Wednesday, October 28, 2015
The political situation in Syria in late July to August 1941
Monday, October 26, 2015
After the Armistice in Syria and Lebanon in 1941
After the armistice in Syria and Lebanon, the area was divided up between various authorities. The area north of the road from Beirut to Damascus came under the control of the 1st Australian Corps. Within that area, the 7th Australian Division was on the coast. The Free French forces were in the east, which included Damascus. Habforce would occupy the desert areas in the northeast. The 10th Indian Division occupied the farthest portion of the northeast. That was "beyond the Euphrates".
One feature of the armistice was that prisoners taken to metropolitan France were to be set free. Another feature was that Vichy French troops would be allowed to join the Free French. They were also allowed to choose to return to France. The Allies were not to pressure the French troops to join the Allied cause.
A commission was set up in Beirut to administer the armistice. The commission had a number of committees. The one on prisoner release was headed by Colonel Blackburn, who had coaxed the Free French into Damascus. His civilian vocation was being an attorney. He was a South African.
The British goal was to transfer General Dentz and his army from Syria. Of course, General De Gaullea and General Catroux wanted to have many Vichy French troops join the Free French forces. That immediately created a source of strife and conflict. The Vichy authorities and officers wanted to return to France as quickly as possible, so that meshed well with the British goals. The Australians thought well of the Vichy officers and troops, as they had fought well and fairly. The Australians were less friendly to the Free French, who they considered had painted the campaign in rosier condition than was what was actually found. They also considered that the Free French had not performed well in the battle for Syria.
The Syrian people, who had been living under French rule, would have liked to be free from European rule, but were astute enough to realize that freedom would not be coming soon. The Australians were well aware of the position of the Syrian people. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
General Catroux lost his kepi to an Australian on 12 July 1941
Monday, October 19, 2015
French troops performed well in Syria and Lebanon in June and July 1941
General Dentz had a surprising low opinion of French troops defending Syria and Lebanon. In reality, French troops performed very credibly in the campaign. There was a mix of troops, Europeans, North Africans, and Africans from Senegal.
French R-35 tanks and armored cars, even if just improvised, provided a very tough opponent for British and Australian troops. Until they received sticky bombs, they had no answer for when they encountered French tanks in particular. The only anti-tank weapons that the British and Australian troops had at the beginning of the campaign in June 1941 were 2-pounder anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles. The anti-tank rifles were not able to damage an R-35 tank, and it is unclear how effective the 2-pounder was against the R-35 either.
A small band of Foreign Legion troops held out for a long period at Palmyra against the cavalry brigade and the Arab Legion. They were apparently in good positions that gave protection and allowed them good fields of fire.
At Kuneitra, Merjayoun, and Jezzine, French infantry, machine guns, and artillery, gave British and Australian troops a tough fight. The 5th Indian Brigade was decimated in the fighting and a British battalion, the Fusiliers, was all but destroyed. That area continued to be a problem, even for British troops, right up until the Armistice.
We must assume that General Dentz was not familiar with the French troops under his command. Otherwise, how could he have had such a low opinion of them? When the attack commenced in early June 1941, he expected that the French army would collapse, when that was not the case at all. Even French colonial troops, with professional French officers, performed extremely well in the tough battles on the mountain ridges in Syria and Lebanon. We found, though, that the Australian troops in particular achieved results beyond what might be expected. This is based on our assessment of the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.