Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The force in Syria in late 1941 grows and prepares for a German attack

The threat of a German invasion of Syria from the north was being taken very seriously in late 1941. The mainly Australian soldiers in Syria were kept busy preparing defensive positions. Another corps headquarters, the X Corps, was moved to Syria. When the 18th Brigade was withdrawn from Tobruk, they rejoined the 7th Australian Division, also in Syria. There were many changes. The British 6th Division was renamed the 70th Division and moved into Tobruk. The 6th Australian Division was finally rebuilt. The division had greatly suffered in Greece and the battle for Crete. They took the place of the 70th Division. General Wilson no longer commanded "Palestine and Transjordan", but became 9th Army commander. The army headquarters was located north of Beirut at Broumane.

There were many complaints late in 1941 about Australian troops committing vandalism and stealing. On the lighter side, a proposal was made to train ski troops from each Australian division. There was snow in the mountains to the north and the snow in late 1941 was very heavy. They proceeded with the training, but ultimately, the training was stopped.

By late 1941, the Australian divisions were well-equipped. In another change, since they were amply equipped, they were no longer allowed to use captured equipment. For example, the 2/16th Battalion had captured Breda heavy machine guns at Mersa Matruh in April and May 1941. They were discovered when they fired on by British aircraft on 6 October. They were forced to turn them in, as the no policy no longer allowed their possession. We remember the Australian cavalry using captured Italian tanks in early 1941 and captured French tanks in July, but no longer. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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