Syria–Lebanon Campaign

Last updated
Syria–Lebanon campaign
Part of the Mediterranean and Middle East theatre of the Second World War
Australian troops among the ruins of the old Crusader castle at Sidon, Lebanon, July 1941
Date8 June – 14 July 1941
Syria and Lebanon
Result Allied victory
Syria and Lebanon taken over by Free France

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom

Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg  Free France
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg Czechoslovakia

Flag of France (1794-1958).svg  Vichy France

Flag of Germany (1935-1945).svg  Germany
Flag of Italy (1861-1946) crowned.svg  Italy
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Archibald Wavell
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg Henry Wilson
Flag of Australia (converted).svg John Lavarack
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg Paul Legentilhomme
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg Henri Dentz
50+ aircraft
1 landing ship
5 cruisers
8 destroyers
90 tanks
289 aircraft
2 destroyers
3 submarines
Casualties and losses
Australian: 1,552
Free French: c.1,300
British and Indian: 1,800, 1,200 POW, 3,150 sick
27 aircraft
6,352 (Vichy figures)
8,912 (British figures)
179 aircraft
1 submarine sunk
5,668 defectors

The Syria–Lebanon campaign, also known as Operation Exporter, was the British invasion of Vichy French Syria and Lebanon from June–July 1941, during the Second World War. The French had ceded autonomy to Syria in September 1936, with the right to maintain armed forces and two airfields in the territory.

Vichy France Client state (1940–1944) of Nazi Germany, administering the Free Zone in southern France and French colonial possessions

Vichy France is the common name of the French State headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain during World War II. Evacuated from Paris to Vichy in the unoccupied "Free Zone" in the southern part of metropolitan France which included French Algeria, it remained responsible for the civil administration of France as well as the French colonial empire.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.


On 1 April 1941, the 1941 Iraqi coup d'état had taken place and Iraq had come under the control of Iraqi nationalists led by Rashid Ali, who appealed for German support. The Anglo-Iraqi War (2–31 May 1941) led to the overthrow of the Ali regime and the installation of a British puppet government. The British invaded Syria and Lebanon in June, to prevent Nazi Germany from using the Vichy French-controlled Syrian Republic and French Lebanon as bases for attacks on Egypt, during an invasion scare in the aftermath of the German victories in the Battle of Greece (6–30 April 1941) and the Battle of Crete (20 May – 1 June). In the Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) in North Africa, the British were preparing Operation Battleaxe to relieve the Siege of Tobruk and were fighting the East African Campaign (10 June 1940 – 27 November 1941) in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The 1941 Iraqi coup d'état, also called the Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani coup or the Golden Square coup, was a nationalist and pro-Nazi Coup d'état in Iraq on 1 April 1941 that overthrew the pro-British regime of Regent 'Abd al-Ilah and his Prime Minister Nuri al-Said and installed Rashid Ali al-Gaylani as Prime Minister.

Kingdom of Iraq 1921-1958 monarchy in the Middle East

The Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was founded on 23 August 1921 under British administration following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Mesopotamian campaign of World War I. Although a League of Nations mandate was awarded to the UK in 1920, the 1920 Iraqi revolt resulted in the scrapping of the original mandate plan in favour of a British administered semi-independent kingdom, under the Hashemite allies of Britain, via the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty. The Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq was granted full independence in 1932, following the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty (1930). The independent Iraqi Kingdom under the Hashemite rulers underwent a period of turbulence through its entire existence. Establishment of Sunni religious domination in Iraq was followed by Assyrian, Yazidi and Shi'a unrests, which were all brutally suppressed. In 1936, the first military coup took place in the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq, as Bakr Sidqi succeeded in replacing the acting Prime Minister with his associate. Multiple coups followed in a period of political instability, peaking in 1941.

Rashid Ali al-Gaylani Iraqi politician

Rashid Ali al-Gaylani was an Iraqi politician who served as Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Iraq on three occasions: from March to November 1933, from March 1940 to February 1941 and from April to May 1941. He is chiefly remembered as an Arab nationalist who attempted to remove the British influence from Iraq. During his brief tenures as Prime Minister in 1940 and 1941, he attempted to negotiate settlements with the Axis powers during World War II in order to counter British influence in Iraq.

The Vichy French made a vigorous defence of Syria; but, on 10 July, as the 21st Australian Brigade was on the verge of entering Beirut, the French sought an armistice. At one minute past midnight on 12 July, a ceasefire came into effect and ended the campaign. The Armistice of Saint Jean d'Acre (Convention of Acre) was signed on 14 July at the Sidney Smith Barracks on the outskirts of the city. Time magazine referred to the fighting as a "mixed show" while it was taking place and the campaign remains little known, even in the countries that took part. There is evidence that the British censored reportage of the fighting because politicians believed that hostilities against French forces could have a negative effect on public opinion in English-speaking countries.

Acre, Israel City in Israel

Acre, known to locals as Akko or Akka, is a city in the coastal plain region of the Northern District of Israel.

Time is an American weekly news magazine and news website published in New York City. It was founded in 1923 and originally run by Henry Luce. A European edition is published in London and also covers the Middle East, Africa, and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong. The South Pacific edition, which covers Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands, is based in Sydney. In December 2008, Time discontinued publishing a Canadian advertiser edition.

Censorship The practice of suppressing information

Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient". Censorship can be conducted by a government, private institutions, and corporations.


In May 1941, Admiral François Darlan on behalf of Vichy France signed the Paris Protocols, an agreement with the Germans. The protocols granted Germany access to military facilities in Vichy-controlled Syria. [1] The protocols remained unratified, but Charles Huntziger, the Vichy Minister of War, sent orders to Henri Dentz, the High Commissioner for the Levant, to allow aircraft of the German Luftwaffe and Italian Regia Aeronautica to refuel in Syria. Marked as Iraqi aircraft, Axis aircraft under Fliegerführer Irak landed in Syria, en route to the Kingdom of Iraq during the Anglo-Iraqi War. The Germans also requested permission from the Vichy authorities to use Syrian railways to send armaments to Iraqi nationalists in Mosul. General Archibald Percival Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief of Middle East Command, was reluctant to intervene in Syria, despite government prodding, because of the situation in the Western Desert, the imminent German attack on Crete and doubts about Free French pretensions. [2]

François Darlan French admiral

Jean Louis Xavier François Darlan was a French admiral and political figure. He was admiral of the fleet and Chief of Staff of the French Navy in 1939 at the beginning of World War II. After France signed an armistice with Nazi Germany in 1940, Darlan served in the pro-German Vichy regime, becoming its deputy leader for a time. When the Allies invaded French North Africa in 1942, Darlan was the highest-ranking officer there, and a deal was made, giving him control of North African French forces in exchange for joining their side. Less than two months later he was assassinated.

The Paris Protocols were an agreement between Nazi Germany and Vichy France negotiated in May 1941. Although not ratified, the protocols were implemented. Admiral François Darlan represented the French and the German ambassador to France, Otto Abetz, represented the Nazis. The Paris Protocols granted the Germans military facilities in Syria, Tunisia, and French West Africa. In exchange, the French received reduced occupation costs, return of some 6,800 French experts from prisoner-of-war camps, and ease on the restrictions between "occupied France" and "unoccupied France."

Charles Huntziger General in French Army

Charles Huntziger was a French Army general during World War I and World War II. He was born at Lesneven (Finistère) of a family of German descent. He graduated from Saint-Cyr in 1900 and joined the colonial infantry. During World War I, he served in the Middle Eastern theatre. He was chief of staff of operations of the Allied Expeditionary Force. In 1918, he participated in the development of General Louis Franchet d'Espèrey's Vardar Offensive against German and Bulgarian forces which would lead to Allied victory and the signing of the Armistice of Mudros in October 1918.


Vichy Syria

Captured French Martin 167F at Aleppo 1941 Captured French Martin 167F at Aleppo 1941.jpg
Captured French Martin 167F at Aleppo 1941

Dentz was Commander in Chief of the Armée du Levant (Army of the Levant), which had regular metropolitan colonial troops and troupes spéciales (special troops, indigenous Syrian and Lebanese soldiers). [3] There were seven infantry battalions of regular French troops at his disposal, which included the 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion, the 24th Colonial Infantry Regiment and eleven infantry battalions of "special troops", including at least 5,000 cavalry in horsed and motorized units, two artillery groups and supporting units. [3] The Vichy garrison numbered 35,000 troops, comprising 35,000 regulars including 8,000 French and 25,000 Syrian and Lebanese infantry. The French had 90 tanks (according to British estimates), the Armée de l'Air de Vichy (Vichy French Air Force) had 90 aircraft (increasing to 289 aircraft after reinforcement) and the Marine Nationale (French Navy) had two destroyers, Guépard and Valmy, and three submarines. [4] [5]

The Army of the Levant identifies the armed forces of France and then Vichy France which occupied, and were in part recruited from, a portion of the "Levant" during the interwar period and early World War II. The locally recruited Syrian, Lebanese, Circassian, Kurdish and Druze units of this force were designated as the Special Troops of the Levant.

6th Foreign Infantry Regiment

The 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment of the French Foreign Legion from 1939 to 1941 and again from 1949 to 1955.

French Foreign Legion military service branch of the French Army

The French Foreign Legion is a military service branch of the French Army established in 1831. Legionnaires are highly trained infantry soldiers and the Legion is unique in that it is open to foreign recruits willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. When it was founded, the French Foreign Legion was not unique; other foreign formations existed at the time in France. Commanded by French officers, it is open to French citizens, who amounted to 24% of the recruits in 2007. The Foreign Legion is today known as a unit whose training focuses on traditional military skills and on its strong esprit de corps, as its men come from different countries with different cultures. This is a way to strengthen them enough to work as a team. Consequently, training is often described as not only physically challenging, but also very stressful psychologically. French citizenship may be applied for after three years' service. The Legion is the only part of the French military that does not swear allegiance to France, but to the Foreign Legion itself. Any soldier who gets wounded during a battle for France can immediately apply to be a French citizen under a provision known as "Français par le sang versé". As of 2008, members come from 140 countries.

On 14 May 1941, a British Bristol Blenheim bomber crew, flying a reconnaissance mission over Palmyra in central Syria, spotted a Junkers Ju 90 transport taking off, with more German and Italian aircraft seen later that day; an attack on the airfield was authorised later that evening. [6] Attacks against German and Italian aircraft staging through Syria continued and the British claimed six Axis aircraft destroyed by 8 June. Vichy French forces claimed to have shot down a Blenheim on 28 May and to have forced down another on 2 June. The RAF shot down a Vichy Martin 167F bomber over the British Mandate of Palestine on 6 June. [7] While German interest in the French mandates of Syria and Lebanon was limited, Adolf Hitler permitted reinforcement of the French troops, by allowing French aircraft en route from Algeria to Syria to fly over Axis-controlled territory and refuel at the German-controlled Eleusina air base in Greece. [8] The activity of German aircraft based in Greece and the Dodecanese Islands was interpreted by the British as support for Vichy troops, but although Dentz briefly considered accepting German assistance, he rejected the offer on 13 June. [9]

Bristol Blenheim British light bomber aircraft

The Bristol Blenheim is a British light bomber aircraft designed and built by the Bristol Aeroplane Company (Bristol) which was used extensively in the first two years and in some cases throughout the Second World War. The aircraft was developed as Type 142, a civil airliner, in response to a challenge from Lord Rothermere to produce the fastest commercial aircraft in Europe. The Type 142 first flew in April 1935, and the Air Ministry, impressed by its performance, ordered a modified design as the Type 142M for the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a bomber. Deliveries of the newly named Blenheim to RAF squadrons commenced on 10 March 1937.

Palmyra Ancient city in Homs Governorate, Syria

Palmyra is an ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs Governorate, Syria. Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period, and documents first mention the city in the early second millennium BC. Palmyra changed hands on a number of occasions between different empires before becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.

Junkers Ju 90 airplane

The Junkers Ju 90 was a 40-seat, four-engine airliner developed for and used by Deutsche Luft Hansa shortly before World War II. It was based on the rejected Ju 89 bomber. During the war, the Luftwaffe impressed them as military transports.

Palestine and Iraq

The British-led invasion of Syria and Lebanon aimed at preventing Nazi Germany from using the Vichy French-controlled Syrian Republic and French Lebanon for attacks on Egypt as the British fought the Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) against Axis forces in North Africa. The concerns were that attacks by Nazi Germany from Syria and Lebanon could eventuate if the Nazis had access to the airfields there and if German troops fighting at the time on the Eastern Front could link up with Vichy forces, in the event of Nazi success against Russia, by advancing south through the Caucasus. Both of these contingencies would have exposed Allied forces in Egypt from the north at a time when all available resources needed to focus on halting the Nazi advances from the west. [10] Although the French had ceded autonomy to Syria in September 1936, they had retained treaty rights to maintain armed forces and two airfields in the territory. From 1 April 1941, after a coup d'état , Iraq, on the eastern border of Syria, came under the control of nationalists led by Rashid Ali who were willing to appeal for German support. The Anglo-Iraqi War (2–31 May 1941) led to the installation of a pro-British government. [11]

British forces to the south of Syria in Mandate Palestine were under the command of General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson and consisted of the 7th Australian Division (minus the 18th Brigade, which was in North Africa, besieged at Siege of Tobruk), Gentforce with two Free French brigades of the 1st Free French Division (including two battalions of the 13th Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade attached to the 1st Free French Brigade) and the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade (4th Indian Infantry Division) with artillery, engineers and other support services attached to form the 5th Indian Brigade Group. In northern and central Syria, Iraq Command (Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Quinan) was used in this campaign to attack from the east, consisting of the 10th Indian Infantry Division, elements of the 17th Indian Infantry Brigade (8th Indian Infantry Division) and Habforce, the 4th Cavalry Brigade and the Arab Legion, under John Glubb (Glubb Pasha). [12] Commando and raiding operations were undertaken by No. 11 (Scottish) Commando from Cyprus, [13] as well as Palmach paramilitary and Mista'arvim squads from Mandatory Palestine. [14]

Air support was provided by squadrons from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF); ground forces on the coast were supported by bombardments from Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) units of the Mediterranean Fleet. At the beginning, Air Commodore L. O. Brown, the Air officer commanding (AOC) HQ RAF Palestine and Transjordan had the understrength 11 Squadron (Bristol Blenheim Mk IV), 80 Squadron, re-equipping with Hawker Hurricanes, 3 Squadron RAAF, converting to Curtiss Tomahawks, 208 (Army Co-operation) Squadron with a flight of Hurricanes and X Flight (Gloster Gladiators). A detachment of Fleet Air Arm (FAA) 815 Naval Air Squadron (Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers) in Cyprus and 84 Squadron (Blenheims) in Iraq were to co-operate. [15]

British forces in reserve included the 6th Infantry Division (with the Czechoslovak 11th Infantry Battalion–East attached to the 23rd Infantry Brigade) and the 17th Australian Brigade. [16] In mid-June, the division with its two infantry brigades came into the line as reinforcements, mainly on the Damascus front and the southern force was placed under the command of the 1st Australian Corps on 19 June. [17] [18] [19] At the beginning of Operation Exporter, the British and Commonwealth force consisted of about 34,000 men(18,000 Australians,9,000 British,2,000 Indian and 5,000 Free French troops). [20] The RAF and RAAF had about 50 aircraft and the navy contributed the landing ship HMS Glengyle, five cruisers and eight destroyers. [21]

British plan of attack

The British plan of attack devised by Wilson called for four lines of invasion, on Damascus and Beirut from Palestine, on northern Syria and Palmyra (in central Syria) from Iraq and Tripoli (in northern Lebanon) also from Iraq. [22] [23] The 5th Indian Brigade Group (Brigadier Wilfrid Lewis Lloyd) was ordered to cross the Syrian border from Palestine and take Quneitra and Deraa. It was anticipated that this would open the way for the 1st Free French Division to advance to Damascus. Four days after the commencement of the operation, this force was brought under unified command and was named Gentforce after its French commander, Major-General Paul Louis Le Gentilhomme. [24] The 7th Australian Division (Major-General John Lavarack (succeeded by Major-General Arthur "Tubby" Allen on 18 June when Lavarack took over Australian I Corps) advanced from Palestine along the coastal road from Haifa towards Beirut. [25] The Australian 21st Brigade was to take Beirut, advancing along the coast from Tyre, over the Litani River towards Sidon. [26] The Australian 25th Brigade was to attack the large Vichy French airbase at Rayak, advancing along a route further inland from the 21st Brigade. [27] The operation was also to include a supporting commando landing from Cyprus at the south of the Litani River. [28]

Once the two southern prongs were well engaged, it was planned that a third force, comprising formations drawn from Iraq Command, would invade Syria. The bulk of the 10th Indian Infantry Division (Major-General William "Bill" Slim) was to advance north-west up the Euphrates River from Haditha in Iraq (upstream from Baghdad), toward Deir ez Zor and thence to Raqqa and Aleppo. The manoeuvre was intended to threaten the communication and supply lines of Vichy forces defending Beirut against the Australians advancing from the south, in particular the railway line running northwards through Aleppo to Turkey (Turkey was thought by some British strategists to be sympathetic to Vichy and to Germany). [29] A group comprising two infantry battalions from the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade (10th Indian Division) and two from the 17th Indian Infantry Brigade (8th Indian Infantry Division), would operate independently, to capture all the territory in north-east Syria. The 20th Indian Infantry Brigade were to make a feint from Mosul and the 17th Indian Infantry Brigade would advance into the Bec du Canard (Duck's Bill) region, through which a railway from Aleppo ran eastward to Mosul and Baghdad. [30] [31] Habforce was in Iraq attached to Iraq Command, because it had previously struck across the desert from the Transjordan border as part of the relief of RAF Habbaniya during the Anglo-Iraqi War. [32] Habforce comprised the 4th Cavalry Brigade, the 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment and the Arab Legion Mechanized Regiment, supported by field, anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery units, to gather in western Iraq between Rutbah and the Transjordan border. [33] At the same time as the thrust up the Euphrates, Habforce would advance in a north-westerly direction to take Palmyra in Syria and secure the oil pipeline from Haditha to Tripoli. [32]


War on land

Main axes of invasion from Iraq IraqforceInSyria1941.svg
Main axes of invasion from Iraq

Hostilities commenced on 8 June 1941. The battles of the campaign were:

War in the air

11 Squadron RAF Bristol Blenheim bombing Beirut, 1941 11 Squadron RAF Blenheims bombing Beirut 1941 IWM HU 93073.jpg
11 Squadron RAF Bristol Blenheim bombing Beirut, 1941

The initial advantage that the Vichy French Air Force (Armée de l'Air de Vichy) enjoyed did not last long. The Vichy French lost most of their aircraft destroyed on the ground where the flat terrain, the absence of infrastructure and the absence of modern anti-aircraft (AA) artillery made them vulnerable to air attacks. [34] On 26 June, a strafing run by Tomahawks of 3 Squadron RAAF, on Homs airfield, destroyed five Dewoitine D.520s of Fighter Squadron II/3 (Groupe de Chasse II/3) and damaged six more. [35]

On 10 July, five D.520s attacked Bristol Blenheim bombers of 45 Squadron RAF, which were being escorted by seven Australian Tomahawks from 3 Squadron. [36] The French pilots claimed three Blenheims but at least four D.520s were destroyed by the Australians. [36] [37] The following day, a Dewoitine pilot shot down a Tomahawk from 3 Squadron, the only one lost during the campaign. [36] By the end of the campaign, the Vichy forces had lost 179 aircraft from about 289 committed to the Levant, with remaining aircraft with the range to do so evacuating to Rhodes. [38]

War at sea

The war at sea was not a major part of Operation Exporter, although some significant actions were fought. During the Battle of the Litani River, rough seas kept commandos from landing along the coast on the first day of battle. On 9 June 1941, the French destroyers Valmy and Guépard fired on the advancing Australians at the Litani River before being driven off by shore-based artillery-fire. The French destroyers then exchanged fire with the British destroyer HMS Janus. The New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Leander came to the aid of Janus along with six British destroyers and the French retired. [39] The Luftwaffe attempted to come to the aid of the French naval forces on 15 June. Junkers Ju 88s of II./LG 1 (2nd Group, Lehrgeschwader 1), attacked British warships forces off the Syrian coast and hit the destroyers HMS Ilex and Isis. That evening, French aircraft of the 4th Naval Air Group bombed British naval units off the Syrian coast. [39]

Hammana, September 1941. With terrain typical of the region in the background, Maj. Gen. A. S. Allen (centre), commander of the Australian 7th Division, inspects some of his men. British Commonwealth units garrisoned Lebanon and Syria for several months, following the end of the campaign. (Photographer: Frank Hurley.) AWM 010546 allen lebanon.jpg
Hammana, September 1941. With terrain typical of the region in the background, Maj. Gen. A. S. Allen (centre), commander of the Australian 7th Division, inspects some of his men. British Commonwealth units garrisoned Lebanon and Syria for several months, following the end of the campaign. (Photographer: Frank Hurley.)

On 16 June, British torpedo aircraft sank the French destroyer Chevalier Paul, which had been en route from Toulon to Syria, carrying ammunition from Metropolitan France. The following day, British bombers attacked another French destroyer in the port of Beirut which was also carrying ammunition. [39] On the night of 22/23 June, Guépard fought a brief engagement with two British cruisers and six destroyers off of the Syrian coast, before the French destroyer retired under the cover of darkness. [40] The French suffered further losses on 25 June, when the British submarine HMS Parthian torpedoed and sank the French submarine Souffleur off the Lebanese coast; shortly afterwards, the French tanker Adour, which was carrying the entire fuel supply for the French forces in the Middle East, was attacked by British torpedo aircraft and badly damaged. [41]


On 10 July, as the Australian 21st Brigade was on the verge of entering Beirut, Dentz sought an armistice. At one minute past midnight on 12 July, a ceasefire came into effect and ended the campaign. The Armistice of Saint Jean d'Acre (also known as the "Convention of Acre") was signed on 14 July at the Sidney Smith Barracks on the outskirts of the city of Acre. [42]



Wavell had not wanted the Syrian distraction when British forces in the Mediterranean were overstretched and the promenade guaranteed by the Free French appeared to be a false promise. Churchill and the CIGS forced the campaign on Wavell and when Vichy forces defended Syria, the British forces needed reinforcement, which could only be provided piecemeal. Many of the British and Commonwealth troops were novices and the hot, dry and mountainous terrain was a severe test, in which Indian Army units excelled. The Australian contingent had to cope with the worst country but conducted the most effective attack, "with a good plan carried through with great determination". The achievement of air superiority was delayed by the lack of aircraft but the urgency of the situation made it impossible for the naval and ground forces to wait. Vichy French airmen concentrated their attacks on ships and ground targets, which were highly effective until they were forced to move north. The scare caused by the German success in Crete had been exaggerated because the German parachute and glider invasion of Crete had been costly and there was little chance of the Germans gaining a bridgehead in Syria. The Germans withdrew from Syria to preserve their forces and to deprive the British of a pretext for invasion. The British invaded Syria anyway and took over naval and air bases far north of Suez and increased the safety of the oil route from Basra to Baghdad in Iraq to Haifa in Palestine. [43]


In August, the Vichy authorities announced 6,352 casualties of whom 521 men had been killed, 1,037 were missing, 1,790 wounded and 3,004 men had been taken prisoner. After the war, Dentz stated that 1,092 men had been killed, which would mean 1,790 wounded,466 missing and 3,004 prisoners against a British claim of 8,912 casualties of all natures. [44] The Vichy Air Force lost 179 aircraft, most destroyed on the ground, the navy lost one submarine and 5,668 men defected to the Free French. [45] [46] The armistice agreement led to the repatriation to France of 37,563 military and civilian personnel in eight convoys, consisting of three hospital ships and a "gleaner" ship, from 7 August to 27 September. [47] Prisoners taken by the Vichy French forces were returned but several British prisoners of war had been sent out of Syria, some after the armistice. The delay in obtaining the return of these prisoners led to the detention of Dentz and 29 senior officers in Palestine who were released when the British prisoners were returned to Syria. [48] British and Commonwealth casualties were about 4,652; the Australians suffered 1,552 casualties,(416 men killed and 1,136 wounded.) The Free French incurred about c.1,300 losses and 1,100 men taken prisoner; British and Indian casualties were 1,800 wounded,1,200 men captured and 3,150 sick, including 350 malaria cases. [49] The RAF and RAAF lost 27 aircraft. [50]

Subsequent events

Allied leaders meet in Syria. Left to right: Air Chief Marshal Longmore, General Wavell, General de Gaulle, General Catroux Allied leaders meet in the Middle East.jpg
Allied leaders meet in Syria. Left to right: Air Chief Marshal Longmore, General Wavell, General de Gaulle, General Catroux

Operations against the Vichy regime in Syria could only be conducted with troops withdrawn from the Western Desert, a dispersal that contributed to the defeat of Operation Battleaxe and made the Syrian campaign take longer than necessary. Churchill had decided to sack Wavell in early May over his reluctance to divert forces to Iraq. Wavell was relieved on 22 June and relinquished command on 5 July, leaving for India two days afterwards. [51] In late July 1941, De Gaulle flew from Brazzaville to congratulate the victors. [52] Free French General Georges Catroux was placed in control of Syria and Lebanon and on 26 November, shortly after taking up this post, Catroux recognised the independence of Syria and Lebanon in the name of the Free French movement. [53] After elections on 8 November 1943, Lebanon became an independent state on 22 November 1943 and on 27 February 1945, declared war on Germany and the Empire of Japan. [54]

By 1945, however, continued French presence in the Levant saw nationalist demonstrations which the French attempted to quell. With heavy Syrian casualties, notably in Damascus, Winston Churchill opposed French action but after being rebuffed by Charles De Gaulle, he ordered British forces into Syria from Jordan with orders to fire on the French. Known as the Levant Crisis – British armoured cars and troops then reached the Syrian capital Damascus following which the French were escorted and confined to their barracks. With political pressure added, De Gaulle ordered a ceasefire and France withdrew from Syria the following year. [55]

Victoria Cross

See also


  1. Keegan p. 676
  2. Raugh 1993, pp. 216–218.
  3. 1 2 Mollo, p.144
  4. Playfair, 2004 pp. 200, 206
  5. Long, 1953, pp. 333–334, 363
  6. Richards, 1974, p. 338
  7. Shores, 1970, pp. 242–244
  8. Shores & Ehrengardt p. 30
  9. de Wailly p. 246
  10. James 2017, p. 99.
  11. Raugh 1993, pp. 211–216.
  12. Playfair, 2004, p. 204, 206–209, 216
  13. Smith, 2010, p. 191
  14. Uri Ben-Eliezer, 1998, The Making of Israeli Militarism, pp.83–84.
  15. Playfair, 2004, pp. 205–206
  16. Playfair 2004, p. 209.
  17. Joslen 2003, p. 50.
  18. Playfair 2004, p. 211.
  19. Chappell 1987, p. 19.
  20. Long, 1953, p. 526
  21. Playfair, 2004, p. 214
  22. Playfair, 2004, pp. 203, 206
  23. James 2017, p. 119.
  24. Playfair, 2004, pp. 210–212
  25. Long (1953), pp. 338, 413
  26. Johnston (2005), pp. 48–55.
  27. Playfair, 2004, p. 208, 211, 219
  28. Long (1953), pp. 360–361
  29. Raugh 1993, pp. 221–222.
  30. Playfair, 2004, p. 217
  31. Mackenzie, p. 121
  32. 1 2 Raugh 1993, p. 222.
  33. Playfair, 2004, p. 213
  34. Mollo, p.146
  35. Shores & Ehrengardt p. 94
  36. 1 2 3 Herington 1954, p. 94
  37. Brown 1983, p. 17.
  38. Shores and Ehrengardt Air Pictorial August 1970, pp. 283–284.
  39. 1 2 3 Piekałkiewicz, p. 144
  40. Piekałkiewicz, p. 146
  41. Piekałkiewicz, p. 147
  42. Playfair, 2004, pp. 221, 335–337
  43. Playfair, 2004, pp. 221–222
  44. Long, 1953, p. 526
  45. Mollo, p. 146
  46. Playfair, 2004, pp. 214, 221
  47. Auchinleck, p. 4216
  48. Auchinleck, p. 4217
  49. Long, 1953, p. 526
  50. Playfair, p. 222
  51. Raugh 1993, pp. 222, 238–239.
  52. Time magazine, Reconquering an Empire
  53. Playfair, 2004, p. 221
  54. Martin, 2011, p. 11
  55. Luce, Henry Robinson (1945). Time, Volume 45. Time Incorporated. pp. 25–26.
  56. Playfair, 2004, p. 211
  57. James 2017, pp. 203-205.
  58. Playfair, 2004, p. 220
  59. James 2017, pp. 225-227.

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