This Week in History | Week 28By The Cove June 26, 2020
Week 28 | 06 - 12 July
06 July 1941 | Battle of Damour
The battle of Damour was the final major operation of the Australian campaign in Syria and Lebanon in WWII. Damour is a large town on the Lebanon coast of approximately 30 kilometres south of Beirut, which in 1941 was the French administrative capital. The Wadi Damour, with the Damour River in its bed, was a further three kilometres to the south of the town. It was the last major natural obstacle that had to be crossed prior to reaching Beirut. Having already captured the heights overlooking Damour on the south bank of the wadi, the plan developed by Major General Arthur "Tubby" Allen, commanding the 7th Australian Division, involved encircling the Vichy French positions at Damour.
The operation began on the night of 05 July 1941 with troops of the 21st Brigade moving into position to cross the Damour River in two places. They attacked Vichy French positions on the northern side early on 6 July - the 2/16th Battalion at El Atiqa, the 2/27th at El Boum. By nightfall both positions were in Australian hands. In the early hours of 07 July, the 2/3rd and 2/5th Battalions, and two companies of the 2/14th then moved northwards through El Boum, outflanking Damour to the east. At Daraya, the 2/14th companies swung west to advance on Damour from the east, while the 2/3rd and 2/5th Battalions continued north to cut the road to Beirut north of the town, which they accomplished on 08 July. In the south, the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion and elements of the 6th Divisional Cavalry Regiment were advancing along the axis of the coastal road.
By 2 am on 9 July the Pioneers were advancing into the southern outskirts of the town, and at 4 am a patrol from the cavalry were able to drive right through; the Vichy French had withdrawn. The Australians immediately began pushing along the coastal road towards Beirut.
07 July 1942 | 9th Division in action at the first battle of El Alamein
General Rommel's forces had pushed the allies back to El Alamein in June 1942, the July battles involved allied attempts to push German and Italian forces back, none of the three attempts were successful.
During early 1942 the Axis forces advanced steadily through north west Egypt. It was decided that the British Eighth Army should make a stand just over 100 kilometres (62 mi) west of Alexandria, at the railway siding of El Alamein.
On 26 June 1942 the 9th Division was ordered to begin moving from northern Syria to El Alamein. On 1 July, Rommel's forces made a major attack, hoping to dislodge the Allies from the area, take Alexandria, and open the way to Cairo and the Suez Canal. However, the Eighth Army had regrouped sufficiently to repel the Axis forces and launch counter-attacks. On 7 July, the lead elements of the 9th Division arrived at Tel el Shammama 22 miles (35 km) from the front, from where they would be committed to the fighting in the northern sector.
Before dawn on 10 July, as Rommel focused his efforts on the southern flank of the battlefield, the 9th Division attacked the north flank of the enemy positions and captured the strategic high ground around Tel el Eisa. In the days following, Rommel redirected his forces against them, in a series of intense counter-attacks, but was unable to dislodge the Australians. On 22 July, the 24th and 26th Brigades attacked German positions on the ridges south of Tel el Esia, suffering heavy casualties taking positions on Tel el Eisa Ridge and Makh Khad Ridge.
The final phase of the First Battle of El Alamein was a disaster for the Allies and the 2/28th Battalion in particular: an attempt to capture Sanyet el Miteiriya, known as "Ruin Ridge", on 27 July. The operation was part of a complex series of night attacks. The 2/28th suffered significant casualties and vehicle losses in its advance, but achieved its objective. However, the battalion was soon surrounded by German infantry. A planned advance by British tanks failed and German tanks arrived. The 2/28th's positions came under a prolonged and methodical attack by the Axis forces. By the time they surrendered, 65 Australians had been killed. Although the vast majority of the 2/28th had become prisoners of war, 93 members of the battalion remained behind Allied lines and it was subsequently rebuilt.
10 July 1940 | Beginning of the Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain was an aerial battle between the Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe for control of the skies over southern Britain, a necessary prerequisite for the planned German invasion of the island. After some three months of intensive aerial operations both sides had lost heavily but the Germans were forced to abandon their plans for a cross-channel invasion of England.
11 July 1941 | Vichy French surrender in Syria
With the fall of Damour on 8 July, the Vichy French commander, General Henri Dentz, had sought an armistice on 08 July and at one minute past midnight on 12 July a ceasefire came into effect, ending the campaign.
The five-week long Syrian campaign represented the first occasion that the Australian 7th Division was committed to action. The campaign was based on the premise that the Vichy French forces would offer only token resistance, though this turned out not to be the case. Of the 34,000 Allied troops (Australian, British, Indian and Free French) committed to the campaign 3,900 became casualties.