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Amid the confusion and panic of the March German offensive, the French general, Ferdinand Foch is appointed Supreme Allied commander. None of this involves Monash because he is still only a divisional commander. Haig’s dominant decision-making is reduced but both he and Foch still regard Monash as the outstanding field commander.

Notwithstanding, Bean and Murdoch persist in their campaign to have White appointed as corps commander over Monash. Murdoch sends a cable to the Sydney SUN stating that “there is a strong unanimous view that Monash is likely to become the supreme administrator in London.” The Official Censor blocks the cable. Monash’s appointment as commander of the Australian Corps is confirmed

 

The lead up to Operation Blucher - some good footage 

 On 27th May Ludendorff launches a third offensive, operation Blucher, and drives the French and British back to within 100 kms of Paris.

On 30th May Monash announces to the 3rd Division that he is taking over as corps commander with Brigadier General Thomas Blamey as his chief of staff. Command of the 3rd Division passes to John Gellibrand. On 2nd June, at an interview with Birdwood, Bean gives up on his anti-Monash campaign but Murdoch persists and Monash’s appointment is still unconfirmed although he has taken command as if it were. The war has to go on regardless. On 3rd June Ludendorff’s operation, Blucher ends with the loss of another 100,000 men.

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Operation Gneisenau, 9 - 12 June 1918. The third campaign of Kaiserschlacht, Operation GNEISENAU was intended to draw Allied reserves south, widen the German salient and link it with the salient at Amiens. There were four German offensives (The German Spring Offensive), codenamed Michael, Georgette, Gneisenau, and Blücher-Yorck. On 9 June 1918, the Germans advanced 21 divisions nine miles on a 23 mile front along the Matz River against fierce French and American resistance. But the French had intelligence warning of the impending attack and following a surprise counterattack at Compiègne on 11 June 1918 halted the German advance.

Monash now has control of the entire Australian forces in France and Belgium staffed entirely with Australian officers. He insists on strict adherence to plans but gives field commanders greater flexibility to make on the spot decisions as circumstances require. He has been planning a campaign to capture the town of Hamel and on 21st June submits them to British Army HQ. The plan is approved and Monash is about to launch his most famous offensive.

His plan involves infantry protected by a creeping artillery barrage with support from tanks and aircraft. A combination never used before. His subordinate commanders are wary of the use of tanks following the disaster at Bullecourt but Monash has studied the merits of the new Mark V tank and is not persuaded by his commanders to alter his plan. Aircraft will be used to fly low and drown the noise of approaching tanks then to drop ammunition to the advancing infantry.

 

a short video of Australia's role in the War - a good refresher on the previous articles. The Spring Offensive starts at about the 8 minute mark. I include it because it covers a great deal of John Monash's career but also some excellent images.

While all the preparations are going on Bean and Murdoch continue to undermine Monash to Hughes but on 2nd July Hughes makes a tour of the units already in position for the offensive. The claims of Bean and Murdoch are unanimously rejected by both officers and men.

Monash’s appointment is confirmed. On 4th July Monash launches his offensive in what is now called the Battle of Hamel. Monash has estimated this will take 90 minutes to succeed. The offensive is an overwhelming success and the objectives are achieved in 93 minutes. Using previously standard tactics it would have taken several weeks. No tanks have been lost, from a force of 7,000 Australians and 1,000 Americans the Allies suffered only 1,400 casualties.

 

The aftermath brings accolades from all quarters. Two Victoria Crosses are awarded, the French President Clemenceau comes to the front to congratulate Monash and later King George V comes to France to knight Monash in the field, an event that has not occurred for 200 years. The first German tank is captured by a bunch of Queenslanders which the British want to install at the Imperial War Museum. Before they can get a hold of it the tank and some of those who captured it are on a ship bound for the Queensland Museum where it remains.

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The Australian units relish a lull in the fighting but planning for the future continues. On 21st July, Rawlinson, head of the British 4th Army, calls a conference of all senior corps commanders to discuss plans for a major offensive that will become known as the Battle of Amiens. Monash is allocated a 17km front with the Canadians on his right and the British III Corps on his left. Monash is given a free hand to organise his sector which he plans on similar lines to his tactics at Hamel. The plans are drawn in utmost secrecy and he takes two weeks leave in London As a feint to ensure that the Germans do not suspect the coming offensive.

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On 29th July he returns to the front. The Australians are given an objective to advance 9kms on the first day and for the first time all five Australian divisions will be engaged together under one command. On 7th August Monash addresses his troops urging them to undertake the most demanding task yet confronted. Morale is high, Monash has set his objective to completely overrun the German position and put their artillery out of action. Ludendorf similarly addresses his troops who he finds to be despondent and depressed. That night 100,000 Allied troops wait silently for zero hour. Just before dawn on the 8th August the Australian artillery opens up as usual.

 

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The Germans suspect nothing out of the ordinary. Ludendorff is asleep at his HQ unsuspecting. At 4.15am the order is given to FIRE. 3,640 guns of the British and French artillery fire simultaneously and every man and every tank rises to charge the German lines. The Germans panic and offer little or no resistance. Bean describes it as the most bloodless action ever made by the Australian infantry.

At 6.45am Monash sends Rawlinson a message to say that the first phase has succeeded and that “The Huns never knew what hit them. Not so much a defeat as a stampede. As the mist rises the second phase begins and the Australians take all before them. They capture 173 big guns and destroy others. They capture the original weapon of mass destruction, the Amiens Gun which has been used to shell Amiens 23kms away. The gun now resides at the AWM in Canberra. The barrel alone weighs over 40 tons.

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At 11.00am Monash cables Rawlinson to say they have passed the green line and are advancing on the red line. At 1.15pm Monash cables Rawlinson again to say that the Australian flag now flies over Harbonniers, the blue line final objective on his whole front. The Canadians have had similar success. Each has suffered 2,000 casualties and taken 8,000 prisoners.

At his headquarters Ludendorff records “Der schwarze Tag”- the Black Day of the German Army. His divisional commanders report wholesale surrender and insubordination. A 20km hole has been driven through the German defences, valuable documents describing the parlous state of German resources are captured and the entire front of the British 4th Army has advanced 12 kms, thanks to the efforts of the Australians and the Canadians. Bean and Murdoch criticise Monash for not following up the victory and pressing on but it is not his decision to make. These two, who have never served, alone commanded in any army are intent on justifying their anti-Monash stance. Over the next two days there are German counter-attacks and casualties mount. Rawlinson is unprepared for further advances.

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On 10th August Monash persuades Rawlinson to allow him to operate on both side of the Somme River. The actions are a mopping up exercise. On the next day, a meeting is held at Villers-Bretonneux with Churchill, Foch, Haig the CGS and all senior officer who count for a council of war to discuss the next stage. Haig stands to address the gathering.

He opens by saying “You do not know what the Australians and the Canadians have done for the British Empire in these days”. He loses composure, his voice chokes, the tears roil down his face. His speech has ended. On 13th King George V arrives to confer Monash with his knighthood. Bean demeans the ceremony as “a lot of nonsense”. The previous knighting ceremony was in 1743 by King George II at the Battle of Dettingen in Germany.

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The Australian Corps now has a 14.5km front to defend. There are no immediate plans for a further advance yet eh troops are becoming restless. They think that they have been asked to do more than their fair share for too long and there are rumblings of mutiny within the 4th Division. Rawlinson gives Monash two Canadian, one British and one American division to relieve the Australians. He now commands 208,000 men.

The next offensive is planned for 23rd August in what will be known as the Battle of Chuignes. The 1st Australian and British 32nd Divisions under Monash are given the task. The battle is over in a day after vigorous bayonet work by the 1st Division. The biggest trophy of the war, a 15 inch gun weighing 500 tons is captured. The French Army takes over the Australian front and Haig insists that the Australians take a month off for rest. Monash disagrees and uses the 2nd & 5th Divisions to continue applying pressure. He introduces another innovation which is to put the artillery under direct infantry command and all batteries to carry 20% smoke shell. This tactic was directed at silencing German machine guns which were the greatest threat to advancing infantry.

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Monash now has his eyes set on the heavily fortified town of Mont St Quentin. He wanted it to be an exclusively Australian affair. By taking this town the Somme will cease to be a natural barrier and force the Germans to retreat to the Hindenburg Line. The task is given to the 5th Brigade whose numbers have fallen from 2,700 in 1916 to under 900 now. Facing them is Ludendorff’s crack unit; the 2nd Prussian Guards Division. Monash’s tactic is to have the 3rd Division drive to the north repairing bridges and roads.

 

The British 32 Division will create an illusion of an attack from the south. The 5th Brigade will attack from the north. Zero hour is 5.00am on 31st August. Monash orders the attackers to scream like bushrangers and make as much noise as they can. At 8.00am Rosenthal signals Monash that the Australian flag is flying over the town. Casualties are slight. The Germans run in droves towards the Australian lines to surrender. The Germans have enough men left to mount a counter-attack and dislodge the Australians but the next day the 6th Brigade retakes the town. Six Victoria Crosses are won on that day. Only five survive the war. Ludendorff retreats to the Hindenburg Line just as Monash had planned. Rawlinson describes the victory as the finest single feat of the war. Haig wants the triumphs to be described as a British victory with help from the Dominions

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Monash is angry at the lack of recognition of his troops’ successes. He remonstrates with Bean and Murdoch and even Billy Hughes who has spent most of the year in London. He achieves limited success and points out that years of struggle and horrific losses under British officers have yielded nothing and all success has come under Australian and Dominion command.

The Australians reach the Hindenburg line on 7th September.

Despite the stunning success, Hughes is ropeable. He had not been informed that the Australians were being used in this series of offences and he has concluded that Monash is driving his troops for his own personal glory. Monash’s intention is to end the war as soon as he can in 1918. Churchill, Minister for Munitions, is planning for it to last until summer of 1919.

 

Without consulting Monash, Hughes orders 6,000 of the original ANZACS to be sent home on leave, 800 immediately. Further, Hughes tells Monash that all Australian Corps troops must be withdrawn from the war by early October. These instructions upset Monash’s plans for his campaign against the Hindenburg Line as most of the 6,000 will come from the 1st& 4th Divisions. Apart from that, the troops are all exhausted so Rawlinson gives Monash two American rookie divisions.

The attack is launched at 5.20am on 18th September. The first objective is taken at 10.00am. The 1st Division pushes on and captures the Outpost Line. The British fail again and Monash is asked to take over its part of the front. Some units mutiny and 118 troops are found guilty but Monash refuses to confirm the verdict. The battalions are reorganised and the final drive is prepared for the 29th. German rations are cut again and Ludendorff is under the care of a psychiatrist. On the same day, Ludendorff advises Hindenburg that Germany should seek an armistice.

The Americans fail to reach the start line on time. They proceed without the protection of the artillery barrage and suffer heavy casualties. Many dazed and disorientated Americans are saved by advancing Australians who organise them into helpful fighting units. The main Hindenburg Line in the Australian sector is breached on 5th October.

By the 2nd Division which is then withdrawn from the front. The Australian’s work is finished. The finishing off is left to the British, French Canadians and Americans. On the same day Monash leaves for London. For him and the Australian Corps, the war is over.

 In our last part of this series, we will look at Monash as he returns to Australia.

The War may be over but Monash is not.

I urge you to watch this - a great overview of Sir John Monash

Further reading.

https://patriotrealm.com/index.php/1246-sir-john-monash-the-early-years

https://patriotrealm.com/index.php/1254-john-monash-episode-2-the-making-of-the-man

https://patriotrealm.com/index.php/1258-john-monash-episode-3-in-the-wars

https://patriotrealm.com/index.php/1342-john-monash-episode-4-defeat-into-victory

 

 

 

 

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