Syria - Operation Exporter (World War 2, 7 June 1941 to 11 July 1941)

About This Campaign

Syria - Operation 'Exporter' 1941

After France fell to the Germans in 1940, and the Free French Government withdrew to the United Kingdom to form a Government-in-exile (along with many other European Governments), a splinter French Government formed and was based in the town of Vichy in southern France.  They assumed control of the remaining French military assets and overseas Colonies.  The Vichy French forces thus became part of the Axis (Nazi Germany, Italy and later Japan).

On July 1 1940, the British Government had declared that it would not permit Syria or Lebanon to be occupied by any hostile power.

However they had no capacity to do anything at that time.  The Battle of Britain was about to begin and The Middle East campaign was in full stride. 

By early 1941, the French leader-in-exile General Charles de Gaulle demanded that the British take action in Syria through support of a coup d’etat by the Free French.  However the Middle East camapign had started to sour, particularly with an intervention in Greece going badly and an uprising took place in Iraq draining further British resources.

The Free French leader in Egypt General Catroux proposed an invasion of Syria by Free French Forces, provided they could get British logistic and air support.  However it was a fatuous proposition because the Free French had just 5,000 men against the Vichy’s 35,000 including the legendary French Foreign Legion.  In addition there were about 25,000 auxiliaries.  The British Commander General Wavell was opposed to any further diversion of forces, but UK Prime Minister Churchill and Australia’s Menzies had other ideas.  Their resolve was hardened by the news that the Germans were reinforcing the Vichy French.

Operation Exporter ultimately comprised some 34,000 Allied personnel, including Australian forces comprising the RAAF’s No. 3 Squadron (fighter / ground attack), 18,000 troops comprising  two Brigades from the 7th Division (the 21st and 25th; the 18th Brigade was detached under command 9th Division in Tobruk) and the 17th Brigade of the 6th Division.  The British provided 9,000 troops and 2,000 Indian troops and the Free French 5,000.

South Australia’s 2nd/27th Battalion was part of the 21st Brigade ,and the 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion comprising mainly South Australians and Tasmanians was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Blackburn VC, of Gallipoli and Pozieres fame from WW 1.

Paradoxically, the Germans withheld their troops so as not to give the British a pretext for invasion.

On the 7th June 1941, the Allies attacked on three axes of advance – a coastal route (21st Brigade including the 2nd/27th Battalion) supported by the Royal Navy, a central mountain route (25th Brigade) and the third (17th Brigade, detached from the 6th Division) across open desert.




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Order of Battle - Australian Forces Operation Exporter

HMAS Perth
HMAS Nizam
HMAS Stuart

AIF-7th Australian Division
17th Brigade' (2nd/3rd, 2nd/5th Battalions, 2nd/2nd Pioneer Battalion)
(Detached from 6th Division)
21st Brigade (2nd/14th, 2nd/16th, 2nd/27th Battalions)
25th Brigade (2nd/25th, 2nd/31st, 2nd/33rd Battalions)
6th Cavalry Regiment
9th Cavalry Regiment
2nd/4th Field Regiment
2nd/5th Field Regiment
2nd/6th Field Regiment
2nd/9th Field Regiment
2nd/1st Anti-Tank Regiment (1 troop)
2nd/2nd Anti-Tank Regiment
2nd/3rd Machine-Gun Battalion
2nd/5th Field Company
2nd/6th Field Company
2nd/9th Field Company

No.3 Squadron (Fighters - P40 Tomahawks)

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Showing 8 people of interest from campaign

MOORE, Stanley Edward

Service number VX19216
2nd/2nd Pioneer Battalion
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 30 Dec 1901

MARSON, Richard Harold

Service number 18001
Lieutenant Colonel
Born 21 Jun 1904

PLUMMER, Kevin Rupert Edgar

Service number QX5885
2nd/2nd Anti Tank / Tank Attack Regiment
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 6 Sep 1912

SUTCLIFFE , Thomas William

Service number 4400140
Lance Corporal
Born 7 Aug 1918

HOOLEY, Alfred

Service number QX7524
Warrant Officer Class 2
2nd/125 Base Ordnance Workshop
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 9 Feb 1907

SMITH, Charles Mitchell Watson

Service number WX5626
2nd/16th Infantry Battalion
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 7 Dec 1902

COSGRAVE, Denis Kevin

Service number SX11555
Lance Corporal
2nd/27th Infantry Battalion
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 21 Feb 1919

DAVIES, Stewart Maitland George

Service number WX4135
Lance Corporal
2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion
Australian Military Forces (Army WW2)
Born 21 Dec 1916