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.

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