Thursday, January 29, 2015

The French had made a major withdrawal: 15 June 1941 on the coast

After finding Sidon had been abandoned by the French on 15 June 1941, a component of the 9th Australian Cavalry scouted to the north. They had replaced the 6th Australian Cavalry on the coast. They realized that the French had withdrawn. Not very long after that, troops of the 2/16th Battalion moved into the town. The battalion actually marched through the town and advanced to the Wadi Abou Zare. The cavalry probing to the north found that north to Ras Nebi Younes were clear of French forces. To the east, along the east-west roads, they were clear to Salhiye, Jamliye, and Sebline. Even as the situation on the coast improved, the center and east had moved to a crisis situation. Still, we have trouble understanding why the coast could not have been exploited aggressively and the eastern fronts allowed to stall. The situation boded ill for a further advance up the coast, due to the desire to advance in the center and east. The narrative now switches back in time to 10 June 1941 at Merdjayoun and Khirbe. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

On the left wing at Sidon on 14 and 15 June 1941

In the area near Sidon, there was a building that the Australians called a monastery, but that was actually a military barracks. The 2/27th Battalion was moving on Sidon from 13 June 1941. Much of the action was due to the individual platoons, not even company-sized units. Sergeant Macpherson led one platoon of seventeen men. They were able to move forward and entered the village of Miyeoumiye from the east side. The French defenders were surprised to find the Australians among them and 24 surrendered. The Australians found forty pack mules, which the supposed meant that the French were planning on a withdrawal. The other two platoons of the company had failed in their attack. They had tried to advance into the face of machine gun fire from the supposed monastery. They had withdrawn during the night. The 2/16th Battalion was still south of Sidon on 14 June. Brigadier Stevens was personally involved and he called in artillery to stop a French attack that included tanks. There had been hard fighting on 13 and 14 June, seemingly to no effect, but by 15 June, they found that the French had withdrawn. They suspected that Sidon had also been abandoned. At 4pm on 15 June, Brigadier Stevens entered Sidon and took control. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

One Australian company is decimated at Sidon on 13 JUne 1941

Major Wain's company almost reached its objective at the Wadi Abou Zare, but they were out of touch with Horley's company and were vulnerable, so they pulled back. This was at Sidon on 13 June 1941. They pulled back south of Sidon into a safer position where they were in touch with their supporting company. Horley's company, on the right, when advancing, had been attacked by French tanks. The tanks were more aggressively handled and the Australians did not have any effective means of combating them. Horley was killed and his supporting company was dispersed into the hills. Eventually, with Captain Mackenzie in charge, the company was reduced to a sergeant and 17 men. They were eventually able to break free and reach the road. The tanks stayed away from the road because it was too open. The cavalry was sent to deal with the tanks and brought up a 25-pounder field gun and two anti-tank guns. They were at too long range for the anti-tank guns to be able to damage the tanks and one gun was knocked out. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The plan for taking Sidon on 13 June 1941

The plan was for the 2/16th Battalion to take the port city of Sidon. The battalion had been held in reserve for the last four days and now would see action. The plan was for the battalion to pass through the position held by the 2/27th Battalion and to move forward past the town of Sidon to a line two miles north of Sidon. Two companies of the battalion had moved up to Darb es Sim, but the battalion commander had lost touch with them, so they did not participate. A cavalry squadron would provide flank protection to the battalion during their advance. The attack commenced at 10am with artillery support from the 2/4th Field Regiment. The left company (they advanced with two companies forward) ran into machine gun posts south of Sidon. They outflanked them and the French withdrew. They eventually reached a point east of the center of Sidon, after seeing two French tanks that were timidly handled. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Moving north on the coastal plain on 12 June 1941

The Australian 21st Brigade was moving north along the coast towards Sidon, which they reached by late 12 June 1941. Brigadier Stevens had sent two field guns forward in support, in case any more tanks appeared. They ended up in a duel with French guns "over open sights". Brigadier Stevens was involved and was slightly wounded by a shell fragment. Late in the day on 12 June, the Australians were strafed by French aircraft and took casualties. The Australians wanted to negotiate with the French to spare Sidon from a battle. Instead, the French artillery commenced firing. The Australians returned the fire. The town was overlooking a harbor dating from Phoenician times. The town had some 12,000 people in close quarters. North and south of the town were fruit trees. The orchard were contained with nine-foot walls. The Australians were impressed by the beauty of the place, as it was the nicest that they had seen so far. Brigadier Stevens decided to let the 2/16th Battalion take Sidon from the French. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The 2/27th Battalion assumes the advance-guard role on 12 June 1941 in Syria

The 2/14th Battalion Adjutant suggested to the 2/27th Battalion commander that they could move to the east and out-flank the French position. One company moved through difficult terrain in the hills to the east. Another company moved through Adeisse and then forward to Hassaniye and Maameriye. They took some forty prisoners and some mortars and machine guns. Right on the coast, while this was happening, artillery fire forced the French tanks to pull back. The carriers of the 2/27th Battalion moved along the beach and outflanked the bridge defenders. They took about sixty prisoners and were able to hold the bridge until a platoon arrived after crossing the hills. They eventually took more prisoners, so that they held 200 French soldiers. A flank attack had worked much better than a frontal assault, which makes sense. By nightfall on the 12th, the cavalry and carriers of the 2/27th Battalion had advanced another three miles to the north. They had moved through Rhaziye and only stopped when they were fired on by artillery. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The 2/14th Battalion moving north along the coast road on 11 June 1941

The Australian 2/14th Battalion followed the cavalry north along the coast road in Syria on mid-morning of 11 June 1941. The French had left a modest rear-guard which had been dealt with by the cavalry. There was little opposition to the 2/14th Battalion, except to the right of the road. They had "killed nine and captured forty-five" French troops. They contiued north "through Es Sakiye, Sarafend and Khan Saada". In the process, they had taken almost 100 prisoners. With the cavalry scouting ahead, they noticed that there were five tanks and machine gun nests "in the Wadi Zaharini". This seems to have been the next position that the French had decided to defend. The plan was for the 2/14th to continue to move north and to cut the road to Merdjayoun. By 6:15pm, six French tanks advanced towards the leading men from the 2/14th Battalion. They had been stopped already by heavy machine gun and mortar fire. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 05, 2015

With the cavalry on 11 June 1941 in Syria

Early on 11 June 1941, the 2/14th Battalion and the cavalry squadron received orders to resume the forward move. The cavalry were able to move to the juncture of the coast road with the road to Es Sakiye. At that location, there were French tanks with supporting anti-tank guns. The cavalry commander, Lt. Mills ordered his three light tanks to shelter behind a ridge. He moved forward with some carriers. He and some men dismounted and moved to a position that dominated the French. The Australians had an anti-tank rifle and they started firing at the tanks and the anti-tank guns. The tanks withdrew in the face of the fire. They then fired at the anti-tank gun and crew. The gun was over the road cutting. Lt. Mills then went forward but then encountered some French troops who had dug in for protection. Mills' sub-machine gun had jammed. There was another group, though, and Cramp attacked them and then both groups of French troops surrendered. They had captured 45 men from the French Foreign Legion, machine guns, mortars, and the two anti-tank guns. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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