Monday, May 04, 2015

The French counter-attack from 13 to 17 June 1941 in Syria and Lebanon

The commander of the Vichy French army, General Verdilhac, had wanted to disrupt to British attack on Lebanon and Syria, so he could be prepared to fight an expected British force from Iraq. The operation started with a reconnaissance operation in front of Nahr el Awaj. Some armored cars and motorized infantry moved out from Sassa. They probed Kuneitra, were fired upon, and then pulled back. The next step commenced on 14 June. General Verdilhac used 13 battalions, a strong force. He sent a column to take Kuneitra, if possible. They would then move forward to Banias and Bennt Jacub. Another column would take Ezraa and Sheikh Meskine. There were also three battalions in front of Damascus. Kuneitra fell and they captured some 470 prisoners. The group sent to Sanamein was deterred by the size of the defensive force and pulled back. Because of that, the French pulled back from Kuneitra, leaving a small force to hold the town.

While this was happening, Brigadier Lloyd continued to press towards Damascus in the east. General Verdhilhac sent two more battalions to reinforce the troops in front of Damascus. Two battalion commanders at Kiswe were sacked and replaced with stronger leaders. Colonel Keime was appointed at the new commander of the south Syria defenses. He replaced General Delhomme. The new battalions were moved near Artouz and Mezze.

A strong attack at Merdjayoun included three infantry battalions (two Algerian and one Tunisian). They were assisted by some twenty tanks. By 21 June, a French Foreign Legion battalion had been added. Their eastern flank was covered by cavalry. They oped to advance south of Fort Khiam and Khirbe. The eastern-most battalion was to move forward towards Banias.

The attack northward along the coast was halted by news of the French attacks to the east. General Lavarack had requested help from General Wilson. He was given a 16th Brigade battalion, the 2/King's Own, instead of the two Australian battalions that General Lavarack had requested. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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