Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Weapons sent to Crete

 Because of the artillery shortage, some artillery units were armed as infantry. General Freyberg wrote about the situation. There seem to have bee, one hundred guns sent to Crete. Fewer than that arrived at Crete. Others arrived without essential items, such as sights, ammunition, some ammunition without fuses. The gunners were a variety of men  There were regular British army, Australians or men from New Zealand. There were many clever men. In one case, a man made a sight from wood and chewing gum. Other men made charts that let them "shoot without sights or instruments."  There were no complaints and everyone got involved. Of the Italian guns, some were 75mm and others were 100mm. Of the rifles and machine guns, there were American, Italian, and British. 

While all this was being done, the soldiers were constantly attacked from the air. That included ships in Suda Bay, which had started prior to the Greek withdrawal. The unloading of ships was so dangerous, that they started using volunteers. They only stopped when the ship being unloaded was being attacked. In one case, a partially sunk ship had Bren carriers on deck that were unloaded.

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Artillery available in May 1941

 The divisions in Greece had "lost their guns". There had been three British field and medium regiments that had also left their guns. The guns had pretty much all had been disaled when they ere left. The Britsh had always been short of guns. That meant that although there were many infantry battalions in Egypt and Palestine they could be incorporated into divisions due to the artillery shortage.

The Australians had the benefit of a considerable number of "trained" artillery regiments. The 9th Australian Division had three field regiments. One regiment was in Tobruk. The other two were in Egypt "in reserve". The 7th Australian Division also had three field regiments. There were two regiments designated as Australian corps artillery, but they had no guns.

AS of 20 May, the Australian field regiments located in Egypt had guns.. There were 36 new 25pdr guns, 59 18pdrs of varying conditions. There were also 24 4.5in howitzers. By May 31, the Australian field regiments had 60 25pdrs. They might have sent them to Crete, but they did not. Some 49 French and Italian field guns were sent t Egypt. 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Issues with Crete in May 1941

 One odd feature of the situation in Crete was that the Greeks had some 14,000 Italian prisoners captured in Albania. The Greeks were concerned that if the Italians were given to the British, they might violate international law. In the event, the Italians were still on Crete when the Germans attacked.

There were some small amounts of soldiers, equipment, and supplies arrived in Crete. As part of the naval base force, about 2,200 marines arrived. They had coast-defense artillery and anti-aircraft guns. Some 3.7in mountain guns and the artillery unit arrived. There were also 16 light tanks and 6 infantry tanks. Two infantry battalions arrived. They were intended to form a reserve at Retimo and Heraklion.

By 2 May, Wavell had mentioned that there was no field artillery in Crete, as all there had been had been left in Greece. General Blamey sent a message to the Australian government abut this situation. Churchill told the New Zealand prime minister that they would work to send equipment for theNew Zealand division. 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The RAF and The Greek king and government

 As well as the army there were men from the RAF who were not needed in Crete. The RAF presence in Crete included: 30 Squadron at Maleme with 12 Blenheim bombers, 33/80 Squadron at Maleme with 6 Hurricane fighters, 112 Squadron at Heraklion with 12 Gladiator biplane fighters, and 805 Fleet Air Arm Squadron at Maleme with six aircraft, including a mix of Gladiator biplane fighters and Fairy Fulmars.

The King of Greece and the Goverment were located at Canea, which was subjected to daily bombing. General Freyberg was concerned with their safety. Mr. Churchill liked having the King and Government in Crete because of the effect on the people of Greece and on neutral countries. The British government wanted the Greek King to stay as long as possible, although they were concerned with his safety.

General Freyberg negotiated with the King and government on 9 May. He agreed to leave the island with his government on 14 May. He prepared a message for the people of Greece that explained the reasoning. Despite that, the British sent a message telling Freyberg that the Greek King and Government should stay in Crete, even if the Germans attacked Crete. Freyberg disagreed, but told the King and the head of Government that they did not need to leave right then. 

Freyberg wanted to protect the King and Government, and had a platoon from the18th Battalion be guardians for the King and Government. Freyberg requested that the commanders in Cairo provide a ship or flying boat in readiness to evacuate the King and Government.

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Plans for Crete in early May 1941

 There was some interest in having a Greek army in Crete. The Greek political situation meant that not much was possible. It is tempting to call the problem with officers "corruption" but that over-simplifies the situation. WE would just say that Greek society created challenges that kept there from being a Greek Crete force similar to what General Freyberg would have liked. 

The masses of unorganized Australia British and New Zealand troops would be dealt with by transporting men in ships that had brought supplies to Crete. They hoped to cut the sizes down to 4500 New Zealand 3500 Australian and British to 2000 men. Doing that would reduce the need for supplies by removing unproductive men from the island.

The truth was that so many ships had been lost in the withdrawal from Greece combined with German air attacks on Suda Bay that there was no way that all "unproductive men" could be removed from Crete. Some men were transported to Egypt. BY 17 May the men on Crete included "15,000 British 7750 New Zealand 6,500 Australian and 10,200 Greek troops.

This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Issues to deal with on Crete

 Brigadier Vasey was the highest ranking Australian officer on the island. There were too many unarmed men on Crete. Both General Freyberg and Brigadier Vasey wanted to transport the unarmed men to Egypt. Thee were too many unorganized unarmed and unequipped men. There seems to have been no interest by higher level authorities in dealing with this issue. The collapse in Greece seems to have created confusion and had left commanders at all levels feeling overwhelmed. 

The whole battle for Crete was very damaging. While we tend to think of Crete having been decided by airborne forces it was actually German mountain troops who won the battle. they were well-equipped and trained. The only British troops that approached the capability of German mountain troops were the best of the Australians. They proved themselves in the fighting in Syria in the mountains and fighting for the fortified positions.

The British contingent in Crete was primarily the 14th Brigade. You also had "four weak and improvised battalions from Rangers Northumberland Hussars 7th Medium Regiment and the 106th Royal Horse Artillery. There were also the base units coastal artillery and the anti-aircraft units.

This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

What units were in Crete?

 One immediate problem was the lack of staffs. The New Zealand Division had Brigadier Puttick as commander. There was not good information about the units in Crete. The 14th Brigade with additional units of the "original garrison". There was the partial New Zealand Division. There were some Australian units withdrawn from Greece. There were also units from the 1st Armoured Brigade. There were some ten thousand mostly untrained new recruits from Crete. 

The New Zealand Division in Crete had two brigades and seven infantry battalions. There were also some division soldiers. The 6th New Zealand Brigade had been transported from Suda Bay to Egypt. 

There were some Australian units in Crete. The main unit was the18th Brigade fitted asa brigade group. There were 3-1/2 battalions in the brigade and a field regiment. More men arrived on destroyers. One Australian field regiment had been set with the4th New Zealand Brigade.

General Mackay and his staff seem to have been sent to Egypt. That meant that Brigadier Vaseywas the senior Australian officer in Crete. Brigadier Vasey had his brigade group and enough unorganized men for another brigade. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Monday, August 08, 2022

Freyberg told General Wavell that the forces available could not hold Crete

 The British political situation was such that they did not want to hear what was true, that they did not have a strong enough force to hold Crete. Freyberg communicated this message to the government of New Zealand. We suspect that the real problem was Churchill. Wavel was a "team player" who could not tell Churchill that he could not do anything. This is the thinking that made the Greek operation a disaster, which lost Crete, and almost lost North Africa. 

General Wavell praised the New Zealand Division performance in Greece and told Freyberg that he expected an attack in a few days, and that he wanted Freberg to command the defense. Freyberg later wrote that he did not know about the Crete geography the "characteristics of the island" or the nature of the defending force. The commanders did not know a realistic assessment of the attacking force. 

To fix the problems, it took having Alan Brooke as the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and Bernard Law Montgomery as the 8th Army Commander. "Everyone hated Montgomery", but he could win battles. Alan Brooke was the one who recommended Montgomery to Churchill. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

An airborne attack on Crete seems more likely

 Towards the end of April 1941 the Greek government was located at Canea in Crete. The Greek Prime Minister met with senior British officials. Greece had some 2,500 police, 7500 soldiers, and one thousands reserves. The men  were grouped into 11 battalions which were not well-equipped. The Greek government asked that a British general be in charge of defending Crete. The Greek government asked that the British arm the Greek defenders. 

In London, on 28 April, the Joint Intelligence Committee thought that the Germans had enough aircraft to put three or four thousand airborne soldiers on Crete for an initial attack. The Germans "were thought to be capable of conducting two or three sortees a day from Greece and three or for from Rhodes.

Churchill sent Wavell a message that they should expect quite soon an airborne attack on Crete. There were about 30,000 men from Greece on Crete. Wavell thought that there could be a surprise attack on Syria or Cyprus. 

Churchill liked Bernard Freyberg and wanted to put him in charge of defending Crete. Freyberg only arrived on Crete on 29April along with his staff and the 6th New Zealand Brigade. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

The troops and aircraft at Crete

 At some time in May 1941, General Wilson came to Crete. That made him senior officer present and reporting to General Wavell. The Australian General was at Crete for a short time. He departed for Egypt on 29 April  believing that most of his division was in Egypt. 

Most of the 14th Brigade was near Suda Bay, although the 2/Black Watch was at Heraklion. There was a small group of military aircraft at Crete. There were four squadrons that had been in Greece. There were 6-8 Blenheims from Greece. There were also six Hurricanes. Another squadron had six Gladiators. One squadron from Egypt had nine Blenheims. There was also a Fleet Air Arm squadron at Maleme. 

General Wilson thought there was little chance of a German attack any time soon from both air and sea. 

Wilson thought that holding Crete was a commitment beyond what was possible with the forces currently available. There were problems with lack of equipment and the difficulties in supplying the island. The civilian population of Crete that was greater than 400,000 needed to be supplied with food. 

Supply ships would have to travel to unsuitable harbors on the north coast. 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

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