American And Australian Military – A 99 Year Relationship (Part Two)

Posted on Sat 05/06/2017 by


By Anton Lang ~

Yesterday, I wrote a Post for our site about the 99 years relationship between the U.S. Military and the Australian Military, and that Post is at this link.

The information I used for that Post was taken from a wonderful book, a biography about General Sir John Monash, and that book’s title is Monash The Outsider Who Won A War and it was written by the Australian author, Roland Perry. That information, while detailed did leave out some of the information concerning the American soldiers who fought at that very first battle where the Americans joined in with Australian troops, and some of that information about those American troops is interesting in itself.

The Battle Of Hamel – 4th July 1918

The Battle of Hamel had been a thought for a few weeks. It was only proposed to be a minor battle, even though where the word minor is mentioned here, this was almost 10,000 Allied troops we’re talking about. The Revolution in Russia had now run its course, and the Germans from that area were now sent to that region around the Somme River, where the War had been bogged down for almost four years. Because of the huge influx of German troops, they started a major offensive, and had actually advanced almost to Amiens, before they faltered after that famous Australian engagement at Villers-Bretonneux in April. This gave the Allied Command new hope that they could repel the Germans. The nearby town of Hamel was selected as part of smaller advances to be carried out.

The American Expeditionary Force under the command of General Pershing had arrived in France, slowly at times because of the distance they needed to come from, America, and the lack of large numbers of troop ships to take them there. It was now May/June of 1918, and there were around a million U.S. troops now in that field of War in France.

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

The Battle of Hamel was given to the Command of LtGen John Monash, an Australian who had a reputation for detailed planning, and using as many available facilities as could be used, coordinating these many things together, whereas before, the British High Command had just thrown tens of thousands of men at the advance in the hope that numbers would succeed.

The problem they had was communications and resupply of ammunition. Communications were usually by cable telephone, necessitating sometimes miles of cable stretched across the battlefield, more often than not these lines being cut by explosion, so this telephone cable communication was suspect at best. Oddly, one of the better forms of communication was with the use of, wait for it, carrier pigeon. How much we take modern things for granted. For this Battle of Hamel, a new fangled device was being used, wireless communications, the battery operated wind up wireless box, that became so commonplace, and Hamel was the first time wireless communications were ever used in battle.

As I mentioned Monash used as many things as he could in his planning. Resupply was always the problem I mentioned, as well as getting medical supplies to those front lines. Earlier, this necessitated the use of men to carry ammunition boxes to the front, running the risk of having them picked off and shot during that resupply, and the same situation with medical supplies as well, men being picked off or blown up before they arrived at the front lines. Monash decide to use another couple of new things here, Tanks and aircraft, as the tanks could resupply ammunition in amounts more than a hundred men could carry, and being tanks, they were less susceptible to rifle fire independently picking off a single man carrying ammunition across open ground in the middle of a battle. The same with medical supplies, and these could be flown to the front lines in those flimsy aeroplanes and dropped there, taking a fraction of the time to get them there.

The Americans And General Monash

General Rawlinson of the British High Command suggested to Monash that now that the Americans had arrived, he should include a relatively small number of them as part of the makeup of his force for this battle. So Monash planned the Battle Of Hamel, more meticulously than any other he had been tasked with. He included 2,000 American men, and as part of his thinking, he wanted to send a message that they were now accepted as fighting men alongside those who had already been in that Theatre for four years, he made the date for the Battle to be the 4th July, 1918, a special day for America. The trouble with this plan was that no one consulted with General Pershing who commanded the Americans, under the strict proviso that only American Officers commanded American soldiers. When Pershing found out, he went to the British Command and immediately demanded that his men be removed from this Battle under command of a non American Commander. The British High Command told Monash to recast his planning without the Americans, who in fact, all of them desperately wanted to be in the fight. Monash made a second plan, but found he could not do without the Americans, even though he had trimmed them back to just 1000 men. High Command told Monash this was not acceptable, but Monash was adamant they stay in, a fact which impressed the Senior High Command, that a relatively junior Senior Officer would put his Command and reputation on the line like this. Monash told High Command to disobey Pershing’s demand, or just delay informing him until after the Battle had started, which High Command did, so now it was too late to remove the Americans, who were all busting to get into it.

Monash actually integrated the Americans into Australian forces, attaching a platoon into each Australian Company, and a problem here was that the American Platoons were larger than any other force, with 60 men per Platoon. So Monash trimmed the American Platoons back, and sent the remaining men back to advance with the Tanks later on in the Battle. Americans actually fought alongside the Australians in this Battle.

Thomas Pope – Medal Of Honor recipient

The Battle started around 4AM on July 4th 1918, behind a creeping barrage of artillery fire, and much to everyone’s surprise was all over in 93 minutes, which was actually three minutes longer than Monash planned for it to take. It was a comprehensive, almost perfect victory, taking more land back than in any earlier Battle in the War of a Division size or less troop commitment. The Germans were wiped out, literally and thousands of them were taken prisoner. The Australians took more military equipment from the Germans than at any previous engagement. This battle alone then became the model for all future battles. The same planning for the same type of Battle was used for the next major Battle, just scaling up what Monash did here. That was The Battle Of Amiens, also meticulously planned by Monash, who was now given more and more of these battles to plan and proceed with, and that Battle I wrote about in the earlier Post yesterday.

As always happens in any Battle, there were extreme acts of bravery. Two Australians, Thomas Axford and Henry Dalziel were awarded The Victoria Cross, (VC) the highest award for valor in the British Commonwealth, the same as The Medal Of Honor is in the U.S. The Americans, not being British subjects could not qualify for The VC, but they could be awarded the second highest Medal, the Distinguished Conduct Medal. (DCM) As part of the acceptance of Americans into the fighting force, it was decided that American acts of valor be also recognised, and Americans were awarded four DCM’s, four Military Crosses, (MC) and six Military Medals. (MM) The MC and MM are the third highest award for valor, MC for Officers and MM for enlisted men, and the MC and MM are of equal value.

Medal Of Honor recipient Thomas A Pope.

One of those Americans awarded the DCM was Corporal Thomas Pope, and he was actually presented with his Medal by the English King, George 5th in a special ceremony on the 12th August 1918. Thomas Pope was later recommended for the Medal Of Honor, one of the earliest occasions that Medal was awarded to Americans during that Great War. His citation for The Medal Of Honor says this:

His company was advancing behind the tanks when it was halted by hostile machine gun fire. Going forward alone, he rushed the machine gun nest, killed several of the crew with his bayonet, and, standing astride the gun, held off the others until reinforcements arrived and captured them.

When Thomas Pope passed away in 1989, at the age of 94, he was the oldest surviving Medal Of Honor recipient from World War One.

The association between the American military and the Australian Military is a long one indeed, now 99 years, and covering every War since that Great War of 1914/18. There is a long tradition, and it all started because of one Australian, John Monash, a true Australian military legend, when that word legend is sometimes loosely attributed these days.

After the War, John Monash was a national hero and an icon. His men loved him because he treated them so well, and looked after them at a time when just standing up meant getting shot at. Monash’s men were his most important asset, and his job, as their General was to look after them as best he could, and this he did. He passed away in 1931 at the age of only 66. He was given a State Funeral, attended by 300,000 mourners, the largest funeral of this kind in Australia’s history to that time, and most of those were men who served under him, such was the respect he had.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, the World War II British army commander, later described Monash as the best World War I general on the Western Front in Europe.

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.