The last 100 days of World War One – a period that extended from 4th August to 11th November 1918 – proved decisive when finally, after more than four years of bloodshed, misery and carnage the like of which had never been seen before – the War was over.
In the earlier days of the conflict many commanders had been unable to deal with the deadly new features of modern industrial warfare – trenches, barbed wire, machine guns, massed artillery, tanks and aircraft. They clung to 19th century battle tactics such as massed frontal charges by the infantry that were not only ineffective but horribly deadly. Hundreds of thousands of infantry soldiers were mown down like chaff in this style of attack – often for little or no territorial gain.
It was mostly in the second half of the war that battlefield Generals began to refine their tactics into much more effective manoeuvres that were not only highly unattractive from an enemy point of view, but resulted in much lighter troop casualties for the attacking force.
A feature of this modern approach was the tight coordination and integration of infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft, and on occasion the launching of night attacks. Planning was they key with precise timings worked out well in advance, and alternative plans also “at the ready” if required.
One of the foremost of the modern Generals was the Australian commander John Monash who began the war as an officer at Gallipoli before being transferred to the Western Front in 1916. He led Australian forces in several major battles there including Messines, Broodseinde, and the First Battle of Passchendaele where his leadership and military acumen highly impressed the British High Command.
In May 1918 he was promoted to Lieutenant General and put in charge of the Australian Corps – at the time the largest such Corps on the Western Front. His star was on the ascendancy through brilliant leadership shown during the Battle of Hamel (4 July 1918) that was meticulously planned by Monash and achieved all the planned targets virtually to the minute.
On 8th August 1918 the pivotal Battle of Amiens was launched, with Australian troops commanded by Monash providing a key role. Monash’s trademark detailed planning was evident once more, with the safety of his troops uppermost in his thoughts. The result of this battle was a disaster for the German Army, with General Ludendorff, one of the senior German commanders describing 8th August as “the black day of the German Army in the history of the war”.
Four days later, on 12 August, Monash was knighted at the Australian Corps Headquarters by King George V, the first time for nearly two hundred years that a British monarch had bestowed a knighthood in the field.
The Australians, again led by Monash, continued to perform with great distinction for the rest of the war, and were instrumental in breaking through the Hindenburg line on 29th September – again using a precise battle plan drawn up by Monash.
The war finally ended and by this time General Sir John Monash had earned a high reputation in military circles and was renowned for his careful planning, battlefield innovation and ingenuity. He was to attract the highest of praise from Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who later wrote ”I would name Sir John Monash as the best General on the Western front in Europe”.
By: R. Whitaker
Image: A portrait of John Monash taken in 1918, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.