Above Beirut's Place des Canons last week R.A.F. planes roared and caracoled. Before the Grand Serail (Vichy Government headquarters) was drawn up a guard of British cavalry and Free French marines, all spit & polish. Inside, in the reception room, besides the conquering Allied generals waited 20-odd foreign consuls; native political leaders; sheiks in wimples; religious dignitaries from the country's many Moslem and Christian sects. They waited in vain for Admiral Pierre Victor Gabriel Gouton (acting for General Henri Fernand Dentz, Vichy's High Commissioner) to come out and say goodby.
Hands clasped over sword hilt, Admiral Gouton sat in the High Commissioner's office and ne bougeait pas. Unless the Allied commanders called on him first, he would not budge. General Georges Catroux, who commanded the Free French in the Syrian campaign, equally refused to make the first gesture. At last General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the Allied Commander in Chief, went in and got the Admiral to come out. When he left the building, trumpets flourished.
General Dentz did not attend the farewell party. He was up the coast at Tripoli, superintending the evacuation of his troops, presumably glad to go back to France with a whole hide. According to U.P.'s Harold Peters, who was in Beirut during the whole campaign, the General had to change his residence every night because of popular feeling against him.
The armistice terms were generous and non-humiliating. Under them the Allies may occupy Syria for the duration of war and take over all war materials (save personal weapons), public utilities, communications, arsenals, harbor installations and airfields. But all prisoners are to be released and Vichy troops were given their choice of repatriation, joining the Free French, or staying on in Syria. Of the 33,000 men under General Dentz, it is reported that about 14,000 (almost all his white soldiers) will be repatriated via Turkey.
During the 33-day war the Vichy forces suffered some 9,000 casualties, the Allies some 1,500. Most of these casualties could have been avoided. In mid-June, before the fall of Damascus, Vichy armistice feelers were issued to the Allies through U.S. Consul General Cornelius Engert in Beirut. Next day the British replied, offering generous terms, but the Nazis put pressure on Vichy, and the futile fighting continued nearly another month.
Said a Vichy captain to Correspondent Peters during Beirut's siege: "Nous nous battons pour le Roi de Prusse" (We are fighting for the King of Prussia).
Nothing was said in the peace terms about self-government for the Syrians, but at the opening of the campaign this was faithfully and fully promised. But the native population was delighted that the Allies won, because for a year the country has chafed under a blockade, with exports cut off, trade at a standstill, a widespread shortage of necessities.