Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ham-handed British press censorship about Syria in 1941

Politics was a factor in the news about the fighting in Syria. You had the issue that the Free French were trying to create a larger role for themselves and that they had tried to portray the Vichy French in Syria as going to collapse when attacked. Somewhat in line with that was that the BBC was announcing that the French were not resisting, which was untrue. General Lavarack wanted the truth known back in Australia, and the Australian press reports talked openly of the fighting.

The Australians were the most numerous force in Syria by the end of June 1941. The Australians had 18,000 men, the UK had 9,000 men, the Indians had 2,000 men, and the Free French were 5,000 men. British and Indian losses, in total actually exceeded the Australian. The losses include prisoners of war, killed, and wounded. The British and Indian together lost 1,800 men. The Australians lost 1,600 men, and the Free French lost 1,300 men. For the Free French, most of the losses were taken prisoner, as they had 1,100 prisoners of war.

The Australian Official History put the victory on the Australian infantry who had fought well in mountainous territory. They also praised the 5th Indian Brigade. They were said to be the most experienced troops in Syria except for the Australian 2/3rd and 2/4th Battalions. The 5th Indian Brigade was misused by their brigade commander, we think, and they took unnecessary losses due to being exposed to stronger enemy forces without support. The men engaged in the Syrian campaign were very tired by the end. The infantry had been pushed to an extreme, and the mountainous terrain was very difficult. Only the Australian spirit carried them to success. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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