Operation Battle of Damour

The 'Battle of Damour' was the last major operation of the Australian forces during the British-led 'Exporter' campaign to take Syria and Lebanon from the Vichy French forces (5/9 July 1941).

In 1941, Damour was the Vichy French administrative capital of Lebanon, and was a large town on the coast of Lebanon about 18.5 miles (30 km) to the south of Beirut. The Wadi Damour, with the Damour river in its bed, was a further 1.95 miles (3 km) to the south of the town. These features were the last major natural obstacles that the Allied forces needed to cross before reaching Beirut. Having already captured the heights overlooking Damour on the wadi’s southern bank, the plan developed by Major General A. S. Allen, commander of the Australian 7th Division, involved an encirclement of the Vichy French positions at Damour.

On the night of 5 July, the operation began with troops of Brigadier J. E. S. Stevens’s Australian 21st Brigade moving into position to cross the Damour river in two places. Early on 6 July, the Australians attacked the Vichy French positions on the northern side. The 2/16th Battalion attacked at El Atiqa and the 2/27th Battalion at El Boum, and by the fall of night both of these positions were in Australian hands. In the early hours of 7 July, the 2/3rd Battalion and the 2/5th Battalion, along with two companies of the 2/14th Battalion, moved to the north through El Boum, thereby outflanking Damour to the east. At Daraya, the 2/14th Battalion’s companies swung to the west to advance on Damour from the east, while the 2/3rd Battalion and the 2/5th Battalion continued to the north in order to cut the road to Beirut in the area immediately to the north of the town.

On 8 July, the Australians succeeded in cutting the road. In the south, the 2/2nd Pioneer Battalion and elements of Major General I. G. Mackay’a Australian 6th Divisional Cavalry Regiment were advancing along the axis of the coastal road. By 02.00 on 9 July, the Australian pioneers were advancing into Damour’s southern outskirts, and at 04.00 a cavalry patrol was able to drive right through Damour. The remaining Vichy French forces had managed to slip out of the Australian encirclement and withdrawn from Damour. The Australians immediately began pushing along the coastal road toward Beirut.

The 'Battle of Damour' sealed the fate of Beirut. On 8 July, even before the fall of Damour, the Vichy French commander, Général Henri Dentz, had requested an armistice, and at 00.01 on 12 July a ceasefire came into effect. For all practical purposes, this ended the 'Exporter' campaign.