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.

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