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3/1st Punjabis and 4/6th Rajputana Rifles fighting the Vichy French in Syria, June 1941


Ce que vous avez fait, c’est incroyable.  Vos Indiens sont vraiment formidables.”

Vichy French officer to the Commander 5th Indian Infantry Brigade.




The French Mandate in Syria

After the First World War the Ottoman Empire was partitioned and the League of Nations allocated chunks of the former Turkish-ruled Middle East to Allies as mandated territories; the aim was that these territories were to be developed to the point of self-rule.  France was allocated the mandate for the present date Syria and Lebanon.  French rule over Syria was effective but not always popular and local insurgencies were ruthlessly suppressed.  Syria became autonomous in 1936 but France reserved the right to station military forces in the country, and in 1941 the French Army of the Levant in Syria and Lebanon contained around 40,000 troops with nearly 100 military aircraft and a few naval vessels in support.  One of the most proficient units in the Vichy Forces was the 6th Foreign Infantry Regiment of the French Foreign Legion.

France signed an Armistice with Germany in June 1940 and whilst German troops occupied Paris and northern France a large unoccupied zone in the south of the country was run by a French government established at Vichy.  This government retained control of most French overseas territories including Syria and Lebanon.  Whilst Vichy France never allied itself with Germany it did comply with certain German requests such as the deportation of Jews to Germany and the payment of reparations, and it did collaborate in certain military measures, particularly in Syria.  The Germans retained two million French prisoners of war as hostages in order to maintain pressure on the Vichy government, putting these men to work on German farms and in industrial locations.  After the formation of the Vichy Government the authorities in Syria accepted direction from that government as did most other overseas territories, particularly in North Africa.

Above: The GAAL (Groupe autonome d'artillerie du Levant) fought under the Vichy flag taking part in the fighting at Damascus, Khalde, Nebeck and Aleppo. They suffered 33 casualties with an original unit strength of 120.



Iraq and German intrigues in Syria

Iraq, another former Ottoman territory lying to the east of Syria, had been mandated to Britain but the British had granted independence to the country in 1932.  However the British retained by treaty effective control of the oil resources and the right to station troops in and move them through the country; many Iraqis angrily believed that these concessions meant that Britain still retained political control in Iraq.

On the outbreak of the second World War the government of Iraq broke off diplomatic relations with Germany, but when Italy allied itself with Germany in June 1940 the Iraqis maintained relations with Rome.  That quickly led to much Axis propaganda and subversive action within Iraq that was supported by the anti-British Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who had fled from British-mandated Palestine to Baghdad.  German military successes in Europe impressed the Iraqis but when Italy suffered reverses in East Africa and the Western Desert some of that enthusiasm waned.

On 1st April 1941 a coup d’etat in Iraq dismissed the government and placed power in the hands of Rashid Ali el Gailani, a former Prime Minister.  Supporting Rashid Ali was ‘The Golden Square’, a nick-name given to four prominent officers in the Iraq armed forces.  The Iraq army was British-trained and equipped and along with the Iraq Air Force the Golden Square was a formidable enemy.  This caused the Regent of Iraq, who was caretaking the throne for an infant king, to flee and gain sanctuary on a British war ship at Basra.  In mid-April Rashid Ali, on behalf of his ‘National Defence Government’ asked Germany for assistance in the event of a war with the British.

Although preoccupied by invading the Balkans and preparing to invade Russia Germany saw a chance to foment trouble in the British-dominated Middle East, but Hitler did not act quickly enough.  Britain, with air bases in Iraq, saw the threat clearly and troops that were embarking at Karachi in India for Malaya were diverted to Basra; when those troops  disembarked in Iraq 400 British soldiers were flown from Karachi to Habbaniya, the main British Iraqi base.  Concurrently The Golden Square’s Iraqi troops were advancing on Habbaniya from Baghdad and besieging the base.  On the 2nd May Britain responded to the Iraqi threat by using its air power against the forces investing Habbaniya, and a British-Iraqi war commenced.

Germany started flying war planes into Iraq from the eastern Mediterranean to support The Golden Square; the planes displayed Iraqi markings but the air crews and the ground crews at the destination airfields were all German.   Italy also sent planes and the Vichy Government permitted refuelling stops on Syrian airfields.  The Vichy Government also instructed General Henri Dentz, its commander in Syria, to provide arms and munitions for Rashid Ali and The Golden Square; later General Dentz claimed to have sent weapons that had mostly been sabotaged by his Vichy troops.  Some of these weapons were covertly sent through neutral Turkey by train or directly by road but some were flown into Iraq by German transport planes escorted by fighters.

The German intrusions into Syria and Iraq were too late to save the Iraqi Forces from being defeated as The Golden Square had moved too early against Habbaniya, and popular support for confrontation against the British fizzled out in the face of effective British aerial firepower.  But German use of Syrian airfields was a major threat to the stretched-out Allied military presence in the Middle East.  General Wavell, commanding the theatre from Cairo, wanted to leave Syria alone as he did not have the resources to fight with overwhelming force against General Dentz’s men, but in London Winston Churchill was egged on by the Free French leader General Charles De Gaulle, both men demanding action.  De Gaulle hoped that a quick victory in Syria would see the bulk of the Army of the Levant transferring its allegiance to himself as the leader of Free France.  Ironically Germany withdrew its planes and airfield support troops from Syria so that Britain would not have a reason to enter the country, but the die was cast.  On 8th June 1941 the Allies launched OPERATION EXPORTER and invaded Syria to eliminate the German forces that were presumed to be in that country.

Above: General Dentz (left) High Commissioner and Commander in Chief for the Vichy forces in Syria and Lebanon.

The Allies fondly believed that Vichy morale was low within the Army of the Levant and that many troops wanted to surrender.  But this five-week campaign was on many occasions to be a hard-fought one where Vichy French Foreign Legion and elite colonial troops were prepared to stand and fight and also to counter-attack valiantly against the Allies, particularly against De Gaulle’s Free French troops who were generally viewed in Syria as being disloyal to France.  


OPERATION EXPORTER – the plan

The British selected three invasion routes that led northwards from Palestine.  A coastal route had Beirut as its main military objective as the Vichy Forces HQ was located there; this was supported by an inland route to the east.  On its own further east was a route leading to Damascus, the main political objective because the Allies wished to separate the Syrian public from Vichy influence.  

The two western routes were used by two brigades from the 7th Australian Division whose third brigade was garrisoning Tobruk.  The eastern route was used by the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade Group that had seen recent fighting against the Italians in Eritrea, plus a weak Free French force of six battalions, one artillery battery and a few tanks.  This article describes the events that unfolded on this route.


The 5th Indian Infantry Brigade Group

The Brigade Group Commander was Brigadier W.L. Lloyd CBE DSO MC, a previous Commanding Officer of 4th Battalion 19th Hyderabad Regiment, and he split the Group into four columns:

‘A’ Column (Lieutenant Colonel L.B. Jones DSO, Rajputana Rifles).

·         4th Battalion 6th Rajputana Rifles;

·         one platoon Brigade Anti-Tank Company;

·         one section 18th Field Company Sappers & Miners.


 ‘B’ Column (Brigadier W.L. Lloyd).

·         HQ 5th Indian Infantry Brigade;

·         3rd Battalion 1st Punjab Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel H.E. Greatwood, 4/6th Rajputana Rifles attached to 3/1st Punjab Regiment);

·         1st Field Regiment Royal Artillery (less one troop);

·         Brigade Anti-Tank Company (less two platoons);

·         Two troops Light Anti-Aircraft Battery;

·         18th Field Company Sappers & Miners (less two Sections);

·         One Company 14th Field Ambulance.

 
 ‘C’ Column (OC C Company)

·         ‘C’ Company 1st Battalion The Royal Fusiliers; 

·         Detachment 18th Field Company Sappers & Miners.


  ‘D’ Column (Lieutenant Colonel A.D.G. Orr DSO, Royal Scots Fusiliers attached to 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers).

·         1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers (less one company);

·         9th Field Battery, Australian Imperial Force.

·         11th Field Battery (less one troop);

·         One platoon Brigade Anti-tank Company;

·         One section 18th Field Company Sappers & Miners (less detachment with Column ‘C’).  

The Free French who were advancing towards Damascus alongside 5th Indian Infantry Brigade provided left flank protection with two squadrons of Circassians (one horsed and one mechanised), one lorry-borne Spahi squadron, twelve H39 light medium tanks, five light armoured cars, one 75-mm and one 65-mm gun and one anti-tank rifle.


After 5th Indian Infantry Brigade had seized and secured the line Sheikh Meskine – Ezra it was planned that a mobile Free French force under General Legentilhomme, the former Governor of Djibouti, moving from Irbid was to pass through the 5th Brigade and advance on Damascus.  This mobile force consisted of Two Senegalese battalions, one Foreign Legion battalion (13th Demi-Brigade), two motorized companies of Marine Infantry, one company of Marine Fusiliers, one tractor-drawn battery of 75-mm guns, one anti-tank company, and one tank company.


The role of the Royal Air Force as far as it related to the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade was to provide close and direct air support and to bomb hostile aerodromes.


Right: Brigadier W.L. Lloyd CBE DSO MC




OPERATION EXPORTER commences – the capture of Sheikh Meskine


At 0200 hours on 8th June Allied troops advanced northwards in their vehicles into Syria.  ‘A’ Column detached a platoon of 4/6th Raj Rifs to seize the Chenab viaduct which was quickly achieved by Captain Adam Murray, OC ‘C’ Company, who gained a Military Cross, ably supported by Havildar Goru Ram who received an Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class (IOM, 2nd Class) and a Free French officer.  The details of this and subsequent actions are best gleaned from the award citations in Appendix 2.

The remainder of ‘A’ Column along with Column ‘B’ advanced in an attempt to surround Deraa, the Raj Rifs from the north and west and the Punjabis from south and east.  At 0530 hours a ‘pourparler’ party went forward hoping to arrange a Vichy surrender, but the party’s vehicle received an anti-tank round in the radiator which failed to explode.  The Vichy Senegalese troops chose to fight and Deraa was attacked by the Indians at 0730 hours; however most of the garrison escaped by train.  Naik Dost Mohammed of the Punjabis commanded the leading section in the attack and silenced a 75-mm gun firing at point-blank range; for this he received an Indian Distinguished Service Medal.  The local inhabitants of the region then descended on Deraa to loot it but were dispersed by the Raj Rifs.  During this period Vichy aircraft appeared and engaged the Indian troops in and around Deraa; these air attacks were to continue throughout the day and on subsequent days.

After a brief reorganisation the Raj Rifs maintained momentum and continued advancing on Sheikh Meskine whilst the Punjabis protected the right flank.  Vichy armoured cars interrupted the advance and the Brigade Anti-tank Company guns were used to disperse them.  The Light Anti-Aircraft guns with Brigade were also used with flexibility; in one encounter a troop engaged three Vichy aircraft and then switched to repelling an enemy armoured attack.  Major Edward Dacre Howard-Vyse was awarded a Military Cross and Sergeant Tor Walter Hamilton Duneclift received a Military Medal.  Both men served in 171 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Artillery.

Sheikh Meskine was reached and attacked at 1600 hours but the initial moves failed, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies of the Raj Rifs being held up by intense machine gun fire from the right flank whilst two carriers were hit and burned out by Vichy 75-mm guns.  The attack plan was then changed and ‘D’ Company was sent to seize a dominant enemy-occupied ridge 600 metres from the north-west corner of Sheikh Meskine.  The Company swung wide and attacked from the west, coming under heavy fire.  When the first two platoons were stalled by enemy fire Naik Bhopal Singh took over the reserve platoon after the commander had become a casualty and he stormed forward with three riflemen and destroyed two Vichy machine gun posts; the four sepoys killed over 40 men between them.  This allowed the leading platoon to advance and seize the ridge summit.  Bhopal Singh was awarded an IOM, 2nd Class.

During the battle Naik Mohammed Khan of the 52nd Field Battery displayed gallantry by driving under fire to deliver ammunition to the guns, ensuring that shortages of shells did not occur; he was awarded an Indian Distinguished Service Medal.  During the action the Battery fired 1,100 rounds.

The ridge was held for the night and Sheikh Meskine was attacked at 0430 hours, but the garrison had withdrawn.  The Vichy losses in the action had been 89 killed, wounded and captured with 10 machine guns and 2 Bofors guns being seized by the Brigade who had lost 9 sepoys killed, 36 wounded and 1 missing.  During the fighting Captain Alexander Hendrick Roosmalecocq, OC ‘D’ Company of the Raj Rifs, distinguished himself, as he had at Deraa, and he later received a Military Cross.

Meanwhile to the west ‘C’ Column had occupied the Fiq and El Aal areas whilst ‘D’ Column had fought for and seized Kuneitra.


The capture of Kissoue

As previously planned the Free French then moved through 5th Brigade to advance on and capture Kissoue with support from the RAF.  The Free French forces and 5th Brigade were combined under the command of General Legentilhomme and named GENTFORCE.  One squadron of armoured cars of the Royal Dragoons came forward to support GENTFORCE.  The attack on Kissoue failed and General Legentilhomme was wounded in an enemy dive-bombing attack and casevaced; GENTFORCE was placed under the command of Brigadier Lloyd, which led to Lieutenant Colonel Jones of the Raj Rifs being elevated to command the 5th Brigade.  Major R.B. Scott took over command of the Raj Rifs.

Kissoue was a strongly held and well-wired Vichy position and the defenders were a battalion each of Moroccans, Tunisians and Foreign Legion.  The attack plan was for the Punjabis to seize Kissoue Village and then the Raj Rifs would seize Tell Kissoue, a high rounded hill.  Flank protection was provided by the Free French to the east and a company Royal Fusiliers and the Circassians to the west.  Artillery and the RAF would provide support. 

At 0400 hours on 15th June all four Punjabi companies moved forward for a silent attack (no mortars, machine guns or artillery to be used before contact had been made) on Kissoue, carrying 30 wooden ladders that the sappers had made to assist in crossing the enemy anti-tank ditches and wire.  The defenders were in the process of handing over to a Senegalese unit.  The Punjabis got into the village and adjoining gardens and had some tough hand to hand fighting.  Several enemy soldiers submerged themselves to the neck in water courses in the gardens and fought from there.  Captain J.A.G. Harley was wounded and Subedar Dogar Singh took over from him, Harley later receiving a Military Cross and Dogar Singh an IOM, 2nd Class.  Kissoue was captured by 0830 hours but enemy snipers in the mosque caused problems for a few hours, as the Muslims in the battalion did not wish to see the mosque damaged.  Later ‘A’ Company of the Punjabis was attacked by enemy artillery and tanks but the sepoys used good hard cover and the attack failed.

During the night Signalman Banta Singh of the 5th Brigade Signal Section displayed bravery in carrying out continuous line repairs whilst under fire, and in carrying an 80-pound drum of cable forward whilst under ait attack.  He was awarded an Indian Distinguished Service Medal.

The Punjabis had suffered 33 casualties.  Jemadar Allah Ditta was killed; Major W.H.R. Clifford, Lieutenant B.N. Gilbertson, Subedar Mohammed Sher and 29 sepoys were wounded. 

At 0900 hours the Raj Rifs passed through the Punjabis and ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies attacked Tell Kissoue from the south-west.  The hill was seized, followed by ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies attacking another one named Tell Affair but then Vichy tanks counter-attacked strongly, driving ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies back.  Hectic fighting followed during which Lance Naik Majhi Khan and Havildar Habib Khan displayed heroism; Habib Khan who had also fought well at Deraa broke up an enemy counter attack and also recovered casualties from carriers hit by enemy tanks; he received an IOM, 2nd Class.  Mahji Khan was later to receive the same award but posthumously.  The 11th Field Battery fired 3,000 rounds to stop the Vichy French advance and this enemy counter attack was an ominous sign that the campaign was not going to be easy.


The surrender of Kuneitra

During the 15th June ten Vichy armoured cars pushed back positions of the Royal Fusiliers forward of Kuneitra and eleven enemy tanks plus Senegalese and Foreign Legion infantry units were brought forward.  The Fusiliers were outnumbered by around 1,000 men and their anti-tank guns had been deployed elsewhere by 5th Brigade HQ.  At 1045 hours on 16th June the Vichy force attacked Kuneitra.  The Fusiliers’ reserve ammunition had been dumped well back from the forward companies and Vichy firepower from the armoured vehicles prevented the ammunition being moved forward; the Fusiliers fought with the rounds in their pouches and were then killed or captured.  The defence failed because of its inability to deal with the Vichy armour.  At around 1730 hours under a flag of truce the enemy demanded that the Fusiliers surrender, and at 1800 hours Colonel Orr complied with that demand, surrendering the remnants of ‘D’ Column. The Vichy forces then withdrew with their prisoners.


The attack on Mouddamiya

Gentforce made tactical gains on the main road to Damascus and on one occasion the leading troops, in a good defensive position, were confronted by a Vichy Spahi (North African) cavalry charge.  The Raj Rif sepoys delayed their fire, wondering if in fact this brave but futile enemy attack was real, and then they got down to the task of killing the unfortunate Spahis and their mounts.  The survivors limped off the battlefield.

As the Vichy troops in Damascus showed no sign of wanting to move or surrender, Brigadier Lloyd’s next objective was the seizure of Mezze Village and the surrounding area, lying west of Damascus, by his Indian troops whilst the Free French seized Damascus.  But first the hamlet of Mouddamiya had to be attacked and seized and this task was allocated to the Punjabis.

At 2000 hours on 18th June ‘A’ (Captain Harley), ‘C’ (Lieutenant Shoosmith) and ‘D’ (Lieutenant Tiwana) Companies of the Punjabis moved against Mouddamiya, receiving enemy artillery fire and aerial bombs as they advanced.  ‘B’ Company (Major Clifford) held Jebel Madani in the rear.  ‘A’ Company was to capture the village whilst the other two companies provided left flank protection.  The Vichy defenders held strong positions with several machine guns and armoured cars.

 ‘A’ Company attacked in pitch darkness and the enemy fought hard, garden by garden.  Jemadar Bhagat Singh led by example, destroying three machine gun posts, and sadly being killed by a fourth; he was awarded a posthumous IOM, 2nd Class.  Enemy armoured vehicles were found in the dark one by one and destroyed.  ‘A’ Company completed its task and captured the hamlet but only 27 sepoys were still standing at the end of the fight.  Captain Harley was awarded a Military Cross for his gallantry here and previously at Kissoue.

Above: Map of Damascus area



Heroism in the taking of Mezze


By seizing and holding Mezze 5th Brigade would be able to prevent Vichy reinforcements moving to Damascus from the west, thus making the Free French task easier.  However by going for Mezze Brigadier Lloyd was taking a massive risk as he was thrusting what remained of his Brigade into the unknown and he did not have the reserves to provide support if the operation went wrong.  The enemy were well established in the area and they still wanted to fight.

Major Bernard Fergusson was a staff officer attached to the Free French HQ and in his book The Trumpet in the Hall he describes the scene where Colonel Jones (acting commander of 5th Brigade) spoke his mind to Brigadier Lloyd (commanding GENTFORCE) in a very prescient manner about the danger of moving on Mezze:

“We were now held up all along the line of the range; but a plan was hatched for a new attack, with the French in the centre and the Indians, or some of them, thrusting on the left.  They were to try and get along the last few miles of the Kuneitra – Damascus road, and to cut at Mezze (where the airfield was, and still is) the road between Damascus and Beirut, a mile or so west of the city.

It was a grim task, and we all knew it as Lloyd gave out his orders, glancing from time to time at his much-folded and dust-stained map.  The colonel pondered them, looking at his own map, consulting his pencilled notes, and asking an occasional question.  At last he looked direct at Lloyd and said: “I think you are condemning my men to death, Sir.”

Lloyd looked back at him, and said: ”If you won’t do it, I’ll have to find somebody who will.”  There was a long pause; there was not a sound; my heart was bleeding for the colonel.  At last he said: ”In that case of course I’ll do it.”” 

  Whilst the Punjabis fought for Mouddamiya the Raj Rifs moved towards Mezze and the Brigade Transport moved along a parallel road more suitable for wheeled traffic.  The Transport moved too quickly and got ahead of its flanking infantry, running into an enemy roadblock; six trucks with ammunition, mortars and rations were seized by the Vichy troops before ‘C’ Company of the Punjabis arrived to disperse the enemy.  The surviving vehicles then joined the infantry column.

A 0430 hours Mezze was reached and two Punjabi companies moved to seize surrounding tactical points whilst two Raj Rifs companies moved to isolate the village from the north, west and east.  Colonel Greatwood used his ‘D’ Company to attacked the village and capture 40 prisoners.  On the outskirts ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies Raj Rifs got into heavy firefights with enemy armour whilst ‘D’ Company cleared the right portion of the village. 

‘D’ Company of the Punjabis fought with gusto and Sepoy Sabit Ullah knocked out an enemy 75-mm gun that was holding up the attack.  Subedar Mohamed Abar, the second in command of the Punjabi ‘D’ company knocked out two tanks with grenades. Both men received IOMs, 2nd Class.  Captain Robertson and Lieutenant Shoosmith fought well and gallantly, as they had done previously, and both received the Military Cross.

After an hour the village was captured and about 40 Vichy prisoners taken.  The village was then hastily defended with road blocks, stones and barbed wire already there.  The Brigade HQ and the two Battalion HQs plus the ‘D’ Companies of both battalions were established in a large building named Mezze House and the adjoining garden.

Meanwhile Punjabi attempts to capture two forts adjoining Mezze using ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies did not go well.  The first fort was seized but an attack on the second fort was beaten back by flanking enemy machine gun fire.  The Punjabis occupied the first fort but were subjected to intense shell, mortar and machine gun fire that caused heavy casualties; this forced a move into woods adjoining the main road.  2nd Lieutenant M.V. Glaskin fared better with two platoons of ‘C’ Company, he captured the prison building and repelled two Vichy counter attacks; for this he received a Military Cross.
 

The Vichy French capture of Mezze and its Indian defenders

A critical part of Lloyd’s plan was that the Free French would attack Quadim, a town south of Damascus, to draw off Vichy troops from attacking 5th Brigade at Mezze.  But the Free French did not attack, perhaps because a planned RAF bombing raid on Quadim did not materialise but also because of unwillingness to fight other Frenchmen, and this left Mezze isolated and surrounded by strong enemy units.  By 1000 hours many enemy tanks supported by mounted cavalry had appeared and with their superior firepower they started rounding up the sepoys who were preparing roadblocks and defences around Mezze; by 1400 hours this task had been completed and the prisoners were marched off to Vichy barracks.  The surviving sepoys fell back upon Mezze House.

Lance Corporal Majhi Khan of the Raj Rifs fought to the death against enemy armour and was later posthumously awarded an IOM, 2nd Class.  Captain C.J. Boulter of the Punjabis commanded the 5th Brigade Anti-tank Company and he deployed his guns well for a time at Mezze, destroying enemy armour as he had done at Sheikh Miskine; he was awarded a Military Cross.  Lieutenant P.R. Shoosmith and Captain J.A. Robertson, both of the Punjabis, also fought well in and around Mezze and both men also received the Military Cross.

By noon on 19th June the British defence was centred in and around Mezze House.  The owner’s wine and petrol stores were plundered to produce petrol-filled bottles used as ‘Molotov Cocktails’ to keep advancing enemy armour at bay.  Despite limiting fire to single shots only, and collecting rounds from the pouches of the wounded and the dead, ammunition began to run short.  The fruit from the trees in the garden was collected and issued as rations.  The radios in Mezze House were not working but three officers selected by Colonel Jones got through the Vichy lines to request urgent assistance from the Rear Headquarters of 5th Brigade; each man carried the same written message in the hope that at least one would get through. 

Colonel Greatwood of the Punjabis was seriously wounded whilst organizing the defence and the sepoy casualties in Mezze house were vulnerable to becoming wounded again.  The number of Vichy prisoners had increased to 80 and they had to be confined under guard in the ground floor of Mezze House.  Wounded sepoys reported to the aid post for their wounds to be dressed with torn-up sheets and then, if possible, they returned to their posts.  The Raj Rif’s Medical Officer, Captain S.N. Chatterjee, was later awarded the Military Cross for the gallantry he displayed in bringing in wounded and tending to them under fire.

Colonel Jones kept the fight going throughout the following night and morning, but by 1330 hours on 20th June the enemy brought artillery forward so that it could fire directly at Mezze house.  Part of the roof collapsed burying many wounded including Colonel Greatwood, who later died of wounds.  The Royal Air Force did not put in an appearance.

At GENTFORCE General Legentilhomme had come forward to resume command and Brigadier Lloyd reverted to commanding 5th Brigade from his Rear Headquarters whilst his Brigade was being destroyed at Mezze.  The three officers from Mezze arrived at 0500 hours on 20th June after an epic journey across the roofs of Mezze and then through thick cacti hedges.  The notes requesting assistance were handed over and Lloyd despatched some Australian troops who had become available, but they had to fight their way forward and they could not reach Mezze in time.  When they got there Mezze House was empty apart from around 30 sepoy corpses lying in the gardens. 

One of the three officers who carried the messages from Mezze was Jemadar Hoshiar Singh of the Raj Rifs; for his bravery he received an Indian Distinguished Service Medal and a French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star.  The other two officers were Captain Andre Brunnell of the Free French Forces and Lieutenant F.G. Caldwell MC, Royal Engineers.  Frank Griffiths Caldwell of 18 Field Company, Sappers & Miners, was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross.

Around 1400 hours at Mezze House Colonel Jones sent out a captured Vichy officer under a flag of truce to talk to his compatriots and request a pause in the battle so that the wounded sepoys could be removed from danger.  This officer returned with a party of Senegalese who immediately rushed into and amongst the sepoys, killing two at the garden entrance, and demanded surrender.  Many sepoys, having seen the white flag of truce, were unsure as to what was happening.  Some Raj Rifs attempted to break out but the Vichy force was overwhelming and Colonel Jones surrendered his surviving 200 men who were swiftly placed in captivity.  The enemy Senegalese troops, who had suffered casualties in Mezze, were aroused and wanted to continue killing but were kept in check by their officers.

Of the Punjabis Colonel Hugh Egerton Greatwood and Lieutenant Bruce Noel Gilbertson died of wounds, Jemadars Ahmad Hussein, Nazar Mohammad, Bhagat Singh, Mul Singh and Ditta Khan fell mortally wounded; 19 sepoys had been killed, 96 wounded and 92 were missing.  Rajputana Rifles casualties are harder to track down as the Regimental History is not specific about them, but 23 names appear on the Beirut Cremation Memorial, and 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Charles Masterson and three sepoys are buried in Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery, as is Colonel Greatwood whose regiment was the 6th Rajputana Rifles.  Many Raj Rifs must have been wounded as the Battalion strength after the Syrian fighting was around 240 all ranks.  (The above casualty figures cover all actions in Syria.)

Subadar Niaz Ali Khan IOM of the Raj Rifs fought until his position was destroyed and he was later promoted to the Indian Order of Merit, 1st Class.  Subadar Amar Singh of the same Regiment later received an IOM, 2nd Class for coolness and gallantry displayed throughout the campaign.  Eighteen sepoys of the Punjabis and five of the Raj Rifs received Indian Distinguished Service Medals.  Brigadier Lloyd CBE DSO MC received a Bar to his Distinguished Service Order.  



Left: Map of advance on Damascus




The capture of Damascus


Whilst Colonel Jones gallantly fought to the end at Mezze two Allied columns, one of Australians and the other of Free French, fought towards Damascus which was entered and seized on 21st June.  Sucha Singh, a Havildar in 5th Brigade’s Transport Company who was transporting Australian troops was awarded an Indian Distinguished Service Medal for his coolness and courage when coming under enemy artillery fire.

This development, along with Allied activity on other routes into Syria, particularly the operations of elements of Major General W.J. Slim’s 10th Indian Division that moved west from Iraq, resulted in the Vichy authorities opening negotiations for a surrender.

Although all three of the battalion HQs in his brigade had surrendered Brigadier Lloyd soldiered on with the remnants in the Katana area.  The Brigadier is reported as saying: “I have no more than two captains and six lieutenants under my command”.  However more survivors trickled in, primarily escapees and Punjabi sepoys from the operations around Mezze.  Major D.I. Morrison took over command of the Punjabis, and one of his officers, 2nd Lieutenant Eric Selby Ennals was killed by enemy shell fire just before hostilities ended.

On 14th July an armistice was signed at Acre that included the return of prisoners of war.  This caused problems when it was discovered that the Vichy authorities had flown several officers of 5th Brigade to Salonika in German controlled Greece, from where they had been put on trains for France.  Eventually these officers were returned by sea from Marseilles and an equivalent number of Vichy French officers who had been held as security were then released.  Most Vichy soldiers in Syria elected not to join the Free French, and they were shipped by the Allies to France and North Africa.





Endnote


In the Autumn of 1946 Compton Mackenzie, who had been requested to write a history of the Indian Army in the Second World War, was sent on a journey of all the battlefields.  After visiting Mezze he wrote in his book All Over The Place:

“We drove out to see the cemetery of the 3/1st Punjabis and 4/6th Rajputana Rifles which is hardly a quarter of a mile from Mezze House.  The inscription over one large square grave says: ‘35 Indian Soldiers are honoured here’.  They were all too badly mutilated for identification.  Presumably this outrage was committed by Senegalese troops, but it reflects gravely on the French officers and N.C.O.s.”

Subsequently the Commonwealth War Graves Commission moved the human remains to Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery.  There are no reports of mutilations of corpses in any of the other books listed below under Sources, but that does not mean that such incidents did not happen.

APPENDIX 1. 


List of Gallantry Awards for operations in Syria to Indian Army personnel serving in the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade.

1.    Bar to the Distinguished Service Order: Brigadier Wilfrid Lewis Lloyd.

  2.    Indian Order of Merit 1st Class: Subadar Niaz Ali Khan, 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.

  3.    Indian Order of Merit 2nd Class: Subadar Dogar Singh (Posthumous Award); Subadar Mohammed Akbar; Jemadar Bhagat Singh; and No. I2893 Sepoy Sabit Ullah.  All four men served in 3/1st Punjab Regiment. Subadar Amar Singh; No. 14778 Havildar Goru Ram; No. 14684 Havildar Habib Khan; No. 15159 Naik Bhopal Singh; and No. 14615 Lance Naik Mahji Khan (Posthumous Award).  All five men served in 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.

  4.    Military Cross: Captain Charles John Boulter; Captain J.A.G. Harley; Captain John Alastair Robertson; Lieutenant Peter Reginald Shoosmith; and 2nd Lieutenant Moritz Vanovy Glaskin.  All five men served in 3/1st Punjab Regiment.

Captain Adam Turner Murray; and Captain Alexander Hendrick Roosmalecocq, both serving in 4/6th Rajputana Rifles. 

Captain Sailendranath Chatterjee, Indian Medical Service attached to 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.

  5.    Indian Distinguished Service Medal No. 10184 Havildar Abdul Aziz; No. 8604 Havildar Harnath Singh; No. 7363 Havildar Kala Khan; No. 10814 Havildar Muhammad Alam Khan; No. 11540 Havildar Rasul Khan; No. 8461 Havildar Sapuran Singh; No 10607 Acting Havildar Abbas Khan; No. 7680 Naik Abdul Rahman; No. 9894 Naik Bachan Singh; No. 11838 Naik Dost Muhammad; No. 10476 Naik Sardara Singh; No. 10312 Lance Naik Sultan Singh; No. 11353 Sepoy Baghrawat Singh; No. 13974 Sepoy Bakhtawar Singh; No. 7889 Sepoy Fazal Rahman; No. 13632 Sepoy Moman Shah; No. 12971 Sepoy Mir Ahmad; and No. 11538 Sepoy Sardara Singh.   All 18 men served in 3/1st Punjab Regiment.

No. IO.11775 Jemadar Hoshiar Singh; No. 12517 Lance Naik Kera Ram; No. 14835 Lance Naik Saghat Singh; No. 15787 Rifleman Amilal Ram; and No. 16048 Rifleman Sanwat Singh. All five men served in 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.


No. 15731 Naik Mohammed Khan, 52nd Field Battery, 1st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

No. A550 Signalman Banta Singh, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade Signal Section.

No. 505369 Havildar Sucha Singh, Royal Indian Army Service Corps, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade Transport Company.


Endnote.

The 16th British Infantry Brigade arrived from Egypt after the Syrian campaign had commenced and one sepoy in the 4th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, was awarded an Indian Distinguished Service Medal: No. A.316 Signalman Amar Singh, Signal Section, 4 Field Regiment.

APPENDIX 2.


Selected citations for awards for service on operations in Syria made to Indian Army personnel.  Citations in each category are shown in the chronological order of the respective actions and place names have been added in brackets where necessary to assist in the following of the advance.

1.    Bar to the Distinguished Service Order:

Brigadier W.L. Lloyd CBE DSO MC.

For outstanding leadership in the operations between June 12th and 21st culminating in the capture of DAMASCUS. 

On June 12th owing to the Commander of 1st Division Free French Legion becoming a casualty, Brigadier LLOYD assumed direction of the combined attack on the Kissoue position by the Free French troops and his own Brigade.

Throughout the seven days’ continuous hard fighting, in spite of unexpected strong opposition and definite threats to his flanks and communications, Brigadier LLOYD did not allow any deviation from his objective and maintained the impetus of the force though it was frequently forced to give ground by counter attack from enemy armoured fighting vehicles, weakened by casualties and tiring in increasing ration daily.

It was due to his initiative, forcefulness and untiring energy in the face of many threats and setbacks together with his capacity for inspiring tired troops to continue to attack that DAMASCUS was taken with the forces available.


  2.    Indian Order of Merit, 1st Class.

Subadar Niaz Ali Khan IOM, 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.

This Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer was Second-in-Command of his Company from 8th June 1941, until his Company Commander became a casualty during an attack on 16th June 1941, when he took command.  His gallantry and devotion to duty were outstanding throughout the operations.  His leadership and initiative were of a high order.  He maintained perfect control of his company during all the confusion of a night advance on 18th/19th June and by daring and resolute action established himself on his objective.  There he held on disrupting enemy communications, despite all efforts of the enemy to dislodge him.  He used every weapon but without success against tanks and finally being forced to retire by a combined force of cruiser tanks, infantry and cavalry at 0900 hours, he withdrew in good order and held on to his allotted sector until not a round of ammunition was left.  He was forced to surrender only when the enemy blew up his HQ with dynamite.


  3.    Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class

  a.   No. 14778 Havildar Goru Ram, 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.

This Non-Commissioned Officer showed the greatest gallantry and devotion to duty throughout the operation which led to the capture of an important viaduct (CHEHAB) on the 8th June 1941.  When his company commander decided to go forward with one man only to cut the wire round the enemy picquet guarding the high explosive charge on the bridge, he insisted on being that man.  When the enemy discovered their presence, Havildar Goru Ram joined his company commander in the assault with a tommy gun on the enemy post.  His conduct contributed largely to the successful outcome of a hazardous enterprise.  He displayed complete disregard for personal danger on this occasion and throughout subsequent operations on the same day.


  b.     No. 15159 Naik BHOPAL SINGH, 4/6th Rajputana Rifles

(SHEIKH MESKINE)  During an attack on the enemy on 8th June 1941, Naik Bhopal Singh took over command of his platoon when both the Platoon Commander and Platoon Havildar became casualties.  When the attack was launched his platoon, which was in reserve, advanced with company headquarters under heavy fire to a position some 350 yards from the objective – a low ridge which was heavily held and which dominated the surrounding country.  When the leading platoon was held up by intense machine gun fire, Naik Bhopal Singh led his platoon, which by then had sustained eight casualties, directly against the foremost post.  Under intense fire, he assaulted the post with three other men.  Armed with a tommy gun, he himself annihilated the enemy post and rushed to attack another post on the flank.   His conduct so inspired his platoon which was still in the rear that it rushed forward to support him, thereby consolidating success and enabling the objective to be captured.  His outstanding bravery and determination in this action saved a critical situation, as the company was isolated and enemy armoured fighting vehicles were operating on the flank.  The total enemy losses included ten machine guns and 89 killed, wounded and captured.  The conduct of this Non-Commissioned Officer continued to be superb during subsequent operations.

  c.     Subadar DOGAR SINGH, 3/1st Punjabis.

Subadar DOGAR SINGH, 3/1st Punjab Regiment, was 2nd-in-Command of ‘A’ Company during the operations commencing with the capture of KISSOUE village on the morning of the 15th June 1941; and later commanded A Company after Captain HARLEY was wounded.  On the afternoon of the 16th June the enemy put in a heavy counter-attack with tanks and infantry against ‘A’ Company holding the East end of the village of KISSOUE.  At that moment the Company Commander was not present.  Subadar Dogar Singh immediately organised the Company with all available anti-tank rifles and Bren Guns; and succeeded in successfully breaking up this counter attack.  The French officer commanding who surrendered and was taken prisoner, personally congratulated Subadar Dogar Singh on this achievement.

A few days later on the 19th June Captain HARLEY was wounded and Subadar DOGAR SINGH took charge of the remaining men of his company.  On the 20th June his company was ordered to capture the second fort overlooking MEZZE.  He carried out his orders with promptitude and skill which resulted in the capture of this fort.  Immediately on occupying this fort he asked for a gunner observation post to be established inside.  This was carried out and later was instrumental in the final capture of the remaining forts.  His keenness and determination to overcome the strong opposition against him went a long way to inspire confidence in the men under his command.

  d.     No. 14684 Havildar HABIB KHAN, 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.

  DERAA and KISSOUE (SYRIA) 8th and 16th June 1941.  Havildar Habib Khan commanded a section of the Carrier Platoon during the operations of 7-8th June 1941.  On the morning of the 8th June in the attack on DERAA, while operating with ‘A’ Company he displayed great initiative by taking up a position astride the road leading out of the town and thereby cutting off the enemy line of escape.  This necessitated a quick and accurate appreciation of the situation and bold handling of his section.  He then attempted to cut the railway line but failing to reach it in time engaged an escaping train with heavy fire.  Later in the advance from DERAA this Non-Commissioned Officer handled his section with great skill and determination and was largely instrumental in helping the leading elements forward.  The skill and determination with which he handled his section and the initiative he displayed during this day’s operations, were of a high order.

Again in the actions of the 16th June around KISSOUE Havildar Habib Khan led his section with considerable gallantry.  In the morning he assisted the Platoon Commander in an attack by 4 carriers on the enemy positions to the left of KISSOUE and though under heavy fire remained in position firing on the enemy until they withdrew.  About 1500 hours this Havildar led his carriers out to break up a counter attack on the 3/1st Punjab Regiment position to the right of the village and assisted in breaking the enemy resistance and rounding up many prisoners by skilful use of his section.  At 1700 hours when the two other carrier Sections and ‘C’ Company had been forced by enemy tanks to retreat Havildar Habib Khan, using his initiative, took his carriers out of reserve and advanced to rescue a crew of three Rajputs whose carrier had been knocked out by the tanks.  He then went out again while the tanks were still in position and brought back Captain MURRAY who was wounded and two other wounded Riflemen from ‘C’ Company.  Throughout the operations this Havildar’s example and leadership were a great inspiration to all who saw him.

  e.    Jemadar BHAGAT SINGH, 3/1st Punjabis. (MOUDDAMIYA).

  Jemadar Bhagat Singh led his platoon during an attack launched by a company on the night of 18/19th June 1941.  The company was under heavy machine gun and rifle fire and casualties were fairly heavy, but he inspired his men to advance keeping up their spirits and maintaining the momentum of the attack.  After about three hours heavy fighting and rapid advance, the Company came up against three strongly held machine gun pillboxes.  The fire was heavy; the men very tired, and their number considerably depleted; nevertheless this Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer led them forward with confidence and determination.  His attack caused the enemy to run.  In the very final stages, a fourth pillbox opened up rapid fire and Jemadar Bhagat Singh was killed.  His gallant efforts and confident leadership as a platoon commander were exemplary.  He set a wonderful example to all his company.

  f.     No. I2893 Sepoy SABIT ULLAH, 3rd Battalion 1st PUNJAB REGIMENT.

In the action against MEZZE (outskirts of DAMASCUS) on the night of 18th June 1941, Sepoy SABIT ULLAH showed great gallantry in attacking single-handed, an enemy 75mm gun which was holding up the advance.  The gun was firing straight down the main MEZZE-QUENEITRA road, at point blank range.  Sepoy SABIT ULLAH, acting on his own initiative, worked his way to within a few yards of the gun position and then, by a burst of Tommy Gun fire inflicted casualties on the gun crew and set the ammunition lorry on fire.  The burning lorry forced the gun position to be evacuated completely by the enemy and the advance continued.  Sepoy SABIT ULLAH showed great courage and devotion to duty by this act as he was exposed to heavy fire from other arms during this episode.

g.     Subadar MOHAMMED AKBAR, 3rd Battalion 1st PUNJAB REGIMENT.

In the action against MEZZE (outskirts of DAMASCUS) on the night of 18th June 1941, Subadar Mohammed Akbar, who was 2nd-in-Command of his Company, was cut off from the main body by approaching enemy tanks.  Subadar Mohammed Akbar with two men hid behind a low mud wall until the leading tank was opposite the wall.  He then attacked it with grenades and rifle fire; the crew, attempting to escape, was destroyed by the Subadar’s party.  Whilst he and his men were putting the tank out of action, a second tank approached.  Their former tactics were repeated; again the tank was destroyed and this time the crew were taken prisoner.  Subadar Mohammed Akbar showed great courage and initiative in leading this party into action, whilst under heavy fire from other supporting arms.  His action caused other enemy tanks to withdraw and enabled him to lead his party back to join the main body.  Having rejoined his Company this Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer continued to show great devotion to duty in pressing home the attack.  He was subsequently wounded whilst leading a further attack against enemy tanks.

The following is a true extract from a report received by me from Lieutenant Colonel L.B. JONES DSO, 4th Rajputana Rifles, who was Acting Brigade Commander at MEZZE:-

“Subadar MOHAMMED AKBAR of your Battalion put up a truly magnificent show when the forces under my command entered MEZZE on 19th June 1941.  Single handed he laid out the crews of two enemy guns which were in action covering the approaches to the village.”

h.     No. 41615 Lance Naik MAJHI KHAN (Deceased), 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.

SYRIA 8th – 20th June 1941.  No. 14615 Lance Naik Majhi Khan was an outstanding example of gallantry and devotion to duty during the operations in Syria 8th – 20th June 1941.  At KISSOUE on 16th June when the enemy counter attacked with tanks he refused to be daunted and made his section put up a determined stand.  Again during the dawn attack on JEBEL MADANI on   June 1941 his determination alone enabled his tired and thirsty section to reach its objective.  At MEZZE when holding a forward position astride the road DAMASCUS – BAIRUT and heavily attacked by enemy cruiser tanks and cavalry on 19th June he refused to withdraw although wounded severely in both legs by two pounder shell; he kept on exhorting his men to hold on.  Finally he refused to be carried back and remained at the post where he died in covering the withdrawal of his Company

  i.      Subadar AMAR SINGH, 4/6th Rajputana Rifles.

The gallantry, devotion to duty and complete disregard of personal danger shown by Subadar AMAR SINGH during operations in Syria 8th – 20th June 1941 were of the highest order.  In all operations he remained cool, calm and condident, never hesitating to show himself in a place of danger and so inspiring all who saw him.  As senior Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer in a Company which had suffered recent and heavy losses in ERITREA he was responsible, in no mean measure, for the high morale shown by his company in Syria.  On many occasions it was his example of cheerful acceptance of hardships and orders which inspired tired and thirsty men to carry on.

    4.    Military Cross

a.     Captain Adam Turner MURRAY.  4/6th Rajputana Rifles (Outram’s).  Place: Deraa (Syria). Date: 8th June 1941.

Prior to commencement of operations against DERAA on the night of 7/8th June 1941, Captain A.T. Murray was entrusted with the task of securing intact the CHEHAB railway viaduct which had been prepared for demolition.  He personally led the platoon detailed for operation, through difficult and unreconnoitred country, passed two enemy posts unobserved and on reaching the bridge went forward accompanied with only one Non-Commissioned Officer cut and entered the wire enclosure guarding the enemy demolition party.  His presence was then discovered and on the hearing of a bolt click he charged the post with a Tommy Gun killing or wounding all the occupants.  In accordance with his plan the bridge guard and another isolated post which covered the approaches to the bridge were rushed simultaneously by the rest of the platoon thus making the removal of the charge possible.  On relief by a detachment of the Transjordan Frontier Force Captain MURRAY successfully withdrew his Company in face of enemy opposition in time to take part in subsequent operations on 8.6.41.  His conduct throughout showed gallantry, devotion to duty, and leadership of the highest order.

  b.    Captain Alexander Hendrick ROOSMALECOCQ, 4th Battalion (Outram’s), 6th Rajputana Rifles.  Place: SYRIA.  Date: 8th-20th June 1941.

Throughout the operations 8th-20th June 1941 Captain ALEXANDER HENDRICK ROOSMALECOCQ was outstanding for his gallantry, leadership and initiative.  When his Company was held up by armoured cars at DERAA during the early hours of 8th June 1941 he gave orders for the cars to be surrounded.  Whilst this operation was being carried out he himself rushed forward alone and compelled two of them to surrender by telling the crews that they were surrounded.

Later on the same day it was his Company which through his fearless leadership carried out a successful flank march and captured with heavy loss to the enemy the key point of the Vichy French position at SHEIKH MISKINE.  His Company again distinguished itself during operations at KISSOUE and until captured at MEZZE during the battle for DAMASCUS on 20th June 1941.  On that occasion he made a final gallant but unsuccessful sortie in an attempt to break through the investing enemy infantry and tanks.

Captain ROOSMALECOCQ showed a complete disregard for personal danger of every kind and was a source of great inspiration to his officers and men on all occasions.

  c.     Captain J.A.G. HARLEY, 3rd Battalion 1st PUNJAB REGIMENT.

This recommendation is written in the actual words of the late Lieutenant Colonel H.E. GREATWOOD.  They were dictated to Captain P.J.R. PETIT MC (The Adjutant) as Colonel Greatwood lay wounded in the house in MEZZE.  Captain PETIT kept the documents with him during the period he was a prisoner of war.

Attack on KISSOUE, 15th June 1941.  

“Captain J.A.G. Harley.  At KISSOUE (15th June 1941) was commanding the right company which had to attack the main centre of enemy resistance.  He led his men on with firmness and set a fine example by personally leading any subunits forward which showed any hesitation in facing the very heavy fire.  During the night attack on DAMASCUS his Company was sent to attack MOUDAMMIYE (19th June 1941).  This wood was strongly held by armoured cars and machine gun posts.  The object was to cause a distraction for the main move round the flank.  His tactics were so successful that a column was able to get round with very little resistance.”

Lieutenant Colonel Greatwood directed that this recommendation be altered to “BAR TO MILITARY CROSS” if Captain Harley received the MILITARY CROSS for which his name was submitted on 25 March 1941.  (A hand-written note on the recommendation states “No award according to Card Index.”)

  d.    Captain Charles John BOULTER, 3/1st PUNJAB REGIMENT attached 5 Indian Infantry Brigade.  DERAA – DAMASCUS 8-19 June 1941.

Commanded the Brigade Anti Tank Company with great determination, coolness and gallantry throughout the whole of the operations from 8 to 19 June culminating in the capture of DAMASCUS.

He personally commanded the Anti Tank Platoon which was sent to Sheikh Miskine to protect the Line of Communication after the capture of EZRAA by the enemy and later commanded the Anti Tank guns which protected the flanks of the Field artillery when firing on the outskirts of MEZZE at close ranges.  In both these engagements the Anti Tank guns he commanded were under close and accurate small arms fire, but by his coolness and skilful handling he not only succeeded in driving off enemy tanks and armoured cars but extricated his guns without serious loss.

His courage and neglect of personal safety were most marked and the handling of his guns an essential contribution to the success of the whole operations.

  e.    Lieutenant Peter Reginald SHOOSMITH, 3rd Battalion 1st Punjab Regiment.

This recommendation is written in the actual words of the late Lieutenant Colonel H.E. GREATWOOD.  They were dictated to Captain P.J.R. PETIT MC (The Adjutant) as Colonel Greatwood lay wounded in the house in MEZZE.  Captain PETIT kept the documents with him during the period he was a prisoner of war.

Attack on MEZZE, 18th June 1941.  “Lieutenant P.R. SHOOSMITH commanding the Advance Guard on arrival at MEZZE, forced his way into a strong point by rushing the gate whilst under fire from all kinds of enemy weapons.  He rounded up a big gun and set fire to an ammunition truck.  His behavious and leadership throughout was outstanding and he was an example of bravery to all ranks at Tummar West, Keren and in Syria.”

  f.     Captain John Alistair ROBERTSON, 3rd Battalion 1st PUNJAB REGIMENT.

True copy of a report from Lieutenant Colonel L.B. JONES DSO, 4 RAJAPUTANA RIFLES who was acting Brigade Commander at MEZZE.  “I wish to place a record, for such action as may be considered necessary, the gallantry shown by Lieutenant Robertson of your Battalion during the operations at MEZZE 18th – 20th June 1941

He was absolutely fearless and tireless in his efforts to organise and encourage scattered elements of the force, which entered Mezze, under my command.  He was all the time cheerful and unperturbed and to him, in no mean measure, is due credit for inspiring his men to put up the heroic resistance which they did.”

  g.    2nd Lieutenant MORITZ VANOVY GLASKIN, 3/1st Punjab Regiment. 

On 19th June 2nd Lieutenant GLASKIN’s Company was Advance Guard to a small mixed force moving on MEZZE.  On arrival at the aerodrome the force moved towards the hills to the North West.  Here they came under heavy medium machine gun fire.  2nd Lieutenant Glaskin formed up his Company to attack.  Whilst they were forming up 2nd Lieutenant Glaskin got his 2-inch mortar into action and silenced 3 medium machine gun posts.

Placing himself at the head of his Company and cheering them on, he led his Company to the attack and in face of heavy fire captured the position.  Later in the day 2nd Lieutenant Glaskin again placed himself at the head of his company, and again leading the attack captured the prison which was strongly held.  The prison was at once heavily counter-attacked.  2nd Lieutenant Glaskin by his personal disregard of danger further inspired his tired troops and the counter-attack was repulsed.  Throughout the operations 2nd Lieutenant Glaskin showed leadership of the highest order, his example being an inspiration to all ranks.

  h.    Captain SAILENDRA NATH CHATTERJEE, Indian Medical Service, 4th Battalion (Outram’s) 6th Rajputana Rifles.   Syria.  8th – 20th

The gallantry and devotion to duty in attending to and bringing in wounded under fire shown by Captain CHATTERJEE during operations in Syria 8th – 20th June 1941 were beyond praise.  During the attack on SHEIKH MISKINE on 8th June 1941 he went unhesitatingly right up to the front line, attended to and removed under heavy fire a Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer who was lying seriously wounded in the open.  At MEZZE on 19th June he again went, despite the presence of enemy tanks in the village, attended to and brought in a wounded British officer.  When shells were falling on MEZZE house on 20th June he was the first to rush upstairs to rescue wounded from the upper story.  His attention to the wounded at all times has been marked by complete and supreme disregard of personal danger or fatigue.

  5.   Indian Distinguished Service Medal

  a.    No. 15731 Naik Mohammed Khan, 52nd Field Battery, 1st Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

At SHEIKH MISKINE on June 17th this Non-Commissioned Officer was in charge of three ammunition lorries.  Several enemy counter-attacks had been made and ammunition was urgently required.  In spite of heavy machine gun fire from the enemy at close quarters, Naik Mohammed Khan delivered all the ammunition to the guns when they were firing.  His devotion to duty and steadiness enabled a critical period to be passed, and was a fine example to those with him.

  b.    No. A550 Signalman Banta Singh, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade Signal Section.  Kissoue 14/15 June 1941.

During the night 14/15 June in part of Kissoue No A550 Signalman Banta Singh was a member of a line party which was following up the attacking troops at dawn.  The enemy artillery barrage at the time of the attack was intense and broke the line in several places.

Despite this intense barrage and with complete disregard to his personal safety Signalman Banta Singh repeatedly repaired the line thus keeping open the only means of communication between Brigade HQ and the forward troops.

He furthermore carried a half mile drum of cable weighing 80 lbs which was required for further communication for a distance of 2.5 miles during which time he was repeatedly machine gunned from the air.  It was due to this outstanding devotion to duty the operation as a whole was able to be carried through to a successful conclusion.

c.    No. 505369 Havildar Sucha Singh, Royal Indian Service Corps, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade Transport Company.

  Whilst Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of a Motor Transport Convoy embussing the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, this convoy came under heavy artillery fire in the area south of DAMASCUS Aerodrome.  During the whole period of this bombardment this Non-Commissioned Officer displayed outstanding coolness and courage.  His prompt action in dispersing lorries and taking the fullest advantage of the surrounding available cover greatly reduced the casualties to both drivers and vehicles.

  d.     No. A.316 Signalman Amar Singh, Signal Section, 4th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery.

On 24 June 1941 No. A.316 Signalman AMAR SINGH, Signal Section, 4 Field Regiment, RA, was the linesman maintaining the line to a Battery of this Regiment.  This Battery was shelled almost continuously the whole day and the line was cut in and near the Battery position several times.  Despite the heavy shelling AMAR SINGH worked the whole time at maintaining the line.  On five separate occasions he arrived in the Battery position while it was being shelled to find and subsequently mend breaks in the line.  During the whole day he showed conspicuous devotion to duty and I recommend him for the Indian Order of Merit, 2nd Class.

  6.   French Croix de Guerre

Several Croix de Guerre were awarded to members of 5th Indian Infantry Brigade by the Free French authorities.  The regimental histories name recipients as:

The 1st Punjabis: Major I.C. de W. Middleton Stewart; Captain C.J. Boulter; Captain P.A.R. Reyne; Subedar Mohammed Sher; and Sepoy Richpal Singh.

The Rajputana Rifles: Major R.B. Scott and Jemadar Hoshiar Singh.


  SOURCES:

·         Major M.G. Abhyankar.  The Rajputana Rifles. A History of the Regiment 1775-1947. (Orient Longmans).
·         Anonymous. The Tiger Strikes. (Director of Public Relations India 1942).
·         Christopher Buckley. Five Ventures. Iraq-Syria-Persia-Madagascar-Dodecanese. (Paperback edition by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office UK 1977).
·         Major General Chand N. Das. The Rajputana Rifles.  Brief History. (Reliance Publishing House, New Delhi 1995).
·         Rana Chhina. The Indian Distinguished Service Medal. (InvictaIndia 2001).
·         Richard Head and Tony McClenaghan. The Maharajas’ Paltans. A History of the Indian State Forces (1888-1948). Part 1. (Manohar Publishers New Delhi 2013).
·         General Sir Martin Farndale. History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. The Years of Defeat. Europe and North Africa 1939-1941. (Brassey’s 1996).
·         Compton Mackenzie. All Over The Place. Fifty Thousand Miles by Sea, Air, Road and Rail. (Chatto & Windus 1948).
·         Compton Mackenzie. Eastern Epic. Volume I. September 1939-March 1943. Defence. (Chatto & Windus 1951).
·         Doctor Dharm Pal PhD.  Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War. Campaign in Western Asia.  (Republished by Pentagon Press Delhi 2012).
·         Chris Peterson (compiler).  Unparalled Danger, Unsurpassed Courage. Recipients of The Indian Order of Merit in the Second World War. (Private Publication, USA 1997).
·         Major General I.S.O. Playfair.  History of the Second World War. The Mediterranean and Middle East. Volume II. (Naval & Military Press Ltd softback reprint 2004).
·         Major Mohammed Ibrahim Qureshi.  The First Punjabis. History of the First Punjab Regiment. (Gale & Polden Ltd 1958).
·         George Rodger. Desert Journey. (Cresset Press London 1944). ·         Colin Smith.  England’s Last War Against France. Fighting Vichy, 1940-1942. (Weidenfeld & Nicholson 2009).
·         Henry De Wailli.  Invasion Syria, 1941: Churchill and De Gaulle’s Forgotten War. (translated version I.B.Tauris 2015).
·         Citations from the National Archives London.                        

 
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