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.

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