The Syria–Lebanon Campaign (1941)

U.S. Department of State (May 29, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11442: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, May 28, 1941 — 10 a.m.
[Received May 29 — 9:02 p.m.]


French hospital ship Canada arrived yesterday and is due to leave in a day or two. Local French sources fear French authorities will attempt to put on board a number of Free France sympathizers who are being rounded up in ever increasing numbers, including officers and non-commissioned officers who have recently declined to cooperate with German air personnel in Syria. They suggest ship be thoroughly searched by the British before it reaches a French port.

We learn that loads of arms and ammunition continue to leave Syria for Iraq while considerable quantities of gasoline are still reaching Aleppo from Mosul.

German planes are flying over Syrian territory at night and at present refuel at Palmyra rather than Damascus and Aleppo.

I hear the French are planning to start regular air service with Dewoitine three-engine passenger planes between France and Beirut via Brindisi, Salonika.

Repeated to Vichy.


U.S. Department of State (May 30, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11445: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, May 30, 1941 — 10 a.m.
[Received 2:13 p.m.]


Reliable source in Aleppo reports that at least 200 German airplanes have crossed Syria since May 9 and that most of them flew over Turkish territory of Hatay. In Aleppo nobody seems to have the slightest faith in Turkish professions of pro-British sentiments and most people believe today what relatively few felt 2 or 3 months ago, viz., that Turkey would prove a broken reed to lean upon. It is firmly believed that unless the British take over Syria immediately and deal the Iraqi rebels a crushing blow Turkey will yield to Nazi pressure just as Bulgaria did.

Since May 23, nearly 150 carloads of wheat, rice and sugar in addition to gasoline have already arrived from Iraq at Aleppo which is of enormous propaganda value to the German Government in supporting Syrian nationalist and Iraqi rebel political and economic cooperation.

Repeated to Vichy and Ankara.


U.S. Department of State (May 31, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11493: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, May 31, 1941 — noon.
[Received 1:15 p.m.]


I learn from a reliable source that the German Government has demanded through Vichy that facilities be given to the landing of German military equipment, tanks, etc., at Beirut and Tripoli. High Commissioner was opposed on the ground that it would alarm the people and might cause disturbances. He offered instead a small landing place near the cement factories at Chekka just south of Tripoli. This the Germans declined as inadequate and have insisted on Latakia where they propose to land their supplies from small Greek vessels.

Germans have demanded delivery of 4,000 hectolitres aviation spirits per diem but the French state they cannot supply that much.

Sixteen German expert anti-aircraft gunners have just arrived.

About 25 French Dewoitine pursuit planes arrived at Riyaq a day or two ago which may explain the rumor reported in the last paragraph of my 171, May 28.

Repeated to Vichy.

Please inform British authorities.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 2, 1941)


Defense of Crete criticized; Army chiefs told to use imagination

By Edward W. Beattie Jr., United Press staff writer

London, June 2 –
The public and press tonight increasingly demanded that Britain seize the initiative in the Mediterranean and occupy Syria before Germany establishes a stranglehold on the Middle East.

There were demands that Britain not only beat the Germans to Syria, but that the British commanders in the Eastern Mediterranean employ some imagination in dealing with German aggressiveness and ingenuity.

It was believed that demands for the British to move into Syria may crystallize with action in the next few days because of the general belief that if the British do not move in, the Germans will employ Syria for air bases and for landing German panzer divisions to attack Suez.

Campaign badly managed

There was substantial opinion here that the Crete campaign – despite the great bravery of the defending troops – had been badly handled.

The Evening News said that:

The brutal truth is that we were driven out of Crete by a well-planned and determined attack on lines which found us with our minds still dwelling on the methods of the last war and inadequately prepared.

It was pointed out that, despite the obvious fact that the German attack must come from the air, the Nazi dive bombers succeeded in knocking out the inadequate anti-aircraft defenses and clearing out the airdromes which had not been mined by the British so that they could be destroyed if not held.

During the six-month occupation of Crete by the British, it was noted, airport facilities on the island were not expanded and the British ground troops, as usual, were forced to battle the Germans with rifles, bayonets and a few machine guns against German automatic weapons.

The Daily Mail said:

Why is it that the story of unavailing heroism has been repeated in Crete?

Just a year ago today, the Dunkirk evacuation was reaching a climax and the British began to talk about the same story they are now getting from the Mediterranean – not enough guns, no real air protection, outmoded conceptions of strategy.

Situation not as serious

The situation today is not as serious and probably will not lead to the fall of the government as the Norwegian evacuation did, but there may be a big demand that Prime Minister Winston Churchill see to it that he gets lieutenants as capable and with as much imagination as he has.

Diplomatic sources at Istanbul reported that Britain was expected to take strong measures against Syria soon, and the hope was entertained here that the government would occupy it.

The War Office announced yesterday that 15,000 British troops had been evacuated from Crete and admitted that British losses had been heavy in the vain attempt to hold the island against the German airborne forces who had poured in day and night and finally had been joined by Italians.

The Air Ministry announced the removal of Air Chief Marshal Arthur W. Longmore, Commanding-in-Chief, RAF Middle East. Marshal Longmore was named Inspector General of the Royal Air Force and was succeeded in the Middle East command by Air Vice Marshal A. W. Tedder, who had served as his second-in-command.

The depression over the British defeat in Crete was offset somewhat, first by the belief that the Germans had expected to take the island in two days and that they had paid heavily for the victory; secondly, by the fact that Britain had won an important victory in smashing the German-supported regime of Rashid Ali al-Gailani in Iraq.

12 days of fierce fighting

The War Office communiqué announcing the evacuation of Crete said:

After 12 days of what has admittedly been the fiercest fighting in this war, it was decided to withdraw our forces from Crete.

Although the losses we have inflicted on the enemy’s troops and aircraft have been enormous, it became clear that our naval and military forces could not be expected to operate indefinitely in or near Crete without more air support than could be provided from our bases in Africa. Some 15,000 of our troops have been withdrawn to Egypt but it must be admitted that our losses have been severe.


The Pittsburgh Press (June 3, 1941)


Deny Nazi troop landing report, fear BEF drive

By Harold Peters, United Press staff writer

Beirut, Lebanon, June 3 –
French officials declared today that Syria will be defended with the greatest determination and charged that British reports of German troops landings were being circulated to provide a pretext for British invasion.

General Henri Dentz, High Commissioner of the Levant

General Henri Dentz, the High Commissioner, formally denied that any German troops have arrived in Syria and French officials asserted angrily that German troop debarkations at Latakia were “impossible.”

These officials claimed that the Germans could not land troops in Syria because of British control of the seas. They pointed out that Latakia is near Cyprus where British sea control is particularly effective.

The troop landing reports were characterized as “false news” and French officials said the British deliberately were circulating such rumors to afford a justification for invasion.

General Dentz’s formal statement asserted that no German troops are in occupation of northern Syria and that not a single German soldier has arrived anywhere in Syria or Lebanon.

In a formal communiqué, he said it was the policy of France to yield concessions to no power, including Germany, in Syria.


By Edward W. Beattie Jr., United Press staff writer

London, June 3 –
Germany and Italy may soon demand that the Vichy government ask them to “protect” Syria, so that they may land an army there with French cooperation for a big-scale campaign in the Middle East, diplomatic quarters reported today.

It was asserted that Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini discussed this plan at their Brenner Pass meeting yesterday.

Pressure on the British government to strike in Syria increased as belief grew here that delay might result in the landing of a formidable Axis force there.

Nazis reported in Syria

A Daily Mail Madrid dispatch reported that German motorized units had landed at Latakia, on the Syrian coast 65 miles east of Cyprus, May 29. It was asserted that German transports had taken the troops, with armored cars, motor trucks and mobile field guns from the Italian Dodecanese Islands and had hugged the Turkish coast to escape British naval craft.

There was a series of unconfirmed reports: That a state of siege had been declared in eastern Syria; that French troops were massing on the Iraqi frontier and that telephone and telegraphic communication between Syria and Egypt had been suspended.

It was understood that the Germans were occupying several air fields in Syria, that the number of German military men going to Syria in civilian guise was increasing steadily and that, for six weeks, Germany had been massing troops and airplanes in the Dodecanese Islands, and seeking ships which would be capable of moving a large miltary force.

British ready to move in

But Britain had reinforced its already large troop concentration in Palestine, and British forces were believed ready to move into Syria at any time.

It was also indicated that British bombing of Syrian air fields was being steadily if quietly intensified in token of a firmer British policy.

If the Germans invaded Syria, they would have to face the Royal Navy, a strong force of British fighter planes which were lacking in Crete, and a big Palestine motorized army.


By Edgar Ansel Mowrer

The map above shows how Syria, for which the Axis and Great Britain are now staging a diplomatic conflict which may make that country a battleground, is the key to the Near East and the land route to India.

Washington, June 3 –
Almost more than on Egypt, the fall of Crete concentrates Washington military and naval attention upon Syria. For Syria, in the eyes of people here, is the key to the Near East. Whoever holds Syria can take Iraq and conceivably Iran as well.

From Syria, the way along the “crescent” that sweeps over to Baghdad and then southeast along the Mesopotamian Valley to Basra and the Persian Gulf is the classical, the only real land connection between the Mediterranean and India. This was the route of Alexander and of every conqueror since him.

In the opinion of Washington, the Germans made a mistake to try to get Iraq first, by insurrection, rather than Syria by some other method.

Nazis preserve 'fiction’

Conceivably, people think, it was consideration for the Vichy French that held Adolf Hitler’s people back. For to obtain Vichy “collaboration,” Hitler had to preserve the fiction of French independence and observe the conditions of the armistice.

The armistice terms permit “control” by Germany of French airdromes. But Syria cannot be taken by just a few German airplanes, or even by a lot of them.

Britain perhaps has kept out of Syria even after the Germans took “control” of the Syrian airdromes and High Commissioner General Henri Dentz sent French war material to the Iraqi rebels, because it did not wish to give the Germans a pretext for invasion. But that the German invasion will come somehow coordinated with the invasion of Egypt, no one here doubts.

Yet, always supposing the Turks to remain rigidly neutral, Syria is considered a more difficult nut to crack than Crete. For Syria is defended by the island of Cyprus.

In an air attack upon Cyprus, the relative position of Crete would be reversed. British airplanes could operate from nearby Palestinian airdromes while the nearest German planes, unless they tried to use Syrian landing fields, would be many hundreds of miles away. German use of Syrian airdromes to attack anyone would provoke a British invasion of Syria. What would be the relative chances?

People here frankly shake their heads. No one knows (or admits) how many men the British could spare from Egypt to attack Syria. It might be a large force; it might be few. In the last analysis the success or failure of the British invasion might depend upon the attitude of the French garrison and of the Syrians themselves.

40,000 in French garrison

The French garrison is believed to number not more than 40,000 men, most of whom have been more or less disarmed. Their morale is not good; they obviously do not share General Dentz’s hatred of the British. Otherwise so many of their airmen would not be continually deserting to the British.

But the mass of them might be induced to fight against England and they constitute a hard kernel of colonial troops of great assistance to the Germans, who would not fail to arrive in some force, even though their transport planes would be coming from afar.

The population of the region has the repudiation of being the “most advanced of the Arabs.” But nationalism in the Western sense is still slight and loyalty more often to a chieftain than to an idea. Of the total population of the region, nearly one-third is Christian, two-thirds Muslim. Of the latter, the Jabal Druzes are passionately pro-British and anti-French. The attitude of the Maronite (Greek Rite) Christian in a struggle between Vichy and London is considered to be uncertain.

Will side with victor

If British soldiers in the field do well, the majority of the Syrians will be with them – and claim their independence as the price. If the German and Vichy French seem superior, then the Syrians will shout for the Axis – and try to wangle independence at the end of the struggle.

Contrary to London’s views, American students believe that by keeping Jewish Zionist forces down to a scant 10,000, the British weakened their forces of that element which would fight most fiercely against Hitler, without, in the least, strengthening their position with the Arabs. Ibn Saud, the Arab ruler with the highest standing, looks on Zionism with no hostility, it is claimed. Had the British armed the Zionists, they would now possess a high-class force of 50,000.

Yet it is notable that the three chief German agents in Iraq, Fritz Grobba, Werner Otto von Hentig and Max von Oppenheim (a Jew), with the collapse of the Iraqi insurrection, fled not into Syria but Iran. Which may mean that something is up in that great oil-producing country.

U.S. Department of State (June 3, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11606: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 3, 1941 — 11 a.m.
[Received 3:10 p.m.]


Personal for the Under Secretary. May I suggest that you impress upon the British great importance especially at this time of not broadcasting unconfirmed reports regarding Syria. I refer for instance to the recent announcement that 400 Germans had arrived on the French hospital ship or that German troops had landed at Latakia. As both French and natives listen eagerly to British broadcasts the present great confidence in their general accuracy will be undermined if they hear statements which they know to be incorrect.


740.0011 European War 1939/11607: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 3, 1941 — 1 p.m.
[Received 2:30 p.m.]


My 181, May 31, noon. Reliable Free French source states that Latakia is very vulnerable and could be easily occupied by the Germans who would thereby obtain most important foothold facing Cyprus and within easy striking distance of Aleppo, Horns, and Tripoli. For these reasons same source urges that the British should take Latakia from the sea the moment they have decided to move into Syria. Present garrison, one battalion with little artillery, would probably offer but feeble resistance and the French authorities would have difficulty in rushing reinforcement north along exposed coastal road. Existing small landing field could be quickly enlarged.

Please inform British authorities.



211 Squadron Operations Record Book (June 4, 1941)

11 Squadron RAF (Norman)

Raid by 3 Blenheims cooperating with No. 11 Squadron on Beirut oil tanks. Direct hits were obtained from 1,000 feet. 3 Hurricane escort. Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes.

The Pittsburgh Press (June 4, 1941)

By Harold Peters, United Press staff writer

Beirut, Lebanon, June 4 –
Royal Air Force planes today carried out their second attack in two days upon oil storage facilities adjacent to the Beirut harbor area.

The British planes droned over Beirut for more than a quarter hour, carrying out their attack in the face of a barrage hurled up by Beirut’s anti-aircraft defenses.

Gasoline storage tanks were set afire.

Dispatches received in Vichy said that the attack was carried out at 6:45 a.m. by a squadron of four British planes which set fire to the Shell Oil Co. refinery and oil reservoirs. These dispatches said that the attack lasted half an hour.

In a similar attack yesterday, Vichy reported, one British plane bombed the oil properties. Casualties in the two attacks were placed at three wounded, including one native, one French officer and one French soldier.


By Joseph W. Grigg, United Press staff writer

Berlin, June 4 –
Germany will “cooperate” fully with France in opposing a British attack on Syria, even to relaxing the armistice terms to enable France to defend its colonial territory with its armed forces including the French fleet, Nazis indicated today.

Diplomatic quarters expressed belief that Adolf Hitler and Vice Premier Jean François Darlan of France had discussed the French Empire defense situation at their recent conference and that French-German talks might have their first effect if Britain moved against French territory.

German informants denied reports German troops were in Syria. They attributed such reports to Britain and expressed belief that they were disseminated to provide a pretext for operations against Syria.

Informants said it appeared that the Vichy government was determined to defend its territory against any British “provocation.”

Newspapers today paid their chief attention to German claims of the sinking of 11,663,000 tons of British shipping since the start of the war.

A headline in the Nazi Party newspaper Völkischer Beobachter said:

Great Britain staggers from one defeat to another.

The official news agency said that Britain had lost more than half its merchant tonnage.

General Walther von Brauchitsch, army commander, said in an order of the day to the troops who fought in Crete:

Mountain chasseurs, pioneers and fighters of other formations. You, in cooperation with your comrades of the air force, occupied this important enemy base in the shortest time despite the unusually difficult terrain and bad weather conditions. In terrific fights, your power, courage and superiority were once more proved. The whole army is proud of its Crete fighters. I thank you and know you furthermore will fulfill your duties everywhere at whatever place the Führer put you.

Cairo, June 4 –
German infiltration into Syria is gaining momentum, according to reports received here.

German fliers provided with Romanian, Hungarian and Bulgarian passports and dressed in civilian clothes, have been arriving in northern Syria by train, through Turkey, according to one story.

It is noteworthy that German planes are concentrating mostly in northern Syria, at Aleppo and Palmyra. This may be the prelude for an attack against Cyprus from Syria as well as from bases in the Dodecanese Islands.

The Germans are straddling the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Tripoli. The British are straddling the southern branch pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa, Palestine.

As far as is known, no oil has flowed through the pipeline to Syria since last year.

U.S. Department of State (June 4, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11624: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 4, 1941 — 9 a.m.
[Received 9:05 a.m.]


British planes dropped a few bombs on army gasoline stocks in Beirut yesterday and this morning. Today’s bombing seems to have done considerable damage and I shall report details later. Population is remarkably calm and no resentment is felt.

I understand Germans are now withdrawing their airplanes and ground personnel from Syria, including base at Aleppo, in order to make it appear that British intervention is totally unwarranted and directed solely against the French and natives.

Repeated to Vichy.


740.0011 European War 1939/11674: Telegram

The Chargé in Germany to the Secretary of State

Berlin, June 4, 1941 — 11 a.m.
[Received 2:52 p.m.]


Following the discussion of Syrian situation at the press conference at the Foreign Office yesterday, the Dienst aus Deutschland last night reformulated the present official German view in the following words:

The situation in Syria has now become the subject of authentic declarations by the spokesman of the Wilhelmstrasse. According to his statements reports of the arrival of German troops at a Syrian port are believed not to correspond to the facts. In informed Berlin circles the opinion prevails that such reports of alleged German landings in Syria have been spread by English sources to establish a pretext for operations against the French mandated area. It goes without saying that Berlin is following with closest attention further developments relating to Syria and the evident English aspirations in that region. The view is held in Berlin that for the time being a British invasion of Syria would be an internal Anglo-French affair and that it is up to the French to react to it. The form of reaction which might be expected to a British invasion may, however, already be deduced from the statements of Admiral Darlan regarding the determination of France to defend its colonial integrity. As to the attitude of Germany one must wait and see in what manner France regards it as necessary to invoke the present German-French relationship arising from the most recent German-French meetings in case of a British invasion of Syria. Germany will of course be prepared to grant to the French the right to defend their own integrity.

It would seem that the German policy in the first instance is to force Vichy to oppose by force any action which Great Britain may take against German encroachments in Syria and thus to present the British with the dilemma of acquiescing in such encroachments or precipitating an armed clash with their former ally. Meanwhile Germany is undoubtedly proceeding at full speed with whatever plans it has for further action in the Eastern Mediterranean but is seeking to avoid the appearance of provocation in Syria itself. As usual in periods of preparation for new military action the war of nerves has taken the stage.

Repeated to Vichy.



The Pittsburgh Press (June 5, 1941)


Fleet leaves French colony open only in Turkish side; Wavell urged to invade by air; border ‘friendliness’ cited

By Wallace Carroll, United Press staff writer

London, June 5 –
British Middle Eastern forces stood in position around Syria today and General Archibald Wavell, the British commander, was believed to regard his position as sufficiently strong to permit extension of his fighting front.

It was emphasized here that suppression of the Iraq outbreak and the approaching end of Italian resistance in Ethiopia had removed any possible misgivings on the part of Wavell regarding the start of new military operations.

Suggestions from Istanbul that Wavell was opposed to a move into Syria were doubted here and little credence was placed in reports of a dispute between Wavell and General Georges Catroux, the “Free French” lieutenant, concerning Syria. The Turkish reports claimed Catroux is urging a move into Syria and that Wavell is holding back.

General Charles de Gaulle’s mission to the Middle East was described as much more important than mediating any argument between Wavell and Catroux.

The Syrian frontier was open only on the Turkish side and indications here increased that the British Empire forces might strike soon, probably from Palestine.

It was believed here there now was a sufficiently large fleet off the Syrian coast to isolate the French colony completely from the sea and that any further German infiltration would have to be effected through Turkey or by airplane.

Military quarters heard reports that the Germans would most likely attempt landings of some sort, by sea or air, within a few days in hope of organizing resistance to the British.

A Daily Mail Madrid dispatch reported that after a conference with Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Gaston Henry-Haye, the French Ambassador at Washington, had urgently warned Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain to:

…go slow in cooperating with Germany regarding Syria.

Mr. Hull, according to this dispatch, warned Mr. Henry-Haye of “dire consequences” which would inevitably result from any French breach of armistice conditions.

Newspapers demanded that Britain take the initiative. They demanded not only that the government order an attack on Syria before the Germans do, but that it order the attack at once, before it is too late to consolidate the territory properly against any future German move.

Dispatches from Palestine reported that British and French troops along the Palestine-Syria frontier were patrolling in force but were on friendly terms and that they exchanged cigarettes.


By William H. Stoneman

London, June 5 –
A British advance into Syria from Palestine is now openly discussed by all the British newspapers and it is expected to begin from one minute to the next.

Such an extension of the British themselves will be almost equally extended and because the British, for once, will start with an even break in the air.

British occupation of Syria, or at least the wholehearted effort at its occupation, is probably more urgent from both political and strategic viewpoints than either the Allied move into Belgium in May 1940, or the recent attempt to save Greece. It is urgent, politically, in order to maintain the neutral position of Turkey and to maintain British prestige in the Arab world.

U.S. Department of State (June 5, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11680: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 4, 1941 — 9 p.m.
[Received June 5 — 9:20 a.m.]


Local atmosphere especially in French circles has undergone certain almost imperceptible changes in the last few days. Collapse of the Iraqi uprising despite facilities put at the disposal of the Germans by the French authorities in Syria has made the latter feel a little foolish especially as they had already visions of a plentiful supply of oil pipes to Tripoli and an easy exchange of other commodities as intimated in the second paragraph of my 179, May 30.

On the other hand now that Crete is gone and we see the beginning of a new phase of the war most Frenchmen here are for the first time realizing the possibility of a complete German military occupation of Syria. Heretofore such a contingency had been regarded as too remote to require serious thought but today even those who believe in obeying Vichy are asking themselves whether Pétain would want Syria to become part of occupied France. And as few Frenchmen can conceal their natural hostility to the Germans they do not relish the prospect of Nazification in a part of the world they had considered immune. Not much desire of abetting further Axis infiltrations is left and even the High Commissioner is said to have warned Vichy that he could not be responsible for the consequences if Germany continued her activities here on a large scale.

In this connection a French officer said to me the other day “We have been in Syria for 20 years and do not propose to get out.” He was somewhat taken aback when I replied “American institutions have been in Syria for a hundred and twenty years and did not propose to get out either.”

There has been a slight revival of French morale and ever since the shipment of war materials to Iraq many officers have declared themselves slightly out of sympathy with Vichy’s policy. They feel the British have every excuse to justify occupation of Syria but they still lack complete confidence that Great Britain is strong enough to take over Syria and protect it against a determined German attack. The Germans have been clever enough to sense this change and are now posing as the real protectors of the French Empire against impending British aggression.

Repeated to Vichy.


740.0011 European War 1939/11699: Telegram

The Ambassador in Turkey to the Secretary of State

Ankara, June 5, 1941 — 3 p.m.
[Received 10 p.m.]


In private conversation yesterday evening, my French colleague Henry expressed belief that Germany is withdrawing from all military activity in Syria; that support given to Iraqi dissidents was mere gesture of sympathy which had disillusioning results in that incidental use of Syria as base of German operations, even on small scale involved, had led to such outcry in France proper and in Empire and elsewhere that game did not seem worth candle. He based this belief on information from “one of highest German quarters.” He did not specify his source more precisely; but Witman (here as courier from Beirut) had just told me of having called earlier on Madame Henry who had talked with him to much the same effect and somewhat unguardedly disclosed that her husband had been discussing question with Von Papen whom he had persuaded to telegraph to German Government this advice that Syria be left alone.

  1. Henry went on to express his own hope (no doubt in expectation that through you and perhaps through my British colleague his views would reach attention of London) that British would in these circumstances refrain from attacking Syria and thus inevitably lead to resistance by Vichy and quite probably its putting naval bases and forces at disposal of Germany. He said he felt sure British were sufficiently aware of these probable consequences to avoid action against Syria.

  2. Upon my asking why Germans should be sedulous to avoid on their own part anything which would tend to provoke British to take action involving them in such disadvantageous consequences as he foresaw, he outlined views which I sum up as follows:

(a) Main German assault upon British position in Eastern Mediterranean and Near East is to be by way of North Africa; advance thus far made in Aegean may well be merely contributory to that and not intended as basis for separate land attack through Levant.

(b) Germany fears invasion of Syria would lead Turks to intervene jointly with British; she reckons on it (as Von Papen told him some time ago) that unless antagonized they will come to see that alliance with Britain gives them no advantages and will ultimately come over to German side; she therefore wishes, if possible, to await peaceful conquest rather than have to subdue Turkish resistance.

© Above all, Germany cannot be sure of various French reactions to attempted German occupation of Syria: Even though it were in response to British attack it might quite conceivably have effect of arraying whole French Empire on British side despite Vichy; much would depend upon lead given in that event by Weygand who is headstrong and unpredictable.

  1. He thought it probable also that in existing conditions of sea and air power Germany is not prepared to attempt invasion of Palestine. He nevertheless admitted difficulty of accepting conclusion to which his own theories led him, viz., that German southward advance could be expected to stop at Crete.

Repeated to Beirut, which I understand now has this cipher.


1 Like

The Pittsburgh Press (June 6, 1941)

By Edward W. Beattie Jr., United Press staff writer


London, June 6 –
The British fleet today was reported moving into battle positions off the coast of French Syria as Imperial forces, awaiting an order to attack, faced French defense forces across three barricaded frontiers.

British military experts suggested that the British High Command might order an invasion of Syria with airborne troops, operating in cooperation with ground forces.

Britain’s Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East, General Archibald Wavell, was said to regard his position as sufficiently strong to permit extension of his fighting front and an attack on Syria at any time.

The Syrian frontier was open only on the Turkish side and indications mounted that the British Empire forces, massing along the frontiers of Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq, might strike soon. There was widespread belief that the first blow would come from Palestine, south of Syria, near the coast.

Rome, June 6 –
The newspaper Il Giornale d’Italia revealed today that the German air corps stationed in Sicily is leaving Italian territory.

The newspaper did not reveal the destination of the German air units which have been stationed in Sicily for a number of months.

General Hans Geisler, the Nazi commander at Catania, a Sicilian air base, sent a letter to Prefect Tommaso Giampani, informing him that the German air units are leaving and thanking him for his hospitality during the Nazi stay.



Cairo, June 6 (UP) –
Royal Air Force planes have bombed Italian aircraft at the Aleppo, Syria, airdrome, destroying one plane with a direct hit, RAF Headquarters said today.

Budapest, June 6 (UP) –
The semi-official news agency INB reported from Beirut today that British planes had carried out another raid on the Syrian capital, again attacking oil tanks.


By Dana Schmidt, United Press staff writer

Ankara, Turkey, June 6 –
German Air Force men are occupying three of the chief airports of Syria – at Damascus, Aleppo and Palmyra – and French authorities are taking stern measures to suppress pro-British activity, diplomatic and private reports said today.

Diplomatic informants said that the Germans occupied Damascus Airport after having occupied the other two, and that they were maintaining a shuttle plane service between the Italian Dodecanese Islands and Syria to transport war materials and soldiers disguised as civilians.

Alleged German civilians also continued to enter Syria through Turkey, informants said. Syrian authorities were said to be fortifying the Syrian frontier opposite Palestine and Iraq.

Travelers who reached Istanbul from Syria said that hundreds of officers in the French Army in Syria had been arrested or put under observation, and that the number of secret agents among army units had been increased.

They said that a large part of the French population at some frontier points had fled inland, and that the authorities were now trying to suppress uneasiness among the people.

The travelers said that service on the railroads which extends from Syria along the Turkish frontier into Iraq had been suspended since the first days of fighting in Iraq because British planes had blown up a bridge, but that the service would be restored soon.

Reliable informants here said that though Germany possibly had not more than 5,000 men in Syria, including ground personnel for 200 planes, the Germans were preparing airports and that German technicians were studying the problem of supply.

Ankara Radio reported that a full German division – 10,000 to 15,000 men – had arrived in Syria and that:

…the British will surely strike in Syria.

Only a few days will be necessary for complete British control of the French mandate, the Ankara Radio announcer added.

The Syrian defense forces under General Henri Dentz were said to have strongly fortified the southern Syrian frontier, in anticipation of a British attack from Palestine or Transjordan.

The independent Alliance française agency reported that General Dentz had declared a state of siege in eastern Syria and travellers arriving from Syrian territory reported severe measures underway to stamp out “pro-British” activity and uneasiness among the Syrian population.



Jerusalem, June 6 (UP) –
Refugees streaming into Jerusalem have made the ancient Holy City today a teeming metropolis, where all allied uniforms can be seen and there is a babel of tongues, races, and colors.

Not since the days of King Solomon has the city been such an important Middle Eastern center. Successive German penetrations in the Mediterranean have brought royalty, cabinet ministers, diplomats, professors and students to Jerusalem.

For the first time since the Crusades, Christians of all sects are united under one flag and in a common cause. But unlike the Crusades of 800 years ago, the brotherhood of arms now includes Muslims, Jews and Hindus.

Religious-minded persons see in this the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy in which the Lord’s house was set on the mountain tops and all nations flowed to it.

They believe there will also be fulfillment of that part of the prophecy, which says:

They will beat swords to ploughshares, spears to pruning hooks; nation shall not life sword against nation, and they will not learn war anymore.

Jerusalem is so overcrowded that monasteries, convents, churches, synagogues and even the Hebrew university on Mount Scopus are converting all space available into sleeping quarters for refugees regardless of their faith.

U.S. Department of State (June 6, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11718: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 5, 1941 — 10 p.m.
[Received June 6 — 9:40 p.m.]


For the Secretary and Under Secretary. Referring to fifth paragraph of my 128, May 4, Sheikh Taj ed-Din came from Damascus to call on me tonight and requested me to transmit the following verbal message to the President of the United States.

Syria is today facing the gravest crisis in her history. All patriotic Syrians fear that France is about to turn us over to the Axis Powers and we know the revolting hypocrisy with which both the Axis and French authorities here are today accusing the British of seeking to extend the war by attacking Syria. It is a thoroughly cynical policy whose sole aim is to bring about immediate and complete collaboration with a Europe politically and economically reorganized by the Nazis. Those of us who like myself have been loyal to France now believe it to be against the best interests of our country to be governed by a Berlin controlled Vichy let alone Berlin itself. We are therefore in favor of a British occupation of Syria and I know many Frenchmen feel as we do. But unfortunately there are some Syrians who because of German bribes and propaganda are or pretend to be pro-German; these elements might be troublesome as fifth columnists and in many other ways. I therefore venture to suggest the simplest and most effective way of winning them over to the cause of the democracies: A vast majority of Syrians even the so-called German or anti-British faction are today still intensely pro-American and have unbounded faith in the democracy and chivalry of the American Government and people. If therefore the United States could […] that it approved the recent British declaration re Syrian independence and Arab unity it would have an enormous influence on public opinion in Syria and Lebanon where it would be accepted as proof that anti-British propaganda could safely be discounted. Considering that Syria had in 1919 almost unanimously voted for an American mandate, an expression of American interest in her fate at this time would seem rather logical particularly as we realize that the United States will after this war want the world to rise to a higher plane of international morality than after the last war. We all know that America seeks neither political influence nor protectorates but here is an unusual opportunity for her which may never return not only of frustrating Axis military and political designs in a strategically vital area, but also of becoming a factor for stability and constructive help in shaping the future of the world.

I feel the above appeal has much to recommend it. We are universally trusted because of our obvious disinterestedness and our well-known sympathy for the cause of small nations. After the depressing lessons of the last post-war period we would seem to be justified in expressing solidarity of opinion and action with the British in the face of problems confronting the Arabic world. The immediate effect would undoubtedly be a serious weakening of Nazi prestige in Syria and a corresponding strengthening of all influences which are wishing us well in our efforts to help rid the world of the Nazi menace.


740.0011 European War 1939/11719: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 6, 1941 — 4 p.m.
[Received 10:05 p.m.]


The following is the substance of note dated today which the French High Commissioner requests me to transmit to the British authorities of Palestine and Transjordan:

Referring to paragraph 2 of article V of the Paulet–Newcombe agreement of December 23, 1920, fixing the Palestine frontier between the Mediterranean and Al-Hammeh and guaranteeing the British Government at all times the right to pass its troops along the stretch of railroad from Nasib to Samakh situated in Syrian territory, the High Commissioner finds himself obligated in view of present circumstances to suspend until further order all transit of military personnel or equipment over the line in question.

I am orally informed that there is no objection to the passage of non-military supplies.



The Pittsburgh Press (June 7, 1941)


London, June 7 (UP) –
The Turkish radio at Ankara today was heard broadcasting that General Henri Dentz, the French High Commissioner of the Levant, had demanded from Vichy “reliable” French pilots and anti-aircraft gun crews in exchange for those now in Syria.

Radio Ankara added that Dentz had said that, if necessary, Germans should take over anti-aircraft defenses in Syria.

Radio Ankara said that, according to reliable reports, Dentz had also demanded that 40 pro-German pilots and anti-aircraft guns and other equipment be shipped to Syria from Tunisia aboard Italian vessels.

Radio Ankara said:

It is also stated, according to one version, that Dentz has already turned over anti-aircraft batteries to German crews who entered Syria as civilians.

The broadcaster suggested that Italian shipping attacked by the British off Sfax, Tunisia, might have been carrying reinforcements to Dentz.



London, June 7 –
British press dispatches from Cairo asserted today that mammoth German troop-carrying and supply airplanes were landing in Syria and that Germans were rapidly Syrian airdromes.

U.S. Department of State (June 7, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11754: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Leahy) to the Secretary of State

Vichy, June 6, 1941 — 9 p.m.
[Received June 7 — 1:30 p.m.]


Rochat asked Matthews to call at 8:00 this evening and said he had been urgently instructed by Admiral Darlan to give us the following message:

In the light of the tenacious and persistent campaign carried on by the English radio with reference to the situation in Syria, the Minister of Foreign Affairs desires to inform the Ambassador of the United States that he has just repeated to General Dentz the following previous orders:

Not to attack the English in reprisal for bombardments unless British troops cross the frontier. In the latter case, General Dentz would be free to use all the forces at his disposal to defend Syria.

It is again made clear that there is in Syria no collaboration between German forces and French forces.

Rochat went on to say that he had likewise “been authorized” by Admiral Darlan to inform us that Hitler himself had given orders for the withdrawal from Syria of all German airplanes which had gone to the assistance “of Iraq;” and that he had been further authorized to say that there are no German planes in Syria and no German military personnel.

We asked if this included anti-aircraft specialists (having in mind telegram No. 181, May 31, 12 noon, from Beirut) and Rochat replied that to his knowledge no German military personnel of any sort had been in Syria. He said that this question of Syria has assumed considerable importance in the eyes of the French Government since the tone and statements of the British radio have become “so exaggerated as to lead the French to believe that an early British attack is anticipated.”

We merely said that we would transmit the message promptly.

In reply to our request for specific information as to the nature of today’s important Cabinet meeting Rochat replied as usual that he had no information but did not believe that anything “sensational” had taken place.

As to news from Washington he made no comment on the Secretary’s statement but did say that whereas this morning an “encouraging telegram” concerning resumption of our plan for supplying North Africa had been received (we had been shown earlier a telegram from Chatel conveying to General Weygand the statements made to him by Murphy under the Department’s telegram 125, June 4, 6 p.m. to Algiers), this evening a 5-page telegram from Henry-Haye had arrived indicating the suspension of all plans. The only section of the telegram he read us was a reference to orders stopping the loading of ships destined to supply North Africa and orders canceling authorization for the unblocking of funds for various French missions in the Western Hemisphere. He displayed no resentment, merely indicating that he imagined all depends on the outcome of “political developments in Vichy with which he is not au courant.”

Copy to Beirut.


740.0011 European War 1939/11795: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom to the Secretary of State

London, June 7, 1941 — 6 p.m.
[Received June 7 — 2:06 p.m.]


Personal for the President from the Former Naval Person.

  1. We enter Syria in some force tomorrow morning in order to prevent further German penetration. Success depends largely upon attitude of local French troops. De Gaulle’s Free French outfit will be prominent, but not in the van. He is issuing a proclamation to the Arabs offering in the name of France complete independence and opportunity to form either 3 or 1 or 3 in 1 free Arab states. Relations of these states with France will be fixed by treaty, safeguarding established interest somewhat on the Anglo-Egyptian model. General Catroux is not to be called High Commissioner, but French Delegate and Plenipotentiary.

  2. I cannot tell how Vichy will react to what may happen. I do not myself think they will do much worse than they are now doing, but of course they may retaliate on Gibraltar or Freetown. I should be most grateful if you would keep your pressure upon them. We have no political interests at all in Syria except to win the war.

  3. Thank you so much for letting Harriman go to the Middle East. He is seeing your son tomorrow before leaving, and I shall see him myself, I hope, at luncheon Monday.


740.0011 European War 1939/11743: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 7, 1941 — 4 p.m.
[Received June 7 — 2:52 p.m.]


For the Under Secretary. The British are doing their cause great harm and are playing into the hands of the Germans by continuing to broadcast inaccurate statements re alleged German military activities in Syria. If the British have decided to occupy Syria the events of the past 3 weeks have provided them with every legitimate ground without the necessity of resorting to specific rumors of today — most of which the Germans and the French are now deliberately combining to make appear utterly false and unfounded.

It seems to me what the British should proclaim from the housetops is that in view of recent French readiness to put Syrian landing fields at the disposal of the Germans and supply them with arms and ammunition there is nothing to prevent their doing it again whenever it suits German plans. As this would render Cyprus untenable, renew the danger of German aggression in Iraq and would directly menace Palestine and Egypt the British cannot afford to run such risks.


740.0011 European War 1939/11742: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 7 [6], 1941 — 10 p.m.
[Received June 7 — 3:33 p.m.]


High Commissioner published proclamation today in which he denies as gross lies the reports referred to in my 184, June 3, and claims all that happened was that “some foreign airplanes flying from west to east landed in Syria in order to continue their journey. They are returning under the same conditions going from east to west.” He stated that the French Government had modified its policy toward Germany because France was facing starvation and hundreds of thousands of her sons were in captivity. If nothing is done to preserve France now there will be no Frenchmen left when years hence the “hypothetical victory is won which is being dangled before your eyes.” He added the Marshal demanded that all French possessions be defended and in Syria and Lebanon the people did not want any emancipators other than the French.



The Pittsburgh Press (June 8, 1941)

By Wallace Carroll, United Press staff writer

London, June 7 –
An early climax to Britain’s “gloves off” attitude toward France was expected in many quarters tonight.

News that Sir Archibald Wavell’s Middle East armies had received reinforcements coupled with official concern over Axis developments in Syria and Vichy created an atmosphere of tense expectancy.

Military commentators called reports that South African veterans of the Ethiopian campaign had arrived in Egypt:

…the best news that has come out of the Middle East.

Reports that mammoth German transport and supply planes were carrying air personnel, guns, gasoline, water and food to Syria created a division of opinion among official sources as to what weight should be given other reports that General Maxime Weygand, commander-in-chief of French forces in North Africa, had rejected proposals for military collaboration with Germany against either Britain or the United States.

French Vice Premier Admiral Jean François Darlan was believed to be in the driver’s seat at Vicy and was credited with:

…going into full collaboration with Germany with his eyes open.

Admiral Darlan was thought to be moving toward active military and naval measures against Britain. Britons pointed to the Ankara radio report that General Henri Dentz, French High Commissioner in Syria, had asked Vichy for more reliable:

…French pilots and anti-aircraft gun crews in exchange for those now in Syria.

General Dentz added, the Ankara radio said, that:

…if necessary, these duties could be taken over by Germans.

General Dentz demanded, the radio said, that 40 pro-German pilots and anti-aircraft equipment be shipped from Tunisia aboard Italian vessels, and it was believed that vessels answering his request may have been among those attacked by the British off Sfax.

One version reported by Ankara said General Dentz had already turned over Syrian anti-aircraft batteries to German crews.

The general opinion here is that Britain would have manifested a sterner attitude toward Vichy long ago had it not been for the cautious attitude of the United States.

The American attitude has since changed, following reports by U.S. Ambassador Admiral William D. Leahy of Vichy’s sudden pro-Axis shift.

Many British newspapers featured President Roosevelt’s charge that Germany had started false peace rumors.

The Daily Mail demanded British action in Syria and said:

Time is the essential thing, and the one thing that sympathy [for France] may do is waste time.

Meanwhile, informed sources admitted that American tanks as well as planes may be in the Middle East for participation in the anticipated Battle of Suez.

U.S. Department of State (June 8, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11744: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 7, 1941 — 6 p.m.
[Received June 8 — 10:30 a.m.]


General Jannekeyn, commanding French Air Force, sent an officer to assure me that the only serviceable German airplanes now in Syria were 2 troop carrying planes and 1 Messerschmitt 110 at Aleppo and they were expected to leave today or tomorrow. The following airdromes contain badly damaged German planes:

Palmyra – 2 Heinkels 111, 1 Messerschmitt 110.
Aleppo – 2 troop carrying planes.
Damascus – 1 fighter plane.
Nothing at Rayak.

The General suggested that a representative from this Consulate General verify these statements by inspecting the flying fields. I am, of course, not accepting the offer as it would force us into the position of testifying against possible British claims.


740.0011 European War 1939/11745: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 8, 1941 — 11 a.m.
[Received 4:25 p.m.]


I have just called on the High Commissioner who confirmed to me in a voice trembling with emotion that the British attacked this morning and that the French forces were resisting. Town of Daraa on the railway to Damascus was already in flames and several Britishers who were caught interfering with communications behind the French lines had been captured.

He then repeated to me the substance of the information contained in my 197, June 7, and said if the British had not precipitated matters he would himself have taken me to the various aerodromes to show me that practically no German planes were left. He also referred to the unfounded reports mentioned in my 184, June 3 and said it was regrettable that the British should base an invasion of a French possession on such flimsy pretexts.

I replied that I did not for a moment believe that the British Government’s decision was influenced by such rumors but that public opinion in England — incidentally also in the United States — had become alarmed by the ease with which the German Air Force had been able to make use of Syrian landing fields during the past month not only without any objection on the part of the French but evidently with their full approval and cooperation. I again referred to the shipment of large quantities of French military supplies to help the rebels in Iraq and asked him if he thought the Germans would have been willing to withdraw their planes from Syria if their intrigues in Iraq had not ended in failure. General Dentz merely shrugged his shoulders and made no reply. I then said he and I could therefore scarcely blame the British if they wished to prevent a similar situation which would be a grave menace to the entire Middle East and might seriously affect the course of the war.

To my question whether there had actually been fighting at the border the General said his troops had been ordered to resist and so far as he knew he was at war with England! I smiled and said war was an ugly word to use between friends and former allies and was convinced the British had no intention whatever of fighting the French either here or anywhere else. The General remained silent.

I then asked him whether he thought the Germans would attack the British if the latter found it necessary to occupy Syrian territory. The High Commissioner replied categorically, “I personally shall certainly not invite any Germans to come to Syria”. I told him I was glad to hear it and would he authorize me to say to my Government that if German planes or troops again arrived in Syria he would have repulsed them. He hesitated for a moment and then said with pathetic helplessness:

That would depend on my instructions from Vichy.

Please repeat to London.

Repeated to Vichy.


740.0011 European War 1939/11757: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Leahy) to the Secretary of State

Vichy, June 8, 1941 — noon.
[Received June 8 — 10:40 a.m.]


Rochat has just handed us the following note signed by Admiral Darlan, emphasizing verbally that the French for their part intend to do everything possible to “keep the conflict localized”; that they do not wish the fighting to extend to other areas:

The French Government has just learned through a telegram received from the General High Commissioner of France at Beirut that Syrian territory was attacked this morning on the Marjayoun front south of the Jabal al-Druze and that enemy reconnaissance units, foot and motorized troops, have made contact with our outposts. Fighting is taking place.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs once more draws to the attention of the American Embassy the fact that there is no collaboration in Syria between German and French forces and that all the German aeronautical matériel and personnel which might have been there on the occasion of the events of Iraq have been withdrawn (with the exception of 2 or 3 damaged machines and possibly 10 men).

The Ministry feels that it must especially emphasize to the American Embassy that any British attack — which nothing in the present situation in Syria can justify — carries with it the risk of bringing about the most serious consequences. As it has already been pointed out to the Embassy, the French Government is resolved to defend its territory and its possessions wherever they may be attacked with every means at its disposal. All measures have been taken to this end in Syria.

Conscious of the dangers which the situation entails, the French Government, for its part, and until further notice, will avoid everything which might tend to aggravate or to extend the conflict. If the latter should be extended, the French Government would be obliged to assure by the necessary measures the defense of the territories under the sovereignty of France.

Repeated to Beirut, Algiers and London.



The Pittsburgh Press (June 9, 1941)

By Jacob Simon, United Press staff writer

Jerusalem, June 9 –
The fierce Jabal al-Druze tribesmen, traditional enemies of the French, are greeting the Allied invading forces in the mountains of southwestern Syria with great joy, dispatches from the front reported today.

Advices from the front indicated that the Anglo-Free French column driving north from Amman, Transjordan, encountered very little resistance.

The Druze tribesmen, headed by their hereditary chieftain, Sultan al-Atrash, were reported to have been among the first to acclaim the Allies. The Sultan had received British hospitality in Transjordan in 1926 after the Druze revolt when the French sentenced him and his followers to death.

Free French radio stations barraged Syrian listeners with attacks on the Vichy government as allied troops marched into Syria.

Broadcasters denounced Vichy and emphasized that the United States was giving all-out aid to Britain and Free France.

One broadcast said:

A German victory is the only hope of salvation for Vichy traitors such as Jules Henry, ostensibly the Vichy ambassador to Turkey but actually a Vichy agent in Ankara on behalf of Germany.

It quoted a member of the ambassador’s entourage as having attributed to the daughter of Pierre Laval:

The Germans will evidently win the war. They must or else Daddy will be shot dead.

Bugles which formerly heralded the incoming of the Sabbath have been replaced by bells and the shouts of town criers so that there will be no possibility of confusion with air raid sirens.

Palestine’s first rationing measure went into effect yesterday when cafes and restaurants served only one lump of sugar with each cup of tea or coffee.


By Wallace Carroll, United Press staff writer

London, June 9 –
Allies forces are driving northward in Syria after having occupied the coastal town of Sur, the Tyre of Biblical history, 45 miles south of Beirut, it was said authoritatively today.

It was said also that the British forces had taken the Syrian frontier post of Dera, on the Amman-Damascus railroad.

A spokesman intimated that the Allies had encountered opposition from French forces – possibly more than had been expected.

At the same time, official quarters warned newspapers against accepting statements that General Maxime Weygand, French colonial commander-in-chief, had taken a firm stand against further Vichy government concessions to Germany.

’Suspect Gen. Weygand’

A spokesman said:

We have nothing to show any disagreement between General Weygand and the rest of the people of Vichy.

Until evidence was produced in support of General Weygand’s alleged attitude, it was added, he should be regarded:

…with the greatest suspicion, the same as other Vichy generals.

It was reported unofficially that the Allied forces in Syria were advancing in four columns – along the coast toward Beirut, along the inland road paralleling the River Jordan; up the railroad from Amman, Transjordan, and from the interior of Iraq along the Euphrates River toward Aleppo.

Free France’s Brazzaville radio station reported:

Our forces in Syria are continuing their advance despite scattered opposition. German aerodromes are being destroyed as we advance.

’Admit Nazi arrivals’

A Daily Sketch dispatch datelined as from the Syrian frontier said that a high French official admitted at a frontier post just before the zero hour that:

There is no longer any use denying Nazi arrivals in Syria and I shall not attempt to deny them in spite of attempts to smokescreen this tragic development.

He was quoted as continuing:

The first units of the German Army and Air Force are here. I have seen them myself and I know that more are coming. If this thing is to be stopped, action must be initiated from the outside.

Meanwhile, the RAF revealed that heavy raids have been carried out upon Benghazi, Derna, Kambut and Capuzzo in Libya, apparently with a view to holding Axis forces in the desert in check during the progress of the Syrian campaign.

About 45,000 Allied troops

Military experts estimated that the Allied force must number about 45,000 men. Estimates of the strength of the Vichy forces in Syria varied from 30,000 to 60,000.

Large numbers of Syrians, especially in the Jabal al-Druze area, are joining the Allies reliable informants said.

There was belief here that most of the junior officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the French forces were anti-German.

’Come to wash out shame’

American Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk planes led the Allied advance, it was understood here, acting as eyes for the ground forces and dropping leaflets, which are an important part of the campaign.

As the Allied forces advanced early yesterday, loudspeakers which had been installed along the Syrian frontier blared:

We have come to chase out the German enemy and wash out the shame of the capitulations of Vichy. The humiliating and perfidious Vichy government has thrown the Near East into war.

The planes dropped appeals to Frenchmen and Syrians to collaborate with the Allied forces and prevent the Germans from taking over the country.

The RAF command said that its planes were meeting no opposition.

It was apparent that the Allied move had wide support through the Middle East among Arabs and that it was heartily welcomed by Turkey.

The final decision to advance was made because of information that Nazi “tourists” were flowing steadily into Syria and that Germany was concentrating planes and men in Crete and the Dodecanese Islands for large-scale action.

A British Tomahawk fighter pilot said British fliers had discovered secret airdromes in Syria which the Vichy authorities had permitted the Germans to build.

He said also that French planes had flown up, but did not attack, when he himself found one field.

Other pilots said that French planes often had flown along with British planes and made mock attacks on them. Only occasionally, they said, had a French plane or anti-aircraft battery offered serious opposition.



French fighting British in mountains near Damascus rail line

By Ralph Heinzen, United Press staff writer

Vichy, June 9 –
French and Allied troops are fighting fiercely in the Jabal al-Druze mountains east of the Amman-Damascus railroad, French dispatches reported today.

Free French troops supported by British artillery are driving at the French lines in the 6,000-foot hills, dispatches said, and the French are opposing stoutly.

The Allied forces were reported making their main drive first at this point, and second up the Jordan River Valley toward Mt. Hermon and Damascus. The Mt. Hermon column was a mixed one of tanks and motorized infantry, it was said.

Send protest to British

French reports say that numerous British tanks have been destroyed.

British planes continued to use their superior weight to attack the principal airfields behind the French line, according to dispatches.

It was asserted that Free French appeals to the Arabs in Syria for support had been vain.

It was announced that François Piétri, French Ambassador at Madrid, had sent a formal note of protest against the Syrian attack to Sir Samuel Hoare, the British Ambassador.

Vichy troops were reported to have captured a British naval landing party which a blockading British fleet put ashore on the Lebanese coast.

Landing parties captured

Official dispatches said fighting was widerningh rapidly, with the British fleet and air force cooperating at all points against superior forces.

The French said the British naval party was landed but a detachment which included a battleship, two cruisers and five destroyers. The landing parties, armed with submachine guns, immediately were made prisoner, it was asserted.

British planes besides bombing the air fields at Damascus and Aleppo yesterday machine-gunned the field at Riyaq, it was said officially.

Deny Nazis in Syria

A communiqué issued at Beirut said:

The British pretend to excuse their attack on the ground that French troops are trying to protect German planes. As the High Commissioner has affirmed, the Iraq episode has ended. The German planes which landed at Syrian air fields have all returned to their former bases. In the whole of Syria and Lebanon, there are only five wrecked German planes and the 15 fliers of their crews.

It was indicated here that the forces clashing in the coastal area of Syria were small, possibly not more than 10,000 on each side.

A British column was reported attacking upon the Jordan Valley while a de Gaullist column supported by British artillery and tanks proceeded across the frontier from Amman.

The British are using considerably more planes than the Vichy forces have available.


By Henry T. Gorrell, United Press staff writer

With the Allied armies on the Palestine-Syria frontier, June 9 –
Australian, British and Indian troops, protected by string air force units equipped with American-made planes, moved into southwest Syria today.

The Allied columns were reported to be carrying tremendous quantities of foodstuffs, apparently for distribution within Syria where shortages have caused severe hardships in recent weeks.

The food distribution plan seemed to be part of the Allied plan to win support of the Syrian populace and carry out the occupation with a minimum of bloodshed.

Australian troops were in the vanguard of the advance.

Army leaders did not exclude the possibility of a clash with German units which have filtered into Syria.



Beirut, June 9 (UP) –
Vichy troops are defending themselves “magnificently” all along the line against British Imperial and Free French forces who crossed the frontier at at least three points yesterday, the Syrian High Command said today.

It was asserted that three British planes had been shot down and several armored cars destroyed in the fighting yesterday.

The outskirts of Beirut were bombed by British planes twice yesterday. During the second raid, a Standard Oil tank was set afire. The Mezzeh airdrome at Damascus, the Al-Nayrab airdrome at Aleppo and the Riyaq airdrome were bombed. It was said that damage was slight.

Jewish Telegraphic Agency News (June 9, 1941)


London, June 9 (JTA) –
Many Jewish officers and privates are among the Free French forces which penetrated Syria this morning, a recently arrived Palestinian informant told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today.

The events in Syria, he said, were being followed with the greatest interest in Palestine which, while not the only neighbor of Syria and Lebanon, was the juncture of the main Allied bases of operations.

A great part of the Jewish settlements in the Galilee are now on the very front line of the advancing Allied troops. One of the oldest colonies in the Upper Galilee, Metula, is situated only 200 yards from the Lebanon border and part of the colony’s land even extends into Syrian territory.

A little to the south is Kfar Giladi and Tel Hai, both heroically defended points in earlier days. Another group of colonies in the affected region includes Ayelet HaShahar, on Lake Merem, and Mishmar HaYarden, which is an important bridgehead to Syria, and other Upper Galilean colonies around Rosh Pinna.

Degania Kinneret as well as the fishing settlements on Lake Tiberias are also close to the front line. Hannita, near the Mediterranean coast, is also on the Syrian border. All of these colonies are closely connected with the history of the Palestine Jewish community.

The informant pointed out that it was perhaps premature to attempt to assess the political repercussions in Palestine of the Allied move. Lebanon is the only “A” mandate apart from Palestine. Iraq, which was formerly in the same category, was released from mandate in 1952. Syrian Nationalists often expressed the opinion that Palestine must be considered the southern part of Syria and accordingly called Palestine Suria el Janoubia, meaning southern Syria, and the pre-war relations between the two countries were closest.

Great Jewish communities exist in all the larger towns of Syria, foremost among them being those in Damascus, Aleppo and Beirut.

U.S. Department of State (June 9, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/11765: Telegram

The Minister in Egypt to the Secretary of State

Cairo, June 8, 1941 — 10 a.m.
[Received June 9 — 6:30 a.m.]


The following is the text of a proclamation to be made by General Catroux on entering Syria this morning accompanied by a supporting declaration by the British Ambassador here in behalf of the British Government:

Inhabitants of Syria and the Lebanon:

At the moment when the forces of Free France united to the forces of the British Empire, her ally, are entering your territory I declare that I assume the powers, the responsibilities and the duties of the representative of La France du Levant. This in the name of the Free France which identifies itself with the traditional and real France and in the name of her Chief, General de Gaulle.

In this capacity I come to put an end to the regime of the mandate and to proclaim you free and independent.

You will therefore be from henceforward sovereign and independent peoples and you will be able either to form yourselves into separate states or to unite into a single state. In either event your statute of independence and sovereignty will be guaranteed by a treaty in which our mutual relations will be defined. This treaty will be negotiated as soon as possible between your representatives and myself. Fending its conclusion our mutual situation will be that of allies closely united in the pursuit of a common ideal and aims.

Inhabitants of Syria and the Lebanon, you will see from this declaration that if the Free French and the British forces are crossing your frontiers it is to ensure it. It is to drive out of Syria the forces of Hitler. It is to prevent the Levant from becoming against the British and against ourselves an offensive base of the enemy.

We cannot allow, we who are fighting for the liberty of peoples, that the enemy should submerge your country step by step, obtain control of your persons and your belongings, and turn you into slaves. We cannot allow that populations which France has promised to defend should be thrown into the hands of the most pitiless master that history has known. We cannot allow that the age-long interests of France in the Levant should be handed to the enemy.

Inhabitants of Syria and the Lebanon, if in answer to our appeal you rally to us, you should know that the British Government in agreement with Free France has promised to grant you all the advantages enjoyed by free countries who are associated with them. Thus the blockade will be lifted and you will enter into immediate relations with the sterling bloc which will open the widest possibilities for your imports and exports. You will be able to buy and sell freely with all free countries.

Inhabitants of Syria and the Lebanon, France declares you independent by the voice of her sons who are fighting for her life and for the liberty of the world.


740.0011 European War 1939/11817: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut to the Secretary of State

Beirut, June 9, 1941 — 10 a.m.
[Received 5:15 p.m.]


As the local representative of the United Press is telegraphing summaries of communiqués and the Department has, of course, access to British communiqués I shall confine myself to information not available to the public.

  1. Neighborhood of Standard Oil tanks in Beirut was bombed twice yesterday. Little damage was done but several people were killed and injured. No air raid warnings were sounded either on this or previous occasions. There is no blackout and the local population appears to have blind confidence that no British plane will hurt them. The city has not changed its normal aspect although all schools and some shops have been closed.

  2. Most of the male British subjects were arrested last night and were locked up at the quarantine station. As this is a very unpleasant place besides being in the military defense area I objected and the High Commissioner has promised to remove them at once to a more suitable locality. Women have not been molested.

  3. Most of the military section of the High Commission have been moved to other quarters, leaving only some of the civil bureaus in the present large and very conspicuous building.

  4. On the whole the British appear to have encountered more French military resistance than they had anticipated but hardly any of the local French believe that it will last long.

  5. All both official and unofficial and most of the Italians left Beirut and Damascus yesterday and today for Aleppo. Several of them have told their friends that they would be back soon and mentioned the recent air raids on Alexandria as an example of what happens to cities under British protection.

  6. British bombing of Aleppo airdrome has destroyed radio station and barracks on south camp. German personnel of some 20 men has now moved to north camp where they live in the same building as French personnel near the gasoline dump.

  7. Germans at Aleppo are under command of Von Manteuffel and are making no preparations to leave immediately. There are also some German soldiers who returned from Iraq. It is my considered opinion that they will remain until the last possible moment in the hope that the British will be held up by the French sufficiently long to enable German planes to bring enough German forces to Aleppo to hold northern Syria. It is therefore imperative that the British take Aleppo with the least possible delay especially as 500 tons of aviation spirits are expected to arrive there for the Germans from Romania via Turkey in the immediate future.

  8. British should also occupy as quickly as possible railway between Qamishli and Tell Kotchek as the French intend to blow up bridge at Wadi Rumeli.

  9. German military mission has recently been inspecting Latakia and is undoubtedly continuing plans for the landing of troops there by sea and air.
    Please inform British authorities.

Repeated to Vichy.



Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

Washington, June 9, 1941.

The French Ambassador came to see the Secretary at 11:00 a.m., Monday, June 9, 1941 at the Secretary’s apartment at Wardman Park Hotel, the Secretary having changed the appointment from his office because of a slight cold. This call was made on the Secretary at the request of the French Ambassador.

The French Ambassador opened the conversation by stating that the French Government had done everything in the world it could to cooperate with the British — had even made the supreme sacrifice of going to war and shedding blood for the British. He pointed to the sadness caused by the spectacle of the British now attacking the French in Syria without, he said, any justification whatever. He said that Marshal Pétain and Admiral Darlan had stated that the French would take no military initiative against the British and had fully complied with that position. The Ambassador repeated the trials and sufferings through which the French had gone since the capitulation almost a year ago, and the effort made by the French Government at Vichy to obtain an amelioration of the conditions of the armistice for the relief of the civilian population, the return of the French prisoners from Germany, and the freedom of communication between the two separate parts of France. The Ambassador recalled that he, himself, had worked during his term of office in Washington for a better understanding between the British and the French but had only been able to give hope to his Government for some betterment of this relationship without any effective steps having been accomplished.

The Secretary listened patiently to the exposition of the Ambassador which was based almost entirely on the statement that the French had not taken any initiative with respect to military acts against the British, although he apparently avoided the issue as to whether the French could have been justly expected under the terms of the armistice to grant the right of use of airdromes in Syria to the Germans in their plan for military assistance against the British forces in Iraq. The Secretary, for his part, drew the picture presented by the acts and utterances of the French governmental leaders, particularly Admiral Darlan and previously Laval, indicating an attitude of helpfulness and collaboration with the Hitler forces far beyond the requirements of the armistice terms. The Secretary further recalled that since the French capitulation he and this Government had worked incessantly for a betterment of the relationship between the French and British and had so strongly pleaded the French cause in many instances as to obtain reversals of decisions by the British Government with respect to restrictive blockade measures and other aspects affecting the lives of Frenchmen, both in France itself and in their colonial territories. The Secretary went on to say that he and this Government would continue their effort most diligently to bring about an amelioration of the conditions under which the French people are living at the present time, and that there is no force on earth which can move them from the determination to continue this policy except the French Government itself by turning its back upon the friendly cooperation offered by the United States and adopting a closer collaboration with the forces of conquest which are seeking to destroy Great Britain and endanger the safety and security of our own country. The Secretary said that no one, including the Ambassador himself, in the face of the present world movement of destruction and conquest being attempted by the Hitler regime, if he were put in a position of responsibility for the security of the United States, would make any other decision than that of aiding with all its power the defense of Great Britain and other countries defending themselves against those forces seeking to destroy them and the associates of those forces, no matter under what guise of chimerical promises for the future.

The Secretary said that he is not undertaking at this moment to arrive at any final conclusions with regard to the attitude of the French Government but that we are analyzing all the facts and circumstances as they develop in the light of the utterances of Laval and of Darlan’s recent statement in Paris and the statements of Marshal Pétain, which have a bearing along these same lines — and that we are studying the tendency toward collaboration by the Vichy Government beyond the strict terms of the armistice, culturally, religiously, economically, and militarily, with the full realization that such cooperation must tend to the extinction of French civilization.

The Secretary then reverted to the Syrian situation and emphasized that the French had not defended themselves in Syria against the Germans when the Germans had made use of the Syrian airports contrary to the requirements of the armistice and in violation of the agreement of 1924 between the French and American Governments with regard to the preservation of the sovereignty over Syria.

The Secretary then forcefully asserted that a question arises now as to the attitude of the French Government toward the British with respect to Syria and said that right here there must be a distinction made between the small, local aspect of Syrian developments and the larger issue which was that Germany must have Syria in connection with its military operations in regard to Iraq and with respect to the Suez Canal, and that any action by the French authorities in permitting the use of facilities in Syria for the further extension of German military operations in Asia Minor affected the fundamental position of the British in their present struggle against the German forces. The Secretary made the definite point that it was; most regrettable that the French cannot see the larger and more comprehensive element in this new development which is far more important and far closer to French interests and the future of all Frenchmen than to the smaller, more immediate and local issue with respect to a mandated Syria where Germany is anxious to bring about a situation which would further her own program of attempted crushing of the British position in the Middle East.

The Secretary reiterated with emphasis that he felt the French Government should realize that this is not a local issue confined to the matter of the mandated territory of Syria, but is one which touches upon the very foundation of the future continuance of French life, independence, and civilization.

The Secretary concluded by stating that he was not prepared to state that he had come to any conclusions with regard to the present developments but he must say that he is watching minutely and with the greatest apprehension the acts and developments as they arise and is analyzing the attitude and policy, as it might affect the relations between the French on the one hand and the British, and eventually other countries, including the United States, on the other hand, as declared and put into effect by the officials of the Government at Vichy.