Monday, August 24, 2015

Late in the game in Syria and Lebanon in early July 1941

By early July 1941, the British had accumulated five brigades in Iraq. With the 10th Indian Division now in Iraq, Major-General Slim, the commander, was put in charge of the troops in northern Iraq. At this point, General Wilson was back to issuing orders. General Clark, of Habforce, had orders to advance west to Homs so as to block the road to Tripoli on the coast. They should also advance to the southwest to Baalbek, which threatened Beirut. The 10th Indian Division was to threaten Aleppo. The 21st Indian Brigade was motorized and had the 13th Lancers, an armored car regiment. They were dependent on air support from an improvised squadron. They had twelve aircraft, four Hurricanes, four Gladiators, and four Blenheims. By 6 July, the French had shot down all the Hurricanes. The 10th Indian Division troops were operating in the north, near the Turkish border. Because of the French air attacks, the division was not able to reach Aleppo.

For the defense of Damour, to support Beirut, the French had two French Foreign Legion battalions. They were reduced in strength, as were the five Lebanese battalions. The British believed that the French artillery consisted of four 75mm batteries and two medium guns (probably 155mm). There were also some coast defense guns that might be a factor. Besides the force at Damour, there were two lines behind that at Khalde and then right before Beirut.

The orders for the attack were for the 21st Brigade to clear the enemy from the area south of the river, and then advance to a line from the river mouth to the east. The 17th Brigade would move up behind the 21st Brigade and be ready to move against any other French forces not near the 21st Brigade. The 25th Brigade would move towards Beit ed Dine. The Cheshire Yeomanry would be in the mountains further east. The Australians had their own artillery support. They had some 62 guns, including one medium battery. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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