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.

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