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.

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