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 The men withdrawn from Greece had left their artillery and many other weapons there.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.

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