Tuesday, September 01, 2015

A fight in the moutains in the east along the Beit ed Dine road on 5 aand 6 July 1941

Two companies from the 2/14th Battalion moved forward late on 5 July 1941. They started at Kramdech. The infantry led the group. Behind them were the mules with mortars and bombs. Last were the signalers, reeling out telephone wire. Captain Russell's company moved across the ridges until they arrived at the Beit ed Dine road. The road, at this point, was cut into a ledge on the ridge side. This was where the men had piled up rocks to block the road. A lieutenant and 12 men were sent up a hill to see if the French were there. They came under fire from a French position in a low point between hills. They had two men captured and withdrew. Captain Russell then attacked, but the French rolled grenades down the hill and put a stop to the attack. By 8:30am on 6 July, three French armored cars drove up to within 200 yards of the stones and stopped. One car was attacked with a sticky bomb, but the bomb failed to stick. The bomb fell off and exploded. Still, the cars pulled back about a mile. The cars carried two-pounder-sized guns and they started firing. Presumably, they were 37mm guns. With the cars present, French infantry tried attacking the road block. A combination of small arms fire and mortars beat back the attack. Three attacks by Captain Russell's company ultimately took Hill 567. The battle continued. The French infantry were mostly Senegalese with French officers and senior enlisted. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 31, 2015

More action on 6 July 1941 in the battle for Damour in Lebanon

Lt-Colonel Moten, commander of the 2/27th Battalion, came to the river crossing. This was at about 1:30pm on 6 July 1941. He planned to establish his battalion headquarters at El Boum. They now had a phone line to El Boum, so Moten could talk with Captain Nichols, who had arrived at El Boum at 8am. By midnight, the 2/27th Battalion controlled the planned area. That would allow the 17th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Savige, to block the road to the north from Damour. The rear company of the 2/27th, along with the remnants of the fourth company, were spread on a wide front, but were not as far towards Damour has had been hoped.

Another battle was fought at El Atiqa, starting at midnight on 5 to 6 July. There were three weakened companies of the 2/16th Battalion that were attacking. They were supported by an artillery barrage. They had to cross the river and move forward to the Beit ed Dine road. The French replied with their own artillery barrage. The plan included a frontal attack, which seems to be ill-considered. The advance was blocked and they were reduced to exchanging fire with the French. By night, the remnants of the 2/16th Battalion were on the El Atiqa ridge and were holding on to their position.

There was concern that the French might attack along the Beit ed Dine road with armored cars and tanks. As early as 10pm on 5 July, Captain Nichols, commanding one company of the 2/27th Battalion, was in the woods located between the Damour tributary and Ed Dalimiye. Part of the 2/14th Battalion were at Kramdech by 8pm. Another company reached the Beit ed Dine road by 3:15am. They blocked with road with stones and waited for daylight. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The battle for Damour starts: from the night of 5 to 6 July 1941 in Lebanon

The men of the 21st Australian Brigade moved out at about midnight on the night of 4 to 6 July 1941. This was the start of the battle for Damour, in Lebanon. At 12:35pm, the artillery commenced their supporting fire. The ground that the men had to travel was extremely rough. One company from the 2/27th Battalion was in the lead on the narrow track that went down to the river crossing and then up to El Boum. The roughness of the ground meant that they needed to allow resting time along the way. The first platoon was that commanded by Lieutenant Sims, who had found the river crossing. They tried walking in the wadi, so that they would have cover from the French fire, but they decided that they would be safer back on the trail, despite the lack of cover. The wadi had too many places where men might fall. As there started to be light, they reached a barrier of concertina wire. They continued, trying not to be seen. They could hear the French firing. They fixed bayonets and charged into the village. The French were seen running from the attackers. They occupied the village and waited for more men to arrive.

The next company to move out was hit by accurate French artillery fire. Officers were killed and the company commander was wounded. That company needed to be reorganized under the leadership of Lieutenant Thomas. The men at El Boum had expected the second company at 7am. When they did not arrived, the spread out and advanced. By midnight on 6 July, the 2/27th Battalion had taken their objectives, so that the 17th Brigade could move forward. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The artillery plan for the attack at Damour in July 1941

The plan for the attack at Damour in in early July 1941 was comprehensive. The Australian division commander, General Allen, was able to request naval gunfire support for two days prior to the attack on the day of the attack. He also requested air support for the attack. The primary air role would be to protect the ground forces from French air attack. The Vichy French air force had proven itself to be a major factor. Were the French fighter aircraft superior to the British and Australian fighters involved? The French bombers had also proved themselves to be vert capable. The 21st Australian Brigade would attempt to turn the French flank and take out the foremost French forces. The artillery support would be primarily from field guns, but there was also a medium battery. The 17th Brigade was in place to continue the advance, if the initial attack was successful. The terrain for the attack would be very challenging. On the left was the ridge. Four battalions on the right would try to march through rough terrain where the men would have to carry all the loads. They might or might not be able to use mules. The attack would start during the night of 5 to 6 July 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Late in the game in Syria and Lebanon in early July 1941

By early July 1941, the British had accumulated five brigades in Iraq. With the 10th Indian Division now in Iraq, Major-General Slim, the commander, was put in charge of the troops in northern Iraq. At this point, General Wilson was back to issuing orders. General Clark, of Habforce, had orders to advance west to Homs so as to block the road to Tripoli on the coast. They should also advance to the southwest to Baalbek, which threatened Beirut. The 10th Indian Division was to threaten Aleppo. The 21st Indian Brigade was motorized and had the 13th Lancers, an armored car regiment. They were dependent on air support from an improvised squadron. They had twelve aircraft, four Hurricanes, four Gladiators, and four Blenheims. By 6 July, the French had shot down all the Hurricanes. The 10th Indian Division troops were operating in the north, near the Turkish border. Because of the French air attacks, the division was not able to reach Aleppo.

For the defense of Damour, to support Beirut, the French had two French Foreign Legion battalions. They were reduced in strength, as were the five Lebanese battalions. The British believed that the French artillery consisted of four 75mm batteries and two medium guns (probably 155mm). There were also some coast defense guns that might be a factor. Besides the force at Damour, there were two lines behind that at Khalde and then right before Beirut.

The orders for the attack were for the 21st Brigade to clear the enemy from the area south of the river, and then advance to a line from the river mouth to the east. The 17th Brigade would move up behind the 21st Brigade and be ready to move against any other French forces not near the 21st Brigade. The 25th Brigade would move towards Beit ed Dine. The Cheshire Yeomanry would be in the mountains further east. The Australians had their own artillery support. They had some 62 guns, including one medium battery. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

From 3 to 5 July in Syria and Lebanon

By 11:30am on 4 July 1941, the Pioneers attacked Mtoulle. They had taken fire, but by afternoon, they held the village, for that was what Mtoulle was. Before this, in the late afternoon of 3 July, an Australian company moved north and east towards Rharife. By the 5th, they had occupied Rharife. During the day on 4 July, the French could be seen withdrawing towards the northeast from Mtoulle. Brigadier Plant, of the 25th Australian Brigade, got his orders from General Allen to exploit the French withdrawal. By 5 July, the 2/31st Battalion, located east of the gorge, was scouting to the north along the road from Jezzine. To the west, the 2/25th was holding a line that included Rharife and Mtoulle. At a higher level, General Lavarack reacted by ordering the British 6th Division to increase their activity both at Damascus and Merdjayoun. He hoped that would indicate to the French that the division was going to attack. ON 3 July, the 6th Division had been situated with the 16th Brigade on the road to Beirut. The remains of the 5th Indian Brigade was holding a position north of Qatana. The 23rd Brigade was at Merdjayoun and Khiam. The 1/Royal Fusiliers (reconstituted) were in the forts near the Beirut road. They had the 9th Australian Cavalry in readiness to respond to any attacks. A yeomanry cavalry unit was on Mount Hermon, near Chebaa. 3 July also saw the French surrender at Palmyra. There were 165 men, mostly not French, as they were from the French Foreign Legion. Another group at T3 surrendered on 4 July. They had been sufficient to defend against a large force, mostly cavalry, for some twelve days. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The 25th Australian Brigade from 1 July 1941

On 1 July 1941, the 25th Brigade was holding not a line, but a line of posts. That implies that they had gaps in the front. They were located north of Jezzine and to the east. They were on the road that ran to the north from Jezzine, as well. Patrols were finding evidence that the French were withdrawing from some positions. They found that the French were defending Hasrout, which was on a road that ran do the east. The French had pulled out from what was just a track that led to Jleiliye. They also found that on the night of 2 July, the French had pulled back from Wadi Nagrat and were withdrawing on Beit ed Dine. Brigadier Stevens then decided to send two columns against Rharife. They were mixed battle groups, one from the 2/25th Battalion and the other from the 2/2nd Pioneers. They would converge on Hasrout and then move on Rharife. The Pioneers took casualties on 3 July. Because the company commander was wounded, they were delayed in moving into Jleiliye. The other company was still short of Mtoulle at the end of the day. For the 2/25th Battalion, the plan was for one company to take the town while the other company took the plateau above Hasrout. The terrain was extremely difficult. An Australian bayonet attack routed the defenders. One platoon took Hasrout and set up a road block. When they could see French troops readying for an attack, they called in artillery and forced them to withdraw. By about midday on 4 July, the Pioneers had taken Mtoulle and were in communication with the other column. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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