Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An interesting site: www.my-crete-site.co.uk

I saw this interesting website: www.my-crete-site.co.uk. There is a page that shows the tanks that fought at Retimo for the British and Australians. The photograph shows a knocked out Light Mk.VIB tank. The tank in the picture was one knocked out at Galatas. The tanks were repaired and used at Retimo. The website calls the town Rethymnon, perhaps a Greek spelling. The author also says that the German force dropped at Retimo was too weak to overcome two Australian and two Greek battalions. That is also my assessment, because if all the paratroops had been successfully dropped, which they were not, they only had two battalions and were of lesser strength. What really sabotaged the German attack on Retimo was the poor execution by German Air Force pilots. For one thing, they took heavy losses from anti-aircraft fire, apparently, and then largely dropped the paratroops in the wrong locations. Many were killed in the air before landing. The German regimental commander was experienced and capable, but the operation had gone so wrong that he was captured early in the battle. This is based on the account in the www.my-crete-site.co.uk and from Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 25, 2013

More thoughts on Retimo in 1941

The Australian War Memorial was loathe to criticize Lt-Col. Ian Campbell, the Australian commander at Retimo airfield on Crete in May 1941. Lt-Col. Campbell was a regular army officer, unlike Major Sandover, who was a civilian before the war. Lt-Col. Campbell was a new battalion commander, taking over command of the 2/1st Battalion shortly before the German attack on Crete on 20 May 1941. Major Sandover commanded the other Australian battalion, the 2/11th. Lt-Col. Campbell felt a heavy responsibility for both his own battalion and for being the overall commander at Retimo. The Australian Official History praised Lt-Col. Campbell for keeping his battalion intact and surrendering them to the Germans. From his perspective, he was preventing needless bloodshed and would not put the Greek civilians on Crete in a bad position trying to help his men. I have much more sympathy for Major Sandover, who led a group from his battalion that left Retimo with the idea of keeping away from the Germans and ultimately escaping from the island. This is based on the information on the Australian War Memorial website and in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Summary of the German situation at Retimo

The Allied defenders at the Retimo airfield at the time of the attack on Crete on 20 May 1941 were two Australian battalions and about 3,000 Greeks. The best of the Greeks were an improvised battalion of Cretan police. They acquitted themselves well during the battle. The Australians were good troops, although they had taken some losses in Greece. The Germans dropped two veteran parachute battalions commanded by what they described as an elderly commander (Colonel Sturm). The parachute drop was poorly executed by the German air force, as they did not execute the planned drop. The failure to execute left the attackers in disarray, so that by the second day, the commander was captured, and many men were killed or captured. There were two groups of paratroops left. One on the east was on the defense, and would eventually be overcome. The other group in Perivolia were also on the defensive, but they managed to hold out until a relief column arrived from Suda Bay. Of the Australians at the Retimo airfield, 13 officers and 39 men from the 2/11th Battalion and 2 officers and 14 men from the 2/1st Battalion were able to eventually reach Egypt. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Germans at Retimo on 21 May 1941

On Hill A, at 5:25am on 21 May 1941, Major Kroh's troops on Hill A at Retimo were attacked from the west. They were able to repulse the attack, but at 9am, they were attacked by Captain Moriarity's company and were pushed off Hill A. They escaped to the east to the Olive Oil Factory. The Olive Oil Factory was a strong defensive position, so for the time being, Major Kroh's troops were able to beat back attacks. At Perivolia, Major Wiedemann's group consolidated their hold on the town, extending their lines in the process. Eventually, the force at the Olive Oil Factory was overcome, but the German account does not include that information. Mountain troops, commanded by Lt-Col. Wittman, set off for Retimo from near Suda Bay during the night of 27/28 May 1941. They only reached the Retimo area on 29 May. They joined Major Wiedemann at Perivolia after fighting off Greek troops and police at Retimo. Two light tanks joined the force and attacked Australians east of Perivolia. Some 1,200 Australians surrendered to the German force. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 18, 2013

At Retimo on 29 May 1941

Lt-Col. Campbell had decided to surrender his force defending Retimo to the Germans, as to resist at that point seemed to risk needless casualties. Early on 29 May 1941, the Germans were arriving at the airfield at Retimo, including light tanks. The Australians at Retimo were low on food and ammunition, and Lt-Col. Campbell thought that trying to escape to the south coast would not be possible without supplies. Not everyone agreed, though. Major Sandover, commanding the 2/11th Battalion offered his men the opportunity to escape with him and try and leave the island. They were able to evade capture for about two months following the collapse and some were able to leave the island. Of the some 600 Allied soldiers who were able to leave Crete after the end of fighting, some 60 were from the 2/11th Battalion. This is based on the Australian War Memorial web site.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

More of the German story at Retimo on 20 and 21 May 1941

Many of the German paratroops on 20 May 1941 were dropped in the wrong area in the attack on Retimo. Some of the men from the III/2nd Battalion were dropped into the area held by the 2/1st Battalion, the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion, and 2/3rd Field Regiment. Major Kroh had been able to collect the remnants of his battalion and half of the other battalion and was able to take most of Hill A. Two of the companies from the III/2nd Battalion were dropped as planned. They also had the artillery and heavy weapons. Wiedemann led these men and captured the village of Perivolia. They were also up to the edge of the village of Retimo. Wiedemann pulled back from Retimo and set up a defensive position at Perivolia, defending in all directions. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The German attack at Retimo had gone awry

The German plan for the attack on Retimo went awry due to how the paratroops were dropped. The high level plan was that two battalions would be dropped at Retimo and the men would capture the airfield and the harbor. The I/2nd Battalion, without two companies, but with added weapons, would land east of the airfield and capture it. Colonel Sturm would have his headquarters, a company, and a platoon, and would land near the Wadi Platanes and the airfield. The III/2nd Battalion would be dropped near Perivolia and the Wadi Platanes and would capture the village of Retimo. What happened instead of the plan was that the I/2nd Battalion had the commander, headquarters, and on rocky ground three miles too far to the east. Many men were injured on the rocky ground. Most of the battalion were dropped east of the airfield, where they came under fire. The battalion commander, Major Kroh headed west as fast as he could to reach the remains of the battlion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 11, 2013

29 May 1941 at Retimo

On 29 May 1941, as the German tanks approached the 2/11th Battalion position, two main groups formed who were determined to stay free and escape the Germans. One group was led by Major Sandover and the other my Captain Honner. Captain Honner had the one map, although it was in Greek. A wounded soldier who had left the aid station had heard of landing craft on the south coast at Ayka Galini. About this time, Lt-Col. Campbell raised a white flag on Hill D for a surrender. The Australians had about 500 German prisoners who were freed. The Germans who attacked Retimo were from the 2nd Parachute Rifle Regiment, which only had two of the normal three battalions. The commander, who the Australians had captured, was Colonel Sturm, who had led the attack on the Corinth Canal and bridge. Colonel Sturm was 52 years old at the time of the attack. The Australians losses were about 120 men while the Germans had lost at least 550 men. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Sandover's battalion on 29 May 1941 at Retimo

While Lt-Col. Campbell proposed to surrender to the Germans to save lives in the face of overwhelming force, Major Sandover thought that he would try to get his men out and heading south to the coast. Captain Honner pulled his men to the ridge, with the remnants of his company down to 40 men with some more men added. Honner was eventually able to lead his men back to the headquarters with Sandover. Sandover intended to escape and take his chances. Captain Honner had a group of men with him. He had a Greek map, so they used that for the next couple of months. Meanwhile, Lt-Col. Campbell was arranging to surrender the remainder of the defenders of Retimo airfield. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The troops at Retimo did not receive the message about withdrawal from Crete

A lighter arrived at Retimo during the night of 27-28 May 1941. The lighter, commanded by Lieutenant Haig, brought two days' supplies. The lighter left Suda Bay prior to the orders for withdrawal being received. Aircraft dropped cases of food and ammunition, presumably with the message about withdrawal, but it was not seen. The plan was to move to Plakias Bay at the east end of the island and withdraw on the night of 31 May to 1 June 1941. Another message was dropped to the forces at Retimo to move to the south coast for withdrawal, but they did not receive the word. Lt-Col. Campbell did now want to leave their defensive position without orders, so they were stuck at Retimo while the Germans approached from east and west. Given the situation, Campbell proposed to surrender the force to the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History

Monday, November 04, 2013

Jackson's company escape from Perivolia 28-29 May 1941

As we saw, the Australians Jackson's company was left in Perivolia when the officers had not seen the signal to withdraw on . The safest thing seemed to be to occupy houses in Perivolia and wait until dark to leave. The Germans bombed one house and fired machine guns at the houses, but no one was hit by the fire. This was during the day on 28 May 1941. They captured a German airman who had run into one house. His aircraft had crashed in the sea and he was the only survivor. Jackson decided to try to withdraw after dark by going to the beach and walking east. Sandover correctly estimated that they would break out after dark and fired all the remaining artillery rounds at the German front lines. Jackson's company moved at 9pm and made their way to the beach. They turned around and moved west to the edge of Retimo, when they sheltered in a large villa. Two wounded men could not be moved, so a medical orderly stayed with them in the villa. They moved south and then east, reaching Sandover's battalion on 29 May 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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