Battle of the Litani River
|Battle of Litani River|
|Part of the Syria-Lebanon Campaign of World War II|
|Commanders and leaders|
| John Lavarack
The Battle of the Litani River (9 June 1941) was a battle of the Second World War that took place on the advance to Beirut during the Syria-Lebanon campaign. The Australian 7th Division, commanded by Major-General John Lavarack, crossed the Litani River and later clashed with Vichy French troops.
Operation Exporter begins
During the first hour of 8 June 1941, Australian forces in northern Palestine crossed the border into southern Lebanon. Guides from the Palmach supported many of the lead units. Initial resistance from Vichy forces south of the Litani River was scattered and generally disorganised.
The 21st Australian Brigade advanced along the coast road heading for Beirut and attempted to cross the Litani River. A surprise night time landing by the British No. 11 (Scottish) Commando, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel R.L.Pedder (Highland Light Infantry), was attempted in order to seize the bridge near the mouth of the river, but was delayed by rough seas on the proposed landing beach. This gave the Vichy French defenders enough time to destroy the bridge. When the commandos eventually landed in daylight, in three separate places, the initial landing was almost unopposed due to the defenders being in combat against the Australian troops, subsequently in the fighting they took heavy casualties, among them Pedder, who was killed in an assault on the French barracks. He was succeeded in command by Geoffrey Keyes, whose party was ultimately able to secure the crossing by getting over the river in canvas boats with the help of some of the Australian troops.
A Vichy counter attack using armoured cars was driven off. A pontoon bridge was quickly completed.
The Australians came under inaccurate fire from two Vichy French destroyers, the Guépard and the Valmy. Australian artillery had to drive off the warships which had come close inshore to shell the advancing troops.
- Long, Gavin (1953). "Chapters 16 to 26". Greece, Crete and Syria (1st edition, 1953). Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army. Volume II. Canberra: Australian War Memorial.