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.

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