Reviewed by Carl Delprat
The battle of Le Hamel and the 93 minutes that changed the world
By Peter FitzSimons
ISBN: 978 0 7336 4008 7, 353pg, April 24, 2018
Peter FitzSimons always puts 110% into all his novels and the passion powers its way without letup across every page, even into the epilogue. I’m a military history aficionado, and the amount of information presented within this book is astonishing. I can only guess at how much research went into the preliminaries, and can see similarities to Sir John Monash’s extensive planning before the Battle of Le Hamel. I’m visualising somewhere in Mosman these large white-boards and spreadsheets travelling all around the walls of the FitzSimon’s operations-centre with countless pages of information attached to them. The first thoughts that entered my head as I began to read were recollections of my two visits to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. If you really wish to experience the atmosphere of this period then a visit to this most revered site is needed.
For those not familiar with this atrocious war, FitzSimon’s book delivers you into the fourth and final year of its ineffective duration. France was almost bled white in 1916 at a battle sight named Verdun and had already had experienced a mutiny, Britain was holding on but only just and the casualty rate on both sides had been enormous. Germany who had also suffered gigantic causalities was also suffering from civilian unrest and food riots. However, with the Russian revolution now underway and peace declared on the Eastern Front, German High Command had all of its Eastern German Armies available to hammer France and Britain into submission before the USA stopped training exercises and released its two million soldiers. The Commander of the American forces General ‘Black-Jack’ Pershing kept his army unoperational with the intention of unleashing them in 1919. With all the Allied combatants at this projected date presumed to be exhausted, he could then take the honour of winning-the-war.
Peter FitzSimons uses the first half of his book to familiarise the reader with the wasted carnage that had been (up to this point) the military tacticians method of waging trench warfare. Mass attacks against fortified emplacements were always followed with the opponent’s counter-attacks resulting in little or no new footholds and always frighteningly high casualty rates. This war had been a continuation of stalemated formulas achieving nothing other than wasteful attrition. Now enters a man with a reputation who wasn’t a professional soldier but a civil engineer and with a fresh perspective on expediting this quagmire.
Used his previous bridge building career as a foundation, Sir John Monash assessed what resources were waiting on hand and then came up with a novel approach on coordinating their implementation.
Inventions like the safety pin, paperclip and the wheelbarrow were obvious solutions to a necessity and so simple in design that anyone should have thought of them. However we all had to wait until the right creative person conceived the idea and then convinced the world it really needed it. Sir John Monash virtually did the same with what was currently accessible. He utilised aircraft for delivering supplies by parachute and to strafe and bomb the enemies’ front line during the attack phase.
Tanks were used to not only take out machine gun posts, but to also deliver supplies by sled right up to the front line. Monash continually obtained and used extensive aerial photography prior to the planned attack.Close cooperation between ground troops and tank squads was utilised throughout training exercises. The allocated support tanks were painted in the regiment’s colours. To eliminate the carnage of crossing no-mans- land under machine gun fire, Monash moved his men under cover of darkness right up to their opponent’s front line. Not only did Monash’s brilliance shorten the end of the First World War by at least a year, it unfortunately supplied the Germans with a blueprint on how to win the next one as their Blitzkrieg tactics overwhelmed all opposition in 1940.
Monash’s Masterpiece captures the experiences of so many individual soldiers, their involvements and heroics. But the primary piece of information is all about John Monash himself, his anti-Semitic persecution and professional white-anting by the jealous and envious who at times made obstruction within the Allied Command and the Australian media on par to the Germany’s military opposition.
The controversy connected with Sir John Monash’s appointment to take over overall command of the Australian Corps (previously commanded by General Birdwood an Englishman) continues to the present day. In early 2018, the Federal Opposition along with ex-Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher and several Coalition MP’s are all currently backing the proposal that Sir John Monash be posthumously awarded the title of Field Marshal.
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (and his cabinet) on advice from the Australian Defence Forces decided against it. Only someone like Peter FitzSimons could put 352 pages of Australian history together with such entertaining intensity, and every Aussie bookshelf should boast of a proud copy of Monash’s Masterpiece within their collection.
About the reviewer: Carl Delprat is a prolific storyteller. His home is the Australian coastal city of Newcastle, New South Wales. Find his books at: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/CarlDelprat