Monday, October 26, 2015

After the Armistice in Syria and Lebanon in 1941

After the armistice in Syria and Lebanon, the area was divided up between various authorities. The area north of the road from Beirut to Damascus came under the control of the 1st Australian Corps. Within that area, the 7th Australian Division was on the coast. The Free French forces were in the east, which included Damascus. Habforce would occupy the desert areas in the northeast. The 10th Indian Division occupied the farthest portion of the northeast. That was "beyond the Euphrates".

One feature of the armistice was that prisoners taken to metropolitan France were to be set free. Another feature was that Vichy French troops would be allowed to join the Free French. They were also allowed to choose to return to France. The Allies were not to pressure the French troops to join the Allied cause.

A commission was set up in Beirut to administer the armistice. The commission had a number of committees. The one on prisoner release was headed by Colonel Blackburn, who had coaxed the Free French into Damascus. His civilian vocation was being an attorney. He was a South African.

The British goal was to transfer General Dentz and his army from Syria. Of course, General De Gaullea and General Catroux wanted to have many Vichy French troops join the Free French forces. That immediately created a source of strife and conflict. The Vichy authorities and officers wanted to return to France as quickly as possible, so that meshed well with the British goals. The Australians thought well of the Vichy officers and troops, as they had fought well and fairly. The Australians were less friendly to the Free French, who they considered had painted the campaign in rosier condition than was what was actually found. They also considered that the Free French had not performed well in the battle for Syria.

The Syrian people, who had been living under French rule, would have liked to be free from European rule, but were astute enough to realize that freedom would not be coming soon. The Australians were well aware of the position of the Syrian people. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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