hand-signal gearsmen in order to steer. He had levers working through epicyclic gearing that allowed him to control direction as well as speed, a vast improvement in manoeuvrability. The Mk 5 star was longer, giving it enhanced trench crossing capability, and an armoured compartment for infantry.

Australians with a Mk 5 Star

Monash recognised that following problems experienced by Australian soldiers with early model Tanks at Bullecourt in April 1917, trust had to be built. Battalion after battalion of the 4, 6 and 11 Brigades were bussed to the village of Vaux, tucked away in a quiet valley north west of Amiens. There each spent a day with two tank companies General Ellis made available. The diggers were not only instructed on what the armoured vehicles could do, they were given demonstrations of firepower, rides over obstacles, even a chance to drive. To date the new Mk 5s had not seen combat. To have an innovator and successful commander, now in charge of a corps of soldiers noted for their combat effectiveness, interested in using the new weapons excited the Tank Corps.

Monash had a plan. Australian soldiers could not be left idle, and the enemy needed a show of strength that would demoralise them and take pressure off the beleaguered French. Straightening the Australian line by taking the Hamel salient would also provide tactical advantage. Monash also planned to try the innovations he had been contemplating, thereby creating a template for future conflict.

Monash mentioned the possibility of an attack to take Le Hamel and Hill 104 to General Rawlinson, his Army Commander. Rawlinson asked for a concrete proposal in writing (a standard way to kill an initiative). Undaunted on 21 June a detailed proposal was presented to the general. Struck with the detail of the proposal and scope of the planned outcome, Rawlinson agreed without delay. The French were in trouble, no other commander had a plan to take the initiative from the enemy, and who knows what antics the Australians would get up to if not given something worthy to do.

As to the date of the operation, Monash noted that preparations would occupy seven days. A rotation of divisions in the line was scheduled for 28 - 30 June, so the attack would need to be no earlier than the first week in July.

John Howells 2018

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