21st Jun 1918: Monash receives approval for Hamel attack

Having discussed verbally with General Rawlinson, commanding officer of the British Fourth Army, the possibility and indeed importance of going on the offensive, General Monash submitted his proposal for an attack at Hamel on the Somme in writing and approval was given straight away. The operation was to be primarily a tank operation utilising the new Mark V Tank with its enhanced mobility, backed up by the infantry. A challenge for Monash was that the infantry that would be conducting the attack – the AIF 4th Division – were the ones that were so badly let down at the First Battle of Bullecourt in April 1917. Over the coming weeks infantry battalion after infantry battalion was brought by bus to Vaux to spend a day to play with the tanks and meet and chat with the tank crews. More serious set-piece manoeuvre exercises on the scale of a battalion were rehearsed over and over again. Within a short time the ‘digger’ had taken the Tank to his heart. Two new principles were to be employed: firstly that on the battlefield until the objective had been taken the tank would come under the command of the infantry commander; and secondly that the tanks would advance in line with the infantry, much closer to the line of the barrage than had been done before.

At the meeting Rawlinson asked Monash about the position concerning reinforcements. The present shortage was over 8,000 men across the five divisions of which there were just 5,000, the majority in the UK, in the depots in England and Le Havre. At this time GHQ had ordered a reduction across the British infantry battalions from 966 to 900 as a result of the heavy losses in March and April, but the Australian battalions would still be below this number.

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