Thursday, May 21, 2015
Lt-Col. Blackburn's force - 20 June 1941 in Syria
General Evetts, the new commander in Eastern Syria on 20 June 1941 decided to send Lt-Col. Blackburn to join the Free French and get them moving towards Damascus. General Evetts' assessment was that the Free French were not mentally able to continue on their own. Lt-Col. Blackburn nominally had a battalion-sized force under his command, actually only had "one company (Captain Gordon's), one platoon of another company and five anti-tank guns". Blackburn moved forward to where Colonel Casseau's Free French troops were located at Jebel el Kelb. The Free French excuse had been that the Vichy French were better equipped, as they had tanks and armored cars. Colonel Casseau was impressed that Blackburn had anti-tank guns. Lt-Col. Blackburn got Colonel Casseau to agree to attack at 5pm. Lt-Col. Blackburn had his four platoons astride the road, ready to advance. He found that the French African troops would only advance as far as his machine-gunners, when they would stop. The machine-funners had to keep advancing to convince the Africans to advance more. By following this pattern, they were able to get the Free French African troops to advance three miles, almost to the outskirts of Damascus. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.