Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On the coast, early on 11 June 1941 in Syria

As we mentioned, a house caught fire and was burning due to gasoline burning. That lit up the scene and made advancing without being seen very difficult. This was early on 11 June 1941 on the coast with the 2/27th Battalion from the Australian 21st Brigade. One company, with the battalion commander following, went around the right end of the French position, taking care to stay out of the light from the fire. They had expected to find another company there, but did not. They were around the French, so they were able to push deeper to the objective and beyond. The other companies from the 2/27th Battalion turned out to be held up by French fire from positions on either side of the coast road. The company on the right that had swung around the French position was ordered to take a position above the road to block a French escape. With the morning and dawn, the French surrendered and the battalion commander, Lt-Col. Moten, was able to walk south to his other companies. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Attack at night in the coastal sector in Syria on 10 June 1941

The 21st Australian Brigade was moving up the coast in Syria and Lebanon to the north. The 2/27th Battalion was ordered to attack at midnight on the night of 10 and 11 June 1941. The battalion had moved north along the road to a point "just south of Adloun and Innsariye". There was an artillery barrage for a half an hour. One company was to the right of the road and the other was on the road and to the left. The men encountered heavy gunfire from both sides of the road and took casualties. Someone tossed a grenade into a building that ignited gasoline. The fire lit up the scene and the right company turned towards the fire. A patrol on the left noticed eight light tanks warming up their engines. This news caused Brigadier Stevens to order some artillery to move forward. They guns arrived with Brigadier Stevens and the artillery regiment commander. They fired 12 rounds at a stone house where they found four dead French soldiers. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Vichy French response in Syria in early June 1941

The Vichy French army commander in Syria in June 1941 was General Verdlhac. Free French forces had made a rapid advance on Damascus, and the general was concerned that they had gotten so close. General Verdilhac decided to fight at Nahr el Awaj. He positioned the 6th Chasseurs d'Afrique and a Foreign Legion unit there to defend the position. The 6th Chasseurs d'Afrique were equipped with tanks, and the II/6th Foreign Legion were among the best troops. By 11 June, he had added the 7th Chasseurs d'Afrique and I/6th Foreign Legion. The defense at the Litani river included part of a regiment, with Algerian companies and some Foreign Legion troops. In the north, the best troops and most French tanks were "between Mount Hermon and the desert". There were also some Tunisian troops near the Jebel Druze. This defense had proved to be fairly effective. The center British advance was stopped. The advance along the coast had done better, but it was obvious that the attackers would have to fight their way north. On the right, the Free French had been stopped, so they were being augmented by the 5th Indian Brigade, which had been providing a rear-guard. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

One the desert flank in Syria on 9, 10, and 11 June 1941

In the east of the attack on 9 June 1941 were the 5th Indian Brigade, British horse cavalry, and the Free French under General Legentilhomme. The 5th Indian Brigade, under Brigadier Lloyd, had moved forward to Sheikh Meskine. They were followed by the cavalry. There was an area covered by boulders of volcanic origin. By 10 June, the cavalry arrived at Najha. This was on the Nahr el Awaj. They took some French prisoners there. A French force of infantry from Senegal with tanks and armoured cars stood in their path. They dropped back some six miles to a place that was defensible. The French attacked on 11 June, but were stopped by the anti-tank gun.

The Free French also had Senegalese troops. They advanced through Sheikh Meskine on 9 June. The leading troops were marines and Senegalese. They had a battery of artillery from the 1st Field Regiment from the 5th Indian Brigade. They also had a troop of light anti-aircraft guns. By the end of 9 June, the Free French were in Deinoun and Deir Ali and were in sight of the Vichy outposts. The Free French waited for reinforcement during 10 June. They attacked Kiswe on 11 June. The defenders were Moroccans equal in strength to the attackers. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Captain Bennett's company on 10, 11, 12, and 13 June 1941 in Syria

Captain Bennett's company of the 2/33rd Battalion spent 10 June 1941 trying to hold their position. His battalion was still four miles away from his position. The first attack was by a company-sized French unit that came along the road from Hasbaya. They made three attacks. The first was at 10am, the second at the middle of the day, and the last at 4pm. At the same time as the last attack, some fifty French cavalrymen on horseback attacks the company's rear, back at Ferdisse. This attack was also turned back. Early on 11 June, the French took Ferdisse, leaving the Australians without a water supply. The French commander sent a Syrian who said that the French commander wanted to talk with him. Bennett told the Syrian that the French commander could visit him at his headquarters "under escort". They didn't hear back about the proposal. By 12 June, the company was still surrounded. Bennett decided to fall back on his company, after night fell. Captain Bennett and his headquarters had reached the battalion headquarters at night on 13 June. His three platoons had arrived earlier in the day. The company's only losses were the six wounded men and stretcher bearer taken at Ferdisse. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Captain Bennett's company from the 2/33rd Battalion on 9 and 10 june 1941 in Syria

At the start of the invasion of Syria on 9 June 1941, a company of the 2/33rd Battalion was sent through the hills to take Ferdisse. The planners greatly underestimated the time that would be needed to travel. They thought that the company could be in Hebbarliye in four hours. The actual travel time was 24 hours. Even in 1941, there were Syrians near the village who had lived in America and who spoke English. There had been French cavalry there, but they were unaware that the Australians were nearby. By 8am on 9 June 1941, Bennett took his company towards Ferdisse. He was to put his company across the road to the west. When they reached Ferdisse, they took machine gun fire. Bennett ordered one platoon as a rear-guard in Hebbarliye. As they reached Ferdisse, they saw French soldiers leaving with machine guns on pack mules. He then proceeded to occupy the road according to the plan. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

10 June 1941: A Test of Strength

Brigadier Berryman asked if the cavalry could test the enemy's strength. The test was planned for Colonel Porter's front. A small force of one light tank and six carriers were to move forward towards Khirbe to draw French fire. Three carriers would move forward along the road until there was suitable ground to deploy. The other group of three carriers would be on their right and deploy. The light tank was in a hull-down position to offer support to the carriers. The tank was located near an artillery observation post that would call in support. The carriers on the right reached the foot of the hill where Khirbe was located. The carriers on the left ran into trouble as they drew fire from a French anti-tank gun and machine guns when they attempted to deploy. The leader of the carriers on the left had a track blown off by a mortar bomb. The men ran for a low stone wall, hoping to take cover. Australian artillery fire was called in and knocked out the anti-tank gun. The leader of the right group of carriers went forward to rescue the men trapped behind the wall. The carriers had been heavily hit in the fighting so that only two were undamaged. Brigadier Cox had wanted them to support an infantry attack at 2am, but finally relented and released the carriers from that duty at 9pm. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 08, 2014

9 and 10 June 1941 with the 25th Australian Brigade

By later in the day on 9 June 1941, the situation for the 25th Australian Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Cox, was going to be difficult. The French were in strongly defended positions, while the Australians were on open ground without a lot of cover. Not only that, but after 11pm on 9 June, the moon was lighting up the area. All the Australians had were light tanks, which could not advance against the French anti-tank guns. The French even had stone markers set up to help French aim their guns, as they were a known position. General Lavarack became involved and took control of the artillery. A key French position in the defense was Fort Merdjayoun. General Lavarack had seen how a strong artillery barrage had helped take Fort Khiam, and he hoped that the same could be done for Fort Merdjayoun. The General wanted time for preparation, so he set the attack for 11 June. The artillery commander, Berryman, had suggested that they send a light tank and carriers forward to draw French fire. The Australian artillery was ready to fire in support as they drew French fire. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Sergeant Davis and his partrol eventually return on 8 June 1941

By about 5am on 8 June 1941, Sergeant Davis decided to climb a nearby hill that would command the bridge over the Litani from the west side. He had his patrol and four French prisoners. They had taken five rifles and a machine gun. Davis hoped to hold the hill until his battalion got closer and then he would attack. This was early in the Australian attack on Syria and there was increasing firing and movements. The French civilians were moving north from the attack. There were French troops moving south to the battle. The French moved some men to the east of the river to deter Davis and his men. Gradually, more troops arrived and moved onto the overlooking heights near the bridge. The French blew the small bridge at 3pm and the main bridge at 4pm. Davis and his men were too few to interfere. An Australian soldier carrying an anti-tank rifle appeared. He had been at Khirbe the previous night and was lost, trying to find his unit. He had been hit on his head and was disoriented. They sent him downstream to find a place to cross the river. As it got dark, Davis and his men moved to a hill. In the morning, they crossed the river and headed south. After more adventures, including finding the corporal who had been hit on the head, they reached their battalion headquarters. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Sergeant Davis and his patrol

The commander of the Australian 2/31st Battalion first heard the story about Sergeant Davis and his patrol on the morning of 9 June 1941. Davis and his men only returned later on 9 June. Sergeant Davis had been sent out in the night of 7 June to reach the bridge over the Litani river and keep the bridge from being demolished. Davis moved out from Metulla. There was Davis and eight men, two of whom were Palestinian guides. The moved through the hills and found a phone line and cut it. A Palestinian guide accidentally shot himself in the hip, but he told that he wanted to keep moving forward. There was a large bridge and a smaller bridge over the river. They reached the smaller bridge by 4:30am. They heard a dog bark and then saw a French sentry walk out to the road. The Australians first thought to take the sentry by force without shooting, but then the sentry loaded his rifle and pointed it at them. He fired at them and missed and was answered by the Australians and was wounded. Davis and his men rushed the guard house and took two soldiers in their pajamas. They found the wire to the demolition charges and cut it. After doing that, they tossed the charges and the wire into the river below. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Problems in the east of Syria from 8 June 1941

The 21st Brigade was winning their battle along the coast road on 10 June 1941, but to the east, the 25th Brigade was blocked. Interestingly enough, British horsed cavalry was at Kafr Sir and connected with the Australians at Qasmiye. In the east, at Merdjayoun, the 25th Brigade was being reinforced to try and take the place. General Lavarack was concerned and offered more troops to Brigadier Cox. On 9 June, after a heavy barrage, a company had entered Fort Khiam, after it had been abandoned. The 2/31st Battalion was stopped by French artillery fire. The shelling set fire to haystacks and forced the battalion to pull back. The artillery fire was coming from Khirbe and guns sited to the west. Early on 9 June, Sergeant Davis and his patrol were to try and save the bridge over the Litani near Merdjayoun. They succeeded in taking the bridge and removing the detonators. A large French force came up and by the afternoon, they had destroyed the small bridge and then the large bridge. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 24, 2014

North along the coast from the Litani on 10 June 1941

On 10 June 1941, one troop of carriers from the 6th Australian Cavalry had turned towards Imsar. They ran into some fifty French troops (not North African). The cavalrymen fired several machine gun bursts at them and some surrendered while others ran. They went after the rest of the group from Kafr Badda, but could not follow them into the rocky hills. The carriers from the cavalry then drove on to Imsar. They were informed by the village headman that the French had left the previous night. Despite what the cavalry had seen, east of the coast road, the two Australian battalions were fighting and taking casualties. At El Ouasta, there were troops with 13 machine guns that were enfilading the 2/16th Battalion. To counter them, ships offshore fired on them, along with field artillery, and caused the French to have to retreat. By late on 10 June, the Australians were able to move north to a line "southwest of Adloun." This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

10 June 1941 with the 2/27th Battalion in Syria

The plan for 10 June 1941 was for the 2/27th Battalion to move north along the road. Carriers from the 6th Cavalry would scout ahead. The 2/16th Battalion would move through the hills and clear opposition. Farther from the coast, the Cheshire reached Kafr Sir on 10 June after a short fight. The carriers moved north across the bridge at about 6am. A troop was ordered to move towards Imsar while most moved north along the main road. The carriers on the main road chased off some French Spahis with pack mules. They were then attacked by French armoured cars. The anti-tank rifles on the carriers were able to repel the armoured cars. They reached the vicinity of Adloun by 10am. They were fired on by some light French guns. They saw two tanks and then found that there were four abandoned French tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The night of 9 to 10 June 1941 at the Litani

The large artillery barrage, which started at 9:30pm on 9 June 1941, lasted a half an hour. As many as 960 rounds were fired, and it was largely wasted, due to the earlier successes. After the firing ceased, Captain Horsely and his men moved back into the ground that they had captured. They were on the right, while a company from the 2/27th Battalion was on the left. The men from the 2/27th crossed the river in turns, in the one folding boat that was available. Two platoons had a stiff fight against machine guns and mortars. They won the fight and took "a company of Algerians". In the process, 20 commandos were set free. Beyond the river, there were caves dug into the cliff wall. They discovered "large quantities of food, weapons and ammunition". During the night, the 2/6h Field Company put a bridge over the river, east of the stone bridge that had been blown. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, November 14, 2014

On the north bank o of the Litani on the evening of 9 June 1941

In the evening of 9 June 1941, Brigadier Stevens, of the 21st Brigade, ordered an operation to bridge the Litani river with folding boats. He did not have good communications with the troops on the north bank, and did not realized just how successful they had been. There were men from the 2/16th Battalion on the north bank. Captain Horley had pushed to within 500 yards of a building they called "the barracks". Captain Horley had personally led an attack the overcame a French machine gun emplacement. In the process of the successful attack to the north, they had taken some 70 French prisoners. The problem was that they had lost the ability to communicate with the south bank. They knew that there was a planned barrage. They had withdrawn to a safer position, but then they started receiving fire from British ships, so they had to withdraw further back. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Comments on the commando operation in Syria on 9 June 1941

The commando operation in support of the Australians on 9 June 1941 went very badly. The Australian Official History commented that while the commandos had bad luck, the operation was not well planned. There was no coordination between the Australian commander, Brigadier Stevens, and Colonel Pedder prior to the operation. They had a brief meeting in Nazareth, and that was all. The commando group had gone ashore about one-and-a-half miles north of the Litani River. They landed in a ill-chosen position that was well-defended. The result was Colonel Pedder and several more officers were killed. One group of commandos was captured by the French. Another group of commandos took some prisoners and then moved south to find the Australians. Another group that landed farther north was captured on 10 June at Alteniye. The commandos immediately to the north of the Australians had been badly shot up and had lost many men on the beach to artillery and machine gun fire. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

With the Commandos at the Litani on 9 June 1941

Lt-Col Keyes and his commandos had succeeded in advancing to the Litani river. This was on 9 June 1941. Some Australians from the 2/16th Battalion were ordered to carry boats to the commandos. They were in a poor location and were taking heavy fire. They lost as many as a quarter of the commandos and the Australians. They were only able to transport one boat to the river. Two loads of commandos and Australians were able to cross the river. By noon, they had taken a French defensive position that had protected the river and captured about 35 men. In a few hours, the commandos and one platoon of Australians were across the river. Captain Longworth, of the 2/4th Field Regiment eventually was able to contact his unit. He found out that an attack was planned for 9:30pm. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Some success at the Litani river on 9 June 1941

After elements of the 2/16th Australian Battalion had crossed the Litani river on 9 June 1941, the company commander asked for artillery support. Communications were easier, as a signalman had put telephone lines across the river. The 2/4th Field Regiment had an observation post well-placed for observing the situation. After some concerted fire on the enemy positions, the platoons on the north side of the river were able to attack. They had six 25 pounders firing in support. The men had to advance over a plowed field with no cover. They had to cut wire, but eventually overran positions held by Algerian troops. For their efforts, they killed 30 troops, captured 38, and took 11 machine guns. The next step had Australians going left on the ridge. With artillery support again, they captured 12 men, a 75mm field gun, and two machine guns. One prisoner boasted that a "fresh company" of Algerians was "on the next ridge". So, at about 4pm, the Australians prepared to be attacked. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Across the Litani river on 9 June 1941

At the Litani river, the Australians decided to tie a line to the boat and use that to haul it across the river. That actually worked. The first boatload made it to the north side and fanned out. The French were firing mortar bombs at the men on the south bank and caused casualties. There was bamboo along the river and the men pushed through the bamboo to the orchard beyond. They eventually got fifty men across and held about 400 yards. The next step was to put seventy men from Horley's company across. These men were all from MacDonald's 2/16th Battalion. To support their troops on the ground, the Vichy French destroyers Gu├ępard and Valmy closed in and fired on the Australians. They were answered by the 2/4th Field Regiment and the destroyers sought cover with smoke and withdrew. Some British destroyers found the French destroyers off Sidon in the afternoon and exchanged fire. The British destroyer Janus was damaged while the faster French destroyers escaped. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Litani bridge and commandos on 8 and 9 June 1941

The original plan for 8 June 1941 was for a commando unit to land behind the bridge over the Litani river. They hoped to keep the bridge from being demolished. There was an immediate problem with this plan. The commando unit had set sail from Port Said on the amphibious transport Glengyle. The Glengyle carried landing craft on davits like boats. The Glengyle had arrived off the beach early on 8 June, but the captain could see that there was a heavy surf and he was concerned that the landing craft would not be able to make the beach without capsizing. The new plan was for the commandos to try again on 9 June. If the Australian were able to take the bridge prior to that, they would fire very lights to warn the commandos. If the commandos were not able to get ashore on 9 June, the 2/16th Battalion would launch an attack towards the bridge. The commandos got ashore, but in the wrong spot. They must have triggered the bridge being blown. Right before the 2/16th Battalion would attack, they were notified that the bridge had already been blown. The alternate plan was to use boats to cross the river. Given the defense of the river and the swift current, the new plan was to carry a rope across and use it to pull the boats across the river. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Politics behind the invasion of Syria and Lebanon on 8 June 1941

Some in the British and Free French camp hoped to win in Syria and Lebanon through the use of politics rather than force. On 8 June 1941, the British ambassador to Egypt, along with General Catroux of the Free French, broadcast radio messages to the people of Lebanon and Syria. They offered them freedom from the French in exchange for their cooperation against the Vichy and German forces. They promised a treaty negotiation to formalize that promise. The situation in Syria and Lebanon was such that the Vichy forces outnumbered the Australian, Indian, and Free French forces. The Vichy French had their 18 battalions of good quality against nine British, Australian, and Indian battalions. There were also six Free French battalions, but the Australian Official History thought that they were "of doubtful quality". Apparently Churchill had expected that this campaign could be won by political moves, which proved to be mistaken. Much of 1941 was filled with miscalculations by the British prime minister and he lurched from disaster to disaster. One of the few bright spots of 1941 was the sinking of the Bismarck, after the Bismarck had sunk the Hood and damaged the Prince of Wales. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The French forces on 8 June 1941

The Australian Official History lists the French forces defending Syria and Lebanon on 8 June 1941. There were elements of seven infantry regiments:
6th Foreign Legion
1st Moroccan
16th Tunisian
17th Senegalese
22nd Algerian
24th Colonial
29th Algerian

There were 18 battalions from the seven regiments. Four of these were French Foreign Legion. The tank contingent were 45 Renault R-35 tanks from each of two regiments of the Chasseurs d'Afrique (90 tanks total). There were also about 150 locally-converted armoured cars with machine guns and some with 37mm guns. As for artillery, there were 30 batteries. There were also some Levantine troops that the Official History regarded as being unreliable. On 8 June 1941, on the coast, were some Algerian Spahis and other troops. More Algerians were located at Khirbe and Khiam. Some Senegalese, along with tanks and armoured cars, were located at Banias and to the east. One battalion had been at Sheikh Meskine and another at Kuneitra. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Indian Brigade in Syria by 9 June 1941

After taking the town of Deraa by 9:30am, the 4/6th Rajputana Rifles proceeded to Sheikh Meskine, arriving there late in the afternoon. They had been attacked on the way by both armoured cars and by aircraft. They made a perfunctory attack on the town, but were repulsed. They did manage to take some high ground to the west that overlooked the town by late afternoon. They found that the French had left in the night, as was becoming common. They had taken Sheikh Meskine and Ezraa without having to fight after the French withdrawal. That allowed the Free French to pass through at 10am on their way to Damascus. The 5th Indian Brigade had captured some 30 officers and 300 men. They were left to sit and hold the area that they had taken. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The other three columns of the 5th Indian Brigade on 8 June 1941

The second column of the 5th Indian Brigade was a platoon from the Rajputana Rifiles. There was a famous railroad bridge at Chehab that T. E. Lawerence had tried to destroy in 1918. That was during Allenby's offensive. The bridge, or viaduct, still survived in 1941. The objective of the second column was to take the railroad viaduct and keep it from being destroyed. The platoon commander and one of his men crawled their way forward to the sentry post and shot the occupants. The other men in the platoon attacked the guard post that was on the bridge. Although explosive charges had been set, they were not exploded. The bridge was saved. At the same time, a company of Fusiliers took Fiq without much trouble. The other two columns of the 5th Indian Brigade, one led by the brigade commander, Brigadier Lloyd and the other by a Colonel, a battalion commander, had reached Deraa at 6am. They had surrounded the place and asked the defenders to surrender. They refused. Therefore, the artillery commenced firing at 7:30am. Two Indian battalions attacked and had taken the place by 8:30am. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The 5th Indian Brigade on 8 June 1941

The 5th Indian Brigade was on the extreme right (eastern) end of the attack into Syria. Like the other groups, the 5th Indian Brigade was divided into columns, rather than being concentrated. There were four columns. On the left were the 1/Royal Fusiliers, along with artillery and :"other troops". They were headed towards Kuneitra, which they approached by 5am on 8 June 1941. At Kafr Naffakh, the infantry dismounted and moved forward on foot. Two miles west of Kuneitra, the most forward troops took fire from a hill southwest of the town. They sent a French officer and a British officer forward. They said that they thought that some of the younger officers would like to join the Free French, but the commander wanted to fight. They eventually found that the defenders were a Senegalese battalion and six armoured cars. A French officer came out and informed the attackers that they would start firing at noon, which is what happened. The infantry attacked and took Tel Abou Nida. The next morning, on 9 June, the attackers found that the French had withdrawn during the night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

The 2/31st Battalion on the attack on 8 June 1941 in Syria

The 2/31st Australian Battalion was the leftmost battalion of the 25th Australian Brigade. They were to move forward with three of their companies on 8 June 1941 in Syria. Two companies would move past Khirbe. The third company would move up to Kafr Tibnite. They would cross the Litani bridge. The French defenders were in a strong position on heights and with a Crusader fort. The start time was 2am on 8 June. They had sent a Free French officer forward under a white flag to ask the defenders not to resist. They refused and started firing. The attackers were pinned down by fire by 4:30am. The battalion was stopped and located in the open where they were very vulnerable. There was a change of plans after these developments. The battalion commander decided that artillery and tanks would be needed. Three light tanks of the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment came forward and attacked three machine gun nests, which stopped firing. Two tanks were knocked out and the third withdrew with the survivors. The attack had been stopped and no progress had been made by dark. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Attacking Fort Khiam on 8 JUne 1941

As the 2/33rd Battalion moved north, they approached the village of Khiam. Guarding the village was a classic-looking fort. One company, that of Captain Ferguson, was stopped by fire from Khiam and Bmeriq. The battalion commander, Lt-Colonel Monaghan, ordered Captain Cotton, another company commander, to take the fort at Khiam. The French waited while the Australians moved forward and then started firing when they were about 300 yards away. The Australians were able to move forward to within fifty yards of the fort. A small group actually reached the wall of the fort. They climbed the fort's wall and jumped down.. The leader fired his sub-machine gun. A French machine gun on the other side of the fort returned fire and caused the men to have to go under cover. They sought cover in the fort's bastion, where some French men joined them, saying that they wanted to join De Gaulle's force. With some help from the men outside, the men inside made a hole in the wall. Captain Cotton wanted to attack through the hole in the fort, but the fort was so strongly defended, that he decided to wait for the next morning to attack again. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The 2/33rd Australian Battalion early on 8 June 1941 in Syria

Lt-Colonel Monaghan's battalion, the 2/33rd, ended up split into companies that had their individual objectives at the start of the invasion of Syria and Lebanon on 8 June 1941. Since we are talking about locations such as Kuneitra, we must be talking about Syria. Captain Bennett's company was sent off through the mountains to occupy Ferdisse. They were to cut the road just to the west. This was a move that did not immediately affect the current operations. Another company, that of Major Wright, was to take border posts and blow up the bridge to keep the French from being able to attack the flank of the column. They took Banias and blew the bridge by early afternoon on 8 June. Captain Cotton's company, further to the left, took more frontier posts. They moved off from Abd el Kamh at the start time of 2am. They reached their first French post by 3am. They lost one Australian in the fight, and the surviving 25 defenders surrendered. We should not be surprised that they were African, since this was a French colony. The defenders were largely Senegalese. One platoon from this company was to take a bridge, the Jisr Abou Zeble. This bridge was for the road from Naias to Merdjayoun. The bridge crossed the Hasbani. They took the bridge at about 4am. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The 25th Australian Brigade on the first day, 8 June 1941

The 25th Australian Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Cox, moved forward in two groups. They were to advance to Rayak and capture the place with the airfield. The right column was based on the 2/33rd Battalion. The column was actually mixed with cavalry and artillery as the main additions. Their initial objective was to cross the road from Kuneitra and block it. The left column, mainly consisting of the 1/31st Battalion. They were also a mixture of cavalry and artillery, with a little more. They were to advance to a line "from Merdjayoun to Nabatiye et Tahta". They were to hold that line against any attackers. There was apparently also British horsed cavalry in the strength of a squadron to their left. These were from the Cheshire Yeomanry. They were going to try and contact the 21st Australian Brigade at Habbouch. The 25th Brigade moved forward at 2am. These men wore steel helmets and either shorts or trousers. The 25th Brigade also had frontier posts to capture as part of the advance. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Australians later in the day on 8 June 1941

When they encountered the 80 foot hold from a demolition, the leading troops from the Australian 2/16th Battalion manhandled their trucks over the hole. By 5pm 0n 8 June 1941, the troops had met the 2/14th Battalion on the coast road. One company from the 2/14th Battalion reached Tyre, where the civilians cheered their arrival. The 21st Brigade commander, Brigadier Stevens, reached the crossroads at Tyre before the 2/16th Battalion arrived. Briigadier Stevens had walked across the demolition at Iskanaroun. Cavalrynmen from the Cheshire were crossing the countryside "between Tibnine and Kafr Sir." By the end of 8 June, the Australians were in Tyre and had reached the French line at the Litani, where it was obvious that they intended to fight. Anyone who had thought that the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon would collapse without much of a fight were obviously mistaken. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 15, 2014

With Brigadier Stevens of the 21st Brigade on 8 and 9 June 1941

By early on 8 June 1941, the 2/14th Battalion had moved up to the road demolition. They had the tanks from the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment in company. The demolition had blown up a portion of the cliff about 100 feet long and 30 feet in depth. The engineers took until the next morning to repair the road. Brigadier Stevens arrived at the demolition at about 9:45am, riding in a carrier. At noontime, they managed to get an anti-tank gun across to where it could be towed by a captured French truck. Colonel Moten's column was only able to proceed the next morning. While the repair was underway, one company from the 2/14th Battalion crossed on foot. Further to the right, MacDonald's force followed that of Potts. They passed through Bennt Jbail on their way. Just before reaching Tibnine, they had to create a detour past a deep crater. They also had to clear a minefield that was part of the obstruction. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Royal Dragoons in June 1941

During the attack north with the 21st Australian Brigade, the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment had two troops of armoured cars from the Royal Dragoons (variously called "the Royals" or the 1st, Royal Dragoons). We are interested in the "British" armoured cars during 1940 t0 1942, so we wondered what sort of armoured cars were employed. We noticed that one source said that the Royal Dragoons had equipped with Marmon-Herrington armoured cars in late 1940, but then had to pass them on to the 11th Hussars, the armoured car regiment of the 7th Armoured Division. The Royal Dragoons eventually were re-equipped later. In the Middle East, there had been the remnants of Rolls Royce armoured cars from the 1920's. They were based on a large touring car fitted with armour and a turret. Some of these were still in service in late 1940 and possibly into 1941. There were also a few Morris A.C.9 armoured cars in service as command cars. By June 1941, the remains of the old cars were gone, so it makes sense that the armoured car forces in Egypt and Palestine would have re-equipped with Marmon-Herrington cars. The Mk.III was a 1942 car, so what was most likely was that the Royal Dragoons in Syria would have had Marmon-Herrington Mk.II cars. They may also have had Dingo scout cars, based on what was suggested by one source. If you search for Royal Dragoons, you will find the web pages in question.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The 6th Australian Cavalry reach Tyre on 8 June 1941

A group of the 6th Australian Cavalry (the 6th Division divisional cavalry regiment) was led by Lieutenant Mills. They had been at Tibnine, which had an old Turkish castle. After learning that they would be welcome in Tyre and after being joined by two troops of armoured cars from the Royal Dragoons, they drove to Tyre. The cavalry group had 13 carriers as well as the armoured cars. As they neared Tyre, they could see British warships off the port that were being bombed by French aircraft. The ships had neared the coast at 6:45am and saw the road demolition at about 7am. Led by the armoured cars, the cavalry group reached a road block just south of Litani. The French defenders had field guns, anti-tank guns, and mortars. Two armoured cars were disabled by gunfire. The force had two field guns from the 2/4th Field Regiment, so they set up to return fire. The armoured cars were quickly damaged, so that only one remained operational. The 2/16th Battalion had sent out patrols that found that there seemed to be no French troops south of the river. As Brigadier Stevens, commanding the 21st Brigade was not hearing news about the road condition, he sent forward the 2/14th Battalion to the north, towards the demolition. That force included the tanks from the 6th Australian Cavalry regiment. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The advance on 8 June 1941 in Syria

By 2am, the main advance along the coast road had commenced. At 5am, they had reached the French outpost at Naquora. The Australians exchanged fire with the French. After firing a mortar bomb, the Australians charged and took the post. They also took the village just beyond the outpost. Brigadier Stevens, commander of the 21st Brigade, was mounted on a carrier so he could keep track of the action and communicate with the small units. At this point, Brigadier Stevens was unaware that the road had been blown ahead of him. The hill country to the east of the coast road was very difficult. The men who were to take the Labouna post were late due to their guide being lost. They reached Labouna about 5:30am and took the post. To the east, a company of the 2/14th took a village, Alma Chaab. The initial objective, the three outputs were in Australian hands by 7am on 8 June 1941. To the east, the 2/16th Battalion made progress. They were to attack Bennt Jbail, a village, and then take Ain Ebel, beyond. When they arrived at Ain Ebel, they found the place had been abandoned. Men of the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion quickly built a road from the Palestine side up to the Syrian road at Aitaroun. By 4am, the Australians had moved into Syria. The mayor at Tibnine telephoned the mayor at Tyre and informed the Australians that they would be welcome in Tyre. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 01, 2014

A sharp fight in the morning on the first day of the attack on Syria and Lebanon in June 1941

Australians had thought that the road to the south of Ras el Bayada had demolition charges set. A few men were left to block the road from traffic from the north. The rest headed south, still looking for mines and demolition charges. At 5am, they were fired on from a strong point. The Australians charged the strong point and took it. The men left behind to block the road heard shots fired and arrived at the scene. Increasing numbers of French troops were drawn by the fighting. They were able to stop a machine gun from firing and took a mortar. One group put the mortar and a machine gun on the roof of the post and fired on traffic on the road. They were able to successfully deal with two armoured cars that appeared next. After that, twelve men on horseback approached. They scattered when they were fired upon. By 7am, they heard what they guessed to be a demolition charge that would have destroyed the road north. A small group was sent by car towards Iskandaroun. They were fired on and returned fire. At that point, the road was blown up. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The 21st Brigade attacks on 7 June 1941

The men of the 7th Australian Division were very much aware that they were untested in battle and needed to prove themselves. We look first at the 21st Brigade on the first day of the attack on Syria and Lebanon. During the day on 7 June 1941, Brigadier Stevens learned that the commandos would not be able to land on 8 June due to the expected weather. Later in the evening, some four hours before the official start, the first Australians crossed the border. They were wearing rubber footwear to help silence their passage. There were men from the 2/14th Battalion and from the 2/6th Field Company. They cut the phone wire that would have alerted the men who would have set off the demolition charges. Their guides, who were Australian and Palestinians, took them to "a Jewish farming colony at Hanita." After they ate a meal, the men crossed the frontier. The hills were very overgrown with thorns and rough. The sky was dark with clouds to help cover their movements. By 3:30am, one group reached the point where charges were expected to be found. The men checked the bridges and culverts, but did not find any mines. A small group blocked the road while the others went south looking for explosives. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Run up to the attack on Syria and Lebanon in June 1941

The units that were to attack Syria and Lebanon moved into position on the nights of 5th and 6th June and 6th and 7th June 1941. The Australian Official History described the situation as being like the Germans, moving forward in secrecy, ready to attack a peaceful frontier. So far in the second war and never in the first war did British soldiers do such a thing. One group was hidden under olive trees in a grove. They were careful to only move vehicles by road, if at all, and to sweep the tire marks from view where they were under cover. Typical of the level of thinking from General Wilson's staff was a suggestion to change the shape of the Australian hat to hide that they were Australians. That was described as dismal failure of a measure, because the French knew very well who they were fighting. They were up against Australians, primarily. June 7 was spent relaxing, under cover to pass the time. The attack would commence before midnight and the men switched from their comfortable clothes to what they would wear to fight. There was skepticism about the idea that the French would fold when attacked. That was wishful thinking motivated by politics, not reality. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

General Wilson's strategy for the attack on Syria and Lebanon

The Australian Official History says that by dividing his force into three columns for the attack on Syria and Lebanon, General Wilson assured thatnone of the attacks would have overwhelming strength to achieve a major success. We don't understand why General Wilson was put in charge, except that he was a favorite of Churchill for reasons that we have not yet understood. General Wilson also had bought into the idea that the Vichy French would collapse when attacked, which was not the case. They had a history with Churchill, since at least the attack on Mers el Kebir in July 1940, and they were ready to resist any attempt to occupy Syria and Lebanon. In retrospect, a strong resistance should have been expected, but there were politics involved that kept leaders from thinking clearly. A multi-front attack was appropriate if there had been a real possibility that the defenders would collapse when attacked, but that was very unlikely. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The plan for the 25th Australian Brigade's advance into what must have been Lebanon in June 1941

The plan for the 25th Australian Brigade was to move north towards Metulla. The brigade would start from the road to Dafna. They would take the outputs along the high ground that overlooked the road. After that, they would occupy a line including towns like Chebaa and Nabatije et Tahta. Having done that, the brigade would divide into two columns of combined arms. One would move through Hasbaya. The other would move along the Litani gorge and then to Zahle. The expectation is that the left column would move faster and turn to the right, cutting off the defenders of a defile that would be difficult to attack from the front. The plan then envisioned the right column would be able to move north and across the Damascus road and then take the Rayak airfield. The attackers would start under cover of darkness, but then would be exposed. There was the overoptimistic expectation from the British that the French resistance would collapse and they would not have a hard fight. There were some reasons to be concerned, however, including the fact that the French had a strong tank force. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The plan for the 21st Australian Brigade in June 1941

The 21st Australian Brigade was to move north along the coast as well as inland. The planners expected that demolitions by the defenders would greatly interfere with the planned operation. To attempt to prevent demolitions, infantry and engineers were sent north along the coastal road towards Iskandaroun. At the same time, a British commando battalion would be landed north of Litani. The commando battalion commander, Lt-Colonel Pedder was killed in action on 9 June 1941. Another possibility were roads that ran along the border, one to the south and one to the north. Some twenty miles to the east of the coast, the two roads came within a thousand yards of each other. If they could cross to the northern road, they would have an open route to Tyre. The 21st Brigade commander decided to seize French block houses that formed a barrier near the frontier. He also planned to build a road to the northern road that paralleled the border. The best of the battalions, the 2/16th, would be the core of a column that would travel the inland route towards Tyre. The 2/14th Battalion was to capture the French posts on the border. A column consisting of the 2/27th Battalion, light tanks, and engineers would attempt to move north on the coast road. If that was blocked they would move east and follow the other column north. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The 7th Australian Division brigades in June 1941

The commander of the 21st Australian Infantry brigade had been found by General Lavarack from the 6th Australian Division in 1940. Brigadier Stevens had served in the Great War and in the militia until 1935. He had specialized in signals and had been in charge of the 6th Division signals organization in 1940 when he had been selected to form the 21st Brigade. In 1935, Brigadier Stevens had been appointed as a battalion commander, out of the militia. He had as long as nine months to train his brigade prior to the operation in Syria and Lebanon. His counterpart, Brigadier Baxter-Cox had only been appointed to the 25th Brigade in March 1941. Brigadier Baxter-Cox was an architect who had stayed involved with the militia after the Great War. He had been a 2nd Lieutenant in 1918 prior to the end of the war. He had been a militia brigade commander prior to being selected to form the 2/16th Battalion in 1940. The third brigade was an add-on to the 7th Australian Division. This was the 5th Indian Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Lloyd. He had recent experience in the Western Desert and in the Abyssinian campaign. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Generals Lavarack and Blamey

For some reason, the reason for which is unclear, General Thomas Blamey had developed a dislike for General John Lavarack. General Lavarack had been commissioned as an officer in 1905, while Blamey had been commissioned in 1906. Blamey was eventually promoted to Field Marshal, but he had a checkered history. He had left the army and had become a police commissioner, where he had been involved with a scandal. He had apparently kept involved with the militia and eventually commanded the 2nd Australian Imperial Force and the I Australian Corps. General Blamey seems to have been politically astute, but had questionable judgment. He kept getting by, due to his political connections. General Lavarack had stayed in the regular army until he finally had tired of Blamey's campaign against him and retired. We are somewhat surprised that General Blamey had let General Lavarack be promoted to command the I Australian Corps during the Syria and Lebanon Campaign. By all accounts, General Lavarack was a very good officer and held senior staff positions, including as Chief of the General Staff in Australia, which made him commander of the Australian Army. Political interests in Australia wanted to not spend money on the army and would have relied on the Royal Navy based in singapore for protection. December 8, 1941 showed that General Lavarack was correct in his belief that the Australian army needed to be strong enough to repel and Japanese invasion. This is based on the account in the Wikipedia.

Monday, August 04, 2014

General Lavarack

Promoting General Lavarack to command the I Australian Corps was a reasonable thing to do. He was a Lieutenant-General, although to get a command in the war, he had accepted command of the 7th Australian Division as a Major-General. He had previously been the Chief of the Australian General Staff, so he had experience as very senior officer. General Lavarack had been commander of the force in the Western Desert, but had been replaced by General Beresford-Peirse, who was junior to him. General Lavarack had a more experienced staff than that of the 6th Australian Division. The brigade commanders in the 7th Division would be operating independently, off in separate directions, so their role was very important. Brigadier Stevens had been a signal corps officer, and had been in the militia pre-war. General Lavarack had been selected Stevens from the 6th Division in 1940 to form the 21st Brigade. He was very junior and had been a 22 year old subaltern in 1918. He was the youngest Australian brigadier. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The reasoning behind General Wilson's plan for the Australians in Syria and Lebanon in 1941

You might wonder why, if the Australian losses in Greece would mean that the I Australian Corps was not ready to take overall command of the occupation of Syria and Lebanon, why they would be ready a short time later? The Australian Official History suggests that General Wilson and his staff thought that the Australian corps losses of vehicles and communications equipment (signals) in Greece would hamper them if they were in command at the start of the invasion of Syria and Lebanon. The I Australian Corps headquarters was moved forward to Nazareth immediately before the start of the operation. The only thing that the corps headquarters lacked was the commander. General Blamey sent a message to the Australian Prime Minister giving his intentions. For the I Australian Corps, he would promote General Lavarack to be corps commander. He wanted an ANZAC corps with the 6th Australian Division and the New Zealand Division, with General Freyberg as the corps commander. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why did Churchill have so much confidence in Henry Maitland Wilson?

I wondered about the relationship between General Henry Maitland Wilson and Winston Churchill. After he came to power, Churchill kept calling on a select few men to command. My impression is that they were men he personally knew in some way or at least had grown to have some confidence in them. Henry Maitland Wilson was one of the those, just as Bernard Freyberg was.

It is easy to lose sight of Churchill's military service. He was involved in Africa prior to 1900 and then served in the Great War from early on, at Antwerp, and finished the war. Winston Churchill was both an inspirational leader and a menace. From late 1940 until 1942, we see a lot of Churchill as menace. The later CIGS, Alan Brooke, called Churchill a menace, as he was intimately involved in planning and operations for the latter part of the war. The campaign in Greece was an early example of Churchill as menace. He chose his buddy, Henry Maitland Wilson, to command in Greece. What we saw in Vol.II of the Australian Official History was that General Wilson and his staff were substandard and were the cause of men going into captivity when they should have been withdrawn.

General Wilson is again involved with the Syria and Lebanon campaign. The Australian Official History, Volume II, again makes a case that his judgement and staff work were not what were needed. The Australians had to work hard to compensate for the lack of support that they received from Wilson and his staff. The basic plan for Syria was flawed, in that a short time after the operation began, the Australian General Lavarack was to take over as the commander. The Australians again thought that could have been done prior to the start.

From our knowledge of Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, we suspect that he was all about people, relationships, and bold ideas. From June 1940 on to July 1941, we don't see anything to change or minds about him.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Australian Plans for the occupation of Syria

The 7th Australian Division would have three objectives. One was to move to a "line from Merdjayoun along the road to Sidon." The second objective was another line. This one was formed by a line drawn through "Rasheiya, Machrhara, Jezzine, and Sidon." The last objective was the road from Rayak to Beirut. One brigade, the 21st would be in Beirut. The other, the 25th, would hold the airfield at Rayak. There were also the two battalions from the 6th Division. They would be relegated to holding prisoners and providing police for the areas that would be captured.

Only one June 5, 1941 was General Lavarack officially informed that when they had reached the first objective, he would take command of a I Australian Corps and command the entire operation. The logical thing, from the Australian perspective, would have been to give him the command from the beginning, but that was rejected. The 16th Brigade commander, Brigadier Allen would be promoted to command the 7th Australian Division when Lavarack became the Corps commander. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The invasion force for Syria and Lebanon in June 1941

Vol.II of the Australian Official History lists the order of battle for the invasion and occupation of Lebanon and Syria in June 1941:
7th Australian Division (Major-General Lavarack)
  21st Brigade (2/14, 2/16, 2/17 battalions)
  25th Brigade (2/25, 2/11, 2/33 battalions)
  Division troops
    6th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment
    9th Australian Division Cavalry Regiment
    2/4 Field Regiment
    2/5 Field Regiment
    2/6 Field Regiment
    2/2 Anti-Tank Regiment
    2/3 Battalion
    2/5 Battalion
    2/3 MG Battalion
    2/3 Pioneer Battalion
    one composite mechanized unit from the Greys and Staffordshire Yeomanry
    one squadron of the Royals (armoured cars)
    57th Light AA Regiment
5th Indian Brigade Group (Brigadier Lloyd)
   5th Indian Brigade (1/Royal Fusiliers, 3/1 Punjab, 4/6 Rajput Rifles)
   1 field regiment
   1 battery RAA
   1 troop LAA
Free French Division (General Legentilhomme)
   Brigade d'Orient (1 B.M. battalion, 2 B.M. battalion, Foreign Legion)
   1 battery artillery (4-75mm guns)
   1 tank company (9 tanks)
   1 anti-tank company
   company Marine fusiliers
   Circassian Cavalry (300 men)
   Force troops

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Syria and Lebanon: A typical General Wilson operation

The operation to occupy Syria and Lebanon had the handicap of being planned by Generals Wilson and Wavell. Fresh off the dual disasters of Greece and Crete, they were working their magic on Syria and Lebanon. On 28 May 1941, the staff work backing the operation was shown to be inadequate. General Lavarack, who was still the 7th Australian Division commander at this date, was critical of the over-optimistic view that was shaping the plans. By early June 1941, the French were moving troops and equipment up to the border area. The operation was set, on 4 June, to commence on 8 June. The plan now was to have one Australian brigade on the coast, another in the center, and the 5th Indian Brigade and Free French on the right. The plan left out the Arab Legion from Jordan, which distressed the commander "Glubb Pasha." This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Discussions about augmenting the 7th Australian Division for the Syrian occupation in 1941

General Lavarack commanded the 7th Australian Division in May 1941. His division had been the garrison for Mersa Matruh prior to their inclusion for the Syrian occupation. The division only had two infantry brigades at this time, the 21st and the 25th. The division did have all three of its artillery regiments and had the 6th Australian Division's cavalry regiment, as the 7th Division cavalry regiment had been sent to Cyprus. General Blamey was in Cairo and still had some control over Australian forces. Most of the surviving 6th Australian Division battalions were still in Crete in May. Two battalions were in Palestine, though, so those were allocated to the 7th Division. The battalions were the 2/3rd abd 2/5th. On May 22, General Wilson informed General Lavarack that main objective of the force along the coast road would be Beirut. The British were going to use an elaborate deception scheme to try and hide their operations. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The force to occupy Syria in 1941

The primary unit that would attack and occupy Syria was the 7th Australian Division. Up until June 1941, the division had not seen combat. They had formed in April and May 1940 and then was primarily training. Since April 1941, the division had been at Mersa Matruh. They had been holding the fortress and improving the defences while under fairly constant air attack. The British liked to use brigades and battalions as independent units, so the 7th Australian Division had units removed and added over time. In May and June, the division only had two brigades, the 21st and the 25th. The 7th Australian Divisional Cavalry regiment was in Cyprus, so the 7th Division was given the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry Regiment, who were veterans. The 6th Australian Division had been a victim of the policy of scattering units that continued into 1942. Only when Bernard Law Montgomery arrived on the scene was there a push to stop the practice. The other units that were to attack Syria were the 5th Indian Brigade, which had been involved in the campaign in East Africa, the Free French, along with some smaller units. The air force included fighters, bombers, and an Army Cooperation Squadron. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 07, 2014

What the Attackers Faced in Syria in 1941

General Wavell would have not wanted to attack Syria so soon after Greece and Crete. His forces were in disarray and Syria might have been a tough region to take. Syrla was a fairly large area, stretching for some 300 miles both north and south and east and west. The French forces in Syrla and Lebanon were larger and were better equipped than any force that Wavell could field. The would-be occupiers would have to deal with mountains and deserts. The French General Headquarters was located in Beirut, Lebanon. A railroad ran from Beirut through to Damascus, Syria. The British would have to decide if they would go north along the coast, of if they would try the mountain roads, or if they would cut across the desert.

The defenders had six regiments, including a Foreign Legion unit. There was another mixed regiment of colonial and metropolitan troops. There were also four regiments of African native troops. Of the cavalry, there were 9,000 men, some of which were mechanized and some where on horseback. As for artillery, they had 90 field and medium guns. There were about 10,000 troops from Syria and Lebanon, but they were thought to be unreliable. General Dentz was the overall commander, with a deputy commander. There were also three regional commanders at Damascus, Beirut, and Aleppo. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Indecisive German Policy in the Middle East Squandered Some Opportunities

As we mentioned the initial German policy towards French North Africa was to disarm the colonial armies. Once they realized that would make more difficult resisting British occupation, they stopped the process. Later, when the Iraqi Arab Nationalist had asked Germany for help in revolting against the British occupation, they had ignored him. Only by January 1941 did they decided to help. The initial request was for weapons and gold. Even now, an Arab uprising will want to have both those things. Gold is important for buying participation. Once the revolt in Iraq had started independently, the Germans were still without any plan to be involved. The Germans finally sent a few plans to Iraq, but the commander of that flight was shot down by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad because they were not expected. The French finally sent a train with weapons to Iraq, but the revolt was already failing by then. The French in Syria did not really want to help, but had to make a token gesture for German consumption. The French in Syria were under Italian supervision under the Armistice, which the French disliked immensely. The French in Syria also greatly disliked the Germans who had conquered their country in 1940. They also disliked the British, who had been their competitor for influence and colonies in the Levant. The British were also thought to have failed the French in 1940. The Free French were considered to be disloyal to France by cooperating with the British. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 30, 2014

German action with respect to Syria in early June 1941

The Germans decided to pull out of Syria any overt presence. Disguised German intelligence officers would be the only Germans to stay in Syria. General Keitel had passed this information on to the Italians on 2 June 1941. The German plan was to keep from giving the British any excuse to attack Syria and to foment discontent between the Vichy French and the British. The Vichy French government had ordered General Dentz to fight any British attempt to occupy Syria. At his trial after the war, General Dentz argued that he had to resist the British invasion to keep from giving the Germans any reason to move into the French colonies and the continental Vichy France. The case was that the British pretext for invading Syria was to keep Syria out of German hands, but by the time of the invasion, German policy was to withdraw from Syria and not offer any reason for the British to invade. A mistaken German policy after the Armistice in 1940 had been to disarm the French colonial armies. They later regretted that plan as they could see that the only way to keep the British out was if the French colonial forces were strong enough to resist invasion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

General Dentz was not on board with helping the Germans in May and June 1941

The key person involved with the Germans in May and June 1941 was none other than Admiral Darlan. General Dentz, the commander in Syria, had assured the British in April that he had the airfields guarded and they would not let the Germans use them. However, on 6 May, Admiral Darlan had ordered that the Germans should be allowed to use the airfields. During the fighting in Iraq, as many as 120 German aircraft passed through Syria, going to Iraq and returning from there. General Dentz had been doing the best he could to thwart the aid to the rebels in Iraq. He had sent a small number of artillery pieces without sights and had send old machine guns. By the end of May, the failure of the rebellion in Iraq was obvious. By 6 June, the Germans were gone from Syria. The Americans were informed of this fact. It seems strange to have the Americans involved, but they were. The Germans were also concerned that the British would have a pretext for occupying Syria, and ordered the aircraft and men to be withdrawn. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 23, 2014

More about the Darlan Agreement about Syria in May 1941

Admiral Darlan, the Vichy Foreign Minister, had signed an agreement that would give aid to Germany and the efforts in Iraq to create trouble for the British. One particularly inflammatory move was to agree to sell three quarters of the military equipment in Syria at the armistice. The sale would be to Iraq to equip the rebel forces that were in opposition to British rule. We already mentioned that German and Italian aircraft would be able to use Syrian airfields and be refueled. The German aircraft would be allowed to operate out of the airfield at Aleppo and would be permitted to use Syrian ports and railroad facilities. France would be allowed to send artillery to Syria along with heavy anti-aircraft batteries. They would also be permitted to send more troops to Syria. Marshal Petain was informed that the Darlan agreement would cause trouble with America and the British. In early June, Marshal Petain ordered a reappraisal of Vichy relations with Germany. France, of course, did not know about the pending German invasion of Russia which would have a great impact on the military situation in North Africa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Australian War Memorial on the Start of the Syrian Campaign

There is some interesting coverage of the start of the Syrian campaign on the Australian War Memorial web site. The campaign started on 7 June 1941 and apparently ended on 11 July. The Australians involved were primarily from the 7th Australian Division. The goal of the attack was to occupy Syria, which was under the control of the Vichy French government. There was increasing concern that the French were allowing the Germans to use Syrian territory, particularly to support the uprising in Iraq. The campaign planned to occupy not only Syria but also Lebanon. What was already at work, however, was that the Germans were concentrated on the attack on Russia, from 22 June, and did not want to be tied up in the Eastern Mediterranean area. Oddly enough, the British commander was General Wilson, who we know from his handling of the Greek campaign (or mishandling). Two Australian brigades were involved. One was the 21st Brigade, located in Palestine, and the other was the 25th Brigade, which had as its objective, and airfield at Rayak. An British Indian unit, the 5th Indian Brigade along with the Free French were to head for Damascus. One of the air units involved was from the RAAF. This is based on the account on the Australian War Memorial web site.

German interest in Syria

The situation in Syria was that the Germans were more concerned about keeping Syria from being occupied by the British than actually moving in forces from Germany. After the armistice in 1940, Italy was given the responsibility for monitoring French colonial forces. They would determine the size and encourage the reduction in strength. One problem with that was that the French North African and Middle East territories were more vulnerable to British attack. By late 1940, the French army in Syria was reduced to about 28,000 men. Hitler got involved with the policy making and recognized that the best way to keep the Free French and British out of Syria would be for the Vichy French to increase their forces. One possibility would have been to bring in some ten thousand Moroccan troops. The immediate problem with that was being able to transport them to Syria. Admiral Darlan, who was the French Foreign Minister in May and June 1941, met with German officials in Paris. There, Admiral Darlan agreed to make arms available to the Iraqi rebels and to allow German and Italian aircraft passage through Syria to Iraq. The Germans made promises to the Vichy government that is they defended the colonies against the Free French and British, they would able to keep them after the war, assuming that the Axis governments won the war. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 16, 2014

At least General Blamey kept the Australian Government informed

During the first half of 1941, General Wavell had an abysmal record in his relations with the Australian Government. Besides lying to the senior Australian Officers, he also lied to the Australian Prime Minister about the Greek campaign. He met with them separately and then told them, wrongly, tha the other had agreed with the plan for going into Greece. Of course, Wavell was taking being a "good soldier" too far, because he knew that Greece was a pet project for Churchill and his foreign secretary. Now, in the run up to occupying Syria and probably fighting the Vichy French forces, he did not bother to inform the Australian Government. The only reason that the Australian Government knew anything was because of communications from General Blamey, the senior Australian Officer at Wavell's headquarters. The Australian Government had received a message from General Blamey on 30 May 1941, prior to the end of the battle on Crete. Churchill did communicate with the Austrlian Prime Minister on 31 May about Syria. The Austrlian Official History notes that the Australian Government had not been informed about the plans until right before the attack. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

General Wavell's plans for Syria

By 22 May 1941, while the forces in Crete were still resisting, General Wavell was making plans for an operation into Syria. He expected to use two brigades from the 7th Australian Division, the Free French forces, and a portion of the 1st Cavalry Division. They would comprise about a division-and-a-half. There were almost no armoured forces involved, even though they would be desirable. Three days later, General Wavell traveled to Basra to meet with General Auchinleck, who was the commander in India. General Wavell thought that his forces could move on Syria by 7 June 1941. General de Gaulle and General Spears arrived in Jerusalem on 29 May. It seems that the British had decided to use the Australians without formally asking permission from the Australian government. General Blamey had given the government notice about what was planned. It was only late on 7 June that Mr. Menzies, the Australian Prime Minister received the word that the attack on Syria would start the next morning. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bad advice for the British about Syria and Lebanon

The British policy stance that would take direct action against the Vichy government whenever the opportunity presented itself obviously made any sort of compromise or negotiations impossible. The Middle Eastern leaders were very anti-French, as they resented France's continued occupation of countries on the Mediterranean Coast, such as Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Syria. Since the British government lacked a direct contacts in Syria and Lebanon, they had to rely on Middle Eastern sources and the people associated with Charles de Gaulle. The latter, in particular, always wanted to paint the French forces in Syria and Lebanon in the worst light, and would assert that they would surrender at the first sign of force. General Wavell's intelligence staff had a more cautious view. They had good intelligence of the size of the French military, naval, and air forces in Syria and Lebanon. The politicians insisted that Wavell's forces could walk into Syria unopposed. Churchill wanted Wavell to use "General Catroux" and his military force to take Syria. Wavell had a more realistic view and rejected the use of Free French forces of doubtful size and strength to take Syria. Wavell vowed to resign rather than rely on the Free French. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The campaign in Syria and Lebanon in June and July 1941

I was interested to read that for political reasons, the news about the fighting in Syria and Lebanon was suppressed in the Allied news media. There was a substantial Australian participation, hence the inclusion in the Australian Official History. The stage was set for this campaign when Admiral Darlan signed an accord with the Germans that gave them access to Syria. The Vichy Minister of War had sent orders to General Dentz to allow German and Italian aircraft to refuel in Syria. The Germans also wanted to be able to use rail lines in Syria to supply the Iraqi rebels with arms and supplies. One of the Vichy aircraft shot down during British air operations included a Martin 167F, which was used by the British as the Martin Maryland. The Vichy aircraft was shot down over Palestine, so they were apparently actively conducting air operations against the British. The initial French air strength consisted of 90 aircraft, but that was increased to 289 aircraft by reinforcements. There were also two French destroyers and three submarines available to participate in the upcoming battles. This is based on information from the Wikipedia page about the Syria-Lebanon Campaign.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Britain, United States, and the Vichy government in 1941

The United States policy towards Vichy France in early 1941 was to "humor them". The British disagreed with the concept, but allowed the United States to send wheat shipments to Marseilles. The British sources of information about Syria and North Africa tended to be anti-French and therefore painted a more negative picture of the situation in Syria than actually existed. The de Gaulle people were deeply involved with wishful thinking, crediting themselves with more capability and support than actually existed. Charles de Gaulle was a favorite of Churchill, so Churchill was somewhat caught up in the wishful thinking as well. Leaders in the Middle East tended to side with the British in wanting to see action taken against the Vichy French in the region. General Wavell had his own estimates of French strength that included some 28,000, although mostly African and Arab troops, and some 25,000 Syrian and Lebanese under their control. They also put the German presence at about 300 men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 02, 2014

The political situation with respect to the Vichy government and Syria

One interesting aspect of the Syrian situation in early 1941 was that the Syrian people were ashamed to be governed by a defeated country: France that had surrendered to Germany. Another aspect is that elements of French society admired the authoritarian German government and wanted to establish something similar for France. Elements of the upper class in France and in the army which liked the idea of setting up a "totalitarian" government in France. Along with that inclination was that there still existed a strong French nationalism and a desire to resist further encroachment on French national honor by both Germany and Great Britain. As we have noted, the Vichy government hated the British government under Churchill. Immediately after the fall of France, Churchill had shown his true colors by the attack on the French naval base at Mers el Kebir and the destruction and damage to the ships located there. This is baaed on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

French rule in Syria and Lebanon

The French policy in regards to occupied Middle Eastern countries was to try and build an educated populace who could eventually rule themselves. The British were in a rush to rid themselves of the occupied countries, but the French wanted to move slowly. From the perspective of the people involved, the process was too slow. They ruled some 3.3 million people in Syria and Lebanon. There was a mix of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish people. There were also smaller groups such as the Druse. At the Armistice in 1940, the British announced that they would not allow the Germans or Italians to occupy Syria. Now, we see in 1941, that the Germans were starting to stage aircraft into Syria, so we could expect the British to react. The Vichy government greatly disliked the British, and one supposes, Winston Churchill. The stage was set for a confrontation that was inevitable. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 26, 2014

France had a long relationship with Middle Eastern people

The Australian Official History notes that France had long been active commercially in the Middle East. France became seen by people in the Middle East as friends and trading partners. As the Ottoman Empire continued to decline, France moved in to fill the void left. Many Middle Eastern people learned French as a second language. People in the Levant and Egypt regarded France as the center of European culture. The French had many commercial and industrial relationships and established schools and missions. By the 19th Century, the British had moved into competition, but the French still had an advantage. After the end of the Great War and the peace with the new, post-Ottoman Turkey, the French were disappointed that they had lost power and prestige. France still occupied North African and Middle Eastern countries, such as Lebanon and Syria. France greatly valued their occupation of Syria and was ready to defend their ownership against attackers, even the British. This is based on the account in Vol. II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Syria: just when there seemed to be nothing left to use

By May 1941, there was an urgent need to rebuild divisions, repair warships, and bring in fresh air units and aircraft. Instead, there was a new military commitment to cover. At this time, the VIchy commander in Syria was General Henri Dentz. He had some 28,000 troops under his command. At this time, General de Gaulle was lobbying to get permission to attack Syria with his meager Free French force. So, when the CIGS, General Dill, warned of a possible German airborne attack on Syria, that was enough to push General Wavell into action. Already, by early May, General Dentz had been ordered by his government to allow German and Italian aircraft to overfly Syria and to shoot at British aircraft. By 12 May, there was news of German aircraft landing in Damascus. Air Marshall Tedder wsa the new British RAF commander in the Middle East. He was authorized to take action in response. British aircraft bombed the airfield at Damascus and shortly afterwards, two more. There was now more readiness to let General de Gaulle attack Syria with his small force of six battalions. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Amazon Ad