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.

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