Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The French counter-attack and disarray in response

When the Royal Scots Greys fled through Merdjayoun in headlong flight, they told the Australians that there were no more British troops to the north. That was actually not true. There were still "infantry, cavalry and artillery" forward that did not know about the withdrawal and panic. There was still a rearguard in place at Merdjayoun. There was an infantry company, some cavalry in carriers, and an anti-tank gun battery. The infantry scouted some 500 yards to the north and saw no French troops. They had been ordered to pull back at 2:45am and did so. They moved back to Qleaa to where some Staffordshire Yeomanry and Royal Scots Greys were in place. The Australian infantry were across the road. They saw their first French tanks at 10:30am on 16 June 1941. There were only two, and the anti-tank guns knocked out one and the other pulled back. By now, the company at the "Windy Corner" had pulled back to Khiam and had occupied the fort there. The 6th Cavalry had some Vickers machine guns set up at the nearby road junction.

The French counter-attack in the east had created major problems for the British forces attacking Syria in the east. While ordering his reserves forward, General Lavarack told Brigadier Berryman to take command of the troops at Merdjayoun. Brigadier Berryman was the 7th Australian Division artillery commander and was the most experienced Australian brigadier. Brigadier Berryman had been at Jezzine when he received his orders from General Lavarack. That had been around midnight on 15 June. While Brigadier Berryman had responsibility for the area west of the Litani river, he also made some moves to the esat, where the Royal Scots Greys were at Qleaa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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