Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The invasion force for Syria and Lebanon in June 1941

Vol.II of the Australian Official History lists the order of battle for the invasion and occupation of Lebanon and Syria in June 1941:
7th Australian Division (Major-General Lavarack)
  21st Brigade (2/14, 2/16, 2/17 battalions)
  25th Brigade (2/25, 2/11, 2/33 battalions)
  Division troops
    6th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment
    9th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment
    2/4 Field Regiment
    2/5 Field Regiment
    2/6 Field Regiment
    2/2 Anti-Tank Regiment
    2/3 Battalion
    2/5 Battalion
    2/3 MG Battalion
    2/3 Pioneer Battalion
    one composite mechanized unit from the Greys and Staffordshire Yeomanry
    one squadron of the Royals (armoured cars)
    57th Light AA Regiment
5th Indian Brigade Group (Brigadier Lloyd)
   5th Indian Brigade (1/Royal Fusiliers, 3/1 Punjab, 4/6 Rajput Rifles)
   1 field regiment
   1 battery RAA
   1 troop LAA
Free French Division (General Legentilhomme)
   Brigade d'Orient (1 B.M. battalion, 2 B.M. battalion, Foreign Legion)
   1 battery artillery (4-75mm guns)
   1 tank company (9 tanks)
   1 anti-tank company
   company Marine fusiliers
   Circassian Cavalry (300 men)
   Force troops

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Syria and Lebanon: A typical General Wilson operation

The operation to occupy Syria and Lebanon had the handicap of being planned by Generals Wilson and Wavell. Fresh off the dual disasters of Greece and Crete, they were working their magic on Syria and Lebanon. On 28 May 1941, the staff work backing the operation was shown to be inadequate. General Lavarack, who was still the 7th Australian Division commander at this date, was critical of the over-optimistic view that was shaping the plans. By early June 1941, the French were moving troops and equipment up to the border area. The operation was set, on 4 June, to commence on 8 June. The plan now was to have one Australian brigade on the coast, another in the center, and the 5th Indian Brigade and Free French on the right. The plan left out the Arab Legion from Jordan, which distressed the commander "Glubb Pasha." This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Discussions about augmenting the 7th Australian Division for the Syrian occupation in 1941

General Lavarack commanded the 7th Australian Division in May 1941. His division had been the garrison for Mersa Matruh prior to their inclusion for the Syrian occupation. The division only had two infantry brigades at this time, the 21st and the 25th. The division did have all three of its artillery regiments and had the 6th Australian Division's cavalry regiment, as the 7th Division cavalry regiment had been sent to Cyprus. General Blamey was in Cairo and still had some control over Australian forces. Most of the surviving 6th Australian Division battalions were still in Crete in May. Two battalions were in Palestine, though, so those were allocated to the 7th Division. The battalions were the 2/3rd abd 2/5th. On May 22, General Wilson informed General Lavarack that main objective of the force along the coast road would be Beirut. The British were going to use an elaborate deception scheme to try and hide their operations. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The force to occupy Syria in 1941

The primary unit that would attack and occupy Syria was the 7th Australian Division. Up until June 1941, the division had not seen combat. They had formed in April and May 1940 and then was primarily training. Since April 1941, the division had been at Mersa Matruh. They had been holding the fortress and improving the defences while under fairly constant air attack. The British liked to use brigades and battalions as independent units, so the 7th Australian Division had units removed and added over time. In May and June, the division only had two brigades, the 21st and the 25th. The 7th Australian Divisional Cavalry regiment was in Cyprus, so the 7th Division was given the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry Regiment, who were veterans. The 6th Australian Division had been a victim of the policy of scattering units that continued into 1942. Only when Bernard Law Montgomery arrived on the scene was there a push to stop the practice. The other units that were to attack Syria were the 5th Indian Brigade, which had been involved in the campaign in East Africa, the Free French, along with some smaller units. The air force included fighters, bombers, and an Army Cooperation Squadron. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 07, 2014

What the Attackers Faced in Syria in 1941

General Wavell would have not wanted to attack Syria so soon after Greece and Crete. His forces were in disarray and Syria might have been a tough region to take. Syrla was a fairly large area, stretching for some 300 miles both north and south and east and west. The French forces in Syrla and Lebanon were larger and were better equipped than any force that Wavell could field. The would-be occupiers would have to deal with mountains and deserts. The French General Headquarters was located in Beirut, Lebanon. A railroad ran from Beirut through to Damascus, Syria. The British would have to decide if they would go north along the coast, of if they would try the mountain roads, or if they would cut across the desert.

The defenders had six regiments, including a Foreign Legion unit. There was another mixed regiment of colonial and metropolitan troops. There were also four regiments of African native troops. Of the cavalry, there were 9,000 men, some of which were mechanized and some where on horseback. As for artillery, they had 90 field and medium guns. There were about 10,000 troops from Syria and Lebanon, but they were thought to be unreliable. General Dentz was the overall commander, with a deputy commander. There were also three regional commanders at Damascus, Beirut, and Aleppo. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Indecisive German Policy in the Middle East Squandered Some Opportunities

As we mentioned the initial German policy towards French North Africa was to disarm the colonial armies. Once they realized that would make more difficult resisting British occupation, they stopped the process. Later, when the Iraqi Arab Nationalist had asked Germany for help in revolting against the British occupation, they had ignored him. Only by January 1941 did they decided to help. The initial request was for weapons and gold. Even now, an Arab uprising will want to have both those things. Gold is important for buying participation. Once the revolt in Iraq had started independently, the Germans were still without any plan to be involved. The Germans finally sent a few plans to Iraq, but the commander of that flight was shot down by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad because they were not expected. The French finally sent a train with weapons to Iraq, but the revolt was already failing by then. The French in Syria did not really want to help, but had to make a token gesture for German consumption. The French in Syria were under Italian supervision under the Armistice, which the French disliked immensely. The French in Syria also greatly disliked the Germans who had conquered their country in 1940. They also disliked the British, who had been their competitor for influence and colonies in the Levant. The British were also thought to have failed the French in 1940. The Free French were considered to be disloyal to France by cooperating with the British. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 30, 2014

German action with respect to Syria in early June 1941

The Germans decided to pull out of Syria any overt presence. Disguised German intelligence officers would be the only Germans to stay in Syria. General Keitel had passed this information on to the Italians on 2 June 1941. The German plan was to keep from giving the British any excuse to attack Syria and to foment discontent between the Vichy French and the British. The Vichy French government had ordered General Dentz to fight any British attempt to occupy Syria. At his trial after the war, General Dentz argued that he had to resist the British invasion to keep from giving the Germans any reason to move into the French colonies and the continental Vichy France. The case was that the British pretext for invading Syria was to keep Syria out of German hands, but by the time of the invasion, German policy was to withdraw from Syria and not offer any reason for the British to invade. A mistaken German policy after the Armistice in 1940 had been to disarm the French colonial armies. They later regretted that plan as they could see that the only way to keep the British out was if the French colonial forces were strong enough to resist invasion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Amazon Ad