General Sir John Monash (1865-1931) was an Australian general who many consider one of the most innovative and effective military commanders of the war.
Ironically, Monash was more German than British. He was born in Melbourne but both his parents were German immigrants who had Anglicised their name from ‘Monasch’ and who still spoke German in the family home.
Unlike most other high-ranking officers, Monash did not graduate from a military academy. He instead completed a university degree in civil engineering while undertaking part-time military service.
Monash joined the army full-time with the outbreak of World War I and commanded a unit in Gallipoli, where he demonstrated initiative and adaptability.
Unlike some other generals, Monash held the men under his command in high regard. He was an effective communicator and motivator, as well as a supreme organiser. The successful withdrawal from Gallipoli, which was achieved in near-secrecy and with minimal loss of life, was largely the product of his leadership.
In mid-1917, Monash arrived on the Western Front. He served for a year as a divisional commander, leading a series of successful if rather costly campaigns. In May 1918, he was promoted and given command of all five Australian divisions on the Western Front.
Monash’s calm demeanour and attention to detail earned him the confidence of his fellow officers and the men in his command An attempt to engineer his dismissal by war correspondent Charles Bean and newspaper proprietor Keith Murdoch failed largely because of Monash’s popularity.
Monash believed in coordinating all available forces – infantry, artillery, tanks and aircraft – to increase the likelihood of victory. He employed these tactics in several battles in mid-1918, most notably the successful Battle of Amiens in August, which turned the tide of the war in Europe.
Monash was hailed by many as the greatest general of the Western Front. He was knighted by King George V just days after the victory at Amiens.