Ninety-Three Minutes That Changed the World: review of Monash’s Masterpiece by Peter FitzSimons

Ninety-Three Minutes That Changed the World: review of Monash’s Masterpiece by Peter FitzSimons

‘A perfected modern battle plan is like nothing so much as a score for an orchestral composition…the arms and units are the instruments and the tasks they perform are their respective musical phrases.’ Sir John Monash.

Monash’s Masterpiece, author Peter FitzSimons’ latest foray into The Great War, vividly brings to life an extraordinary and celebrated Allied victory – one masterminded by a brilliant Aussie general and acclaimed by military historians as ‘the perfect battle’.

With characteristic energy, dramatic realism and his trademark larrikin joviality, FitzSimons reinvigorates the telling of The Battle of Hamel on July 4, 1918, a triumph of meticulous strategy plotted by General (later Sir John) Monash, using, for the first time, a coordinated force of infantry, tanks, artillery and aircraft .

FitzSimons’ epic reimagining of this historic event which transformed modern warfare and helped to end World War One, takes us behind the frontline among the Aussie soldiers of Monash’s ‘crack’ 3rd Division, who largely made up the Allied attack under their brilliant commander-in-chief.

Monash, the Melbourne-born, bi-lingual son of German and Polish Jews, was both a scholar (in law and engineering) and an ambitious man of action. He joined the army at 19 and, in 1914, was one of the first soldiers under fire at Gallipoli. By 1918, he was in charge of the entire Australian Corps.

But nobody knew at the time that Monash would become the singularly most celebrated military leader in Australian history and directly responsible for expediting the end of the war by pulling off a daring and mischievously intelligent plot to pierce enemy ranks.

And who better to capture the lively spirit of the young Aussies who ventured into that war not knowing the horrors awaiting them – machine guns, sodden trenches and miserable solitude – than Fitzy, who has now penned more than 10 books of history, with three of them already based during The Great War.

The book begins in May 1918 on the Western Front where the Allied generals are locked in war meetings planning strategies for attack. Some military commanders oppose Monash’s ideas and there is a last minute plan by General Pershing to withdraw the troops, but Monash with absolute self-confidence and the sheer force of personality that could bend men to his will, convinces the Allied Force that his plan for The Battle of Le Hamel is best.

He predicts the battle will last 90 minutes.   It was ‘all over in 93 minutes…the perfection of teamwork,’ he later wrote.

With racing car speed, a graceful pen and an eye for irony, Fitzsimons takes us through the exhilarating anticipation of the looming offensive as Monash (and Fitzy!) marshal tanks, planes, motorbike despatch riders, even carrier pigeons and everything else at his disposal and meticulously plan every detail to the T.

This is a story for escapist enthusiasts and anyone passionate about military history. “Feed your troops with victory” was Monash’s motto, and in this epic book readers will see that it was he who allowed the troops to feast as they never had before. As always, Fitzsimons has stayed true to his career-long mantra, which is to detail the story component of history and bring it to life. He does this by writing in the present tense, something readers either love or hate.

FitzSimons ends his book with a touching epilogue, highlighting an oftentimes forgotten sensitivity about Monash, who went on to become a pillar of Melbourne society with a home in Toorak and a chauffeur and servants, and it is that he was responsible for ensuring that all the Diggers returned after the war. Monash applied the same diligence in homecoming as he did on the battlefront and the repatriation of 160,000 Australian soldiers, almost all within eight months, is one of his remarkable achievements. That fairness and concern for his fellow human beings recalls Australia’s sense of mateship and in part explains why Sir John Monash has been immortalised by the annals of history.

About the author

Peter FitzSimons is Australia’s bestselling non-fiction writer, and for the past 30 years has also been a journalist and columnist with the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sun Herald.

He is the author of a number of highly successful books, including Kokoda, Ned Kelly, Gallipoli, and most recently, Burke and Wills, as well as biographies of such notable Australians as Sir Douglas Mawson, Nancy Wake and Nick Farr-Jones. His passion is to tell Australian stories, our own stories: of great men and women, of stirring events in our history.

Purchase a copy of Monash’s Masterpiece || read a sample chapter

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Synopsis

The Battle of Le Hamel on 4 July 1918 was an Allied triumph, and strategically very important in the closing stages of WWI. A largely Australian force, commanded by the brilliant Sir John Monash, fought what has been described as the first modern battle - where infantry, tanks, artillery and planes operated together as a coordinated force.Monash planned every detail meticulously, with nothing left to chance. Integrated use of tanks, planes, infantry, wireless (and even carrier pigeons!) was the basis, and it went on from there, down to the details: everyone used the same maps, with updated versions delivered by motorbike despatch riders to senior commanders, including Monash. Each infantry battalion was allocated to a tank group, and they advanced together. Supplies and ammunition were dropped as needed from planes. The losses were relatively few. In the words of Monash: '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.'Monash planned for the battle to last for 90 minutes - in the end it went for 93. What happened in those minutes changed for the rest of the war the way the British fought battles, and the tactics and strategies used by the Allies.Peter FitzSimons brings this Allied triumph to life, and tells this magnificent story as it should be told.

Synopsis

John Monash's life is emblematic of Australia's much-heralded egalitarian spirit - here is the ultimate outsider: poor, Jewish in an era which still practised anti-Semitism, bookish at a time when intellectual pursuits were frowned upon - who rose to become one of the nation's most enduring folk heroes. Despite a scandalous private life and the experience of virulent racism, he established himself as a major force, not just on the bloody fields of wartime Europe but also in post-war society, where he oversaw vital developments in making Australia into a modern nation. When he died, an astonishing 300,000 Australians attended John Monash's funeral in Melbourne. But who was this unconventional man, what drove him and how did he manage to break down so many walls to rise to such a prominent position?Beyond an account of a much-admired general, this will be the story of an extraordinary and highly unconventional life and its legacy.See Better Reading's interview with the author Grantlee Kieza here and find out why he chose this intriguing subject.
Peter Fitzsimons
About the author

Peter Fitzsimons

Peter FitzSimons is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald. He is also a regular TV commentator, a former radio presenter (very successfully, with Mike Carlton on Radio 2UE) and is also a former national representative rugby union player.Peter is the author of over 20 books - including GallipoliTobruk, Kokoda, Batavia, Mawson and the Ice Men of the Heroic Age, Eureka and biographies of Nancy WakeNed Kelly, Charles Kingsford Smith, Kim Beazley‚ Nick Farr-Jones‚ Les Darcy, Steve Waugh and John Eales.Peter is Australia's biggest-selling non-fiction author of the last ten years.Peter was named a Member of the Order of Australia for service to literature as a biographer, sports journalist and commentator, and to the community through contributions to conservation, disability care, social welfare and sporting organisations.He lives with his wife, Lisa Wilkinson, and their three children in Sydney.

Books by Peter Fitzsimons

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