Monday, October 19, 2015

French troops performed well in Syria and Lebanon in June and July 1941

General Dentz had a surprising low opinion of French troops defending Syria and Lebanon. In reality, French troops performed very credibly in the campaign. There was a mix of troops, Europeans, North Africans, and Africans from Senegal.

French R-35 tanks and armored cars, even if just improvised, provided a very tough opponent for British and Australian troops. Until they received sticky bombs, they had no answer for when they encountered French tanks in particular. The only anti-tank weapons that the British and Australian troops had at the beginning of the campaign in June 1941 were 2-pounder anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles. The anti-tank rifles were not able to damage an R-35 tank, and it is unclear how effective the 2-pounder was against the R-35 either.

A small band of Foreign Legion troops held out for a long period at Palmyra against the cavalry brigade and the Arab Legion. They were apparently in good positions that gave protection and allowed them good fields of fire.

At Kuneitra, Merjayoun, and Jezzine, French infantry, machine guns, and artillery, gave British and Australian troops a tough fight. The 5th Indian Brigade was decimated in the fighting and a British battalion, the Fusiliers, was all but destroyed. That area continued to be a problem, even for British troops, right up until the Armistice.

We must assume that General Dentz was not familiar with the French troops under his command. Otherwise, how could he have had such a low opinion of them? When the attack commenced in early June 1941, he expected that the French army would collapse, when that was not the case at all. Even French colonial troops, with professional French officers, performed extremely well in the tough battles on the mountain ridges in Syria and Lebanon. We found, though, that the Australian troops in particular achieved results beyond what might be expected. This is based on our assessment of the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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