GENERAL SIR JOHN MONASH:
THE FIRST MILITARY MANAGER?
DID HE BRING TO COMMAND BUSINESS IDEAS NOT KNOWN TO OTHER BEF COMMANDERS?
An Assessment By
Dr George Bailey OBE
The military management skills of General Sir John Monash, commander of the Australian Corps on the Western Front in 1918, is the subject of this assessment. The objective is to examine whether or not he brought unique competencies to leadership based on his earlier business experiences. Benchmarking his actions against those of other senior British Expeditionary Force commanders such as Sir Henry Rawlinson, Sir Arthur Currie and Sir Andrew Russell enable his overall performance to be analysed. Contemporary management concepts are used to test the findings.
Both primary research, the examination of original letters and reports, and secondary research, the literature about the First World War, have provided information to support the overall conclusion. Monash was a pioneer in military management but not unique. He shared with others from business and commercial backgrounds the ability to exploit management ideas and the new technologies current during the Great War. He should be remembered for bringing Twentieth Century thinking to an Imperial Army still largely dominated by Nineteenth Century teachings.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Why Examine the Military Management of the Great War?
The Shaping of Business Management in the Early Twentieth Century
Military Commanders as Seekers of Sustainable Competitive Advantage
The Researching of Monash’s Contribution to the Military Operations of 1918
Monash the Man; As an Engineer and as a Soldier
The Anzac Legend; The Problems with Illusion
Currie and Russell; Mythologizing the Other Dominions
Assessing Rawlinson’s Progress, 1914 to 1918
Monash and Rawlinson; Comments on their Working Relationship
Monash; the Unique Military Commander?
Taking Military Management Forward; A General Conclusion
Appendix 1: Defining Fayol’s Principles of Management
Appendix 2: The Evidence for Monash being a Military Manager
Appendix 3: Monash and his Military Experiences after 1919
Appendix 4: Rawlinson’s erratic planning
References and Additional Notes
Why Examine the Military Management of the Great War?
General Sir John Monash, the commander of the Australian Corps within the British Expeditionary Force (the BEF) during the final months of the Great War on the Western Front, has been considered by historians to have had a unique ability – that of being able to apply the skills of business management to the fighting of battles. It has led to Monash being thought of as the first military manager. As described by Pitt (1962), paraphrasing Liddell Hart’s obituary of Monash, he “…possessed one of the few ‘Big Business’ type of brains among the Allied commanders…” (also Serle, 1982a). However is this judgement based on a myth, or did he bring something to command which gave his units success out of proportion to their numbers and what they were asked to do? It is the analysis of the relevance of this ability that is the core of this assessment.
In juxtaposition to this question can be addressed two others. Were other commanders using such skills but hiding their origin simply because they progressed their careers through the established military hierarchies or were they from countries which did not seek to mythologize their commanders’ contribution to winning the Great War?
To set the scene – what is meant by business management will be examined first. This will show what influences were shaping the ways things were done during the early years of the Twentieth Century. Then the impact of these influences upon the operational thinking of a number of the leaders of the BEF units will be examined to allow the record of Monash as a military commander to be assessed. This will enable a more accurate judgement to be made of Monash’s contribution to the initial development of the military manager ethos, a development which has continued up to the present time albeit that controversy continues between the leadership school and the management school of military training.
The Shaping of Business Management in the Early Twentieth Century
During the Twentieth Century there has been a revolution in the understanding of how to manage business organizations. The stimulus for this has been the need to gain and hold a competitive advantage. Powering the stimulus has been the change in global economics brought about by technological changes such as Information Technology. These have allowed organizations to grow so that they have to ‘feed’ on greater and greater geographical areas – a process called globalisation. Trade has fuelled the growth of the larger commercial organizations so that they have outgrown their home countries, even their continents, and now export their goods and services throughout the world. In the early Twentieth Century, the Greater German Empire sought such expansion but felt itself blocked by the globally-based British Empire, one of the economic factors creating the political tensions which led to the Great War.
Allowing this process to progress has been the development of what is today known as ‘management’. Management has evolved beyond the term ‘administration’, which is about developing and maintaining procedures. It is the ‘umbrella’ term covering the activities of forecasting, planning, organizing, commanding, co-ordinating and controlling – concepts brought together in a cohesive whole by Henri Fayol in his hugely influential book ‘Administration industrielle et generale’. The book was published in 1916, the year of Verdun and the Somme on the Western Front.
Henri Fayol, (1845-1925) the successful French industrialist, was trained as a mining engineer. Between 1864 and 1918 he worked in one company, spending the last thirty years turning it into a prosperous organization. In his book, writing about the then already recognised five key activities of technical; commercial; financial; security; and accounting; he focused on a sixth, the managerial activities. These managerial activities are contained in 14 precepts, his famous ‘Principles of Management’.
- division of work;
- unity of command;
- unity of direction;
- subordination of individual interests to the general interest;
- scalar chain;
- stability of tenure of personnel;
- esprit de corps.(as listed in Cole, 1990)
Definitions of these terms are given in Appendix 1.
Although the modern management theorist might criticise these terms, nevertheless they reflected the management practices found to be the best for the organizational structures common in the early Twentieth Century, many based on paternalistic bureaucracies. For example, in the British Army such an organizational structure was the battalion with its scalar chain of command, its division of labour based on different weapon systems and activities, its use of authority and discipline, and its centralized purpose controlled by a commanding officer. Although personal initiative had to be contained within ordered procedures, the battalion usually had a superb esprit de corps built upon the loyalty of its men (Lee, 1997a).
Although the date of publication, 1916, and the language of publication (French), both precluded the book from being directly applied by the Great War’s BEF commanders, nevertheless, it linked concepts which had been gaining international respectability for some time. A major influence on these was F.W. Taylor who published his ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ in 1911. With other American managers interested in management theories, the idea of managing scientifically was introduced into workplaces such as factories and construction sites and greatly improved productivity.
When the production of war materials, for example, gun tubes and shells, later demanded large quantities be made in short periods of time, scientific management provided the means by which this objective was achieved. Careful manufacturing to fine tolerances was critical for producing weapons such as the British 60-pounder gun which would accurately deliver explosives on to geographical points selected for creeping barrages and counter-battery fire (Winter, 1991a).
Military Commanders as Seekers of Sustainable Competitive Advantage
The mention of the two battles, Verdun and the Somme, is no coincidence. When military commanders fight each other, in effect they are trying to gain a competitive advantage over the other and then sustain that advantage through the exercise of military and, with other leaders, political power. Using Clausewitzian terminology, they seek to ‘impose their will on the enemy’. The later name for the Great War is the First World War which more accurately defines the nature of this conflict. The enemy states were in two blocs involving the major empires and nations of the world. Whereas campaigns between belligerents in previous centuries had been fought in relatively limited geographical areas, the campaigns of the Great War by contrast took place globally and simultaneously, on land, sea, and even in the air. Combatants from countries as far apart as India, Germany, the United States, New Zealand, Arabia, Turkey and South Africa found themselves fighting other combatants sometimes thousands of miles from their homelands.
The global nature of the Great War meant that those in command and responsible for co-ordinating groups of combatants from many countries were required to give thought to how these different groups could be motivated to achieve their best performance. Whereas controlling groups from within one’s own nation is commanding the known, doing so with foreign groups exposes the commander to the unknown element of different national cultures. The modern international businessman has had to become sensitive to differences in national cultures; understanding what is important has had to be learned, and the knowledge passed on, over a number of decades. Although many of the commanders of the Great War on the British and French side did have experience of commanding ‘native’ troops in India and in North Africa, only a few gained a reputation for cultural sensitivity.
Hence many Entente commanders, brought up in the Sandhurst or St. Cyr traditions, found themselves being required to command multi-national groups bringing with them many different thoughts on how war should be fought and expressing these thoughts in different languages. Furthermore not all the leaders of these groups were necessarily long-serving officers trained exclusively in military thinking. Some had qualified in non-military professions, and had led lives exposed to new ways of thinking fermented during the great industrial progress of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. Others had been involved with commercial enterprises and absorbed the new ideas being publicised by Fayol, Taylor and others on how to run these enterprises more efficiently so as to be successful.
Thus the military commanders on the Western Front were finding themselves being exposed to, and having to take account of, new attitudes and practices brought about the unusual circumstances of this multi-national conflict. These reflected the explosion in scientific ideas, the cascading of these ideas into industrial processes, and the divergence in the ways of doing things resulting from geographical and cultural factors. To get the best out of these processes required sound management. Furthermore, these commanders were soon made aware by practical examples such as the lethal power of machine gun fire that many of the military practices of the years 1860 to 1910 were being rendered obsolete by the industrialisation of the fighting, which demanded the huge expenditure of material resources to support the front-line troops – demands which could only be met by exploiting the commercial advances in making manufactured products of an acceptable quality in vast quantities.
In attempting to analyse the impact of these new attitudes, the name of one general stands out, the Australian commander John Monash. His ‘Big Business’ approach to military command (Pitt, 1962), seen in his application of commercial thinking to military problems – as evidenced in his own statements set out in Appendix 2 – can be said to make him the first recognisable military manager. He was one of the first ‘citizen officers’ (Cutlack 1935, Serle 1982b) to have reached the rank of Major General whilst being able to consider practically applying the many skills he acquired in his professional and commercial life outside military service. Hence Monash will be the pivotal personality around which this assessment revolves and will be used to benchmark the standard to which a number of other British and Dominion commanders performed in the managerial role.
From this analysis will come a deeper understanding of how management began to play its proper role in improving the effectiveness with which troops fight. In the early Twentieth First Century, this role is recognised, albeit sometimes controversially, as having a part to play in the running of military campaigns as well as of business organizations. Indeed, increasingly the lessons of military operations are being used to understand how to win commercial success, and new business ideas are being exploited to further improve military effectiveness. Although the Harvard Business School approach may have been misapplied in controlling American operations in the Vietnam War, recent conflicts in the Falkland Islands, in the Persian Gulf and, more controversially, in Kosova show how good management can help bring success – and with it a considerable saving in human lives.
The Researching of Monash’s Contribution to the Military Operations of 1918
In order to examine individual performances in the managerial role, three levels of research are available, of which the first has little applicability today. Being some eighty years since the end of the Great War, none of those who commanded remain alive. Even those who served as subalterns and privates are few in number, and as seen in the Armistice Day parade in Whitehall, London, or at the great Thiepval Memorial to the Missing ceremony (Coombs, 1976) on the First of July, are now extremely frail. Inevitably their reminiscences are usually based on selective memories – and anyway, unless they were attached to GHQ or Corps HQs, they would have known nothing of how decisions were made by the BEF commanders.
The second level is what academics and researchers call ‘primary research’. Here the war letters, personal letters and diaries of the commanders can be examined and analysed. Thus the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King’s College London provides microfilm of Sir Douglas Haig’s diaries and letters, the originals being stored in the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. Sir Henry Rawlinson’s papers are stored at Churchill College, Cambridge. He commanded the Fourth Army in which the Australian Corps, led by Monash, fought during the Hundred Days of 1918. General Sir John Monash’s papers are stored at the Australian National Library in Canberra, but a selection of his war letters have been published (Cutlack, 1935).
Having examined the Haig Diaries, both as photographed from his original diaries and as selected by Blake (1952), the weakness of this form of research can be understood where someone with Haig’s renowned self-control writes to present his views on current and forthcoming operations recognising that these will be read by future historians. Sir Henry Rawlinson’s diaries covering the periods surrounding the battles of Hamel (4 July 1918) and of Amiens (beginning 8 August 1918) and the attack on the Hindenburg Line (September 1918) have also been read, in Churchill College (during November 2000), to examine the working relationship between Monash and his Fourth Army Commander.
The third level is usually called ‘secondary research’. For the purposes of this assessment, secondary research provides the main source of information. It is based on the many books written about the First World War and also about contemporary strategic and business management. However, the former books present problems of veracity. To what extent are the military authors seeking to provide objective assessments of often-controversial events, or are they trying to, perhaps sub-consciously, project their personal feelings, whether of admiration or animosity? This applies particularly to the events of 1916 and 1917 and especially to the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele.
In this assessment, this author as a lecturer and author on organisational management has no particular ‘school of history’ to defend. Instead he seeks to understand historical events using intellectual methodology and analysis from the business world which are not part of the historian’s ‘tools of the trade’. In presenting information, this author recognises that he has to select elements of historical recording in order to develop his analysis. However in the same way that a painting can be accepted as the representation of an actuality, this paper can be presented as a reasonable representation of what happened during the Great War. It builds on earlier authors who were able to question some of those that were part of the events, and who had better access to original diaries and letters deposited in the world’s museums and archives.
Monash the Man; As an Engineer and as a Soldier
In assessing the overall performance of Monash, it is prudent to separate Monash the man from the myth he came to represent. John Monash was born in Melbourne in 1865 of recently-arrived Jewish migrants from the Prussian-Polish region. When they settled in Australia, his father dropped the ‘c’ in the Monasch name to give the surname by which his son is now known. John Monash qualified as an engineer (alike Henri Fayol) and practised in construction, pioneering the use of ferro-concrete in Australia. Among his many interests was military training and he became a part-time militia officer gradually gaining promotion whilst in command of coastal artillery batteries. He was in the Australian forces which landed in Gallipoli in 1915 and the biographies by A.J. Smithers (1973), Geoffrey Serle (1982a) and P.A. Pedersen (1985) describe his control of troops during the campaign (where a temporary attack of panic fortunately did not damage his future prospects). After reaching the Western Front, he was made the commander of the 3rd Australian Division. His first divisional attack was at Messines on the 7th of June 1917 (Pedersen, 1985). On the 4th of October, he commanded the attack on the Broodseinde Ridge (to the east of Passchendaele) which employed his first use of ‘leapfrogging’ units of the Division through each other and onto the objectives. The success of the attack brought further renown to the whole Australian Corps.
Following Birdwood’s transfer away from the Australian Corps, Monash came into his own as the commander of the entire Corps, firstly in the very successful but limited action at Hamel, east of Villers-Bretonneux, on the 4th July 1918 (with appropriately, it being American Independence Day, some American troops taking part). The objective in capturing the Hamel Spur was to deepen the defences of the Villers-Bretonneux plateau (Pedersen, 1985). Because he was not directly involved with the disastrous First Battle of Bullecourt (11th April 1917) in which the 4th Australian Brigade suffered a 75 % casualty rate due to the fiasco in using the Mark 1 tanks, he was not prejudiced against the tank. 45 new Mark 5 Fighting tanks of the 5th Tank Brigade advancing in 3 echelons behind a creeping barrage helped the infantry to the swift capture of the Spur, a success achieved with limited casualties. Next month the divisions of his Corps were key elements in the famous advance on the 8th August at the Battle of Amiens, the first major step in closing the ring upon the worn-out German field armies. Two other important successes, at Mont St Quentin on September 1st and on September 29th in breaking through the Hindenburg Line at Bellicourt, were achieved before the Australian Corps left the front-line for rest and recuperation.
The recently erected Monument on the Hamel Spur commemorates the very successful attack of the Australian Corps on 4th July 1918.
The quiet village of Le Hamel, south of the river Somme, which gave its name to the Australian action – now basking in the heat of a summer’s day.
The Australian advance on 8th August was constrained by the German defence of Chipilly Spur. Next day the British 58th Division cleared the Spur; the Memorial is also a remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of horses which were also casualties of the Great War.
Whilst these actions cemented the global reputation of the Australians as superb fighters, they also benefited Monash, their Corps Commander, by giving him his long-lasting reputation even though his agitated state and indecision before the storming of the Hindenburg Line, similar to that he experienced during the Gallipoli campaign, lead to his being personally counselled by Sir Douglas Haig, his Commander-in-Chief (Serle 1982a, Pedersen 1985, Winter 1991b). However the next day, the 30th of September, two of his brigade commanders, Cannan of the 14th Brigade and McNicoll of the 9th Brigade, seized the opportunity to switch from a west-east line of advance to a northwards movement which allowed the remainder of the Hindenburg Line in the Australian sector to be cleared during the 31st of September (Pedersen, 1985).
After the end of hostilities, Sir John Monash remained a further year in Europe to ensure the smooth return of his troops to Australia. Unfortunately soon after his own return his personal happiness was blighted by the death of his wife who had suffered cancer of the uterus for six years without her knowing (although he was told of her condition in February 1916). He then returned to his professional life becoming general manager of the Victoria State Electricity Commission, which built one of the world’s greatest engineering schemes. Showing his good sense, he employed German engineers who were the only ones with the expertise to exploit the reserves of brown coal needed to fuel the power stations. After his death in 1931, Monash University, the second university established in the State of Victoria, was named in his memory.
There is ample evidence, some of it being listed in Appendix 2, that Monash was a superb military organiser, using a daily checklist (with each task meticulously crossed off once completed) to make sure that no task was overlooked. His engineering expertise came into play in rebuilding Australian confidence in the tank which brought success on the 4th of July. He used four Carrier tanks to supplement the carrying capacity of the Mark 5 Fighting tanks at Le Hamel village and Vaire and Hamel Woods to save over 1,250 soldiers having to carry forward 50,000 lb of supplies (wire, pickets, sheet iron, bombs, ammunition and water) to the advancing troops (Fletcher, 1994). Copying the Germans’ technique used in their attacks on the Lys and the Aisne during the Kaiser’s Battle, aircraft were used to parachute in 112,000 rounds of ammunition needed by the machine-guns although many of the parachutes failed to open (Pitt 1962, Pedersen 1985). Whether Hamel is categorised as a battle or a giant raid, it has achieved renown because of Monash’s meticulous planning, given support by Haig and Rawlinson. Therefore it is reasonable to claim that it was the first modern battle because of the close co-operation between the artillery, tanks, aircraft and the infantry (Serle 1982a, Bailey 1998)
During the Battle of Amiens (8th August 1918), his experiment with the Mark V Star tanks of carrying machine-gun sections into battle was less successful – because of the inadequacies of the tanks. Being slow, many supporting the Canadian 4th Division fell victims to German anti-tank gunfire. Also on both the Canadian and Australian fronts, the petrol fumes and heat within the tanks left the sections exhausted and unable to fight (Pitt, 1962). However, tanks did help 16 Austin armoured cars to break out and get into the rear areas (Fletcher, 1994). The Germans in the small villages of Proyart (Blond, 1965a) and Framerville were surprised and suffered heavily. Maps of the defence system of the Hindenburg Line showing details of the canal section from Bellicourt to St Quentin (Prior and Wilson, 1992) was seized, which proved of great advantage some six weeks later.
Monash demonstrated the ability to achieve brilliant success with economy in both lives and labour. Coupled to these organizing skills was the ability to get the best use from the technology then available, hence what appeared to be the innovative use of tanks and aircraft (Serle, 1982a); however Winter (1991b) has recently suggested that Monash copied his tactics from GHQ’s SS135. Probably he was helped in having as his army commander, General Sir Henry Rawlinson, a man disliked by many British Regular officers for being clever but who was willing, by that stage of the war, to learn from experience (Pitt, 1962). Whereas other army commanders might have stifled Monash’s experiments, under Rawlinson’s command of the Fourth Army and with the support of Haig, Monash was given the tanks to try new methods (whether taken from SS135 or not) which brought the breakthroughs at Hamel and Amiens. It was his repeated attempts to gain maximum success with the maximum economy in Australian lives which established his renown.
The Anzac Legend; The Problems with Illusion
In assessing the performance of Monash as a military commander, the issue of what is known as the ‘Anzac legend’ (Thomson, 1994) has to be directly faced. This legend is based on the mythology that grew out of the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 which described the Australian soldier as ‘…basically different from, and better than, other soldiers in the British armies…’ (Andrews, 1993). To what extent did the renown of Monash come about because of the Anzac legend which he himself helped to create through his writings (Sheffield, 1999)? Certainly the Australian troops gained an awesome reputation and took the lead in many successful assaults. However, by the time they came into action in France in 1916, the pre-war leadership within the superb British Regular Army had disappeared in two years of fighting (Bidwell and Graham, 1982) and the New Armies were soon reeling from the events of the 1st of July on the Somme. Although this not the place for a detailed rebuttal of the claimed inadequacies of British divisions compared to the Dominion divisions, the response of Simkins in British Fighting Methods in the Great War (1996a) does help put the Anzac legend into context.
Simkins shows that the overall performances of British and Dominion divisions during the final Hundred Days were comparable. One of the best British Divisions during that time was the 24th. Yet three years earlier, together with the 21st Division, it was the victim of one of the most tragic blunders of the Great War (Regan, 1991). Both were New Army units which were in reserve at the battle of Loos in late 1915. With little training and without previous experience of battle they were sent in to attack between Hulluch and Bois Hugo on the 26th of September (Macdonald, 1993). Both Divisions were shattered by German machine-gunners who themselves were only subjected to a sparse and inaccurate British artillery bombardment (Lee, 1997b).
Eric Andrews and Alistair Thomson, two authors living in Australia, in their recent books The Anzac Illusion and Anzac Memories put forward powerful cases to show that the legend is a distortion. The psychological process which led to the legend becoming established is understandable. Australia was then in the process of separating from Britain, its parent country, by gradually becoming an equal partner. Praising the performance of her troops whilst denigrating that of British troops (unfortunately a less pleasant trait of Monash) was a natural part of this process. Strangely enough the legend also had a benefit to the British high command. It had the effect of encouraging Australian men to volunteer for the war – even though the Australian nation twice voted against conscription being introduced (Andrews, 1993). It also kept them fighting despite the heavy casualties they suffered in battles such as Fromelles, Pozieres and Bullecourt. Thus between 1916 and 1918, the Australian Divisions fought with dash and panache on most occasions.
Monash’s personal reaction in criticising the performance of the British divisions may unfortunately have been conditioned by his ancestry; Jews in Poland (and of course most of Eastern Europe including Germany) were treated as inferior and sometimes suffered pogroms. He himself recognised that he was sometimes subject to anti-Semitism, even by other Australians (Serle, 1982a). Such racialist sentiments were also not uncommon in the British military establishment. Quoting Pedersen (1985), "General Sir H. Rawlinson and Major-General A.A. Montgomery were the commander and chief of staff respectively of the 4th Army, to which the Australian Corps belonged. Monash saw them almost daily, but their anti-Semitism was well concealed from him." Hence his understandable reaction of being critical of the British divisions’ performances. Nonetheless his criticisms did contain some truths. The British class system made it difficult for natural leaders from the lower classes to be appointed to the more senior officer ranks, and those being led often lacked the initiative to act as individuals. On the other hand many of the best British military leaders at both senior and junior levels were dead by 1916 (Bidwell and Graham, 1982).
However, Monash in his criticisms was not comparing like with like; even he had to recognise that the highly-trained professional British Regular Army had been largely destroyed in 1914 and 1915 (Serle, 1982a). In 1918, when Australian effectiveness reached its peak (Andrews, 1993), Britain’s conscription was ‘scraping the barrel’. However it is a myth that British Divisions were reduced to relying on English youngsters, newly out of school, being hastily trained and put into the trenches, many immediately having to serve as subalterns to cover the desperate shortage of junior officers. Experienced fighters who had served in the ranks during earlier battles were appointed as officers to replace officer casualties (Sheffield, 1999, 2001). And many of these youngsters would have been natural volunteers in 1914 and 1915 – indeed some may have tried to volunteer but been rejected because of their young age. The experienced ‘ranker’ officers and the newly arrived young officers, together with British veterans wearied of war (Bond, 1991) and alongside their Entente allies, successfully harried the retreating Germans back towards the frontier. Although the Germans were themselves weakened by their losses in the Kaiser’s Battle, nevertheless some of their units, and especially many of their machine gunners, continued to fight valiantly.
It is reasonable to conclude that both the British and the Dominion units gained success but in different ways. Lee (1997a) makes the comment that, at Passchendaele, both British and Dominion divisions had an ‘…extraordinary ability just to keep going, no matter how difficult the conditions…’. Simkins (1996b) concludes his assessment of the British 18th Division’s performance by praising the British soldiers’ ‘…bloody minded persistence and his powers of endurance…’. These are indications that different styles of performance could, and did, contribute to the final victory.
Following the lead of Andrews and Thomson, the Anzac legend should be put to one side, especially as much of it is owed to the great improvement in the organizational performance of the officers commanding the Australian Forces (Andrews, 1993). Monash was the commanding officer and hence his abilities as a military manager can be more accurately established without being overshadowed by the Anzac legend. These authors’ view is supported by the recognition that the term ‘Anzacs’ was a convenient acronym brilliantly exploited by the headquarters to publicise the Australian contribution, even though the Australian soldiers on the Western Front called themselves “diggers”, which they felt more accurately described their own culture (Thomson, 1994).
Currie and Russell: Mythologizing the Other Dominions
Sir John Monash was not the only major ‘native’ commander of Dominion troops. Sir Arthur Currie was a native Canadian and Sir Andrew Russell a native New Zealander. Arthur Currie commanded the 1st Canadian Division at the most renowned Canadian victory, the capture of Vimy Ridge on Easter Monday during the Battle of Arras (9 April 1917). This ridge had been the objective of two ferocious French attacks in the Spring and Autumn of 1915 which claimed horrendous casualties and led to one of the most famous war novels, Henri Barbusse’s ‘Under Fire’ (1926). The successive French attacks pushed the Germans off the Notre Dame de Lorette Ridge out of Ablain-St. Nazaire, Souchez, Neuville St. Vaast and la Targette, then across the Zouave Valley and onto Vimy Ridge (Macksey, 1965). However, fierce and costly counter-attacks meant that the Germans retained the 400 feet ridge with its superb observation over the Allied lines from Lens to Arras.
The imposing Canadian Memorial on the summit of Hill 145 commemorates the brilliant capture of the Vimy Ridge by the 4th Canadian Division on 10th April 1917 during the Battle of Arras.
A bronze beaver, caste on the base of a flag pole at the Canadian Memorial, symbolises the forests and prairies of Canada.
From Macksey’s book which gives a full account of the ridge’s capture, the similarities between Currie and Monash are revealed. Currie, pre-War, was also an amateur soldier, being professionally a prosperous real-estate manager and auctioneer in Canada. Indeed, at one stage, Haig confused Monash with Currie by referring to Monash as an auctioneer (Serle, 1982a). Currie brought to field command a willingness to search widely for solutions to problems (Monash drew on his engineering expertise). He also had two beneficial attributes of being approachable and good at communication – offsetting any disadvantage of being’…corpulent, a decidedly unmilitary-looking commander’ and having a ‘…less than charismatic personality…’ (Oliver, 1997). By the Kaiser’s Battle a year later Currie had taken command of the four Canadian Divisions which made up the Canadian Corps. At the Battle of Amiens, two of the Canadian Divisions contributed greatly to the breakout before returning to Horne’s First Army around Arras. There they cleared the Drocourt-Queant Switch Line, controversially rated by Winter (1991b) as the ‘…British Army’s single greatest achievement on the Western Front.’
Currie relied on the support of the Canadian Government to have the Corps treated as a national army, which gave him the right to be properly consulted before Canadian troops were asked to take part in specific operations. This caused Haig to be confused about whether the Canadians were to be treated as allies like the French, and later the Americans, or as fellow citizens of the British Empire (Macksey, 1965). The reality is that the Dominion forces of Canada, Australia and also New Zealand had by feat of arms achieved an equality of status in nationhood – part of the British Empire but not subservient to it.
Whereas Monash was competent at handling his own finances, Griffith (1994) suggests that Currie was not only eccentric but also fell on hard times to be a near-bankrupt during the War. Bryant (1987) gives a full account of how $10,833.44 (1913 values) from the Canadian Department of Militia given to pay for equipment for the 50th Regiment of which Currie was the commanding officer was ‘diverted’ from his private bank account where it was held into paying off his personal debts. These arose from property speculations which went wrong during a slump in real estate values and the considerable costs expected to be paid by the commanding officer of a militia regiment. Three years later he repaid the debts – but fortunately his taking command of a brigade in the Canadian Expeditionary Force after the declaration of war diverted attention away from what undoubtedly could have been criminal charges for fraud in peace-time.
Despite these personal failings he is judged as being militarily highly competent with a deep interest in tactical science (Winter, 1991c). Following his troop’s poor showing on the 8th October 1916 during the fighting for Regina Trench (the Battle of the Somme), he meticulously debriefed them and used their insights to both form and extend his understanding of how to get better military performance. In addition, he carefully examined the new offensive tactical doctrines of the French (Oliver, 1997).
This modern approach to problem solving is clearly a considerable advance on the approach to strategic and tactical thinking of the BEF’s Headquarters which relied upon the traditions of the Camberley Staff College of the 1890s (Griffith, 1994). This transition from the traditional ‘professional’ approach to war to the technical ‘managerial’ approach, favoured by Currie and Monash, created tensions. This change, needed to cope with the new scientific and technological problems of the Great War, led to the headquarters’ staff seeming to become isolated from the front-line soldiers (Beckett and Simpson, 1985).
Unlike Monash and Currie, Andrew Russell left his home country to be educated at Harrow and Sandhurst. Following five years of military service as a Regular officer in Burma and India, he resigned his commission to revitalise the financial performance of his family’s sheep station. A practical man, he disliked wasting resources – and regarded his men as being his most valuable resource. He was a meticulous planner who demanded professionalism, paid great attention to detail, managed by personal inspections, carefully debriefed his senior officers after operations, and required rehearsals to build experience and eliminate tactical weaknesses (Liddle, 1997). In common with Monash and Currie, he commanded part-time soldiers until the outbreak of war, and alike Monash he built his reputation on Gallipoli (where he liaised well with Monash) so took command of the New Zealand Division when it was formed in 1916. The Division was also a ‘national army’ but when it grew too big to be administratively one division, he had to accept it being retained as a four-brigade division rather than being split into two two-brigade divisions (Pugsley, 1997).
After the Somme, the Division’s soldiers also became known as the “diggers” (Pugsley, 1997), and their formidable reputation was strengthened by operations at Messines, and at Gravenstafel Ridge and Bellevue Spur during Third Ypres in late 1917. At Copse 125 (Rossignol Wood) in the autumn of 1918, soldiers of their Otago Regiment were ambushed by the famous German storm-trooper, Ernst Junger, during the New Zealand attacks (Junger, 1985). He admired the splendid physiques of the corpses when he later saw them in daylight. And during the Hundred Days, the New Zealanders took the walled town of le Quesnoy, using scaling ladders in a way that the medieval warriors would have understood and praised.
The ramparts of the fortress built by Vauban at le Quesnoy, a town brilliantly captured by the New Zealand Division on 5th November 1918.
It is reasonable to claim that the personal experiences of Monash, Currie and Russell in their civilian lives made their mental approach to military problem solving very different from the majority of the British Army’s Regular Officers. Thus it would be unwise to be simplistic in differentiating between the three – an important point when concluding on the uniqueness of Monash.
Assessing Rawlinson’s Progress, 1914 to 1918
Having discussed the competencies and personalities of these three Dominion commanders, it is worthwhile examining the performance of a British commander who managed at similar levels to Monash before ending the War as Monash’s superior officer. General Sir Henry Rawlinson led the 7th Division in October 1914, taking part in the battle of First Ypres. He then commanded the Fourth Corps at the 1915 battles of Neuve Chapelle (in March), Aubers Ridge (in May), Givenchy (in June) and Loos (alongside the First Corps, under Hubert Gough, in September).
Rawlinson took command of the Fourth Army for the 1916 battle of the Somme, his calamitous First of July being followed by the generally successful attack on the Bazentin Ridge on the 14th of July. During the ‘forgotten battles’ of the high summer (Prior and Wilson, 1992), which caused so many British casualties, many German regiments were shattered by the process of attrition. Unfortunately very little ground was gained in the later attacks of October and November whilst casualties were made worse by the muddy conditions of the battlefield in the late autumn and early winter. For most of 1917, he was on the sidelines preparing for the coastal assault at Nieuport which was never implemented (Wiest 1997). However he took over command of the Second Army in the final phases of the Passchendaele campaign (Rawlinson, 1917), thereby missing much of the criticism made of the generals who commanded the major attacks of Third Ypres.
Service in the Supreme War Board at Versailles kept Rawlinson away from the Kaiser’s Battle but he was put in charge of the battered Fifth Army reconstituted as the Fourth. With a successful preliminary attack at Hamel in July, the victorious 8th of August began the Hundred Days. Celebrated actions at the Hindenburg Line, and the Selle, helped complete Rawlinson’s contribution to winning the War.
Prior and Wilson (1992), having carefully analysed Rawlinson’s overall performance, have decided that his conduct showed’…no consistent advance in wisdom.’ and indeed was ‘…erratic…’ This is said of a commander who was allowed to retain command throughout the War despite leading troops in some of the most disastrous attacks of the whole War, Givenchy, Loos, First of July 1916, and Guillemont. If commanding in the French Army he would probably have become a Limoges (Tuchman 1980, Blond 1965b) after the First of July. Appendix 4 lists the behaviour and helps support the conclusion that Rawlinson was erratic. Rawlinson’s record suggests that the ability needed to control an army with its new technologies but antiquated communication systems was becoming beyond the capabilities of ‘professional’ army officers trained in the Victorian era, gaining experience and promotion within a small, highly professional, army but now having to ‘nurse’ a large number of newly created and inexperienced divisions under conditions of total war (such as the infamous German gas attacks launching Second Ypres in 1915). Only when power became decentralized in 1918 and the commanders gave responsibility to the experts in the new technologies such as counter-battery and predicted fire programmes did they regain competence in managing their now considerably narrowed span of control.
In terms of motivating his troops it is unfortunate to note that Rawlinson’s predisposition to criticise his infantry for failings directly his responsibility was seen in 1918 as well as in 1915. Haig’s admonition, and the horrendous casualties sustained during the Somme battles, appear to have made no lasting impressions as evidenced by his diaries. The caricature of the ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’(Littlewood, 1963) general might be applied, perhaps unfairly, to Sir Henry Rawlinson.
In management terms, Rawlinson seems to have had little sense of strategic planning, with no consistent vision of how to achieve success by moving up the learning curve based on personal experience of controlling in a succession of operations. Even though he recognised the value of the ’bite and hold’ approach, he seldom carried it out in his operations (Prior and Wilson, 1992). This can be judged an amateurish approach to a position demanding high responsibility. If this seems harsh, Rawlinson is nevertheless one of the more successful British commanders, hence can be used as a guide against which to benchmark the performance of Monash.
Monash and Rawlinson; Comments on their Working Relationship
In their book ‘Command on the Western Front’, Prior and Wilson (1992) record the working relationship between Rawlinson and Monash which began when Monash was appointed Commander of the Australian Corps before the battle of Hamel. Whilst Rawlinson accepted suggestions from commanders such as Monash, and Courage of the Tanks, they in turn were receiving and accepting sensible advice from their divisional commanders. The outcome of these discussions was that both on the 25th and 30th of August, and the 18th of September, Rawlinson gave Monash the opportunity to make best use of his Corps on the river Somme and at Mont St Quentin and le Verguier. At le Verguier (which had been in the British front line before the Kaiser’s Battle) the machine-gun barrage by 250 guns from the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions firing 300 yards ahead of the advancing 4th Division proved most effective in compensating for the lack of available tanks – 10 dummy tanks having been placed in position to confuse the Germans (Pedersen, 1985).
In preparing for the attack on the Hindenburg Line, Rawlinson sensibly required Monash to increase the frontage of attack from 6,000 to 10,000 yards to prevent the flanking fire which would have devastated the attacking Australians. Rawlinson also devised the novel means of using 3,000 lifebelts from cross-channel steamers to get the 46th North Midlands Territorial Division across the St Quentin Canal at Riqueval brought about by the now widened front (the tunnel over the canal only being 6,000 yards long).
Janet Bailey, and her daughter, Julia, reading the inscription on the Western Front Association Memorial at the eastern end of Riqueval bridge.
The American Memorial, near Bellicourt, which commemorates the assaults of the 27th and 30th US Divisions during the storming of the Hindenburg Line.
The grave of Corporal Thomas E. O’Shea, killed in the attack of the 29th September 1918, one of the three Congressional Medal of Honour holders buried in the Somme American Cemetery at Bony.
The advance of the 27th American Division over 1,000 yards of fire-swept ground on the 29th of September before they could reach the security of their creeping barrage was accepted by Rawlinson but had deeply upset Monash. During the morning of the 29th the Americans took great casualties from the three unscathed German strongpoints at The Knoll, Gillemont farm and Quennemont farm within the Hindenburg Outpost Line (Pedersen, 1985). Monash then badly misjudged and ordered a frontal attack for 3 in the afternoon without the necessary artillery support which took Guillemont farm before it stalled, causing heavy casualties among the 10th and 11th Brigades of the Australian 3rd Division (Pedersen, 1985).
The famous Australian official war historian, Dr. C.E.W. Bean, reports Monash’s despair on the 27th September over the gap of 1,000 yards and the ‘rebuke’ he received from Haig (Serle, 1982a). Smithers then links this despair with Monash’s behaviour at Sari Bar on Gallipoli on the 6th of August 1915 which was also noted by Bean. The then Brigadier was reported to have said over and over again “I thought I knew how to command men”. Smithers sums up his luck at not being Limoged in 1915 in the phrase ‘…some after-taste must remain.’, especially as he then draws attention to an attack at Aghyl Dere recorded by Monash which contained two serious errors (Smithers 1973, Cutlack 1935). The veracity of Monash’s recounting of his own part in the Gallipoli evacuation has also been critically challenged by Serle (1982a) where Monash’s war letters suggest that he embarked in the last motor barge leaving Anzac Cove when in fact he had left five hours earlier.
Pedersen (1985) shows that his Gallipoli performance from the 6th to the 8th of August can be made the subject of ‘scathing criticism’. After the ill-fated attempt to seize Hill 971 at Sari Bar on the 6th his poor planning meant that when his 4th Brigade were repulsed with heavy casualties during their assault on the 8th the failure to provide proper medical support to bring down the wounded left many to suffer a gruesome fate. Pedersen tentatively poses the view that Monash ‘funked’ command on the 8th. With benefit of hindsight, perhaps he suffered psychological trauma on the 6th which resulted in his capacity to plan, for which he has always merited high praise, being eliminated by the shock of real warfare.
It is unfortunate that Monash then criticised the performance of the British New Army troops in Gallipoli in 1915. Likewise it is unfortunate that in his war memoirs he later complained about the failure of the 27th American Division in 1918, whilst overlooking his personal responsibility for the failure of the afternoon assault by the Australian 3rd Division. The American forces had suffered severely because German machine-gunners positioned within the 1,000 yards between the artillery barrage laid on to the main Hindenburg Line and the American’s start line flayed them with fire against which the Americans had no defence. Recalled to mind is the similarity to the gallant march to their deaths by the 1st Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme on the 1st of July 1916. In his published private papers for the September and October of 1918 he did not refer to either failure of the 29th of September, his entry for the next date after the 29th being on the 3rd of November (there being none during the October) when he wrote about being made a Grand Officer de L’Order de la Couronne Belgium and also being awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm Leaf (Cutlack, 1935).
On the 1st of October the Australian 2nd Division relieved the Australian 3rd and 5th Divisions which were ‘all done up’ (Pedersen, 1985) and two days later helped eject the Germans from the Beaurevoir Line behind the Hindenburg Line. On the 6th the entire Australian Corps left the front-line for a well-deserved long period of rest and recuperation. This included Monash who was able to spend three weeks in and around London engaged in both military and social activities. On the 7th of November, the Australian 1st and 4th Divisions returned to the line although they did not have to go ‘over the top’ again.
In conclusion, Monash had been answering to Rawlinson for the 3 months starting just before the battle of Hamel. Undoubtedly he had made a significant contribution to improving Rawlinson’s plans, yet at the Hindenburg Line Rawlinson had had to improve on Monash’s plans. However to propose that Monash was vastly more skilled in planning than, say, Currie cannot be supported easily because of his misjudgments which lead to heavy casualties in the Australian 3rd Division on the 29th of September and the 2nd Division on the 5th of October at Montbrehain (Serle, 1982a). To build a myth around his judgment as a tactical commander when under the pressure of actual fighting, such as from the 6th to the 8th of August 1915, needs more substance, regardless of his abilities as a military administrator.
Perhaps the last words on the sustainability of the myth created around the command of Monash should be left to the American historian of the American 27th Division that it was just as well that Monash was ‘…never seriously tested by adversity.’ (O’Ryan, 1921)
Monash; the Unique Commander?
This examination has illustrated the abilities and the personalities of four senior British and Dominion commanders, one English, one Canadian, one New Zealander and the Australian Monash. This has been done in order to assess whether the performance of Monash has been mythologized rather than ranked objectively against that of other commanders who perhaps had to exercise their abilities under very different conditions and with different levels of support and resources.
Sir Henry Rawlinson, the Englishman, as Appendix 4 shows, had a very patchy record of performance. Sometimes he learned from what had happened, at other times he appeared to wilfully ignore these lessons. Yet his Fourth Army performed superbly during those final days after being reconstituted following its punishment during the Kaiser’s Battle. In assessing his overall performance he appears to have felt no need to work to a uniform focused programme of action. Indeed, he appears to have been reactive, rather than being proactive, thus planning his actions as he saw fit at that moment in time based on what he thought was best suited to a particular set of circumstances. Although not an acceptable form of modern strategic management, nevertheless it is a style of managerial control commonly followed by those lacking understanding of management principles.
Sir Arthur Currie and Sir Andrew Russell benefited from the superb fighting qualities of the Canadian and New Zealand troops which made them so feared by the Germans. Many of these soldiers had grown up in communities where the enterprising spirit and personal initiative were combined with an open-air life. This contrasted with the relatively poor health and strength of the average English, Welsh, or Scottish soldier brought up in heavily industrialised and polluted areas such as Glasgow, the Potteries, and the South Wales coal-fields (Baynes, 1967), and in the stultifying class system of the Victorian and Edwardian ages (Serle, 1982a).
Currie was encouraged by the Canadian Government to regard the Canadian Corps as a national army, which gave him the opportunity to display an independence not allowed to other Corps commanders in the rigid European military hierarchies, whether German, French, Austria-Hungarian, Russian or British. The American General Pershing was able to exploit a similar level of independence during the final months of the war for the same reason. But at a personal level, a question mark overhangs Currie’s performance at Second Ypres, during the first German gas attack in 1915, when he thrice ordered his troops to retreat. They refused and their stand saved the situation. He later asked Edmonds to suppress this embarrassing fact in the British Official History (Bond, 1991).
Russell similarly gained advantage from the New Zealand contingent always remaining self-contained and focused on their provincial origins (Pugsley, 1997). The remarkable performances at Flers (15th September 1916) and le Quesnoy (5th November 1918) are two highlights of its military achievements.
Nevertheless, troops have to be well led to perform well. The formidable reputations of the Canadians and the New Zealanders were built on and enhanced by the management skills which both Currie and Russell brought to their commands.
In assessing Monash’s performance against the standards set by these other three commanders, it is necessary to distinguish between his role as a military commander and his position as a figure-head for a young nation seeking to differentiate itself from the parent country. Like Currie, his unconventional ‘citizen’ route to supreme command of his national army meant that he had not absorbed the traditional military culture and training common to most European commanders. His professional expertise inevitably meant that he was able to bring a commercial perspective to analysing military situations and problems. The likelihood is that he instinctively thought in a business way rather than in a military way. Hence he was more receptive to innovative ideas simply because competitive advantage in the business world comes from exploiting new technologies and new methods of management. With his pre-War background, it is not surprising that he came to be credited with being the first military manager.
Nevertheless two factors can be presented as suggesting it is unwise to mythologise his military prowess. Firstly, two incidents, in Gallipoli (1915) and before the Hindenburg Line (1918), suggest that he was prone to breaking down under pressure. However his position outside the British military hierarchy was fortunate because both incidents could have resulted in him being ‘degummed’.
The second factor is the result of the national aspirations of a young country growing up and understandably seeking independence. Australia began its modern history with the unfortunate factor of being used as a British penal colony. Inevitably it lacked the sort of confidence which comes from being created as the result of heroic feats of arms. Yet it wished to set aside its feelings of inferiority with regard to its parent country and gain the freedom that, for example, a young adult wishes to display. With its citizens enjoying a similar lifestyle to that of the Canadians and the New Zealanders, it produced men with strong physiques used to showing personal initiative (helped, it must be added, by rigorous physical standards during the recruitment medical examinations which weeded out the weaker men)(Andrews, 1993). Hence the fine quality of its military performances in Gallipoli and at Pozieres on the Somme. As to the three debacles at The Nek, Fromelles and Bullecourt, these could be blamed on poor British leadership (even though the Gallipoli massacre was the fault of Colonel J.M. Antill, an Australian officer).
Following the Canadian example, the Australian Government sought separate status, the wish not to be commanded at senior levels by British officers (Serle, 1982a) and the right for injured Australians to be returned to the Australian divisions after their recovery. The British Government and the BEF’s General Headquarters found it prudent to accede. Monash, in general, was the commander of a force largely united within one national culture even though many of his soldiers were from recent immigrant families. He was less exposed to the problems of multi-cultural differences which complicated relations between the British and French commanders and between British officers and their colonial troops. Modern management theory recognises the crucial importance of these differences in complicating control and leadership.
As part of building a cultural heritage a young nation will seek heroes who can become examples to inspire succeeding generations. The English were well served by its Elizabethan adventurers who ‘singed the King of Spain’s beard’ and began the establishment of the British Empire. Such figures would have still meant much to early Australians, many being recent migrants from the United Kingdom. However later Australians would have been conscious of their geographical distance away from the parent country and begun to seek Australian heroes. Unfortunately their Ned Kellys were not role models. In the military sphere, although an Australian contingent was involved in the South African War, the main controversy from that conflict surrounded the execution by the British authorities of ‘Breaker’ Mourant and his partner in a murder.
Thus by the First World War, Australia needed Australian heroes. Junior officers such as Lieutenant W. Ruthven (Pedersen, 1985) and other ranks provided many who deservedly earned the Victoria Cross. Seriously lacking were senior officers who could be respected for attributes which extended to their personal lives. John Monash was such a person. Successful in his profession of civil engineering, from a migrant family which had done well, he later commanded the Australian Corps during the period of its maximum success. After his military service he returned to civilian life where his management of a large engineering project brought further renown. Inevitably his solid performance whilst a military commander acquired the veneer accorded great commanders. And the British people, having mixed feelings about the price in soldiers’ blood asked for by their British commanders, were happy to award him the status they denied many British corps commanders whose performance under battle conditions was no worse and often better.
In the title of this assessment, the question is asked about whether or not Monash brought to command business ideas not known to others. The answer is ‘yes’ if comparing his performance with that of most Regular officers. He did bring such ideas; and they were based on the practical experience gained in his pre-War professional life. Thus he absorbed business knowledge on how to be more scientific and efficient, to exploit clarity of thought in planning, to be lucid in explaining his plans, and to be economical in the use of manpower (Pedersen, 1985). He appears to have arrived at common sense conclusions on how best to run a business, and then later applied such thinking to managing an army corps. Yet there is no evidence from his war letters to suggest that he consciously took commercial examples from his own personal experience and thought how they could be applied to solving a current military problem. Nevertheless his record as a military manager later attracted two distinguished admirers. In 1963 the British historian A.J.P. Taylor is quoted by Pedersen (1985) as saying that Monash was ‘the only general of creative originality produced by the First World War’ and in 1968 Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery as saying that he ‘possessed real creative originality.’
All three Dominion commanders can be claimed to have applied their personal business expertise within their own commands. Although Pedersen (1985) mentions that it is difficult to find evidence of what Monash read he did read widely and thus was probably aware of the revolution in management thinking being pioneered by F.W. Taylor (1911), Henri Fayol and others. Whether or not the three commanders proactively managed their forces using the current business management theories is of minor importance, the issue is that the gap between thinking militarily and thinking commercially was then so great. Hence a different approach to formulating military strategy would have marked them out as having a revolutionary approach, particularly when their commands were seen to be successful in reaching their military objectives. However, Australia was seeking to create a new national identity; whereas neither Canada nor New Zealand had to re-invent themselves in strengthening their national identities at that time. Hence the performance of Monash needed to be mythologized whereas the performances of Currie and Russell did not have to be turned into myths.
As to the practical learning from the experiences on the Western Front, Monash had little input on military administration once he returned to Australia in 1919 (see Appendix 3). Yet this reaction to a citizen officer was not untypical. As if to put behind themselves the embarrassment of having to fight the war by drawing upon the civilian population for men and expertise, the Allied ‘professional’ officers stampeded to ‘…get back to some serious soldiering…'(Bidwell and Graham, 1982) after the Armistice.
In conclusion, Monash can be credited with being a pioneer of military management, although not necessarily unique in his performance. Nevertheless he brought a fresh outlook to military operations which matched many of Fayol’s Principles of Management. He was a Twentieth Century commander in an Imperial Army still largely dominated by Nineteenth Century teachings. It is for this pioneering role that he should be remembered rather than for his performance as an individual commander.
Taking Military Management Forward; A General Conclusion
This assessment has adopted a different approach, to examine historical events using the modern understanding of how to manage contemporary events. The problems caused by the benefits of hindsight are recognised through the acceptance that the Great War’s commanders had to operate within the mind-set of that period. The early Twentieth Century was a time of profound economic and social changes brought about by the new technologies. Inevitably the ability of those commanding to respond proactively reflected their upbringing, their social environments, and the cultures and traditions of the military forces they controlled. Haig and Rawlinson as Regular officers were seriously affected by these changes which challenged their acquired experiences.
On the other hand, Currie, Monash and, to a lesser extent, Russell brought to soldiering management expertise gained from their own involvement with the upheavals taking place in their nations’ business and commercial practices. These three had a different style of military management.
With the continuing interest in the history of the Western Front’s campaigns, a conclusion can be drawn that contemporary management thinking makes it possible to link these campaigns’ causes and effects within a different and, perhaps, more objective framework. This allows the relative importance of both the external and internal factors influencing historical events to be examined using modern analytical techniques. – as shown in the analysis of five battles in www.bef-battles.org.uk. It also enables the competencies of individual commanders to be assessed anew.
Defining Fayol’s Principles of Management (after Cole, 1990)
1. Division of work: Reduces the span of attention, effort or control needing to be exerted by a person. Has the benefits of developing practice in managing people and familiarity with how they operate.
2. Authority: The right to give orders – but a right which should be considered together with responsibility.
3. Discipline: The outward marks of respect and behaviour with accords with the formal agreements and informal arrangements between an organization and its staff.
4. Unity of Command: Each person should have one superior to which he reports and has responsibility.
5. Unity of Direction: One person in charge and one plan of action for an activity or group of activities which have common objectives.
6. Subordination of Individual Interests to the General Interest: The personal interests of one individual or one group should not be dominant, without reasonable cause, to the needs and requirements of the overall organization.
7. Renumeration: Pay should be fair to both the individual and to the organization.
8. Centralization: This is always present within an organization, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the organization’s size and the quality of its managers.
9. Scalar Chain: The line of authority or command from the top to the bottom of an organization, nowadays covered by the terms ‘line management’ and ‘hierarchy’.
10. Order: A place for everything and everything in its right place, especially the use of people with the appropriate skills for particular tasks.
11. Equity: A combination of kindliness and justice towards all staff, regardless of their position within the organization.
12. Stability of Tenure of Personnel: The staff need to be given adequate time to settle into their tasks, before their performance is judged, recognising that some tasks such as management may take a lengthy period to learn.
13. Initiative: Within the limitations imposed by authority and discipline, all levels of staff should be encouraged to show initiative.
14. Esprit de Corps: Harmony is a great strength to an organization, thus teamwork should be encouraged throughout the organization and between the levels within it.
Division of Work, Scalar Chain, Unity of Command, and Centralization are characteristics of the typical bureaucratic organization widely found in the public and private sectors, including activities such as education and the military.
Although the paternalistic approach would have been the norm in the early Twentieth century to handle matters such as individual and general interests, renumeration and equity, the rise of industrial relations and personnel management have made this more or a joint relationship between the organization’s management and its staff.
Fayol’s reference to Initiative and Esprit de Corps was a recognition of how an individual’s actions could benefit the whole organization. This recognition goes well beyond the belief in the supremacy of the organization over the individual which was characteristic of the organizational culture and the general attitude to hierarchy then commonly held, especially by British company and land owners. Senior British officers’ feelings about Australian soldiers not showing respect to officers by saluting neatly sums up the differences in culture between the Old Country and the new Dominions, hence the Australians were viewed as fighters rather than as soldiers.
However in their defence, some British Regular officers welcomed the Armistice as the chance to return to ‘proper soldiering’ as they remembered it from their pre-War colonial days. In terms of the modern attitudes and activities of the British military forces, peace keeping and the maintenance of international order is very similar to the duties to which they wished to return!.
The Evidence for Monash being a Military Manager
The statements presented in this appendix come from Monash’s personal writings, edited by F.M. Cutlack in 1935. It is reasonable to suggest that these show a mind more tuned to the needs of business management than to the normal military way of doing things. The figures in brackets are the pages within the ‘War Letters of General Monash’.
‘We have got our battle procedure now thoroughly well organised.’ ‘…really a triumph of organization.’ (41) Monash as Colonel commanding the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade, Gallipoli, 21 May 1915.
‘It is the old story – insufficient troops, inadequate munitions, attempting more than was possible with the means available.’ (65) ‘…although we have gained enormous new tracts of country, our strategic or tactical objectives are still unreached…’ (66) Gallipoli, 5 September 1915.
‘…one can see the cult of inefficiency and muddle and red-tape practised to a nicety.’ (70) Sarpi Camp, Lemnos, 25 September, 1915.
‘All this betokens lack of business management and power of co-ordinated action.’ (76-77) Sarpi Camp, 4 October 1915.
‘…disgusted with the evidences of much muddle and inefficiency…’ ‘…one has only to keep cool and think out one’s problems and tasks and the work of fighting soon becomes perfectly ordinary and humdrum.’ (78) At sea, 10 October 1915.
‘But here my engineering experience will help.’ (83) Anzac Cove, 10 November 1915; preparing the Australian camp to face the Turkish winter weather.
‘All this means organization and makes all the difference between success and failure.’ (98-99) Anzac Cove, 18 December 1915; preparing for the brilliantly successful evacuation – not one soldier among the 45,000 Australians facing 170,000 Turks were lost.
‘…organization is a very much easier job than reorganization.’ (105) Ismailia, Egypt, 15 January 1916.
‘These enterprises are a combination of the highest scientific preparation with the greatest personal gallantry.’ (120) Of trench raids in France, 3 July 1916.
‘A perfected modern battle plan is like nothing so much as a score for an orchestral composition, where the various arms and units are the instruments, and the tasks they perform are their respective musical phrases.’ (121) Quoted from Monash: Australian Victories in France in 1918.
‘…was a good example of modern war organization.’ (143) Lark Hill, 6 November 1916; a full scale training exercise which drew an audience of over 120 generals and senior officers. This is a forerunner of Bernard Montgomery’s exercise conducted in July 1938, the first of its type since Gallipoli! (Hamilton, 1981)
‘…designed to spread the stress on the personnel as widely as possible.’ (155) France, 11 January 1917; managing the reliefs of front-line troops to maintain their efficiency (that contrasts strongly with the management of the French troops which was a strong factor causing the widespread mutinies after the Nivelle Offensive of April 1917).
‘I hate the business of war, the horror of it, the waste, the destruction, and the inefficiency.’ (168) Menton, southern France, 16 March 1917; not the Oh! What a Lovely War image of a Great War general!
‘…in this my engineering experience has been a great help to me.’ (171) 3rd Australian Division Headquarters, 26 April 1917; preparing for Messines.
‘I put in a half-day with Walter (Dr Rosenhain) at the National Physical Laboratory, seeing the latest munitions inventions.’ (180) France, 10 July 1917; keeping up to date with new technology with the help of his son-in-law whilst on leave in London.
‘Throughout every department of the work, both fighting and feeding up supplies, stores and ammunition, I strive to introduce similar systematic methods and order, so that there shall be no muddling, no overlapping, no cross purposes, and everybody has to know exactly what his job is and when and where he has to do it.’ (203-204) France, 18 October 1917.
‘It was a miracle of good management.’ (228) France, 2 April 1918; transporting in the Australian Divisions to contain the great German offensive of March 1918.
‘It is because we do not consider psychology enough that we are taking so long to win the war.’ ‘…to try to deal with every task and every situation on the basis of simple business propositions, differing in no way from the problems of civil life, except that they are governed by a special technique. The main thing is always to have a plan; if it is not the best plan, it is at least better than no plan at all.’ (233) France, 3 April 1918.
‘…the Field-Marshal had suddenly decided to put into force a strategic plan which I had myself propounded…’ (263) France, 21 August 1918; the plan for the battle of Amiens, 8th of August 1918 – but was it a copy of SS135 as Winter suggests?.
‘On taking over command of the corps at the end of May, my first business was to weld the whole of the corps into one great fighting machine, with a common policy, unity of purpose, and unity of tactical thought and conception, and to infuse in the whole a spirit of unrelenting offensive.’ (275) France, 8 November 1918; a mission statement which could have been written 80 years later!
The proviso has to be made that Cutlack faithfully copied Monash’s original words. Without the opportunity to inspect the originals in Canberra and accepting Cutlack’s veracity, the value of these statements is in confirming the advantage of undertaking primary research. They are Monash’s personal views, and are not subject to interpretation in their rewriting when the basis of biographies covering Monash’s performance between 1915 in Gallipoli and Armistice Day.
Monash and his Military Experiences after 1919
After Sir John Monash’s return to Australia and the enthusiasm of his welcome, he had limited impact on the further development of the Australian military forces. This was probably because the Regular officers regained control of the army and like their British counterparts wished to return to the ethos represented by the term ‘serious soldiering’. Also Australian egalitarian traditions did not favour special recognition for their great leaders (Serle, 1982a), such as is normal in most other countries
Nevertheless, he did take part in commemorative events such as the parades on Anzac Day (25 April). In addition, he held many positions of honour in many organizations, such as his alma mater, Melbourne University. These are detailed in Geoffrey Serle’s detailed biography, already much quoted, especially Chapters 15, 16 and 17 ( pages 435 to 529). But his major civilian activity was as general manager and then chairman of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria from 1920 to 1931. This exploited the huge reserves of brown coal (lignite) in the La Trobe Valley to power the electrification of the Victoria State. This massive undertaking made great use of his pre-War engineering expertise.
If he was consciously to apply his military expertise it was in his role as general manager. Certainly he had to use political skills to overcome the many entrenched interests such as the provincial electricity suppliers. He did mention that ‘…I have had my fight and overthrown my enemies…’ in the Melbourne City Council. In his method of management he consciously adopted that successfully used in his wartime H.Q. where he did not buzz about but stay in one place where everyone knew where they could contact him. In overcoming the carping and criticisms which most people in public life have to face, in his case mostly unjustified, he recognised the advantage his war prestige gave him. Despite the paternalism of his style of management, he made use of enlightened, scientific practices to increase productivity through humane and conciliatory personnel management based on his personal military experience. Hence industrial relations between the S.E.C. and the trade unions were kept manageable at a time when many countries were experiencing intense industrial strife including national strikes.
Overall, Monash was able to successfully apply his experience of military command and organization. But without the benefits which hierarchical military discipline provide, he had to make best use of his dynamic personality and the power of his intellect in presenting his case and demonstrating the weaknesses of his opponents’ cases. He continued to show his command of detail and his analytical strengths, drawing out the views of colleagues before making decisions. As with the greatest leaders, he pulled people behind him rather than driving them in front of him. However he was astute enough to recognise that military expertise has its limits in civilian life. As he said of his period when acting chancellor of Melbourne University ‘…the University is about as difficult to manage – if not more so – than an army.’ – a sentiment many modern university vice-chancellors would agree with!
Perhaps the best tribute to his approach to both military and civilian management is in the motto of the second State of Victoria university, named after him, ‘I am still learning’.
Rawlinson’s erratic planning
Neuve Chapelle (10th-13th March 1915): artillery the key weapon enabling the infantry to break into the German trenches. Although he understands the advantage of ‘bite and hold’, Rawlinson blames the 8th Division commander for not exploiting the break in.
Aubers Ridge (9th May 1915): provided insufficient artillery so infantry left cruelly exposed to machine-gun and rifle fire. Rawlinson blames the troops who died stopping bullets with their ‘bare chests’.
Givenchy (15th-16th June 1915): similar cause and outcome to Aubers Ridge. Rawlinson blames the Canadian troops.
Loos (25th September-8th October 1915): gas and smoke used to reduce deficiency in artillery, incompetent use of the reserve 21st and 24th Divisions. Rawlinson blames Field Marshal Sir John French for how these reserves were used.
Somme (1st July 1916): the infantry are sacrificed because of over-confidence in use of artillery to cut wire and reach deep dugouts (however during the prolonged bombardment at the end of June he did note in his diary that the wire in places was not being cut).
Somme (14th July1916): ignores the success of the artillery bombardment and gives the credit to the attack on the Bazentin Ridge taking place at night.
Somme (27th July 1916): ignores the success of the artillery bombardment and claims the Germans were demoralized in Longueval and Delville Wood.
Somme, the forgotten battles (August-September 1916): having condemned the narrow-front attack on 16th July, allows two months of such attacks sacrificing tens of thousands of infantry. Haig lectures him on the duties expected of a commander.
Somme (15th September 1916): the tank-assisted attack at Flers, but insufficient artillery bombardment provided in the form of a creeping barrage. Undamaged German machine-guns in tank lanes cause severe casualties to the unprotected infantry.
Somme (25th September 1916): the battle of Morval helped by the return to a proper artillery bombardment.
Somme (from 6th October 1916): the battlefield becomes a sea of mud, numerous attacks along the Transloy Line yield nothing but more casualties. Rawlinson now in disfavour.
Hamel (4th July 1918): surprise reintroduced by skilful use of the creeping barrage. Rawlinson no longer the ‘Napoleonic’ creator of large military manoeuvres but ‘…a manager drawing forth and co-ordinating the endeavours of others.’
Amiens (8th August 1918): ‘the black day of the German army’; detailed planning passes into the hands of Monash, the Canadian General Sir Arthur Currie and their staff experts; introduction of neutralising fire and counter-battery bombardment to protect the infantry lays the grounds for success. On the 13th, Rawlinson had to defer to the power given Currie as the leader of a distinguished ‘national army’ and stop demanding further attacks.
Albert, the Hindenburg Line, the 23rd of August 1918, and thereafter: Rawlinson oversees with reasonable competence the integration of the plans of the all-arms experts and the aspirations of corps commanders such as Monash, and their divisional generals and brigadiers. However he allows the mentally broken English Third Corps commander, Butler, to return to command. Rawlinson harshly criticised the American 27th Division which advanced without artillery protection thereby suffering great casualties (recalling the fate of the 21st and 24th Divisions at Loos).
The Sambre and Oise Canal (4th November 1918): the Fourth Army’s last major assault, successfully carried out.
References and Additional Notes
Andrews, E.M. (1993) The Anzac Illusion: Anglo-Australian relations during World War 1. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Bailey, G.N.A. (1998) Author’s personal investigation – 10 August 1998. On the ridge above Le Hamel, where the German front line was positioned, a superb monument of reliefs (one of Monash) on black marble panels has been built in recent years. The surrounding plinths and touch-activated voice messages explain why the battle, so easily overlooked, was important towards winning the war.
Barbusse, H. (1926) Under Fire: the Story of a Squad. English version: London: Everyman’s Library. One poignant episode is where two French soldiers wander in No Man’s Land seeking the site of the home of one of them – all that remains are pulverised traces of the road which passed the house in Souchez.
Baynes, J. (1967) Morale: A Study of Men and Courage, The Scottish Second Rifles at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle 1915. Cassell: London.
Beckett, I.F.W. and Simpson, K.(eds.), (1985) A Nation In Arms: A social study of the British army in the First World War. Manchester University Press: Manchester.
Bidwell, S. and Graham, D. (1982) Fire-Power: British Army Weapon and Theories of War 1904-1945. George Allen & Unwin: London.
Blake, R. (ed.), (1952) The Private Papers of Douglas Haig 1914-1919: Being selections from the private diary and correspondence of Field-Marshal the Earl Haig of Bemersyde, K.T.,G.C.B,O.M.,etc. Eyre and Spottiswoode: London.
Blond, G. (1965a) The Marne, trans. H. Eaton Hart,Macdonald: London. This tiny village, some fourteen kilometres from Villers-Bretonneux, was also the setting for a brilliant counter-attack by the 7th Corps of the 6th French Army in August 1914.
Blond, G. (1965b) The Marne, trans. H. Eaton Hart,Macdonald: London.
Bond, B.J. (ed.), (1991) The First World War and British Military History. Clarendon Press: Oxford.
Cecil, H. and Liddle, P.H. (eds.), (1996) Facing Armageddon: The First World War Experienced. Leo Cooper: London.
Cole, G.A. (1990) Management: Theory and Practice. DP Publications: London. Third Edition.
Coombs, R.E.B. MBE (1976) Before Endeavours Fade. Battle of Britain Prints International: London. This famous guide to the battlefields of the First World War remains invaluable for finding the traces and the memorials of the many individual actions. This author has been present at the various ceremonies on the First of July held on the Somme battlefield, the main ones being organised with the support and the participation of the French civic and military authorities. The most unusual was the funeral in Ovillers Cemetery on the 1st of July 2000 of the soldier found buried on the lip of the Great Mine at La Boiselle two years previously. The ceremony at the Thiepval Memorial is the grandest, that at the Ulster Tower nearby in the afternoon commemorating the superb advance of the 36th Division through the Schwaben Redoubt brings together the Ulster people. The most intimate is the ceremony at the Great Mine, held at 7.28 a.m, made poignant by the red crepe paper ‘poppy petals’ which are scattered from the rim to flutter downwards into the 90 feet deep crater.
Cutlack, F.M. (ed.), (1935) War Letters of General Monash. Angus and Robertson: Sydney.
Fletcher, D. (1994) Tanks and Trenches: First hand accounts of tank warfare in the First World War. Grange Books: London.
Griffith, P. (1994) Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army’s Art of Attack, 1916-18. Yale University Press: New Haven.
Griffith, P. (ed.), (1996) British Fighting Methods In The Great War. Frank Cass: London.
Haig, Sir D. (1914-1919) Diary for 1918-1919. King’s College London: London. Microfilm of writing in his own hand held in the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives.
Hamilton, N. (1981) Monty: The Making of a General 1887-1942. Hamish Hamilton: London.
Hyatt, A.M.J. (1987) General Sir Arthur Currie: A Military Biography. University of Toronto Press: Toronto.
Junger, E. (1985) Copse 125: A chronicle from the trench warfare of 1918. Zimmermann & Zimmermann.
Lee, J. (1997a) ‘The British Divisions at Third Ypres’ , see Liddle (1997).
Lee, J. (1997b) ‘The British Divisions at Third Ypres’ , see Liddle (1997). The answer to the mystery as to why the 21st and 24th Divisions never produced divisional histories to celebrate their deeds may lie in this debacle, the first time these newly-formed Kitchener Divisions were sent into battle.
Liddle, P.H. (ed.) (1997) Passchendaele In Perspective: The Third Battle of Ypres. Leo Cooper, London.
Littlewood, J., director (1963) This play, directed by Joan Littlewood in 1963, became a film, starring Laurence Olivier, John Mills and Maggie Smith, which had a major impact when first shown in 1969 and helped reinforce the popular image of ‘lions led by donkeys’.
Macdonald, L. (1993) 1915: The Death of Innocence. Headline Book Publishing: London.
Macksey, M.C., Major K. (1965) The Shadow Of Vimy Ridge. William Kimber: London.
Oliver, D. (1997) ‘The Canadians at Passchendaele’, see Liddle (1997).
O’Ryan. (1921) The Story of the 27th Division. New York, as quoted in Smithers (1973), p. 270.
Pedersen, P.A. (1985) Monash as Military Commander. Melbourne University Press: Melbourne.
Pitt, B. (1962) 1918: The Last Act. Cassell: London.
Prior, R. and Wilson, T. (1992) Command on the Western Front: The Military Career of Sir Henry Rawlinson 1914-18. Blackwell: Oxford.
Pugsley, C. (1997) ‘The New Zealand Division at Passchendaele’, see Liddle, (1997).
Regan, G. (1991) The Guinness Book of Military Blunders. Guinness Publishing: Enfield.
Serle, G. (1982a) John Monash: A Biography. Melbourne University Press: Melbourne.
Serle, G. (1982b) A Punch article of 9 March 1911 suggested that he was possibly the finest citizen officer in the Commonwealth.
Sheffield, G. (1999). Personal communication. Comments during the drafting stage improving the accuracy of the information given in the text.
Sheffield, G. (2001). Forgotten Victory. Headline Book: London.
Simkins, P. (1996a) ‘Co-Stars or Supporting Cast? British Divisions in the ‘Hundred Days’, 1918′, see Griffith (1996).
Simkins, P. (1996b) ‘The War Experience of a Typical Kitchener Division: The 18th Division, 1914-1918′, see Cecil and Liddle (1996).
Smithers, A.J. (1973) Sir John Monash. Leo Cooper: London.
Taylor, F.W. (1911) Principles of Scientific Management. Harper: New York.
Thomson, A. (1994) Anzac Memories: Living with the Legend. Oxford University Press: Melbourne.
Tuchman, B.W. (1980) August 1914. Papermac: London. The term was used to describe unsuccessful French generals relieved of their commands by General Joffre and sent to report for rear duty at Limoges in central France.
Wiest, A. (1997) ‘The Planned Amphibious Assault‘, see Liddle (1997).
Winter, D. (1991a) Haig’s Command: A Reassessment. Viking: London. Illustration 33, This gun could drop a shell fired from ‘Epping Forest’ into ‘Trafalgar Square’, 300 times a day!
Winter, D. (1991b) Haig’s Command: A Reassessment. Viking: London.
Winter, D. (1991c) Haig’s Command: A Reassessment. Viking: London. Winter ranks Currie the most successful allied general, making excellent use of artillery and machine gun barrages carefully linked to flexible infantry tactics.
This assessment would not have been completed without the support of a number of people.
Professor Brian Bond, the Professor of Military History at King’s College London, stimulated my thinking during his MA Options Military History: the First World War and The Face of Battle: Understanding 20th century Warfare during my time as an MA student in War Studies. Furthermore he encouraged me to experiment with new ways of looking at historical events, as seen in this assessment.
Janet, my wife, Nicholas, and Julia E.T. Bailey.
Brigadier Neville Pughe, for encouraging my application of contemporary management theories to historical military events.
Mike Piercy and Dr Gary Sheffield whose comments and observations have helped me towards seeking a balance between historical accuracy and contemporary management theories.
Ó GNA Bailey (20/12/2000)
: 9 April 2002.