Monday, December 31, 2012

The New Zealand Division expanded on 14 May 1941

On 14 May 1941, the 10th Brigade was added to the New Zealand Division. The brigade consisted of the 20th New Zealand Battalion and the 6th Greek Battalion, along with a composite battalion from men from various organizations that no longer existed as cohesive units. That provided a nominally complete brigade, although there was really only one complete New Zealand battalion in the mix. Colonel Howard Kippenberger had commanded the 4th New Zealand Brigade, but he was appointed as brigade commander for the new brigade. In his place, Colonel Falconer was temporarily commanding the 4th Brigade. Brigadier Inglis was brought in from Egypt to command the 4th Brigade. Brigadier Inglis eventually was promoted to be a Major-General and commanded the 2nd New Zealand Division for a period in 1942. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The plan for the invasion of Crete in 1941

Prior to 20 May 1941, the Germans had greatly underestimated the British forces on Crete. The Germans had expected to take Crete cheaply in preparation for the invasion of Russia, since Crete was well-positioned to threaten Turkey. The Germans hoped to capture Crete with a small effort by paratroops. They were shocked by their losses on the first day. They might have responded in many different ways, but their actual response was to throw their entire airborne force against Crete. The Germans were able to make good use of the Greek landing grounds and airfields near to Crete. They were able to make shuttle runs with Ju-87 and Ju-88 bombers and had negligible air opposition from the British. The British did make a strong effort at sea that prevented the Germans from sending the 5th Mountain Division in by sea as planned. They were flown in by air instead and were a key factor in overcoming British resistance, where by British, we mean New Zealand, Australian, and British forces. This is based on the American military attache's report on the battle for Crete.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shipping and Air Attacks on Suda Bay May 1941

The scale of air attacks on Crete, particularly on Suda Bay, had created a critical supply situation. Dring the period of 29 April to 20 May, some 15,000 tons of supplies were unloaded. That took fifteen ships, of which eight were damaged or sunk. They switched from laborers to unload ships to volunteer Australian soldiers. One of their achievements was to save some Bren carriers from the upper deck of a sunken ship. From the period up to 20 May 1941, the commanders could see that Crete could not be held indefinitely. There were already thirteen damaged ships lying in Suda Bay on 19 May. While using a southern port would have helped, there was no unloading equipment there and the roads to the north were bad or non-existent. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

the sixty 25pdrs in Egypt in late May 1941

As we said, the artillery situation on Crete in late May 1941 was desperate. In Egypt, there were the rive Australian field regiments with old artillery, except for 36 25pdr guns. During the last week, another 24 25pdr guns were issued to two Australian field regiments in reserve in Egypt. If Crete had gotten those sixty 25pdr guns, they would have been much better prepared to face the coming German attack. Instead, the guns were with field regiments held in reserve. Of those guns sent to Crete, 49 French and Italian guns. So many artillery units lacked guns that they were equipped as infantry for the time being. Supposedly, one hundred guns were sent to Crete, but they did not receive any where near that many before the German assault. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The gunners prepare in May 1941 on Crete

There were as many 100 guns sent to Crete before 20 May 1941. What was received was a mixed bag. There was great disarray in what arrived. There were missing sights and instruments. There was ammunition without fuses. The gunners did what they could to overcome the difficulties. In some cases, they improvised sights. In another case, they made charts that enabled them to fire without sights or instruments. The gunners were regular British army, Australian, and New Zealand. Some of the guns were Italian 75mm and 100mm calibers. The smaller arms were also mixed British, American, and Italian. While all this was happening, there were constant air attacks, particularly on Suda Bay, causing great loss. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The artillery situation in early May 1941

Due to having to make a hasty withdrawal from Greece, a tremendous amount of the Middle East artillery resources were lost. Both the 6th Australian Division and the New Zealand Division lost all their artillery. There had also been three British medium regiments and they had also lost all their guns. Since the Middle East had been short of guns, particularly modern guns, making up the loss was going to be difficult. On 20 May 1941, there were five Australian field regiments in reserve in Egypt that actually had guns. The guns included 36 new 25pdr guns, 59 18pdr guns, some of which were in poor condition, and 24-4.5in howitzers. The old system had been to have mixed field regiments with the 18pdr gun and 4.5in howitzer in their inventory. The 25pdr was a "gun-howitzer", so it replaced both the World War One-vintage 18pdr gun and the 4.5in howitzer. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, December 14, 2012

British political considerations and leadership

As 1941 progressed, Winston Churchill b became increasingly desperate for something to go well. Early in the year, we saw the successful conclusion of the campaign to seize Italian Cyrenaica. That campaign was abruptly ended because General Wavell was involved in the the planning for the operation in Greece and he knew that the forces to continue the offensive in North Africa would be needed in Greece. We need to remember that General Wavell was the quintessential staff officer, not a fighter. Wavell's successor, Claude Auchinleck, was a fighter and lacked the ability to do the sort of staff work that Wavell could do. the affect of this was that arrangements that Wavell made did not generally fare well when faced with armed opposition. 1941 was filled with examples. The Italian campaign had gone well, but mostly because Wavell was not closely involved. The arrangements that Wavell made in North Africa failed miserably in the face of Rommel's probing attacks from February 1941. We must also remember that there were great events happening concurrently with the Mediterranean theater. We also so the action against the Bismarck and the loss of the battle cruiser Hood. We also saw Rommel's run up to Tobruk and the capture of Richard O'Connor and General Neame, his successor. By the end of April, the Greek operation had failed and some of the troops were ceremonially dumped on Crete. We shall see as we go further into 1942 the lengths that Churchill was prepared to go to make something good happen to aid his political position. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Right before the German invasion of Crete

Right before the German invasion of Crete, there were still some 14,000 Italian prisoners on the island of Crete. The British wanted to transfer them off the island, but the Greeks had hesitated, because they were concerned that the transfer might violate international law. In any case, the prisoners were still there when the Germans invaded.

A small number of reinforcements and equipment had arrived on Crete prior to the German invasion. There were about 2,200 marines and their guns and searchlights. There were also two British infantry battalions, 16 light tanks, and 6 infantry tanks. There were also sent a troop of 3.7in mountain guns. All this was helpful but insufficient to meet the attack that would be launched. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Greek King and Government

The Greek King and the Greek Government were still located at Canea in early May 1941. General Freyberg thought that the sensible thing would be to withdraw the King and Government since Canea was under constant air attack. Freyberg had arranged for the withdrawal to happen on 14 May 1941, when he received a cable from Churchill's War Cabinet saying that they wanted the King and Government to stay, even if Crete were being invaded. This was another case where politics were at odds with good sense. Given the situation, the Greek King and Government were provided a guard and were put into houses in the foothills. Freyberg wanted a ship or flying boat available to fly the King and Government out of Crete, which was the sensible thing to do, even if it conflicted the political aims of the British government. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

British air strength on Crete on 30 April 1941

The British air strength on Crete at the end of April 1941 was very modest. They were based mainly at Maleme, although one squadron was at Heraklion. The extra RAF personnel were flown to Egypt, consistent with the idea that only defenders should be kept on Crete. Everyone was agreed that Crete should not be allowed to be taken without a fight. The problem was that there were inadequate forces available. The air strength was as follows:

At Heraklion: No. 112 Squadron RAF with 12 Gladiator fighters
At Maleme:    No. 30 Squadron RAF with 12 Blenheim day bombers
              No. 33/80 Squadron RAF with 6 Hurricane fighters
              No. 805 Fleet Air Arm Squadron with 6 Gladiator and Fulmer fighters
When you realize that this modest force would be facing Bf 109 fighters and Ju-88 bombers, you can see that this small air contingent was inadequate to resist a strong air attack in support of an airborne invasion.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The Crete garrison plan on 8 May 1941

Many authorities were anxious to reduce the unwanted troops in Crete from what they were. There had been some 5,300 troops in Crete and then 25,300 more were brought from Greece. The plan on 8 May 1941 was to increase the garrison to 5,800 men and reduce the other men to 4,500 New Zealanders, 3,500 Australians, and 2,000 other British troops. The problem was that the navy had suffered such great losses in evacuating Greece that they could not move the desired troops to North Africa. As time passed, the air attacks on Suda Bay increased and it became obvious that the surplus manpower was stuck on Crete. They did succeed in moving to Egypt 3,200 British (many Palestinian and Cypriot workers), about 2,500 Australian troops, and 1,300 0f the New Zealand division. By 17 May 1941, there were about 15,000 British troops, 7,750 New Zealand troops, 6,500 Australian and 10,200 Greek troops. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dispositions for the defence of Crete: 3 May 1941

At least by 3 May 1941, General Freyberg had issued an order with his plan for the forces defending Crete. The plan included artillerymen armed like infantry, since there were no guns for the medium regiment. General Freyberg called his little army "Creforce". Brigadier Chappel commanded the Heraklion sector. He had the 14th Brigade, or at least two battalions, along with others including the 7th Medium Regiment armed with rifles. There were four units with two Greek battalions. The Australian, Brigadier Vasey, commanded the Retimo sector. He had four Australian battalions and two Greek battalions. At Suda Bay, Major-General Weston had the 1/Welch and 2/8th Battalions along with one Greek battalion. The Maleme sector was defended by the New Zealand division, or least the 4th New Zealand Brigade now commanded by the eventually to be famous Howard Kippenberger. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 26, 2012

More about troops on Crete: early May 1941

The main British unit on Crete in early May 1941 was the "fresh" 14th Brigade. They had been the Crete garrison at the time of the Greek operation. After the Greek fiasco, there were also four units built up from withdrawals from Greece: the "Rangers, Northumberland Hussars, 7th Medium Regiment, and 106th ROhal Horse Artillery". There were also men from the mobile naval base, coast artillery, anti-aircraft units, and base units.

There were also some ten thousand Greek troops, of which only three battalions were of any value. The other eight battalions were just recruits. The 5th (Cretan) division had fought in Albania and had been lost in the Greek collapse. General Freyberg had hoped to help organize the Greek troops on Crete, but there was the shortage of arms, equipment and leadership that hampered the effort. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Australian situation on Crete

The Australian troops on the island of Crete in early May 1941 were there due to the fallout from the Greek debacle. The Australians had gone to Greece with their senior officers knowing that the operation was doomed to failure. They would have been better never to have gone into Greece, especially with General Wilson and his staff in command. General Wavell had essentially liked to the Australian commander, General Blamey, and to his Prime Minister to get the Australians into Greece. They were fortunate to get as many men as they did out of Greece. Many were dumped onto Crete at Suda Bay to free up ships for more evacuation trips. When men were pulled out of Greece, they were told to leave their weapons and equipment. That included their great coats. That meant that there were thousands of Australians on Crete out in the weather with no organization or anything else. What order was eventually restored was due to Brigadier Vasey, the senior Australian officer on Crete. There was a rather large brigade group, that commanded by Brigadier Vasey, but he was being pressed to reform another brigade from the unorganized Australians on Crete. Brigadier Vasey was trying to get the Australians who were without equipment and organization transported to Egypt, but his desires were ignored. This is based generally on the information in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Troops on Greece in early May 1941

None of the important commanders in Britain and Egypt had any real idea about the troops on Crete in early May 1941. There was a British infantry brigade, the 14th Brigade, along with other troops from the garrison before troops arrived from Greece. There was most of the New Zealand Division, but not all, along with Australian units that had been transported from Greece. There was also part of the 1st Armoured Brigade and other British units from Greece. The approximately ten thousand recruits from the population of Crete were almost untrained and useless. There were seven New Zealand battalions along with most of the New Zealand Division division troops. The brigades were the 4th and 5th New Zealand brigades. The battalions were the 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 28th battalions, of which the last were Maori. The 6th New Zealand Brigade had been sent on to Egypt on orders of the navy. The senior Australian officer, Brigadier Vasey, commanded some 8,500 Australian troops, despite nominally only commanding a brigade group. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The command situation on Crete in early May 1941

General Freyberg had a challenging job simply assembling a staff to aid him in defending Crete. He had arrived on Crete with only two of his division staff from the New Zealand division. He now had to create what amounted to a corps staff as well as a new division staff for the New Zealand Division. In the new scheme of things, Brigadier Puttick was New Zealand Division commander. Freyberg's chief of staff was Colonel Stewart. He had a British officer, Brigadier Brunskill, as his senior administrative officer. The commander of the 7th Medium Regiment, Frowen, was his artillery commander. He had played a leading role in making the artillery plan for the attack on Bardia. All these were supposed to support General Freyberg in his effort to plan a defense for Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 12, 2012

General Freyberg on 4 May 1941

After Churchill had sent a reassuring message to the New Zealand prime minister, General Freyberg sent a message to Churchill. This was on 4 May 1941. General Freyberg expressed the opinion that they could repel a strictly airborne attack on Crete. If the attack were made simultaneously by air and sea, that was a different matter. If they troops were equipped with "guns and transport", they might be able to cope, but in the condition at the time, they would have been in trouble. General Freyberg also asked General Wavell to evacuate some ten thousand troops without arms or equipment from the island, as they were an administrative problem and would only get in the way of a fight. In the meantime, General Freyberg had his headquarters set up east of Canea. In the foothills, they had established dugouts to provide cover for the headquarters troops and equipment. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

General Blamey weighs in: early May 1941

General Blamey expressed his opinion on Crete in early May 1941. He agreed that every effort should be made to hold the island against attack. He thought that three brigade groups, along with "coastal and harbour defences" and a "reasonable air force" could hold the island against attack. They thought that the Germans might use one airborne division and one division brought by sea to attack Crete. While the troops from Greece on Crete gave adequate numbers, they were equipped with what was needed, especially artillery. General Blamey hoped to pull the Australians from Crete when a second British infantry brigade could be deployed. Almost immediately after that, General Freyberg and the New Zealand government were in communication with the British government over the inadequate state of the New Zealand contingent on Crete. this is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 05, 2012

What forces were on Crete? Early May 1941

After sending what had to be false information to General Freyberg, General Wavell sent a letter to General Dill, the CIGS. General Wavell thought that the brigade groups and a larger number of anti-aircraft guns would be adequate to hold Crete against an airborne attack. This was in early May 1941. He estimated that there were eleven battalions on the island, although the ones from Greece were understrength and without artillery. The implication was that if the required equipment were sent to Crete, that the island could be defended. The actual number of units on Crete was larger than Wavell knew. There were seven New Zealand battalions, plus part of a machine gun battalion. There were also four-and-a half Australian infantry battalions, and a machine gun battalion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

General Freyberg in command on Crete

When General Freyberg was appointed commander of the defence of the island of Crete in late April and early May 1941, he had almost no information about the situation. He wrote later that he knew nothing about the island, the troops that he commanded, nor the maintenance situation, nor the size of the expected attack force. In fact, General Freyberg urged that if there were not sufficient air and naval strength available to support the defenders, that they should evacuate the island. General Freyberg used his connection to the New Zealand Prime Minister to pass on his assessment and asked him to pressure the British government to either bring the necessary forces needed to defend the island or to evacuate those troops that were presently on the island. General Wavell responded with a disingenuous note about how the estimate of the German attack scale were exaggerated that in the end, the needed naval support would be available. The latter was true, as the navy responded and for their bother, expended a large number of valuable warships sunk and damaged. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The situation on 29 April 1941

Newly arrived from Greece, General Maitland Wilson was sent packing. He was off to North Africa from Crete to "go to Jerusalem and relieve Baghdad". General Wavell then proceeded to tell General Freyberg about the expected German attack on Crete. They expected an attack by five to six thousand airborne troops, possibly supplemented by troops sent by sea. They would see if they could get more fighter aircraft from England. They should be able to repulse the attack with the force they had on Crete. In any case, there would be no withdrawal, because there were not enough ships. We might well think that they had all been lost in the withdrawal from Greece. That is not really true, because the navy was about to take another major hit during the attack on Crete and the subsequent attempt to withdraw troops after the Germans were seen as winning the battle. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official history.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Greeks on Crete on 28 April 1941

By 28 April 1941, the Greek government was located at Canea. The Prime Minister, M. Tsouderos, had a meeting with the British general officers on Crete. He asked for there to be an Allied commander on Crete who would command all forces, including what Greek forces there were on the island of Crete. He requested that the Greek forces be armed by the British. The British officers included the air commander and a rear-admiral. Following the meeting, Churchill proposed that Genral Freyberg be appointed commander on Crete. General Freyberg, his staff, and the 6th New Zealand brigade arrived on 29 April. The 5th New Zealand Brigade was thought to already be on the island. Freyberg met with Generals Wilson and Wavell in a small village between Maleme and Canea and they held discussions about the withdrawal from Greece and the situation on Crete. General Wilson was to proceed to North Africa and be involved in the crisis that was ongoing there. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The impact of the evacuation from Greece on Crete

In early March 1941, before the Greek situation had unraveled, commanders had foreseen the need to accommodate in Crete as many as 50,000 troops evacuated from Greece. By 17 April, the command in Crete had requested 30,000 "tents, clothing and blankets" for evacuated troops. Troops and civilians brought from Greece started to arrive by 23 April. By 25 April and immediately after, there were 25,000 troops brought to Crete at Suda Bay by warship. There were no tents or even coats for them. Because of the lack of preparation for what many had anticipated, time was lost to prepare defences on Crete. Men sat around, even in organized units that had arrived. There were no tools or any of the normal essentials. After the disaster in Greece, the men relished the time spent doing nothing but resting in Crete.

Once more senior officers arrived on Crete there was more serious consideration about how to prepare for the expected invasion. The existing garrison was positioned. There was a small air condition on the island. There were four squadrons withdrawn from Greece with six or eight Blenheim day bombers, six Hurricane fighters, six Gladiator biplane fighters, one squadron that flew in from Egypt with nine Blenheim bombers, and a Fleet Air Arm squadron.

General Wilson thought that if they wanted to defend Crete, they needed to increase the strength to a greater degree than General Wavell and the other commanders wanted. General Wilson thought that it was a mistake to try and defend Crete with inadequate resources, which was probably true. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Plans for defending Crete in April and May 1941

Because the operations in Greece collapsed, the island of Crete was left as the nearest position to the Germans in the Balkans. Except Churchill and his leadership team, the Greek campaign was seen as being a likely failure by key participants. Only by late April were the leadership team acknowledging that they would have to withdraw from Greece after having failed to stop the Germans. The commander in Crete, General Weston, suggested that with the failure in Greece that Crete would be exposed to an invasion by sea. The commanders in Britain and the Middle East must have had access to decrypted German communications that indicated that they would attempt an airborne invasion. By 24 April, General Wavell and his staff projected that the Germans would use airborne troops to attack Crete. They would need three brigades, but for now, they would bring the garrison up to two brigades. They wanted to send troops from Greece to Egypt, but that did not happen. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Major-General Weston takes over on 26 April 1941

After the commanders decided to make Suda Bay, in the northwest corner of the island of Crete, a fleet base, a Royal Marine, Major-General Weston was appointed to take command. He was commander of the "Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation". The intent of that organization was not to defend against a major invasion, but to provide local defence. One role of the organization was to do the construction work required for a naval base. The construction included "buildings, jetties, and roads". There was also a defence group. Only about 2,000 men of the organization had arrived on Crete at the time of the invasion. The anti-aircraft artillery available was limited to 16-3.7in AA guns, 16-3in AA guns, and 36-Bofors 40mm AA guns. There were 24 anti-aircraft search lights available to work with the guns. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Island of Crete in May 1941

The island of Crete was populated along the livable areas in the north. In the northwest was Suda Bay, near the capital city of Canea. About 30 miles east of Canea was Retimo. The largest seaport was at Heraklion, perhaps two-thirds of the length of the island to the east. Each of these towns had an airfield located nearby. The northern shore had a road that ran the length of the island. At times, the road ran further inland to minimize the distance traveled. There were also five roads that ran north and south. Suda Bay was the only port that could accommodate large ships, and it only had a quay without a large crane. In late 1940, the British talked about increasing their garrison on the island. By February 1941, the 14th Brigade had three battalions. What was disruptive, is that the island garrison commander changed many times during early 1941. At the same time, by April 1941, the higher command decided to make Suda Bay a major fleet base. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Events in April and May 1941

Winston Churchill was constantly meddling in affairs. He considered himself a military and naval expert, and he assumed that his various creative enterprises were a help. for example, Churchill wanted to use the old battleship Barham as a blockship in Tripoli harbor in mid-April 1941. The fleet commander, Admiral Cunningham, objected, but he did bombard Tripoli on 21 April 1941. Churchill's next project was the Tiger Convoy, where about 240 tanks were sent through the Mediterranean on fast transports to reinforce the army in North Africa. Churchill then pushed Wavell to throw the tanks into combat even before they were fitted for desert operations. Churchill then pushed to have some tanks from the convoy. This met resistance, so then he wanted 12 tanks sent to Suda Bay after they were unloaded in Egypt. This was ordered, but Wavell came back to say that he had already had six infantry tanks and 15 light tanks sent to Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Iraqi operation in perspective

The Iraq operation was very important for a variety of reasons. The first was that by little cost, the Iraqi army was defeated by British forces. The obvious effects were to assert firm control over the port of Basra, the pipeline to Haifa, and the British-owned oil fields in Iraq.The forces involved were relatively small. There was a brigade-size force from Transjordan and two Indian brigades that had been en route to Malaya. All this had happened while the Greek campaign had been coming to a disastrous end and before the Germans were ready to attack the island of Crete. Knocking down the Iraqi Arab nationalist movement got the attention of the rest of the Arab world and put to rest any idea of similar uprisings, such as "in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Wavell and Auchinleck

I was curious about General Archibald Wavell's background and how that compared with his successor, General Claude Auchinleck. Wavell's father was an army officer, in fact a Major General, and he grew up in India. He followed his father into the army. He quickly accumulated staff officer experience, although he distinguished himself in the Great War in combat and was awarded the Military Cross. He also lost an eye in the process.

General Auchinleck was much more closely aligned with the Indian army and his Great War experience was in the Mespotamian Campaign against the Turks. While Wavell learned Russian before the war, Auchinleck learned Punjabi. Auchinleck commanded troops in combat when Wavell was in a staff officer role. Between the wars, both spent time on half pay. Wavell became a Major General in 1933 while Auchinleck was promoted to that rank in 1935.

Before the beginning of the Second World War, Wavell was head of Southern Command in the UK. He was appointed to command the Middle East in July 1939. He presided over the successful campaign against the Italians in late 1940 until early 1941. That campaign was ended prematurely and in an unsatisfactory way so that Anthony Eden and Churchill's ill-fated adventure in Greece could proceed. Wavell tarnished his reputation in Greece and subsequently in Crete. The Germans, with Erwin Rommel in command, upset the situation in North Africa and that would eventually lead to Wavell's removal.

Aunchinleck was appointed to replace Wavell. We can imagine that he was chosen for his experience in the region. In many ways, Auchinleck lacked the skills to be theater commander. He would have been more comfortable commanding the army fighting the Germans. In fact, Churchill repeatedly urged Auchinleck to do just that. Auchinleck took his role as theater commander seriously and thought that commanding the army in the field would detract from that role. Only twice did Auchinleck take command, and in both cases, he outfought Rommel and saved the situation. Once was in December 1941, when Auchinleck saved the Crusader operation when his choice as army commander, Alan Cunningham, was exhausted after the whirlwind East African campaign. He was not ready to take on command of the army in North Africa, where he had no experience with armoured forces. The second occasion was after the surrender of Tobruk in 1942, when Rommel threatened to advance to the Suez Canal.

Wavell had a better eye for choosing commanders to serve under him, while Auchinleck lacked that ability. However, if you needed an army commanded in a tight situation, you wanted Auchinleck, not Wavell.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

German aid for the Iraqi's

Starting on 13 May 1941, the Germans had aircraft based at Mosul and Erbil to aid the Iraqi's in their fight against the British. Three German He-111 bombers raided Habbaniyah on 16 May and were able to do considerable damage. The German aircraft lacked the necessary support, however, so there were only one fighter and one bomber still operational by 28 May.

The Iraqi anti-British group were upset at the lack of support by the Germans and Italians. The Iraqis wanted arms and gold. Apparently, any Arab revolt against the British needed to have gold, presumably to buy support. The Germans saw the Iraqi revolt as more of a political event, rather than a real uprising of the Iraqi people against the British. The latter might have actually received substantive support. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Iraq after Habbaniyah in 1941

Iraq was a critical link in shipping oil from the Middle East in 1941. A general from India was appointed to command Iraq to ensure the vital areas were protected. Lt-General Quinan arrived as early as 7 May 1941. There were grand plans to put three infantry divisions into Iraq and possibly an armoured division. Then, Iraq was switched from the India command to the Middle East Command under General Wavell. Wavell had no forces to speak of to put into Iraq. Instead, light forces, including a small force from the Transjordan Frontier Force and a cavalry brigade that attacked and drove Rashid Ali from power. This was a spontaneous uprising, not something planned by the Germans. At the time, Germans were assumed to be involved. By the end of May, the two remaining brigades of the 10th Indian Division arrived at Basra. The one thing that the Germans were able to do is to deploy aircraft to aid Rashid Ali, although they were insufficient for the task. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Habbiniyah goes on the offensive: early May 1941

2 May 1941 saw the British go on the offensive at Habbiniyah against the besieging Iraqi troops. The British attacked the Iraqi troops with bombs dropped from training aircraft. The Iraqis opened fire with artillery in return. The British bombed the guns, but only succeeded in knocking out half of them. The British only had two Great War-vintage 18pdr guns, but they were able to aggressively patrol against the Iraqi besiegers. The Iraqis disliked that so much that the pulled back from the perimeter. On 6 May, British troops with Iraqi levies fought and defeated the remaining Iraqi troops. The plateau was now free of enemy Iraqi troops. In the process, 400 Iraqis were captured along with their equipment, which was very useful to the defenders. The RAF flew in four Blenheim fighters to reinforce the base. Iraq started to receive more British attention in the form of a greater air and airbase presence and a new commander. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More details about Iraq in 1941

When a brigade of the 10th Indian Division was diverted to Basra, the oil port, they had been destined for Malaya. They were boarding ship a Karachi when the diversion happened. As we have said, General Auchinleck, was the Commander-in-Chief in India. General Auchinleck had been in that position since January 1941. Since he was considered to be close to the action, he was to be the overall commander.

The Iraqi government of Rashid Ali was getting nervous about the brigade at Basra. They insisted that no more British troops should be sent to Basra until those that were there had moved out. When in late April, more troops arrived at Basra, two Iraqi brigades with artillery and armoured cars surrounded the air base at Habbiniyah. There were about 1,000 men of the RAF there as well as 1,000 British and colonial troops. A British battalion was flown in as reinforcements on 30 April 1941. At that point, the Iraqis were asked to withdraw. Then the Iraqi commander refused, the airbase commander decided to attack the Iraqis from the air with training aircraft fitted with bombs. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Another distraction about the time of the Greek collapse in April-May 1941

Especially in the Middle East, the local people were hostile to the Colonial Powers like Britain. We can imagine that the Iraqi Rashid Ali was encouraged by the British difficulties in Greece and North Africa to harass the British in Iraq. Rashid Ali was influenced by the pro-German Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. A coup d'├ętat overthrew the pro-British regent and installed Rashid Ali as Prime Minister of Iraq. Many of the same themes as in present times were present in 1941. There was the strong Arab nationalist and Islamic fervor that exists now.

The British responded to the coup by sending the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade to Basra, the oil terminal. The next move by the Iraqi government was to send troops to the RAF base at Habbiniyah on the Euphrates. The base was just 50 miles west of Baghdad. The RAF mostly had obsolete aircraft at Habbiniyah that were used for training. They were enough, however, to establish air superiority over the Iraqi air force. Once enough British and Indian Army troops had been sent to Iraq, they were able to overcome the Iraqi Army and lift the siege and capture Falluja and Baghdad. While the action to remove Iraq as a factor continued, it was at an inconvenient time, opposite the end of Greece and the Crete campaign, as well as the fighting in Libya, on the western desert in Cyrenaica. There was also the Tiger Convoy and the need to resupply Malta all happening at the same time.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Iraq became an issue in 1941

Because Britain depended on oil from Iraq, and from "Persia" (what Winston Churchill insisted on calling Iran), they could not afford an interruption to supply. Even in 1940 and 1941, anti-British Arabs were sympathetic to Fascists. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had a secret plan to cooperate with the Germans and expel the British. Rashid Ali was the leader of the pro-German group in Iraq. The Iraqi army consisted of 50,000 troops commanded by British-trained officers. Rashid Ali became Prime Minister in April 1941. The regent, who was pro-British, Amir Abdul Illah, thought that he would be arrested by Rashid Ali. He fled Iraq by way of Basra, and then ended up in Transjordan.

The British planned to respond by putting a force into Basra, as a starting point. They decided to send a brigade group from the 10th Indian Division. The commander in India was Claude Auchinleck. He would command the Basra operation. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The situation in March to April 1941 in the Mediterranean

In early April, 1941, the German force in Libya had pushed back the defending troops. After Richard O'Connor had almost defeated the Italians in Libya, the army in eastern Libya was stripped to provide troops for Greece. O'Connor was ill, but available as a consultant. The one bright spot was east Africa, where Alan Cunningham had conducted a brilliant campaign against the Italian and African colonial army.

The commanders in the Middle East were said to have been concerned about defending against a German airborne attack on Greece, but we have a hard time finding any positive steps that were taken with that defence in mind. Dominion troops just removed from Greece were in Crete and would soon have to fight the Germans again, under even more difficult circumstances.

But it was in North Africa, in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya, that the situation had grown critical. The small German force sent to Libya was seen as a blocking force to prevent the British from capturing the rest of Libya without a fight. The wild card was General Rommel, the commander, who had been trained in infiltration tactics in the Great War, and who had experience as a commander of mechanized warfare in May 1940. He was not content with simply being a blocking force. As was his style, he made a personal reconnaissance of the area that was lightly defended and decided to see if he could panic the British and cause them to withdraw. They did panic and withdraw. In the process, Rommel very nearly took Tobruk, the former Italian fortified position and port. He managed to destabilize the British position which had been left poorly defended. This is in part based on Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The challenges posed by Crete

The Germans saw Crete as an important target for conquest. Perhaps the primary motivation was to rob the Allies of an airbase within easy striking distance to the Rumanian oil fields. Crete was also relatively close to the new battleground in Cyrenaica. Since a purely naval assault of Crete seemed too risky, due to the concern about the Italian navy, an airborne assault seemed appealing. They had successfully used airborne troops in Holland and against Corinth in Greece. They could combine that with ferrying troops and equipment to Crete from Greece using small ships. They did not need to solely rely upon paratroops, because they had the ability to ferry troops using Ju-52 transports, if they could secure the necessary landing fields.

The British were concerned about defending Crete from an airborne attack, given the recent successful use of airborne troops by the Germans against the Corinth canal. The concern with holding North Africa against attack that was now commanded by Rommel was the primary concern. The primacy of that effort meant that insufficient forces would be available for defending Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The ANZAC Corps had done well in Greece

The ANZAC Corps, consisting of Australian and New Zealand troops, had done well in Greece. They were outnumbered and were operating under air attack without protection. Still, they learned the craft of mountain troops, and performed well against experienced German mountain troops. By the time they had arrived in Greece, the ANZAC troops were well trained and experienced. While they assumed that the Germans were better equipped, in fact, they were at least comparable. The Germans were very happy to acquire discarded ANZAC and British equipment and arms. If anything, the difficult terrain aided the troops conducting a withdrawal and a series of rearguard actions. The defeat in Greece was not from any fault with the troops. Rather, it was a badly chosen operation, where there was an inadequate force deployed. They were badly commanded at the army level. From the corps and below, the command was above average. Churchill had put General Wilson and an inexperienced and inadequate staff in charge, and that only aggravated a bad situation. The British bias always dictated that a British officer should command. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Air Power in the Greek Campaign

After the collapse of General Wilson's command structure in Greece amid the withdrawal, an attempt was made to blame the British Royal Air Force for the failure. From the initial air contingent sent to Greece in late 1940 up until the withdrawal in the face of vast German air forces and army, the RAF put on a credible performance, given what they had in the field.

The really surprising fact was the failure of the German air force to achieve more, given the lack of opposition. The author of this volume of the Australian Official History asserts that the German air force had no affect on the outcome. We are more skeptical, but we know that sensible measures taken by the Australian and New Zealand troops during the withdrawal to the coast were sufficient to protect them from German air attacks. We would say that the Germans were still learning about the sort of operations that were conducted in the air over Greece and it was not until 1942 that they became more effective. They were forced to become more efficient in Russia and in North Africa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Dominions were treated badly over Greece

The Australian Official History at least in part blames the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Menzies, and the senior army officer, General Blamey, for not being in better communication. We have seen that the British, probably in form of General Wavell had mislead the men about any agreement with the British plan for Greece. Without consulting the Dominions, the British had promised the Greeks an army of three divisions: two Australian and one New Zealand. They had committed the Australians and New Zealanders without their permission. To get their acquiescence, they lied about the circumstances. The British acted very badly all through this process.

The Greek army got no better treatment from the British. The British commander expected the worst of the Greek army, when they made a good-faith effort that delivered results, considering the bad equipment and training of the Greek Army. The Greeks, however, were sold out by a corrupt German sympathizer who surrendered a significant portion of the army. That was after the British had undercut the Greek defensive posture. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Greek Campaign background

We need to remember that Greece had tried to remain neutral until they were attacked by Italy in October 1940. Once they were attacked, the Greek army was hard-pressed to defend the country. Greece lacked an organic arms industry and they relied on receiving captured Italian weapons from the British. British success in North Africa against the Italians helped to sustain the Greek defense.

The Italians had given the Greek government an ultimatum, but did not even wait for a reply and attacked from Albania into Greece. The Greek army was not a pushover, because if they had been, even the Italians could have succeeded. They fought a war through the winter, where the Greeks eventually made inroads into Albania. The Greeks ignored any threat of attack through Bulgaria by Germany.

After the British came in to support Greece by taking the islands of Crete and Lemnos, the Germans determined to end the campaign in Greece, so that they did not have a distraction in the Balkans while they were preparing to attack Russia. That alone doomed any British attempt to aid the Greeks by sending troops. They British and Commonwealth forces that were available were a fraction of what Germany was able to commit to the campaign. General Blamey and his prime minister were correct that sending troops to Greece would fail and would jeopardize the defence of North Africa. The British ignored sane advice and bulldozed their way into the disastrous Greek Campaign.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What went wrong in Greece

The Greeks were anxious to do everything that they could to support Yugoslavia, when they came in on the Allied side, briefly. The Greek general Papagos wanted to hold Salonika as the primary port for supplying Yugoslavia. The British commander, General Wilson, undercut this immediately, because he underestimated the trustworthiness and capability of the Greek army. In fact, the quick Yugoslav collapse made the Greek plans quickly obsolete. General Wilson wanted to deploy on Olympus-Vermion because it was difficult terrain for a German advance. When the Aliakmon line could have been held, General Wilson's lack of respect for the Greeks caused him to weaken a potentially strong line, while the right of the ANZAC Corps was too weak to stand an attack by the Germans on the Olympus-Aliakmon line. This was just another example of inept British command and staff operations that doomed the campaign. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Once the British prime minister had decided to go into Greece and to establish a Balkan Front, he was prepared to do anything to achieve it. The Western Desert Force commander, General Richard O'Connor, had thought that he could have taken Tripoli, if he had been allowed to continue. Instead, he lost an armoured brigade and two infantry divisions to the Greek adventure.

While we often blame Mr. Churchill for Greece, we must take into account anthony Eden's part in pushing for the Greek operation. The young foreign minister had decided that the British had a moral responsibility to aid Greece. He also was confident that he could bring in Yugoslavia and Turkey in the Balkan Front.

Still, how Australia was dealt with the deal seem reprehensible. Mr. Menzies, the Australian prime minister was told that General Blamey had agreed that the operation was sound. General Blamey, meanwhile, was told that his prime minister had agreed. The Australians were treated shabbily in the whole process. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Was the Greek expedition a reasonable thing to do?

Was British prestige really a valid reason for sending troops and equipment into Greece? The Australian General Blamey thought that the chance of success was low and that a defeat would do more harm to British prestige than the gesture of sending a force. Churchill and Anthony Eden seemed to think that there was a real chance of Yugoslavia and Turkey joining in the fight in a meaningful way. In fact, Turkey was better off staying neutral, because the British strength was so inadequate for the task of opening up a Balkan front. Generals Wavell and Wilson's opinion didn't count, as they were essentially "yes-men" for Churchill. As we have said, the primary result was to write off a sizable portion of the Royal Navy in the combination of Greek campaign and the battle for the island of Crete.

The Germans were able to deploy a large force for the Balkans, since the attack on Russia was postponed. The Official History suggests that the road system was the only limiting factor to the size of the German force to be committed. When the Germans attacked Greece, they had not yet set the date for attacking Russia. The decision had been made, but that was all. In the event, the Balkans campaign and the battle for Crete delayed the attack on Russia. Some have suggested that this was a decisive factor in the German attack stalling in front of Moscow when winter hit in earnest. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Looking back at the Greek campaign

The Greek campaign was mounted for strictly political reasons, because all the participants understood that the military side would be insufficient to make a difference. The problem was that Great Britain had repeatedly made guarantees about defending Greece and those guarantees had to be backed up with action. The British and Commonwealth leaders were concerned that they would lose prestige in the eyes of the Americans if they declined to aid Greece. The British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, took the British obligation very seriously, even when the Greek leadership questions the wisdom of the British weakening the force in North Africa to aid Greece.

The Greek republicans, who were in opposition to the ruling monarchists, thought that Greece had made a weak response to the German attack. The charge was that the Greek monarchists, like the Yugoslav government, secretly admired the Nazis and wanted to join that side against the Allies. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Fugitives at large, after 30 April 1941

One Australian soldier, Gunner Barnes from the 2/1st Field Regiment, had escaped by jumping from a moving train north of Salonika. He had been taken prisoner on 30 April 1941 at Kalamata. He was another victim of the failure to rescue men when they might have been saved in the last hours at Kalamata. Gunner Barnes had wandered around northern Greece for six weeks with help from Greeks. Some Greeks took him on voyage from the Mount Athos peninsula to Turkey. From there, he was able to travel to Egypt to join his unit.

More soldiers managed to escape and remained free in Greece into 1942, when they joined the growing resistance movement. The resistance were active in committing sabotage against the Germans and Italians. This was made possible by the fact that the Greek people in the countryside were relatively self-sufficient and had food and clothing to share with the fugitive soldiers. The Greek people in the cities suffered much more under the German occupation due to the lack of jobs and income. There was also a problem with inflation out of control that drove up prices in places like Athens. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Warrant-Officer Boulter escapes the Germans on 7 June 1941

Some of the men captured in the Peloponnese were able to escape from the Germans. One was Warrant-Officer Boulter. He had been taken prisoner at Kalamata on 29 April 1941 when the Germans pushed into the area. He was among a group of men who were moved to a prison camp at Corinth. He was told that there were about 10,000 British prisoners there. For some reason, the Germans had taken four to five thousand Italians prisoner who had been freed by the Greeks. At Corinth, the men had seen aircraft sent and return from the battle on Crete. Aircraft returned with bullet holes and broken wings. Starting on 5 June, the men were moved with the eventual aim of moving all the prisoners to Germany.

Warrant-Officer Boulter jumped into some bushes along the road where they were marching prisoners. This was on 7 June 1941. He lay there until after dark. He got in contact with Greeks, got into local clothing, and worked for his food and a place to stay for a number of days. They sent him to a village near Lamia where he met several other men. They walked to the coast by 22 June and then Greeks took them to Euboea. At Euboea they heard over BBC that Germany had invaded Russia. By the help of Greeks, he arrived in Smyrna on 25 July. He then was taken to Haifa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More men escape from Greece

Some of the men who escaped from Greece joined together on the island of Skyros. On 10 May 1941, Lt-Col. Chilton joined up with the men already on the island. The Greek people rendered great aid to the men. There were now Germans on the islands of Chios and Mytilene, so there were low-flying aircraft to avoid. They eventually arrived in Turkey near Smyrna. There were already a group of 18 men there being cared for by Colonel Hughes, an Australian who knew his way around in Turkey. The men dressed in civilian clothes and were told to say that they were "English civilian engineers". They took the train to Alexandretta. From there, they sailed for Port Said on a Norwegian tanker. The tanker, the Alcides, also had another 250 passengers. They included 66 Norwegians who had crossed into Russia to escape the Germans. More soldiers from Greece had managed to reach safety. Some Australians and New Zealanders were going to walk to Turkey, but were taken by friendly Greeks to Skiathos and then to Skopelos. They eventually were able to sail to Cesme in Turkey, arriving in early August 1941. From there, after being quarantined, they were sent to Syria. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The New Zealanders on Crete in 1941

About three weeks separated the end of the Greek Campaign and the German invasion of Crete. New Zealanders played an important role in the latter battle. They also took losses there. 671 New Zealanders were killed in the battle and over 2,000 were taken prisoner at the end. New Zealand losses in Crete were much greater than their losses in Greece. They had lost not quite 300 killed and about 1,800 captured at the end in Greece. A New Zealander who had been evacuated from Greece, General Freyberg, commanded the Allied troops on Crete, replacing a British officer who had commanded the defenders prior to the end of the battle in Greece. He commanded a force of some 42,000 troops. Of these, about 7,700 were from the New Zealand Division. The men withdrawn from Greece had left their artillery and many other weapons there. The idea was that the weapons would only complicate the withdrawal and not having them would allow more men to be carried by small ships, which were mostly destroyers.

The battle for Crete lasted 12 days and ended with the evacuation of most of the defending British and Commonwealth troops to Egypt. At the beginning of the German attack, the battle looked to be winnable for the British. Command failures allowed the Germans to fly in enough troops to win the battle. The initial attackers were paratroops and glider-borne troops. They were strongly attacked by the defenders and took many losses. We will explore the operations in greater detail, as we proceed through the Australian Official History. This piece draws on the New Zealand history of the operation.

Monday, July 23, 2012

More men escape from Greece

After the last withdrawals by destroyer from Greece, there were still some large, organized groups of men left. Many were British, but some were Australian. One such group was the 2/2nd Battalion commanded by Lt-Col. Chilton. They had been cut off from the rest in the Pinios Gorge. Chilton had not been with the group, but Major Cullen, of the Headquarters Battalion, along with some New Zealanders, marched to near Kartisa on the coast, hoping to find a ship to pick them up. Eventually, the Greeks ferried them to Skiathos. They were only ten miles from Turkey, but did not want to be interned there. Several ships eventually took two groups of men to Crete, where they disembarked on 5 May 1941. Some 97 men, who could not be accommodated on the ships, were left on Chios. The group eventually grew to 133 men. They eventually sailed to Chesme in Turkey. The Turks were friendly to the Allies, even though they were neutral. There were men who had experience in Turkey, who helped arrange transportation. Meanwhile, Lt-Col. Chilton and a few men marched to the southwest. The group grew in size over time. They eventually reached Skyros by boat. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The focus on the island of Crete at the end of April 1941

Prior to 30 April 1941, there was already an island commander and British troops on Crete. With the close proximity of Crete to Greece, the island was a natural place to take troops evacuated from Greece. They were transported by sea to Suda Bay, in the northwest corner of Crete. The troops from Greece were practically unarmed, as those who were armed had only their personal weapon and many had been embarked on destroyers and cruisers without any arms.

The string of disasters that started with the battle in Greece, the battle for Crete, and then the disastrous Operation Battleaxe in June 1941 eventually cost General Wavell his job as theater commander. The British had great culpability in the string of disasters, as they had lied to the Australian Prime Minister, saying that General Blamey had approved of the operation and then liked to General Blamey, telling him that the prime minister, Mr. Menzies, knew of the operation and approved of it. This seems to have been the standard operating procedure, and it deserves to be condemned. The CIGS in Britain had opposed the operation and was overruled by Churchill. On story puts the blame for Greece squarely on Churchill. He was said to have ordered Anthony Eden to Greece to make the arrangements, while the Australian Official History tends to blame Anthony Eden and would say that Churchill went along with his young foreign secretary.

As we continue the story, we will shift the focus to Crete, where even before the end of operations in Greece, Hitler had ordered that Crete be taken. He gave the order, apparently, on 25 April 1941. The battle for Crete was pivotal, as it sold the Allies on the use of airborne troops while it discouraged the Germans from any further airborne invasions.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Germans at the end in Greece

After the withdrawal from Thermopylae and Brallos, German advance on Athens progressed rather slowly. It was only on 27 April 1941 that German troops from Corinth arrived at Athens. The Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler division moved south from Yanina starting from 26 April. They left the 73rd Infantry Division at Epirus to accept the Greek surrender. The Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler moved to Patras on 27 April and held back while the more orderly embarkation of British and Commonwealth troops occurred. The exception was the 5th Panzer Division, which pushed rapidly south into the Peloponnese. They reached the embarkation ports of Argos, Navplion, and Tripolis during the day on 28 April. By the night, they were in Kalamata. At that point, the 5th Panzer Division and Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler were in the Peloponnese, the 2nd Panzer Division and 5th and 6th Mountain Divisions were near Athens and Lamia. The 9th Panzer Division was in Thessaly. The 73rd Infantry Division was near Grevena and Yannina. The 72nd Infantry Division was near Katerini. The 50th Division was near Salonika. The 164th Infantry Division was in Eastern Macedonia, near the Aegean and possibly in the islands. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The losses in Greece

After the end of the campaign in Greece, the Germans announced that their losses in the 12th Army were 1,160 men killed, 3,755 men wounded, and 345 were missing. The total strengths of British and Commonwealth forces in Greece were:
British army: 21,880
Palestinian and Cypriot: 4,670
British RAF: 2,217
Australian: 17,125
New Zealand: 16,720
The losses were as follows:
          Killed    Wounded    Prisoners
British         146         87       6,480
British RAF     110         45          28
Australian      320        494       2,030
New Zealand     291        599       1,614
Palestinian &    36         25       3,806
This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The next phase: the move to Crete

As we have mentioned, some 50,000 troops were evacuated from Greece in late April 1941 as the situation there collapsed. We believe that the collapse in Greece has hastened by the nature of the staff work done by Group W, under the command of General Wilson. General Freyberg, commander of the New Zealand Division (later called the 2nd New Zealand Division) ended up as senior officer present in southern Greece as the Germans pushed deeper to the south. The troops consisted of the New Zealand Division, the 6th Australian Division and the 1st Armoured Brigade, or the remnants thereof. Most of the troops were removed by cruiser and destroyers (it seems), although some were removed by transport. The original plan was to have the transports embark the troops, in part from quays or using landing craft from the beaches. As the pace of the collapse quickened, the last troops were removed mostly by warship. Since cruisers could take larger numbers, they played a key role. From Greece, some were lucky enough to arrive in Egypt, but most were dumped at Suda Bay without anything but the clothes that they wore and with what small arms that they had carried out of Greece. Since Crete was the logical next German target, something had to be done. There were about 42,000 British and Commonwealth troops on the island of Crete. A British officer had been told that he was in charge of Crete, but General Wavell replaced him with General Freyberg, newly arrived from Greece with about 7,700 men from the New Zealand Division (two brigades). The third New Zealand brigade had ended up being sent to Egypt. The next part of the story will deal with preparations to defend Crete, the actual German attack, and the unfolding story of the battle for Crete. The fall of Crete ended up being messier than even that of Greece and left the Allied position in the Mediterranean Sea in an even more precarious state by the summer of 1941. The result was that General Wavell was sacked by Mr. Churchill and a new set of commanders was put in charge. Sadly, the results were little better.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Greek Campaign: was it necessary?

A claim was made that Great Britain was obligated by treaty to defend Greece against a German attack. Certainly, Anthony Eden, Churchill's foreign minister took that obligation seriously. He apparently convinced the prime minister of the necessity to put troops into Greece. General Metaxas, the Greek dictator thought that the British expedition would be a strategic blunder, which it turned out to be. General Metaxas died suddenly, so he was not able to influence the decision. The Australian government and senior commanders were opposed to the operation. The decision to go into Greece had grave consequences. First, an approximately 50,000 man force was expended. They withdrew most of the men from Greece, many going to the island of Crete. Crete was soon invaded and there were further losses. The most damage was done to the navy. From April 1941 until late June, there were heavy losses in cruisers and destroyers. These losses came at a time when they were very damaging. This was at a point when Churchill wanted to run the Tiger Convoy to Egypt with tanks. There was an escalating need to keep Malta supplied, and convoys run through the Mediterranean were still more efficient than running then around the Cape of Good Hope. So yes, the campaign in Greece was a mistake. The mistake was compounded by putting General Wilson and his staff in charge, as neither was up to the task they were given. The operation could have been better executed if as requested, the Australians had been given control with General Blamey in charge.

Friday, July 06, 2012

More about HMAS Perth

As we have seen, the Captain of HMAS Perth was responsible for not approaching Kalamata when some 6,000 troops could have been embarked. He commanded a group consisting of two cruisers and six destroyers. This was in late April 1941. The Perth had only been in Australian hands since the summer of 1939. The Perth had been HMS Amphion, which as a modified Leander class cruiser with 8-6in guns. Almost immediately after being commissioned as an Australian ship, there was a mutiny of some sixty sailors. As these things go, a seemingly small issue blew up into a confrontation. New York police even gathered on the pier in preparation to intervene. In the even, the captain at the time, Harold Farncomb, was able to defuse the situation. The Perth was to go to Australia, but the start of the war delayed that trip until early 1940. The Perth was employed as a convoyer until late 1940 when she was dispatched to the Mediterranean to replace HMAS Sydney, a sister-ship. By April 1941, the Perth was commanded by Captain Bowyer-Smith. He showed unusual lack of initiative or perhaps even courage and did not go into Kalamata when there was the one opportunity to embark the troops and save them from German prisoner-of-war camps. Admiral Cunningham and Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippel tried to salvage the situation, but the navy was only able to retrieve less than 1000 troops. This is based on widely available information about the Perth and the situation at Kalamata in late April 1941.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The navy still tried to get troops from Kalamata after 28-29 April 1941

The great Admiral Cunningham ordered Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippell to pick up troops who might be on the coast south of Kalamata after the night of 28 to 29 April 1941. The destroyers succeeded in picking up over 900 men the next two nights, including 700 from the island of Milos. There was one Australian hospital left in Greece. The Germans took the hospital on 27 April, but let them continue to provide care. They ultimately started to take equipment and rations, however. On 7 May, the hospital was moved on German orders to Kokkinia. Through May, the Germans kept the hospital in operation and allowed men to join as well as new patients. The hospital continued to function and treated wounded from Crete through May. The operation began to wind down by the fall and the unit was ultimately moved to Germany in December. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Australiians had recaptured the quay at Kalamata late on 28 April 1941

There were so few weapons left at Kalamata late on 28 April 1941, only 70 Australians attached the Germans on the quay and took two field guns and captured 100 men. At this point, the ships that were close by could have come in and loaded up with troops. The navy inexplicably did not follow up with their usual initiative and bravery. The ships close by were commanded by an Australian captain, and he chose to sail off at 28 knots rather than make the attempt to get more troops off the quay or beach at Kalamata. The destroyer Hero and three K class destroyers came in and took off wounded and 300 other troops. The assessment of the author of the Australian official history is that the ships could have taken off most of the troops who were left at Kalamata if they had stayed close while the small German force was captured. This is based on the account in the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More about the loss of the SS Slamat on 27 April 1941

A new ship named HMS Diamond was commissioned 70 years to the day after the destroyer Diamond was sunk during the withdrawal from Greece on 27 April 1941. The day was solemn for the Dutch, because a Royal Rotterdam Lloyd ship, the SS Slamat was also sunk on that day. The Slamat was employed as a troop ship and had embarked men from the beach in Greece during Operation Demon. The Slamat was caught some 60 miles north of Crete by Ju-88 and possibly Me-110 aircraft and was bombed and sunk. The destroyers Diamond and Wryneck rescued at least 700 men from the Slamat, but were eventually bombed and sunk as well. The total loss was 983 men killed from the three ships and embarked troops. The captain of the Slamat, Tjalling Luidinga, was killed during the attack. This is based on information from a Royal Navy webpage.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The situation nears collapse in Greece on 28 to 29 April 1941

The plan for the night of 28 to 29 April 1941 was to send a cruiser and four destroyers to pick up the New Zealand brigade at Monemvasia. They also planned to send two cruisers and six destroyers to take off the troops at Kalamata. Thres sloops were sent to Kithera to take off about 800 men who had gotten their by caique and landing craft. The men on Kithera were in fact taken off by Sloop and were taken to Suda Bay in Crete. As we have seen, the operation at Monemvasia was successfully executed, taking off the brigade and General Freyberg. The operation at Kalamata was broken up by advancing German troops who overran the 4th Hussars defending the perimeter. the two cruisers and the destroyers were approaching Kalamata for the withdrawal. Some men could have been withdrawn from the beach, but the captain of the Perth had understood that it was not possible, and withdrew, we now know, prematurely. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The game was up at Kalamata on 28 April 1941

After the night of 27 to 28 April 1941 and with no ships arriving to embark troops, they had run out of time. The delay in withdrawal was fatal, because that gave the Germans time to penetrate the British and Commonwealth positions in deep south Greece. A German column drove into Kalamata during the next night, 28 to 29 April. There was a a mixed group of troops in Kalamata. They included some New Zealanders, including Sergeant Jack Hinton. The Germans had set up two 15cm guns and had howitzers and several armoured cars. Someone ordered the men on the beach to take cover, but Jack Hinton charged the German guns with other New Zealanders and killed or drove off the gun crews. They had retreated to nearby houses. Jack Hinton smashed into a house and they bayoneted the occupants. They did the same at a second house. By now, a large German force had arrived at Kalamata and Jack Hinton was wounded in the abdomen and taken prisoner. He received a Victoria Cross for his actions that day. With the threat of bombing of the troops on the beach, a British officer surrendered the troops to the Germans. This is based on the account at

Monday, June 18, 2012

The situation worsens over 27 and 28 April 1941

At the Argos beaches and at Kalamata there were men gathered in anticipation of being picked up by destroyers. There were 2,000 at the Argos beaches and the numbers were growing with the arrival of stragglers. There were a large number, some 8,000 troops, at Kalamata. Many of these were not British or Commonwealth troops, but were Cypriot, Greek, Middle Eastern base troops. There were even 300 of the 4th Hussars. Over the night of 27th and 28th April, there were no ships. There was still one New Zealand brigade left in Greece at Monemvasia. They were armed, but without artillery. The plan was to embark the brigade on the night of 28-29 April on warships. The cruiser Ajax and four destroyers embarked the brigade that night and brought off the troops, including General Freyberg. They also hoped to send two cruisers to Kalamata as well. The deep penetration of the Germans into the Pelopoppenese greatly complicated the situation. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

More news from Greece in late April 1941

On the night of 27 and 28 April 1941, no troops were embarked from the beaches in the Peloponnese. At this point, the transports, cruisers and destroyers were already at Alexandria. Fortunately, General Freyberg was still present and in command. The 6th New Zealand Brigade wsa at Miloi and Tripolis. General Freyberg ordered the brigade commander to wait until nightfall and then move quickly to Monemaasia. The 26th Battalion moved early and then the rest traveled at night. The next day, they moved to the defensive position at Monemvasia. Multiple plans were moving forward. The troops were told to collect caiques, in case they were needed for transportation out of Greece. At Navplion and Tolos, there were more troops, about 2,000, many without food. More stragglers were arriving, as the men knew that those ports had been places where men had been taken aboard ships. There was the problem of German aircraft strafing and bombing during the day. A rearguard that included 200 men from the 3rd RTR was organized. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Armoured Brigade on 27 April 1941

On 27 April 1941, there were the armoured brigade commander and about 800 men still holding out at Rafina. This was the remnants of an elite group of men. They were pure infantry at this point, because they had destroyed their guns, perhaps prematurely. The men that remained were from the Rangers, the anti-tank artillerymen, and the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry. Early on 27 April, German aircraft had flown over, but had not seen the men. Some of the anti-tank gunners took a caique in the harbour that might take 250 men. The rest were sent to Porto Rafti, where there was an embarkation planned for that night. Fortunately, at the last minute, the destroyer Havock approached Rafina from Porto Rafti and embarked the 800 men. By 4am on 28 April, the Havock had sailed for Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The British army and navy in 1941

I don't understand the reasons, but in 1941, the British Royal Navy was an extremely proficient and professional service, while the British army had serious problems. There are many potential explanations. There was the friction between the regular British army and the British Indian Army. Many of the commanders in 1940 to 1941 were Indian army trained. There was also the obtuse influence of the mechanization clique in the British army. They thought that they were trying to modernize the army, but they didn't understand how tanks and armoured cars were best employed. The German army had a good understanding and doctrine and they beat everyone in their path up through the end of 1941, although Russia was proving to be too much for them. The Australian and New Zealander commanders and men were much better prepared for war than the British. On the other hand, the British forces in North Africa in 1940 to early 1941 were trained to a very good state and were well led. Their reward was to be dismantled by General Wavell.

I have never liked Bernard Law Montgomery, but I have come to appreciate what he accomplished. He took the British and Commonwealth forces in the Mediterranean theater and reformed them into a force that could win battles. He really did not have time to make the transformation prior to the Second Alamein, so they had a much harder time than a Montgomery army would have in 1943 or 1944.

The cruisers were workhorses

Eight cruisers with eight six-inch guns had been built in the early to mid-1930's. There were the five Leander class ships (Achilles, Ajax, Leander, Neptune, and Orion, and the three Amphion class ships, all sold to Australia as the Hobart, Perth, and Sydney. The Neptune was the only ship of the first group lost, but two of the three ships transferred to Australia were lost. The Hobart was the sole survivor. All of the ships had a designed speed of 32.5 knots. The Achilles and Ajax were best known for their part in the Battle of the River Plate in 1939.

As we saw, the Leander class cruiser Ajax evacuated some 2,500 troops from Porto Rafti on 27 April 1941. The cruisers had sufficient space to carry several thousand men, when necessary. Orion and Perth both embarked troops from Tolos on the night of 26-27 April. Earlier that night, the two cruisers and loaded men at Navplion. Great risks were taken, as the ships only sailed at 4am, which was dangerously close to dawn. Earlier, the Perth had helped bring Australian reinforcements to Greece.

Vice-Admiral Pridham Wippell had been a cruiser squadron commander in March 1941. His ships included the Orion, Ajax, and Perth, along with the larger cruiser Gloucester. His squadron fought in the Battle of Cape Matapan on 28 March 1941, not that long before the withdrawal (just about a month). Of the ships, three were lost in the war. The Neptune was lost in the Mediterranean Sea in late 1941. The Sydney was lost in the Indian Ocean fighting the German auxiliary cruiser Cormorant. The Perth was involved in the Southwest Pacific, fighting the Japanese, where she survived the Battle of the Java Sea, but was sunk at the Battle of the Sunda Strait.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A D-Day post

This is a deviation from our current thread, in honor of the men who invaded France on 6 June 1944. In 1997, I saw a History Channel documentary/dramatization of D-Day and the immediate days following. Lord Lovat was prominently featured in the movie. Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, was a prominent commando leader in World War Two, at least up to the Normandy Invasion. There is a good picture of him with some of the men of the 4th Commando at Newhaven, after the Dieppe Raid in August 1942. The commandos were a rough looking lot, but then what would you expect? Lord Lovat, of course, has the hero and natural leader look. At Dieppe, Lord Lovat was an acting Lieutenant-Colonel. The 4th Commando was to stage two landings about six miles west of Dieppe to neutralize a coastal artillery battery. The 4th Commando included fifty American Rangers, men of approximately the same caliber as the British commandos. Foreshadowing the Rangers at Normandy, the 4th Commando scaled the cliffs and destroyed the battery of six 15cm guns. Their success was the only good thing that happened in the Dieppe Raid. This is based on Wikipedia information which we believe to be largely correct.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The night of 26 to 27 April 1941

The night of 26 to 27 April 1941 was very important. On that night, approximately 19,000 troops boarded ships for withdrawal. As we saw, two of the transports were sunk by air attack. They were the Slamat and the Costa Rica. In addition, two destroyers were sunk. Still, a large fraction of the British and Commonwealth troops left in Greece were withdrawn. Too many troops were left in Greece, though. Near Athens, on the beaches, were the 4th New Zealand Brigade Group and part of the 1st Armoured Brigade. There were about 2,500 men at Argos, on the beaches. The 6th New Zealand Brigade Group was at Tripolis. There were some more units at Monemvasia, and there were still 8,000 at Kalamata. The next morning, by about 11am, the 4th Brigade was bombed, and ammunition was hit and exploded, destroying guns and killing gunners and infantrymen. The local Greek inhabitants still took the time to offer water and well wishes to the New Zealanders, as they moved through to their positions.By 3pm in the afternoon, a column of German light tanks and supporting vehicles moved into Markopoulon. As they left the town, they were hit by gunfire. By late on the 27th, the brigade destroyed vehicles and guns and then moved to the beaches at Porto Rafti. There, they were embarked by the cruiser Ajax and the destroyers Kimberley and Kingston. About 3,840 men were picked up by the ships. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Kalamata convoy

On 27 April 1941, the ships carrying troops from Kalamata were under orders for Alexandria, rather than being anchored at Suda Bay. The situation meant that the ships were attacked from the air while they were under way, instead of being at anchor in the bay. When the troops realized that the ships were under attack, they quickly moved to the upper deck. They carried weapons that were mounted and fired at the aircraft. The guns included Vickers machine guns, Bren guns, Hotchkiss machine guns, and anti-tank rifles. During the morning, there were multiple attacks, but there were no hits on the ships. In return, there were seven German aircraft shot down. In the afternoon, an aircraft caught the Costa Rica, a transport, by surprise, and dropped a bomb that disabled the machinery. The Costa Rics, a Dutch ship, started taking on water and slowly listed. Destroyers came alongside and took off the troops. Right before the ship sank, the Dutch crew and the remaining soldiers were able to jump to the destroyer Hero. The crew and troops on the transport Slamat were not so lucky. When the Slamat was bombed and sunk, almost the entire crew and passengers were lost. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Some troops are embarked at Kalamata on 26 April 1941

The plan was for the troops to destroy their "kits" before going aboard ship. The evening of 26 April 1941, they proceeded to do that at Kalamata. By 10pm, the men could see several ships approaching. Two destroyers came alongside the quay and the troops boarded. Some Middle Eastern pioneers tried to rush the ship, but were turned back. By 2:45am on 27 April, the commanders heard that no more ships would be arriving that day. The plan was to send in more destroyers on the night of 27-28 April. Brigadiers Savige and Allen had boarded the last destroyer, thinking that all their men had been embarked, but, in fact, some were left behind. Still, an amazing 8,000 men had been embarked on the night of 26-27 April, the most up to that date. The ships loaded with troops had gone to Suda Bay, in the northwest corner of Crete. Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippell was concerned about having so many troop-laden ships anchored in the bay, and sent a large force, escorted by cruisers, to Alexandria. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

At Kalamata on 26 to 27 April 1941

A considerable number of troops had gathered at Kalmata on the night of 26 to 27 April 1941. We don't know the exact numbers, but there were somewhere between 18,000 to 20,000 troops there. That number probably included doctors, nurses, and patients. The number included Allen Group, consisting of 16th and 17th Australian Brigades, along with some corps troops. There were also some Yugoslav Allied sympathizers in the group. There were a few of the 4th Hussara and a New Zealand reinforcement unit. Allen was thinking about the coming fight, and he advocated embarking fighting men first. Brigadier Parrington, in charge of the embarkation at Kalamata, divided the troops into four groups. The troops would move to a designated beach or quay and be embarked by a ship. The Australians wanted to leave Greece as disciplined units. There were forces at work that would make that very difficult to achieve. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

HMAS Stuart

The Australian destroyer HMAS Stuart that distinguished herself in the evacuation of troops from Greece at Tolos was actually built as a destroyer leader in the Great War. The Stuart was one of the destroyers transferred to Australia by the British to replace older ships. While we don't have a photograph from 1941 in the Mediterranean, we still can get a feel for what the ship looked like.
The Stuart was a larger ship than the V and W class destroyers also built in the Great War. She was better able to carry troops then the smaller ships. Her captain showed exceptional leadership in operating at Tolos under trying conditions and still managing to evacuate a significant number of soldiers from the beach. Sadly, the entire withdrawal from Greece was badly managed by the British staff, under the command of General Wilson, that it was only due to the initiative and energy shown by more junior officers and men that as many men were withdrawn as there were. The Royal Navy and RAN greatly distinguished themselves during April to June 1941 under very dangerous conditions.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Problems at Tolos and Navpliion on 26-27 April 1941

The Australian destroyer Stuart had been sent to Tolos to take men off the beach, if possible. Starting late in the evening of 26 April 1941, a landing craft was approaching the beach to pick up men. A sandbar was a major impediment to taking off men. The landing craft would go in and men would wade out. The landing craft carried them out to the Stuart. When the Stuart could hold no more men, the ship took them to the cruiser Orion and then returned to Tolos. They asked for help from a cruiser, so the Perth was sent. By 4am on 27 April, they had took off 2,000 men, but 1,300 men were left on the beach.

At Navplion is where the transport Ulster Prince was bombed and burnt. The burned out Ulster Prince blocked the quay so that destroyers could not use it to pick up men. The seas were too rough for small boats, so they were fortunate to embark as many as 2,600 men. They were forced to leave 1,700 men still ashore. They were too late leaving Navplion so the Slomat was bombed and sunk by German aircraft. The two destroyers present tried to rescue men, but they were eventually sunk, as well. They went ahead and sent 700 men to Tolos, in hopes of taking them off the next night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Navplion on 26-27 April 1941

The fast transport Glenearn had been intended for use in embarking troops at Navplion. After the Glenearn was disabled, the plans had to be radically recast.

This picture shows Glenearn later in the war after she had her anti-aircraft armament greatly increased. After the Glenearn was disabled, Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wipple reacted decisively.
He took two precious cruisers in to embark soldiers. They were the British cruiser Orion and the Australian cruiser Perth.
Another of the warships, HMAS Stuart was sent to Tolos to take off as many men as possible. The cruisers, along with destroyers and transports worked to embark the men. At Navplion, one transport, the Uster Prince was bombed and burned. The ship was a total loss and obstructed the quay. Two of the destroyers which had taken risks to embark men were themselves bombed and sunk. They were the Wryneck and Diamond. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

HMS Ulster Prince-lost at Navplion

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Plans are forced to change

The plan had been to embark troops at three ports on the night of 26-27 April 1941. These were to have been from the beaches at Athens and Argos, and from Kalamata. The artillery group were at Porto Rafti, while the remnants of the armoured brigade were at Rafina. At Porto Rafti, they only had one landing craft, and it needed to retrieve men left at Kea Island. Once Brigadier Miles realized the problem they faced, he sent part of his men to Rafina. The tragedy was when the Glengyle sailed in the night, there were still many men left on the beaches. While events played out, they learned that the whole 4th New Zealand Brigade would have to be embarked from the Marathon beaches on the night of 27-28 April. They had hoped to use the Glenearn at Navplion, but the ship had been bombed and damaged. Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippell took big risks to get the men embarked at Navplion. He took the cruisers Orion and Perth to Navplion. There was another cruiser and four destroyers and two transports already there. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Events in the north on 26 April 1941

A detachment of the 1st Armoured Brigade was with an artillery detachment at Rafina. They had orders to embark during the night of 26/27 April 1941. The armoured brigade detachment was at Tatoi. They had heard of Germans in Athens, although that was premature. In response, a small unit from the Rangers was sent out to block roads from Athens. The Rangers and the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry moved to Rafina, where they were joined by the detachment of Rangers from the rearguard.

The 4th New Zealand Brigade was at Ethrai, where they tried to remain inconspicuous. By 11am, they could see an German column approaching from Thebes. The Australian artillery succeeded in dispersing the advancing Germans. They were attacked by German aircraft at midday, and started to receive incoming artillery fire since they had revealed their positions. After they heard of the German paratroop attack at Corinth, they embarked on vehicles and headed for Porto Rafti. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The airborne attack at the Corinth canal

The Corinth canal area had come under increasingly intense air attacks from at least 25 April 1941. The airborne attack by paratroops and gliders had started early on 26 April. The paratroops quickly overcame the defending Australians, although the engineers were able to blow the bridge over the canal. Some nearby New Zealand troops were also captured, after being overcome. There had been troops left at Megara, but about 500 men were attacked by German paratroops, as they neared Corinth. The commanders were slow to learn of the attack at the Corinth canal. After they realized what had happened, they organized defenses to gain time for troops to withdraw. There were still troops to the northwest of Athens. The rest were to the south. General Wilson planned to withdraw and leave General Freyberg in command of the remaining troops. We already know that the troops at Kalamata came to a bad end as prisoners. They mostly were not fighting troops. The British had pulled out and left the Australians and New Zealanders to fend for themselves. If the troops still left were lost, the two countries would have to endure great losses in men and women. On 26 April, the 4th New Zealand Brigade was at Ethrai, trying to stay under cover. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The 19th Australian Brigade embarked

As the evacuation became increasingly disorganized and out of control, the 19th Australian Brigade was withdrawn from Megara. The men carried their small arms only. They were embarked on the transport Thurland Castle, the anti-aircraft cruiser Conventry, and five destroyers. Of an additional 2,000 on a nearby beach, only 1,500 were picked up. Many of those left were from Australian and British hospitals. Others were transported to Marathon, hoping to be embarked on another night. The Thurland Castle arrived at Crete, although the ship was attacked by dive-bombers en route. The stragglers tried to join Allen's battle group, as it was the largest force left in the south. Allen received orders to move to Kalamata. They arrived there on 26 April. Early on 26 April, waves of bombers attacked the Corinth bridge area and were knocking out the anti-aircraft guns. About 7:15am, German paratroops landed and captured the bridge. The engineers were able to fire the charges that had been planted and destroyed the bridge. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The outlook on the night of 25-26 April 1941 in Greece

During the night of 25-26 April 1941, General Wilson moved his headquarters from Athens to Miloi. He crossed the Corinth bridge shortly before dawn. At this point, all the troops except rearguards were south of the Corinth bridge. Two brigades had already been embarked, along with about 7,000 base troops. Those north of the Corinth bridge included the 4th New Zealand Brigade, a rearguard of 1st Armoured Brigade troops, along with a few other detachments. The Corinth bridge crossed the canal that had been cut through the isthmus that connected the mainland with the Peloponnese. The commanders were concerned that German paratroops might try and take Corinth, so there was a scratch force assembled in defence. There were a diverse group of carriers and some of the 4th Hussars. There were also some infantry and engineers. The engineers had alreay prepared to blow the Corinth bridge, when that became necessary. They hoped to embark the 19th Australian Brigade from Megara that night. During the changes and indecision in General Wilson's staff, they decided at the last minute that half the brigade should head for the Marathon beaches. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

The New Zealand Division in late April 1941

The New Zealand Division was withdrawn from Greece in late April 1941. The division commander, the famous General Bernard Freyberg was instrumental in supervising the withdrawal of many of the troops from Greece. The division was split during the withdrawal. The 4th and 5th New Zealand Brigades were withdrawn to the island of Crete between 24 and 27 April 1941. The 6th Brigade was withdrawn to Egypt on 28 and 29 April. On 31 April, General Freyberg was appointed to command the force on Crete, dubbed "Creforce". About 1,850 New Zealanders were left behind and were taken prisoner by the Germans. Some of the personnel taken were sick and wounded, along with staff from the 1st NZ General Hospital. There were six New Zealand medical officers and 92 orderlies. The hospital had been ignored by General Wilson's staff during the withdrawal and were "put in the bag". Given the disorganization experienced in the last few days, as Wilson's staff were overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation, the capture of the hospital is not surprising. General Wilson and his staff were put in the position of having to perform above their level of experience. The Commonwealth officers and staff were much more experienced, even if from the Great War, and could have done a more creditable job.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Withdrawal plans changed: 25 April 1941

The force that General Wilson commanded in Greece was called "W Group", W presumably standing for Wilson. By 25 April 1941, the evacuation plan had changed. Now, they would try to hold off the German advance while embarking from more southern beaches. They had hoped to have all troops withdrawn by 27 April, but it was not to happen. New rear guards were mounted to buy time for more troops to withdraw. Brigadier Charring, commander of the 1st Armoured Brigade, was to try and hold eastern Attica, to protect the Athens beaches from the north. They were then to move to Rafina for embarkation on the night of 26-27 April. They also hoped to withdraw some 8,000 troops from Kalamata the same night. Now, they hoped to withdraw the New Zealand troops from far southern beaches on the nights of 28/29 and 29/30 April. General Freyberg was designated as the commander in the Peloponnese. The plan was now to withdraw the 19th Brigade from Megara on the night of 25/26 April. Wilson's staff then doubted that all the men could be embarked at Megara, so they were to send half to the beaches at Marathon. It seemed that the situation was starting to be more than Wilson's staff could handle. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things start to go wrong: the night of 24-25 April 1941

An unplanned 7,000-8,000 men had gathered at Navplion, where the plan had only envisioned 5,000 men. The transport Ulster Prince was wrecked at Navplion, late in the day. The ship ran aground when entering the harbour at the entrance. Despite that mishap, some 6,500 were embarked on ships. That night, nothing happened at Tolos. During the same time, at the Piraeus, there was a disaster. The yacht Hellas had embarked civilians and sick and wounded. The ship was bombed by German aircraft at about 7pm and the ship burned and capsized, killing the passengers. Somewhere between 500 and 742 were killed. At the same time, Allen's group headed towards Argos from Megara, hoping to be embsrked from there. As they were heading out, they were stopped and asked to provide a battalion as a guard against attack by German tanks. General Freyberg was still in Greece, and he heard of the plans and told them that Corinth had been bombed and the road was impassible. The original plan had been to have everyone embarked by the night of 26-27 April, but that had all been changed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Withdrawal from Kalamata on 26 April 1941

Tomorrow will be the 71st anniversary of the withdrawal of Australian troops from Kalamata in Greece. This picture shows Australian troops waiting for the embarkation at Kalamata. Some of the troops were from the 2/1st Field Regiment, which had fought well in the waning days of the Greek campaign. The withdrawal had started to go wrong about this time, as the next day, German troops had arrived in Athens. In a few days, by 30 April, some seven to eight thousand troops were captured in Kalamata by the Germans. By then, 43,311 troops had been evacuated, but the lack of coordinated command by the British had allowed the Germans to gain the upper hand and to overrun the defenders trying to hold them back to allow more to withdraw. The picture is from the Australian War Memorial. This is in part, based on the Official History and online sources.

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