AUSTRALIA’S WAR WITH FRANCE: THE CAMPAIGN IN SYRIA AND LEBANON, 1941 – PODCAST

Operation Exporter was a little known, but very important campaign for the Australian military. It involved Australian’s fighting a strange war against confused Frenchmen who were not supposed to be our enemy. France had been defeated and subjugated by the Germans. The new French government, installed at Vichy, was answerable to the Führer. With France vanquished, the fate of their territories in Syria and Lebanon became uncertain.

With Rommel in the Western Desert and Germans fostering an uprising in Iraq, the British feared Germany might take control over of Syria and Lebanon. From there, the Nazis could supply the rebels in Iraq and threaten Egypt from two sides. Churchill—urged on by Charles de Gaulle, whose Free French movement had received British sponsorship—ordered General Wavell to go on the offensive and take the French territories. The British sent in the Australian 7th Division to seize it, not expecting that the French Army of the Levant would put up a fight.

In the popular consciousness, Australia and France are allies. Most of these Australian soldiers had fathers and uncles who had fought in the Great War. Many had lost their lives or limbs on the Western Front, fighting in the name of France, defending its territory against the Germans. These young Australian troops assembled in British Palestine, nervous and untested in warfare, about to fire their first ever shots in anger –against the French.

History Guild has organised this discussion between Richard James, author of Australia’s War with France: The Campaign in Syria and Lebanon, 1941 and Angus Wallace, creator of the fantastic WW2 Podcast.

Richard James is a tour operator specialising in historical treks of the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. He has personally led hundreds of Australians across the Kokoda Track and has met many war veterans from the 7th Division who fought in Syria before going on to fight on the Kokoda track the following year.

This project commemorating the service by Victorians in the Mediterranean theatre of WW2 was supported by the Victorian Government and the Victorian Veterans Council. Sign up to the newsletter at the bottom of the page to be notified when the next article in this project is released.

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The Benghazi Handicap and the Siege of Tobruk

The Benghazi handicap is the name Australian soldiers gave to their race to stay ahead of the German Afrika Korps in Libya, 1941. They won the race, but the reward was just to be besieged in the city of Tobruk for 241 days, the longest siege in British military history. In this article, we use the words of veterans themselves to describe these events, and how the Rats of Tobruk experienced the siege.

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