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General Wilson and his staff were substandard and were the cause of men going into captivity when they should have been withdrawn.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.

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