Monash’s Masterpiece – The Battle of Le Hamel and the 93 Minutes that Changed the World by Peter FitzSimons – Book Review

The Peter FitzSimons caravan rolls on! It is difficult to decide between the storyteller or the research team that provides the ‘ammunition’. Publisher, Hatchette, is to be commended however for bringing this readable book to the general public’s attention.

The Battle of Le Hamel is strategically a ‘bunch of nothing’ in FitzSimons style of writing, but is nevertheless the model for all future offensive action of WW I and the ‘architect’, or engineer of it is Monash. It is the first time that the infantry have commanded the tanks in a coordinated way! It is also the first time that an Australian General has commanded the Americans since they entered the war late in 1917!

FitzSimons Authors Note honestly acknowledges his team of researchers’ work and where he gets his inspiration to write another ripping yarn. To quote him, ”I have tried to bring the story part of this history alive, by putting the whole account in present tense, and constructing it as a novel, albeit with 1,000odd footnotes as the pinpoint pillars on which the story rests.” He also uses four Australian and three American soldiers as the ‘coalface’ characters in the language of the day, using their direct quotes and, as he is want to do, with his own interpretation or view of things.

I was particularly struck by Jane Macaulay’s 16 excellent maps that illustrated the storyline. They were simple yet detailed with regard to units and their location during various phases, especially of artillery plans.

It is a well constructed story of 352 pages covering all aspects of this ‘model’ battle including the precursor actions before it and covering the Americans entry into the War. There is an excellent epilogue, another 30 pages, of what happened to the main players and his seven soldier characters. There are copious end-notes for the ‘students’ and eight pages of pictures to complement the aforementioned excellent maps. Also a complete bibliography of the sources of the facts, or others views, plus a useful index.

FitzSimons deals intelligently with Monash the man, without fear or favour, in his ambition, his self belief, and his confidence, as a project engineer, in finding solutions to complex problems.
All in all a great read for the lay person, or even the military reader. For mine, a little too long, with minimal distortion of the Le Hamel facts, but he could have dealt more on its operational side compared to his storied characters. However it was not the strategic ‘turning point’ of WW I. That was to eventuate with the Battle of Amiens. Monash proved what could be done with coordinated fire power to protect the infantryman and thereby provided the blueprint for the future coordinated offensive operations.

Contact Jim Barry about this article.

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