Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Australian army officers in 1941

The result of the Australian participation in combat in 1941, was that they had increased confidence in their senior officers. Of the younger officers, General Lavarack was promoted. General Wynter, who had advocated concentrating on defending Australia, had a health breakdown that removed him from a combat opportunity. He had been the Australian commander at first. There were now militiamen commanding Australian divisions. Generals Morshead and Allen had been battalion commanders in the Great War and then were brigadiers and division commanders in 1941. Most of the brigadiers in 1941 were not professional soldiers. One problem was that many Australian officer candidates were not immediately commissioned when they graduated the course. Many officers received as reinforcements from Australia were not as capable as the officer candidate graduates. The success rate for the officer candidates was much higher than that for reinforcement officers.

The Australian army had a successful system for historical records. The system had been started during the Great War. From 1914, C. E. W. Bean had been a war correspondent for Australia. In 1941, the head of the Australian War Memorial had been an assistant to Bean. A photographer and cinematographer were added in 1940. General Blamey also added a war artist, Ivor Hele. They ended up with two organizations, one for immediate news for publication and the other for historical records. The system performed badly in the Libyan campaign against the Italians, because of a flawed system for allocating vehicles for correspondents. The result was late or lost material. General Blamey's intelligence officer established a censor in Cairo, who was the ideal combination of newsman and intelligence officer. That was a system that performed well over time. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Dual responsibilities for an Australian commander in 1941

General Blamey had been the commander of the Australian contingent in the Mediterranean and Middle East in 1941. When he was appointed deputy commander, under General Wilson, that created a problem. Several times during 1941, a Dominion commander as appointed to critical commands. On short notice, General Blamey had been put in charge of the retreat and withdrawal from Greece. General Freyberg, from New Zealand, had been put in charge of the defense of Crete. Sometime during the fighting in the Western Desert, and then again in Syria, General Lavarack was put in charge. General Lavarack was younger than the others and was a more junior officer in the Great War. The Official History suggests that when General Blamey had been appointed as Deputy Commander, that the Australian Government might have put someone else in charge of their forces in the Middle East.

The Australian Official History blames the errors in command, rightly so, on Churchill and his closest advisers in Britain. With General Wavell as the theater commander, he had successfully defeated the Italians in the Western Desert and in Ethiopia (they call it Abyssinia). When the main players in Britain decided to move into the Balkans that they put the Western Desert in jeopardy. They very nearly lost everything due to throwing away army and naval forces in the Greek campaign and the battle for Crete. General Wavell was made a scapegoat for Churchill's errors in policy and planning. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Assessing the early war period Australian policies

Prior to the end of 1941, the principal Australian war effort was concentrated in the Middle East and Africa. Australian strategic policy thought was divided between those who wanted to be intimately involved with the British Commonwealth on defense matters and those who were inclined to operating independently, as they disapproved of "British Imperialism". The Australians in 1939 and 1940 had policies that were a mixture of supporting the British Commonwealth and operating independently. One conclusion of the Australian Official History was that either the British Indian Army or the Australian Army were sufficiently strong to have won a campaign against the Italian Army in Africa. They point out that the British did not sufficiently appreciate how good the Indian Army was during this period. We could conjecture that the reason was racism from a faction of the British establishment. Both Generals Wavell and Auchinleck were very knowledgeable about the British Indian Army and we would expect that they could appreciate their capabilities.

The Australians were a much different army. They were based on the militia and were all volunteers at this point. Interestingly enough, of the two Australian political parties, one party was opposed to any participation at all, while the other wanted to limit any involvement to a token force. The Official History proposes that a stronger effort might have helped deter any Japanese attack. Apparently, the Australian militia forces were ready to become involved in the war and welcomed the opportunity. The ordinary people understood the political situation in Europe quite well, so that after the Munich crisis, many Australian men joined the militia.

Having the British in charge created a situation where good officers from the Commonwealth countries were ignored, leaving the top positions for British officers drawn from a rather limited group of officers, not all of whom were really capable of command. We see examples of Churchill's "cronyism" with the advancement of his friends, such as General Maitland Wilson. In the Great War, the war in Africa was commanded by the South Africans, and in 1940, that could have been a precedent to be followed, but instead, the British ignored the possibility and wanted their officers to command instead. The Australian Official History says that Generals Freyberg and Blamey were the "most accomplished and experienced senior soldiers in the Middle East," with the possible exception of General Wavell. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The war changes dramatically from November to December 1941

Some writers have criticized General Auchinleck's concern about a German attack from the north into the Middle East as a mistake. They said that he should have ignored the possibility and concentrated on the war in the Western Desert. We see now, though, that mainstream British opinion was very concerned about dealing with a German attack from Russia, either through Turkey or from the Caucasus. If he had not been planning for such an attack, he might have jeopardized his position as theater commander. The concern about a German attack was largely built on the lack of good information about the fighting in Russia. In fact, although there had been a large part of the Soviet Army that was poorly equipped (just as the Germans and British), the Russians had the best tanks and some of the best artillery in the world. The KV-I heavy tank and the T-34 medium tank were the best tanks in use in 1941. They were small in numbers at first, and some were thrown away in badly chosen situations, but they dominated the battlefield when they appeared in combat. The Germans scrambled to respond to them. In late 1941, the Germans were close to the high-water mark, although there would be further advances in the summer of 1942. The Soviet government and armed forces were not going to collapse. They had a hard core that would carry them through to better times and they started to receive British and American shipments of tanks and aircraft to supplement what they had.

Everything about the war changed after 8 December 1941 in the Far East, when the Japanese attacked. One immediate impact was that some of the Australian brigadiers from the Middle East were sent back to Australia. There were also discussions, very naturally, of sending men from the Middle East back to Australia. In January, the decision was made to send the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions along with the corps headquarters to Australia. The Australians in the Middle East had a hard time taking the Japanese threat seriously, as they could not conceive that the Japanese might invade Australia. One immediate effect was that the decision was made to replace the 7th Australian Division in Syria by the 9th Australian Division. The Australians were destined for Java, so General Lavarack and Allen set off by air. The divisions were sent in convoys for the Far East starting on 30 January. This last part is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The force in Syria in late 1941 grows and prepares for a German attack

The threat of a German invasion of Syria from the north was being taken very seriously in late 1941. The mainly Australian soldiers in Syria were kept busy preparing defensive positions. Another corps headquarters, the X Corps, was moved to Syria. When the 18th Brigade was withdrawn from Tobruk, they rejoined the 7th Australian Division, also in Syria. There were many changes. The British 6th Division was renamed the 70th Division and moved into Tobruk. The 6th Australian Division was finally rebuilt. The division had greatly suffered in Greece and the battle for Crete. They took the place of the 70th Division. General Wilson no longer commanded "Palestine and Transjordan", but became 9th Army commander. The army headquarters was located north of Beirut at Broumane.

There were many complaints late in 1941 about Australian troops committing vandalism and stealing. On the lighter side, a proposal was made to train ski troops from each Australian division. There was snow in the mountains to the north and the snow in late 1941 was very heavy. They proceeded with the training, but ultimately, the training was stopped.

By late 1941, the Australian divisions were well-equipped. In another change, since they were amply equipped, they were no longer allowed to use captured equipment. For example, the 2/16th Battalion had captured Breda heavy machine guns at Mersa Matruh in April and May 1941. They were discovered when they fired on by British aircraft on 6 October. They were forced to turn them in, as the no policy no longer allowed their possession. We remember the Australian cavalry using captured Italian tanks in early 1941 and captured French tanks in July, but no longer. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A change in the Australian government in late 1941

Mr. Menzies, a Liberal, had been Australian Prime Minister until early October 1941. He was followed by Mr. Curtin, of the Labour Party. General Blamey wanted to return to Australia to confer with the new government, because he was concerned about recent decisions that seemed to be mistaken. He left Egypt in early November and attended a War Cabinet meeting on 26 November 1941. General Blamey argued against disbanding units and told the cabinet that Australia had no need to maintain an armored brigade in Egypt. If they wanted to form an armored division in Egypt, they had adequate corps troops and reinforcements on which to draw. In fact, they were planning to send too many reinforcements to the Middle East, more than would be expected to be needed. He told the cabinet that he expected enough volunteers to keep enlisting so that they would not be concerned about the situation until later in 1942. The cabinet still thought that they would eventually need to reduce the number of divisions.

The New Zealand government was still waiting to hear about the proposed formation of the ANZAC corps. General Freyberg told his government that he thought that with the 9th Australian Division in Tobruk and the 6th Australian Division still not yet rebuilt, that there were insufficient divisions to be able to recreate the ANZAC Corp.

One topic of concern to General Blamey was the possibility of Australians being sent to fight a German attack through Turkey. After the Greek debacle, he was ready to resist without a better plan and adequate forces than were sent to Greece. General Blamey expressed his opinion that Germany would avoid Turkey, and if they attacked the Middle East, they would attack through the Caucasus and Caspian region. They agreed that the Australian divisions might be moved to the Taurus mountains if there were an adequate plan and preparation. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

An ANZAC Army?

One pet project of General Blamey was to form and ANZAC Army with two corps. The army would include the 6th Australian Division along with the New Zealand Division. When the idea was discussed again in May 1941, General Wavell expressed support for the plan. Wavell's opinion was that General Freyberg, the New Zealander, should command the ANZAC Corps. General Blamey replied that he approved of the idea. He also suggested an Australian Corps consisting of the 7th Australian Division and 9th Australian Division under General Lavarack's command. The idea would also include adding an armored division to each corps. The Australian Government hesitated to support the idea because they were concerned about their ability to find enough men to form the units. The Army staff in Australia assumed that there would be much higher casualties than the divisions ever suffered in combat. There were many men in the pipeline from Australia to the Middle East. They were more than enough to form the units that were proposed. General Blamey thought that 39,000 men a year would be adequate to support the units while the staff in Australia expected more than 100,000 men a year would be required. By 13 August, the Australian War Cabinet balked at the proposed organization in the Middle East. They wanted to just increase the number of men in the existing divisions and not add new units. General Blamey opposed the reduced forces for the Middle East. By the end of 1941, they had fully replaced losses and had completed the divisions with some 16,600 men in reserve. Part of the problem in Australia was the new government that had replaced the Menzies government. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Australia and army organizations as of August 1941

When Churchill replaced General Wavell with General Auchinleck, as the theater commander, he apparently had endorsed the use of ad hoc battle groups in the Middle East. The thinking apparently was that if the Germans use ad hoc battlegroups, then the British should imitate them and use them as well. General Blamey, who was a political soldier opposed breaking up divisions to form battle groups. Part of the rationale for battle groups (the German kampgruppe), was to disperse formations to be less vulnerable to air attack. Auchinleck proved that he understood that you have to concentrate your forces at the critical point to win battles when he did just that in the Crusader Battle and pushed Rommel back to El Agheila. Then, after the collapse after the surrender of Tobruk in 1942, Auchinleck took charge and stopped Rommel at the First Battle of El Alamein. But much of the time, from January 1942 to July 1942, the British wasted their time with Jock Columns and the like. Rommel, the master of infiltration tactics could almost at will panic the British army and cause them to scatter. It was only with the arrival of Bernard Law Montgomery that this situation was changed.

General Blamey was appalled that the Australian Government apparently only planned to put four divisions into the field. General Blamey thought that they would eventually have to mobilize many more men that four divisions worth to win the war. He correctly realized that this was to be a very dynamic and mobile war and would require a lot of men on the ground to win the war. And that was before anyone realized that the Japanese planned to enter the war as a combatant. General Blamey also suggested that naval blockade and air attacks would not be the answer to winning this war. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Defensive preparations at Tripoli in July and August 1941

The preparations made at Tripoli in July and August 1941 were based on the assumption that the Germans would enter Syria from Turkey. The plan envisioned that the Germans would use roads and railroads to move forces through Turkey. The planners thought that the German force would include 11 divisions as well as airborne units. While there was some thought that the Germans might move southward along the Mediterranean coast, they thought that a move would more likely be made from Aleppo, to Homs, to Damascus, and by Lake Tiberius, with a flanking movement through Palmyra. Tripoli had a fortress that was made ready for defense in all directions. General Allen, commander of the 7th Australian Division, thought that they would need two infantry divisions and one armored division. General Allen had his men work on building a fortress area large enough to hold that size force. General Auchinleck visited Tripoli in October and informed General Allen that no additional troops, except perhaps an armored battalion were to be added. In response, General Allen redesigned the fortress perimeter to be shorter given the force he had to defend Tripoli. General Blamey disagreed with General Auchinleck about what the Australian troops should be doing. Blamey wanted to see the Australians spending time training, not digging defenses. In the event, some civilian laborers were added to relieve the Australians from having to spend all their time digging. General Blamey, it turns out, agreed with what Bernard Law Montgomery believed, that the divisions and brigades should be kept intact and should not be broken up into ad hoc battle groups. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Defending the Middle East from attack from the north in 1941

The British apparently took the threat of attack by German troops from Russia into the Middle East. If the Germans were to attack through Turkey, either with or without help from the Turkish government, the British thought that they would advance into Turkey to hold the southern mountain passes. They were unsure what the stance of the Turkish government would be in the event of a German move through Turkey. They might fight to oppose the Germans. They might allow the Germans free passage through Turkey. The British thought that they would be able to use four divisions to move into Turkey. They expected that the Germans would move into northern Syria from Turkey. If they reached Syria, they considered that the country was well-suited to armored warfare and that the Germans would have more tanks than the British. The British thought that they would need two armored and five infantry divisions to adequately defend Syria and Iraq from German attack. By the end of July 1941, there were limited forces available. There was the 7th Australian Division, the diminutive Free French Division, the 5th Indian Brigade, the 6th British Division, and the 4th Cavalry Brigade. There was also the 10th Indian Division, but that was considered to be not included in the plan, but the division was a potential blocker to any German advance into the Persian Gulf region. The only complete unit in the scheme was the 7th Australian Division. The 6th Division was lacking much beyond the infantry battalions. They had to rely upon Australian units for artillery and other division supporting units. Sending British infantry battalions to the Middle East without artillery and other support units was considered to be a major error. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Events in August 1941

Because of the difficulties experienced in Crete with an airborne attack, the Germans declined to mount another airborne attack against Cyprus. The British expected the Germans to attack, as they thought the island was vulnerable. In fact, the Germans expected that Cyprus would be reinforced, and that is what happened in the event. Cyprus had only been garrisoned by the 7th Australian Cavalry, but they were replaced by a British Hussar regiment, which was reinforced by the 50th Division, which had just arrived from Britain. This had all happened by late August. By holding Syria and Iraq, the British had better secured their vital interests in the Suez canal and the oil fields.

The British expected that the Germans might penetrate to the Middle East through Turkey or through southern Russia. They told Turkey that they would support them, if attacked, with four divisions. As 1941 progressed, there was increasingly less likelihood that the Germans would reach the Middle East from the north. General Blamey told his government in Australia that he thought that the year was too late for the Germans to attack to the Middle East. General Blamey was a rather problematic man, exemplified by his treatment of General Lavarack, but he was competent enough to have a good strategic sense. He was also a strong advocate for the Australian government in the face of Churchill and his demands on the Australians. The British had a lot of uncertainty about the Turkish government and their potential attitude towards the Germans. There was no guarantee that they would not allow the Germans to pass through Turkey to reach the Middle East, in some assessments of the prospects. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Concerns in the north after June 1941

As a theater commander in the Middle East, General Auchinleck was focused on the possibility of the Germans attacking from the north, either through Turkey or the Caucasus. He was no longer responsible for Iraq, as that had been given to the Commander in Chief in India. He and General Wavell had switched jobs, so Iraq now belonged to Wavell. A new concern was added when the ruler of Iran decided to become closer to Germany and Italy and get rid of British and Russian influences. In typical Churchill fashion, he insisted on calling Iran "Persia". That was a deliberate show of disrespect for the Iranian government. The British had helped to develop the oilfields in Iran, and felt that the country was a vital interest. General Quinan, in Iraq, was instructed to prepare to go into Iran.

He had limited resources in August 1941, when the order came. He had the 8th Indian Division, whose third brigade only arrived on 10 August. He also had the 9th Armoured Brigade, formerly Habforce. Despite the name, they were without tanks. It was joined with the 2nd Indian Armoured Brigade at Kirkuk and Khanaqin. The 10th Indian Division in northern Syria was added to General Quinan's available units. The 10th Indian Division was notable for having General Slim as division commander. They were up against a small Iranian army of ten divisions. They had about 524 artillery pieces and about 280 aircraft. The British and Russians were acting together and presented a joint ultimatum to the Iranian government on 13 August 1941. When the response was received, the invasion was planned for 25 August.

On 25 August, a brigade from the 8th Indian Division was landed at Abadan and took the island and refinery. Also on 25 August, another naval force landed troops at Bandar Shapur. The Iranian army surrendered by 28 August. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The new strategic situation in the Mediterranean and Middle East after the German invasion of Russia in 1941

The Syrian campaign started prior to the German invasion of Russia. Prior to that, Germans and Italians were only fighting in the Western Desert against the British. The British seem to have attributed exaggerated prowess to the Germans, as the British expected that Russia would quickly collapse under German attack. Russia certainly had a dysfunctional government, but did have a better army than the western countries realized. British thinking was that Germany would take Cyprus and Syria after winning the battle for Crete. They imagined that they might see Germans advancing into the Middle East from the Caucasus.

The British were stronger during June to August than they had been. With the German air force diverted to Russia from the Mediterranean, the British were able to add air strength to Malta with the idea that they would be able to operate against the supply convoys to Libya from Italy. General Auchinleck took over as theater commander from General Wavell, who went to India. The army received new units and equipment. They had new aircraft from the United States and new tanks from there as well. They were in the process of forming the 10th Armoured Division and had a the beginnings of the 50th Infantry Division. Forces from East Africa were now available to the Western Desert after the defeat of Italian forces in Abyssinia. African troops were left to finish off the remaining Italian forces in East Africa. The 1st South African Division, and the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions were sent to the Western Desert.

The British sent Sir Oliver Lyttleton to the Middle East to handle both political issues and to lead a Middle Eastern Military Council. That left General Auchinleck to be able to concentrate on the military issues. He does seem to have focused to much on the dangers from the north from possible German movement into the Middle East from Russia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 16, 2015

An assessment after the Syria campaign in June and July 1941

The Australian Official History thought that the British, Indian, and Australian troops showed a better spirit than did the Vichy French and French colonial troops. The situation was complicated by the issues regarding the campaign in France in 1940 and the French defeat, the attack on Syria and Lebanon where the French thought themselves to be morally superior to the attacking forces. The campaign was motivated, supposedly, by concerns that the Germans were using Syria for operations. The French thought that the attack was unjustified. The French fought well, at least the Australians thought so.

While the 6th Australian Division learned valuable lessons about mountain warfare in Greece, the 7th Australian Division learned their mountain warfare lessons in Syria and Lebanon. They had the opportunity to apply that knowledge in 1942 in a much different context. They had seen the importance of controlling the ridges in mountainous territory and saw the value of mortars over artillery in such and environment. They also learned how to fight tanks with guns, both anti-tank guns and field guns firing over open sights. They also gained experience with ambushes in mountain passes.

In the Syrian campaign, air power was mostly of minor importance. The exception was the battle for Palmyra, where the French air force had considerable success. An attempt to use air power at Damour had only small success due to the small numbers of aircraft that were available. The mountainous terrain also impeded the use of air power. There was the problem of finding targets on the ground for one thing. There was also considerable delay between requesting assistance and the actual arrival of aircraft. They also found that the French were very successful in concealing artillery from aircraft. The navy, however, was very well protected by aircraft against air attack. That enabled the ships offshore to provide good artillery support to land forces. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Ham-handed British press censorship about Syria in 1941

Politics was a factor in the news about the fighting in Syria. You had the issue that the Free French were trying to create a larger role for themselves and that they had tried to portray the Vichy French in Syria as going to collapse when attacked. Somewhat in line with that was that the BBC was announcing that the French were not resisting, which was untrue. General Lavarack wanted the truth known back in Australia, and the Australian press reports talked openly of the fighting.

The Australians were the most numerous force in Syria by the end of June 1941. The Australians had 18,000 men, the UK had 9,000 men, the Indians had 2,000 men, and the Free French were 5,000 men. British and Indian losses, in total actually exceeded the Australian. The losses include prisoners of war, killed, and wounded. The British and Indian together lost 1,800 men. The Australians lost 1,600 men, and the Free French lost 1,300 men. For the Free French, most of the losses were taken prisoner, as they had 1,100 prisoners of war.

The Australian Official History put the victory on the Australian infantry who had fought well in mountainous territory. They also praised the 5th Indian Brigade. They were said to be the most experienced troops in Syria except for the Australian 2/3rd and 2/4th Battalions. The 5th Indian Brigade was misused by their brigade commander, we think, and they took unnecessary losses due to being exposed to stronger enemy forces without support. The men engaged in the Syrian campaign were very tired by the end. The infantry had been pushed to an extreme, and the mountainous terrain was very difficult. Only the Australian spirit carried them to success. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 09, 2015

An assessment of General Wavell

The Australian Official History has an assessment of General Wavell and the events towards the end of his tenure. For Admiral Cunningham, he had a glowing opinion of General Wavell. They had served together during the hardest of times in 1941. The battle for Crete was perhaps the most trying time. Admiral Cunningham considered General Wavell to be a great general, "if not the greatest".

General Wavell got credit for the brilliant campaign against the Italians conducted by General Richard O'Connor. General Wavell also took responsibility for the loss of Cyrenaica to Rommel. They blamed the loss on an incorrect estimate of the Axis strenght. Really, however, Rommel was an expert in infiltration tactics and the modern embodiment of that tactical idea in Blitzkrieg. With Rommel's arrival, the British commanders on the spot were not prepared to combat him, regardless of his force strength. Richard O'Connor had serious health issues, but he was put in the bag when he appeared as an advisor.

General Wavell backed Churchill's Greek adventure. That is not something to brag about. The campaign was politically motivated and was doomed to failure before the campaign started. General Wavell had to lie to the Australian Prime Minister and senior army officer to get them to agree to participate. The operation was obviously doomed to fail to anyone who understood the issues. The loss of Crete was a foreseeable consequence of the loss of Greece.

Wavell was reluctant to participate in the campaigns in Iraq and Syria. He was pressed to do so by Churchill. Resisting the Iraqi rebellion made sense and was successful, ultimately. As for Syria, there was not a pressing need to intervene when the attack came. Churchill misunderstood the Vichy French position and he was blinded by his hatred of them. There were really not the forces needed to invade, but they invaded anyway because that was what Churchill needed, politically. We suspect that he was looking for a quick victory over someone that he could brag about. Both the Germans and French were reluctant to do anything in Syria to prompt the British to invade. The French had briefly cooperated with the German attempt to aid the insurgent Iraqis, but quickly backed off. The Germans were particularly concerned about the possibility that the British would be provoked into invading. Because there was a political need, the Australians went into Syria with inadequate strength. They ultimately succeeded due to the quality of the men and their leadership, but they took heavy casualties in the process that might have been avoided. In any case, General Wavell's usefulness to Churchill had come to an end and he was sacked. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History and our editorial comments.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

More about General Catroux

There is a good Wikipedia article about General Catroux.
He was an older man by August 1941. He eventually lived to be 92 years old in 1969. He was born in 1877, so he was older than many officers. He was 64 by the time of the armistice meeting at Acre. He seems to have been a very fine man. I liked how he handled losing his kepi at Acre, where he figured an Australian soldier had taken it as a souvenir. He had extensive experience in the Middle East and the Far East. His nature was such that he gravitated towards the Free French. He had met General de Gaulle in the Great War, when they were both prisoners of war. By October 1940, he was on General de Gaulle's staff in London. This is based on the Wikipedia article.

A look back at the events of May to July 1941

The campaign in Syria and Lebanon had lasted five weeks. It closely followed the disaster in Crete and the campaign in Greece. We might also include the breakout into the Atlantic of the battleship Bismarck and the cruiser Prinz Eugen in March that resulted in the loss of the battle cruiser Hood and damage to the new Prince of Wales. The common thread was the involvement of the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill. We find that Churchill did not accept any responsibility for the outcomes and blamed General Wavell for the mishaps in his theater, the Mediterranean and Middle East. That is unfair, because Wavell should have opposed the campaign in Greece, because it caused the disaster in Libya, due to the withdrawal of troops that were diverted to Greece and then to Crete. That opened the way for General Rommel to practice blitzkrieg tactics in Libya. Churchill was also unhappy with General Wavell over Wavell's opposition to diverting troops to Iraq from the Middle East when there was trouble and to the invasion of Syria. The Australian Official History puts the blame for the loss of Benghazi where it belongs, on Churchill, not General Wavell. General Wavell had held back one Australian division in the Middle East that might have been thrown away in Greece after the battle was already lost.

On June 21 1941, Churchill informed General Wavell that he would go to India and replace General Auchinleck, who would take over as the theater commander in the Mediterranean and Middle East. We will see that the swap did not go well, because General Auchinleck was both a brilliant field commander and a flawed theater commander. Auchinleck had commanded the operations Norway in May and June 1940. He had overseen the portion of the Middle East that fell under the India government and had become involved in Syria at the end.

The Australian Official History also points out that the battle in Western Desert and the attack on Syria and Lebanon were made with reduced forces which affected the outcomes. In the Western Desert, a premature attack was made with tanks right off the ships with untrained crews. Churchill had the ability to push the Tiger Convoy through the Mediterranean with newly manufactured tanks (in one case). He had a naive view of things that all he had to do was provide the tanks and that they would be immediately ready for battle. One vessel was lost with about fifty tanks. They sent Cruiser Mk.IV, Light Mk.VIC, and Crusader I tanks. The first fifty Crusader I tanks were sent before they were mechanically reliable. It was the sort of interference by the Prime Minister that could cause sudden disaster through the war, as was mentioned by Alan Brooke, who became the CIGS after General Dill. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 02, 2015

A New Difficulty in Syria in August 1941

By August 1941, there were still Australian, Indian, and British prisoners in French and Italian hands. This became an issue between the British command in Jerusalem and the Australian officers in charge in Syria and Lebanon. The control committee demanded that these prisoners be returned by 5 August 1941. Three sets of letters were drafted. One was for General Dentz and two others were for two other French generals. Brigadier Savige was to arrest General Dentz. He asked for freedom to handle the situation as he felt best. He substituted a French-speaking junior Australian officer for the Free French Lieutenant-Colonel. Eventually, General Dentz was arrested and the situation was handled as well as was possible. General Dentz was at first uncooperative, but the courtesies offered to him by the Australians impressed him that he should cooperate.

When the officers sent to arrest General Jennequin, they found he was absent. They eventually found him in Tripoli. He eventually cooperated and was taken to Jerusalem by Colonel Stevenson. Brigadier Plant had a good relationship with the other general, General Arlabosse. He took him to General Lavarack's headquarters and then he went on to Jerusalem. There 35 French officers there under guard by the time all had arrived. The Allied prisoners from France arrived in Beirut by ship on 15 August. The prisoners from Scarpanto arrived by 30 September. General Dentz and the other senior officers then were sent to France in September. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The political situation in Syria in late July to August 1941

The Free French seem to have been a creature of Churchill. The Australians were very cool towards the Free French organization and had better feelings for the Vichy French than they did for the Free French. As early as 21 July 1941, the Free French wanted access to more of Syria. General Wilson broached the subject with General Lavarack, the Australian corps commander. In fact, the Free French were moving troops without permission. General Lavarack informed General Wilson that many Vichy troops would join the British, but wanted nothing to do with the Free French organization. General Lavarack told General Wilson that the Free French movements were jeopardizing the "security situation". One particular problem was that the Free French thought that they should have the civil administration of Syria under their control, which was not what had been agreed upon for obvious reasons. The Vichy French were obeying the terms of the Armistice, but the Free French were not. The British were apparently ready to undercut General Lavarack's authority to satisfy Churchill and General De Gaulle. Another sticking point was that the Free French wanted to take over all Vichy French war materials for their use, while General Lavarack wanted to be able to resupply the Australians from the Vichy French supplies and arms. Eventually, eight convoys sailed from Syria to France with some 37,500 passengers, mostly troops. 5,668 Vichy French troops joined the Free French out of 37,700 troops. By late August, the Free French division was disbanded due to lack of men. The Free French troops were divided into districts, instead. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 26, 2015

After the Armistice in Syria and Lebanon in 1941

After the armistice in Syria and Lebanon, the area was divided up between various authorities. The area north of the road from Beirut to Damascus came under the control of the 1st Australian Corps. Within that area, the 7th Australian Division was on the coast. The Free French forces were in the east, which included Damascus. Habforce would occupy the desert areas in the northeast. The 10th Indian Division occupied the farthest portion of the northeast. That was "beyond the Euphrates".

One feature of the armistice was that prisoners taken to metropolitan France were to be set free. Another feature was that Vichy French troops would be allowed to join the Free French. They were also allowed to choose to return to France. The Allies were not to pressure the French troops to join the Allied cause.

A commission was set up in Beirut to administer the armistice. The commission had a number of committees. The one on prisoner release was headed by Colonel Blackburn, who had coaxed the Free French into Damascus. His civilian vocation was being an attorney. He was a South African.

The British goal was to transfer General Dentz and his army from Syria. Of course, General De Gaullea and General Catroux wanted to have many Vichy French troops join the Free French forces. That immediately created a source of strife and conflict. The Vichy authorities and officers wanted to return to France as quickly as possible, so that meshed well with the British goals. The Australians thought well of the Vichy officers and troops, as they had fought well and fairly. The Australians were less friendly to the Free French, who they considered had painted the campaign in rosier condition than was what was actually found. They also considered that the Free French had not performed well in the battle for Syria.

The Syrian people, who had been living under French rule, would have liked to be free from European rule, but were astute enough to realize that freedom would not be coming soon. The Australians were well aware of the position of the Syrian people. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

General Catroux lost his kepi to an Australian on 12 July 1941

The Free French General Catroux was the barracks at Acre for the armistice signing on 12 July 1941. He had left his Oak Leaf kepi on the seat of his car. When he returned, he noticed that it was gone. He knew about the Australians and figured that an Australian soldier had made a trophy of the hat. He did tell the camp commandant and others about the kepi, but he figured it was gone for good. He was good-natured enough to not be bothered by the incident. He had a lot of experience with the Foreign Legion, and they were very much like the Australians. As the general said: "what was taken by them was taken for good." General Wilson was "delighted" by the news. General Lavarack smiled when he heard about the missing kepi. The Vichy officers talked among themselves and thought that General Latroux was the victim of the bad company he kept. The Vichy General de Verdilhac returned to his side after midnight, at 1:30am on 13 July 1941. A column moved forward on the coastal road on 15 July. The column consisted of the 2/5th Battalion, some artillery, and some cavalry troops. They were not to enter Beirut, but to bypass the city on their way north to Latakia. The 2/16th Battalion and part of the 6th Cavalry Regiment got to enter Beirut on 15 July. They were cheered by the populace who assumed that they would have independence. The ceremonial entrance by the Allied generals happened at 10:30am on 16 July. They had 24 Bren carriers and some field guns. The next step would be spreading out the force to occupy Syria and Lebanon. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 19, 2015

French troops performed well in Syria and Lebanon in June and July 1941

General Dentz had a surprising low opinion of French troops defending Syria and Lebanon. In reality, French troops performed very credibly in the campaign. There was a mix of troops, Europeans, North Africans, and Africans from Senegal.

French R-35 tanks and armored cars, even if just improvised, provided a very tough opponent for British and Australian troops. Until they received sticky bombs, they had no answer for when they encountered French tanks in particular. The only anti-tank weapons that the British and Australian troops had at the beginning of the campaign in June 1941 were 2-pounder anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles. The anti-tank rifles were not able to damage an R-35 tank, and it is unclear how effective the 2-pounder was against the R-35 either.

A small band of Foreign Legion troops held out for a long period at Palmyra against the cavalry brigade and the Arab Legion. They were apparently in good positions that gave protection and allowed them good fields of fire.

At Kuneitra, Merjayoun, and Jezzine, French infantry, machine guns, and artillery, gave British and Australian troops a tough fight. The 5th Indian Brigade was decimated in the fighting and a British battalion, the Fusiliers, was all but destroyed. That area continued to be a problem, even for British troops, right up until the Armistice.

We must assume that General Dentz was not familiar with the French troops under his command. Otherwise, how could he have had such a low opinion of them? When the attack commenced in early June 1941, he expected that the French army would collapse, when that was not the case at all. Even French colonial troops, with professional French officers, performed extremely well in the tough battles on the mountain ridges in Syria and Lebanon. We found, though, that the Australian troops in particular achieved results beyond what might be expected. This is based on our assessment of the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

General Dentz wants to stop fighting from 22 June 1941 until 12 July 1941

As early as 22 June 1941, General Dentz, the French commander in Lebanon and Syria, expected that his forces would be defeated. In France, on 28 June, Marshal Petain and Admiral Darlan agreed that they should stop fighting in Syria and Lebanon. At the time, though, they did not tell that to General Dentz. The next day, on 29 June, British bombers partly destroyed the General's residence in Beirut. General Dentz had already left the place prior to the bombing. Some French officers said that they should bomb the residence of the high commissioner in Jerusalem, but General Dentz was not prepared to bomb Jerusalem. By 30 June, General Lavarack sent a message to General Dentz, but he did not realize at the time that the British had bombed General Dentz's residence. After he found out about the bombing, he thought it had nullified his message. Palmyra was finally captured by 3 July. There was now nothing to stop an advance to Aleppo. By 8 July, General Dentz heard the news that his government was prepared to stop fighting. General Dentz sent a message to the British through the American Consul in Beirut. The British sent back a list of conditions under which they would agree to a cease fire. General Dentz then sent back a message that he agreed, with the cease-fire to happen at midnight on 11 July. The news was broadcast in Australia, which was a bad idea. General Lavarack sent an angry note to General Blamey. General Dentz replied to a wireless message from General Wilson with another wireless message. The French would stop fighting at 12:01am on 12 July 1941. The French envoys came to the Australian outpost on the road to Beirut, as requested. They were transported to Acre, where they met with General Wilson, General Lavarack, and General Catroux. They reached an agreement that allowed the Allies to occupy Syria and Lebanon. The French soldiers would be treated with full honors. They could keep their "personal weapons", but all other weapons would be stacked and controlled by the Allies. By midday on 15 July, the Australians moved forward to occupy the key locations in Syria and Lebanon. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The fighting in Syria and Lebanon ended at midnight of 11 to 12 July 1941

To the east, the fighting overlapped the armistice at midnight of 11 to 12 July 1941. The cavalry had sent out patrols to the west from the 6th and 7th of July. The 4th Cavalry Brigade was actually on the move on 11 July. The Brigadier was attacked on 12 July, nominally after the armistice. After the armistice, when the French records became available, the British were able to learn more about the defending French forces near the end. When the initial attack at Damour started, the Vichy French had about seven battalions defending Damour and Jezzine. A similar-sized force held Merdjayoun and Jebel Mazar. There were also two battalions holding Jebel Druse. Just as the Australian battalions were short of men, the French battalions were also short. The French battalions were between 250 and 450 men when the fighting stopped. That would put them stronger than many of the Australians, which were very shot of men. During the fighting at Damour, two units were pulled out, which left a cavalry regiment and three battalions holding the road to Beirut from Damascus. The French said that they took 194 men prisoner during the initial attack at Jebel Mazar. The second attack quickly came to a stop. To achieve that, the French took heavy losses, enough to cause the French general to order a withdrawal to a further line to the north. The French showed in the fighting that they had good troops who were well-led, even if the troops were Senegalese. We have constantly suspected that Churchill had ordered the attack on Syria and Lebanon, hoping for a cheap victory to aid his political fortunes after a very difficult first six months of the year. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Merdjayoun front from 9 to 11 July 1941

On 30 June 1941, the British 6th Division took over command on the Merdjayoun front in Syria. The British 23rd Brigade was actually in place at Merdjayoun when they realized that the Vichy French forces to the immediate north were withdrawing. This was on the night of 9 to 10 July. By 11 July, the 23rd Brigade moved north to the Bekaa Valley, a very familiar name in the 20th Century. The French had made demolitions and had left booby traps, so that slowed the British advance. General Evetts had planned an attack by the 16th Brigade on 10 July against the Jebel Mazar. They would have the Free French Marine Battalion with them. They attacked at 2am and made some progress. The next night, they advanced again. The situation on the ridge was very unstable, and General Evetts considered a withdrawal to more secure positions. However, he heard that there had been an armistice requested by the French, so he had his men hold their present positions. The French that they had been fighting had decided to withdraw, so suddenly, the 16th Brigade was on Jebel Mazar at midnight. General Evetts had planned for success and had a pursuit force ready to move north. The pursuit force included most of the 9th Australian Cavalry, the 2/Queen's battalion, artillery, machine guns, and four Free French tanks. The Free French marines were stopped on the right, so General Evetts sent them help from the pursuit force. At midday on 10 July, they moved out and came under fire. Much of the fire came from Jebel Mazar. The vehicles from the pursuit force moved up and down the road and came under fire. Every one of their 33 vehicles had been hit at some point. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

The attack on the heights at Badarane on 9 and 10 July 1941

Starting in the evening of 9 July 1941, a company from the 2/31st Battalion was ordered to take the heights at Badarane. This was especially challenging because there was a deep wadi between the Australians and the Badarane heights. They might have had support from their battalion carrier platoon and a troop from the 6th Cavalry, but there was a bridge out that blocked them from participating. The wadi was 800 feet deep. The heights were 600 feet above the wadi and were terraced. The attacking company had only some sixty men. The platoon leaders were a lieutenant and two sergeants. The men left Niha at 9pm on 9 July, which was about three miles away. They started out with four mules and their drivers, but they were left behind because the terrain was too difficult for mules. They had progressed to within 400 yards of Badarane by 2:30am on 10 July. They came under machine gun fire that was fired over their heads and was landing behind them. The company commander led his men to the left of the heights into olive trees. One man alone bayoneted the four defenders in one position. 43 Australians attacked and 13 were killed in the fight. They found some forth or fifty dead Senegalese soldiers. There were also many wounded that they took prisoner. There had been about 200 defenders of the heights when the Australians attacked. By 5am, the company had won the battle. They eventually got orders to destroy the French equipment and to withdraw back to the company headquarters. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Back to Jezzine from 6 July 1941

The 25th Australian Brigade had started to make progress at Jezzine while the battle for Damour was being fought. From 6 July 1941, the 2/31st Battalion moved north to Beit ed Dine. The 2/31st had advanced to Niha and beyond by early 7 July. The Cheshire Yeomanry was also active and had taken some French prisoners in Mrousti. They had talked with a Swiss member of the French Foreign Legion who told them that the French had withdrawn from Bater because of the intensity of the artillery fire. The current commander of the 25th Brigade, Brigadier Plant, ordered the left battalion group (because they included artillery) to take Beiqoun and Mazraat ech Chouf. One company was to take the commanding heights near Mazraat ech Chouf. The 2/25th Battalion with support from the 2/6th Field Regiment would move north. By 3pm on 8 July, they started to receive French artillery fire. They called in artillery support from the 2/6th Field Regiment. One platoon then was attacked by African troops. By 7pm, one platoon was in an exposed position and had taken casualties. The platoon was withdrawn, leaving the French in possession of the high ground. To the east, a company of the 2/31st Battalion was attacked twice on 8 July. Their losses left them with only 20 men. By 4:30, they were reinforced by an 18 man platoon from another hill. One company of the 2/25th Battalion tried to take Hill 1054 from the French. The attackers were left in exposed positions and were unable to move. Fortunately, some of the Pioneers came up in support. Men with Bren guns were able to take out three French machine guns. Artillery fire was called in. The guns fired for about 50 minutes and then the Australians charged the French with fixed bayonets. The French broke and ran. The French withdrew in confusion, but the Australians had lost communication with their artillery. Otherwise, they could have taken out the French vehicles. That withdrawal left the Australians on the heights at Mazraat ech Chouf. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Near the coast on 11 July 1941 approaching Beirut

Early on 11 July 1941, French fire had slowed and stopped. Lt-Col. King ordered men to probe north from the roadblock. The men did not see any French forces, but they found that the French had merely allowed the probing men to pass through their lines and return without disturbing them. During the early afternoon, the French were active and present again. They also sent a tank squadron out along the sand dunes. This was just beyond the wireless antenna. Brigadier Savige, on hearing the news, told Lt-Col. King to stay in place in their current positions. Brigadier Savige was planning an attack for the morning of 12 July. At the same time, Brigadier Savige, commander of the 17th Australian Brigade, had ordered the 2/3rd Battalion to move forward onto the ridges that dominated the land near Aramoun. The land was so rough that supplying the forward troops with food was a problem. They survived on goat and also got horse meat from the local villagers. Hutchison's company, now of only about thirty men, came under French fire. They pulled back and set up a mortar that they used to fire back at the French machine guns. On the right, the 2/14th Battalion moved forward. They found four French 155mm guns and 200 rounds at Daqoun. They eventually moved forward to Ain Kaour. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Greatly reduced Australian battalions on 9 and 10 July 1941 in Syria and Lebanon

During the afternoon of 9 July 1941, the 21st Australian Brigade was ordered to take "Abey and Kafr Matta" while the 17th Brigade was to advance on Beirut. When men from the 2/27th Battalion entered Abey and were near Daqoun, they found that the French had pulled back from the area. The 2/14th Battalion was to hold the area near Abey, Kafr Matta, along with Hill 903. They also were to block the road to Beirut. When Brigadier Savige, of the 17th Brigade, had moved north through Damour and made contact with Lt-Col. King of the 2/5th Battalion. Savige was unsure of what he should do next, and traveled to the 7th Division headquarters to get guidance. The 2/5th Battalion found themselves in a poor position, so he ordered a move north for about two miles. They reached their new position by 4:20am on 10 July. The 2/5th Battalion was by this time reduced to companies of 45 men or less. They had also moved so far that they were running short of phone wire for signals. Brigadier Savige arrived later in the morning of 10 July. He had Lt-Col. King move his men to the next ridge near Khalde. The 2/5th now had better artillery support. They were in company with the 2/5th Field Regiment and had a group of 6-inch howitzers from the British 7th Medium Regiment. The Australians had a fire plan for a new attack that would start at 3:30m on 10 July. They would have a barrage move forward of the advancing troops. They reached the French road block and block house. One platoon was held up by French mortar fire and machine guns. The 6th Cavalry came forward in support and had cleared the area in front of the road block. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The 6th Cavalry in action on 8 July 1941

On the morning of 8 July 1941, while the 2/16th Battalion was improving their situation on the ridges, more of the 6th Cavalry Regiment crossed the Damour River to join their other part. There were already three tanks (probably captured R-35's) on the north side. They were with two companies from the 2/2nd Pioneers. The Pioneers were now a mile north of the river. Progress had been halted by French fire and the threat of French 75mm guns covering the road. The squadron commander was angry about someone saying bad things about the cavalry being held up and ordered the three tanks forward, which was a bad idea. A tank came around the bend in the road and was hit by fire from a 75mm gun 300 yards away. A second tank came up in support. The damaged tank was set on fire. The crew abandoned the damaged tank and was picked up by the other tank. Lt. Macmeikan, of the 2/5th Field Regiment saw the gun flash and was able to knock it out by artillery fire. By 2pm, the decision was made to pull back and call in an artillery barrage. When the Pioneers pulled back, the French moved forward to be clear of the artillery fire. When the Pioneers attacked again during the night, they moved forward into part of the town. By morning on 9 July, the 6th Cavalry was able to drive through Damour. It was after this event that Brigadier Berryman had arrived and ordered men forward when he saw the situation. Brigadier Savige was put in charge to restore some order around Damour and beyond. During the afternoon on 9 July, men from the 2/27th found that the French had pulled out of Abey and Daqoun. In response, the 2/14th Battalion was ordered to move into Abey, Kafr Matta, and a hill between them. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official history.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

After Damour fell on 9 July 1941

Once the Australians realized that the French had withdrawn from Damour and surrounding positions, they exploited the situation. By 7am on 9 July 1941, men from the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion and the 2/16th Battalion met Captain Noonan's company from the 2/14th Battalion. This was on the northeast side of Damour. The 6th Cavalry and some Pioneers moved up to Karacol. The roadblock on the road to Beirut now was held by two companies from the 2/5th Battalion. A local Lebanese told someone on Brigadier Savige's staff that the French had pulled out of Abey. This was to the east. They sent word to General Allen, the 7th Australian Division commander of the situation.

Brigadier Berryman had arrived back in the west from Merdjayoun to resume his role as the 7th Division artillery commander. The commander of the 2/5th Field Regiment had driven north for 3-1/2 miles to a roadblock. Two tanks from the 6th Cavalry were held by the roadblock. Brigadier Berryman gave orders for continued movement to the north and informed the division headquarters of his actions. There was a situation now that the division commander had told the 17th Brigade not to advance until he issued orders. Men with guns from the 2/5th Field Regiment moved quickly north. The guns that were farthest north were around Karacol. They were drawn into a duel with French guns, firing over open sights. From this position, they were also able to shell the southern edge of Beirut. The situation was rather chaotic, and needed someone to bring the situation under control. That task was given to Brigadier Savige, of the 17th Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 21, 2015

8 July 1941 at Damour

The situation on 8 July 1941 near Damour was that the town was being threatened on three sides. There were three Australian battalions involved. The 2/5th blocked the road out of Damour to the north. On the northeastern side, the 2/14th Battalion was in position. Then there were the 2/2nd Pioneers "moving up from the south". Artillery support had to be carefully coordinated so as to not shoot at Australians while firing in support. At 5pm, Colonel Chapman brought orders from the division commander, General Allen, proposing that the 21st Brigade would have responsibility for "the area south of the Wadi Daqoun". Brigadier Savige's 17th Brigade would move north along the coast road. The 21st Brigade would move eastward towards Abey. By 7:30pm on 88 July, there were reports of French movement. This was to the north east. During the day on 8 July, two companies were near Damour on the east side. There was some concern that there might be a danger of accidentally firing on Australians.

8 July was a time spent by the 2/16th Battalion on the ridges at Mar Midhail and El Atiqa. They were gradually making themselves more secure. In the morning, three tanks from the 6th Cavalry (probably the captured French R-35 tanks) crossed the river. The 2/2Pioneers were moving north to a point about a mile north from the river. The French were still strong in the banana plantation. One tank caught by a French 75mm gun was knocked out. The 2/5th Field Regiment fired in support and knocked out the French gun. Brigadier Stevens decided to withdraw the men and call in artillery fire on the French. Some ground had been lost on the 8th, but during the night, the Pioneers took back what had been lost and were. A troop of the 6th Cavalry was able to drive through Damour by 4am and they had the town. They found that during the night, the French had withdrawn from where they had been fighting. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

with the 2/3rd Battalion from 8 July 1941 and with the 2/5th

We are now at daybreak on 8 July 1941 with the 2/3rd Battalion. They were on the Kheurbet el Biar ridge. They started to receive French artillery and mortar fire as the day got light. They could see French artillery in the distance, where the wadi cut the hill. By 6am, Captain Parbury could see Australians at Deir Mar Jorjos. At that news, the 2/3rd moved forward to the heights that they were to take. The commander ordered Porbury to tkane hill 569 on the right. He sent a platoon which came under machine gun fire. The Australians were tired and without water. They were able to move along and reached one knoll on the summit. They could see five French field guns some five hundred yards away. By late on the 9th, in the afternoon, they took the guns. They were then in the village.

Meanwhile, the 2/5th was at the wadi near Deir Mar Jorjos. This was just at midnight in the night of 7 to 8 July. The first men to arrive came under fire, but were able to take four 75mm guns and 8 machine guns. By 3am, they were in Deir Mar Jorjos. Just before En Naame, they took the high ground. From there some men entered the village and took "a French colonel of the Foreign Legion and his staff". By 8am, an artillery captain was able to get his 15 mile long wire into the village. That allowed the commander to speak with Brigadier Savige. By dawn on 8 July, they started to receive mortar fire. A small group was sent to take the bridge. There men with two Thompson sub-machine guns and a Bren gun. The bold attack caused the French to flee the bridge. When Lt-Col. King saw a French counterattack forming, he called in artillery fire, which broke the attack, so that the men all ran. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Important actions from 7 July 1941 in the Damour battle

The 2/16th Battalion had a fairly quite day on 7 July 1941 in Lebanon. They found that the French had withdrawn from the El Atiqa ridge. The area had banana plantations and they were cleared. The engineers put a bridge over the river that allowed vehicles to cross. By afternoon, there were two companies of pioneers and three tanks in the plantation area.

In the 2/27th Battalion's area, the action heated up into an intense battle. The French had moved on the east slope of Hill 560. One company was sent to push the French off the hill. Captain Lee's company came under heavy fire and was stopped. After midnight, into 8 July, they had pushed close to the French. They thought that by daylight, the French would surrender. The battle continued and Captain Lee's headquarters came under attack at Er Roumane. The battalion commander committed just about his entire force into the battle. When they took some French prisoners, they learned that the attackers were from the I/French Foreign Legion and one company from the 29th Algerians. The Algerians had been shipped in from France in a roundabout route that came through Greece. Lt.Col. Moten, the commander, made his way forward with an artillery observer. He arrived with the forward troops at 5am on 8 July. They discovered that the French had withdrawn in the night. The attacking Australians had considerable losses, so that companies were now platoon-size. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Finally into Damour on 7 July 1941

One company from the 2/14th Battalion, that commanded by Captain Noonan, was on the north side of the Wadi Daqoun. They were almost into Damour, as they were just 400 yards from the town. From where they were, they could hear heavy firing on the south side of the wadi. However, Noonan's company was so far unopposed. Seemingly, they could just move into Damour any time that they wanted. Captain Noonan agreed that there would be benefits from moving into Damour. He was feeling cautious, though, and sat with his headquarters and one platoon in their position 400 yards from Damour. He let two platoons move into the town. They exchanged fire with some French troops as they moved into Damour. Some of the Australians moved into some stone buildings which would provide good cover. As tehy wainted, they saw ten European French troops moving along the street. The Australians waited until the French were very close and then killed or wounded all ten. By 4pm, Lieutenant Katekar's men, from the 2/27th Battalion, were pushing some Senegalese troops northward towards Damour. The first few men surrendered when the Australians shot at them. A little while later, there were about one hundred more on the hill, across from Captain Noonan's men. Sergeant Mott shouted at them and fired over their heads. The Senegalese troops ran for cover. The Australians soon had 92 prisoners. They could see more groups of Senegalese troops, but they could hear shots being fired in Damour, so they moved eastwards. Captain Noonan's men put the prisoners in one house and occupied others. There was no food. During the night, they could hear vehicles drive nearby. The French knew that they were in Damour, while their own artillerymen did not. As a result, they had to endure both Australian and French artillery fire. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

With Captain Arthur's company of the 2/14th Battalion on 7 July 1941

Captain Arthur's company of the 2/14th Battalion was on the south ridge of the Wadi Daqoun on 7 July 1941. His commander ordered him to take his men along the Daraya ridge. He was to take Hill 225. Hill 225 appeared to be a position that would dominate the town of Damour. At 400 yards from Hill 225, they were under machine gun fire. When Captain Arthur had requested mortar support, that was when he was sent two Vickers machine guns. As we have mentioned, they quickly found the range to the French and allowed the Australian infantry to advance. A group from the 2/27th Battalion arrived and attacked the French from the southwest. A runner from the 2/27th made contact with the Australian artillery observer and called in fire. The men from the 2/27th Battalion were able to move forward towards Hill 225. As the sun set, men from Captain Arthur's company caught two Frenchmen and 16 Senegalese and took them prisoner. There was fighting and the Australians took casualties, but by midnight on 7 to 8 July had taken Hill 225. They captured six machine guns and ten thousand rounds of ammunition and more. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

More action on 7 July 1941 with the 2/3rd, 2/5th, and 2/14th battalions

While Lt-Col. King of the 2/5th Battalion had hoped to wait until the next day to attack, Brigadier Savige decided that the men needed to move forward to Deir Mar Jorjos that night, rather than waiting. Three lines of men moved across the wadi, single file. They reformed into a more normal formation once they had crossed. As the sun was setting, the men moved across the Wadi Daqoun. They had to be careful crossing the steep slopes. The men were so tired that when they stopped to rest, the men fell asleep. The 2/5th moved through the position where the 2/3rd Battalion was located. Major Stevenson, commanding the 2/3rd Battalion wanted to stay in place, because he was concerned with the possibility of accidentally fighting the 2/5th Battalion in the dark.

All day long on 7 July 1941, the 2/14th Battalion was moving to the west, where they would move into Damour on the east side. They would make connection with the 2/2nd Pioneers. They advanced untii they were 400 yards from Damour and stopped for two hours. One company on the ridge to the south ran into French troops with machine guns. The commander had asked for mortars to fire in the machine guns, but got two Vickers machine guns from the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion. They quickly dominated the French guns so that the infantry was able to advance. Men from another Australian battalion, the 2/27th, attacked the French from the southwest. They had been pinned down by machine gun fire, but a runner had alerted an artillery observer, who called in fire on the French. By sunset on the 7th, the French defenses were starting to disintegrate. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Near El Boum on 7 July 1941

The 2/3rd Battalion straggled into El Boum by about 8:30am, even though the first company arrived as early as 5:30am. The 2/3rd Battalion commander, Major Stevenson, had found the phone wire that they were following by climbing straight up the hill. The commander of the 2/5th Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel King, would coordinate the two battalions. Stevenson only found King at 9:30am, so they could decide on a plan. The 2/5th Battalion only reached El Boum between 7:45am and 8:45am. A mule train arrived with the wireless equipment. King was able to communicate with Brigadier Savige and give him the current status. The battalions were able to move out by 10:30am in "diamond formation". Once Lt-Col. King arrived at the "start line", he decided that they should wait until the next day, 8 July, to attack, due to the amount of French machine gun fire. He hoped to call in artillery support against the French forces. Major Stevenson learned that there was a French battalion about an hour-and-half-march away on the right. They eventually saw about 100 men and mules arrive and start to unload. They held their fire until they were about 600 yards away. They then opened fire on the French and the mule train, and dispersed the men and mules that survived. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 07, 2015

More fighting at Damour on 6 July 1941

By the afternoon on 6 July 1941, the fighting near Damour continued. The French staged a series of attacks against the Australians. The Australians had multiple companies of infantry in the fight. They attacked Russell's company, of the 2/14th Battalion, and shouted as they attacked. The Australians were able to stop the attackers and left 20 men dead with no Australian casualties. The French attacked again, but were not as energetic. They were repulsed. There were now two companies in control of El Mourhira. When Brigadier Stevens learned of their success, he ordered the 2/14th less the companies at El Mourhira, to move out to a line north of Daraya. They arrived after midnight on the night of 6 to 7 July. They discussed whether the 17th Brigade should advance to El Boum. Brigadier Stevens cautioned against making such a move in daylight due to the accurate French artillery fire. The plan for the 17th Brigade seems to have been overly ambitious, even as modified. The men were to be heavily loaded, as they would travel over ground too difficult for mules. While the men were moving down to the river, they got rain. The rain made the rocks very slippery and difficult. Men slipped on their backs, down the rocks. The two 17th Brigade battalions were the 2/3rd and the 2/5th. The first men from the 2/3rd Battalion arrived at the Beit ed Dine road after 3am. On 7 July, they men were to follow signal wire to El Boum, but the men of the 2/3rd lost track of it in the dark. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

A fight in the moutains in the east along the Beit ed Dine road on 5 aand 6 July 1941

Two companies from the 2/14th Battalion moved forward late on 5 July 1941. They started at Kramdech. The infantry led the group. Behind them were the mules with mortars and bombs. Last were the signalers, reeling out telephone wire. Captain Russell's company moved across the ridges until they arrived at the Beit ed Dine road. The road, at this point, was cut into a ledge on the ridge side. This was where the men had piled up rocks to block the road. A lieutenant and 12 men were sent up a hill to see if the French were there. They came under fire from a French position in a low point between hills. They had two men captured and withdrew. Captain Russell then attacked, but the French rolled grenades down the hill and put a stop to the attack. By 8:30am on 6 July, three French armored cars drove up to within 200 yards of the stones and stopped. One car was attacked with a sticky bomb, but the bomb failed to stick. The bomb fell off and exploded. Still, the cars pulled back about a mile. The cars carried two-pounder-sized guns and they started firing. Presumably, they were 37mm guns. With the cars present, French infantry tried attacking the road block. A combination of small arms fire and mortars beat back the attack. Three attacks by Captain Russell's company ultimately took Hill 567. The battle continued. The French infantry were mostly Senegalese with French officers and senior enlisted. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 31, 2015

More action on 6 July 1941 in the battle for Damour in Lebanon

Lt-Colonel Moten, commander of the 2/27th Battalion, came to the river crossing. This was at about 1:30pm on 6 July 1941. He planned to establish his battalion headquarters at El Boum. They now had a phone line to El Boum, so Moten could talk with Captain Nichols, who had arrived at El Boum at 8am. By midnight, the 2/27th Battalion controlled the planned area. That would allow the 17th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Savige, to block the road to the north from Damour. The rear company of the 2/27th, along with the remnants of the fourth company, were spread on a wide front, but were not as far towards Damour has had been hoped.

Another battle was fought at El Atiqa, starting at midnight on 5 to 6 July. There were three weakened companies of the 2/16th Battalion that were attacking. They were supported by an artillery barrage. They had to cross the river and move forward to the Beit ed Dine road. The French replied with their own artillery barrage. The plan included a frontal attack, which seems to be ill-considered. The advance was blocked and they were reduced to exchanging fire with the French. By night, the remnants of the 2/16th Battalion were on the El Atiqa ridge and were holding on to their position.

There was concern that the French might attack along the Beit ed Dine road with armored cars and tanks. As early as 10pm on 5 July, Captain Nichols, commanding one company of the 2/27th Battalion, was in the woods located between the Damour tributary and Ed Dalimiye. Part of the 2/14th Battalion were at Kramdech by 8pm. Another company reached the Beit ed Dine road by 3:15am. They blocked with road with stones and waited for daylight. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The battle for Damour starts: from the night of 5 to 6 July 1941 in Lebanon

The men of the 21st Australian Brigade moved out at about midnight on the night of 4 to 6 July 1941. This was the start of the battle for Damour, in Lebanon. At 12:35pm, the artillery commenced their supporting fire. The ground that the men had to travel was extremely rough. One company from the 2/27th Battalion was in the lead on the narrow track that went down to the river crossing and then up to El Boum. The roughness of the ground meant that they needed to allow resting time along the way. The first platoon was that commanded by Lieutenant Sims, who had found the river crossing. They tried walking in the wadi, so that they would have cover from the French fire, but they decided that they would be safer back on the trail, despite the lack of cover. The wadi had too many places where men might fall. As there started to be light, they reached a barrier of concertina wire. They continued, trying not to be seen. They could hear the French firing. They fixed bayonets and charged into the village. The French were seen running from the attackers. They occupied the village and waited for more men to arrive.

The next company to move out was hit by accurate French artillery fire. Officers were killed and the company commander was wounded. That company needed to be reorganized under the leadership of Lieutenant Thomas. The men at El Boum had expected the second company at 7am. When they did not arrived, the spread out and advanced. By midnight on 6 July, the 2/27th Battalion had taken their objectives, so that the 17th Brigade could move forward. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The artillery plan for the attack at Damour in July 1941

The plan for the attack at Damour in in early July 1941 was comprehensive. The Australian division commander, General Allen, was able to request naval gunfire support for two days prior to the attack on the day of the attack. He also requested air support for the attack. The primary air role would be to protect the ground forces from French air attack. The Vichy French air force had proven itself to be a major factor. Were the French fighter aircraft superior to the British and Australian fighters involved? The French bombers had also proved themselves to be vert capable. The 21st Australian Brigade would attempt to turn the French flank and take out the foremost French forces. The artillery support would be primarily from field guns, but there was also a medium battery. The 17th Brigade was in place to continue the advance, if the initial attack was successful. The terrain for the attack would be very challenging. On the left was the ridge. Four battalions on the right would try to march through rough terrain where the men would have to carry all the loads. They might or might not be able to use mules. The attack would start during the night of 5 to 6 July 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Late in the game in Syria and Lebanon in early July 1941

By early July 1941, the British had accumulated five brigades in Iraq. With the 10th Indian Division now in Iraq, Major-General Slim, the commander, was put in charge of the troops in northern Iraq. At this point, General Wilson was back to issuing orders. General Clark, of Habforce, had orders to advance west to Homs so as to block the road to Tripoli on the coast. They should also advance to the southwest to Baalbek, which threatened Beirut. The 10th Indian Division was to threaten Aleppo. The 21st Indian Brigade was motorized and had the 13th Lancers, an armored car regiment. They were dependent on air support from an improvised squadron. They had twelve aircraft, four Hurricanes, four Gladiators, and four Blenheims. By 6 July, the French had shot down all the Hurricanes. The 10th Indian Division troops were operating in the north, near the Turkish border. Because of the French air attacks, the division was not able to reach Aleppo.

For the defense of Damour, to support Beirut, the French had two French Foreign Legion battalions. They were reduced in strength, as were the five Lebanese battalions. The British believed that the French artillery consisted of four 75mm batteries and two medium guns (probably 155mm). There were also some coast defense guns that might be a factor. Besides the force at Damour, there were two lines behind that at Khalde and then right before Beirut.

The orders for the attack were for the 21st Brigade to clear the enemy from the area south of the river, and then advance to a line from the river mouth to the east. The 17th Brigade would move up behind the 21st Brigade and be ready to move against any other French forces not near the 21st Brigade. The 25th Brigade would move towards Beit ed Dine. The Cheshire Yeomanry would be in the mountains further east. The Australians had their own artillery support. They had some 62 guns, including one medium battery. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

From 3 to 5 July in Syria and Lebanon

By 11:30am on 4 July 1941, the Pioneers attacked Mtoulle. They had taken fire, but by afternoon, they held the village, for that was what Mtoulle was. Before this, in the late afternoon of 3 July, an Australian company moved north and east towards Rharife. By the 5th, they had occupied Rharife. During the day on 4 July, the French could be seen withdrawing towards the northeast from Mtoulle. Brigadier Plant, of the 25th Australian Brigade, got his orders from General Allen to exploit the French withdrawal. By 5 July, the 2/31st Battalion, located east of the gorge, was scouting to the north along the road from Jezzine. To the west, the 2/25th was holding a line that included Rharife and Mtoulle. At a higher level, General Lavarack reacted by ordering the British 6th Division to increase their activity both at Damascus and Merdjayoun. He hoped that would indicate to the French that the division was going to attack. ON 3 July, the 6th Division had been situated with the 16th Brigade on the road to Beirut. The remains of the 5th Indian Brigade was holding a position north of Qatana. The 23rd Brigade was at Merdjayoun and Khiam. The 1/Royal Fusiliers (reconstituted) were in the forts near the Beirut road. They had the 9th Australian Cavalry in readiness to respond to any attacks. A yeomanry cavalry unit was on Mount Hermon, near Chebaa. 3 July also saw the French surrender at Palmyra. There were 165 men, mostly not French, as they were from the French Foreign Legion. Another group at T3 surrendered on 4 July. They had been sufficient to defend against a large force, mostly cavalry, for some twelve days. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The 25th Australian Brigade from 1 July 1941

On 1 July 1941, the 25th Brigade was holding not a line, but a line of posts. That implies that they had gaps in the front. They were located north of Jezzine and to the east. They were on the road that ran to the north from Jezzine, as well. Patrols were finding evidence that the French were withdrawing from some positions. They found that the French were defending Hasrout, which was on a road that ran do the east. The French had pulled out from what was just a track that led to Jleiliye. They also found that on the night of 2 July, the French had pulled back from Wadi Nagrat and were withdrawing on Beit ed Dine. Brigadier Stevens then decided to send two columns against Rharife. They were mixed battle groups, one from the 2/25th Battalion and the other from the 2/2nd Pioneers. They would converge on Hasrout and then move on Rharife. The Pioneers took casualties on 3 July. Because the company commander was wounded, they were delayed in moving into Jleiliye. The other company was still short of Mtoulle at the end of the day. For the 2/25th Battalion, the plan was for one company to take the town while the other company took the plateau above Hasrout. The terrain was extremely difficult. An Australian bayonet attack routed the defenders. One platoon took Hasrout and set up a road block. When they could see French troops readying for an attack, they called in artillery and forced them to withdraw. By about midday on 4 July, the Pioneers had taken Mtoulle and were in communication with the other column. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The plan for the Australian attack in early July 1941 in Lebanon

By late June 1941, Brigadier Stevens, of the 21st Australian Brigade, discussed the plans with General Allen for the attack in early July against the French in Lebanon. Stevens proposed that they form a box around Damour. The sea would be one side, the 21st Brigade would make two sides, and the 17th Brigade would add the fourth side, "the lid". The plan was for the 17th Brigade to go around the right flank of Damour to block the road that was the only exit. We had seen the 17th Brigade commander, Brigadier Savige, in Greece earlier in the year, in April. In a meeting on 2 July, they had decided to attack on either 5 or 6 July. The 2/2nd Pioneers (without two companies) would take part with the 21st Brigade. Brigadier Stevens was also given control of the 2/25th Battalion and the other two companies of the 2/2nd Pioneers in the east. The attack on Damour would have a large artillery force with 16 medium guns and 44 field guns. By 2 July, the force between Jezzine and the Mediterranean Sea had grown to nine battalions. That is somewhat deceiving,as many units were under strength. For example, the 2/16th Battalion had rifle companies of less than one hundred men. The 17th Brigade only had two battalions for the attacks, although they had but 300 men each. The only reassuring factor was the continuing number of French deserters that seemed to indicate that the French were in even worse shape. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Looking for river crossing points near Damour in late June early July 1941

Brigadier Stevens of the 21st Australian Brigade wanted to find a suitable river crossing on the right of his position in Lebanon near Damour. This was during 30 June and 1 July 1941. Stevens wanted to avoid a direct attack, so he wanted to go around the eastern flank, if possible. Some Australians had scouted around the concrete bridge that was guarded by French sentries. One platoon, led by Lieutenant Sims, made an incursion across the river below the bridge. They had set out at 8pm on 1 July and returned at 6am on 3 July. These patrols from the 2/27th Battalion found a way to the El Mourhira hill. A company could make the trek in about four hours, they found. The 2/16th Battalion was on the left, and had looked for crossing points over the river. The French were more concerned about the left, and there was more fighting. They patrolled the area during the nights up to 5 July and gained information from French prisoners. Starting from 26 June, the navy came up in support and fired on French targets that had been identified. Brigadier Stevens had kept his battalions back so that they would avoid casualties from the French artillery fire. Brigadier Stevens had developed his plan over the course of feeling out the French positions. He was reinforced by a third battalion and then the 17th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Savige, joined. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Australian Situation in Late June 1941 in the Middle East

The Australian forces in the Middle East had been heavily depleted in the Greek, Crete, and now the Syrian/Lebanon campaigns. Brigadier Steven's 21st Brigade in Lebanon consisted of just two battalions, which were both under strength. In late June, they were trying to keep some pressure on the French with the units that they had. They were helped out by some Spanish deserters from the French Foreign Legion who brought mules with them. While Stevens was visiting Brigadier Berryman's headquarters, he met General Wavell, and told him that he was unable to get 3-inch mortar bombs, although British units were receiving them. Wavell took immediate action and had 320 bombs each per Australian battalion. They gradually received reinforcements from Palestine, but they were most committed to rebuilding the battalions lost in Crete, while battalions that had lost men in Greece and Crete were getting replacements for their losses.

The 21st Brigade kept pushing north. The only place where they had seen French troops was at the high point on the right that overlooked the Damour Gorge. Then on 27 June 1941, a patrol was fired on by machine guns from Hill 394 and took a casualty. By now, the Australians often received French artillery fire from north of the river at Damour. The commander of the 2/27th Battalion with a company commander, scouted around Hill 394. They thought that they might take the hill at night. They captured the hill after midnight. The men on the hill would hide during daylight on the side away from the French and would be on top at night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Brigadier Steven's plan for attacking to the north towards Beirut

When he would be allowed to move back to the offensive, Brigadier Stevens, commander of the Australian 21st Brigade had prepared a plan on 22 June 1941 to attack Damour. Taking Damour would put them in a position to move against Beirut. An important aspect of the plan was artillery fire directed against the French just to the north of the gorge. There was a ridge that ran from Es Saadiyate across to Es Seyar. This was about three miles north of the edge of the Australian positions,. At the time, he had two battalions. One would take Barja. The second battalion would move up the road to the "143 feature". That would give them a commanding position overlooking the Damour Valley. He needed another battalion to move north along the road. They would move over the mountains at El Haram and advance to El Labiye. They would be on a ridge that towered 800 feet above the ravine at Damour. Once that had been achieved, in two days, they could make a successful attack on the French at Damour. They would avoid what he considered to be a mistake at Sidon when they had become involved in a fight in the orange and banana groves. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

On 28 June 1941, a major reorganization in Syria and Lebanon

The focus in Lebanon and Syria would switch back to the coast and the western portion of the area. General Wilson had orders issued to focus in the west. The 7th Australian Division would add the 17th Brigade, which was actually understrength. The focus would be on Jezzine and the coast. Btigadier Savige commanded the 17th Australian Brigade. He would have his headquarters, two infantry battalions and the pioneer battalion. The British 6th Division, under General Evetts would have Merdjayoun and Damascus. The British 23rd Brigade would free up Australian units so that they could join the 7th Australian Division. The 6th Division would take a defensive posture. General Lavarack tried to take steps to control the Free French, so that operations on the coast would not be disturbed by anything that the Free French might do to the east. The French position at the Damour River was the main obstacle to moving north to take Beirut. There was a town named Damour, with a population of some 5,000 residents. General Dentz had spoke of fighting in the streets of Beirut, but informed opinion expected that the Vichy French would surrender if the city was taken. Having been left on his own for a while, Brigadier Stevens had prepared a plan for operations after they were allowed to move. The plan was later "amended", as more units were added to the offensive. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Offiicial History.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Glubb Pasha

I thought that we could find a picture of Major Glubb. The Wikipedia has a picture and information about John Gabot Glubb, who led the Arab Legion in Syria in 1941.

Action in the east of Syria from 30 June 1941

To the east of Damascus, the Free French had pushed quite a ways to the north. The Free French battalion at Nebek was attacked on 30 June 1941. The unit was the 2nd Free French Battalion along with "four British field guns and some anti-tank guns". The attack started with an artillery barrage at 4:55am. Forty minutes later, seven French tanks approached. Another seven tanks drove south down the road towards the village. They were driven off by the artillery. On the east, the seven tanks were joined by motorized infantry. The anti-tank guns and one field gun knocked out three tanks and drove off the rest. As the French infantry approached, the Free French attacked and "drove them off". The Free French lost eight men and killed forty Vichy French and took 11 men prisoner.

The fight at Palmyra had continued. On 29 June, the Vichy French had attacked and forced the Wiltshire Yeomanry from a ridge above Palmyra. They British at Palmyra had continued to experience heavy French air attack. 30 June saw the 1/Essex able to recapture part of the ridge. By 1 July, they could see the Vichy French pulling in troops to the inner defended area. Earlier, on 26 June, General Clark, commanding Habforce, turned Major Glubb and his Arabs loose to take "Seba Biyar and Sukhna. They took Seba Biyar on 28 June and then found Sukhna empty. The Arabs were reinforced by a squadron of the Household Cavalry. On 1 July, a column drove along the Deir el Zor road. Major Glubb's troops attacked and defeated them. The group proved to be one of the three French light desert companies. They had lost 11 men killed, six armored cars captured along with some 80 men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 03, 2015

On to Chehim and Daraya on 27 June 1941

On 27 June 1941, after encountering two French armored cars with troops on board, Captain Marson's two companies were able to disable them with stick bombs. Sticky bombs had only recently become available, seemingly, because they might have helped in earlier encounters with French tanks and armored cars. After dealing with the cars, the Australians were able to call in artillery fire on the town. That caused two French cars packed with 25 men to leave, heading north-east. The people of the town gathered in the market square and "wailed". The Australians ordered them to return to their homes. They found that the road to Mazboud was clear. That allowed four carriers to travel to Chehim. There was no opposition until they reached Hasrout, after passing through Daraya. They felt like their position on the east was secured, so now the advance could proceed on the coast. They troops there had moved north so that they were in position to attack Damour.

Back at Jezzine, Brigadier Plant had decided to hit the two hills, 1284 and 1332, with heavy artillery fire. Hill 1284 was checked by a patrol from the 2/31st Battalion on the night of 28 and 28 June. They found the hill abandoned. The French hit the hill with heavy fire from mortars and machine guns, so the patrol had to abandon the place. On 29 June, two sections staged a mock attack. They again moved through Hill 1284 "on to 1332". Hill 1284 had received very heavy Australian artillery fire, which had caused it to be abandoned. That was a better approach than infantry attacks. The fortunes of the 25th Brigade, now under Brigadier Plant's command, improved greatly. There was now a great deal of aggressive patrolling. After having a great deal of success in the area near Jezzine, the 2/14th Battalion learned that they would be withdrawn and returned to their brigade on the coast as of 1 July. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The attention shifts to Beit ed Dine by 25 June 1941

The situation on 25 June 1941 in Lebanon was that the Australian 21st Brigade had pushed eight or nine miles north of Sidon on the coast. By 25 June, General Allen ordered the 2/25th Battalion to move east. The 21st Brigade move north also started on 25 June. Brigadier Stevens, the 21st Brigade commander, had ordered the 2/27th and 2/16th Battalions to move north "to the El Haram ridge". The 2/25th Battalion had only recently arrived at Sidon from Merdjayoun. Brigadier Stevens was concerned because the 6th Cavalry had seen Vichy French troops on the move. The move north to the Haram ridge only started late in the afternoon of 25 June. The men were on foot and the ground was rocky. They reached their objective between 11pm and 4am the next morning. The move by the 2/25th Battalion was augmented by an anti-tank gun and some engineers from the 2/6th Field Company. Brigadier Stevens' plan for the 2/25th was that when they reached Chehim, they would get an artillery observer. The observer would be able to call in artillery fire from "a troop of the 2/4th Field Regiment". The 2/25th Battalion had been depleted in the fighting at Merdjayoun, so one company was broken up and the men were distributed among the other three companies. In the night on 26 June, two companies moved east to a point just prior to reaching Mazboud. The ground was to rough for mules, so they had to leave their mortars at Mteriate. early on 27 June, Lieutenant Macaulay and a small group were fired on by a French armored car. They piled stones across the road and had the Bren gun in place. Two armored cars drove up from the east with many men on them. They outnumbered the Australians. Two men were captured while Lieutenant Macaulay and another man escaped. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Back to the Lebanon coast with the Australian cavalry from 18 June 1941

General Lavarack had ordered the 21st Brigade, on the coast of Lebanon, to halt while problems to the east were handled. The Australians under Brigadier Stevens then were left to conduct operations with the cavalry. On 19 June, the 9th Australian Cavalry squadron had been sent out to find where the coast road had been mined and then move forward to Sebline. They had known of a road block, which they reached. They were fired on by a French anti-tank gun that knocked out the leading tank. A carrier moved forward, and a trooper fired on the anti-tank gun with an anti-tank rifle and put it out of action. They eventually moved forward to retrieve the disabled tank. Another cavalry troop had been firing and were able to hook up to the disabled tank and two it out. The cavalry called in artillery fire and drove off the French. They had left their gun behind. Australian infantry, of the 2/16th Battalion, moved forward and took Jadra, a village. They took some forty French prisoners. In the afternoon, the 2/27th Battalion moved further forward until they were near the "El Ouardiniye-Sebline-Kafr Maya area". On 20 June, the squadron of the 6th Australian Cavalry that had been active in operations during the attack on Lebanon now relieved the squadron of the 9th Cavalry. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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