Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Germans on 24 May 1941 near Canea

On 24 May 1941, the Germans were massing to attack the New Zealand Division. They had two airborne and one mountain regiment on the move. Another mountain regiment was moving south towards the prime target, Suda Bay. The first step was to attack the heights at Galatas, to the west-southwest of Canea. The Assault Regiment would hit the heights near Galatas. The mountain troops of the 100th Mountain Regiment would attack Galatas itself. The 3rd Parachute Regiment would attack along the road to Canea. More reinforcements were landed on the 24th at Maleme, as well. These included one-and-a-half mountain battalions, a reconnaissance unit, and an anti-aircraft unit.

The New Zealanders were well-aware that an attack was imminent. The tired and depleted 5th New Zealand Brigade, or what was left of it, was to be ready to help the 4th Brigade. In preparation, the 4th Brigade was worked over by attacking aircraft on 24 May. Counting up the 5th Brigade, they had remnants of four battalions only totaling about 1,500 men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 29, 2013

24 May 1941 near Canea on Crete

The western end of the forces defending Crete stretched out about three miles to the southwest of Canea on 24 May 1941. The troops near the sea were from the 5th New Zealand Brigade. This also included the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry. The 4th New Zealand Brigade was behind them in reserve. To their southeast were the Australians and Greeks. Behind them were forces commanded by General Weston, the Royal Marine. Called the Reserve Position, it was held by the "Royal Perivolians" and the Suda Brigade. The Royal Perivolians were the unit that included Royal Marines and the Australian 2/2 Field Regiment, fighting as infantry.

There was a strong German force moving through the hills, intent on cutting off the defenders around Suda Bay. They spent 24 May just making probing attacks against the 4th New Zealand Brigade. A stronger attack was launched at 4pm against the 18th New Zealand Battalion. They were pushed back, but counter-attacked to restore the line. The Germans staged air attacks all afternoon that seemed to be designed to wreck Canea. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 26, 2013

24 May 1941 from the Germans

Air attacks on 24 May 1941 had hit the mixed troops at Kastelli. Some German paratroops had been captured on the first day and had been held prisoner at Kastelli. The air attacks enabled them to escape. They obtained arms and attacked the New Zealand officers who were with the 1st Greek Regiment. They killed or captured several of them. The Greek regiment was really a battalion-sized unit of one thousand men, but they only had some 600 rifles and only had several rounds per rifle. After the air attack, a German mountain engineer battalion attacked and made good progress. The Greeks were able to resist until 26 May, which prevented the Germans from bringing in more reinforcements.

At about this time, a German naval officer was ordered to take two light tanks to Crete to support the attack. He was able to find a wooden lighter and was able to get the two tanks lowered onto the lighter. A small tug boat towed the lighter, but reports of British naval activity caused the German naval commander, Admiral Schuster, to order the tug and lighter to move into the harbor at Kithera. This is based on the account in Walter Ansel's and Peter Schenk's books.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The German view of the battle for Crete on 23 May 1941

The Australian Official History intersperses information from German sources with the story about the Australian, New Zealand, and British troops fighting the Germans on Crete. On 23 May 1941, when the 5th New Zealand Brigade was withdrawn into reserve after taking heavy losses, the Germans thought that the withdrawal was due to their concentric attack by the Utz group. Ramcke's group, which was know from later in the Western Desert, was following the retreating troops and fought the rearguards. During the night on 23 May, General Ringel sent what we would later call a battle group against Aliakmon and moving towards Suda Bay. He hoped that by outflanking the troops in the Galatas and Suda area that he could cause them trouble and also could ease the pressure on the 2nd Parachute Regiment, which was having difficulties. Because the German focus was on Suda Bay, the air attack concentrated there and let the 5th New Zealand Brigade withdraw without heavy air attack. The German forces at Maleme and the Prison area were able to connect and heavier reinforcements were flowin into Maleme, including airborne armour. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reinforcements for Crete

There were two infantry tanks that were landed at Timbakion the night before the German attack. By the 23rd of May 1941, they reached Heraklion. They also reported that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were traveling there, presumably on foot. They had landed with the tanks. With the arrival of the two infantry tanks, there were now three runners at Heraklion. They were put on a landing craft and sent to Suda with two 75mm guns.

The Glenroy was to have brought reinforcements to Timbakion, but was ordered to turn back due to the heavy air attack that sank destroyers. The fast mine layer Abdiel was sent with a commando force, eventually known as "Layforce". Layforce consisted of 195 commandos.

The Germans now turned their attention to capturing Suda Bay. The first step was to send a group of mountain troops from the 85th Mountain Regiment towards Alikianou and then east towards Suda Bay. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Retimo, the isolated area on 23-24 May 1941

The only rather secure means that General Freyberg had available to communicate with troops at Retimo was by submarine cable. After having destroyed their ciphers at Heraklion on 20 May 1941, during the parachute attack, they were mostly left with using plain text communications. The Australian Colonel Campbell commanded the troops near Retimo. Colonel Campbell sent Captain Lergessner to travel to Suda to pass on information about their situation and ask for guidance. Captain Lergessner met the company of Rangers and two anti-tank guns that had been sent as reinforcements at about 8pm on 23 May. Captain Lergessner warned the Rangers against attacking up the road, as there was considerable German strength. He watched the Rangers make an unsuccessful attack that was repulsed before continuing to Suda along with the survivors from the Rangers company. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The defensive plan for Crete on 23 May 1941

At about 11am on 23 May 1941, Brigadier Puttick, the New Zealand Division commander, and General Freyberg met to discuss what to do next. They agreed to pull the 5th New Zealand Brigade into reserve, since the brigade had taken so many losses. Brigadier Inglis, the 4th Brigade commander, would have the 10th Brigade units under his control. He would be on the right of a new defensive line. The Australian 19th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Vasey would take over the left of the line. The troops near Platanias walked to behind the 4th Brigade during the night. They were very short of vehicles and what remained were used to carry the wounded and weapons. The defense at Retimo was handicapped by having to send and receive all communications in the clear, because they had destroyed their ciphers during the parachute attack. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The New Zealand withdrawal on 23 May 1941

As the battalions of the 5th New Zealand Brigade withdrew on 23 May 1941, the Germans came along behind and there was fighting. They fought on the road where the Platanias river was bridged. The New Zealand artillery contributed by putting the German light pieces out of action. The men watched 12 British bombers raid the Maleme airfield, where there were some 130 Ju-52 transports. They could see six of them burning after the raid. The 5th Brigade was now under attack by men from the prison area, attacking from the south. 150 Germans were on the heights at Stalos. The position was attacked several times and might have been dislodged, but the company commander mistakenly thought that there were more German troops than there actually were. There were changes coming, as Brigadier Puttick met with General Freyberg at 11am and they decided to pull the 5th Brigade back into reserve and replace them with the 4th Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The 5th New Zealand Brigade situation early on 23 May 1941

The Maoris and the battalions of the 5th New Zealand brigade were in positions along the Platanias line by early on 23 May 1941. The Maoris had moved back into their position where they had been, prior to the attack at Maleme. The 23rd Battalion may have been in the best shape of the 5th Brigade battalions. It was facing north next to the Maoris. The 21st and 22nd Battalions had taken losses and were low on strength. They were next to the 23rd Battalion. The New Zealand Engineer battalion was also in line with them. They stretched to the adjacent 4th New Zealand Brigade troops. They were all settled in by 10am. They were spared, for now, from heavy air attack. The air attacks were conducted against the roads that linked Canea and Suda, and against the town of Canea. General Freyberg thought that the air attacks were as heavy as he had seen. The artillery battery, the 27th, only was able to withdraw two French 75mm guns and had to abandon the rest. The new position had a small amount of artillery between the 27th Battery and the 2/3rd Australian Field Regiment. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Freyberg's assessment from 23 May 1941

Later on 23 May 1941, General Freyberg received a message from Churchill that talked about what a splendid battle they were fighting and that "the whole world watches". Freyberg knew that the situation was deteriorating fast and that there was no "splendid battle". Freyberg only wanted to do what would be best for the defenders. Freyberg sent a message to General Wavell where he tried to portray just how desperate their situation was and tried to give a true picture of the situation. They were down to about 150 cwt trucks along with 117 other vehicles that could carry a load. There were troops who were cut off near Maleme. The Germans had troops blocking the road that went from Suda to Retimo. They lacked any vehicles at Retimo. He ordered the Argylls and Sutherlands to concentrate at Heraklion prior to attempting to push to Suda by road, if possible. Freyberg hoped to withdraw to within defensible lines to give the troops some rest and to better be able to withstand attack. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Wavell and his staff make unrealistic suggestions late on 22 May 1941

General Freyberg received a message from General Wavell in the night of 22 May 1941 that showed just how out of touch Wavell was with the situation on Crete. The purpose was to inform Freyberg that reinforcements could not be landed at Suda Bay. Wavell expressed the hope that the Germans would not be able to stick with the attack much longer. There were plans to land commandos on the south coast who would then move north to assist the defenders. Wavell thought that if the "situation at Maleme is really serious hope to arrange for R.A.F. to send fighters to strafe enemy tomorrow until ammunition and petrol exhausted and then land within your protection." Wavell had suggested major troop movements that were highly impractical due to lack of transport and would involve major moves on foot. General Freyberg sent a message on 23 May that tried to portray the situation in a way that gave Wavell an idea of just how desperate their situation was at this point. Freyberg expected that they would have to fight to the end without any hope of relief, from a reading of what he told Wavell. Wavell's performance during the first half of 1941 is why he ultimately was sacked by Churchill. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 05, 2013

The issue about mutilation and reprisals by German troops

The German troops on Crete after 20 May 1941 were quick to react to what they perceived as atrocities or mutilations. Eventually, an investigation was conducted of the alleged incidents during the battle for Crete. The investigation found that British and New Zealand troops always conducted themselves well and when they had German prisoners, protected them from Cretan attacks. There were fewer incidents of actual mutilations than originally were reported. These all seemed to originate with Cretan civilians, not Greek troops. The investigation was conducted in a fair and impartial way to learn the truth of what had happened and was conducted by the Germans. The German troops involved were too quick to resort to reprisals which would likely result in war crimes trials, post-war, if they were pursued. The report was issued by the "Chief Medical Inspector of the Luftwaffe". Clearly, the use of reprisal killings by the German airborne troops was a mistake. This is based on the account in Volume II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The situation at Kastelli

The first group of German dispatched to protect Maleme on 23 May 1941 had reached Kastelli. There, they fought with troops from the 1st Greek Regiment, who were sniping at the German troops. The 5th Mountain Division commander had decided to do something about Kastelli. In the initial attack on 20 May, 57 paratroops were dropped at Kastelli. Of there they said that some forty were "mutilated" by the Greek troops. The remaining 17 took refuge in the local jail, as it could be defended. By 24 May, the attackers called for dive bomber support. By the afternoon on 24 May, the 95th Engineer Battalion took Kastelli. They had killed some 200 of the Greek defenders. Of the 15 prisoners taken, 2 where New Zealand officers. The Germans shot 200 men at Kastelli in reprisal for the reported atrocities. A New Zealand officer had reported that he had the remaining Germans held in the jail to keep them safe from the Greeks and had some New Zealanders in the guard to protect them. The New Zealand officer said that he had not seen any Germans mistreated by the Greeks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

General Ringel's plan for 23 May 1941 on Crete

Late on 22 May 1941, General Ringel had organized the German troops into three groups. The plan was to use one group to protect Maleme from attack from the south and west. A second group, with most of the paratroops, would attack Canea along with the third group, the 100th Mountain Regiment. That third group would swing in an enveloping move to take the defending troops to the east by coming from the southern hills. Another 150 men under Colonel Heidrich's command moved north to Stalos to block the coast road. They reached their objective by early on 23 May. While moving west on 23 May, the first group ran into Greeks from the 1st Regiment acting as snipers. This was near Kastelli. They reported that the Greeks had committed "atrocities". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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