Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The rearguard on the march south on 28 and 29 May 1941 on Crete

The Australian battalion, the 2/8th, arrived at Babali at about 2pm in the afternoon and took a defensive position with the commandos of Layforce. Once that happened, the 5th New Zealand Brigade Headquarters moved south to Vrises. They were accompanied by the 5th New Zealand Brigade and the Australians in the 2/7th Battalion, which had been in the rearguard. The Germans had reached Babali as early as 1:35pm and had started firing at Layforce troops. While the rearguard had seen air attacks, by this time, the Germns were concentrated against Heraklion. By later in the evening, the rearguard headed for Vrises. The 5th New Zealand Brigade and the rest of the 19th Australian Brigade were together at Vrises. The New Zealanders headed south, over a pass, starting at6pm. They were heading towards Syn Ammondari, which was a further 12 miles to the south. An unnecessary disruption happened when the engineers set off explosives to destroy the road before the rearguard had arrived. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Germans on 27, 28, and 29 May 1941 on Crete

Even though the Germans knew of the British movement towards the south coast of Crete on 27 and 28 May 1941, General Ringel, the German commander, had two mountain regiments moving towards Retimo. One mountain regiment was pursuing the retreating British forces (British, Australian, and New Zealand). At Stilos, they had a hard fight and captured most of a battalion and destroyed two tanks. The battalion must have been A Battalion of commandos from Layforce. The regiment at Stilos was content to let the forces in front of him withdraw in the night, as the commander expected. General Ringel apparently expected a fight at Retimo, which is why he had two thirds of his mountain division moving in that direction. In fact, the commander at Retimo was ready to surrender in the face of overwhelming force. Only by 29 May was the 100th Mountain Regiment sent to chase the retreating force heading for the south coast. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

On the road: 28 May 1941, heading to the south on Crete

On 28 May 1941, the plan agreed upon was that after the 5th New Zealand Brigade headquarters reached the Babali Inn and Layforce, the 5th Brigade battalions and Brigadier Vasey's Australian would march south to Vrises, where the men would hide out during the hottest part of the afternoon. After the Australians of the 2/8th Battalion reached Babali, the 5th New Zealand Brigade headquarters moved south towards Vrises. The New Zealand battalions and the 2/7th Battalion then followed the headquarters to Vrises. The problem was that the Germans were fast approaching and attacked at Babali at 1:35pm. Layforce was under fire at Babali until dusk, but the German air attacks were diverted to the fight at Heraklion. By later in the evening, the rearguard withdrew towards Vrises. The troops rested at Vrises before moving onwards. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The airborne attack on Crete in 1941

With our hindsight, we can see that the German airborne force was insufficient to achieve a successful attack on Crete. We might say that in May 1941, everyone was a novice at mounting large airborne attacks. Crete was an opportunity for the Germans to have analyzed the battle and learned from the battle so as to better be able to make airborne attacks in the future. Instead, the Germans were afraid to mount another attack of the scale of Crete. The Allies were the ones who learned from Crete and built and used effective airborne forces. They were first used on a large scale in the attack on Sicily in 1943 and then again at Normandy. In many ways, the attack on Normandy repeated some of the German mistakes from 1941. Making the assault at night was asking for trouble, and then they made little attempt to drop the paratroops on the planned locations. That was one of the major mistakes at Heraklion on 20 May 1941. Most of the German paratroops were dropped in the wrong locations. Those who were dropped onto defended areas with troops ready to respond took heavy losses, as paratroops in the air in daylight with a long drop time were easily killed. By late 1944, there was no excuse for the bad planning involved with Operation Market Garden, the "A bridge too far" operation at Arnhem.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The withdrawal to the south from Suda Bay on 28 May 1941

The 5th New Zealand Brigade let a group of Italian prisoners through on the road to the south. The prisoners were under a white flag. The brigade commander let them through on the road, although they only reached Stilos, where they were scattered by German mortar fire. The Australian, Brigadier Vasey, attended Brigadier Hargest's conference with his battalion commanders. The consensus was that they needed to start moving south that morning, 28 May 1941, rather than waiting for dark. They did not think that the men could fight all day and have a chance at marching all night. Brigadier Vasey agreed with the decision and offered the 2/7th Battalion as a rearguard for the movement. The 5th New Zealand Brigade Headquarters would move south and reinforce the point held by the commandos of Layforce. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

More thoughts on the defense of Maleme at Crete in 1941

When we review the events at the beginning of the German attack on Crete, we can see what seems to indicate a failure of command at the highest level. In the west, at Maleme in particular, there seems to have been an opportunity to defeat the initial attack. That the defense failed was due to the lack of experience or expertise of the New Zealand commanders on the spot and the lack of oversight by General Freyberg. Lt-Col. Andrew, who commanded the western-most battalion lost control of the situation and his battalion was beaten and driven from the battlefield. The other commanders were not even aware of what was happening at the time. The 5th New Zealand Brigade commander was a civilian without very much experience and was more of a political appointee. They were the commanders at the spot at Maleme, and the Germans applied sufficient force and resorted to operating Ju-52 transports from the beach and from dry river beds until they took control of the airfield at Maleme. Instead of knowing that the situation was in doubt and sending reinforcements, the higher commanders were slow to respond, and General Freyberg was particularly hands-off at this time. Only during the withdrawal to the south was General Freyberg very involved in operations. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History. There is apparently a book that criticizes General Freyberg's performance in the Battle for Crete.

Monday, February 10, 2014

28 May 1941, the force at Suda in route to the south

By early 28 May 1941, troops were heading south, hoping to be embarked eventually at Sfakia. General Freyberg had taken command of the troops that had been under General Weston's command. General Freyberg had a headquarters established at Akisfou, a plain. They hoped to embark as many as one thousand men that night and more on succeeding nights. On 28 May, there were still units within a half mile of Suda Bay. Early on 28 May, the rearguards were overwhelmed and surrounded. That was not a good sign for the plan. By 9am, the commanders on the scene decided to move out, as the men were not up to a day long fight and then a withdrawal. The Australian 2/8th Battalion arrived at Babali in the afternoon. The time was about 2pm. They were free from air attack, but the Germans were after the rearguard at Babali. By 9:15pm, they withdrew towards Vrises. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Assessment of the German attack on Heraklion from 21 May to 29 May 1941

The German attack on Heraklion was based on a series of errors, both by the German High Command, and by the local commander. Heraklion was another case where paratroops were dropped onto a strongly defended area with trained troops waiting for the assault. That was an error by the High Command that happened in most paratroop attacks in Crete. The High Command also seriously underestimated the strength of the defending force. They also did not realize the danger to transport aircraft by ground fire, mostly from 40mm Bofors light anti-aircraft guns at Heraklion, but also 3 inch anti-aircraft guns. That caused heavy losses of transports in the first wave and caused the following waves to be understrength and delivered in small groups. The plan was also flawed in that the force was given too many objectives: the communications stie at Gurnes, the town of Heraklion, the airfield, and the protection on the west side. There was also the problem that Colonel Brauer did not concentrate his force and attack at a single point. Even after being reinforced, he was struggling to even concentrate his force. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The German overview for Heraklion in May 1941

The successful defense at Heraklion disrupted the German plans for the attack on Crete. The German attack at Heraklion failed due to the combination of greatly underestimating the defending force, allocating too few resources, and then scattering what attacking force was provided. The grand German plan had been to take the town and port of Heraklion and the airfield, and then bring part of the 5th Mountain Division in by sea and by air. The small vessels that had been destined for Heraklion were turned back and returned to the Piraeus. What German forces that survived from the 1st Parachute Regiment at Heraklion were to prevent British aircraft from being able to operate from the airfield. After seeing British aircraft on the airfield on 23 and 24 May, General Student decided to send in reinforcements to try and take the airfield. To try and get the force on the ground safely, the reinforcing battalion-sized group was dropped to the west. They killed or captured a British platoon after landing. The commander, Major Schulz, directed his troops to take Apex Hill in the morning of 26 May and then beat off Greek attackers from Knossos. On 37 May, another improvised battalion was landed at Gurnes. The original commander was not ready to attack on 28 May, but the British were withdrawn by sea on the night of 28-29 May and left the airfield and town for the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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