Al Messeh Airfield
Syria 20th/21st June 1941
This is a fictional wargame set during the final few days of Operation Exporter in Syria 1941.
Al Messah was a large village on a junction with the Beirut to Damascus road, some three miles west of Damascus itself (these days a suburb of the city).
It was the site of a major French military airfield (actually still is as Syrian Airforce base); On 19 May 1941 British aircraft attacked the airport, destroying some modern Potez 63 aircraft as well some older Potez 25 biplanes.
The plan called for the troops of 5th Indian Brigade to advance northwards from their positions at Aartouz on the Kuneitra (sometime called Quneitra) to Damascus road across country west of the road towards Mezzah. The brigade's supplies, ammunition and the anti-tank element would follow closely behind on the road proper. Meanwhile, the Free French forces would advance along the Kissoué – Damascus road to capture Qadim as a preliminary to entering the Syrian capital, some four miles further north.
At 20.30 on 18 June, the Indian troops set out and skirmished their way north. They reached Mezzeh at 04.15. By 05.30, after an hour of fierce hand-to-hand fighting, Mezzeh was captured. However, there was a major problem: the equipment and anti-tank guns travelling up the main road had earlier got ahead of the infantry and run into a Vichy roadblock where most of the vehicles were knocked out. Furthermore, the planned advance by the Free French to Qadim had been delayed, allowing the Vichy defenders to concentrate on the Mezzeh action, putting intense pressure on the Allied position whilst thwarting any attempt to relieve them and bring in vitally needed anti-tank weapons.
Throughout the 19th and 20th, the Indian troops faced vicious French counter attacks supported by armour and artillery, but even though ammunition was running low and casualties increasing they held for over 36 hours. But by 13.30 on 20 June, with ammunition exhausted and having had no rations for some 50 hours, they were being shelled at point blank range. A decision was made to ask for a truce to evacuate the wounded, to try to buy time for the relieving column (which could be heard fighting in the distance), to reach them. However, the white flag was miss-read as a signal of surrender by the Vichy forces who rushed the positions of the remaining bayonet-wielding defenders and overpowered them. The relieving column, reinforced by a battalion of Australian infantry – the 2/3rd Infantry Battalion – recaptured Mezzeh at 19.00 that evening to find it empty save for the dead.
Now rather than run another game where British or Commonwealth forces face overwhelming odds, I decided to try something a little different. The Australians units fought several actions after Mezzah, including attacking several forts which defended the city along the highway; so I decided to write a game for them. Mezzah Airfield is hardly mentioned in the histories, though there are a few photos of Australian troops inspecting French wrecks. As I happen to have a couple of 1930s French aircraft (as you do) I thought they would look good on the tabletop, so in this sceanrio, elements of 7th Australian Division have been ordered to seize the airstrip and an old stone fort which stands close by.
Proceed North and seize Mezzah airstrip and the nearby fort.
The airstrip could be used by the French to fly in reinforcements (however unlikely) and the fort offers a strong defensive position for the French to block our advance towards Damascus.
No1 company 2/3rd Infantry Battalion with:
HQ - CO, NCO, RTO, Boys AT rifle team, driver
4 rifle platoons each with: 10 figures inc Bren (no4 platoon has a 2" mortar)
All carried in trucks
Gun section 2/3rd Lt. Anti-aircraft Regiment RAA
30cwt truck w/20mm Breda
Guns section 2/2nd Anti-tank Regiment RAA
Morris 15cwt w/ 47mm Bofors AT gun
Tanks Platoon 6th Cavalry Regiment
Humber II A/C
2 x MkVI tanks
Carrier Platoon 6th Cavalry Regiment
2 x carriers (8 men inc Bren)
On call one sortee from a Hurricane
Orders to defend airstrip and fort
Elements 42nd Regiment Infanterie Coloniale
HQ - Officer, NCO, telephone op, 2 runners, VB launcher, MMG team
1 - platoon 42nd Regiment Infanterie Coloniale (10 men inc FM24/29)
1/2 platoon airforce personnel (5 men w/rifles)
1 platoon Syrian Gendarmerie (French officer, 9 men w/rifles)
2 groups Levant militia each with 10 men w/rifles
1 x twin 12.7mm AA
1 x Ft17
1 Platoon V/1st Moroccan Tirailleur Regiment (French officer, 9 men inc FM 24/29)
25mm AT gun w/crew
Reinforcements by road from Damascus (turn 6 + 1D6)
1 platoon I/17th Senegalese Tirailleur Regiment (10 men inc FM24/29) truck
One sortee from a Dewoitine D20
Fought over 20 game turns (in about 2 hours) on our 8x4` table in Spain, i took the vichy forces whilst Alex and Chris played the Aussies.
The first 3 moves saw the Aussies moving onto the table, they decided to commit most of their infantry against the airfield, whist 6th Cavalry advanced along the road against the fort.
The Vichy perimeter quickly responded and forced the Aussie infantry to spread out and seek cover
The dingo leading the 6th cavalry catches a 25mm shell!
Turn 6 & 7 sees the Dewoitine D506 comes in low strafing the road, the Aussie 37mm portee catches hell....
The Breda AA totally fails to hit or drive away the Dewoitine.....
Turn 8 & 9 sees a Hurricane return the favour, first against the hill fort, then across the field
The Vichy twin 12.7mm is equally as useless as the Aussie Breda.........
Turn 10-12 saw the Aussies assault the airfield perimeter driving back the militia and 42nd Regiment defenders.
Queen of the battlefield
Whilst the 6th cavalry supported by No3 platoon attacked the fort at the same time
The fort fell on turn 12, in the end the Moroccans couldn`t hold out against twice their number of troops plus the light armour, but they bloodied the Aussies.
Moroccan Croix de Guerre winner taking out the Humber with a grenade
The Vichy counter-attacked across the airfield
Air-force personnel committed to defend their airfield
Ft17 supporting the militia
(this photo taken just after the Ft has taken a hit from a MKVI)
But by turn 15, they were back on the defensive and taking flanking fire from the 6th Cavalry now free to move down against the airfield.
Also on turn 15, Vichy reinforcements arrive, the Australian No3 platoon moved to occupy the fort against the Senegalese.
The Tanake quickly knocked out a MKVI, then wrecked the SP Breda AA, whilst the Senegalese tried to storm the fort.
Over the next few turns the Senegalese failed to break into the fort and the survivors finally gave up and staggered away on turn 20.
The Tanake tried to attack the Aussies now entrenched around the airfield main gate and was finally knocked out by combined AT rifle, Bren and rifle-grenade fire on turn 19.
Victory to the Aussies.