Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Crete: mistakes were made at a high level

The author of the Australian Official history blames the British high command for not taking effective action to play for defending Crete. They could only think of Crete as a base to strike at the Dodecanese, and to ignore what would needed to be done to defend the island. The recommendation was that policies be defined and a commander be appointed to carry out those policies. The expectation was that Crete would only be attacked if the Germans had air superiority. If they did, that would mean that sea traffic to Crete would be jeopardized. That would mean that the island would need to have supplies stockpiled before any attack. Apparently, a committee was appointed after the battle to study the mistakes. The main criticism was that for about six months, when steps could have been taken, nothing was done. Was not the theater commander, General Wavell, largely the responsible officer who did not take the necessary steps to defend the island. All during this period, Wavell seems to have been operating in the mode to only do what Churchill wanted, and did not do very well at that, and little else. This is baed on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Crete was the latest of a series of mishaps that befell the British in 1941

To put the battle for Crete into context, this was just one of a series of operations that were conceived on short notice, without adequate planning or resources. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister when Neville Chsmberlain resigned in May 1940, when his policies had led to war with Germany and then to the fall of France. The army was extracted from the continent at Dunkirk, an epic episode. Almost immediately, Britain was attacked by heavy air attacks that were eventually defeated, with the air force being an important role. As early as late 1940, Churchill thought that they ought to be involved in the defense of Greece. The successful campaign in Egypt into Libya was halted and a portion of the force was sent to Greece. Both of those moves had great consequences. The Germans were allowed to send a mechanized force to Libya and Rommel proved superior to the generals that the British could field. General Wavell, the theater commander, had a role in all this, just as the Prime Minister had. Many of the moves were made on the spur of the moment, without adequate planning or supervision. Ultimately, after the defense in Greece collapsed, some of the force was withdrawn and some of the unfortunates were deposited on Crete. General Freyberg was thrown into the role of commander in Greece immediately after his withdrawal from Greece, where he had taken command of the rearguard. General Freyberg had little positive impact on the battle in Crete. The only successes were had by brigade and battalion commanders. The New Zealanders at Maleme failed in the defense. Suda Bay was ultimately lost. The defenders at Retimo did well, but were mostly surrendered when there seemed to be no escape for them. They were handicapped by not having secure communications. They were handicapped by having a commander who only recently had become a battalion commander and then he, Ian Campbell, was thrust into a brigade commander role. If they had been informed they might have withdrawn to the south. The only bright spot was the defense of Heraklion and then the successful embarkation of the force there. They had the luxury of having an experienced British brigade commander and a large force. The movement of men to the south beaches on Crete was without adequate supervision and men were lost who should have been able to have been saved. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Losses in the Battle for Crete in 1941

When we look at the strength of the forces defending Crete on 20 May 1941, we immediately notice that the majority were British:
British:    17,000
New Zealand: 7,700
Australian:  6,500.
That totals to some 31,200 men. Of that total, about 16,500 were evacuated by ship. The total losses were about15,900 men, of which most were prisoners. The British lost mostly men from "base camp", the New Zealanders lost the most wounded: 1,455 men, and the Australians lost 3,102 men as prisoners. The Royal Marines lost 1,055 men as prisoners. The evacuation was attempted by the navy, and they paid a dear price in ships lost for the men that were evacuated. The defense of Crete was largely disorganized and everyone's favorite, General Freyberg never really had any positive influence on the defense. When we see the success achieved at Heraklion, we see what a better organized defense might have looked like. They held their ground and then were safely evacuated from the island. The defense at Retimo was in vain, as most of the men ended the battle as prisoners. Where the battle went poorly was at Maleme and Suda Bay. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Greek caique

The references to the vessel in the Australian Official History call the small sailing vessel a caique. The actual Greekk word is soemthing like kaiki. The name is said to derive from the Turkish kayik. Historically, these small vessels were used for transportation and fishing in the Aegean and Ionian sea as well as the Bosphorus. They are said to be constructed from pine with a frame that is carvel planked, that is not overlapped. The size is typically small, perhaps 16 or 20 feet long, although there are pictures of somewhat larger vessels. The caique has pointed ends that are sharply angled. The bow is high and the greatest beam is far aft. Caiques seem to be generally two-masted with fore-and-aft sails and a bowsprit. I have seen pictures of caiques with a square stern, although the traditional caique seems to have a pointed stern. There is a Wikipedia article on the subject, although it is short on pictures.

Monday, April 21, 2014

More men escaped late in 1941

Even in Greece, there were still Australians who were looking for a way to North Africa or Turkey. In the Peloponese, near Neapolis, there were men, some even from Crete, who wanted to find transportation. One group decided to commandeer a fishing caique and sail to North Africa. They tried with one caique, but the captain was able to fool them into allowing him to escape. They tried again and succeeded. They sailed from Greece on 10 October and arrived west of Mersa Matruh a week later. They had been bombed by both German and British aircraft during the voyage. Another man, Lance Corporal Welsh, eventually wrote of his adventures. He had gone to Crete as part of the 17th Brigade Composite Battalion. His actual unit had been the 2/6th Battalion. He and another Australian, Lance-Corporal Welsh, had escaped from a prison camp at Skines. That was southwest of Canea. They had taken a rowboat, but were attacked by aircraft that drove them ashore and destroyed the boat. For now, they had gone back to the prison camp. By early July, some three thousand prisoners were shipped to Salonika. He was part of a group of thirty men who escaped from a very bad camp about 13 July 1941. Another group had gone out the sewer drain pipe from the latrines. The thirty men broke into three groups. Lance-Corporal Welsh led his group of ten men. He was making progress until he found a dead Cypriot lodged in the pipe. He struggled to either get past or to dislodge the body. They finally backed out of the hole, after fibbing that the Germans were ahead. Fifteen men got out of the manhole, but then one dropped the manhole cover and alerted the guards. They later found that the Cypriot had been shot six times. After a struggle, Welsh was hit on the head with a rifle butt and lost consciousness. He woke in the guard room. The men were against the wall and were being questioned by the camp interpreter. No one would give any information. He was released from the hospital after five days. He had to endure questioning by two men with the Gestapo. In August, he made a successful escape by having Greek clothing under his uniform. He got out of the camp with a working party with many prisoners who were employed grooming horses. He removed his uniform and looked for somewhere to go. He thought if he could find a woman with many children, that would be good. He did and she got him into her house and got her husband. They were not able to converse very well. He was taken to another house where there were six Australians. A priest helped them to escape to Imbros. In Turkey, they joined another group of men who had escaped. They eventually were able to cross the Turkish border to Syria, which by then had been occupied by the British. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Escapes from Crete from July to September 1941

An Australian, Captain Embrey from the 2/1st Battalion estimated in early July 1941 that there were as many as 600 Australians and 400 New Zealanders living with the people of Crete in the western part of the island. He was one of three Australians who walked away from the Maleme prisoner of war camp on 3 July 1941. The way things were, there were several "English" soldiers living in the villages. Private Hoskins, who had escaped with Captain Embrey wrote of meeting what he thought was a Greek. When he said "Kalimera", the reply was "Hello George". Eventually, Captain Embrey met Lieutenant-Commander Vernacos, a Greek who was serving in the RNVR. They, along with two others, aailed in a Greek caique and eventually arrived in Turkey by 4 September 1941. Other groups escaped, as well. Three soldiers, one Australian and two New Zealanders, stole a boat and in the night of 15/16 July. They sailed south and landed at Sidi Barrani during the night of 19 July. A Greek navy captain, Captain Adonis, brought out a group of men in September on board a fishing board. The destroyer Kimberley found them about 40 miles from Bardia. This was on 20 September. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A West-Australian escapes from Crete in June 1941

Private Carroll, from West Australia, found a Greek fishing boat and hoped to find companions to accompany him. He set out in the night on 11 June 1941. Every time he came close to the shore, there was gunfire, so he had to try to sail on his own. The boat was sixteen feet long, and was not intended for rowing. He rigged a piece of driftwood for the mast. He found a piece of canvas that he used as a sail. He had 350 miles to cover to the North African coast. He sailed slowly for six days until he was caught in a storm from the north-west. There were 20 to 30 foot waves, and all he could do is to sail downwind. About ten miles to go with land in sight, the bought filled with water and capsized. He managed to swim to shore and had a hard time in the breakers making landfall, as there were rocks. He managed to get shore on sand and had to lie on the sand to recover. He was found by Maltese soldiers who sent word to the command and he was picked up and taken to Mersa Matruh in the morning. The information that Private Carroll provided led the navy to attempt to take off more men by submarine. Lieutenant-Commander Poole went ashore and made contact with some men who were taken off on HMS Thresher. The officer stayed on Crete and found more men, including Major Sandover. On 18, 19, and 20 August, more than 100 men were embarked on HMS Torbay, another submarine. Among those embarked were 13 officers and 39 men from the 2/11th Battalion that had fought at Retimo. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Other men left on Crete 31 May to 6 June 1941

One group still left on Crete were the men with Major Sandover and Captain Honner of the 2/11th Battalion who had left from Retimo on 30 May 1941 to avoid capture. They had also headed south and were ten miles from Ayia Galini. By the next day, they joined some 600 soldiers who were already there, perhaps mostly British. Another 200 Australians arrived. The senior officers were majors, including Ian Campbell's second-in-command, Major Hooper. He had been with the Greek troops. There were two landing craft beached there. Enterprising Australians got one in water after two days of work. Three men took a sailboat to Timbakion to collect provisions. They were caught by German motorcycles and the officer was wounded. They were able to get back to the landing craft with the provisions. The landing craft set off for Africa, but was intercepted by an Italian submarine, which took off nine of the eleven officers and took them as prisoners to Italy. The landing craft arrived at Mersa Matruh on 5 June. Germans arrived at Ayia Galini on 6 June and wanted the men to surrender. Most did, but Major Sandover and a few others did not. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The thrid landing craft at Sfakia from 1 June 1941

The third landing craft at Sfakia on 1 June 1941 was hidden in a cave by Private Harry Richards, who was in the 2/11th Battalion. The landing craft had 80 gallons of fuel. Private Richards thought that he could take fifty men to the African coast in the landing craft. He would stop at Gavdhos Island to get more fuel, food, and water and then head for Africa. They left Sfakia at 9:20pm on 1 June. They reached Gavdhos Island just before dawn on 2 June. At the island, there were only 55 gallon drums of fuel, which took a lot of space. Harry Richards asked for ten men to volunteer to stay on the island so that there was room for the fuel. They left the island and saw another landing craft in the distance. They ran out of fuel and Harry Richards also made a sail from blankets. They also landed at Sidi Barrani, in their case on 9 June. One of the men on the landing craft later wrote praising Harry Richards for the leadership that he provided to the group. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Two groups escaped Sfakia on a landing craft

By the morning of 1 June 1941, there were still three landing craft at Sfakia. A group of five officers and 135 enlisted men escaped the island on one of the landing craft. 56 of the men were Royal Marines as one of the officers. They had problems, including a limited supply of fuel, food, and water. They were able to arrive at the island of Ghaydapoula on the first day. They had covered 18 miles. On the island, they overhauled the engines. By night, they set out for Africaa. They were out of fuel by the next day. They drifted for three days and then made a sail. They had some men were knew about sailing, so they reached the coast about 19 miles west of Sidi Barrani. They had arrived on 9 June 1941. A second, smaller group also set out from Sfakia on a landing craft on 1 June 1941. They were led by Lieutenant Day of the Welch Regiment. There were 44 men. They were better prepared and had help from Greeks, who gave them food and water. They also reached the beach near Sidi Barrani, this time on 10 June. They sailed much of the way. They were without food for five days. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Obstruction of the escape route at Sfakia

There was active obstruction of the escape route at Sfakia. The 2/7th Battalion was a victim. The 19th Australian Brigade Headquarters was affected by the active obstruction of some men in the route leading to the beach. The Headquarters reported what was happening, once they reached the beach. The 2/7th Battalion commander had reached the beach and had thought that everything was moving along without a problem, so he embarked on a ship. He didn't learn the truth until he arrived at Alexandria. The officers in the group heading for the beach had been in Greece and knew that they had to move fast to keep from being left behind. They eventually reached the cliff that they had to descend to the beach. By the time the battalion had reached the beach, the ships had departed. General Weston had apparently ordered the men left behind to surrender to the Germans. Still, there were several thousand troops left on Crete and eventually some 600 were able to escape by sea to Egypt. Some went in landing craft. Some were picked up by submarine and others went by fishing boat. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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