Battle of Damascus 1941 summary
The Battle of Damascus (18 – 21 June 1941) was the final action of the Allied advance on Damascus in Syria during the Syria-Lebanon campaign in World War II.
- The plan called for the troops of 5th Indian Brigade to advance northwards from their positions at Aartouz on the Quneitra to Damascus road across country west of the road towards Mezzeh. The brigade's supplies, ammunition and the anti-tank element would follow closely behind on the road proper.
- Meanwhile, the Free French forces would advance along a parallel route
- At 20.30 on 18 June, the Indian troops set out and skirmished their way north. They reached Mezzeh at 04.15
- By 05.30, after an hour of fierce hand to hand fighting, Mezzeh was captured. However, there was a major problem: The equipment and anti-tank guns travelling up the main road had earlier got ahead of the infantry and run into a Vichy roadblock where most of the vehicles were knocked out
- The planned advance by the Free French to Qadim had been delayed so that the Vichy forces were able to concentrate on the Mezzeh action, applying intense pressure on the Allied position, whilst thwarting any attempt to relieve them and bring in vitally needed anti-tank weapons
- By nightfall on 19 June, the Allied position at Mezzeh was desperate. Ammunition was running low, no food had been eaten for 24 hours, casualties were severe, and medical supplies were exhausted
- Early on 20 June a force comprising two companies from the 3/ 1st Punjab Regiment , two companies of French Marines and a battery of artillery were sent to fight its way through to Mezzeh. But they could not blast a way through and they progressed only slowly against determined opposition from French tanks
- That night, however, the Free French with support from British anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns and an Australian machine-gun battalion, advanced against light Vichy defences and captured Qadim on the morning of 21 June
- Through the night of 19–20 June, the Indian defenders at Mezzeh had continued to hold out. But by 13.30 on 20 June, with ammunition exhausted and having had no rations for 50 hours, they were being shelled at point blank range. A decision was made to ask for a truce to evacuate the wounded, to try to buy time for the relieving column (which could be heard fighting in the distance), to reach them
- The white flag was mis-read as a signal of surrender by the Vichy forces who rushed the positions of the remaining bayonet-wielding defenders and overpowered them
- The relieving column, reinforced by a battalion of Australian infantry, recaptured Mezzeh at 19.00 that evening to find it empty save for the dead
- By noon on 21 June, the Allied forces were in Damascus and the Vichy forces were retreating west along the Beirut road