Thursday, June 27, 2013

22 May 1941 from the German perspective

During 22 May 1941, two more German mountain battalions were landed by air at Maleme. The fighting was tough and many aircraft were destroyed on the landing field at Maleme, but many were able to land and unload. The Germans had captured some British tanks during the fight for Maleme, and some of those tanks were used to two damaged aircraft off the field. General Ringel was now in charge of the German troops fighting to capture Crete. His charter was to capture Maleme, capture Suda Bay and clear so that it could be used to receive seaborne traffic, and relieve the troops who were hard-pressed at Retimo. Ultimately, he needed to capture the island. The Germans had hoped to attack Canea, but the New Zealand counter-attack had changed the situation. The New Zealand troops were ultimately driven back towards Pirgos, but kept control of the heights to the south. That night, the Germans reorganized in preparation for the next day. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Naval forces involved with the battle for Crete in May 1941

The naval battle for Crete in May 1941 was a case of ships fighting air attacks. The ships were in place to intercept the expected attack from the sea where small vessels would transport German troops to land on Crete. At the start of the battle on 20 May 1941, there was the 15th Cruiser Squadron positioned to the east of the island. The ships included the cruisers Naiad and Perth. They were accompanied by the destroyers Kandahar, Nubian, Kingston, and Juno. The Nubian was the oldest of the destroyers being a Tribal class ship. The others were J and K class, recently built. The ships to the west included the cruisers Dido, Ajax, and Orion. They had destroyers Janus, Kimberley, Hasty, and Hereward. There was also a reserve group consisting of the cruisers Gloucester and Fiji with two destroyers. The battleships were further to the west, ready to intervene if heavier Italian surface forces appeared. This is based on the account in the book A Midshipman's War: A Young Man in the Mediterranean Naval War, 1941-1943 by Frank Wade.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Naval operations in support of Crete on 23 May 1941

When Admiral Cunningham received information about declining anti-aircraft ammunition on ships supporting Crete, he ordered them all to withdraw to Alexandria. Losses had been heavy. The latest incident on the morning of 23 May 1941 involved Lord Mountbatten's destroyer Kelly and the accompanying Kashmir. They were dive-bombed and sunk. Suda Bay was filled with wrecked ships, the most notable being the cruiser York, which had been torpedoed by an Italian MTB on 26 March. Still, the navy continued to carry supplies to Crete. On the night of 23/24 May, two destroyers and the fast minelayer Abdiel carried supplies. They mainly carried ammunition and stored. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, June 21, 2013

More developments on Crete on 22 May 1941

The situation on Crete was very serious by 22 May 1941. There were enemy troops now blocking important roads. A group commanded by Colonel Campbell attacked at Retimo, but was not able to completely clear the road to the east and west. The Germans were reported to be blocking the road to the coast to the south where reinforcements would be landed. Late on 22 May, the 16th Brigade headquarters and one battalion sailed for Crete on the Glenroy. The plan was to land them at Timbakion to remove the Germans who were on the road.

There was a lot of naval action around Crete on 22 May. A force of three cruisers with destroyers attacked ships between Heraklion and a nearby island. They sank one caique, the ubiquitous type of Greek small vessel. Ships were running out of anti-aircraft ammunition and major units were lost. They included the cruisers Fiji and Gloucester. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nigel Richardson's father: Crete 1941

There is an interesting article in the Telegraph by Nigel Richardson that talks about his father and his fellows in the battle for Crete in 1941. The German invasion had started on Friday, 20 May 1941, as we know. One of those killed on 22 May 1941, which we have been reviewing, was a British spy, John Pendlebury. He had been an archaeologist and had the personal peculiarity of having a glass eye. Nigel Richardson was a member of the Northumberland Hussars. He had been evacuated from Greece when the campaign there was being wound down and the troops withdrawn. He ended up at Suda Bay, where many other soldiers were dropped by the navy.

Nigel Richardson notes that the area of Hill 107 has been a German cemetery. Hill 107 was the place abandoned by Lt-Colonel Andrew's battalion when they were in the process of collapse after being attacked while unsupported by the 5th New Zealand Brigade. The New Zealanders are commemorated by a street at Galatas named the Neozilandon Polemiston. At one spot in an alley, there is a gate made from a piece of a British tank.

Nigel Richardson's father made his way to Sfakia, as the battle gave way to withdrawal. He was one of the about 5,000 men who were left behind to be taken prisoner by the Germans. He spent about four years as a prisoner of war in Germany. This is based on Nigel Richardson's article and what we know from Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Other events relating to Crete on 22 May 1941

With Brigadier Vasey, the Australian, given command over troops in the Canea and Suda area, he was now under New Zealand command. He was put under Brigadier Puttick, the New Zealand Division commander. The only Germans in the area were small groups on the Akrotiri peninsula. Troops from the 1/Welch were able to capture some of the Germans on 22 May 1941. Brigadier Vasey had the 2/8th Battalion (Australians) and the 2nd Greek Regiment. Those units now moved west and occupied a line to the west of Mournies. The 2/2nd Field Regiment (Australian) and a mixed force would defend the area south of Canea. Canea was receiving bombing attacks at a scale that caused General Weston, the Royal Marine, to be concerned about the effect on the civilians in Canea. They were able to persuade them to move to the hills from the town. There were villages in the hills that might shelter the people. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The situation Crete deteriorates during late 22 May and early 23 May 1941

Once the commanders could clearly see that the attack on the airfield at Maleme by the New Zealand troops had failed, there was no other choice but to withdraw to the east. Freyberg wanted another attack on the airfield later in the afternoon, but when they realized that the Germans were attacking the 10th Brigade, that plan was dropped. Not only was there the threat to the 10th Brigade, but they learned that German troops had split the 4th and 5th New Zealand brigades by putting troops across the coast road. That evening, they made the decision to move the 5th Brigade to Platanias, perhaps 2-1/2 miles to the east. The 23rd Battalion received their orders at dawn on 23 May. The 28th Maori Battalion provided the rearguard and they had pulled out by 6:30am. At this point, Canea and Suda were still safe from German attack. The few Germans in the area were captured by the 1/Welch during the day. Brigadier Vasey now had troops to command and had moved forward and came under the New Zealand division command. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Late on 22 May 1941 in the Prison Valley on Crete

Starting at about 3pm on 22 May 1941, the New Zealand 19th Battalion had attacked towards an old Turkish fort in the Prison Valley on Crete. They were repulsed with the loss of 12 men. In return, the Germans launched counter-attack towards Galatas at about 7pm. Kippenberger's troops immediately attacked the group. Some Greeks that were nearby, commanded by Captain Forrester, charged towards the Germans, yelling and screaming. That broke the German advance and they withdrew.

In the vicinity of the Maleme airfield, an attack had been planned, but when the New Zealand Division commander realized that there was a German group holding the coast road between the 4th and 5th New Zealand Brigades, he changed his mind. That evening, the decision was made to withdraw from the area near the Maleme airfield and to cede the ground to the Germans. The Australian Official History says that this was in recognition that the battle for Crete was lost. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Were the Germans withdrawing? 22 May 1941 on Crete

At Brigadier Hargest's 5th New Zealand Brigade headquarters, there was a suggestion that the Germans might be withdrawing troops by transport aircraft. The suggestion was prompted by thoughts about German troops running to aircraft as they landed at Maleme. Someone had thought that the troops might be running to the Ju-52 transports to board them to be able to leave. The truth seems to be that the aircraft were landing under fire. Brave men were running to the Ju-52 transport aircraft to unload them as quickly as possible, in case that they would be hit by shellfire.

To test out the idea that the Germans were leaving, the New Zealand division commander, Puttick, ordered Brigadier Kippenberger to probe the enemy in the vicinity of the prison. The patrols encountered heavy resistance, indicating that the Germans were in strength, not reducing their forces. The 19th Battalion had also made an attack towards an old Turkish fort, but was rebuffed by a strong German defense. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The situation at Maleme and who was to blame (Crete 1941)

The more that we learn about the situation near Maleme airfield on 20 to 22 May 1941, we understand that the problems were at root in the 5th Brigade commander, Brigadier Hargest. He was a politician who had been said to not be suitable for overseas service, but through his use of political connections, he was appointed as the commander of the 5th New Zealand Brigade. The defense of the Maleme airfield was his responsibility. The battalions of the brigade were spread thinly on the ground near the airfield, with the 22nd Battalion given a large area to defend, too large for the number of men in the battalion. The battalion commander, Lt-Colonel Leslie Andrew, has been criticized for pulling back from a hill near the airfield on the night of 20/21 May, but his battalion was being hard-pressed by the German forces and Andrew had been wounded at that point. He had repeatedly asked Brigadier Hargest for support other battalions nearby, but Hargest did not understand the urgency and did not take action. Part of the problem is that while the New Zealanders had inflicted heavy casualties on the attacking German airborne troops, the fact was that the Germans were able to put a large number of men into the area by the airfield. While the airfield was not yet secured, Ju-52 transports were able to land supplies and mountain troops on the beaches and along a dry riverbed to the west. Within three days, the Germans outnumbered the New Zealanders near Maleme and the battle was lost. This is based on the account in New Zealand History Online as well as from Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The 28th (Maori) Battalion on 22 May 1941 at Maleme

After the 20th Battalion withdrew on 22 May 1941, this left the 28th (Maori) Battalion holding lines that faced two directions. On the left, they were facing west, while to their right, the line faced north. They touched the 23rd Battalion on the right. Lt-Col. Dimmer, the 28th Battlalion commander sent a message to their brigade commander, Brigadier Hargest, describing the situation. Essentially, the plan to counterattack had failed. They had not regained any critical ground and while they might have tried some other plan, the Australian Official History suggests that none could have succeeded due to the German strength at Maleme. Both the Germans and the defenders of Crete had little artillery. The Germans were now benefiting from the air supply from aircraft landing at Maleme and the improvised landing grounds to the west. They were receiving supplies while the defenders on Crete were starting to run low on supplies. At the same time, Brigadier Hargest got the impression from reports that were soon disproved, that Germans were abandoning Crete and running to board aircraft at Maleme. This is based on the account in Vol. II of the Australian Official History.

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