Friday, March 31, 2006

Syria, the Free French, and a deteriorating military situation

By early May 1941, the British position in the Middle East and Mediterranean area was very precarious. The Germans had succeeded in setting the British back, and were looking for openings where they might create further chaos. Iraq was in the process of erupting, Greece had fallen, and Rommel had achieved a success that was unwanted by his superiors in Germany. His victories and created a problem, as the high command in Germany had wanted him to take a defensive posture, prior to the attack on Russia.

Already by 12 May, German aircraft had started to land in Damascus. With the force sent to Iraq, General Wavell was left with nothing to send to Syria. A new force needed to be found. The candidate seemed to be the 7th Australian Division. They had one brigade still in Tobruk, but they were ordered to leave Mersa Matruh and head for Palestine. The 5th South African Brigade and the Polish Brigade were their replacements.

The Free French commander, General Catroux, had portrayed that the French would let the Free French and British walk into Syria. In fact, intelligence proved that the French had taken up positions, ready to defend against an incursion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

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