Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Losses on the way to Egypt from Heraklion: 1941

The first loss on the way to Egypt from Heraklion in late May 1941 was the destroyer Imperial. The Imperial had taken damage from what must have been a near-miss by a bomb. The crew and troops were moved to the destroyer Hotspur. The Imperial was then sunk by a torpedo. This was early on 29 May 1941. At 6am, about 100 German dive bombers attacked. Another destroyer, the Hereward, was damaged had to be beached while passing through Kaso Straight at the east end of Crete. The crew and troops were captured by the Germans. The two cruisers were hit by bombs. The Orion took three bomb hits and the Dido was hit by one bomb. There were 100 men killed and 200 wounded on the Orion. The Dido had 103 men from the Black Watch killed out of the 240 on board. The ships neared the Egyptian coast by 2pm and the bombing attacks stopped. They finally reached the shelter of Alexandria harbor by 9pm. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Withdrawal from Heraklion

To get a message to General Freyberg, Brigadier Chappel, commander of the troops at Heraklion, had to send the message by way of Egypt. This was in the night of 26 and 27 May 1941. He stated that the Germans were in control of heights that commanded their position at Heraklion. The road to the south was controlled by the Germans, and more paratroops were being landed outside of his position. They were starting to run short of food and ammunition at Heraklion. He asked if they should try to break out to the west or south. He received a reply on 27 May that Crete was to be abandoned. He informed his commanders early on 28 May of the situation. The troops would be embarked at night. Early on 28 May, ships sailed from Alexandria, including the cruisers Orion, Ajax, and Dido with destroyers. Ajax was damaged and had to return to Alexandria. The rest arrived off Heraklion at 11:30pm. The destroyers entered the harbor in groups of four and embarked troops. Everyone was embarked but troops holding a road block at Khoudesion and those left at the aid station at Knossos. No attempt was made to inform or embark the Greek troops. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The situation becomes more intense at Heraklion from 26 May 1941

There was concern that the German moves were intended to cut off the troops at Heraklion to keep them from being able to move to the south. After all, it would be the Knossos road that would be the natural route to reach Pirgos in the south. There was actually cooperation between Australian and German medical staff where the Germans would put wounded Australians where they could be recovered and carried into the Australian position. There was frequent fighting near the village of Babali, where there were but twelve houses. The Germans would often raid there looking for food. There was a situation where there were Greek civilians fighting as guerrillas and killing Germans. The Germans, for their part, would retaliate and kill Greek civilians in retaliation. The German paratroopers seem to have been particularly atrocity-prone for some reason, perhaps due to training. The Germans would drop pamphlets making threats of violence in Greek and English. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The situation becomes more serious on 26 May 1941 at Heraklion

The Agylls were attacked early on 26 May 1941 by some 300 Germans. They were on Cemetery Ridge, just east of Heraklion. The situation was restored by the Leicesters, who attacked along the ridge. They had beat back the Germans, but took some heavy losses in the process. The Argylls became confused about the situation and started shooting at the Australians of the 2/4th Battalion. The Australian Intelligence sergeant made contact with the Argylls and corrected the situation. The Germans had moved onto Apex Hill and were between the 2/4th Battalion and Kesteven's platoon. Germans were on the move with some 500 moving through the Wadi and another 200 moving north toward the ridge. Kesteven had been ordered to fight his way out, if he encountered overwhelming force. Kesteven's platoon attacked the smallest German group, while moving down the rocky north face of the hill. Kesteven was among the wounded early in the fight. They charged the Germans and overcame them. They were able to reach the Black Watch and then to rejoin the 2/4th Battalion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

24 to 26 May 1941 at Heraklion

Information had been received on 24 May 1941 at Heraklion that there were large numbers of Germans moving through the hills towards the east. The assumption was that they were preparing to attack Heraklion from the east. The defenders at Heraklion also learned that German transport aircraft were landing on the beach at Mallia. Mallia was on the coast, about fifteen miles east of Heraklion. Early on 25 May, the Germans attacked the town of Heraklion from the west. Heraklion was defended by "two companies of the York and Lancasters and one of the Leicesters". The lead troops of the Argyll and Sutherland reached the Heraklion defended area. The rest, about two companies, arrived on 25 May. They arrived on foot, having moved throough the hills. They were positioned in the line previously occupied by the Leicesters. The Leicesters that were then available became the reserve. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The bombing attack on Heraklion on 24 May 1941

As we saw, the British took over the defense of the town of Heraklion on 23 May 1941 after ordering the civilians to leave. The Greeks were no longer responsible for the defense of the town. The surviving Greek troops were organized into two one thousand man battalions. They were positioned around Arkhania. They were to protect the hospital at Knossos and hold the road and keep that open for traffic. Note that Arkhania is to the south of Heraklion, on the way to the south coast.

The bombing attack on Heraklion started early in the day and continued. That morning, more paratroops and supplies were dropped to the west by forty transport aircraft. They were caught in a battle between the 1/Argyll and Sutherland and Germans that were occupying the road. The British troops had taken losses and were forced to retreat. Still, during the day, a British truck convoy succeeded in passing to the south towards Ayia Deka where they were to build a landing ground for aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Hurricanes at Heraklion on 23 May 1941

An attempt was made on 23 May 1941 to bring some Hurricane fighters to Heraklion so as to be able to attack the transport aircraft landing at Maleme. Six Hurricanes arrived at Heraklion, but it was a surprise and two were shot down by naval anti-aircraft guns. One landed at Heraklion while three returned to their base. Even later in the day, another six Hurricanes arrived, engaged the attacking bombers and then landed. Four of those that landed had their tail wheels damaged, so they were not operable. Meanwhile, the town of Heraklion was hit hard by a bombing raid. The Germans sent a message threatening to destroy the town if they did not surrender. The bombing raid had started fires on the dock where chemicals were stored. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

23 May 1941 at Heraklion

One feature of 23 May 1941 at Heraklion was that there was a great deal of German air activity. This included dropping bombs and strafing the British troops. The Germans were also busy dropping supplies to their troops on the ground. Since the Germans were in strong positions on the east side of the airfield, the supply drops were concentrated in that area. There was also a report that German transport aircraft were operating at a suitable location to the east of "East Ridge". Two companies from the Leicesters made a reconnaissance raid to the east. They reported that the Germans were weak, but heavily armed with machine guns. The defenders of the airfield at Heraklion worked at expanding the perimeter of their defended area. Also on 23 May, two Inf.Mk.II Matilda tanks arrived from the south coast. They were to proceed to Suda Bay. The only surviving Matilda at Heraklion, along with two field guns were sent on to Suda Bay by lighter. The Germans staged a destructive bombing raid on the town of Heraklion and demanded the surrender of the town. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

John Pendlebury, the archaeologist, at Heraklion on 22 May 1941

John Pendlebury was a British archaeologist who was working on reconstructing the bronze age on the island of Crete. During the war, he was apparently working for British intelligence. He had been in Britain for training from the outbreak of the war until May 1940, when he returned to Heraklion. He was near Heraklion during the initial attack on 20 May 1941. He spoke Greek like a native and was assimilated into Cretan society. With his Cretan companions, he was going to participate in an attack on German troops. Along the way, he fired on some Germans. There were Ju-87 divebombers overhead and John Pendlebury was shot in the chest. He was taken to a house. He was eventually treated by a German doctor, but some passing German paratroops took him outside and executed him. His body was eventually transported to the cemetary near Suda Bay. This is based on the account in the Wikipedia.

Monday, January 06, 2014

More about 22 May 1941 at the town of Heraklion

During the day on 22 May 1941, at the town of Heraklion, there were no attacks by either the Germans or the Allies. This was a day when the Allies worked at collecting and burying the dead Germans in particular. What you would think would become a major complication was that the Greek civilians armed themselves with German weapons and started firing them. West of the town, the Germans were reported to be driving women and children in front of them. When the Greek commander heard this, he warned the Germans to stop or he would kill the German prisoners. Not only was there the town of Heraklion, but there were small villages, as well, in the area. When there were German air attacks, the women and children would take cover in the British and Australian trenches. In the 2/4th Battalion area, there were two families living near the battalion headquarters. There were also caves nearby where there were some 200 civilians taking cover. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, January 03, 2014

22 May 1941 at Heraklion

The York and Leicesters cleared the last Germans from the town of Heraklion on 22 May 1941. There had been Germans on the east end of the airfield, but the Black Watch cleared them. They found, though, that the German defensive positions "at Rattling Bridge, in East Wadi, amd on A.M.E.S Ridge" were too strong to be attacked. Brigadier Chappel hoped to be able to attack the ridge, but the Black Watch battalion commander thought that he did not have enough strength to attack them. The British looked to find and bury the German dead. They found some 950, which they buried, and in the Greek area found about 300 more. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Developments at Heraklion on 21 May 1941

Part of the I/1st Battalion, commanded by Lt. Count Bluecher, arrived at the eastern edge of the airfield at Heraklion shortly after midnight on 20/21 May 1941 and found that the airfield was still under British control. They had assumed that the plan had worked and that a parachute battalion would be in control. The regimental commander, Col. Brauer, had decided to attack the airfield from east and west on 21 May. The attack was made in small pieces and failed. Count Bluecher held a position on the eastern side of the airfield. Count Bluecher was killed and the Germans withdrew to the edge of a ridge. Col. Brauer sent a radio message to Major Schulz did not get the message, but did hear that an air attack was planned on the town of Heraklion from 9am to 10am. The Germans succeeded in penetrating the town, but were pushed out. The Greeks had been ready to surrender but were forced by the British to no surrender. By the morning of 22 May, the British were still in control, but Brigadier Chappel had concerns about the strong German position on the ridge to the east. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Amazon Ad