Friday, March 07, 2014
When the Major General was about to be dispatched to Crete on 28 or 29 May 1941, he was briefed by General Wavell, the theater commander. Thinking about the situation, I had some new insights that I wanted to share. General Wavell had a streak of "bad luck" that was only broken by the success against the Italians in Libya in late 1940 and into early 1941. The success against the Italians happened almost in spite of General Wavell. The great blitzkrieg campaign in western Egypt into Cyrenaica was due to Richard O'Connor and his assistant Eric Dorman-Smith. The 7th Armoured Division and the 6th Australian Division threw the Italians into disorder and captured large numbers of infantrymen. The offensive was halted by General Wavell, so that the resources could be diverted to the ill-conceived Greek campaign. I suspect that Wavell did not believe that there was any chance of the Greek campaign succeeding, so he lied to the Australian Prime Minister and the senior Australian officers to get them to agree to participate. Again, I suspect that Wavell thought he would be removed from his command if he opposed the Greek adventure, and that was probably true. He was not going to be able to persuade the Australians with the truth, so he lied. Wavell hung on through a series of disasters, the last being the operations against Rommel at the Libyan border that failed. Churchill had pushed to rush tanks to the Middle East through the Mediterranean Sea only to see them wasted. Wavell was finally fired and Churchill brought in another Indian Army officer, Claude Auchinleck.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
While the troop movement to the south was underway, by 28 and 29 May 1941, the Royal Marine officer, General weston, was making preparations for the troop withdrawal. By the afternoon on 28 May, General Weston made arrangements for a group of men from the 2/4rd Field Regiment to be available to guide troops to the beach for embarkation. They had to climb from the top of the escarpment down to the beach to be ready. The plan worked and on the night of 28 May, they embarked 230 wounded and 800 British troops, including RAF, on four destroyers. At the same time, three cruisers and six destroyers were embarking the troops at Heraklion. Practically the entire group there was withdrawn. A force including four cruisers, some small, left Alexandria at 9pm on 28 May, heading for Sfakia. The plan was to embark more men on 29 May. Major General Evetts was to command the withdrawal, although he was new to the process and to Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
On the night of 28 and 29 May 1941, the Australian Battalion, the 2/7th, was moving at night. They had a plan that they executed for what to do if a German reconnaissance aircraft dropped a flare. They had marched until they reached the Askifou plain. This was apparently just north of the village. They moved in sections along the side of the road. When a flare was dropped, the battalion commander blew his whistle, and the men were to lay face down off the road. The idea was to only show the empty road to the air, in the flare light. Afterwards, they resumed their march. Following them, the 2/8th Battalion marched towards Kerstes. They arrived there at about 5am on 29 May. Layforce came along behind and moved to Imvros, on the south side of the plain. The German mountain regiment that had captured A Battalion of Layforce waited all day on 28 May and planned to restart the pursuit in the morning of 29 May. The mountain division was still intent on cleaning up at Retimo, where they bagged the defenders. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The Australian battalion, the 2/8th, arrived at Babali at about 2pm in the afternoon and took a defensive position with the commandos of Layforce. Once that happened, the 5th New Zealand Brigade Headquarters moved south to Vrises. They were accompanied by the 5th New Zealand Brigade and the Australians in the 2/7th Battalion, which had been in the rearguard. The Germans had reached Babali as early as 1:35pm and had started firing at Layforce troops. While the rearguard had seen air attacks, by this time, the Germns were concentrated against Heraklion. By later in the evening, the rearguard headed for Vrises. The 5th New Zealand Brigade and the rest of the 19th Australian Brigade were together at Vrises. The New Zealanders headed south, over a pass, starting at6pm. They were heading towards Syn Ammondari, which was a further 12 miles to the south. An unnecessary disruption happened when the engineers set off explosives to destroy the road before the rearguard had arrived. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Even though the Germans knew of the British movement towards the south coast of Crete on 27 and 28 May 1941, General Ringel, the German commander, had two mountain regiments moving towards Retimo. One mountain regiment was pursuing the retreating British forces (British, Australian, and New Zealand). At Stilos, they had a hard fight and captured most of a battalion and destroyed two tanks. The battalion must have been A Battalion of commandos from Layforce. The regiment at Stilos was content to let the forces in front of him withdraw in the night, as the commander expected. General Ringel apparently expected a fight at Retimo, which is why he had two thirds of his mountain division moving in that direction. In fact, the commander at Retimo was ready to surrender in the face of overwhelming force. Only by 29 May was the 100th Mountain Regiment sent to chase the retreating force heading for the south coast. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
On 28 May 1941, the plan agreed upon was that after the 5th New Zealand Brigade headquarters reached the Babali Inn and Layforce, the 5th Brigade battalions and Brigadier Vasey's Australian would march south to Vrises, where the men would hide out during the hottest part of the afternoon. After the Australians of the 2/8th Battalion reached Babali, the 5th New Zealand Brigade headquarters moved south towards Vrises. The New Zealand battalions and the 2/7th Battalion then followed the headquarters to Vrises. The problem was that the Germans were fast approaching and attacked at Babali at 1:35pm. Layforce was under fire at Babali until dusk, but the German air attacks were diverted to the fight at Heraklion. By later in the evening, the rearguard withdrew towards Vrises. The troops rested at Vrises before moving onwards. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
With our hindsight, we can see that the German airborne force was insufficient to achieve a successful attack on Crete. We might say that in May 1941, everyone was a novice at mounting large airborne attacks. Crete was an opportunity for the Germans to have analyzed the battle and learned from the battle so as to better be able to make airborne attacks in the future. Instead, the Germans were afraid to mount another attack of the scale of Crete. The Allies were the ones who learned from Crete and built and used effective airborne forces. They were first used on a large scale in the attack on Sicily in 1943 and then again at Normandy. In many ways, the attack on Normandy repeated some of the German mistakes from 1941. Making the assault at night was asking for trouble, and then they made little attempt to drop the paratroops on the planned locations. That was one of the major mistakes at Heraklion on 20 May 1941. Most of the German paratroops were dropped in the wrong locations. Those who were dropped onto defended areas with troops ready to respond took heavy losses, as paratroops in the air in daylight with a long drop time were easily killed. By late 1944, there was no excuse for the bad planning involved with Operation Market Garden, the "A bridge too far" operation at Arnhem.