Vichy-French leader Admiral François Darlan had already signed the so-called Paris Protocols, granting Germany access to military facilities in Syria, and Luftwaffe and Italian aircraft had already made refueling stops in Syria en route to supplying anti-British forces in Iraq. British access to Middle-Eastern oil was at risk.
The Syria-Lebanon campaign was commanded by Britain’s Lieutenant General Henry Maitland Wilson from his headquarters in Jerusalem. Nicknamed ‘Jumbo’ on account of his bulk, Wilson was a 60-year-old veteran of the Boer war and had fought at Passchendaele and on the Somme. He had long been an advocate for mobile warfare, with motorized infantry and tanks, and was no slouch when it came to tactics.Wilson launched a three-pronged assault, the most westerly prong running north along the coast, the most easterly crossing over the Golan heights.
The Vichy troops mounted a skilled defence—at sea and in the air, as well as on the land. In a destroyer-versus-destroyer engagement, the French crippled HMS Janus and continued with an air attack attack with Bloch bombers and Dewoitine D.520 fighters. A dogfight ensued with RAF Hurricanes, while HMS Janus limped into the safety of Alexandria.
Chapters 16 through 20 of England’s Last War Against France by Colin Smith present a detailed and highly readable account of the Syria-Lebanon campaign.
Damascus fell on 21 June. The Allied victory was front-page news, but the world’s attention would prove short-lived. The following day, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa.