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.

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