alt="R W Friend 6458484 1/7 Royal Fusilers Pembroke Garrison Army Education Board"

Egypt/Ethiopia/Syria 5/10/39 - 6/12/41




Things are quiet in Middle East in 1939 and early 1940. On 19 October 1939, the Treaty of Mutual Assistance was signed between the United Kingdom, France and Turkey and the assumption was Britain would be at war with Italy in the Middle East. For the first nine months of the Second World War, the Middle East was quie until Italy's declaration of war on 10 June 1940 and the start of the East African Campaign, which was the allies first strategic victory in WW2.

The Btn is training and learning to cope with Egyptian conditions, new equipment and raw replacements brought in from UK. After the Fall of France in June 1940 and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Northern Europe after the Battle of Dunkirk, the next major land battle between the Axis powers and the United Kingdom erupted in North Africa in September with the Fascist Italian invasion of Egypt from Libya.
‡‡ The Italian offensive was halted and, in December 1940, the British made a counterattack. What started as a five-day raid turned into Operation Compass, resulting in massive losses for the Italian forces. The Italian's Axis partner, Nazi Germany, provided Afrika Korps, a contingent of ground and air forces, to prevent a total collapse, and Germany became the dominant partner. A lot of the footage you see of captured Italian troops is showing them guarded by 1 Bn RF!!!! (War Diary 1940 - December.

The first actions of Royal Fusiliers on arriving Egypt was to defend the southern borders of Egypt and thus the Red Sea supply routes as well as the Suez Canal. The battalion
fought in the following campaigns

  • Battle of Sidi Barrani (Operation Compass).The 4th Indian Infantry Division, were rushed from the Western Desert after the breakthrough during Operation Compass, and an attack was launched into Eritrea on 18 January 1941

  • East African - Battle of Keren 5th Feb - 1 April 1941. 19 British & Indian battalions defeated 42 Italian battalions. Bobs battalion suffers heavy loss. The heavy fighting was partly caused by deception campaign Operation Camilla  backfired and the Italians moved troops from British Somaliland to Eritrea!a fiercely fought series of engagements against superior numbers, which ended with victory for Platt's forces on 1 April 1941
  • Syrian - Lebanon Conflicts. Invasion of Vichy French territory. Bob dodges Capture. But this period started off with battalion going back to Sidi Barrani before re-tracking across Egypt to Israel and Golan Heights.
  • In Syrian-Lebanon campaign its noted that Many of the British and Commonwealth troops were novices and the hot, dry and mountainous terrain was a severe test, in which Indian Army units excelled (remember 1st B Royal Fusiliers was attached to 5 Ind Inf Bde, 4 Ind Div)
  • Battle of Merdjayoun - 19/06/1941 the British attempted unsuccessfully to attack Damascus and Merjayoun, Lebanon. Indian and British troops advanced in the area south and southeast of Damascus, but we succeeded in repulsing them in counterattacks by our armoured units and took 400 prisoners. Enemy had ~ 2000 troops + tanks & armoured cars. The Royals had under 600 men and no serious anti tank armaments!

    The 2/3rd Battalion of the 6th Division was part of the column sent to relieve elements of the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade Group which had been cut off and surrounded in Mezze, a western neighbourhood of Damascus with strategic air base, after the Battle of Damascus. They gallantly stormed the high ground near Mezze but in spite of their efforts the column were only able to fight their way into Mezze a few hours after the Allied defenders, out of ammunition and without food for the previous 50 hours, had been overrun.

    "C" Coy had been taken away from Bn on 13th June 1941 to assist with KISWEH battle!

    During World War II Mazzeh (south pf Damascus) airport was a military base for the Vichy French airforce, which also permitted Germany to use its bases. A lot of action occurred in this area.

    The 'London Gazette Tuesday 24th November 1941
    The Times Thursday 19th June 1941


Not only has Bob fought the Germans and Italians but the Vichy French!

War Diary 1941 (Jan - 16th June) *Bat surrenders and records lost


Egypt/East Africa/Syria










Documents >> Battle of Sidi Barrani
>> Battle of Keren - Eritrea - East Africa Campaign
>> Syria/Lebanon -Golan heights
>> Middle East April '39 - Nov '40
>> Operations East Afica 11/1940 - 07/41
>> Order of Battle Syrian-Lebanon Campaign
>> The Battle of Damascus (18 – 21 June 1941) was the final action of the Allied advance on Damascus in Syria during the Syria–Lebanon Campaign
>> The Battle of Damascus
>> The story of Fusilier Fred Burton - (He was in India a few months after Bob Friend and WWII until he was captured in June 1941)
>> Valour Awards June 1941


Notes A typical Indian army division would comprise 3 brigades being one British and two Indian battalions. 1st Bn Royal Fusiliers was part of the 5th Indian Infantry Bde of the  4th Indian Infantry Division from Sep 1939 to Aug 1941.

‡‡ The Italian-German threat to the security of the Suez Canal was critical to the British, and great efforts were made to collect sufficient transport ships to convey forces from Britain to Egypt to support the Eighth Army and the Desert Air Force. The British realized the strategic importance of maintaining control of the Suez Canal and Malta.

>> Note "Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935"
>> S
upply convoys to Egypt had to either cross the Mediterranean via Gibraltar and Malta, and then approach the coast of Sicily, or steam all the way around the Cape of Good Hope, up the whole east coast of Africa, and then through the Suez Canal, to reach Alexandria

Robert William Friend 6458484 1/7 (City London Regiment) Royal Fusiliers