Wednesday, July 01, 2015
Brigadier Berryman, the artillery commander, was in charge of the attack on Merdjayoun. An attack that was launched on 17 June 1941 had failed. Brigadier Berryman made plans to attack on 19 June. He walked around the area and planned the artillery fire for the attack. The 2/33rd Battalion was on the right, "on the foothills of Hermon". The 6th Cavalry regiment was in the center. The force on the left was larger, as they would attack the town. All the groups now had anti-tank guns assigned. The left included the Royal Scots Greys, as well as the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, and a company from the 2/5th Battalion. The 2/25th Battalion was on the far left. The artillery commenced firing at the Merdjayoun fort at 4:20am. They then switched to the real first objective. The artillery fire was immediately answered by French guns. The infantry took losses from the return fire. The Australians were in among the houses, but then French tanks and armored cars moved in and disrupted the attack. The reserve platoons were then sent in, and they "drove off the tanks". The Australians found that their anti-tank rifles were ineffective against the French tanks (which we think were R-35's). By 4:30pm, the attack was spent. They could see more French armored vehicles advancing. They men involved thought that if they had more troops, they could have been more successful, but they had used all the available units. Berryman thought that if they could knock out the tanks with "sticky bombs", they might succeed, but the attackers to pull back. Merdjayound continued to be a problem because of the French tanks. The Australians had no effective counter to them so far. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Monday, June 29, 2015
By 28 June 1941, the forces attacking Palmyra were still finding strong resistance. The 1/Essex battalion might have taken the chateau that day, but the defenders still were holding up further progress. The situation prompted the commanders to order the 10th Indian Division from Iraq to attack towards Aleppo. The 10th Indian Division was commanded by General Slim, later to become famous for his service in the Far East. One factor that we have not previously mentioned is that Germany had invaded Russia starting on 22 June 1941. In everyone's assessment, they assumed that the invasion removed any threat of Germany invading the Middle East beyond their fighting in the Western Desert in Libya and Egypt. General Wavell had reported to the CIGS about the situation and had said that he would have the force from Iraq bypass Palmyra and move on to Homs. He would order the Free French to advance to the road from Homs to Nebek. They would order the Australians to beat back the French forces at Merdjayoun. The British 16th Brigade would be sent to take Rayak. More reinforcements were sent from Egypt. This time it would be the 23rd Brigade, also from the 6th British Division, the same as the 16th Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Habforce (I suppose that the Hab came from Habbaniyah) was to advance on Palmyra and take the place. This was the ruins of an ancient city. Habforce included British cavalry and Arab Legion troops. They started off on 21 June 1941 and hoped to take Palmyra that day. Generals Wavell and Auchinleck were involved in the planning. To the south of the old city was a "salt pan" said to be impassible. There were thought to be three companies in possession of Palmyra. Two were French Foreign Legion. One cavalry regiment would take the hills to the west. Another regiment would move until they could enter the ancient city from the north. The over-optimistic plans were disrupted by Vichy French air attacks on the force. They were also held up by machine gun fire on the southwest corner. The commander, Major-General Clark asks the command in Jerusalem for help. They needed air protection. What was sent were some nine Gladiator biplane fighters, but there was no way to maintain a protected air field, so they left the area. Air attacks continued to June 23 and 24, and many vehicles were destroyed. The situation was such that they were running short of supplies. Rebel Arabs and French armored cars waited for supply columns to arrive. One of the British commanders, Brigadier Kingstone, collapsed on 24 June. Major Gooch took command in his place. By 28 June, a British bombing attack hit the French and Tomahawk escorts from No.3 Squadron RAAF shot down six French bombers. 1/Essex took one strong point, the "chateau". The French defenders of Palmyra continued to hold out. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Monday, June 22, 2015
After having taken Jebel Mazar from the French, the subsequent loss by 28 June 1941 was very difficult. The forward artillery observer had lost some essential parts of his radio gear, so that he was not able to call in artillery fire in support. After this, the 16th Brigade, including the 2/3rd Battalion, was withdrawn to "a line from Deir Kanoun to Yafour". The very depleted "5th Indian Brigade was on the Col de Yafour". The French counterattack on Jebel Mazar had first been made by a company of Senegalese. They failed to dislodge the Australians. Two more companies of French colonial troops then attacked. They nearly reached the peak, but had to stop the attack. By morning, they discovered that the Australians had withdrawn and took a few prisoners. Habforce had hoped to stage an attack on Syria from Iraq, but they were stopped in a similar situation to Jebel Mazar. Hapforce had been freed up by the arrival of the 10th Indian Division. They were scattered through Iraq, but were a diverse group of units, where the 4th Cavalry Brigade was the strongest unit. By 18 June, 1941, the decision was made to send two of the Indian brigades from the 10th Indian Division into Syria. They had hoped to easily take Palmyra, but by 28 June, they were still stopped. There was the issue of French bombing attacks on the attackers and their vehicles. Also, the land was rugged and not easily crossed.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
By 7am on 27 June 1941, the French commenced heavy fire from medium machine guns and field artillery on the Australians on Jebel Mazar. The French started sending groups of men to attack the hill. As the day went on, by afternoon, the situation got more intense. A captured Australian was sent to invite Captain Murchison and his men to surrender. He sent the man back, declining the offer. After 5pm, the French started another artillery attack. The mortars were more effective than the field guns, however. Murchison saw how the situation was developing and decided to hold on until dark and then withdraw, unless something changed. As they climbed down the mountain, they saw no sign of the rest of the battalion. They seemed to have all left. They eventually made their way to Yafour and occupied two large caves, where they slept. By day on 28 June, they found a truck from the Queen's battalion. The truck was used to transport the wounded, The rest made their way out on the next day, eventually joining up with the 2/3rd Battalion. It turned out that Hutchison's company had beaten off an atteck and then had withdrawn to the east. They met Major Stevenson with 16,000 rounds of ammunition that he had wanted to take to Murchison. Once Stevenson realized the situation, he ordered Hutchison to funcation as a rear-guard so that the Queen's and artillery could withdraw. After that they would pull back to Yafour. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
The Australians had taken Jebel Mazar by 4:30am on 27 June 1941. The sun was just rising, and they could start to see. They surveyed the area and saw that there were actually two high points on the peak. They put men on both. As Captain Murchison was inspecting the area, the French officer who had been the artillery observer stood up from a small trench. He started talking with Murchison in English. The Australians could see significant French forces to the west. An artillery observer was to join them on the peak, but had not arrived. The observer finally arrived at 7am but he had left his radio a thousand feet below. Murchison sent him down to get the radio, but he never returned. Later in the morning, more men arrived. Some of the attackers had lost their way in the dark, and only now were rejoining. They had also picked up more men along the way. Among them were a sergeant and 17 men from the Queen's battalion. The sergeant had been sent to take the ridge beyond Jebel Mazar, but the ridge was strongly held by a French battalion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Monday, June 15, 2015
By June 26, 1941, Brigadier Lomax had wanted to withdraw his battalions to a safe position and go into a defensive posture. Major Stevenson, of the 2/3rd Battalion asked to make another attempt to capture Jebel Mazar. The new company from Sidon, had 110 men. It was larger than the remnants of the other companies combined. They were given bad guiding by the unreliable Syrian, so they did not meet up with Hutchison's company when they started to climb. They attempted an attack on the morning of 26 June. They ran into heavy machine gun fire. Shortly after this, Captain Murchison, the commander of the fresh company, found the remnants of Hutchison's company. They combined into one group, by the time Brigadier Lomax had wanted them to withdraw. At about 7pm, a sentry saw the French making an attack. They forced the attackers back towards Hutchison, where they were caught by Bren gun fire. They were decimated, as they had been caught by surprise. The survivors escaped. By 1am on 27 June, the two groups combined and started climbing in "single file". The Australians had the advantage that they could see the French defenders in silhouette, while the Australians were in darkness. There was a quick fight, where the French were beaten. They rested for ten minutes and fell asleep on the rocks. They neared the summit, where they still had the advantage of stealth from the dark while the French were easily seen against light. They charged, took one machine gun, while the other started firing at 30 yards. They charged, fired a Very pistol round. The defenders were Africans, and they ran at the attack. They were under fire from machine guns located at some distance. They climbed another 400 yards, and were at the top. They made one final charge, yelling, and the French and Africans broke and ran. Murchison fired his Very pistol, to signal that they had won. When they saw the light from the flare, some French and Africans surrendered. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.