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Bombardment of Damour. Evacuees leaving Damour with their packs and donkeys. Transport has stopped.
The town is being shelled by the Navy and Allied artillery. Large fires were started.
The impression seemed all the more sinister on account of this day of glorious colour and sunshine.
[AWM Copyright ART30074, by Harold Herbert.]
HAIFA, June 29, 1941.
— This afternoon, for the first time in history, three branches of the Australian services were in cooperative action together. The cruiser HMAS Perth, together with British destroyers, one manned by Australians, carried out a bombardment of Vichy batteries and troops in the Wadi Damour area. (Australian troops face the enemy here.) Overhead circled Tomahawks of the R.A.A.F., giving protection in the air.
It was on the eve of the Perth's second anniversary of commission as an Australian ship. I stood on the Perth's aft control bridge while her six-inch guns poured some tons of high explosive onto the enemy positions. Further inshore, the destroyers were busy shelling Vichy strong-posts. In the first few minutes there were a few feeble salvoes from the shore batteries, but these fell short; and after that, did not fire again.
We had left port about mid-day, and were soon running up the Syrian coast. There was an air escort always above, Hurricanes or Tomahawks. "You have no idea how good it is to see those," every second sailor remarked. The Perth's ordeal [from German Stukas] in the Battle of Crete was all too fresh in their minds. We were only a few miles from the coast. Tyre and Sidon were soon passed. Finally we slackened speed as we neared the objective. The broken white ridge was plainly visible as the seaward mount of Wadi Damour. A thick green wood runs across the slopes to the north.
Destroyers get onto a Target
The two destroyers were drifting along fairly close in by now, and puffs of brown-grey smoke told us they had opened fire, seconds before any sound reached us. Explosions in the wood showed that they were on their target in the first shots. It was at this stage that the Vichy batteries answered their fire. Meanwhile, fire-direction orders were coming through the speaking tubes on the aft control bridge. Well away to the left, the Damour township's tall wireless mast rose in the centre of a compound of buildings. Shell after shell landed at the foot of the mast or in the compound.
All the time, the ship was moving slowly around. Soon the aft turrets were firing. The ship gradually made a full turn, and again salvos roared as she moved northwards again. Far away, along the coast, Beirut could be seen, with dozens of towns and suburbs in between. It was magnificent shooting. All this time the destroyers had been busy gradually lifting their fire and searching further up the deep green wadi. Soon they too turned. It must have made a grand sight to the troops on the shore. I looked at my watch and found it was nearly 46 minutes since the first shot was fired. It seemed nearer five.
Down the escorting fighters dived, over the ships. The sailors' happy upturned faces were mute evidence of their feelings. In many months of Mediterranean service, it was the first trip the Perth had made without firing her 'ack-ack' [antiaircraft] guns. We had fighter protection every moment of the trip.
DAMOUR AREA, SYRIA. JULY 1941. TRACKS AND CROSSINGS OVER THE DAMOUR RIVER, IN EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT COUNTRY ,
PREPARED UNDER FIRE BY ENGINEERS OF 2/6TH FIELD COMPANY FOR USE BY AUSTRALIAN TROOPS PRIOR TO THE ATTACK ON DAMOUR .
[See also the Harry Clare Collection of photos from Syria.]
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