Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The next phase: the move to Crete
As we have mentioned, some 50,000 troops were evacuated from Greece in late April 1941 as the situation there collapsed. We believe that the collapse in Greece has hastened by the nature of the staff work done by Group W, under the command of General Wilson. General Freyberg, commander of the New Zealand Division (later called the 2nd New Zealand Division) ended up as senior officer present in southern Greece as the Germans pushed deeper to the south. The troops consisted of the New Zealand Division, the 6th Australian Division and the 1st Armoured Brigade, or the remnants thereof. Most of the troops were removed by cruiser and destroyers (it seems), although some were removed by transport. The original plan was to have the transports embark the troops, in part from quays or using landing craft from the beaches. As the pace of the collapse quickened, the last troops were removed mostly by warship. Since cruisers could take larger numbers, they played a key role. From Greece, some were lucky enough to arrive in Egypt, but most were dumped at Suda Bay without anything but the clothes that they wore and with what small arms that they had carried out of Greece. Since Crete was the logical next German target, something had to be done. There were about 42,000 British and Commonwealth troops on the island of Crete. A British officer had been told that he was in charge of Crete, but General Wavell replaced him with General Freyberg, newly arrived from Greece with about 7,700 men from the New Zealand Division (two brigades). The third New Zealand brigade had ended up being sent to Egypt. The next part of the story will deal with preparations to defend Crete, the actual German attack, and the unfolding story of the battle for Crete. The fall of Crete ended up being messier than even that of Greece and left the Allied position in the Mediterranean Sea in an even more precarious state by the summer of 1941. The result was that General Wavell was sacked by Mr. Churchill and a new set of commanders was put in charge. Sadly, the results were little better.