Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The men charged the enemy on 27 May 1941 near Suda Bay

It was late in the morning, about 11am, when the Australians had seen the Germans advancing. There were two companies of the 2/7th Battalion deployed forward. Major Miller commanded the northernmost company on the far right. The company on his left charged when Miller's company charged. Miller had sent a patrol forward to observe the Germans, who were busy taking things from an abandoned depot they had found. Shots were eventually exchanged and Miller moved his company forward. When the second company arrived, they charged the Germans. The charge caused the Germans to turn and run, often dropping their weapons. The Australians eventually advanced a mile from their start. The New Zealanders made a similar charge, with the Maoris in the center and with the 19th and 21st Battalions on each side. They advanced about 600 yards and observed some 80 dead Germans. The Australians thought that they had killed as many as 200 Germans and also took three prisoners. The Australian and New Zealand losses were small. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The morning of 27 May 1941 at "42nd Street" near Suda

What the soldiers called "42nd Street" was a dirt road that ran towards the south-southeast through olive groves. The position was near the southwest corner of Suda Bay. General Weston was not at 42nd Street when the remnants of the New Zealand Division and the 19h Australian Brigade arrived. The Australians occupied the northern end of the line with the New Zealand battalions stretching to their south. The front they held depended on their remaining strength. General Freyberg was very anxious about getting the supplies delivered, so he was present during the night when the destroyers delivered the 80 tons of supplies at the pier. By 11am on 27 May, there were some 400 Germans heading towards the position, following the Suda Bay road. The Australians surprised the Germans, who were intent on looting an abandoned depot. They exchanged fire and then the Germans "broke and ran". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 26, 2013

More about the night of 26-27 May 1941 in front of Canea

The commander of the Suda Brigade was Colonel Hely, an artillery-man. He had commanded the 106 RHA from 1939 to 1941. During 1941 to 1942, he commanded the 60 Field regiment. After the 5th New Zealand Brigade and 19th Australian Brigade withdrew, Colonel Hely thought that the Suda Brigade needed to withdraw, as well. That left the Composite Brigade without any support. They had followed orders that were a bad idea and advanced west of Canea about a mile. The withdrawal left the 5th and 19th Brigades just west of Suda. The commandos of A Battalion of Layforce were near the village of Suda. By the morning, the Australians were surprised that they did not see the Composite Brigade troops coming up as their rear-guard. When the Composite Brigade had been misplaced, Brigadier Inglis took back his command of the 4th New Zealand Brigade and Howard Kippenberger moved back to being the 20th Battalion commander.

When General Weston realized that the Composite Brigade was in trouble, he ordered the 1/Welch to withdraw, but they probably never got the order or it was too late in arriving. They were too far forward with the 1/Rangers and the Northumberland Hussars. As the Germans started to encircle the Composite Battalion, Two companies eventually reached Suda. They later found out that a sergeant and a few men from the 1/Welch had held up the German advance until early on 28 May. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Communications and command gone wrong: the night of 26-27 May 1941 near Suda and Canea

Because of the command and communications situation, Brigadier Puttick, the New Zealand Division commander, and Brigadier Vasey, the Australian, were forced to act to keep their troops from being overrun by the advancing Germans. By 2:15am, General Weston thought that the New Zealand Division was acting independently, regardless of what he told them. When the New Zealand 5th Brigade and the Australian 19th Brigade withdrew, that triggered the withdrawal of the Suda Brigade, which had been in reserve at Mournies. The Composite Brigade had no idea about the withdrawals, especially of the Suda Brigade, and went on with their advance to a position west of Canea. The 5th and 19th Brigades were then in position to the west of Suda. One battalion of commandos were near Suda. General Weston realized at 1am that the Composite Brigade was in a dangerous position and sent orders to withdraw. Those orders were probably not received and the most forward companies were caught. One was caught and the other took heavy losses. The latest move left the surviving units at "42nd Street", preparing for the next day's action. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The defense in front of Canea collapsed: late on 26 May 1941

Both the Australians and New Zealanders in front of Canea were being pressed so hard that they felt the need to withdraw, later in the day on 26 May 1941. The command structure had been made more complicated when General Weston had been given command over the New Zealand Division. Worse yet, General Weston felt like major decisions about withdrawals were beyond what he was allowed to make. When the Australian Brigadier Vasey told General Weston that he would not be able to hold on overnight, General Weston felt like he needed to consult General Freyberg before agreeing to a withdrawal. Communications were so bad that the discussion meant a trip where General Weston was out of touch with the troops in the line for hours. The result of that issue was that by late in the day on 26 May, unilateral decisions were made which put the New Zealand and Australian troops into a withdrawal from the front before Canea. Brigadier Puttick, the New Zealand Division commander, kept trying to contact Weston, but General Weston had been forced to leave Canea due to the heavy bombing. Brigadier Puttick tried to contact General Freyberg by radio, but was told to take his orders from General Weston. From the distance of time, we can see that the situation before Canea was at the point of collapse, at least partly due to the command and communication arrangements that were in place. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 19, 2013

"The New Zealand Division can't hold another night": 26 May 1941

By the afternoon of 26 May 1941, the command structure for Crete was "showing cracks". The New Zealand Division commander, Brigadier Puttick read that General Freyberg intended that a new Composite Brigade would be commanded by Brigadier Inglis. The brigade was intended to relieve the 5th New Zealand Brigade in the line. Brigadier Puttick's opinion was that the New Zealand Division troops were at the end of their ability to fight. General Freyberg's headquarters were within walking distance, so Brigadier Puttick walked over to talk with him. General Freyberg told Puttick that they had to hold, because two destroyers were heading for Suda Bay with commandos and supplies. He also told Brigadier Puttick that since they were now in the area of Canea and Suda, that the New Zealand Division would fall under General Weston's command. While Brigadier Puttick was walking, which took three hours, the Germans continued to advance around the left of the line. Later that evening, General Weston informed General Freyberg that he thought that the New Zealand Division could not hold their positions for another night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Further events on 26 May 1941 in front of Canea

Later in the afternoon of 26 May 1941, the pressure on the Australian 2/8th and 2/7th Battalions on the left of the line in front of Canea was so great that they were withdrawn. They were moved back to their original positions with the Marines at Mournies. Earlier in the day, their brigade commander, Brigadier Vasey, had thought that they would be able to hold, but by 5pm, he recognized that the situation had become critical.

Also in the afternoon, Brigadier Puttick, the acting New Zealand Division commander, was in the process of moving his headquarters to a point south of Canea. While that move was happening, he received a letter from General Freyberg that asked him to co-locate his headquarters with General Weston. Freyberg also plotted to take Weston's best units and for a composite brigade from them. He wanted to use the Composite Brigade to replace the remnants of the 5th New Zealand Brigade in the line. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

26 May 1941 in front of Canea

The 5th New Zealand Brigade now was very much a scratch organization. They had company-sized battalions under their command, including the 19th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and the 28th (Maori) Battalions. They also had small groups of engineers and cavalry to help hold the line. At one point, an attack on the engineers in the 21st Battalion line were pushed back by a strong German attack. They were able to stage a counter-attack and push the Germans back. By 2pm, the 19th Battalion was under heavy pressure. Several platoons were pushed back and the battalion had to pull back 150 yards to a new line. They mustered enough force to retake the positions that were lost by 3pm. To the left, the Maori's were able to hold against German attacks. The next German attempt was to push between the Australians and the Greeks. Two Australian platoons were forced to withdraw towards Perivolia, but were able to hold their position at that point. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 12, 2013

General Freyberg reported to General Wavell on 26 May 1941

General Freyberg sent a cable to General Wavell, the theater commander, on 26 May 1941 that said that the situation on Crete was now hopeless and that only the Welsh Regiment and the Commando were able to conduct offensive operations. He said if the strategic situation demanded it, they would try and hold on for a while longer. Freyberg expected that the Germans were close to being able to fire on Suda Bay. He also reported that most of their artillery had been lost due to lack of mobility. General Freyberg also made a reorganization. He put Brigadier Inglis in charge of the reserve and promoted Howard Kippenberger to 4th Brigade commander. The 4th New Zealand Brigade now consisted of the 18th and 20th Battalions. The forward troops, including the 5th New Zealand Brigade were under heavy attack. The Official History says that the 5th Brigade battalions were reduced to company strength at this point. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

General Freyberg basically gave up on 26 May 1941

We can only guess that during the night of 25/26 May 1941, that Brigadier Puttick and General Freyberg had a mistaken idea of what was actually happening on the ground in front of Canea. We know that Howard Kippenberger had led the troops and had successfully recapatured Galatas. The Greek troops were doing well. So what did the higher level command think? On 25 May, Brigadier Puttick had told General Freyberg that the line at Galatas was "obviously broken", which seems to have not been the case. An order arrived at 1am on 26 May that agreed with the Puttick's decision to pull the New Zealand Division back to a line closer to Canea. A liaison officer to the Greeks had reported that the Greeks were close to breaking, which also seems to be not the case. The 21st Battalion would now be the unit on the right, with some of the cavalry, some engineers, and one company of the 29th Battalion. To their left was the 19th Battalion. To their left were the Maori's (the 28th Battalion). By the dawn, the 5th New Zealand Brigade was in the new position. The Australian 19th Brigade was to their left. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Other action in front of Canea on 25 and 26 May 1941 on Crete

During the day on 25 May 1941, the Australians of the 19th Brigade were not challenged. They were to the left of the New Zealanders in front of Canea. During the night of 25/26 May, they continued to take casualties, and there were New Zealand troops mixed into the Australian front lines. The troops continued to experience heavy air attacks during the night. The New Zealand Division commander, Brigadier Puttick, decided to pull the 4th and 5th Brigades back to line up to the north on the right of the Australian 19th Brigade. The Greeks of the 8th Greek Regiment were actually doing very well. They were fighting the German 85th Mountain Regiment, and had kept them from encircling the defenders of Canea. They were actually reinforced by Cretan villagers. They had successfully fought the German Utz group and pushed them out of Aliakmon and to pull into a defensive position by the reservoir. At the end of the day on 25 May, Brigadier Puttick warned General Freyberg that he did not expect to be able to hold his position against constantly increasing German forces. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The situation in front of Canea turns nasty on 25 May 1941

Lt-Col John Russell commanded the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry in front of Canea. He reported to Howard Kippenberger that there were many men in retreat coming past his unit. The cavalry itself was being pressed by the Germans. Kippenberger sent his brigade major to tell Brigadier Inglis about the situation and to ask for help. Many men were being wounded and were taken by truck to the aid station. The situation worsened when Wheat Hill, just west of Galatas, was abandoned without orders. They were under attack by German mountain troops. The retreat was increasing and could easily have turned into a rout. Kippenberger tried to rally the men, shouting whatever he could think of to try and halt the retreat. Brigadier Inglis was sending reinforcements, and Kippenberger sent them into the weak spots in the line. When the 23rd Battalion arrived, Howard Kippenberger thought that they needed to retake Galatas if they were going to stop the Germans. He sent the 23rd off with two light tanks against Galatas. The attack succeeded in driving the Germans from Galatas. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 02, 2013

The situation turns for the worse on 25 May 1941 for the New Zealanders on Crete

The 2nd New Zsaland Division forces on Crete were all massed to defend Canea when the day started on 25 May 1941. The 4th New Zealand Brigade was taking the brunt of the attack with the 5th Brigade in reserve, ready to be used. Ramcke's group was attacking along the coast against the 18th Battalion and the Composite Battalion. The Composite Battalion rapidly ceased to exist. The 18th Battalion was also in dire straits. The company nearest the sea was being swamped by the enemy. The center company was surrounded and under fire from all directions. The battalion commander took up a rifle with bayonet and led a group from his headquarters to attempt to restore the situation, but failed. Colonel Howard Kippenberger was in command at the front. The two companies from the 20th Battalion ordered forward to occupy the ground held by the remnants of the Composite Battalion. 2nd-Lieutenant Upton distinguished himself again in the effort. They were up against too many German troops and the situation was getting progressively worse as the Germans were pushing up the road from the prison towards Canea. This si based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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