Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Escapes from Crete from July to September 1941

An Australian, Captain Embrey from the 2/1st Battalion estimated in early July 1941 that there were as many as 600 Australians and 400 New Zealanders living with the people of Crete in the western part of the island. He was one of three Australians who walked away from the Maleme prisoner of war camp on 3 July 1941. The way things were, there were several "English" soldiers living in the villages. Private Hoskins, who had escaped with Captain Embrey wrote of meeting what he thought was a Greek. When he said "Kalimera", the reply was "Hello George". Eventually, Captain Embrey met Lieutenant-Commander Vernacos, a Greek who was serving in the RNVR. They, along with two others, aailed in a Greek caique and eventually arrived in Turkey by 4 September 1941. Other groups escaped, as well. Three soldiers, one Australian and two New Zealanders, stole a boat and in the night of 15/16 July. They sailed south and landed at Sidi Barrani during the night of 19 July. A Greek navy captain, Captain Adonis, brought out a group of men in September on board a fishing board. The destroyer Kimberley found them about 40 miles from Bardia. This was on 20 September. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A West-Australian escapes from Crete in June 1941

Private Carroll, from West Australia, found a Greek fishing boat and hoped to find companions to accompany him. He set out in the night on 11 June 1941. Every time he came close to the shore, there was gunfire, so he had to try to sail on his own. The boat was sixteen feet long, and was not intended for rowing. He rigged a piece of driftwood for the mast. He found a piece of canvas that he used as a sail. He had 350 miles to cover to the North African coast. He sailed slowly for six days until he was caught in a storm from the north-west. There were 20 to 30 foot waves, and all he could do is to sail downwind. About ten miles to go with land in sight, the bought filled with water and capsized. He managed to swim to shore and had a hard time in the breakers making landfall, as there were rocks. He managed to get shore on sand and had to lie on the sand to recover. He was found by Maltese soldiers who sent word to the command and he was picked up and taken to Mersa Matruh in the morning. The information that Private Carroll provided led the navy to attempt to take off more men by submarine. Lieutenant-Commander Poole went ashore and made contact with some men who were taken off on HMS Thresher. The officer stayed on Crete and found more men, including Major Sandover. On 18, 19, and 20 August, more than 100 men were embarked on HMS Torbay, another submarine. Among those embarked were 13 officers and 39 men from the 2/11th Battalion that had fought at Retimo. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Other men left on Crete 31 May to 6 June 1941

One group still left on Crete were the men with Major Sandover and Captain Honner of the 2/11th Battalion who had left from Retimo on 30 May 1941 to avoid capture. They had also headed south and were ten miles from Ayia Galini. By the next day, they joined some 600 soldiers who were already there, perhaps mostly British. Another 200 Australians arrived. The senior officers were majors, including Ian Campbell's second-in-command, Major Hooper. He had been with the Greek troops. There were two landing craft beached there. Enterprising Australians got one in water after two days of work. Three men took a sailboat to Timbakion to collect provisions. They were caught by German motorcycles and the officer was wounded. They were able to get back to the landing craft with the provisions. The landing craft set off for Africa, but was intercepted by an Italian submarine, which took off nine of the eleven officers and took them as prisoners to Italy. The landing craft arrived at Mersa Matruh on 5 June. Germans arrived at Ayia Galini on 6 June and wanted the men to surrender. Most did, but Major Sandover and a few others did not. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The thrid landing craft at Sfakia from 1 June 1941

The third landing craft at Sfakia on 1 June 1941 was hidden in a cave by Private Harry Richards, who was in the 2/11th Battalion. The landing craft had 80 gallons of fuel. Private Richards thought that he could take fifty men to the African coast in the landing craft. He would stop at Gavdhos Island to get more fuel, food, and water and then head for Africa. They left Sfakia at 9:20pm on 1 June. They reached Gavdhos Island just before dawn on 2 June. At the island, there were only 55 gallon drums of fuel, which took a lot of space. Harry Richards asked for ten men to volunteer to stay on the island so that there was room for the fuel. They left the island and saw another landing craft in the distance. They ran out of fuel and Harry Richards also made a sail from blankets. They also landed at Sidi Barrani, in their case on 9 June. One of the men on the landing craft later wrote praising Harry Richards for the leadership that he provided to the group. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Two groups escaped Sfakia on a landing craft

By the morning of 1 June 1941, there were still three landing craft at Sfakia. A group of five officers and 135 enlisted men escaped the island on one of the landing craft. 56 of the men were Royal Marines as one of the officers. They had problems, including a limited supply of fuel, food, and water. They were able to arrive at the island of Ghaydapoula on the first day. They had covered 18 miles. On the island, they overhauled the engines. By night, they set out for Africaa. They were out of fuel by the next day. They drifted for three days and then made a sail. They had some men were knew about sailing, so they reached the coast about 19 miles west of Sidi Barrani. They had arrived on 9 June 1941. A second, smaller group also set out from Sfakia on a landing craft on 1 June 1941. They were led by Lieutenant Day of the Welch Regiment. There were 44 men. They were better prepared and had help from Greeks, who gave them food and water. They also reached the beach near Sidi Barrani, this time on 10 June. They sailed much of the way. They were without food for five days. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Obstruction of the escape route at Sfakia

There was active obstruction of the escape route at Sfakia. The 2/7th Battalion was a victim. The 19th Australian Brigade Headquarters was affected by the active obstruction of some men in the route leading to the beach. The Headquarters reported what was happening, once they reached the beach. The 2/7th Battalion commander had reached the beach and had thought that everything was moving along without a problem, so he embarked on a ship. He didn't learn the truth until he arrived at Alexandria. The officers in the group heading for the beach had been in Greece and knew that they had to move fast to keep from being left behind. They eventually reached the cliff that they had to descend to the beach. By the time the battalion had reached the beach, the ships had departed. General Weston had apparently ordered the men left behind to surrender to the Germans. Still, there were several thousand troops left on Crete and eventually some 600 were able to escape by sea to Egypt. Some went in landing craft. Some were picked up by submarine and others went by fishing boat. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The end of the line at Sfakia: 31 May 1941 on Crete

On the night of 30-31 May 1941, some 1,550 men were embarked from the beach at Sfakia by destroyers. After the embarkation, there were something like 1,250 Autralian, 1,200 New Zealand, and 1,550 British troops. Some of the latter were infantry improvised from artillery units. There were also as many as 5,000 depot troops. General Weston hoped to get about 2,000 off the beach on the night of 31 May to 1 June 1941. After a bad fight on 30 May, the Germans held back from attacking the rear guard above Sfakia. Brigadier Vasey knew that the Germans were forming a line, boxing in Sfakia so that there would be no other way out then ships from the beach. By the evening of 31 May, there was no longer water available to the men and there was no food. By now, there were few ships left in the Mediterranean. Crete had been a disaster, following closely on the disaster in Greece. Early in the morning on 31 May, a force under Admiral King's command sailed for Sfakia. The force consisted of the cruiser Phoebe, the fast mine layer Abdiel, and two destroyers. After the ships arrived off Sfakia at 11:20pm, they started loading men. They were able to lift 4,050 by the time they sailed at 3am. The commandos of Layforce and the Australian 2/7th Battalion had to be left. They should have been able to be evacuated, and a few were, but through bad management and maybe even ill-will, they were held up until it was too late. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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