Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Politics behind the invasion of Syria and Lebanon on 8 June 1941

Some in the British and Free French camp hoped to win in Syria and Lebanon through the use of politics rather than force. On 8 June 1941, the British ambassador to Egypt, along with General Catroux of the Free French, broadcast radio messages to the people of Lebanon and Syria. They offered them freedom from the French in exchange for their cooperation against the Vichy and German forces. They promised a treaty negotiation to formalize that promise. The situation in Syria and Lebanon was such that the Vichy forces outnumbered the Australian, Indian, and Free French forces. The Vichy French had their 18 battalions of good quality against nine British, Australian, and Indian battalions. There were also six Free French battalions, but the Australian Official History thought that they were "of doubtful quality". Apparently Churchill had expected that this campaign could be won by political moves, which proved to be mistaken. Much of 1941 was filled with miscalculations by the British prime minister and he lurched from disaster to disaster. One of the few bright spots of 1941 was the sinking of the Bismarck, after the Bismarck had sunk the Hood and damaged the Prince of Wales. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The French forces on 8 June 1941

The Australian Official History lists the French forces defending Syria and Lebanon on 8 June 1941. There were elements of seven infantry regiments:
6th Foreign Legion
1st Moroccan
16th Tunisian
17th Senegalese
22nd Algerian
24th Colonial
29th Algerian

There were 18 battalions from the seven regiments. Four of these were French Foreign Legion. The tank contingent were 45 Renault R-35 tanks from each of two regiments of the Chasseurs d'Afrique (90 tanks total). There were also about 150 locally-converted armoured cars with machine guns and some with 37mm guns. As for artillery, there were 30 batteries. There were also some Levantine troops that the Official History regarded as being unreliable. On 8 June 1941, on the coast, were some Algerian Spahis and other troops. More Algerians were located at Khirbe and Khiam. Some Senegalese, along with tanks and armoured cars, were located at Banias and to the east. One battalion had been at Sheikh Meskine and another at Kuneitra. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Indian Brigade in Syria by 9 June 1941

After taking the town of Deraa by 9:30am, the 4/6th Rajputana Rifles proceeded to Sheikh Meskine, arriving there late in the afternoon. They had been attacked on the way by both armoured cars and by aircraft. They made a perfunctory attack on the town, but were repulsed. They did manage to take some high ground to the west that overlooked the town by late afternoon. They found that the French had left in the night, as was becoming common. They had taken Sheikh Meskine and Ezraa without having to fight after the French withdrawal. That allowed the Free French to pass through at 10am on their way to Damascus. The 5th Indian Brigade had captured some 30 officers and 300 men. They were left to sit and hold the area that they had taken. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The other three columns of the 5th Indian Brigade on 8 June 1941

The second column of the 5th Indian Brigade was a platoon from the Rajputana Rifiles. There was a famous railroad bridge at Chehab that T. E. Lawerence had tried to destroy in 1918. That was during Allenby's offensive. The bridge, or viaduct, still survived in 1941. The objective of the second column was to take the railroad viaduct and keep it from being destroyed. The platoon commander and one of his men crawled their way forward to the sentry post and shot the occupants. The other men in the platoon attacked the guard post that was on the bridge. Although explosive charges had been set, they were not exploded. The bridge was saved. At the same time, a company of Fusiliers took Fiq without much trouble. The other two columns of the 5th Indian Brigade, one led by the brigade commander, Brigadier Lloyd and the other by a Colonel, a battalion commander, had reached Deraa at 6am. They had surrounded the place and asked the defenders to surrender. They refused. Therefore, the artillery commenced firing at 7:30am. Two Indian battalions attacked and had taken the place by 8:30am. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The 5th Indian Brigade on 8 June 1941

The 5th Indian Brigade was on the extreme right (eastern) end of the attack into Syria. Like the other groups, the 5th Indian Brigade was divided into columns, rather than being concentrated. There were four columns. On the left were the 1/Royal Fusiliers, along with artillery and :"other troops". They were headed towards Kuneitra, which they approached by 5am on 8 June 1941. At Kafr Naffakh, the infantry dismounted and moved forward on foot. Two miles west of Kuneitra, the most forward troops took fire from a hill southwest of the town. They sent a French officer and a British officer forward. They said that they thought that some of the younger officers would like to join the Free French, but the commander wanted to fight. They eventually found that the defenders were a Senegalese battalion and six armoured cars. A French officer came out and informed the attackers that they would start firing at noon, which is what happened. The infantry attacked and took Tel Abou Nida. The next morning, on 9 June, the attackers found that the French had withdrawn during the night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The 2/31st Battalion on the attack on 8 June 1941 in Syria

The 2/31st Australian Battalion was the leftmost battalion of the 25th Australian Brigade. They were to move forward with three of their companies on 8 June 1941 in Syria. Two companies would move past Khirbe. The third company would move up to Kafr Tibnite. They would cross the Litani bridge. The French defenders were in a strong position on heights and with a Crusader fort. The start time was 2am on 8 June. They had sent a Free French officer forward under a white flag to ask the defenders not to resist. They refused and started firing. The attackers were pinned down by fire by 4:30am. The battalion was stopped and located in the open where they were very vulnerable. There was a change of plans after these developments. The battalion commander decided that artillery and tanks would be needed. Three light tanks of the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment came forward and attacked three machine gun nests, which stopped firing. Two tanks were knocked out and the third withdrew with the survivors. The attack had been stopped and no progress had been made by dark. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Attacking Fort Khiam on 8 JUne 1941

As the 2/33rd Battalion moved north, they approached the village of Khiam. Guarding the village was a classic-looking fort. One company, that of Captain Ferguson, was stopped by fire from Khiam and Bmeriq. The battalion commander, Lt-Colonel Monaghan, ordered Captain Cotton, another company commander, to take the fort at Khiam. The French waited while the Australians moved forward and then started firing when they were about 300 yards away. The Australians were able to move forward to within fifty yards of the fort. A small group actually reached the wall of the fort. They climbed the fort's wall and jumped down.. The leader fired his sub-machine gun. A French machine gun on the other side of the fort returned fire and caused the men to have to go under cover. They sought cover in the fort's bastion, where some French men joined them, saying that they wanted to join De Gaulle's force. With some help from the men outside, the men inside made a hole in the wall. Captain Cotton wanted to attack through the hole in the fort, but the fort was so strongly defended, that he decided to wait for the next morning to attack again. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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