Monday, June 08, 2015
The situation south of Damascus on 22 and 23 June 1941
We find that Damascus was abandoned by the Vichy French by 21 June 1941 due to the cutting of the road to Beirut. There had been six colonial battalions in Damascus, including North Africans and Senegalese. Those troops had withdrawn to the west, through the mountains. They ended up around the Barada Gorge. That is north of the road from Damascus to Beirut. The French set up roadblocks at Qatana and Doummar. The French commander was concerned that his forces at Merdjayoun would get cut off by British movement up the road towards Beirut. The 2/3rd Battalion of Australians was now reduced to 21 officers and 320 men. General Evetts now commanded the forces in the east. He hoped to hold a line north of the road. Brigadier Lloyd met with Major Stevenson, who was now acting as 2/3rd Battalion commander. They decided to only patrol to the north and to hold the line with the forts. On the afternoon of 23 June, Brigadier Lloyd informed Major Stevenson that they were now part of the British 16th Brigade, not the 5th Indian Brigade. At this point, General Evetts may have nominally had a division, but only had three battalions with some remnants of the 5th Indian Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.