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.

Monday, July 27, 2015

changes at Jezzine on 24 June 1941

On 24 June 1941, General Allen made a change in the command of the 25th Australian Infantry Brigade. We find that Brigadier Cox was too ill to continue in command and should have been in a hospital. Brigadier Plant was appointed as the new brigade commander. The brigade had two battalions: the 2/31st and the 2/14th. By the afternoon of 24 JUne 1941, when Brigadier Plant arrived, the men of both battalions were very tired. They had also taken many casualties were low in strength. The French that the Australians had been fighting were also tired. During the day on 24 June, as many as ten French Foreign Legion troops surrendered, complaining of the Australian artillery fire. General Allen advised Brigadier Plant not to continue infantry attacks on "the heights" and just use artillery to clear the ridge. Brigadier Plant was a veteran of Gallipoli in the Great War, and considered the area at Jezzine to be rougher than what he had seen at Gallipoli. General Allen's plan was to have a mobile column from the coast attack into the mountains. Once they could see how the French reacted, the 25th Brigade could move forward and join the 21st Brigade. The 21st Brigade had been halted to give the operations at Merdjayoun time to progress. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Bad Plan on 24 June 1941 For Attacking Hill 1284

For the attack on Hill 1284 on 24 June 1941, Australian soldiers were expected to climb a steep ridge, under fire, to attack a "small fortress". The French position had a six-foot rock wall. There was also a pill box. The area bounded by the wall had a diameter of fifty yards. Inside the wall were machine gun emplacements. The defenders seem to have been French Foreign Legion troops. One Australian platoon commanded by Lieutenant O'Day took two hours to climb "the rocky slope". The platoon only had 32 men. The Australians charged and took the pill box, which was manned by just two men. There was a fierce fight between O'Day's platoon and the French. after an hour of fighting, the Australians were running short of ammunition. At noon, the French attacked. The French fired a heavy mortar that was fired at possible hiding places between rocks. They also sent out a group of twenty men with sacks of grenades. The Australians drove the group back into the fort after shooting six men. Lieutenant O'Day realized that the survivors of his platoon needed to withdraw. The eventually reached the outposts of the 2/31st Battalion at 2pm. A small group of O'Day's platoon had been left behind, but they eventually were able to withdraw to the 2/31st Battalion positions. Of the 32 men who attacked, 18 had survived, unwounded. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The attack at Kharat on 22 June 1941

Kharat was a mountain that was occupied by the Australians near Jezzine in Lebanon. Brigadier Cox commanded the forces near Jezzine on 21 June 1941. He had just received reinforcements in the form of the 2/14th Battalion. He had planned an attack from Kharat on the night of 21 to 22 June. General Allen, now commanding the 7th Australian Division was concerned, when he heard of the plan, that there was no artillery support planned. That proved to be incorrect, but the concern and changes made caused the attack to be postponed to 22 June. The artillery fired their planned program. Two companies from the 2/14th were known to have started off as planned. The men of the 2/31st Battalion were concerned. The officers reported back to the battalion commander that they could not see anyone from the 2/14th Battalion. They eventually found out that the combination of fog and difficult terrain had kept the 2/14th Battalion companies from reaching the start line until the company commanders decided that it was too late to actually attack. The attack was postponed again to the next day. The end result was that by the end of 22 June, nothing had been achieved, except giving away their intentions to the French. The next night, the two Victorian companies stepped off at 1am. At 4am, the infantry fired two Very lights to signal to the artillery that they could start firing. The men moved down Kharat and immediately took casualties from French fire. In the end, a small group of survivors surrendered to Senegalese troops. The attack failed, as they men were expected to cross open country under fire and they were decimated in the process. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Back to Jezzine from 20 June 1941 onwards

The 2/32st Battalion of Australians had taken losses over the period when they held on at Jezzine. This fight was in parallel to the long, hard-fought battle st Merdjayoun. The French had attacked the men at Jezzine on 17 and 18 June 1941. There were but two companies from the 2/31st holding on against the French. On there left was the Cheshire Yeomanry. The French were within rifle shot. There were two French Foreign Legion companies. There was also a Senegalese infantry battalion. They had some African cavalry mixed into the force. The Australians frequently had incoming artillery and mortar fire. The men had to be supplied with food, so parties were sent to the battalion headquarters store. While the French were harassing the Australians, they were not prepared to conduct another attack. On both sides, the men were too tired to do anything but hold their ground. To reinforce the men at Jezzine, the 2/14th Battalion was transported from the coast. They moved into a position on the right of the 2/31st Battalion. The men of the 2/14th were also very tired. The men were all from Vitoria on the southeast coast of Australia. Brigadier Cox decided to use his new unit to attack the French. The attack would start on the night of 21 and 22 June 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The attack on Col's Ridge fails from 27 June 1941

The plan for Col's Ridge was to attack from the north. A Pioneer company moved forward at 2am on 27 June 1941. The Pioneers reached the creek at the base of the ridge. After 4am, a creeping artillery barrage was preceding the infantry. The barrage was moved forward 50 yards at a time. Three platoons were set to advance up the hill. Right before they reached their objective, they were fired on by machine guns and mortars. They were taking losses, but were able to rush to the knoll. One platoon was going to settle on the hill, when they saw a large force of French infantry in front and on the left. They could see French artillery about a mile in the distance. The incoming French fire was getting heavier, as the artillery barrage had stopped. Many officers were killed in by the heavy French fire. They could see a large attack forming on the left. The Australians were running low on ammunition. There were few survivors of the Australian attackers, perhaps as few as 12. Lt-Col. Monaghan realized that the attack had failed and he called in artillery fire to support the survivors. The men moved back to the starting line and formed a defensive position. There had been two French battalions defending the hill. They had withdrawn while the artillery barrage was fired, but then returned to their positions. In the dark, Staff Sergeant Peeler searched for Captain Camm's body. Peeler had earned a Victoria Cross in the Great War in 1917. During the next night, and on the next day, the 2/King's Own Royal Regiment relieved the front line companies of the Australian 2/33rd Battalion. The Australian rifle companies had been in action for the last three weeks. The companies were reduced to 50 to 65 men. The French had built up their force at Merdjayoun to five battalions. They included on Foreign legion, one Tunisian, and three Algerian battalions. By late on 29 June, Brigadier Berryman returned to his duties in charge of the 7th Australian Division artillery. He was replaced by Brigadier Galloway, who we know well from the Western Desert in Egypt. In June 1941, he commanded the British 23rd Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Sucess at Merdjayoun and the surrounding area on 24 June 1041

Early on 24 June 1941, the Pioneers heard a great deal of noise, especially near the fort in Merdjayoun. A platoon moved forward and fired their weapons. There was no reply. They entered Merdjayoun, which was in shambles. The French had deliberately destroyed buildings and homes and destroyed goods in shops. There were many dead on the ground. Most were French. They found the Pioneers who had been lost on 17 June and buried them. On the right, a company was ordered to take Kheibe. They were able to enter Kheibe without any opposition, but then took mortar and machine gun fire from the northwest. General Wavell visited Brigadier Berryman's headquarters. While there, General Wavell that they should go on the offensive as soon as they could.

The picture shows General Allen, Brigadier Frank Berryman, and Brigadier Baxter-Cox.

In this spirit, Brigadier Berryman decided to attack Col's Ridge with a company of Pioneers. The attack was to hit the ridge from the north and roll up the French flank, if all went well. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Events near Merdjayoun from 22 June 1941

They had named the Australian horsed cavalry, "the Kelly Gang". They made their first patrol during the night of 22 to 23 June 1941, in the "hills of the Anti-Lebanon". By this time, the 2/King's Own battalion was added to Brigadier Berryman's force near Merdjayoun. The 2/25th Battalion was put into reserve near the road from Sidon to Merdjayoun. Berryman's force was now operating as companies. The new plan was for a company of the 2/33rd to take the ridge "north of Khiam". Another company, this from the 2/King's Own, would take the ridge from. Two more companies of the 2/King's Own would take Ibeles Saki. The artillery and Pioneers would demonstrate to give the impression that they were going after Merdjayoun. The attack by the 2/33rd commenced at 4:30am. They were opposed by two Algerian companies that had heavy weapons and were dug in. There was hand-to-hand fighting. The Australians took some weapons and used them against the Algerians. About an hour later, there was a counter-attack, which was beaten back. The Algerians made three more attacks during the "afternoon and evening". There was more hand-to-hand fighting. The attack on the other ridge by the 2/King's Own had more trouble, as the British troops had less combat experience. Brigadier Berryman got personally involved. He devised a new fire plan for the artillery and sent a field gun forward for direct fire. The 2/King's Own attacked again at 4:30am on 24 June. The French troops seem to have withdrawn in the night, so the British troops entered Ibeles Saki by 9:30am. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The aftermath of the attack on Merdjayoun on 19 June 1941

Brigadier Berryman issued an order at 4:30pm on 19 June 1941 that could not be execute. He wanted to issue sticky bombs to the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion and the 2/25th Battalion. There was not enough time to issue the sticky bombs. The idea was that there must just be five tanks at Merdjayoun, and they could be destroyed. After the tanks were knocked out, the pioneers would take the fort and then the town. The 2/25th Battalion was greatly depleted. The survivors were scattered. 25 men were known to have been killed and some sixty were wounded. However, there were another 73 men missing, of which many were found to have been killed or wounded. The French attacked at dusk and pushed back the Australians. Communications were lost, but some men were able to hold their ground. Eventually, the battalion was withdrawn to the Litani river. The French had made a strong defense and the tanks gave them an advantage that the Australians could not counter.

Brigadier Berryman proposed a new plan of attack. We have previously heard of "Route A" and "Route B". The Australian artillery dominated Route B, so Berryman decided to go after Route A. He would move guns to Ibeles Saki. The ground was very rough with rocks, so he hoped that would offer protection from the French tanks. Brigdier Berryman presented his plan to Generals Lavarack and Allen on 22 June. They gave their approval for the attack. The 2/33rd Battalion had been active on the eastern side. They were actively patrolling and found that Fort Khiam and the village had been abandoned as had Bmeriq. A new twist included horsed cavalry. We might recall that they had captured cavalry horses from the French. The 6th Cavalry was able to find men with suitable experience. They got packs and saddles from Palestine, so that the forty men and horses could function. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Back to Merdjayoun from 19 June 1941

Brigadier Berryman, the artillery commander, was in charge of the attack on Merdjayoun. An attack that was launched on 17 June 1941 had failed. Brigadier Berryman made plans to attack on 19 June. He walked around the area and planned the artillery fire for the attack. The 2/33rd Battalion was on the right, "on the foothills of Hermon". The 6th Cavalry regiment was in the center. The force on the left was larger, as they would attack the town. All the groups now had anti-tank guns assigned. The left included the Royal Scots Greys, as well as the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion, and a company from the 2/5th Battalion. The 2/25th Battalion was on the far left. The artillery commenced firing at the Merdjayoun fort at 4:20am. They then switched to the real first objective. The artillery fire was immediately answered by French guns. The infantry took losses from the return fire. The Australians were in among the houses, but then French tanks and armored cars moved in and disrupted the attack. The reserve platoons were then sent in, and they "drove off the tanks". The Australians found that their anti-tank rifles were ineffective against the French tanks (which we think were R-35's). By 4:30pm, the attack was spent. They could see more French armored vehicles advancing. They men involved thought that if they had more troops, they could have been more successful, but they had used all the available units. Berryman thought that if they could knock out the tanks with "sticky bombs", they might succeed, but the attackers to pull back. Merdjayound continued to be a problem because of the French tanks. The Australians had no effective counter to them so far. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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