Military History

This Week In History | Week 24

By The Cove June 9, 2020

Week 24 | 08 - 14 June


08 June 1941 | The start of the Syria–Lebanon campaign

The Syrian Campaign is one of the least-known Australian actions of the Second World War. Between 8 June and 11 July 1941, Australian troops, principally from the 7th Division, fought as part of an Allied force in Syria and Lebanon against the Vichy French. Syria and Lebanon had been French protectorates since France was granted a League of Nations mandate over them in 1919, and a pro-German Vichy French administration had assumed control following the fall of France in June 1940. The aim of the Allied campaign was to occupy Syria and Lebanon to prevent the establishment of a German presence that could threaten Britain's bases in Palestine and its broader strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean. The 7th Australian Division (7 Div) spearheaded the invasion of Vichy controlled Syria. 7 Div, commanded by  Major-General John Lavarack, advanced from Palestine along the coastal road from Haifa towards Beirut. The Australian 21st Brigade was to take Beirut, advancing along the coast from Tyre, over the Litani River towards Sidon. The Australian 25th Brigade was to attack the large Vichy French airbase at Rayak, advancing along a route further inland from the 21st Brigade. 


08 June 1950 | General Sir Thomas Blamey appointed Field Marshal

General Sir Thomas Blamey, Commander-in-Chief Allied Land Forces, South West Pacific Area, in the Second World War, was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal on 08 June 1950. He remains the only Australian ever to attain this rank, but not without effort.  Menzies became prime minister again in December 1949, and he resolved that Blamey should be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal, something that had been mooted in 1945. The recommendation went via the Governor-General, William McKell, to Buckingham Palace in London, which appeared to reply that a dominion officer could not be promoted to the rank. Menzies pointed out that Jan Smuts already had. The King's Official Secretary, Sir Alan Lascelles, then claimed that Blamey could not be promoted because he was a retired officer. Menzies then restored Blamey to active duty and he was duly promoted to Field Marshal in the King's Birthday Honours of 8 June 1950.


09 June 1941 | The Battle for Litani River

The Litani River presented a considerable obstacle to the Australian 21st Brigade as it advanced along the southern Lebanon coast in June 1941. Like many natural obstacles, the river had been incorporated into the Vichy French defensive plan, and strong, well-sited positions had been sited in the hills to the south of the river. Realising how critical it was to a rapid advance, the plan for the Allied invasion of Syria included a seaborne commando landing to sieze the bridge that carried the coastal road across the Litani.The commando operation was unable to achieve its objectives and thus the 2/16th Battalion were committed to the attack. A plan to rush the bridge was forestalled when its defenders blew it up, leaving the 2/16th with no option but to cross the Litani, under fire, in a single canvas assault boat. The boat could carry no more than eight men so the crossing was slow, but a bridgehead was established on the north bank, east of the bridge, and progressively enlarged. By early afternoon sufficient troops were across the river to allow the main Vichy French positions on the ridge above it to be tackled. A series of attacks, supported by artillery, steadily cleared the ridge throughout the afternoon and early evening.  The ridge was firmly in Australian hands by the night's end. (AWM)


10 June 1940 | Italy declares war on the Allies

Hoping to profit from the German successes early in the war, the Italian dictator Mussolini declared war on the Allies in June 1940, by which time the most vocal Italian dissidents were in exile or in prison.(AWM)


10 June 1945 | The Battle for North Borneo begins

The Battle of North Borneo took place during the Second World War between Allied and Japanese forces. North Borneo had been occupied by troops from the Imperial Japanese Army since early 1942 following the Japanese invasion of Borneo; prior to this the area had been a British territorial possession. Following its occupation, the area's oil resources had been exploited for the Japanese war effort.

Part of the wider Borneo campaign of the Pacific War, it was fought between 10 June and 15 August 1945 in North Borneo (later known as Sabah). The objective of the Allied operation was to establish "an advanced fleet base" for the British Pacific Fleet in Brunei Bay, which offered the Allies a deep-water port, to enable subsequent naval operations. Further objectives included capturing the vast oil and rubber supplies available in the area and re-establishing British civil administration.

The battle involved a series of amphibious landings by Australian forces on various points on the mainland around Brunei Bay and upon islands situated around the bay. 


12 June 1900 | The Battle of Diamond Hill, South Africa.

Members of the 1st Australian Horse and the New South Wales Lancers participate in the battle of Diamond Hill, South Africa as part of a bigger British force. During the battle, the hill was attacked by the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, who trotted across the plain in extended order, then increased to a gallop under Boer fire before they dismounted at the base of the hill. The mounted rifles advanced up the hill and charged the Boer defenders, forcing the latter to retreat. They then held the hill despite Boer artillery fire. Among those killed in the attack were Lieutenants Percy Drage and William Harriott of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles.


13 June 1941 | Battle for Jezzine

The second battle of the hard fought Syria–Lebanon campaign, Australian troops from the 25th Brigade attacked Jezzine , following the capture of Merdjayoun, which the Allies temporarily captured on 11 June 1941, allowing the commander of the Australian 7th Division, Major General John Lavarack, to switch the 25th Brigade's focus north towards Jezzine, leaving a small force to hold Merdjayoun which was later subjected to a heavy counter-attack.

During the fighting for Jezzine, when his company suffered casualties from intense machine gun fire, Private Jim Gordon, of the 2/31st Battalion, took it upon himself to crawl forward and neutralise the Vichy position with a rifle and bayonet. Gordon, originally from Rockingham, Western Australia, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions near Jezzine.

Jezzine Barracks in Townsville, Queensland, is named after this battle.


14 June 1966 | 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, arrives in South Vietnam

The deployment of the 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, to Vietnam formed part of Australia's build up of forces in Phuoc Tuy province in the mid-1960s. D Company from this battalion became involved in the battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966.





The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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