July 24, 1920 : Battle of the tanks against the horses

The war between the forces of the Arab Kingdom of Syria and the French army of the Levant took a decisive outcome during the battle of Khan Mayssaloun. This battle took place in the mountains marking the border between Lebanon and Syria: the Anti-Lebanon.

General Mariano Goybet crushes the troops of the Hashemite Emir Faisal at the battle of Khan Mayssaloun

The battle of Khan Mayssaloun took place on July 24, 1920 and opposed General Mariano Goybet to the troops of the Hashemite Emir Faisal. The use of Renault FT tanks in the French lines precipitated the outcome of the battle and of the war, by the capture of Damascus the following day, July 25, 1920.

For the Arab world, this battle illustrates the resistance against a stronger imperial power, but it is also a demonstration of the agility of tanks on a difficult terrain.

In the article entitled "With General Goybet in Damascus" by Myriam Harry, published in L'Illustration on August 21, 1920, she underlines the incredible dexterity of the tanks in the face of the agile horses with which their opponents were still equipped:

"The Cherifians had blocked the road with a wall lined with machine guns, believing that they would prevent the tanks from passing, but the tanks slipped into the ravine between the wall and the mountain and, passing into the boondocks, they stormed up the ridge followed by the infantrymen of the 415th, the Algerians and the Moroccan Senegalese, launched at full gallop, enveloped the positions with an overflowing movement.

And from above, shells rained down and machine-gun fire. For several hours the tanks remained face to face with the batteries and it was only when they succeeded in setting fire to the ammunition boxes that the Cherifians let go and fled, completely disarmed by the death of the Minister of War, Asmy Bey, killed at his post by a piece of shrapnel...".

This particular battle marks the contrast and transition from horseback battles to armored battles. Finally, the fears inspired by the sight of the armored vehicle, not agile enough, heavy and not very maneuverable, are eclipsed in the text quoted above.

Renault FT tank in front of the small Serail of Beirut, Photo collection Georges Boustany, Source : l'Orient-le Jour

Renault FT tank in front of the small Serail of Beirut, Photo collection Georges Boustany, Source : l'Orient-le Jour

"Illustration of what was to become France's mandate in the Levant. Indeed, what could be more emblematic of this French power than the famous Renault FT tank that had appeared in the trenches of the Great War at the turn of 1917? The presence of five of these machines in the middle of the Place des Martyrs, guarding the Petit Sérail like dogs, decorated with tricolored flags, is a rarity and a piquant one.

Georges Boustany, Les chars d'antan du Petit Sérail, l'Orient-le Jour, October 13, 2018.