Australians' Big Part in Syria (1941) newsclip
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Australians' Big Part in Syria.
FULLER DETAILS OF CAMPAIGN RELEASED
LONDON, August 8. Details of the part played by Australians in the Syrian campaign are now available in greater detail than hitherto. The following sections of the A.I.F. are mentioned: The 21st and 25th Brigades of the Seventh Division, the 2/33rd Infantry Battalion, and the 1st Australian Corps Headquarters.
Our initial advance was made by three columns operating simultaneously, one in open country east of Mount Hermon, with Damascus as the first objective, one up the central valley between Mount Hermon and the Lebanon range in the direction of Rejak, and one along the coast road between Lebanon and the sea towards Beirut.
The function of the centre column principally was to maintain contact with the other two, which had more important objectives, the Syrian capital, Damascus, and the headquarters of the Vichy Government respectively, the capture of which was likely to decide the issue of the campaign.
The 25th Australian Brigade in the central sector had with them the Royal Fusiliers. The latter captured El Kuneitra on June 6. The Australians, starting from the Metulla sector, took Merijiyun on June 11 after heavy fighting on the frontier, and then advanced north to Nabattiyeh.
The 21st Australian Brigade was on the coast with the Cheshire Yeomanry on its right flank. The Yeomanry, who were on horses, brushed aside the Vichy opposition at Ras en Nakura, and, with part of the Australian Brigade, pushed inland through the hills towards the upper valley of the Litani, occupying Jiazraeh, Chouf, and Mirousti north of Jezzin.
The rest of the 21st Brigade although delayed by demolitions, captured Tyre on June 8 and advanced to the Litani River at Kimiye. Here a bridge had been blown up, and the enemy offered stubborn resistance.
The navy on the night of June 8 and 9 landed a seaborne detachment north of the Litani in the face of heavy opposition and the Australians on June 10, crossed the river and advanced five miles up the coast beyond its mouth. Progress to all points to June 13 was fairly good then the Vichy resistance stiffened. They had used our attempts to have parleys to withdraw their forward troops to their main lines of defence and were certainly embittered at having Free French fighting against them. They counter-attacked on June 15 and 16.
On the east they drove two mechanised squadrons of the Trans-Jordan Frontier Force from Ezra, recapturing the village. Infantry heavily attacked Kuneitra, where the garrison of the Royal Fusiliers was forced to surrender after exhausting their ammunition. Vichyites, also, after a heavy bombardment, gained a foothold on June 15 at Merjiyon, which was hotly disputed by the Scots Greys.
Our advance south of Sidon was also held up. It was a temporary setback only. for by June 17 the Australians and British troops had retaken Kuneitra and a mixed force of Free French and Trans-Jordan Frontier Force had re taken Ezra.
The attack on Merijiyun on June 7 was only partially successful, but we inflicted severe casualties against the Vichyites in the Jezzin area and captured several armored cars. Australians and a Border regiment had captured Jezzin on June 15.
The Kesweh position was evacuated the same day by Vichyites, and Sidon fell to the combined action of the 21st Australian Brigade and the Royal Navy.
The first Australian Corps Headquarters on June 18 took over the Syrian operations.
Desertion of considerable numbers of Druse cavalry weakened the Vichy position on the extreme right, but the citadel of Suweida held out until the "cease fire" sounded. Meanwhile our attack against Damascus had progressed and the city was entered on June 21.
On the central sector, where the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the Scots Greys were with the 21st Australian Brigade. a "platoon commander's battle" continued round Merijiyun, while on the coastal sector we advanced to positions south of Damour, the Australians holding the line Jezzin - Ras N Biyunus with yeomanry patrols on the flank. In the meantime a British column from Iraq, advancing across the desert, reached Palmyra on June 22, and a second column from Iraq contacted the Palmyra column at Sukhpe.
The Free French on June 26 captured Nebek and repulsed a Vichy counterattack four days later, knocking out four tanks. Australians in the central sector reoccupied Merijiyun on June 24. The position at the beginning of July was that a small Vichy force was hemmed in by Druses at Es Suweida, and another by the Iraq columns at Palmyra, but otherwise the Eastern Desert was clear of enemy forces. The 7th Australian Division controlled operations between the sea and the Merijiyun area.
It had been reinforced on June 29 by the 23rd Infantry Brigade, which included the Border Regiment and the Durham Light Infantry, who were engaged in the inland sector while the 7th Australian Division was on the coast. Warships Bombard. Eventually the war of manoeuvre made the position of the Vichy commander untenable.
The Second 23rd Australian Infantry Battalion on July … recaptured Jezzin. Australian troops in the coastal area on the same day, supported by a naval bombardment, outflanked and captured the whole Vichy line of defence on the Damour River, and advanced to Khalde, five miles south of Beirut. Gen. Dentz, on July 10, requested armistice terms, and "Cease fire" was sounded at midnight July 11 and 12. The Vichy forces at the time of their surrender totalled 26,000 to 37,000.
Their casualties were 9,000 plus 2,000 prisoners in our hands. Only Damascus had actually fallen. but simultaneous threats to Beirut, Rejak, Homs, Tripoli, Hama, and Aleppo made the whole Vichy position hopeless and left no course open to Gen. Dentz but surrender.-A.A.P.