Thursday, April 09, 2015

Late on 15 June to early on 16 June 1941 in Lebanon and Syria

During the night of 15 June to 16 June 1941, General Lavarack made some changes to his troop deployments in response to the threatening French counterattack. General Lavarack had his Australians spread across some 37 miles in southern Lebanon and Syria. To cover that area, he had two infantry brigades with supporting troops. The French attack was a threat to the lines of communication for the 25th Australian Brigade on the right. He ordered a battalion, the 2/25th, the 2/5th Field Regiment and one troop from the 2/6th Field Regiment to move to Merdjayoun. They had been involved in operations at Jezzine. Jezzine was left with just the 2/31st Battalion to hold Jezzine. Brigadier Berryman was ordered to take command of the forces near Merdjayoun to mount a defense of the 25th Australian Brigade rear.

The 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion had been spread across a wide area working on repairing roads. The were ordered to guard the crossing over the Litani River and to set explosives for blowing the bridge if they were attacked. After a long night move, mostly by truck, the pioneers were very tired by the morning of 16 June. The machine-gunners of the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion had orders to guard the crossings over the Jordan River. The commander reached the bridge that already had British cavalry on horses on guard. During the night, some anti-tank guns arrived at the bridge. They were fully involved with preparing defenses.

Brigadier Berryman was at Jezzine when he received his new orders. He left Jezzine by 1am and was at the Litani River by 6:30am, where he met the 2/2nd Pioneers commander. He ordered the pioneer commander to move a company to the ridge "between Qleaa and Merdjayoun". The ridge already had the Royal Scots Greys, who he ordered to continue to hold where they were. At the same time, the French attacked Kuneitra. The Royal Fusiliers were at Kuneitra. They had some 570 British infantry. They had one 20mm Italian Breda gun. The French had some 1,500 infantry, "eleven tanks, ten armoured cars, and one or two field guns". The French had broken into Kuneitra by 6am. The surviving fusiliers were concentrated in three stone houses by 11:30am. By 7pm, the surviving fusiliers had surrendered to the French. They were 13 officers and 164 men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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