Monday, May 11, 2015

The 5th Indian Brigade surrenders but the situation improves

The two battalions of the 5th Indian Brigade at Mezze were in deep trouble. Their 12 vehicles with the anti-tank guns had gotten ahead of the marching infantry and were lost. The men at Mezze had fought well, but they were attacked by tanks and had not way to fight them. The Indian troops were able to fight off the French infantry, but the tanks were a problem. They were also under constant artillery fire. One company that had become separated was forced to surrender by 4pm on 19 June 1941. The remaining men were fighting from Mezze House. They were out of food and were low on ammunition. It was at this point that Colonel Jones had sent the men to Lloyd to tell them of the situation. They arrived too late, early on 20 June. The 5th Indian Brigade had actually done better than the Free French. They had attacked on 19 June, but had made no progress. The Free French seem to have often been rather unreliable. The failure of the attack had left the French to concentrate on the 5th Indian Brigade, destroying the unit. The one result of the attack on Mezze was that the Vichy French had started to withdraw from Damascus. Men from the British 6th Infantry Division had arrived by 20 June, and their guns had repelled the Vichy tanks that had stopped the Free French from moving forward. When Brigadier Lloyd heard about the plight of the men at Mezze, he sent a relieving force. It was too late but they were stopped by French tanks. The relief force had included 1st Field Regiment, some Free French marines, and more Punjabi companies (all that remained). Big changes had a dramatic effect. General Lavarack requested that the 16th British Brigade be sent to the attack on Damascus, not for the advance on Beirut. The British general Evetts was given command of the attack on Damascus. They needed the attack to conclude quickly, so that troops could be diverted to taking Beirut. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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