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.

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