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.

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