In 1941-42 my favourite Arab unit, the Transjordanian Arab Legion, was doing its bit for the Allied cause in WW2.
There were two key periods that might be worth gaming:
- The relief of the RAF Habbaniya base in Iraq.
- The British conquest of French held Syria.
Sukhna, 1 July 1941
Sukhna was an interesting incident in the Syrian adventure described in Lunt (1999).
In late June 1941 Glubb Pasha (a Brit) took the Arab Legion’s Mechanized Regiment and a squadron of the Household Cavalry in a wide ranging reconnaissance into Syria; this was part of the British operation to capture Syria from the Vichy French. The Legion regiment consisted of 350 men, 3 home-made armoured cars, and trucks for the infantry. Glubb had also been joined by a group of tribal Bedouin from Jordan … ‘We have come to join your war’ (and get free food).
On 29 June, Glubb’s force took Sukhna without opposition. Sukhna is a small village of sun-baked houses 30 miles north of Palmyra; it was an important position as it controlled the only easy pass through the mountains into the northern desert.
Early in the morning of 1 July Glubb’s men were dispersed to prepare breakfast – most were at a brushwood stand about 1 mile down the wadi. Glubb remained at Sukhna with about 30 men and the three home-made armoured cars. They were positioned on a bare, gravely ridge covering the eastern approach to the village. Suddenly they saw, through clouds of dust, a column of vehicles approaching along the track; it was unclear who they were. Glubb sent two NCOs in a truck to investigate, but just in case he also positioned his armoured cars in hull-down along the ridge with the infantry filling in between them. The Legion scouts were fired upon, thus confirming that the approaching force was French.
The new arrivals were the French 2nd Light Desert Company from Deir es Zor. About 100 men, six armoured cars, plus trucks. The French infantry dismounted, and supported by their armoured cars, attempted to storm the Legion’s positions on the ridge. The French made little progress against the Legion fire, and were taking casualties fast on the bare slopes of the ridge. Still, as the Legionaries were outnumbered three to one, Glubb intended to delay his counterattack until for his main force could cut in behind the enemy. These reinforcements, however, were painfully slow in appearing. Glubb’s men on the ridge, tired of waiting, took preemptive action; one of them, Remaithan of the Shammar, jumped to his feet shouted ‘Wein al nishama?’ (‘Where are the galants?’), waved his rifle and charged down the slope. The others joined him, including the armoured cars. Although greatly outnumbered Glubb’s men swept the enemy aside.
Just at that moment the Legion’s main body arrived and the fight developed into a wild helter-skelter chase across the desert. Glubb described the scene …
“By this time a number of [Legion] infantry trucks had overtaken us and were driving parallel to us on the right and left. Many of the men were standing up, their long hair flying in the wind. They brandished their rifles and shouted: ‘Where are they? The gallants, where are they?’ My own car was full of people. I did not know how they got there. Several were soldiers who seemed to have borrowed a lift. We were still followed by tribal volunteers from the Howeitat. One of these, Jazi ibn Isa, was standing on the running board of the car, making it remarkably diffuclt to drive. He was in a paroxysm of excitement, shouting his war-cries, Every now and then he thrust a tousled head in at the window and bellowed exhortations into my ear. At intervals he fired a rusty rifle into space as no particular target.”
The enemy vehicles were overtaken when they tried to cut across country towards the hills. One of the trucks escaped but the remainer got bogged down in the wadi where they were captured by the excited Legionaries. The French had 3 officers (one of whom was Syrian) and 80 men captured, plus all the armoured cars, all but one of the trucks, and six machineguns; 11 Frenchmen were killed. The Legion lost one killed and one wounded.
Order of Battle Arab Legion 1942
- 1 x Mechanized Brigade
- 3 x Regiment (700 men)
- 1 x Headquarters Squadron
- 2 x Armoured Car Squadrons
- Home made Armoured Cars (actually made in Haifa)
- 2 x Motorised Infantry Squadrons (on Ford trucks)
- 1 x Artillery unit
- 8 x 25-pounders
- Brigade Signals unit
- 3 x Regiment (700 men)
- 16 x Garrison Companies
Lunt, J. (1999). The Arab Legion 1923 – 1957. London: Constable.