Monday, September 30, 2013

Hill A near the Retimo air field on 20 May 1941

Hill A looked down on the east end of the air field at Retimo. In the initial attack by paratroops, a considerable number landed on Hill A. Hill A was an area of about 200 by 300 yards. The hill was held by one company of Australians along with six guns and four machine guns. The artillery were 75mm guns. Machine gun crews were repeatedly killed and the gunners were forced to retreat with their breach blocks. The Vickers machine guns were eventually disabled by a German mortar bomb. Lt-Col. Campbell ordered two platoons from one company to defend against a German advance west from Hill A. The defenders on Hill A still held part of the ground and they received a platoon of reinforcements. With the Australians and Germans mixed together on Hill A, German air power was neutralized, because they did not want to attack their own troops. Lt-Col. Campbell had ordered to tanks to help his troops on Hill A, but they both encountered mishaps which neutralized them. One stuck in a drain and the other fell into a Wadi. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Retimo attacked on 20 May 1941

The attack on the airfield at Retimo started at 4pm when bombers and fighters strafed and bombed. The Greek 4th Battalion was not attacked, but they responded by moving back up the ridge overlooking the airfield. Australian senior enlisted were sent to them and led them back to their original positions and encouraged them in the initial battle. The initial attack came from 24 troop carriers dropping paratroops. Eventually, there were 161 troop transports (Ju-52's presumably). There were four areas with German paratroops. One was at Perivolia, just east of Retimo. Another, smaller group, was at Platanes to the east of the first. A third and larger group landed overlapping the 2/11th Battalion and the 4th Greek Battalion on the airfield. The fourth, and largest group of paratroops landed overlapping the 2/1st Battalion area and east to the olive oil factory. The troop transports dropped their paratroops from about 400 feet as they flew parallel to the coast. The drop was completed in 35 minutes. They counted seven troop transports shot down along with two other aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

More about Retimo in May 1941 on Crete

The 2/11th Battalion was the closest to Retimo on the west end of their position located by Hill B. To their right was the 4th Greek Battalion. About a mile to the south at Adhele was the 5th Greek Battalion. The 2/1st Battalion was on the far east of the position. They were spread from Hill A west to the 4th Greek Battalion. Hill A had two 100mm guns, four 75mm guns, and a machine gun platoon. Hill B had two 100mm guns and another machine gun platoon. The two tanks were hidden under the olive trees in the Wadi Pigi. The defenders of the Retimo apparently made good use of camouflage, because they found pictures on a crashed German reconnaissance aircraft that only showed one of the positions, which they altered. The assault on the airfield at Retimo began on 20 May 1941. The first 14 aircraft that they saw turned towards Canea. At noon, twenty aircraft flew over towards Heraklion. At 4pm, the Germans staged an attack with fighters and bombers on the airfield. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The situation at Retimo from 30 April 1941 onwards

Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Campbell became the commander of the forces defending the airfield at Retimo. He was an Australian commanding the 2/1st Battalion which arrived on the scene on 30 April 1941. His force was built up with another Australian battalion, the 2/11th and with the 4th Greek Battalion. They were woefully equipped in every respect. They had no anti-aircraft artillery, their communications equipment was minimal, and they had very little ammunition, and of that, none was armour-piercing. The airfield that they were trying to defend ran parallel to the shore, 100 yards from the beach. A ridge overlooked the airfield on the side away from the sea. They initially had but ten days food. They had to buy food locally from the market. The ridges had southern slopes covered with olive trees that masked any view. The field guns and most medium machine guns faced northward towards the sea. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The situation at Retimo, on Crete, starting from 19 May 1941

Retimo, and the airfield about five miles to the east, were still in the western half of the island of Crete. Retimo was on the north shore, a ways east of Suda Bay. The land near Retimo was very mountainous, and sloped down to the sea. The town of Retimo had a population of about 10,000. Due to the difficulty of the terrain, the town was concentrated. The airfield was dominated by the ridge to the south. The airfield was almost on the beach and ran parallel to the shoreline. The 2/1st Australian Battalion arrived on 30 April 1941. They relieved the previous Greek defenders. The hills were terraced and had vineyards. Additional men arrived at Retimo between 30 April and 19 May so that the force grew to brigade group size. They had four 3 inch mortars, but only 80 mortar bombs for each. They had some anti-tank rifles, but only had five rounds each. Overall, they were short of ammunition, so they started the campaign with difficulties. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

More from 27 May 1931 on Crete

The German 3rd Parachute Regiment had reached the wireless station by 10am. They eventually entered Canea by 2pm, along with Ramcke and the 100th Mountain Regiment. In the process, they captured about one thousand men and forty guns. During the day on 27 May 1941, the rest of the 5th Mountain Division, along with a battalion of the 6th Mountain Division were flown into Maleme. The rearguard, consisting of the 5th New Zealand Brigade, the 19th Australian Brigade, and the commandos of Layforce had fought their way to the road leading to Sfakia on the south coast of Crete. The road to the south was packed with retreating men and vehicles. The Official History is about to jump to talking about the troops defending Retimo and Heraklion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 16, 2013

More about the alleged massacre at 42nd Street on 27 May 1941

Lt-Col. Walker commanded the 2/7th Battalion, one of Brigadier Vasey's Australian battalions. His battalion was the one accused by Major Forster of committing a war crime by shooting and stabbing unarmed men who would have surrendered. A number of battalions, including the New Zealand Maori battalion, who used a special knife as their personal weapon in addition for guns, had charged the Germans. Lt-Col. Walker wrote about the incident in 1952 to address the charge made by the Germans. The probable explanation was that the Australians had captured German machine guns and turned them on the Germans and quickly killed or wounded many men. I also thought that the Maoris could have knifed some Germans. The Australians did capture three wounded Germans after the fight. Lt-Col. Walker thought that other wounded Germans might have been able to retreat to their own positions. There was one instance where there were unarmed men shot at the foot of a wall. To the Germans, it appeared that they might have been lined up and shot. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Alleged war crimes on 27 May 1941

Major Forster, commander of the I Battalion engaged with the Australian 19th Brigade west of Suda reported to his regimental commander that he thought that war crimes had been committed. He had found 121 dead Germans and he felt sure that some had been wounded and then had been knifed or shot when they were helpless by the Australians. Forster's battalion had been advancing towards the east in heavy olive trees when they ran onto a minefield which stopped the advance. He thought that they were in danger of being surrounded, so he had pulled his men back. His battalion was then withdrawn into an existing defensive position on high ground. He reported that some dead Germans had been stabbed or had broken skulls. When they checked the battle field, they found about 20 Australian and New Zealand dead, none with stab or butt wounds. Lt-Colonel Walker, reported that there had been automatic weapons forward for the Germans. These had been captured and they inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans nearby. He said that no one who wanted to surrender was shot, after the fighting slowed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Germans on Crete on 25 and 27 May 1941

The Germans had considerable success in their advance on 26 and 27 May 1941 on Crete. They were intent on still encircling Canea and pushing through to Suda Bay. Just like the Australians and New Zealanders, the Germans were taking losses. For example, the 3rd Parachute Regiment was now of battalion strength and had been reorganized accordingly. The Germans were planning on continuing to circle Canea on the 27th of May. From there, they planned to head for Retimo. At this point, they had five columns of troops headed east. It was the 141st Mountain Regiment which had fought the Australian 19th Brigade in Greece. They were the victims of the action at 42nd Street, near Suda. Early on 27 May, they were ordered to attack towards Suda Bay, at least partly to cut off the defenders. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The decision to withdraw from Crete on 27 May 1941

Because of the situation on the roads to the south of Crete, General Weston had lost his ability to control the rearguard action until Thursday, 29 May 1941. That anything good could happen was due to the efforts of the Australian and New Zealand brigade commanders and Colonel Laycock. By this time, the Greek forces had practically ceased to exist. The rout that had occurred spontaneously included men discarding their rifles and even their tunics due to the heat. The sort of input that General Freyberg received from General Wavell's headquarters in Egypt was totally useless. They had no idea of the situation on the ground and had responded to General Freyberg's message from 26 May by calling for withdrawing to the east and defending that part of the island. Freyberg's message on 26 May was that the situation was hopeless. Early on 27 May, General Freyberg informed the headquarters in Egypt that there was no food at Retimo, in the east, as well as no ammunition. They had lost all their artillery at Suda due to the lack of gun tractors. By the afternoon of 27 May, General Freyberg was told to abandon Crete by Wavell. General Wavell had asked London for guidance, as well he might, due to Churchill's involvement, but got no reply. General Wavell eventually received a message from London agreeing to withdrawing from Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The rout begins: 27 to 28 May 1941 on Crete

General Weston was thinking in terms of withdrawal from the island of Crete when he went south, later on 27 May 1941. He intended to scout out the route that would be taken to the south of the island for withdrawal. Once he got south, he was trapped, because of road congestion. The mostly unarmed, disorganized groups of men were in a panic and were clogging the roads to the south. General Weston was unable to travel back north to Suda.

Before he had left for the trip south, General Weston had ordered Laycock, the D Battalion commander of Layforce, to occupy the Babali Inn as a rearguard position. He had assigned him two of the remaining infantry tanks, along with three carriers.

The men walking or riding vehicles to the south included base troops from Suda Bay, Cypriots, Palestinians, and improvised infantry units. What vehicles they had, they eventually abandoned. What had started as a spontaneous retreat from the Suda Bay area had turned into a rout due to the panic of the men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Further developments at Suda on 27 May 1941

Despite the local success in the counter-attack on the Germans west of Suda, the situation was getting worse on 27 May 1941 as the day progressed. For one thing, the New Zealand and stustralian troops just west of Suda were out of touch with their commander, General Weston, the Royal Marine. Worse yet, the group now styled as the "rear-guard" could see German troops moving around the southern part of the line, as if to encircle them. The two brigadiers, Hargest of the 5th New Zealand Brigade and Vasey of the 19th Australian Brigade planned to withdraw during the night. They had met with a battalion commander of Layforce, the commandos, who was occupying a blocking point on the road. They had planned to withdraw from 42nd Street at 9pm, but it was not dark yet, so they waited until 10pm. We now find that General Weston had gone south to look at the retreat path and got caught in the flight of vehicles and could not make his way north. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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