Monday, December 30, 2013

German intelligence failure or British deception success?

General Student and others had complained after the capture of Crete that their intelligence about the defenders greatly underestimated their strength. This was especially true of Heraklion. There, the defenders included the 14th Infantry Brigade, consisting of three regular British infantry battalions, one Australian battalion of about 500 men, the 7th Medium Regiment fighting as infantry, and three Greek battalions with many untrained men. The commander of the 14th Infantry Brigade, Brigadier Chappel, was in overall command at Heraklion. Brigadier Chappel's plan was to have his men dug in with overhead cover. This not only concealed their presence, but also protected them during the bombing attacks. At this time, the Germans assumed that bombing infantry would automatically disrupt or destroy them, although this was not the case. Given that the German information about the troops on Crete, including Heraklion, was from aerial reconnaissance, the effective concealment was probably the reason for the German intelligence failure. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A bad day for paratroops: 20 May 1941 at Heraklion

Due to the problems with getting aircraft over Keraklion on time and in sufficient numbers, the German paratroops suffered heavy losses. The II/1st Battalion was dropped in small numbers, scattered geographically and in time. The last men dropped were two-and-a-half hours late. Several of the transport aircraft were shot down and burnt on impact. Many of the men were killed during the descent, because they had to be dropped at 200 meters because of the terrain. In the east, they were dropped on the East Wadi. They lost all the officers but the battalion commander. He was able to gather sixty survivors under his command. The western group only had five survivors. The battalion lost 12 officers and about 400 men killed. Another eight officers and 100 men were wounded. The I/1st Battalion was dropped to the east and occupied the wireless station. Due to the shortage of aircraft, one company of the battalion was left in Greece on the first day. Two battalions landed west of the position and one moved up near the town of Heraklion and then backed off to the ridge just to the west of town. Another battalion was landed further west, but half of its companies were left in Greece, also due to the shortage of flyable transports. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The power of the Bofors 40mm Light AA gun

The defenders of the Heraklion airfield on 20 May 1941 had well-sited Bofors 40mm light anti-aircraft guns. There were three troops of four guns each. Two were Australian and one was British. They also had troops who were dug in with overhead cover. The Ju-52 transport aircraft flew from airfields in Greece. They approached at low altitude and then climbed high enough to drop their paratroops and then would descend again and fly back to Greece. One problem was that the light anti-aircraft guns were so well-sited that they were able to shoot down fifteen transports of the approximately 240 that were seen. In some cases, the ground was such that the transports had to drop the paratroops from a higher altitude, which was dangerous for paratroops due to the long time in the descent. Many of the transport aircraft were hit by the Bofors guns but were only damaged. After the initial attack, the airfields in Greece had many damaged Ju-52 aircraft scattered about. Another factor which inhibited air operations was that there was a great deal of dust in the air at the Greek airfields and this effected fighter, bomber, and transport aircraft operations. Refueling was slowed and this delayed the arrival of reinforcements at Heraklion. Thi sis based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Attackers at Heraklion on 20 May 1941

The Germans apparently underestimated the strength of the defense at Heraklion on Crete in May 1941. They attacked with four battalions of paratroops. The German commander was Colonel Brauer. He had all three battalions of the 1st Parachute Rifle Regiment, of which he was commander. He also had one battalion from the 2nd Regiment. He also had some detachments, including a machine-gun anti-aircraft unit. General Student, the famous paratroop commander and commander of the XI Air Corps, complained later that his intelligence officer had underestimated the strength of the defenders at Heraklion. The British and Greek defenders (counting Australians in the mix) consisted of eight battalions. The anti-aircraft fire at Heraklion had been very effective and had done great damage to the fleet of transport aircraft. As many as 600 paratroops were left in Greece due to lack of transports. The plan had been to drop the four attacking battalions at geographically separated locations. One was to take the airfield, one to take the town of Heraklion, one to capture the wireless station to the east, and one to provide cover from reinforcements coming from the west. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

21 May 1941 at Heraklion

At the start of 21 May 1941, the main concerns at Heraklion were the Germans in the town and the Germans to the east of the defended area by the airfield. The Germans had attacked with four battalions of paratroops, but they were inadequate to deal with a larger Allied force. The Australian Official History refers to the defended area around the town and airfield as a fortress, and this was a very strong defensive area, if not a fortress. General Student later complained that his intelligence unit greatly underestimated the strength of the defenders. During the course of the day, the British had helped the Greeks to clear most Germans out of the town. The Greeks had to rearm themselves with captured German weapons, because they were running out of ammunition for what they had prior to the attack. We can see that Heraklion was the most strongly held of the airfields in the north of Crete. That was largely due to the presence of Brigadier Chappel and the 14th Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The aftermath of the attack on Heraklion on 20 May 1941

The attacking paratroops not only dropped in the fortress area around Herkaklion, but also to the west and to the east and southeast. There was a bombing attack at 7:20pm on 20 May 1941 and then the defenders could see paratroops dropping to the east, outside of the defended areal. There was pretty desperate fighting happening, where no quarter was asked or given on either side. The German force at the Buttercup Field was cleared by 9:30pm on 20 May. This was near the shore and the airfield. In the west, the Greeks were fighting in the streets of Heraklion against German paratroops who had landed nearby. By 21 May, the defenders felt confident that they had defeated the attack. The defenders had armed themselves with captured German weapons and ammunition. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The initial attack at Heraklion on 20 May 1941

The air attacks started on the defenders of Keraklion on 19 May 1041. A group of German aircraft made a strafing attack in the morning with another attack with fewer aircraft in the evening. On 20 May, the air attacks started early and continued. Word arrived at 11am of paratroops being dropped near Suda Bay. A heavy bombing attack began at 4pm. By 5pm, the defenders could see Ju-52 transports approaching from "the north and north-east". The men counted 240 transport aircraft dropping paratroops and supplies. The aircraft approached at about 100 feet over the water and then climbed to 250 feet to drop their cargo. The defending anti-aircraft artillery shot down at least 15 transport aircraft. There were mishaps such as the paratrooper caught on the tail and carried out to sea behind the aircraft. There were also cases where the parachute failed to open and the men fell to their deaths. The defenders thought that they had killed at least 200 men either as they descended or as they hit the ground. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why the battle for Heraklion in 1941 is interesting

We have seen the unfortunate outcome at Retimo, where Lt-Col. Campbell surrendered most of his remaining force to the Germans on 29 May 1941. Lt-Col. Campbell was a newly promoted battalion commander who was thrust into the overall command role at Retimo airfield on Crete. Campbell was a regular Australian officer. He was greatly distracted from the overall command role by concern about his own battalion. To some extent, he was also the victim of the overall command problems on Crete. In retrospect, the highly respected General Bernard Freyberg did not do a very good job of commanding the overall operation. To some extent, the job was hampered by communication problems. The excuse that was used for not communicating key information with Campbell at Retimo was about ciphers. That left Campbell ignorant of what was happening on the rest of Crete. The larger force at Heraklion was commanded by a British brigadier, Brigadier Chappel, commander of the 14th Infantry Brigade. To some extent, his force was better equipped with anti-aircraft artillery which allowed them to shoot down Ju-52 transport aircraft on 20 May. We are about to examine in detail the battle for Heraklion which seems to have had a better outcome with the troops withdrawn from Crete. This is based on information from Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 14th Brigade

The 14th Brigade was a British infantry brigade that had fought in the Great War. Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the brigade's battalions provided garrisons in the Middle East. The 14th Brigade, at the time of the battle for Heraklion, was part of the 8th Infantry Division. The battalions assigned to the 14th Brigade, as mentioned, were the 2nd Battalion, The Black Watch, the 2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, and the 7th Battalion, The Royal Leicestershire Regiment. The Brigade acquitted itself well at Heraklion against German paratroops and was evacuated from Greece to Egypt. The 14th Brigade became part of the 70th Division in North Africa. The brigade's most notable service in North Africa was in the breakout from Tobruk. The brigade was transferred to India after that. Brigadier Chappel commanded the 14th Brigade at Heraklion and then for another year in North Africa. This is based on the information available from the 14th Brigade Wikipedia page.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The units at Heraklion at the time of the German attack on 20 May 1941

Volume II of the Australian Official History has a note on page 280 that gives the details of the force defending Heraklion at the time of the German attack on 20 May 1941:

Headquarters, 14th Infantry Brigade
2/Blackwatch with 867 officers and men
2/York and Lancasters with 742 officers and men
2/Leicester with 637 officers and men
2/4th Australian Bzttalion with about 550 officers and men
7th Medium Regiment with about 450 officers and men armed as infantry
a detachment from the 3rd Hussars with six light tanks (apparently Lt.Mk.VIb tanks)
a squadron from the 7th RTR with two infantry tanks (probably Inf.Mk.II)
234 Medium Battery with 13 field guns
two troops of the 7th Australian Light Anti-Aircraft Battery with eight 40mm Bofors AA guns
one troop of 156 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery with four 40mm Bofors AA guns
two sections of C Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery with four 3 inch AA guns with some 2pdr AA guns
a section from 42 Field Company, Royal Engineers
a detachment from 189 Field Ambulance
one Greek garrison battalion
3rd Greek Recruit Battalion
7th Greek Recruit Battalion

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Heraklion, leading up to the attack on 20 May 1941

The defense of Heraklion seems to have been well-organized and was on alert, expecting a German attack by air. They had a "heavy tank", presumably Inf.Mk.II Matildas, at opposite ends of the airfield. The six light tanks, presumably Lt.Mk.VIb tanks, were sited to the southeast. The artillery was not to fire on the airfield until ordered to do so. The anti-aircraft guns were allowed to fire as they thought necessary. The other troops were to stay hidden, so as to not disclose their positions prior to the attack. The Germans launched bombing attacks on Heraklion starting on 12 May 1941. A very small number of British aircraft, a Gladiator and several Hurricanes, occasionally operated from Heraklion. The defending troops were dug in and had overhead protection. The air attacks helped to build confidence that they were well-protected. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Heraklion on Crete in May 1941

A very large infantry force with very little artillery defended the port and airfield at Heraklion on Crete in May 1941. There were three regular British battalions, the 2/4th Australian Battalion, and the 7th Medium Regiment fighting as infantry. There were also three Greek battalions that were of low capability as they were essentially recruits. The Greeks included a Greek garrison battalion and two recruit battalions. In addition, there were 13 old field guns, 14 anti-aircraft guns, two infantry tanks, and four light tanks in the defense. The commander was Brigadier Chappel. The anti-aircraft guns included twelve Bofors 40mm guns. There were located around the airfield. The artillery consisted of what were apparently Italian guns: nine 100mm and four 75mm. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An interesting site:

I saw this interesting website: There is a page that shows the tanks that fought at Retimo for the British and Australians. The photograph shows a knocked out Light Mk.VIB tank. The tank in the picture was one knocked out at Galatas. The tanks were repaired and used at Retimo. The website calls the town Rethymnon, perhaps a Greek spelling. The author also says that the German force dropped at Retimo was too weak to overcome two Australian and two Greek battalions. That is also my assessment, because if all the paratroops had been successfully dropped, which they were not, they only had two battalions and were of lesser strength. What really sabotaged the German attack on Retimo was the poor execution by German Air Force pilots. For one thing, they took heavy losses from anti-aircraft fire, apparently, and then largely dropped the paratroops in the wrong locations. Many were killed in the air before landing. The German regimental commander was experienced and capable, but the operation had gone so wrong that he was captured early in the battle. This is based on the account in the and from Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 25, 2013

More thoughts on Retimo in 1941

The Australian War Memorial was loathe to criticize Lt-Col. Ian Campbell, the Australian commander at Retimo airfield on Crete in May 1941. Lt-Col. Campbell was a regular army officer, unlike Major Sandover, who was a civilian before the war. Lt-Col. Campbell was a new battalion commander, taking over command of the 2/1st Battalion shortly before the German attack on Crete on 20 May 1941. Major Sandover commanded the other Australian battalion, the 2/11th. Lt-Col. Campbell felt a heavy responsibility for both his own battalion and for being the overall commander at Retimo. The Australian Official History praised Lt-Col. Campbell for keeping his battalion intact and surrendering them to the Germans. From his perspective, he was preventing needless bloodshed and would not put the Greek civilians on Crete in a bad position trying to help his men. I have much more sympathy for Major Sandover, who led a group from his battalion that left Retimo with the idea of keeping away from the Germans and ultimately escaping from the island. This is based on the information on the Australian War Memorial website and in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Summary of the German situation at Retimo

The Allied defenders at the Retimo airfield at the time of the attack on Crete on 20 May 1941 were two Australian battalions and about 3,000 Greeks. The best of the Greeks were an improvised battalion of Cretan police. They acquitted themselves well during the battle. The Australians were good troops, although they had taken some losses in Greece. The Germans dropped two veteran parachute battalions commanded by what they described as an elderly commander (Colonel Sturm). The parachute drop was poorly executed by the German air force, as they did not execute the planned drop. The failure to execute left the attackers in disarray, so that by the second day, the commander was captured, and many men were killed or captured. There were two groups of paratroops left. One on the east was on the defense, and would eventually be overcome. The other group in Perivolia were also on the defensive, but they managed to hold out until a relief column arrived from Suda Bay. Of the Australians at the Retimo airfield, 13 officers and 39 men from the 2/11th Battalion and 2 officers and 14 men from the 2/1st Battalion were able to eventually reach Egypt. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Germans at Retimo on 21 May 1941

On Hill A, at 5:25am on 21 May 1941, Major Kroh's troops on Hill A at Retimo were attacked from the west. They were able to repulse the attack, but at 9am, they were attacked by Captain Moriarity's company and were pushed off Hill A. They escaped to the east to the Olive Oil Factory. The Olive Oil Factory was a strong defensive position, so for the time being, Major Kroh's troops were able to beat back attacks. At Perivolia, Major Wiedemann's group consolidated their hold on the town, extending their lines in the process. Eventually, the force at the Olive Oil Factory was overcome, but the German account does not include that information. Mountain troops, commanded by Lt-Col. Wittman, set off for Retimo from near Suda Bay during the night of 27/28 May 1941. They only reached the Retimo area on 29 May. They joined Major Wiedemann at Perivolia after fighting off Greek troops and police at Retimo. Two light tanks joined the force and attacked Australians east of Perivolia. Some 1,200 Australians surrendered to the German force. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 18, 2013

At Retimo on 29 May 1941

Lt-Col. Campbell had decided to surrender his force defending Retimo to the Germans, as to resist at that point seemed to risk needless casualties. Early on 29 May 1941, the Germans were arriving at the airfield at Retimo, including light tanks. The Australians at Retimo were low on food and ammunition, and Lt-Col. Campbell thought that trying to escape to the south coast would not be possible without supplies. Not everyone agreed, though. Major Sandover, commanding the 2/11th Battalion offered his men the opportunity to escape with him and try and leave the island. They were able to evade capture for about two months following the collapse and some were able to leave the island. Of the some 600 Allied soldiers who were able to leave Crete after the end of fighting, some 60 were from the 2/11th Battalion. This is based on the Australian War Memorial web site.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

More of the German story at Retimo on 20 and 21 May 1941

Many of the German paratroops on 20 May 1941 were dropped in the wrong area in the attack on Retimo. Some of the men from the III/2nd Battalion were dropped into the area held by the 2/1st Battalion, the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion, and 2/3rd Field Regiment. Major Kroh had been able to collect the remnants of his battalion and half of the other battalion and was able to take most of Hill A. Two of the companies from the III/2nd Battalion were dropped as planned. They also had the artillery and heavy weapons. Wiedemann led these men and captured the village of Perivolia. They were also up to the edge of the village of Retimo. Wiedemann pulled back from Retimo and set up a defensive position at Perivolia, defending in all directions. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The German attack at Retimo had gone awry

The German plan for the attack on Retimo went awry due to how the paratroops were dropped. The high level plan was that two battalions would be dropped at Retimo and the men would capture the airfield and the harbor. The I/2nd Battalion, without two companies, but with added weapons, would land east of the airfield and capture it. Colonel Sturm would have his headquarters, a company, and a platoon, and would land near the Wadi Platanes and the airfield. The III/2nd Battalion would be dropped near Perivolia and the Wadi Platanes and would capture the village of Retimo. What happened instead of the plan was that the I/2nd Battalion had the commander, headquarters, and on rocky ground three miles too far to the east. Many men were injured on the rocky ground. Most of the battalion were dropped east of the airfield, where they came under fire. The battalion commander, Major Kroh headed west as fast as he could to reach the remains of the battlion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 11, 2013

29 May 1941 at Retimo

On 29 May 1941, as the German tanks approached the 2/11th Battalion position, two main groups formed who were determined to stay free and escape the Germans. One group was led by Major Sandover and the other my Captain Honner. Captain Honner had the one map, although it was in Greek. A wounded soldier who had left the aid station had heard of landing craft on the south coast at Ayka Galini. About this time, Lt-Col. Campbell raised a white flag on Hill D for a surrender. The Australians had about 500 German prisoners who were freed. The Germans who attacked Retimo were from the 2nd Parachute Rifle Regiment, which only had two of the normal three battalions. The commander, who the Australians had captured, was Colonel Sturm, who had led the attack on the Corinth Canal and bridge. Colonel Sturm was 52 years old at the time of the attack. The Australians losses were about 120 men while the Germans had lost at least 550 men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Sandover's battalion on 29 May 1941 at Retimo

While Lt-Col. Campbell proposed to surrender to the Germans to save lives in the face of overwhelming force, Major Sandover thought that he would try to get his men out and heading south to the coast. Captain Honner pulled his men to the ridge, with the remnants of his company down to 40 men with some more men added. Honner was eventually able to lead his men back to the headquarters with Sandover. Sandover intended to escape and take his chances. Captain Honner had a group of men with him. He had a Greek map, so they used that for the next couple of months. Meanwhile, Lt-Col. Campbell was arranging to surrender the remainder of the defenders of Retimo airfield. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The troops at Retimo did not receive the message about withdrawal from Crete

A lighter arrived at Retimo during the night of 27-28 May 1941. The lighter, commanded by Lieutenant Haig, brought two days' supplies. The lighter left Suda Bay prior to the orders for withdrawal being received. Aircraft dropped cases of food and ammunition, presumably with the message about withdrawal, but it was not seen. The plan was to move to Plakias Bay at the east end of the island and withdraw on the night of 31 May to 1 June 1941. Another message was dropped to the forces at Retimo to move to the south coast for withdrawal, but they did not receive the word. Lt-Col. Campbell did now want to leave their defensive position without orders, so they were stuck at Retimo while the Germans approached from east and west. Given the situation, Campbell proposed to surrender the force to the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History

Monday, November 04, 2013

Jackson's company escape from Perivolia 28-29 May 1941

As we saw, the Australians Jackson's company was left in Perivolia when the officers had not seen the signal to withdraw on . The safest thing seemed to be to occupy houses in Perivolia and wait until dark to leave. The Germans bombed one house and fired machine guns at the houses, but no one was hit by the fire. This was during the day on 28 May 1941. They captured a German airman who had run into one house. His aircraft had crashed in the sea and he was the only survivor. Jackson decided to try to withdraw after dark by going to the beach and walking east. Sandover correctly estimated that they would break out after dark and fired all the remaining artillery rounds at the German front lines. Jackson's company moved at 9pm and made their way to the beach. They turned around and moved west to the edge of Retimo, when they sheltered in a large villa. Two wounded men could not be moved, so a medical orderly stayed with them in the villa. They moved south and then east, reaching Sandover's battalion on 29 May 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The attack on Perivolia early on 28 May 1941

One company, commanded by Captain Jackson, commenced their move on Perivolia at 3:20am on 28 May 1941. They had moved forward some 400 years when the Greeks had opened fire on the church. The Australians came under heavy fire. They pushed onwards anyway and reached the crossroads. They pushed further into the wadi in the direction of the sea. Wood's company took heavy fire from grenades and mortars. Wood was wounded as were his two platoon commanders. Wood was mortally wounded, but told Lt. Scott to fire two Very lights. This was the signal that they were withdrawing. The two companies that lay just east of Perivolia started receiving machine gun fire. They were able to withdraw before daylight, but Wood's company only had 43 men left. Jackson did not see the signal and thought that it was too late to withdraw before light. He decided to take some houses just west of the crossroads in Perivolia and wait until darkness to withdraw. Sandover, the battalion commander, guessed that Jackson and his men would attempt to leave Perivolia once it was dark. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Knocked out tanks at Retimo airfield

The two tanks had been moving forward at dawn o9n 27 May 1941. They were both commanded by Ausralian infantry officers. Lt. Lawry's tank on the left was the one hit by a shell and set on fire. Lawry and one of his crew managed to escape the tank, although they had wounds and burns. The other crew, where Bedell had lost fingers due to a mortar bomb hit, stayed in the tank until darkness fell. Honner had decided that without the tanks, he should not attack Perivolia. What changed his mind was that he was missing Robert's platoon. The platoon was either in trouble or had succeeded in breaking into Perivolia. In either case, Honner decided to attack, knowing that there would be losses. There were, and they ended up going in with a Red Cross flag to get the wounded out. Most were killed, it turned out. Campbell decided that the 2/11th should attack Perivolia in the dark. They immediately had a problem when the Greeks started shooting at St. George's church. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Campbell's tanks: 24 May to 27 May 1941 at Retimo airfield

As we saw, Lt-Col. Campbell's troops had been able to recover the two lost tanks by 24 May 1941, after securing Hill A and the ground stretching north to the beach. Lt. Mason drove the tank east to the Olive Oil Factory and then past to a house which the Germans had occupied. Eventually, at 9 O'Clock on 26 May, the Australians used the tank to help capture the Olive Oil Factory. They took 80 Germans prisoner, 40 wounded and 40 unwounded. They now had 500 German prisoners. The attack to the west towards Perivolia was strongly resisted and the tank used there had its turret jammed. By late on 26 May, they had repaired the second tank. Campbell provided the tank to Sandover to support a planned attack towards Perivolia at dawn on 27 May. When the attack started, one tank was hit and set on fire. The other fired on some Australians who had gotten farther than expected and caused some casualties. The remaining tank then moved forward and hit a mine that broke the track, stopping the tank. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

More action near the Retimo airfield on 23 May 1941

When the Greeks had promised to take the Church of St. George in Perivolia, the Australians had used a captured German anti-tank gun (presumably, a 37mm) to shell the churchyard. They succeeded in forcing the Germans from the church, but the Greeks did not follow up with an attack. During the afternoon, the Australians were attacked by some 50 aircraft. The Germans from Perivolia had planned and carried out an attack right at sunset on the Australians. They were driven off by the forward Australian troops who stood up and fired with good effect on the attackers. They had heard about the Rangers being headed for Retimo, but they did not appear. In any case, when the Australians were able to recapture Hill A and the surrounding area, they were able to recover the two tanks, which proved to be in running condition. The carrier crewmen found them and figured out how to drive them. They had plans for the next day on 24 May 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

23 May 1941 at Retimo

On 23 May 1941, the Australians captured the German medical aid post and the personnel. After that, the Australian and German medical staff treated everyone. A truce was declared so that the wounded could be recovered and treated from the area between Hill A and the Olive Oil Factory. It was towards the end of the period that a blind-folded German officer appeared who demanded that they surrender, since everywhere else, the Germans were winning. Lt-Col. Campbell had the artillery reply by firing some of their few artillery shells on the factory after the truce ended. The Greeks had promised to capture the Church of St. George, but did not follow through. The two western Australian companies were bombed by German aircraft apparently requested by the Germans in Perivolia. Honner's company and the mortar platoon took the most casualties. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 21, 2013

On the left end of the position at Retimo air field on 22 May 1941

Sandover's battalion, the 2/11th, benefited a number of times from Sandover's ability to read and speak German. On 22 May 1941, Captain Honner was able to call in German bombers to hit the village of Perivolia that was occupied by German paratroops. During the precious night, the Germans that had been in the rear of the battalion withdrew. In the afternoon, Captain Honner's company was able to advance and capture some of the houses that had been held by Germans. The company stopped at the point where the land slowed down and would have exposed the men to German fire. Perivolia was a strong position due to the many stone buildings, including the church and walled yard for the Church of St. George. Captain Jackson's company of the 2/11th was to advance in support of Honner's company. Honner was concerned that they might accidentally encounter Greek forces again in the night. He decided that the two companies would stand where they were and dig in. During the night, they heard gunfire and other noise from near Perivolia. The Greeks had apparently attacked, taken some prisoners, and then had withdrawn. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

At the Olive Oil Factory east of Retimo airfield on 22 May 1941

The forty Australians who had moved up a wadi to be close to the Olive Oil Factory east of the Retimo airfield were supposed to have support from Greek troops. The plan was that 200 Greek troops would move up another wadi to be close to the factory. The Greeks did not arrive, but the forty Australians, led by Captain Mann, made a desperate charge at the factory. They took many casualties, including Mann, who had been previously wounded at Bardia during the victory over the Italians. With Lt-Col. Campbell right there, directing operations, he told the Australians to wait for the Greeks. There were further communication, after Lt-Col. Campbell realized how badly the attack had gone, told them to hold off any further action. After dark, the Australians were able to pull back from the position near the factory. Lt-Col. Campbell ordered the remains of his two companies to withdraw back to their positions above the airfield. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The plan for the Retimo area on 22 May 1941

Lt-Col. Campbell's plan for 22 May 1941 near the Retimo airfield was to attack the two strong groups of German paratroops. One was located in the east by the Olive Oil Factory and by the road to Heraklion. The other, in the west, was near Perivolia and the road to Suda Bay. The two Australian battalions would attack. The 2/11th would attack to the west and two companies of the 2/1st would attack to the east. The eastern attack included Greeks moving up from the south. The Olive Oil Factory had buildings with thick walls, so it made a strong defensive position. Campbell had ordered an attack at 10am, but the officers for the attacking company were killed or wounded, so the attack never happened. Lt-Col. Campbell planned another attack on the factory at 6pm. Some 200 Greeks would go through a wadi, under cover while 40 Australians would crawl through another wadi. As Campbell watched, the Greeks did not move and the Australians took heavy losses. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The situation near the airfield at Retimo from the evening of 21 May to morning of 22 May 1941

As we saw, the German commander at the Retimo airfield had been captured by the Australians of the 2/11th Battalion. The German plan had been to drop one battalion of paratroops east and one west of the airfield at Retimo. By mistake two companies that were intended to be dropped west of Hill B were dropped east of Hill A. Greek battalions were sent to the west and east ends of the airfield. Major Ford was the liaison officer with the battalion that had moved to the ridge south of Perivolia by late on 21 May 1941. There was a large group of Germans near Perivolia that were only partly contained by the Australians on Hill B and the Greens to the south. There was also a group of 800 Cretan police at Retimo that had taken the town and blocked the road to Perivolia. There were two strong German groups left that needed attention. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Germans on the prowl after Hill A at Retimo airfield was recaptured

After the successful recapture of Hill A overlooking the Retimo airfield on the morning of 21 May 1941, there were only small groups of German paratroops left in the area between Hill A and Perivolia. Those small groups often caused trouble, however. One group of Germans captured everyone at a dressing station at Adhele. They started off towards the 2/11th Battalion position, but were captured by a force of West Australians, who set the prisoners free. Two of the Germans in this case were killed while changing into Greek uniforms. Another group had taken Lt. Willmott. Lt. Willmott had been sent by Lt-Col. Campbell to help motivate the Greeks to action. He was released when the group ran into the "engineers and transports sections". In the cleanup after the initial attack, the Australians had captured Colonel Sturm, the commander of the attacking paratroopers. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Early on 21 May 1941 at the Retimo airfield

At dawn on 21 May 1941, Captain Channell led his company in an attack on Hill A overlooking the Retimo airfield on Crete. To the Australians, it seemed like the Germans had planned a simultaneous attack. The Germans let loose an barrage of mortar fire on the Australian company. Channell and his lieutenant were both wounded in the attack and their company was pushed back just on the western side on the hill neck. A company from Hill D arrived to support the attack. They quickly found out that the attack had failed. The company commander, Captain Moriarity, called Lt-Col. Campbell for help. Campbell brought a company through a route that kept them under cover across a wadi, and joined Moriarity. Captain Moriarity organized his new force into four groups and led an attack northwards that "succeeded brilliantly". Some of the Germans escaped to the beach and sheltered there. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The night of 20/21 May 1941 and the morning of 21 May at Retimo airfield

We need remember that Lt-Col. Campbell, the commander at the Retimo airfield, was a very new battalion commander who now commanded a brigade-sized force at the Retimo airfield. He had almost no staff, because he did not want to take officers from the fighting units. By the first evening of the attack on Crete, Campbell was left with no information about what was happening elsewhere on Crete. This was largely due to the abysmal British communications equipment and the scarcity of what they had. Campbell had sent a wireless message to General Freyberg asking for reinforcements. He also planned attacks in the morning at Hill A and to clear the enemy from the low ground near the sea. He planned attacks with the Australian battalions paired with Greek battalions. The Greek battalions had officers with them to help. In one case, it was the Australian Major Hooper and the other case a Welch Regiment officer. During the night, the Germans tried to overrun the remaining Australians. This was when they captured the crews of the two stranded tanks near the airfield. Only one section, commanded by Corporal Johnston, was still holding out on Hill A. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

The 2/11th on Hill B at Retimo

Sandover had commanded the 2/11th Battalion since Greece as a Major. He organized the defense of Hill B overlooking the Retimo airfield. There were Germans along the lower side of Hill B, outside the wire, that Sandover hoped to be able to deal with, but when night came, that became more difficult. Prior to darkness falling, the Australians had done well killing or capturing Germans. They were forced to quit when in the dark, the Germans were able to ambush the Australian patrols. They took 84 Germans prisoner. Sandover spoke German, so he talked with the prisoners and examined their documents. In the morning, he put out the signal asking for mortar bombs to be dropped which a German aircraft obligingly did. Not only did they take the prisoners, but they also collected a good number of weapons, which were needed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The next events at Retimo on 20 May 1941

The Germans on Hill A anticipated an effort to push them off the hill, and they pressed the remaining Australians. They also captured the crews of the two Matilda tanks, which were from the 7th RTR. On the left, they had effectively dealt with all the paratroops which fell near their area. The 2/1th and 4th Greek Battalions were still in control of their area. The wired area controlled by the 2/11th Battalion on Hill B was also able to kill or capture all the paratroops who descended. There were 500 paratroops that were able to concentrate and move on Perivolia. The 2/11th tried to push north to clear the low area. Once night fell, the Germans were able to put any stop to Australian activity. The 2/11th pulled its men back into their wired area, once they realized that they would not be able to make progress in the darkness. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hill A near the Retimo air field on 20 May 1941

Hill A looked down on the east end of the air field at Retimo. In the initial attack by paratroops, a considerable number landed on Hill A. Hill A was an area of about 200 by 300 yards. The hill was held by one company of Australians along with six guns and four machine guns. The artillery were 75mm guns. Machine gun crews were repeatedly killed and the gunners were forced to retreat with their breach blocks. The Vickers machine guns were eventually disabled by a German mortar bomb. Lt-Col. Campbell ordered two platoons from one company to defend against a German advance west from Hill A. The defenders on Hill A still held part of the ground and they received a platoon of reinforcements. With the Australians and Germans mixed together on Hill A, German air power was neutralized, because they did not want to attack their own troops. Lt-Col. Campbell had ordered to tanks to help his troops on Hill A, but they both encountered mishaps which neutralized them. One stuck in a drain and the other fell into a Wadi. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Retimo attacked on 20 May 1941

The attack on the airfield at Retimo started at 4pm when bombers and fighters strafed and bombed. The Greek 4th Battalion was not attacked, but they responded by moving back up the ridge overlooking the airfield. Australian senior enlisted were sent to them and led them back to their original positions and encouraged them in the initial battle. The initial attack came from 24 troop carriers dropping paratroops. Eventually, there were 161 troop transports (Ju-52's presumably). There were four areas with German paratroops. One was at Perivolia, just east of Retimo. Another, smaller group, was at Platanes to the east of the first. A third and larger group landed overlapping the 2/11th Battalion and the 4th Greek Battalion on the airfield. The fourth, and largest group of paratroops landed overlapping the 2/1st Battalion area and east to the olive oil factory. The troop transports dropped their paratroops from about 400 feet as they flew parallel to the coast. The drop was completed in 35 minutes. They counted seven troop transports shot down along with two other aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

More about Retimo in May 1941 on Crete

The 2/11th Battalion was the closest to Retimo on the west end of their position located by Hill B. To their right was the 4th Greek Battalion. About a mile to the south at Adhele was the 5th Greek Battalion. The 2/1st Battalion was on the far east of the position. They were spread from Hill A west to the 4th Greek Battalion. Hill A had two 100mm guns, four 75mm guns, and a machine gun platoon. Hill B had two 100mm guns and another machine gun platoon. The two tanks were hidden under the olive trees in the Wadi Pigi. The defenders of the Retimo apparently made good use of camouflage, because they found pictures on a crashed German reconnaissance aircraft that only showed one of the positions, which they altered. The assault on the airfield at Retimo began on 20 May 1941. The first 14 aircraft that they saw turned towards Canea. At noon, twenty aircraft flew over towards Heraklion. At 4pm, the Germans staged an attack with fighters and bombers on the airfield. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The situation at Retimo from 30 April 1941 onwards

Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Campbell became the commander of the forces defending the airfield at Retimo. He was an Australian commanding the 2/1st Battalion which arrived on the scene on 30 April 1941. His force was built up with another Australian battalion, the 2/11th and with the 4th Greek Battalion. They were woefully equipped in every respect. They had no anti-aircraft artillery, their communications equipment was minimal, and they had very little ammunition, and of that, none was armour-piercing. The airfield that they were trying to defend ran parallel to the shore, 100 yards from the beach. A ridge overlooked the airfield on the side away from the sea. They initially had but ten days food. They had to buy food locally from the market. The ridges had southern slopes covered with olive trees that masked any view. The field guns and most medium machine guns faced northward towards the sea. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The situation at Retimo, on Crete, starting from 19 May 1941

Retimo, and the airfield about five miles to the east, were still in the western half of the island of Crete. Retimo was on the north shore, a ways east of Suda Bay. The land near Retimo was very mountainous, and sloped down to the sea. The town of Retimo had a population of about 10,000. Due to the difficulty of the terrain, the town was concentrated. The airfield was dominated by the ridge to the south. The airfield was almost on the beach and ran parallel to the shoreline. The 2/1st Australian Battalion arrived on 30 April 1941. They relieved the previous Greek defenders. The hills were terraced and had vineyards. Additional men arrived at Retimo between 30 April and 19 May so that the force grew to brigade group size. They had four 3 inch mortars, but only 80 mortar bombs for each. They had some anti-tank rifles, but only had five rounds each. Overall, they were short of ammunition, so they started the campaign with difficulties. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

More from 27 May 1931 on Crete

The German 3rd Parachute Regiment had reached the wireless station by 10am. They eventually entered Canea by 2pm, along with Ramcke and the 100th Mountain Regiment. In the process, they captured about one thousand men and forty guns. During the day on 27 May 1941, the rest of the 5th Mountain Division, along with a battalion of the 6th Mountain Division were flown into Maleme. The rearguard, consisting of the 5th New Zealand Brigade, the 19th Australian Brigade, and the commandos of Layforce had fought their way to the road leading to Sfakia on the south coast of Crete. The road to the south was packed with retreating men and vehicles. The Official History is about to jump to talking about the troops defending Retimo and Heraklion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 16, 2013

More about the alleged massacre at 42nd Street on 27 May 1941

Lt-Col. Walker commanded the 2/7th Battalion, one of Brigadier Vasey's Australian battalions. His battalion was the one accused by Major Forster of committing a war crime by shooting and stabbing unarmed men who would have surrendered. A number of battalions, including the New Zealand Maori battalion, who used a special knife as their personal weapon in addition for guns, had charged the Germans. Lt-Col. Walker wrote about the incident in 1952 to address the charge made by the Germans. The probable explanation was that the Australians had captured German machine guns and turned them on the Germans and quickly killed or wounded many men. I also thought that the Maoris could have knifed some Germans. The Australians did capture three wounded Germans after the fight. Lt-Col. Walker thought that other wounded Germans might have been able to retreat to their own positions. There was one instance where there were unarmed men shot at the foot of a wall. To the Germans, it appeared that they might have been lined up and shot. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Alleged war crimes on 27 May 1941

Major Forster, commander of the I Battalion engaged with the Australian 19th Brigade west of Suda reported to his regimental commander that he thought that war crimes had been committed. He had found 121 dead Germans and he felt sure that some had been wounded and then had been knifed or shot when they were helpless by the Australians. Forster's battalion had been advancing towards the east in heavy olive trees when they ran onto a minefield which stopped the advance. He thought that they were in danger of being surrounded, so he had pulled his men back. His battalion was then withdrawn into an existing defensive position on high ground. He reported that some dead Germans had been stabbed or had broken skulls. When they checked the battle field, they found about 20 Australian and New Zealand dead, none with stab or butt wounds. Lt-Colonel Walker, reported that there had been automatic weapons forward for the Germans. These had been captured and they inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans nearby. He said that no one who wanted to surrender was shot, after the fighting slowed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Germans on Crete on 25 and 27 May 1941

The Germans had considerable success in their advance on 26 and 27 May 1941 on Crete. They were intent on still encircling Canea and pushing through to Suda Bay. Just like the Australians and New Zealanders, the Germans were taking losses. For example, the 3rd Parachute Regiment was now of battalion strength and had been reorganized accordingly. The Germans were planning on continuing to circle Canea on the 27th of May. From there, they planned to head for Retimo. At this point, they had five columns of troops headed east. It was the 141st Mountain Regiment which had fought the Australian 19th Brigade in Greece. They were the victims of the action at 42nd Street, near Suda. Early on 27 May, they were ordered to attack towards Suda Bay, at least partly to cut off the defenders. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The decision to withdraw from Crete on 27 May 1941

Because of the situation on the roads to the south of Crete, General Weston had lost his ability to control the rearguard action until Thursday, 29 May 1941. That anything good could happen was due to the efforts of the Australian and New Zealand brigade commanders and Colonel Laycock. By this time, the Greek forces had practically ceased to exist. The rout that had occurred spontaneously included men discarding their rifles and even their tunics due to the heat. The sort of input that General Freyberg received from General Wavell's headquarters in Egypt was totally useless. They had no idea of the situation on the ground and had responded to General Freyberg's message from 26 May by calling for withdrawing to the east and defending that part of the island. Freyberg's message on 26 May was that the situation was hopeless. Early on 27 May, General Freyberg informed the headquarters in Egypt that there was no food at Retimo, in the east, as well as no ammunition. They had lost all their artillery at Suda due to the lack of gun tractors. By the afternoon of 27 May, General Freyberg was told to abandon Crete by Wavell. General Wavell had asked London for guidance, as well he might, due to Churchill's involvement, but got no reply. General Wavell eventually received a message from London agreeing to withdrawing from Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The rout begins: 27 to 28 May 1941 on Crete

General Weston was thinking in terms of withdrawal from the island of Crete when he went south, later on 27 May 1941. He intended to scout out the route that would be taken to the south of the island for withdrawal. Once he got south, he was trapped, because of road congestion. The mostly unarmed, disorganized groups of men were in a panic and were clogging the roads to the south. General Weston was unable to travel back north to Suda.

Before he had left for the trip south, General Weston had ordered Laycock, the D Battalion commander of Layforce, to occupy the Babali Inn as a rearguard position. He had assigned him two of the remaining infantry tanks, along with three carriers.

The men walking or riding vehicles to the south included base troops from Suda Bay, Cypriots, Palestinians, and improvised infantry units. What vehicles they had, they eventually abandoned. What had started as a spontaneous retreat from the Suda Bay area had turned into a rout due to the panic of the men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Further developments at Suda on 27 May 1941

Despite the local success in the counter-attack on the Germans west of Suda, the situation was getting worse on 27 May 1941 as the day progressed. For one thing, the New Zealand and stustralian troops just west of Suda were out of touch with their commander, General Weston, the Royal Marine. Worse yet, the group now styled as the "rear-guard" could see German troops moving around the southern part of the line, as if to encircle them. The two brigadiers, Hargest of the 5th New Zealand Brigade and Vasey of the 19th Australian Brigade planned to withdraw during the night. They had met with a battalion commander of Layforce, the commandos, who was occupying a blocking point on the road. They had planned to withdraw from 42nd Street at 9pm, but it was not dark yet, so they waited until 10pm. We now find that General Weston had gone south to look at the retreat path and got caught in the flight of vehicles and could not make his way north. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The men charged the enemy on 27 May 1941 near Suda Bay

It was late in the morning, about 11am, when the Australians had seen the Germans advancing. There were two companies of the 2/7th Battalion deployed forward. Major Miller commanded the northernmost company on the far right. The company on his left charged when Miller's company charged. Miller had sent a patrol forward to observe the Germans, who were busy taking things from an abandoned depot they had found. Shots were eventually exchanged and Miller moved his company forward. When the second company arrived, they charged the Germans. The charge caused the Germans to turn and run, often dropping their weapons. The Australians eventually advanced a mile from their start. The New Zealanders made a similar charge, with the Maoris in the center and with the 19th and 21st Battalions on each side. They advanced about 600 yards and observed some 80 dead Germans. The Australians thought that they had killed as many as 200 Germans and also took three prisoners. The Australian and New Zealand losses were small. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The morning of 27 May 1941 at "42nd Street" near Suda

What the soldiers called "42nd Street" was a dirt road that ran towards the south-southeast through olive groves. The position was near the southwest corner of Suda Bay. General Weston was not at 42nd Street when the remnants of the New Zealand Division and the 19h Australian Brigade arrived. The Australians occupied the northern end of the line with the New Zealand battalions stretching to their south. The front they held depended on their remaining strength. General Freyberg was very anxious about getting the supplies delivered, so he was present during the night when the destroyers delivered the 80 tons of supplies at the pier. By 11am on 27 May, there were some 400 Germans heading towards the position, following the Suda Bay road. The Australians surprised the Germans, who were intent on looting an abandoned depot. They exchanged fire and then the Germans "broke and ran". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 26, 2013

More about the night of 26-27 May 1941 in front of Canea

The commander of the Suda Brigade was Colonel Hely, an artillery-man. He had commanded the 106 RHA from 1939 to 1941. During 1941 to 1942, he commanded the 60 Field regiment. After the 5th New Zealand Brigade and 19th Australian Brigade withdrew, Colonel Hely thought that the Suda Brigade needed to withdraw, as well. That left the Composite Brigade without any support. They had followed orders that were a bad idea and advanced west of Canea about a mile. The withdrawal left the 5th and 19th Brigades just west of Suda. The commandos of A Battalion of Layforce were near the village of Suda. By the morning, the Australians were surprised that they did not see the Composite Brigade troops coming up as their rear-guard. When the Composite Brigade had been misplaced, Brigadier Inglis took back his command of the 4th New Zealand Brigade and Howard Kippenberger moved back to being the 20th Battalion commander.

When General Weston realized that the Composite Brigade was in trouble, he ordered the 1/Welch to withdraw, but they probably never got the order or it was too late in arriving. They were too far forward with the 1/Rangers and the Northumberland Hussars. As the Germans started to encircle the Composite Battalion, Two companies eventually reached Suda. They later found out that a sergeant and a few men from the 1/Welch had held up the German advance until early on 28 May. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Communications and command gone wrong: the night of 26-27 May 1941 near Suda and Canea

Because of the command and communications situation, Brigadier Puttick, the New Zealand Division commander, and Brigadier Vasey, the Australian, were forced to act to keep their troops from being overrun by the advancing Germans. By 2:15am, General Weston thought that the New Zealand Division was acting independently, regardless of what he told them. When the New Zealand 5th Brigade and the Australian 19th Brigade withdrew, that triggered the withdrawal of the Suda Brigade, which had been in reserve at Mournies. The Composite Brigade had no idea about the withdrawals, especially of the Suda Brigade, and went on with their advance to a position west of Canea. The 5th and 19th Brigades were then in position to the west of Suda. One battalion of commandos were near Suda. General Weston realized at 1am that the Composite Brigade was in a dangerous position and sent orders to withdraw. Those orders were probably not received and the most forward companies were caught. One was caught and the other took heavy losses. The latest move left the surviving units at "42nd Street", preparing for the next day's action. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The defense in front of Canea collapsed: late on 26 May 1941

Both the Australians and New Zealanders in front of Canea were being pressed so hard that they felt the need to withdraw, later in the day on 26 May 1941. The command structure had been made more complicated when General Weston had been given command over the New Zealand Division. Worse yet, General Weston felt like major decisions about withdrawals were beyond what he was allowed to make. When the Australian Brigadier Vasey told General Weston that he would not be able to hold on overnight, General Weston felt like he needed to consult General Freyberg before agreeing to a withdrawal. Communications were so bad that the discussion meant a trip where General Weston was out of touch with the troops in the line for hours. The result of that issue was that by late in the day on 26 May, unilateral decisions were made which put the New Zealand and Australian troops into a withdrawal from the front before Canea. Brigadier Puttick, the New Zealand Division commander, kept trying to contact Weston, but General Weston had been forced to leave Canea due to the heavy bombing. Brigadier Puttick tried to contact General Freyberg by radio, but was told to take his orders from General Weston. From the distance of time, we can see that the situation before Canea was at the point of collapse, at least partly due to the command and communication arrangements that were in place. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"The New Zealand Division can't hold another night": 26 May 1941

By the afternoon of 26 May 1941, the command structure for Crete was "showing cracks". The New Zealand Division commander, Brigadier Puttick read that General Freyberg intended that a new Composite Brigade would be commanded by Brigadier Inglis. The brigade was intended to relieve the 5th New Zealand Brigade in the line. Brigadier Puttick's opinion was that the New Zealand Division troops were at the end of their ability to fight. General Freyberg's headquarters were within walking distance, so Brigadier Puttick walked over to talk with him. General Freyberg told Puttick that they had to hold, because two destroyers were heading for Suda Bay with commandos and supplies. He also told Brigadier Puttick that since they were now in the area of Canea and Suda, that the New Zealand Division would fall under General Weston's command. While Brigadier Puttick was walking, which took three hours, the Germans continued to advance around the left of the line. Later that evening, General Weston informed General Freyberg that he thought that the New Zealand Division could not hold their positions for another night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Further events on 26 May 1941 in front of Canea

Later in the afternoon of 26 May 1941, the pressure on the Australian 2/8th and 2/7th Battalions on the left of the line in front of Canea was so great that they were withdrawn. They were moved back to their original positions with the Marines at Mournies. Earlier in the day, their brigade commander, Brigadier Vasey, had thought that they would be able to hold, but by 5pm, he recognized that the situation had become critical.

Also in the afternoon, Brigadier Puttick, the acting New Zealand Division commander, was in the process of moving his headquarters to a point south of Canea. While that move was happening, he received a letter from General Freyberg that asked him to co-locate his headquarters with General Weston. Freyberg also plotted to take Weston's best units and for a composite brigade from them. He wanted to use the Composite Brigade to replace the remnants of the 5th New Zealand Brigade in the line. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

26 May 1941 in front of Canea

The 5th New Zealand Brigade now was very much a scratch organization. They had company-sized battalions under their command, including the 19th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and the 28th (Maori) Battalions. They also had small groups of engineers and cavalry to help hold the line. At one point, an attack on the engineers in the 21st Battalion line were pushed back by a strong German attack. They were able to stage a counter-attack and push the Germans back. By 2pm, the 19th Battalion was under heavy pressure. Several platoons were pushed back and the battalion had to pull back 150 yards to a new line. They mustered enough force to retake the positions that were lost by 3pm. To the left, the Maori's were able to hold against German attacks. The next German attempt was to push between the Australians and the Greeks. Two Australian platoons were forced to withdraw towards Perivolia, but were able to hold their position at that point. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 12, 2013

General Freyberg reported to General Wavell on 26 May 1941

General Freyberg sent a cable to General Wavell, the theater commander, on 26 May 1941 that said that the situation on Crete was now hopeless and that only the Welsh Regiment and the Commando were able to conduct offensive operations. He said if the strategic situation demanded it, they would try and hold on for a while longer. Freyberg expected that the Germans were close to being able to fire on Suda Bay. He also reported that most of their artillery had been lost due to lack of mobility. General Freyberg also made a reorganization. He put Brigadier Inglis in charge of the reserve and promoted Howard Kippenberger to 4th Brigade commander. The 4th New Zealand Brigade now consisted of the 18th and 20th Battalions. The forward troops, including the 5th New Zealand Brigade were under heavy attack. The Official History says that the 5th Brigade battalions were reduced to company strength at this point. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

General Freyberg basically gave up on 26 May 1941

We can only guess that during the night of 25/26 May 1941, that Brigadier Puttick and General Freyberg had a mistaken idea of what was actually happening on the ground in front of Canea. We know that Howard Kippenberger had led the troops and had successfully recapatured Galatas. The Greek troops were doing well. So what did the higher level command think? On 25 May, Brigadier Puttick had told General Freyberg that the line at Galatas was "obviously broken", which seems to have not been the case. An order arrived at 1am on 26 May that agreed with the Puttick's decision to pull the New Zealand Division back to a line closer to Canea. A liaison officer to the Greeks had reported that the Greeks were close to breaking, which also seems to be not the case. The 21st Battalion would now be the unit on the right, with some of the cavalry, some engineers, and one company of the 29th Battalion. To their left was the 19th Battalion. To their left were the Maori's (the 28th Battalion). By the dawn, the 5th New Zealand Brigade was in the new position. The Australian 19th Brigade was to their left. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Other action in front of Canea on 25 and 26 May 1941 on Crete

During the day on 25 May 1941, the Australians of the 19th Brigade were not challenged. They were to the left of the New Zealanders in front of Canea. During the night of 25/26 May, they continued to take casualties, and there were New Zealand troops mixed into the Australian front lines. The troops continued to experience heavy air attacks during the night. The New Zealand Division commander, Brigadier Puttick, decided to pull the 4th and 5th Brigades back to line up to the north on the right of the Australian 19th Brigade. The Greeks of the 8th Greek Regiment were actually doing very well. They were fighting the German 85th Mountain Regiment, and had kept them from encircling the defenders of Canea. They were actually reinforced by Cretan villagers. They had successfully fought the German Utz group and pushed them out of Aliakmon and to pull into a defensive position by the reservoir. At the end of the day on 25 May, Brigadier Puttick warned General Freyberg that he did not expect to be able to hold his position against constantly increasing German forces. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The situation in front of Canea turns nasty on 25 May 1941

Lt-Col John Russell commanded the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry in front of Canea. He reported to Howard Kippenberger that there were many men in retreat coming past his unit. The cavalry itself was being pressed by the Germans. Kippenberger sent his brigade major to tell Brigadier Inglis about the situation and to ask for help. Many men were being wounded and were taken by truck to the aid station. The situation worsened when Wheat Hill, just west of Galatas, was abandoned without orders. They were under attack by German mountain troops. The retreat was increasing and could easily have turned into a rout. Kippenberger tried to rally the men, shouting whatever he could think of to try and halt the retreat. Brigadier Inglis was sending reinforcements, and Kippenberger sent them into the weak spots in the line. When the 23rd Battalion arrived, Howard Kippenberger thought that they needed to retake Galatas if they were going to stop the Germans. He sent the 23rd off with two light tanks against Galatas. The attack succeeded in driving the Germans from Galatas. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The situation turns for the worse on 25 May 1941 for the New Zealanders on Crete

The 2nd New Zsaland Division forces on Crete were all massed to defend Canea when the day started on 25 May 1941. The 4th New Zealand Brigade was taking the brunt of the attack with the 5th Brigade in reserve, ready to be used. Ramcke's group was attacking along the coast against the 18th Battalion and the Composite Battalion. The Composite Battalion rapidly ceased to exist. The 18th Battalion was also in dire straits. The company nearest the sea was being swamped by the enemy. The center company was surrounded and under fire from all directions. The battalion commander took up a rifle with bayonet and led a group from his headquarters to attempt to restore the situation, but failed. Colonel Howard Kippenberger was in command at the front. The two companies from the 20th Battalion ordered forward to occupy the ground held by the remnants of the Composite Battalion. 2nd-Lieutenant Upton distinguished himself again in the effort. They were up against too many German troops and the situation was getting progressively worse as the Germans were pushing up the road from the prison towards Canea. This si based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Germans on 24 May 1941 near Canea

On 24 May 1941, the Germans were massing to attack the New Zealand Division. They had two airborne and one mountain regiment on the move. Another mountain regiment was moving south towards the prime target, Suda Bay. The first step was to attack the heights at Galatas, to the west-southwest of Canea. The Assault Regiment would hit the heights near Galatas. The mountain troops of the 100th Mountain Regiment would attack Galatas itself. The 3rd Parachute Regiment would attack along the road to Canea. More reinforcements were landed on the 24th at Maleme, as well. These included one-and-a-half mountain battalions, a reconnaissance unit, and an anti-aircraft unit.

The New Zealanders were well-aware that an attack was imminent. The tired and depleted 5th New Zealand Brigade, or what was left of it, was to be ready to help the 4th Brigade. In preparation, the 4th Brigade was worked over by attacking aircraft on 24 May. Counting up the 5th Brigade, they had remnants of four battalions only totaling about 1,500 men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 29, 2013

24 May 1941 near Canea on Crete

The western end of the forces defending Crete stretched out about three miles to the southwest of Canea on 24 May 1941. The troops near the sea were from the 5th New Zealand Brigade. This also included the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry. The 4th New Zealand Brigade was behind them in reserve. To their southeast were the Australians and Greeks. Behind them were forces commanded by General Weston, the Royal Marine. Called the Reserve Position, it was held by the "Royal Perivolians" and the Suda Brigade. The Royal Perivolians were the unit that included Royal Marines and the Australian 2/2 Field Regiment, fighting as infantry.

There was a strong German force moving through the hills, intent on cutting off the defenders around Suda Bay. They spent 24 May just making probing attacks against the 4th New Zealand Brigade. A stronger attack was launched at 4pm against the 18th New Zealand Battalion. They were pushed back, but counter-attacked to restore the line. The Germans staged air attacks all afternoon that seemed to be designed to wreck Canea. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 26, 2013

24 May 1941 from the Germans

Air attacks on 24 May 1941 had hit the mixed troops at Kastelli. Some German paratroops had been captured on the first day and had been held prisoner at Kastelli. The air attacks enabled them to escape. They obtained arms and attacked the New Zealand officers who were with the 1st Greek Regiment. They killed or captured several of them. The Greek regiment was really a battalion-sized unit of one thousand men, but they only had some 600 rifles and only had several rounds per rifle. After the air attack, a German mountain engineer battalion attacked and made good progress. The Greeks were able to resist until 26 May, which prevented the Germans from bringing in more reinforcements.

At about this time, a German naval officer was ordered to take two light tanks to Crete to support the attack. He was able to find a wooden lighter and was able to get the two tanks lowered onto the lighter. A small tug boat towed the lighter, but reports of British naval activity caused the German naval commander, Admiral Schuster, to order the tug and lighter to move into the harbor at Kithera. This is based on the account in Walter Ansel's and Peter Schenk's books.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The German view of the battle for Crete on 23 May 1941

The Australian Official History intersperses information from German sources with the story about the Australian, New Zealand, and British troops fighting the Germans on Crete. On 23 May 1941, when the 5th New Zealand Brigade was withdrawn into reserve after taking heavy losses, the Germans thought that the withdrawal was due to their concentric attack by the Utz group. Ramcke's group, which was know from later in the Western Desert, was following the retreating troops and fought the rearguards. During the night on 23 May, General Ringel sent what we would later call a battle group against Aliakmon and moving towards Suda Bay. He hoped that by outflanking the troops in the Galatas and Suda area that he could cause them trouble and also could ease the pressure on the 2nd Parachute Regiment, which was having difficulties. Because the German focus was on Suda Bay, the air attack concentrated there and let the 5th New Zealand Brigade withdraw without heavy air attack. The German forces at Maleme and the Prison area were able to connect and heavier reinforcements were flowin into Maleme, including airborne armour. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reinforcements for Crete

There were two infantry tanks that were landed at Timbakion the night before the German attack. By the 23rd of May 1941, they reached Heraklion. They also reported that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were traveling there, presumably on foot. They had landed with the tanks. With the arrival of the two infantry tanks, there were now three runners at Heraklion. They were put on a landing craft and sent to Suda with two 75mm guns.

The Glenroy was to have brought reinforcements to Timbakion, but was ordered to turn back due to the heavy air attack that sank destroyers. The fast mine layer Abdiel was sent with a commando force, eventually known as "Layforce". Layforce consisted of 195 commandos.

The Germans now turned their attention to capturing Suda Bay. The first step was to send a group of mountain troops from the 85th Mountain Regiment towards Alikianou and then east towards Suda Bay. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Retimo, the isolated area on 23-24 May 1941

The only rather secure means that General Freyberg had available to communicate with troops at Retimo was by submarine cable. After having destroyed their ciphers at Heraklion on 20 May 1941, during the parachute attack, they were mostly left with using plain text communications. The Australian Colonel Campbell commanded the troops near Retimo. Colonel Campbell sent Captain Lergessner to travel to Suda to pass on information about their situation and ask for guidance. Captain Lergessner met the company of Rangers and two anti-tank guns that had been sent as reinforcements at about 8pm on 23 May. Captain Lergessner warned the Rangers against attacking up the road, as there was considerable German strength. He watched the Rangers make an unsuccessful attack that was repulsed before continuing to Suda along with the survivors from the Rangers company. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The defensive plan for Crete on 23 May 1941

At about 11am on 23 May 1941, Brigadier Puttick, the New Zealand Division commander, and General Freyberg met to discuss what to do next. They agreed to pull the 5th New Zealand Brigade into reserve, since the brigade had taken so many losses. Brigadier Inglis, the 4th Brigade commander, would have the 10th Brigade units under his control. He would be on the right of a new defensive line. The Australian 19th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Vasey would take over the left of the line. The troops near Platanias walked to behind the 4th Brigade during the night. They were very short of vehicles and what remained were used to carry the wounded and weapons. The defense at Retimo was handicapped by having to send and receive all communications in the clear, because they had destroyed their ciphers during the parachute attack. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The New Zealand withdrawal on 23 May 1941

As the battalions of the 5th New Zealand Brigade withdrew on 23 May 1941, the Germans came along behind and there was fighting. They fought on the road where the Platanias river was bridged. The New Zealand artillery contributed by putting the German light pieces out of action. The men watched 12 British bombers raid the Maleme airfield, where there were some 130 Ju-52 transports. They could see six of them burning after the raid. The 5th Brigade was now under attack by men from the prison area, attacking from the south. 150 Germans were on the heights at Stalos. The position was attacked several times and might have been dislodged, but the company commander mistakenly thought that there were more German troops than there actually were. There were changes coming, as Brigadier Puttick met with General Freyberg at 11am and they decided to pull the 5th Brigade back into reserve and replace them with the 4th Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The 5th New Zealand Brigade situation early on 23 May 1941

The Maoris and the battalions of the 5th New Zealand brigade were in positions along the Platanias line by early on 23 May 1941. The Maoris had moved back into their position where they had been, prior to the attack at Maleme. The 23rd Battalion may have been in the best shape of the 5th Brigade battalions. It was facing north next to the Maoris. The 21st and 22nd Battalions had taken losses and were low on strength. They were next to the 23rd Battalion. The New Zealand Engineer battalion was also in line with them. They stretched to the adjacent 4th New Zealand Brigade troops. They were all settled in by 10am. They were spared, for now, from heavy air attack. The air attacks were conducted against the roads that linked Canea and Suda, and against the town of Canea. General Freyberg thought that the air attacks were as heavy as he had seen. The artillery battery, the 27th, only was able to withdraw two French 75mm guns and had to abandon the rest. The new position had a small amount of artillery between the 27th Battery and the 2/3rd Australian Field Regiment. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Freyberg's assessment from 23 May 1941

Later on 23 May 1941, General Freyberg received a message from Churchill that talked about what a splendid battle they were fighting and that "the whole world watches". Freyberg knew that the situation was deteriorating fast and that there was no "splendid battle". Freyberg only wanted to do what would be best for the defenders. Freyberg sent a message to General Wavell where he tried to portray just how desperate their situation was and tried to give a true picture of the situation. They were down to about 150 cwt trucks along with 117 other vehicles that could carry a load. There were troops who were cut off near Maleme. The Germans had troops blocking the road that went from Suda to Retimo. They lacked any vehicles at Retimo. He ordered the Argylls and Sutherlands to concentrate at Heraklion prior to attempting to push to Suda by road, if possible. Freyberg hoped to withdraw to within defensible lines to give the troops some rest and to better be able to withstand attack. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Wavell and his staff make unrealistic suggestions late on 22 May 1941

General Freyberg received a message from General Wavell in the night of 22 May 1941 that showed just how out of touch Wavell was with the situation on Crete. The purpose was to inform Freyberg that reinforcements could not be landed at Suda Bay. Wavell expressed the hope that the Germans would not be able to stick with the attack much longer. There were plans to land commandos on the south coast who would then move north to assist the defenders. Wavell thought that if the "situation at Maleme is really serious hope to arrange for R.A.F. to send fighters to strafe enemy tomorrow until ammunition and petrol exhausted and then land within your protection." Wavell had suggested major troop movements that were highly impractical due to lack of transport and would involve major moves on foot. General Freyberg sent a message on 23 May that tried to portray the situation in a way that gave Wavell an idea of just how desperate their situation was at this point. Freyberg expected that they would have to fight to the end without any hope of relief, from a reading of what he told Wavell. Wavell's performance during the first half of 1941 is why he ultimately was sacked by Churchill. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The issue about mutilation and reprisals by German troops

The German troops on Crete after 20 May 1941 were quick to react to what they perceived as atrocities or mutilations. Eventually, an investigation was conducted of the alleged incidents during the battle for Crete. The investigation found that British and New Zealand troops always conducted themselves well and when they had German prisoners, protected them from Cretan attacks. There were fewer incidents of actual mutilations than originally were reported. These all seemed to originate with Cretan civilians, not Greek troops. The investigation was conducted in a fair and impartial way to learn the truth of what had happened and was conducted by the Germans. The German troops involved were too quick to resort to reprisals which would likely result in war crimes trials, post-war, if they were pursued. The report was issued by the "Chief Medical Inspector of the Luftwaffe". Clearly, the use of reprisal killings by the German airborne troops was a mistake. This is based on the account in Volume II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The situation at Kastelli

The first group of German dispatched to protect Maleme on 23 May 1941 had reached Kastelli. There, they fought with troops from the 1st Greek Regiment, who were sniping at the German troops. The 5th Mountain Division commander had decided to do something about Kastelli. In the initial attack on 20 May, 57 paratroops were dropped at Kastelli. Of there they said that some forty were "mutilated" by the Greek troops. The remaining 17 took refuge in the local jail, as it could be defended. By 24 May, the attackers called for dive bomber support. By the afternoon on 24 May, the 95th Engineer Battalion took Kastelli. They had killed some 200 of the Greek defenders. Of the 15 prisoners taken, 2 where New Zealand officers. The Germans shot 200 men at Kastelli in reprisal for the reported atrocities. A New Zealand officer had reported that he had the remaining Germans held in the jail to keep them safe from the Greeks and had some New Zealanders in the guard to protect them. The New Zealand officer said that he had not seen any Germans mistreated by the Greeks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

General Ringel's plan for 23 May 1941 on Crete

Late on 22 May 1941, General Ringel had organized the German troops into three groups. The plan was to use one group to protect Maleme from attack from the south and west. A second group, with most of the paratroops, would attack Canea along with the third group, the 100th Mountain Regiment. That third group would swing in an enveloping move to take the defending troops to the east by coming from the southern hills. Another 150 men under Colonel Heidrich's command moved north to Stalos to block the coast road. They reached their objective by early on 23 May. While moving west on 23 May, the first group ran into Greeks from the 1st Regiment acting as snipers. This was near Kastelli. They reported that the Greeks had committed "atrocities". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

22 May 1941 from the German perspective

During 22 May 1941, two more German mountain battalions were landed by air at Maleme. The fighting was tough and many aircraft were destroyed on the landing field at Maleme, but many were able to land and unload. The Germans had captured some British tanks during the fight for Maleme, and some of those tanks were used to two damaged aircraft off the field. General Ringel was now in charge of the German troops fighting to capture Crete. His charter was to capture Maleme, capture Suda Bay and clear so that it could be used to receive seaborne traffic, and relieve the troops who were hard-pressed at Retimo. Ultimately, he needed to capture the island. The Germans had hoped to attack Canea, but the New Zealand counter-attack had changed the situation. The New Zealand troops were ultimately driven back towards Pirgos, but kept control of the heights to the south. That night, the Germans reorganized in preparation for the next day. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Naval forces involved with the battle for Crete in May 1941

The naval battle for Crete in May 1941 was a case of ships fighting air attacks. The ships were in place to intercept the expected attack from the sea where small vessels would transport German troops to land on Crete. At the start of the battle on 20 May 1941, there was the 15th Cruiser Squadron positioned to the east of the island. The ships included the cruisers Naiad and Perth. They were accompanied by the destroyers Kandahar, Nubian, Kingston, and Juno. The Nubian was the oldest of the destroyers being a Tribal class ship. The others were J and K class, recently built. The ships to the west included the cruisers Dido, Ajax, and Orion. They had destroyers Janus, Kimberley, Hasty, and Hereward. There was also a reserve group consisting of the cruisers Gloucester and Fiji with two destroyers. The battleships were further to the west, ready to intervene if heavier Italian surface forces appeared. This is based on the account in the book A Midshipman's War: A Young Man in the Mediterranean Naval War, 1941-1943 by Frank Wade.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Naval operations in support of Crete on 23 May 1941

When Admiral Cunningham received information about declining anti-aircraft ammunition on ships supporting Crete, he ordered them all to withdraw to Alexandria. Losses had been heavy. The latest incident on the morning of 23 May 1941 involved Lord Mountbatten's destroyer Kelly and the accompanying Kashmir. They were dive-bombed and sunk. Suda Bay was filled with wrecked ships, the most notable being the cruiser York, which had been torpedoed by an Italian MTB on 26 March. Still, the navy continued to carry supplies to Crete. On the night of 23/24 May, two destroyers and the fast minelayer Abdiel carried supplies. They mainly carried ammunition and stored. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, June 21, 2013

More developments on Crete on 22 May 1941

The situation on Crete was very serious by 22 May 1941. There were enemy troops now blocking important roads. A group commanded by Colonel Campbell attacked at Retimo, but was not able to completely clear the road to the east and west. The Germans were reported to be blocking the road to the coast to the south where reinforcements would be landed. Late on 22 May, the 16th Brigade headquarters and one battalion sailed for Crete on the Glenroy. The plan was to land them at Timbakion to remove the Germans who were on the road.

There was a lot of naval action around Crete on 22 May. A force of three cruisers with destroyers attacked ships between Heraklion and a nearby island. They sank one caique, the ubiquitous type of Greek small vessel. Ships were running out of anti-aircraft ammunition and major units were lost. They included the cruisers Fiji and Gloucester. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nigel Richardson's father: Crete 1941

There is an interesting article in the Telegraph by Nigel Richardson that talks about his father and his fellows in the battle for Crete in 1941. The German invasion had started on Friday, 20 May 1941, as we know. One of those killed on 22 May 1941, which we have been reviewing, was a British spy, John Pendlebury. He had been an archaeologist and had the personal peculiarity of having a glass eye. Nigel Richardson was a member of the Northumberland Hussars. He had been evacuated from Greece when the campaign there was being wound down and the troops withdrawn. He ended up at Suda Bay, where many other soldiers were dropped by the navy.

Nigel Richardson notes that the area of Hill 107 has been a German cemetery. Hill 107 was the place abandoned by Lt-Colonel Andrew's battalion when they were in the process of collapse after being attacked while unsupported by the 5th New Zealand Brigade. The New Zealanders are commemorated by a street at Galatas named the Neozilandon Polemiston. At one spot in an alley, there is a gate made from a piece of a British tank.

Nigel Richardson's father made his way to Sfakia, as the battle gave way to withdrawal. He was one of the about 5,000 men who were left behind to be taken prisoner by the Germans. He spent about four years as a prisoner of war in Germany. This is based on Nigel Richardson's article and what we know from Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Other events relating to Crete on 22 May 1941

With Brigadier Vasey, the Australian, given command over troops in the Canea and Suda area, he was now under New Zealand command. He was put under Brigadier Puttick, the New Zealand Division commander. The only Germans in the area were small groups on the Akrotiri peninsula. Troops from the 1/Welch were able to capture some of the Germans on 22 May 1941. Brigadier Vasey had the 2/8th Battalion (Australians) and the 2nd Greek Regiment. Those units now moved west and occupied a line to the west of Mournies. The 2/2nd Field Regiment (Australian) and a mixed force would defend the area south of Canea. Canea was receiving bombing attacks at a scale that caused General Weston, the Royal Marine, to be concerned about the effect on the civilians in Canea. They were able to persuade them to move to the hills from the town. There were villages in the hills that might shelter the people. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The situation Crete deteriorates during late 22 May and early 23 May 1941

Once the commanders could clearly see that the attack on the airfield at Maleme by the New Zealand troops had failed, there was no other choice but to withdraw to the east. Freyberg wanted another attack on the airfield later in the afternoon, but when they realized that the Germans were attacking the 10th Brigade, that plan was dropped. Not only was there the threat to the 10th Brigade, but they learned that German troops had split the 4th and 5th New Zealand brigades by putting troops across the coast road. That evening, they made the decision to move the 5th Brigade to Platanias, perhaps 2-1/2 miles to the east. The 23rd Battalion received their orders at dawn on 23 May. The 28th Maori Battalion provided the rearguard and they had pulled out by 6:30am. At this point, Canea and Suda were still safe from German attack. The few Germans in the area were captured by the 1/Welch during the day. Brigadier Vasey now had troops to command and had moved forward and came under the New Zealand division command. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Late on 22 May 1941 in the Prison Valley on Crete

Starting at about 3pm on 22 May 1941, the New Zealand 19th Battalion had attacked towards an old Turkish fort in the Prison Valley on Crete. They were repulsed with the loss of 12 men. In return, the Germans launched counter-attack towards Galatas at about 7pm. Kippenberger's troops immediately attacked the group. Some Greeks that were nearby, commanded by Captain Forrester, charged towards the Germans, yelling and screaming. That broke the German advance and they withdrew.

In the vicinity of the Maleme airfield, an attack had been planned, but when the New Zealand Division commander realized that there was a German group holding the coast road between the 4th and 5th New Zealand Brigades, he changed his mind. That evening, the decision was made to withdraw from the area near the Maleme airfield and to cede the ground to the Germans. The Australian Official History says that this was in recognition that the battle for Crete was lost. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Were the Germans withdrawing? 22 May 1941 on Crete

At Brigadier Hargest's 5th New Zealand Brigade headquarters, there was a suggestion that the Germans might be withdrawing troops by transport aircraft. The suggestion was prompted by thoughts about German troops running to aircraft as they landed at Maleme. Someone had thought that the troops might be running to the Ju-52 transports to board them to be able to leave. The truth seems to be that the aircraft were landing under fire. Brave men were running to the Ju-52 transport aircraft to unload them as quickly as possible, in case that they would be hit by shellfire.

To test out the idea that the Germans were leaving, the New Zealand division commander, Puttick, ordered Brigadier Kippenberger to probe the enemy in the vicinity of the prison. The patrols encountered heavy resistance, indicating that the Germans were in strength, not reducing their forces. The 19th Battalion had also made an attack towards an old Turkish fort, but was rebuffed by a strong German defense. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The situation at Maleme and who was to blame (Crete 1941)

The more that we learn about the situation near Maleme airfield on 20 to 22 May 1941, we understand that the problems were at root in the 5th Brigade commander, Brigadier Hargest. He was a politician who had been said to not be suitable for overseas service, but through his use of political connections, he was appointed as the commander of the 5th New Zealand Brigade. The defense of the Maleme airfield was his responsibility. The battalions of the brigade were spread thinly on the ground near the airfield, with the 22nd Battalion given a large area to defend, too large for the number of men in the battalion. The battalion commander, Lt-Colonel Leslie Andrew, has been criticized for pulling back from a hill near the airfield on the night of 20/21 May, but his battalion was being hard-pressed by the German forces and Andrew had been wounded at that point. He had repeatedly asked Brigadier Hargest for support other battalions nearby, but Hargest did not understand the urgency and did not take action. Part of the problem is that while the New Zealanders had inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking German airborne troops, the fact was that the Germans were able to put a large number of men into the area by the airfield. While the airfield was not yet secured, Ju-52 transports were able to land supplies and mountain troops on the beaches and along a dry riverbed to the west. Within three days, the Germans outnumbered the New Zealanders near Maleme and the battle was lost. This is based on the account in New Zealand History Online as well as from Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The 28th (Maori) Battalion on 22 May 1941 at Maleme

After the 20th Battalion withdrew on 22 May 1941, this left the 28th (Maori) Battalion holding lines that faced two directions. On the left, they were facing west, while to their right, the line faced north. They touched the 23rd Battalion on the right. Lt-Col. Dimmer, the 28th Battlalion commander sent a message to their brigade commander, Brigadier Hargest, describing the situation. Essentially, the plan to counterattack had failed. They had not regained any critical ground and while they might have tried some other plan, the Australian Official History suggests that none could have succeeded due to the German strength at Maleme. Both the Germans and the defenders of Crete had little artillery. The Germans were now benefiting from the air supply from aircraft landing at Maleme and the improvised landing grounds to the west. They were receiving supplies while the defenders on Crete were starting to run low on supplies. At the same time, Brigadier Hargest got the impression from reports that were soon disproved, that Germans were abandoning Crete and running to board aircraft at Maleme. This is based on the account in Vol. II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sandy Thomas on the defence of Maleme on 20 and 21 May 1941

There is an interesting piece about Sandy Thomas, who was on Crete during the German attack in 1941. Sandy Thomas was a junior officer in the 23rd Battalion of the 5th New Zealand Brigade. The 22nd Battalion, commanded by Lt-Col. Les Andrew VC, held the Maleme airfield. During the day on 20 May 1941, they killed German paratroops as they descended. What Sandy Thomas, who was not at Maleme on 20 May, did not know is that the 22nd Battalion took heavy losses from the German glider-borne troops that landed to the west of the airfield. The 22nd Battalion had really lost cohesion as a unit. Sandy Thomas's remarks about Lt-Col. Andrew seem to be on the mark, however. Andrew may have had a VC from the Great War, but that did not automatically make him a good battalion commander. We suspect that giving up the hill overlooking the airfield was not that bad of a decision, although the common opinion was that giving up the hill was Andrew's big mistake. Andrew had asked the brigade commander, Brigadier Hargest, for help, and was turned down. Hargest had two battalions that he could have sent into Maleme in the night to replace the 22nd Battalion, but he did not. Brigadier Hargest was a politician-turned soldier, and he was unaware of what was happening and the situation of his battalions. We would blame Brigadier Hargest more than Lt-Col. Andrew over the loss of Maleme airfield and eventually the island of Crete. What Sandy Thomas did not know is that the Germans were landing Ju-52 transports on the beach and a dry riverbed to the west and they did not need Maleme to bring in troops and supplies. This is based on the article about Sandy Thomas and also on Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The 20th Battalion on 22 May 1941

Interestingly enough, the New Zealand 20th Battalion was formed in 1939 by the later to be famous Howard Kippenberger. The battalion was formed in New Zealand and was transported to the Mediterranean Theater. After arriving, they participated in the ill-fated Greek expedition under General Maitland Wilson's command. In Greece, the 20th Battalion was included in the 4th Infantry Brigade. The brigade attempted to defend the Aliakmon line. They were moved from the Aliaikmon line to the Servia Pass, which was a more defensible positiion. They were able to hold their position for three days before withdrawing. They were evacuated from Greece and transported to the island of Crete. Very quickly, after the German attack on 20 May 1941, when the battalion was pushed out of their position at Maleme, the second-in-command took control for the remainder of the campaign. The 20th Battalion had been in positions a ways away and was only able to participate in the attack on Maleme after being relieved  by Australian troops. Due to the last minute relief, the 20th was late arriving at Maleme. While the late arrival hurt the chances of success, the German strength was such that they were able to rebuff the attack. While the Germans suffered heavy losses, their control of the airfield at Maleme meant that more troops and supplies could be brought in to strengthen the defenses. This is based on the account in the New Zealand official history.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The New Zealanders in action on 22 May 1941 at Maleme

The New Zealand 20th Battalion only arrived near Maleme at 2:45am on 22 May 1941. There were only two companies at first. The attack started at 3:30am with the Maoris and 20th Battalion together. The Maoris had some tank support in the dark and they made good progress. As the sun came up, the tanks were stopped with one being hit. The 20th Battalion was able to get near to the airfield, but were stopped by heavy gunfire. The daylight had made them very vulnerable and they came under attack from both the ground and air. The 21st Battalion was able to capture the wireless station, but then was heavily opposed. By the afternoon, the troops were forced to give ground. With the 20th Battalion withdrawing behind the Maoris, they were forced to hold two fronts. Australian machine gunners in platoon strength were sent forward late in the day but were annihilated. While some other plan might have done better, such as to use the Australian battalion to attack, the Germans were now too strong at Maleme, with two brigades and part of another. Everyone had taken heavy losses, but the Germans had an advantage over the Australian and New Zealand troops. The Germans were able to fly in supplies while the Australians and New Zealanders were starting to run short. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

22 May 1941 at Maleme

The Australian 2/7th Battalion had completed the relief of the New Zealand 20th Battalion by 11:30pm on 21 May 1941. The Australians had suggested that the 2/7th Battalion used for the attack, rather than the 20th Battalion, as they were fresh and ready. The New Zealand attack was to commence at about 11:30pm, but while the Maori's were ready and had been waiting, the 20th Battalion was late arriving. The attack only started at 3:30am on 22 May. The Maori's had moved forward towards the airfield at Maleme, but the 20th Battalion had met stiffer resistance and was held up by German forces. The 20th Battalion had advanced near the airfield, but one company was under heavy fire, so the commander decided to withdraw behind the Maori battalion, so that if they were successful, they 20th could occupy the high ground in the south. There was hard fighting all day. There was air attack and German aircraft flying in mountain troops who got off the plane and went straight into combat. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The 2/7th Battalion moves west on 21 May 1941

The Australian infantry battalion, the 2/7th, had been ordered to move west to near Suda on Crete. They were to move starting late afternoon. The battalion commander had been west, looking at the situation, while his second-in-command got the men ready to move. Before the battalion commander had returned, the brigade staff captain had ordered him to get the battalion moving as close to 5pm as he could. They did not get their entire transport right away. The vehicles arrived in small groups. The drivers were very afraid of air attack and wanted to leave their vehicles, which seemed an obvious target. Major Marshall had used the same tactic that they had successfully used in Greece: keep moving fast and don't stop. The 2/7th moved west had a breakneck speed which Major Marshall found exhilarating. Marshall arrived at Suda with the first company and met Lt-Colonel Lunn, the battalion commander. Marshall then turned around to bring the other three companies forward. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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