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Middle East 1930 - 1947:

Syria 1941 – 1945

The countries of Syria and Lebanon were born out of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after the Great War. It became a French mandate, in a similiar manner to Palestine becoming a British mandate. With the defeat of France in August 1940, Syria (which was part of the French Army of the Levant) aligned itself with the new Vichy government.

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Higher Formations History and Personnel
» XIII Corps History & Personnel

On the 8 June 1941, British, Australian, Indian and Free French troops from Palestine invade the Vichy French held country of Syria, garrisoned by about 35,000 soldiers of the French Army of the Levant. The next day, Indian troops invaded Syria from Iraq, heading towards Palmyra. Allied troops captured Damascus on 21 June 1941. On 3 July 1941, the 10 Indian Infantry Division captured Deir ez Zor, and continued to advance down the Euphrates valley. Palmyra was captured on the same day. On the 7 July 1941, the town of Al Qamishliye in the north of Syria was taken by Allied troops, and the following day, El Haseke was also captured.

On 9 July 1941, Allied troops from ‘Habforce’ aattacked and secured the town of Homs, thereby encircling Vichy French troops in the coastal areas of Lebanon. Despite occasionally fierce resistance from the Vichy French defenders, on 9 July 1941, Allied forces broke into the outskirts of Beirut. On 12 July, Vichy French commanders sought an armistice, which was agreed with immediate effect.

With the defeat of the Vichy French forces in Syria, General Georges CATROUX was installed as the Free French governor and commander-in-chief of the Levant. CATROUX. On the 26 November 1941, shortly after taking up this post, Catroux recognized the independence of Lebanon and Syria in the name of Free France. Even so, a period of military occupation followed.

On the 1 November 1941, 9 Army was created to assume command of the Allied Forces in Syria, Lebanon and northern Iraq. This was as a consequence of the successful invasion of those countries earlier that year, and the threat of German incursion through the Caucasus Mountains.

On the 15 May 1943, 9 Army comprised:

XIII Corps;
10 Armoured Division;
5 Infantry Division;
8 Infantry Division;
XXV Corps;
10 Indian Division.

XXV Corps, which was based in Cyprus, was in effect, a deception formation. The only formation under command was the 10 Indian Infantry Division. The 8 Infantry Division was also a deception formation.

Lebanon became an independent state on the 8 November 1943 following democratic elections. Syria also became an independent state on the 1 January 1944. In February 1945, both countries declared war on Germany, although this was more of a gesture than anything.

9 Army remained in being until disbanded in August 1945. The forces in both Syria and Lebanon came under command of the Army on the Levant. This was a predominantly French command. A British Army battalion, the 1/6 Bn. The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) arrived in Lebanon in January 1946.

The British Government stated in Parliament that, ‘Inspired by the desire to eliminate in a lasting manner all differences of policy capable of prejudicing their respective interests, and damaging the good understanding which they propose to make even closer, the two Governments have recognized that it was in their joint interest to encourage, within the framework of international collaboration, the economic well-being and security of the peoples of the Middle East.’

British and French military delegations met in Beirut on the 21 December 1945. One of their key tasks was to agree an early date for the first measures of evacuation. The British and French Governments then commenced negotiations on the arrangements and timetable for the withdrawal of their troops from the two countries. The senior Army officer in the British delegation was Major General Robert Graham William Hawkins STONE, C.B., D.S.O., M.C., p.s.c..

The Provisional Government administered by the French was dissolved on the 20 January 1946. The last French troops left Syria on the 30 April 1946, and then pulled out of Lebanon on the 31 August 1946. The 1/6 Bn. The Queen’s Own Royal Regiment withdrew from the Lebanon at the same time.

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