Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The end of the line at Sfakia: 31 May 1941 on Crete

On the night of 30-31 May 1941, some 1,550 men were embarked from the beach at Sfakia by destroyers. After the embarkation, there were something like 1,250 Autralian, 1,200 New Zealand, and 1,550 British troops. Some of the latter were infantry improvised from artillery units. There were also as many as 5,000 depot troops. General Weston hoped to get about 2,000 off the beach on the night of 31 May to 1 June 1941. After a bad fight on 30 May, the Germans held back from attacking the rear guard above Sfakia. Brigadier Vasey knew that the Germans were forming a line, boxing in Sfakia so that there would be no other way out then ships from the beach. By the evening of 31 May, there was no longer water available to the men and there was no food. By now, there were few ships left in the Mediterranean. Crete had been a disaster, following closely on the disaster in Greece. Early in the morning on 31 May, a force under Admiral King's command sailed for Sfakia. The force consisted of the cruiser Phoebe, the fast mine layer Abdiel, and two destroyers. After the ships arrived off Sfakia at 11:20pm, they started loading men. They were able to lift 4,050 by the time they sailed at 3am. The commandos of Layforce and the Australian 2/7th Battalion had to be left. They should have been able to be evacuated, and a few were, but through bad management and maybe even ill-will, they were held up until it was too late. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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