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The Australian Father Of Blitzkrieg

blitz·krieg (blĭts’krēg’)

n. A swift, sudden military offensive, usually by combined air and mobile land forces. war conducted with great speed and force; specifically : a violent surprise offensive by massed air forces and mechanized ground forces in close coordination. German : Blitz , lightning (from Middle High German blitze , from bliczen , to flash , from Old High German blekkazzen; see in Indo-European roots + Krieg , war (from Middle High German kriec , from Old High German krēg , stubbornness .

John Monash's portrait on the 100 Dollars banknote.
John Monash’s portrait on the 100 Dollars banknote.

The man on our One Hundred Dollar note not only has a very fine handlebar mustache he is also one of Australia’s greatest military and humanitarian figureheads. His name is General Sir John Monash and the story of his life is certainly worth recounting on these pages. He is truly an icon of Australia and his position on the largest currency note of Australia is well deserved as he was literally a giant of a man.

John Monash was born in Melbourne in 1865. His parents were migrants with German Polish Jewish origins. They had migrated to Australia just two years prior to his birth. As his well educated parents were fluent in German, John also learnt from them and was wholly fluent in German both written and spoken. This would prove to be a huge advantage in the many theatres of war he would later find himself

His father ran a small general store in the Riverina township of Jerilderie. Monash was recounted as saying that he actually met Ned Kelly when Kelly’s gang raided the store one day in 1879. Two legends of Australia meet and both are destined to become famous or in the case of Kelly, infamous. Kelly would be hung for his bush ranging activities the following year at the Old Melbourne Gaol .

Teachers and family noted that the young Monash had a very good intellect and his family was advised that they should return to the city so that John could foster his true abilities. They moved to Melbourne shortly after. He attended Scotch College where he completed his secondary schooling before going on to Melbourne University where attained a degree in Civil Engineering. A short time later in 1887 he made his first step toward a military career by joining the Australian Citizen Force.

On the outbreak of the First World War he was chosen to command the 3rd Division of the Australian Imperial Force and was then promptly dispatched in 1914 to Gallipoli where he noted with dismay the needless death of thousands of good men due to poor military planning a general lack of concern by military commanders for their front line troops. He was very much a humanist where his troops were concerned, he had a dislike of military traditions and he had an uncanny ability to read a battlefield that most of his European contemporaries lacked. He had become already well known for his outspoken views on putting human life ahead of that of military machinery. Other commanders were prepared to sacrifice men in order to preserve the equipment but not Monash. An ability to make single handed decisions and to plan effectively became his hallmarks. The Gallipoli campaign saw him promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. At the completion of the disastrous battle against the Ottoman army he was posted to the Western Front where he served in multiple actions and developed the offensive known as Blitzkrieg (Lightening attack). The “Blitzkrieg” template was so effective that Hitler adopted similar ruthless planning for his own offensives in World War Two.

Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, commander of the Australian Corps
Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, commander of the Australian Corps

Monash planned the highly successful Battle of Le Hamel where he led his troops with great courage and skill. He flew in the face of military and strategic convention by putting heavy equipment at the front of the battle with the troops where it risked falling into enemy hands. He underpinned this with the use of aerial drops for resupply and advancing artillery in the rear.

The battle took place on July 4th 1918 and with Australian and American troops leading the charge under his command. It was a decisive victory for within 93 minutes they had killed more than 2,000 enemy troops and a managed to capture a further 1600. All together the Australians lost 1,300 men and the Americans 176 but the stalemate that had been in place for the previous 4 years and had kept the front from advancing had been broken. Troops recounted that one of the truly remarkable things about this battle was not the way it was conducted but the fact that during the midst of the battle, Monash had arranged delivery of hot meals to those men serving on the front line. A world first in any theater of war.

One of the most historic moments of his military career was to follow when George V knighted him in the field after the capture of Mont St. Quentin and Peronne. He was the first person to be made a Knight of the Realm by a British Monarch, in the field, for over 200 years. Monash was so brilliant as a militarist that he has been listed in the lofty company of Napoleon, Erwin Rommel and Tomoyuki Yamashita as one of the finest military planners in history.

Significant quotes by other relating to Monash were:

Georges Clemenceau – French Prime Minister – “When the Australians came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you. We knew you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the beginning you would astonish the whole continent.”

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery – “I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe”.

Some of Monash’s most famous quotes were:

“Feed the troops on victory”
“No man is a hero in his own country”
” It was all over on ninety-three minutes – the perfection of teamwork”

He returned to Australia on Boxing Day in 1919 to a hero’s welcome. His first position back home was to be in charge of troop repatriation where he further endeared himself to his men and the larger community. Other posts that he held where Head of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, Chancellor of Melbourne University and President of the Rotary Club. The observation of ANZAC Day as an annual event was one thing of which he was a principal organizer.

Lieutenant General Sir John Monash
Lieutenant General Sir John Monash

He died on the 8th of October 1931 at which time his full title was General Sir John Monash GCMB, KCB, VD. He was buried with a full state funeral attended by more than 250,000 people at Brighton cemetery.


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