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Middle East/All : Stamps of the French Mandate Area for Syria and Lebanon, Part 8. FREE FRENCH FORCES.

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Retired Ap. Book Mod, Pres Golden Gate Stamp Club, Hi Tech Consultant
14 Aug 2016

Stamps of the French Mandate Area for Syria and Lebanon, Part 8. FREE FRENCH FORCES (FFF).

This is an additional chapter, related to the series published earlier, but covering an interesting WW2 related philatelic series of stamps.


The Syria–Lebanon campaign, also known as Operation Exporter, was the British invasion of Vichy French Syria and Lebanon in June–July 1941, assisted by Free France Forces, during World War II. The campaign remains little known, even in the countries that took part in the fighting. It resulted in France Free Forces taking control of the area from the Vichy French administration in 1941.

As a reminder, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, The Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon was declared, putting the area under French control. As WW2 began, this area was therefore administered by the Vichy Government.

This chapter relates to the early WW2 campaign in the Middle East and in particular in Syria, Lebanon.
The Principal British goal was aimed at preventing Nazi Germany from using the Vichy French-controlled Syria and Lebanon as springboards for attacks on Egypt and the Arabian peninsula , as the British fought a campaign against Axis forces, in particular further west in North Africa.
Although the French had ceded autonomy to Syria in September 1936, they had retained treaty rights to maintain armed forces and two airfields in the territory.
After a coup d'état in Iraq on April 6 1941 the Iraq government was controlled by pro-German rebel forces under Rashid Ali.

This eventually led to the outbreak of the Anglo-Iraqi War which in turn resulted in British exercising full control over Iraq.
In May 1941, Admiral François Darlan signed an agreement on behalf of Vichy France with the Germans, known as the "Paris Protocols", granting German access to military facilities in Syria. The protocols were never ratified but Charles Huntziger, the French Vichy Minister of War, sent orders to allow the German and Italian Air Forces to refuel in Syria.
Disguised as Iraqi aircraft, the German and Italian aircraft landed in Syria en route to Iraq during the Anglo-Iraqi War. The Germans also requested permission from the Vichy authorities to use Syrian railways to send armaments to Iraqi rebels in Mosul.
The British Commander in Chief of Middle East Command saw this as a significant threat posed by Vichy collaboration with Germany and Italy, and a Military campaign was authorized by Churchill, after several incidents.

On 14 May, a British Bristol Blenheim bomber flying a reconnaissance mission over Palmyra spotted a German Junkers Ju 90 transport taking off, with more German and Italian aircraft seen later that day, resulting in a strafing missions being authorized . Attacks against German and Italian aircraft staging through Syria continued, and an air war began, which spread to a naval and ground war as well.
In 1941, the Free French Forces (FFF) had fought alongside British Empire troops against the Italians in Italian East Africa during the East African Campaign. In June 1941, during the Syria-Lebanon campaign (Operation Exporter), Free French Forces fighting alongside British Commonwealth forces faced large numbers of French troops loyal to Vichy France – this time in the Levant.
De Gaulle had assured Churchill that the French units in Syria would rise to the call of Free France – but this was not the case. After bitter fighting, with around 1,000 dead on each side (including Vichy and Free French Foreign Legionnaires fighting among themselves). The campaign lasted about five weeks.
There were several heavy fighting incidents in the summer of 1941, primarily in Lebanon Palestine and Syria war theater.

The Ground War.
The Ground campaign saw major battles :
Hostilities commenced on 8 June 1941. The major battles of the campaign were:
Battle of the Litani River (9 June): part of the advance on Beirut from Palestine
Battle of Jezzine (13 June): part of the advance on Beirut from Palestine
Battle of Kissoué (15–17 June): part of the advance on Damascus from Palestine
Battle of Damascus (18–21 June): part of the advance on Damascus from Palestine
Battle of Merdjayoun (19–24 June): part of the advance on Beirut and Damascus from Palestine
Battle of Palmyra (1 July): part of the advance on Palmyra and Tripoli from Iraq
Battle of Deir ez Zor (3 July): part of the advance on central and northern Syria from Iraq
Battle of Damour (5–9 July): part of the advance on Beirut from Palestine
Battle of Beirut (12 July): part of the advance on Beirut from Palestine

The Air War.
The initial advantage that the Vichy French Air Force (Armée de l'Air de Vichy) enjoyed did not last long. The Vichy French lost most of their aircraft destroyed on the ground where the flat terrain, absence of infrastructure and absence of modern anti-aircraft artillery made them vulnerable to air attacks.
By the end of the campaign, the Vichy forces had lost 179 aircraft from about 289 committed to the Levant, with remaining aircraft with the range to do so evacuating to Rhodes.

War at sea.
The war at sea was not a major part of Operation Exporter, although some significant actions were fought. During the Battle of the Litani River, rough seas kept commandos from landing along the coast on the first day of battle. On 9 June 1941, two French destroyers fired on the advancing Australians at the Litani River before being driven off by shore-based artillery fire. French destroyers then exchanged fire with the British destroyer HMS Janus. The New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Leander came to the aid of Janus along with six additional British destroyers and the French retired.
With or without French approval, the Luftwaffe attempted to come to the aid of the hard-pressed French naval forces on 15 June, attacking British warships forces off the Syrian coast. Hits were scored on the destroyers HMS Ilex and Isis and Vichy French aircrafts of the 4th Naval Air Group bombed British naval units off the Syrian coast.
the British torpedo aircraft sank the French destroyer Chevalier Paul, which had been en route from Toulon to Syria carrying ammunition from Vichy France. The following day, British bombers attacked another French destroyer in the port of Beirut which was also carrying ammunition. There were other engagements with two British cruisers and six destroyers off of the coast of Syria.
The French suffered further losses on 25 June when the British submarine HMS Parthian torpedoed and sank the French submarine Souffleur off the Syrian coast; shortly afterward, the French tanker Adour was attacked by British torpedo aircraft. Adour was carrying the entire fuel supply for the French forces in the Middle East and was badly damaged. During the ceasefire which started on 12 July, Dentz ordered all ships and aircraft under his command to go to neutral Turkey where they were interned.

The Vichy Army of the Levant were eventually defeated by the largely British allied forces in July 1941.

Administration of the Territories:
The British did not themselves occupy Syria; rather, the Free French General Georges Catroux was appointed High Commissioner of the Levant. General de Gaule personally traveled to Damascus on June 24, 1941 to officially install General Catroux. He was placed in command of the mandate territories on behalf of the FFF, and on 26 Nov, he promised independence for what was to become the modern nations of Lebanon and Syria. From this point, Free France would control both Syria and Lebanon until they became independent around 1944.

However, despite this success, the numbers of the FFF did not grow as much as has been wished for. Of nearly 38,000 Vichy French prisoners of war, less than 6000 men volunteered to join the forces of General de Gaulle; the remainder chose to be repatriated to France.
By the end of 1941, the United States had entered the war, and the Soviet Union had also joined the Allied side, stopping the Germans outside Moscow in the first major reverse for the Nazis.
Gradually the tide of war began to shift, and with it the perception that Hitler could at last be beaten. Support for Free France began to grow, though the Vichy French forces would continue to resist Allied armies – and the Free French – when attacked by them until the end of 1942.

From a philatelic perspective, special stamps for use in Free French Forces Post Offices in Syria and Lebanon were issued and used in 1942-6.
These are often erroneously categorized as Syrian Military Stamps (which is where they are listed in the Scott Catalog). According to my sources they did not get official UPU recognition and thus were primarily used for "local" FFF use among French FFF postal offices, and had to be supplemented for other uses by regular foreign postage.


FORCES FRANCAISE LIBRES LEVANT (overprint on stamps of Lebanon & Syria) and Military stamps {Free French Adminstration} (1942-1945)

Reference: http://www.histoire-et-philatelie.fr/pages/005_decolonisation/0100_1936-1946_p-5_1941.html

Free French Forces in the Levant
When in 1941 Free French Forces are deployed in Syria and Lebanon, stamps are issued for use by these forces in the field post offices. These are both overprints on Syrian stamps and stamps of specific design for the Free French Forces. The overprints and inscriptions on the issues for regular mail read ‘Forces Françaises Libres Levant’, which translates to ‘Free French Forces Levant’. Airmail issues are overprinted ‘Lignes Aeriennes F.A.F.L.’ or inscribed ‘Lignes Aeriennes de la France Libre’. The former translates to ‘Airlines of the Free French Air Forces’, the latter to ‘Airlines of Free France’. These stamps are used until the French forces leave Lebanon in 1946.

The following stamps were issued:

These stamps overprinted on Syria and Lebanon stamps were issued for Military use, and were labelled in French Francs, irrespective of the country where they were used. Scott numbers (Syria) M1 to M3 and MC1 to MC4 (Y&T Levant Nos 41/43 and PA 1 to 4).

1 JUNE 1942 :
Palmyre edition with stylized wing design. Also two souvenir sheets (exists perforated and imperforated) Scott numbers M4 to M10 and MC5 to MC8 (Y&T Levant Nos 44/50 and PA 5/6).

3 SEPTEMBRE 1942 :
Ré-issue of the the air mail 6F50 stamp (rose) with 4F O/P Scott number MC9 (Y&T Levant PA No7).

23 DÉCEMBRE 1943 :
"Résistance" series reissued with very heavy tax. Scott Number MB1/MB2 and MCB1/MCB2 (Y&T Levant Poste 51/52 et PA No 8/9).


From my collection, here are the stamps related to the Free French Forces in the Levant (Syria and Lebanon)
There are 6 pages.

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