American And Australian Military – A 99 Year Relationship

Posted on Fri 05/05/2017 by

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By Anton Lang ~

Last night, on Thursday 4th May, President Donald Trump met with the Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull aboard the Second World War aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, now a military museum. They were both there for a special 75th Anniversary commemoration for The Battle Of The Coral Sea, which was held off the North East Coast of Australia, when the tide of World War Two turned in favour of the Allies. The Royal Australian Navy, and the U.S. Navy combined to inflict the worst defeat the Japanese had suffered up till that time.

The article about their meeting is at this link, and there is a short video of their meeting at that link. While this was one occasion where both American and Australian military forces have joined together, that association goes back a long way, all the way back to 1918 in fact on the battlefields in France at the end of the Great War, World War One.

President Trump himself mentioned that association when he said :

So we’ve been allies for 99 years. Can you imagine that. 99 years, and never a bad time, so it’s a great great thing.

That first association between these two great military forces was on 4th July 1918. The U.S. had finally joined the War, and had not been tried in any battle as of that time.

General Sir John Monash and the American Forces.

Lieutenant General Sir John Monash. Commons Image in the Public Domain.

John Monash was a civil engineer prior to the beginning of that Great War in 1914. He was also an Officer in the Militia in Victoria. He had been in the Militia since 1884, and a just before the start of the War, he was a Colonel in charge of a Brigade. When the War began he was given command of a Brigade and was part of the campaign at Gallipoli in Turkey, landing there with his men the day after the intitial landing, which was on 25th April 1915. He was known for his Independent decisions and meticulous planning of military operations. He was promoted to Brigadier General in September of 1915. After that Gallipoli campaign, he was then sent to France where the War had bogged down along the Somme River. Monash arrived in June of 1916, when that Somme had already been bogged down for two years, with hardly a gain against the German military might. He was promoted to Major General in July of 1916, and given command of the 3rd Australian Division. Again his attention to detail and meticulous planning came to the notice of the High Command.

One of Monash’s biggest bugbears was that the by now very large Australian Force was still under the disposition of British Officers. Monash, although not the ranking Australian Senior Officer desperately wanted all those Australians to fight as a united group under Australian command only. This was also a politically sensitive thing as well, and the Australian political leadership also wanted the same thing. Monash was not favoured to command the hoped for Australian Corps. He won a few victories that brought him to the attention of senior Officers of the British forces, and he had the respect of them, even if not from his own political masters, influenced in part by a media outlet who actively campaigned against his taking that command. Those victories, the way he handled his planning, and the men under him brought him to notice. He was promoted to LtGen in May of 1918. His thinking was radically different from the English whose main thrust was to inject huge numbers and try and just keep driving, and those huge numbers meant that there were also huge losses, which did not seem to bother the English High Command all that much. Monash looked on his men as the most important asset, and only meticulous planning would protect them. He had some setbacks, but in the main, always had less losses than in other similar situations.

4th July 1918 – The Battle Of Hamel

Monash was tasked with planning a minor battle, taking command of all the forces for that battle, and then proceeding with the action, and here’s where the U.S. comes in. Always the meticulous planner right down to the tiniest detail, he again planned the set piece to the finest detail. The Americans had just come into the War under General Pershing, but had still been basically untried in the heat of a major battle. This operation Monash planned was the Battle of Hamel.

Monash was given as part of his force 2000 U.S. soldiers, 2 Battalions. This had never happened before, and the U.S. has never had their troops under the Command of anyone other than the U.S. This was the first time this had happened. Those 2000 troops had trained hard for this and were looking forward to actually taking part. Pershing did not want to be seen as the first U.S. person to submit his men to non U.S. command, and asked the senior English Command to remove his men from outside Command. 1000 of those men were reluctantly withdrawn, under the protest of those men, who wanted to join in the fight at last. Monash recast his battle plan, and on the eve of the battle, he was summoned to English High Command and asked to withdraw the other 1000 Americans, as Pershing did not want any of his men associated with the Battle. Monash vigorously opposed their withdrawal, saying that Battle could not proceed without them. There was back and forth and no relenting from the High Command. Monash virtually asked the Senior Command to disobey the order and allow the Americans to stay in, and to delay the message to the Americans until after the start of the Battle, too late for them to be withdrawn. This swayed the High Command, that what amounted to a lesser ranking senior officer willing to stake his future on this. They swayed and allowed the Americans to stay in, although delaying that decision to Pershing. Monash walked away from that meeting full in the knowledge that if this went badly, it would all be over for him, both with the English High Command, and also going with that, any support from his fellows, and the Australian political front, as well as any chance to lead an Australian only force under Australian Command.

The date of the Battle. 4th July 1918. Monash had intentionally and specifically planned it that way in honour of the Americans to show that they were accepted as part of the fight against the Germans. Those 1000 Americans would join with 8000 men from Australian forces.

The Battle was set to begin just before Dawn on the morning of July 4th.

It was all over in ….. 93 minutes.

This was actually 3 minutes longer than Monash had planned for, much to the disbelief of Senior Command.

It was a comprehensive rout. 1500 Germans were killed or wounded, and there were also 1500 prisoners taken, a huge amount, even for a very large Battle, let alone a small one like this. There were also numerous Enemy field pieces, artillery, weapons and ammunition taken. Monash’s losses were so small as to be almost non existent, and that is not meant to lessen the importance of those who died in that engagement. In fact, the vast majority of his own 800 casualties were walking wounded only. More importantly, the land won in this sharp engagement was four times larger than any land ever won back by a force of a Division size or smaller in the previous 4 years of operations. The Australians, in their first action as a unified  Australian Corps had won an almost perfect victory. Previous actions of this size had taken weeks or even months, using those earlier tactics, and had losses significantly and comprehensively higher than what there was for this Battle.

He was noticed now in a big way, from every quarter. Even Pershing now basked in some of the glow of the spotlight now shining brightly on Monash, as this was the first major fight that the Americans had actually been in. Monash’s position was now assured, and he was given complete command of the Australian Corps, and the opportunity to further plan more important and much larger battles. Political support now moved firmly behind him also.

The Battle Of Amiens – August 8th

His plans for the Battle of Amiens were accepted by the High Command, and that major Battle was scheduled for August 8th. The Australian Corps now numbered 170,000, and they were the focal point of the Battle supported in North by the English, and in the South by the Canadians.

This Major Battle started at 4.20AM, and was over by early afternoon. More than 8000 prisoners were taken just by the Australians, more than 170 large enemy artillery pieces, and much more further equipment. The Canadians took nearly 4500 prisoners and the British many more as well. Monash’s own (Australian) casualties amounted to just under 1000, barely more than half of one percent, unheard of at that time. They took nearly 5 miles back. This one single engagement caused the German senior officer General Ludendorff to realise that the War was lost and he actually stated that this was Germany’s blackest day of the whole War. It was the single most decisive victory of the War, and the biggest breakthrough for the Allied Forces.

In recognition of this famous victory, four days later on August 12th, England’s King George V traveled to the Battlefield and invested John Monash with a Knighthood, the first time a ruling Monarch had been on a battlefield to do so in more than 200 years.

The Later Months Of The War

Monash was then virtually given all further planning as the combined Forces now pushed the Germans back to the Hindenburg line. There were a series of major victories along the way, every one of them decisive, with very few losses, as the Australians fought as a wholly Australian Army. They numbered more than 210,000 now, the largest non European force in Europe at that time, and under the sole control of a senior Australian Commander, each engagement meticulously planned by him, coordinating all aspects of Infantry, Armour, air power, and other forces. Rather than the earlier English plan of just throwing men at the enemy, his plan was more of coordinating as many things as possible into his planning.

At the end Monash also had under his Command nearly 50,000 Americans.

Monash’s last Battle was at the Hindenburg Line. It finished on 5th October when the Germans asked for an end to hostilities. This was barely three months after that first Battle of Hamel, a series of driving Allied Victories one after the other, all brilliantly planned and executed by Monash, whose star was now firmly in the ascendency.

What needs to be realised here is that this area around the Somme had been bogged down solid for almost four years, and the beginning of the end started with the Battle Of Hamel on 4th July 1918, and it ended at The Hindenburg Line on 5th October, all of this in barely THREE MONTHS.

This isn’t the case of just one man winning the War, but John Monash was probably instrumental in shortening the War.

So, while Australia and the United States have had a long association in virtually every field of War since that first time, it almost never came to pass at all, and it only eventuated because of the persistence of this one man, John Monash.

This post by its nature can only say so much, and this is just a tiny part of his accomplishments. As a reference, I used that wonderful book, the biography of Monash, titled Monash The Outsider Who Won A War written by Roland Perry.

Anton Lang uses the screen name of TonyfromOz, and he writes at this site, PA Pundits International on topics related to electrical power generation, from all sources, concentrating mainly on Renewable Power, and how the two most favoured methods of renewable power generation, Wind Power and all versions of Solar Power, fail comprehensively to deliver levels of power required to replace traditional power generation. His Bio is at this link.

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