Wednesday, May 28, 2014
The French policy in regards to occupied Middle Eastern countries was to try and build an educated populace who could eventually rule themselves. The British were in a rush to rid themselves of the occupied countries, but the French wanted to move slowly. From the perspective of the people involved, the process was too slow. They ruled some 3.3 million people in Syria and Lebanon. There was a mix of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish people. There were also smaller groups such as the Druse. At the Armistice in 1940, the British announced that they would not allow the Germans or Italians to occupy Syria. Now, we see in 1941, that the Germans were starting to stage aircraft into Syria, so we could expect the British to react. The Vichy government greatly disliked the British, and one supposes, Winston Churchill. The stage was set for a confrontation that was inevitable. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Monday, May 26, 2014
The Australian Official History notes that France had long been active commercially in the Middle East. France became seen by people in the Middle East as friends and trading partners. As the Ottoman Empire continued to decline, France moved in to fill the void left. Many Middle Eastern people learned French as a second language. People in the Levant and Egypt regarded France as the center of European culture. The French had many commercial and industrial relationships and established schools and missions. By the 19th Century, the British had moved into competition, but the French still had an advantage. After the end of the Great War and the peace with the new, post-Ottoman Turkey, the French were disappointed that they had lost power and prestige. France still occupied North African and Middle Eastern countries, such as Lebanon and Syria. France greatly valued their occupation of Syria and was ready to defend their ownership against attackers, even the British. This is based on the account in Vol. II of the Australian Official History.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
By May 1941, there was an urgent need to rebuild divisions, repair warships, and bring in fresh air units and aircraft. Instead, there was a new military commitment to cover. At this time, the VIchy commander in Syria was General Henri Dentz. He had some 28,000 troops under his command. At this time, General de Gaulle was lobbying to get permission to attack Syria with his meager Free French force. So, when the CIGS, General Dill, warned of a possible German airborne attack on Syria, that was enough to push General Wavell into action. Already, by early May, General Dentz had been ordered by his government to allow German and Italian aircraft to overfly Syria and to shoot at British aircraft. By 12 May, there was news of German aircraft landing in Damascus. Air Marshall Tedder wsa the new British RAF commander in the Middle East. He was authorized to take action in response. British aircraft bombed the airfield at Damascus and shortly afterwards, two more. There was now more readiness to let General de Gaulle attack Syria with his small force of six battalions. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Monday, May 19, 2014
The effect of the failed adventure in Greece and then the decision to defend Crete was to reduce the division-sized formations in the middle east from ten to five. The divisions available in March 1941 were the 2nd Armoured Division, 1st Cavalry Division, the British 6th Division, the 6th, 7th, and 9th Australian Divisions, the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions, the New Zealand Division, and the 1st South African Division. Many of the divisions had been split into their components to allow them to be spread across the many calls for the use of force. Then in North Africa, the 9th Australian Division had been left to hold Tobruk in the face of Rommel's attack. They were isolated and had to have been a source of concern to the Australian Government. The navy had also taken heavy losses, particularly in the battle of for Crete, although the cruise York had been torpedoed in Suda Bay before that battle had started. The air situation was also pretty desperate, with only about 200 aircraft left in the theater, including many obsolescent types. This is based on the account in Volume II of the Australian Official History.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
The Australian General Blamey had sent the Australian government a cable where he expressed his concerns about the vulnerability of Cyprus, which included Australians in the garrison. As a consequence, Mr. Menzies, the Australian Prime Minister, responded with a message to the High Commissioner in London. He told him that either they should augment the garrison in Cyprus or withdraw, because there would be consequences in Australia over another disaster and withdrawal after Greece and Crete. Fortunately, concern over Cyprus was overshadowed by the German invasion of Russia and other events in North Africa. The Australian Official History suggests that the British were fortunate that the battle for Crete lasted such a short time, due to the naval losses incurred during the battle. Admiral Cunningham, the Mediterranean Fleet commander characterized the battle for Crete as "disastrous period in our naval history". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Following the fall of Crete, the British commanders were concerned that Cyprus would be the next place attacked by the Germans. The Australian, General Blamey, sent his government a letter suggesting that the Germans might use 450 transport aircraft and land 7,000 to 8,000 troops in two days. There was no chance that any troops could be spared for Cyprus. At the time, Cyprus had the 7th Australian Cavalry Regiment (the cavalry regiment for the 7th Australian Infantry Division), 1/Sherwood Foresters, "C" Battalion of the commandos, "a battalion of Cypriots and a troop of field artillery." The British and Commonwealth did not realize that the losses incurred on Crete caused the Germans to never attempt another large-scale airborne attack. Soon, there was another distraction when the Germans attacked Russia on 22 June 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Thursday, May 08, 2014
The problem with British policy in early 1941 was that they were trying to operate with little or no prior planning or preparation. Once the decision to go into Greece had been made, they could have appointed a commander on Crete with authority to plan a defense and to accumulate supplies. Instead, General Freyberg, fresh from commanding the rearguard in Greece, landed on Crete on 29 April 1941. He was fatigued and had no staff. What staff he could gather was by taking men that were needed for the New Zealand Division. The situation was set up to be a problem where supplies would be exhausted, but there had been no accumulation prior to the landing of men from Greece. Worse yet, Crete had been a dumping ground for men who were non-combat and were not in organized units. All they did was to consume supplies. The Australian Official History suggests that warships could have been used, prior to the attack, to remove men and move them to Egypt, thus reducing the supply drain. Instead, nothing was done and the defense was fortunate to have done as well as they did. The only bright spot was that the Germans refrained from using airborne forces to take Cyprus which was defended by just one brigade. Things are put in perspective when you realize that in the Atlantic, from 23 to 27 May 1941 and had sunk the battle cruiser Hood had damaged the battleship Prince of Wales on 24 May. It was not that the commanders were without distractions. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, May 06, 2014
In the Battle for the island of Crete in 1941, the British and Commonwealth lost some 15,900 men. Of these, about 4,000 were killed or wounded. The Germans said that they took 5,255 Greek prisoners in the battle. There were about 14,000 Italians held prisoner on Crete and they were freed with the Germans won the battle. The German Fourth Air Fleet (Luftflotte 4) was involved in the battle. They lost 3,986 either killed or missing. Of these, 312 were aircrew. They also lost 2,594 wounded in the fight. During the battle, they lost 220 aircraft, of which many were Ju-52 transports. The 7th Air Division lost some 3,000 men killed, paratroops and glider-borne. They were elite troops, almost equivalent to modern special forces. Of the British, most of the losses were base troops, while the Australians took the greatest losses in combat troops. The Australians lost three infantry battalions and other fighting units. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.