Monday, April 28, 2014
Crete was the latest of a series of mishaps that befell the British in 1941
To put the battle for Crete into context, this was just one of a series of operations that were conceived on short notice, without adequate planning or resources. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister when Neville Chsmberlain resigned in May 1940, when his policies had led to war with Germany and then to the fall of France. The army was extracted from the continent at Dunkirk, an epic episode. Almost immediately, Britain was attacked by heavy air attacks that were eventually defeated, with the air force being an important role. As early as late 1940, Churchill thought that they ought to be involved in the defense of Greece. The successful campaign in Egypt into Libya was halted and a portion of the force was sent to Greece. Both of those moves had great consequences. The Germans were allowed to send a mechanized force to Libya and Rommel proved superior to the generals that the British could field. General Wavell, the theater commander, had a role in all this, just as the Prime Minister had. Many of the moves were made on the spur of the moment, without adequate planning or supervision. Ultimately, after the defense in Greece collapsed, some of the force was withdrawn and some of the unfortunates were deposited on Crete. General Freyberg was thrown into the role of commander in Greece immediately after his withdrawal from Greece, where he had taken command of the rearguard. General Freyberg had little positive impact on the battle in Crete. The only successes were had by brigade and battalion commanders. The New Zealanders at Maleme failed in the defense. Suda Bay was ultimately lost. The defenders at Retimo did well, but were mostly surrendered when there seemed to be no escape for them. They were handicapped by not having secure communications. They were handicapped by having a commander who only recently had become a battalion commander and then he, Ian Campbell, was thrust into a brigade commander role. If they had been informed they might have withdrawn to the south. The only bright spot was the defense of Heraklion and then the successful embarkation of the force there. They had the luxury of having an experienced British brigade commander and a large force. The movement of men to the south beaches on Crete was without adequate supervision and men were lost who should have been able to have been saved. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.