Monday, October 12, 2015

The Merdjayoun front from 9 to 11 July 1941

On 30 June 1941, the British 6th Division took over command on the Merdjayoun front in Syria. The British 23rd Brigade was actually in place at Merdjayoun when they realized that the Vichy French forces to the immediate north were withdrawing. This was on the night of 9 to 10 July. By 11 July, the 23rd Brigade moved north to the Bekaa Valley, a very familiar name in the 20th Century. The French had made demolitions and had left booby traps, so that slowed the British advance. General Evetts had planned an attack by the 16th Brigade on 10 July against the Jebel Mazar. They would have the Free French Marine Battalion with them. They attacked at 2am and made some progress. The next night, they advanced again. The situation on the ridge was very unstable, and General Evetts considered a withdrawal to more secure positions. However, he heard that there had been an armistice requested by the French, so he had his men hold their present positions. The French that they had been fighting had decided to withdraw, so suddenly, the 16th Brigade was on Jebel Mazar at midnight. General Evetts had planned for success and had a pursuit force ready to move north. The pursuit force included most of the 9th Australian Cavalry, the 2/Queen's battalion, artillery, machine guns, and four Free French tanks. The Free French marines were stopped on the right, so General Evetts sent them help from the pursuit force. At midday on 10 July, they moved out and came under fire. Much of the fire came from Jebel Mazar. The vehicles from the pursuit force moved up and down the road and came under fire. Every one of their 33 vehicles had been hit at some point. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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