Deconstructing Monash

December 30, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Sir John Monash is acknowledged as having been one of Australia’s all-time soldiers and considered to have been one World War I’s finest commanders well-known to Australians for the part he played in Gallipoli.

Sir John Monash

But military historian Dr Mark Dapin has questioned if the legend has surpassed the facts.

Dapin has recorded the eight-part series Myths of War for ABC’s Radio National. Earlier this month, the program “Sir General John Monash: a flattering self-portrait” was broadcast from which a slightly different Sir John Monash to the popular version commonly known.

According to Dapin, many Australian military historians were “riled by a recent campaign – headed by former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer – to have Monash promoted to the rank of Field Marshall, 100 years after his last command in the field”.

In his opening remarks Dr Dapin says: “On the Western Front later in the war, Monash’s most enthusiastic admirers credit him with virtually inventing combined-arms tactics – that is, having infantry, artillery and armour working together in battle.  They believed he pioneered the use of tanks.”

Brigadier Chris Roberts, author of the well-respected study, The Landing at Anzac tells Dr Dapin: “I think part of the problem is that most of our military history – certainly the popular military history that we see on the bookshelves – is overly nationalistic, it’s overly parochial, and it gives an impression of hubris and arrogance.”

Professor Peter Stanley of UNSW in Canberra says in the program: What’s happened in recent years is that that justified renown has been inflated. It’s been pumped up by admirers who don’t actually know a great deal about the First World War

But listen to the program….aired on ABC on December 16.  Running time: 25mins



Dr Mark Dapin

Dr Mark Dapin is a well-known journalist, author and screenwriter. He has degrees in the History of Art (BGS), Social Studies (BA Hons). Journalism (MA) and Military History (PhD). His thesis for his PhD was Myth and Memory in Australia’s Vietnam War.

His Jewish Anzacs and Australia’s Vietnam were both shortlisted for the NIB Military History Prize. His novel about the Thai-Burma Railway, Spirit House, was shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year Award and the Royal Society for Literature’s Oondatje Award in London. He is editor of the Penguin Book of Australian War Writing and From the Trenches: The Best Anzac Writing of World War I.


4 Responses to “Deconstructing Monash”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    Paragraph 3 “General Sir John Monash” is the correct way of writing his rank, award and name in that order.

    Monash may not have invented the combines arms tactics (infantry, Artillery and Armour plus Flying Corps too) but he used it with great effect on the western front after Great Britain and France invented tanks mid way through the war.

    In relation to the Field Marshal comment Lieutenant General Sir John Monash was a Corps Commander (Lieutenant General) in 1918 but he was not an Army Commander (General) nor the much larger command an Army Group Commander (Field Marshal).

    The now civilian (Civil Engineer) Sir John Monash was promoted to General a few years before his death by PM Scullin as was Lieutenant General Sir Harry Chauvel who was in command of Australia’s peace time Armed Forces.

    • Neal Ashkanasy says:

      Dapin’s attempt to downplay Monash’s role in the Great War is misguided and full of straw man arguments. Monash’s fame is not a recent phenomenon as Dapin claims. Over 300,000 people lined the route of his funeral procession in 1931. That’s nearly one third of Melbourne’s total population at the time!

      Nobody seriously claims Monash “invented” tank warfare. Moreovere, Monash did much more than just “adapt” old technology at Hamel. Monash’s use of infantry, artillery, tanks, and planes was completely novel and innovative at the time. And nobody seriously claims Hamel was a decisive victory. That came at Amiens on the 8th of August, for which Hamel served as a dress-rehearsal

      Monash led a “Corps” comprising 109,881 men, which is twice the size of a norall WWI corps; in effect it was an army. Birdwood was promoted to Field Marshall after the War with far less contribution than Monash. Monash will eventually be elevated to Field Marshal rank, despite people like Dapin who seek to denigrate his name.

      • Adrian Jackson says:

        A British Commonwealth division is about 20,000 men and 3 divisions make up a corps of about 60,000 men. Monash commanded a corps with 5 divisions which was 2 divisions more than normal as the Australians wants to get all the AIF division in France into one formation. However an Army is 3 corps or 9 divisions so Monash was 4 division short of an Army. An Army would have about 180,000 men if up to full strength.

        • David Deasey says:

          I hesitate to get involved in an issue which is irrelevant in terms of whether he is or is not promoted. It does not matter whether he commanded 20000 or 250000 as far as promotion to Field Marshal goes. Field Marshal is an Honour it is awarded, it is not something that you are entitled to by position. Secondly it is not within the province of the Department of Defence to even comment on.
          Having said that lets stop beating about the bush Adrian, you have your views others have different views but for goodness sake get the facts correct. Yes he commanded the five divisions of the AIF but during the operations from 8 August 1918 he had at various times the British 18th and 32nd Divisions, The Canadian 1st and 4th Divisions, the US 27th and 30th Divisions (and arguably the US II Corps) the US 131st and 132nd Regiments (33rd US Division) British 5th Cavalry Brigade, Sundry tank battalions including the US 301st, 17th Armoured car battalion all under command for operations so by my count that makes 9 Divisions plus. All useful for discussion but none of this is completely relevant to the Field Marshal argument

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