Battle of Maysalun
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|Battle of Maysalun
|Part of the Franco-Syrian War|
Henri Gouraud on horseback inspecting his French troops at Maysalun
|Commanders and leaders|
|Henri Gouraud||Yusuf al-Azmah †|
|9,000 men supported by tanks and aircraft||around 3,000 men (older light equipment)|
|Casualties and losses|
|42 dead and 154 injured||400+ dead|
The Battle of Maysalun (Arabic: معركة ميسلون), also called The Battle of Maysalun Pass, was a battle fought between forces of the Kingdom of Syria and French forces on 23 July 1920 near the town of Maysalun, about 12 miles west of Damascus, towards the Lebanese border. At the battle, the better equipped and trained French forces decisively defeated the Arab forces.
Towards the end of the First World War, British-supported Hejazi forces defeated the Ottoman forces in the Middle East and captured Damascus on 30 September 1918. An independent Kingdom of Syria was proclaimed in Damascus on 8 March 1920, with Faysal ibn Husayn of the House of Hashim as its king. This unilateral action was immediately repudiated by the British and French and the San Remo Conference was called by the Allied Powers in April 1920 to finalise the allocation of League of Nations mandates in the Middle East. This was in turn repudiated by Faisal and his supporters. After months of instability and failure to make good on the promises Faisal had made to the French, the commander of French forces General Henri Gouraud on 14 July 1920 gave an ultimatum to Faisal declaring he surrender or fight.:215 Without British support and understanding the futility of opposing the French forces, King Faisal surrendered to the French on the same day.
General Gouraud ordered the French 24th Division led by General Mariano Goybet to advance out of Beirut on Damascus. Some Maronite Lebanese reportedly fought on the French side, unwilling to join a Muslim-dominated Kingdom of Syria.
Yusuf al-'Azma, Faisal's minister of war and chief of staff, ignored the King's surrender and led a small army to confront the French advance at Maysalun. He led a small force from Damascus, consisting of a few hundred regular soldiers from the newly formed army and some hastily-summoned citizen volunteers on what was essentially a suicide mission.
The French forces under the command of General Goybet easily defeated the Syrian forces, and Yusuf al-'Azma was killed in the battle. After the battle, General Gouraud addressed General Goybet as follows:
GENERAL ORDER No. 22
Aley, 24 July 1920
- "The General is deeply happy to address his congratulations to General Goybet and his valiant troops: 415th of line, 2nd Algerian sharpshooters, 11th and 10th Senegalese sharpshooters, light-infantry-men of Africa, Moroccan trooper regiment, batteries of African groups, batteries of 155, 314, company of tanks, bombardment groups and squadrons who in the hard fight of 24 of July, have broken the resistance of the enemy who defied us for 8 months.
- "They have engraved a glorious page in the history of our country." - General Gouraud
After the battle, General Goybet's troops besieged and captured Damascus later the next day, on 24 July 1920, and within a short time, the majority of Faisal's Hashemite forces fled or surrendered to the French. The last stronghold to fall to the French was Damascus, where last parties of Arab hardliners continued to resist, but were shortly defeated. A pro-French government under the leadership of 'Ala al-Din al-Tarubi was installed one day later. On 1 September 1920, General Gouraud divided the French mandate territory into several smaller states as part of a French scheme to make Syria easier to control.
The French took control of the territory that would on September 29, 1923 officially become the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon. The French takeover of Syria ushered in the new era of French colonialism and led to more revolts in northern Syria and Damascus. Gouraud reportedly went to the tomb of Saladdin, kicked it, and said: "Awake, Saladin. We have returned. My presence here consecrates victory of the Cross over the Crescent."
Yusuf al-'Azma is remembered in Syria today as a martyr who died in the cause of Syrian independence. A statue of him now resides at the center of one of the largest squares in Damascus.
- David Murphy: The Arab Revolt 1916-18: Lawrence Sets Arabia Ablaze, Osprey Publishing, 2008, ISBN 184603339X, page 83.
- Eliezer Tauber. The Formation of Modern Syria and Iraq. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd. Portland, Oregon. 1995.
- Meyer, Karl Ernest; Brysac, Shareen Blair (2008). Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 359. ISBN 9780393061994.
- Sami M. Moubayed, The Politics of Damascus 1920–1946. Urban Notables and the French Mandate (Dar Tlass, 1999)
- M. Shakir, Islamic History