20 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 5 — Crete
After a sound sleep everyone was awakened at 8.30 a.m. (28 April) and told to be ready to disembark in half an hour. As the cruiser steamed slowly into Suda Bay the men crowded on to the decks for their first view of the island of Crete. The port contained the usual warehouse and administrative buildings, and its single quay appeared to be littered with military stores of every description. Beyond the town stretched rolling farmlands rising southwards to the snow-crested White Mountains. Many ships clustered in the bay, some afloat, others resting on the shallow bottom—further evidence of enemy air activity with which the men were already too familiar. However, there was a general feeling of relief at having eluded the enemy in Greece, and in the fresh morning sunshine the troops, though very weary, were in good spirits.
A tug drew alongside, moved HMS Ajax over to a tanker, and the troops disembarked by crossing over the tanker to the wharf. During this move air-raid sirens sounded and ack-ack guns opened fire, but none of the men seemed very concerned and, except for a short pause when the Ajax yawed away from the tanker, disembarkation proceeded smoothly: British and Aussies to the left, New Zealanders to the right. Counted through a gate, the troops were directed along a dusty road for an ‘army mile’ to an area in olive groves where each man could rest and take off his boots. From a British field kitchen the men received a welcome mug of tea, bread, cheese, an orange, chocolate, and a few cigarettes. The assembly points and bivouac area were about seven miles farther on, and the men went at their own speed (‘everyone had a holiday feeling’) and employed various ways of travelling, from staff trucks to Cretan donkeys. Sergeant Johnston1 of Battalion Headquarters and the RSM, WO I Wilson, engaged a Cretan boy with a bicycle page 96 to carry the typewriter, duplicator, and a kit containing the battalion secret documents, money, and pay records. The RSM had brought the Manual of Military Law, but whoever had been entrusted with King's Regulations either failed to arrive or thought them a non-essential.
Arriving at the battalion bivouac area, most of the troops found their company areas and then went to sleep. Waking greatly refreshed, they were able to wash in the deep pool of a nearby stream. After a light issue of rations in the evening everyone bedded down and most men slept well despite the lack of blankets. About 2 a.m. the MO, Captain Gilmour, was seen moving about among the olive trees. When asked by the CO what was wrong he replied, ‘I'm trying to find a warmer tree.’
The next day was spent quietly, resting, cleaning weapons, and taking cover from the Luftwaffe. Seven dive-bombers appeared in the afternoon but did not trouble the area. Later the CO held a parade in the trees and inspected the battalion with his usual care. Every man was armed, except one who paraded holding a hand grenade and with no other equipment or arms. Otherwise personal equipment was very nearly complete. Both 3-inch mortars, complete with base plates, had arrived, but there was very little signalling gear, and thirteen Bren guns had been left at Suda in response to orders from senior officers from other units. During the inspection of Headquarters Company Private Brennan2 was asked where his bayonet was. ‘Sir,’ he replied, ‘my bayonet is an axe in the officers' mess.’
Shortly after the inspection orders were received for Colonel Kippenberger to assume command of 4 Brigade. Major Burrows then became CO with the acting rank of lieutenant-colonel. Major Paterson became second-in-command of the battalion, Captain Jefcoate3 took command of D Company, and Captain Garriock of Headquarters Company.
The Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Wavell, had been instructed that the retention of Crete was of vital importance to British operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Major-General Freyberg was appointed commander of all forces on page 97 the island and Brigadier Puttick, in consequence, assumed command of the New Zealand Division, less 6 Brigade and other troops evacuated to Egypt. Fifth Brigade, with 1 Greek Regiment, was responsible for the defence of Maleme aerodrome and the area from there to Platanias, while 4 Brigade was to cover Canea from attack from the west and destroy any hostile troops who landed in the Prison valley. On 30 April the brigade received orders to move to an area about Galatas with an anti-paratroop and coastwatching role. The troops were to take special care to conceal their positions from air observation and were to dig weapon pits for protection from dive-bombing attacks. Should paratroops land near these positions the battalions were to be prepared to counter-attack immediately.
Twentieth Battalion moved on the 30th to positions in olive groves south-east of Galatas, with Battalion Headquarters on Cemetery Hill, also called Searchlight Hill, and rifle companies on either side of the Prison valley road. The intelligence section had an OP on the hill and worked with the English crew manning the searchlight which gave the feature its name. B Company's signallers, on rising ground to the south, used the heliograph to communicate with Battalion Headquarters. As Divisional Reserve the battalion was on an hour's notice to move. Stand-to was observed from 5.30 a.m. to 7 a.m. and from 7 to 8.45 p.m. Shorts, shirts, and boots of the long, narrow, Indian pattern were issued, and by this time there was one blanket for each man. The greatest shortage was in entrenching tools. Most men, as ordered, had left their picks and shovels in Greece, and they found that digging trenches in the stiff clay was slow, hard work with bayonets, steel helmets, and clumsy Cretan implements. To make matters worse, a ship bringing tools was sunk in Suda Bay.
On 3 May officers and NCOs were addressed by General Freyberg, who indicated the probable nature of the expected attack on the island. His advice for dealing with paratroops was characteristic of him: ‘Just fix bayonets and go at them as hard as you can.’
There was no unit transport, the only truck in the brigade being used by battalions in turn. Rations had to be carried by companies to their areas, and as some of these areas were a page 98 considerable distance from the quartermaster's store it was not long before carrying parties from B and A Companies, the latter near the Turkish fort at Pirgos, had commandeered donkeys to assist them.
In these days men lived in section groups, cooking in improvised utensils over fires of olive twigs or of furniture from deserted houses. Local supplies contributed little to the menu although oranges, eggs, a little bread, potatoes, and dried fruits could be bought. Wine was plentiful and fairly cheap; it had a characteristic resinous flavour for which a taste had to be cultivated, in most cases successfully. One of the greatest deprivations was the shortage of tobacco. In Galatas a branch of the YMCA opened in a building near the church, but its stocks were limited. In one wineshop the proprietor owned a radio set on which the troops could listen to the news. Most interest was taken in the German broadcasts, and Lord ‘Haw-Haw's’ sneer that ‘The Kiwis are now beneath the olive groves of Crete and beneath those trees will meet their doom’ was received with derision.
On Sunday, 4 May, the battalion, always particular in these matters, held a church parade. The following day a syllabus of training covering a period from 9 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. was begun. Bayonet practice and arms maintenance were the chief activities. Stand-to night and morning was strictly observed, and the area was patrolled at night, two men from each section being on picket. About this time Major Wilson marched out, attached to 8 Greek Regiment, and Lieutenant Fountaine took command of C Company. On 5 May the battalion came under direct command of Headquarters New Zealand Division, while the rest of 4 Brigade came under Creforce command as force reserve.
Evidence of the German intention to reduce the island was provided by the number of bombing attacks on the harbour and shipping at Suda Bay. Unloading was confined to night-time, and even then working parties were seldom able to operate without interruption.
On 14 May a Composite Brigade was formed consisting of 20 Battalion, 6 and 8 Greek Regiments, a Composite Battalion of ASC and gunners acting as infantry, and a Divisional Cavalry detachment of three squadrons armed with rifles and Bren guns; in addition, the brigade commanded a platoon and a half of page 99 machine-gunners from 27 Battalion and a battery of 5 Field Regiment armed with three Italian 75-millimetre guns without sights and with little ammunition. Colonel Kippenberger assumed command of this formation, to be called 10 Infantry Brigade, and Brigadier A. S. Falconer temporarily took command of 4 Brigade.
Tenth Brigade's task was to defend Galatas. Twentieth Battalion was not to be employed without the sanction of Divisional Headquarters. The Composite Battalion took up positions from Wheat Hill, west of Galatas, to the beach. The Divisional Cavalry detachment was on the slopes north-west of Lake Aghya, 8 Greek Regiment on the slopes south of the lake, and 6 Greek Regiment south of Galatas and astride the Prison valley road.
Battle positions dug by the Welch Regiment were occupied during stand-to periods and one post in each company area was manned during the day. The intelligence section's OP was on a flat-topped hill overlooking A Company and commanded an excellent view of the sea to the north, of Canea and Suda Bay to the east, and of the road leading to Galatas. The battalion was in communication with Divisional Headquarters on a ‘two-party’ line system, but other communications were by runner.
Just prior to the move back from Galatas, air raids increased in frequency and daring German pilots attacked calmly in broad daylight, diving through the ack-ack barrage. On 13 May there was a particularly heavy raid on Searchlight Hill. In a determined attempt to destroy the searchlight enemy fighters flew right down the beam with guns blazing, but damage and casualties were nil. Raids on Maleme aerodrome and the port of Suda at least gave food for thought, but one during a church parade on 18 May inspired prompt action. As Padre Spence and his congregation wisely took cover someone called out, ‘What about your faith now, Padre?’ As he joined in the general dispersal the Padre replied with customary calm, ‘As strong as ever, but it's just as well to take precautions.’
On 14 May the Kiwi Concert Party and 4 Brigade Band arrived to entertain the troops, and with them came a huge letter and parcel mail which had accumulated in Egypt during the Division's absence in Greece. As rations were still light, the distribution of parcels to the delighted troops was particularly page 101 opportune. On 18 May Brigadier Inglis arrived to assume command of 4 Brigade and Brigadier Falconer returned to Egypt.
For several days a composite company drawn from C, D, and Headquarters Companies had carried out wiring for 6 Greek Regiment. For a time the news of Hess's flight to England supplanted the latest intelligence on the probable date of the German landing, but heavier raids on Maleme aerodrome, Canea, and Suda indicated that that event—‘Der Tag’ the troops called it—was drawing closer.
On the evening of the 19th an extremely heavy air attack was launched against Suda Bay and Maleme. Several British fighters took off in a vain attempt to intercept but were shot down. Ack-ack defences were ruthlessly silenced and not a ship was left afloat in Suda Bay.
Next morning at 7.50 a.m. the blitz began again with a thoroughness that seemed a preliminary to the expected invasion. From Maleme to Suda Bay flights of planes attacked with deliberate precision. For almost an hour all life and communication was paralysed by the roar of aircraft engines and the blast of bombs, cannon, and machine-gun fire. In C Company's area bombs dropped by a lone enemy plane fatally wounded Sergeant Selwyn Musson4 and wounded three others.
With dramatic suddenness the blitz ceased and in the uncanny silence that followed heads peeped out from slit trenches to see the result of this vicious attack. Suddenly a sonorous drone, gradually increasing in volume, was heard to the west. Into the vision of the spellbound troops, coming in increasing numbers from beyond the sea, swept a tremendous air armada, hundreds of planes steadily approaching through the clear morning sky. The invasion had begun. As the watchers realised the significance of this amazing sight the aircraft began to disgorge hundreds of paratroops, their olive-green, white, brown, and red parachutes swaying to earth in a gradually descending shower. At the same time groups of short-bodied, broad-winged planes of a different type were noticed moving noiselessly through the air. These were the gliders, towed in batches of six by three-engined Junkers which turned back at the coast.
The first paratroops seen were about nine miles away at page 102 Maleme airfield. For a short period the sky in that area was full of them; no one who saw it is ever likely to forget the sight. Others were dropped south-west of Galatas. Some landed close to 7 General Hospital, which they captured, and advanced towards Galatas. Most of the landings were made outside the battalion perimeter although some supplies, including bicycles, landed towards the beach. A few enemy troops landed near Divisional Headquarters and holed up in an old Turkish fort. They were dealt with by engineers, and 15 Platoon under Lieutenant Upham was sent over to protect Divisional Headquarters. One German officer landed away from the rest near battalion battle headquarters and was shot by the brigade signals corporal. Some of the gliders swept low over the section posts and were engaged with small-arms fire. Private Paul Amos5 of D Company fired at one with an anti-tank rifle and it disappeared over the ridge to crash-land further on. About this time it was rumoured that Germans were wearing British battle dress and messages were sent by runner to each company to order the men to change into shorts. This rumour was later found to be incorrect, but one D Company man wearing battle dress was fired on by an English soldier about 400 yards away and had a hole drilled in his small pack.
|0750 hrs.||Blitz starts, bombing and machine-gunning.|
|0845 hrs.||Action stations. Paratroops have landed….|
|0915 hrs.||More paratroops, brown and white 'chutes, 8 or 10 troop carriers.|
|0945 hrs.||More paratroops land near our old position [Searchlight Hill].|
|1000 hrs.||News that paratroops landing in NZ battledress. My own shorts being washed; borrowed a pair … and changed smartly.|
|1015 hrs.||No planes about at the moment.|
|1040 hrs.||Pop Lynch made a brew of tea.|
|1045 hrs.||10 more troop carriers dropping paratroops.|
|1145 hrs.||Had some tinned pears and Mavrodaphne wine.|
|1200 hrs.||Bombing and a lot of smoke on hills right of Suda Bay.page 103|
|1400 hrs.||Been a bit quiet.|
|1500 hrs.||More air activity, the Stukas whining and bombing Canea….|
|1630 hrs.||Brewed up and had some bully.|
|1700 hrs.||More troop carriers dropping supplies.|
|1830 hrs.||Dorniers flying round and round, about 10 of them. Big smoke from Suda Bay.|
|1903 hrs.||6 Dorniers bomb Canea viciously.|
|1910 hrs.||Same again.|
|1917 hrs.||Same again.|
|1925 hrs.||Yellow-nosed Messerschmitts machine-gunning.|
|1930-45 hrs.||Constant bombing and machine-gunning.|
Thus ended the first day. The paratroops who had landed in the New Zealand sector had suffered heavy casualties, but 22 Battalion had been forced off Maleme aerodrome and the enemy now had a field where he could land reinforcements. Months later it was learned that one of the first battalion casualties was Major Cliff Wilson, attached to 8 Greek Regiment. When their area had been surrounded by paratroops Major Wilson and the other New Zealanders had assembled at a pumping station on a hill south of the reservoir. The station consisted of a small concrete compartment dug into the hillside. It was locked by a narrow steel door, in front of which the clay excavated from the hole had been heaped on either side of the entrance, making a sort of alley leading up to the door— ‘a slit trench with one end open’. The party took shelter inside the tanks, standing thigh deep in water in the darkness while Germans moved around in the vicinity. Unable to break out, the party was forced to remain in hiding. The next afternoon Major Wilson went out to investigate the position. He moved along, looking over the left-hand parapet, and had just called to the others to follow him—‘Come down and have a go; there are about five of them down here’—when he was killed instantly. Shortly afterwards the rest of the party was captured.
On 21 May a severe blitz began at 6.25 a.m. and lasted for half an hour, after which a steady stream of enemy troop-carrying planes landed on Maleme aerodrome, disgorged their troops, and disappeared out to sea. Others dropped stores and equipment, including armed carriers and motor-cycles. Private Allison7 meticulously noted each arrival in the ‘I’ section log- page 104 book; it was estimated that at one stage a troop-carrier landed every two and a half minutes. As a reserve unit 20 Battalion could do nothing but watch. Patients from 7 General Hospital, who had arrived the previous night, were still in the lines and were in an unhappy plight. They had already spent a night in the open; many had dysentery, there were no rations for them, and the extra numbers soon attracted enemy aircraft which gave the area a drubbing.
About 5.30 p.m. warning orders were received from 4 Brigade that the 20th was to come under 5 Brigade's command and be used to counter-attack the Maleme aerodrome. It was stressed that, as the enemy was expected to make a sea landing this night, no troops were to leave their positions until they had been relieved by 2/7 Australian Battalion. It was expected that the Australians would arrive about 8 p.m.; and after the relief had been carried out the 20th would use the Australian battalion's trucks to go on to 5 Brigade Headquarters near Platanias and about four miles from Maleme. About 6 p.m. Lieutenant-Colonel Walker of 2/7 Australian Battalion arrived from Georgeoupolis with his advance party.
At dusk guides from each platoon area assembled at Battalion Headquarters and at 8.45 companies were ordered to pack and be ready to move at 10 p.m. Information was rather sketchy, but at the orders group conference Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows stated that the battalion was going forward that night to take Maleme aerodrome. First the Navy would shell the 'drome; then the RAF would bomb it. After that the infantry would go in. The battalion would get its final orders from 5 Brigade at Platanias. There had been no time for reconnaissance. During the evening Colonel Kippenberger rang Colonel Burrows and wished him luck. He says: ‘The 20th was my Battalion, going into action seriously for the first time, and I felt heartbroken.’
As the hours passed and no relief arrived Colonel Burrows kept ringing 4 Brigade; each time he was told by Brigadier Inglis that the 20th must not go until relieved. In the meantime, starting about midnight, gunfire flickered out to sea north of Canea. Then came the long, far-reaching sweep of a searchlight and again quick flashes, followed by the slow glare of burning ships. The Navy was engaged in repulsing the German seaborne invasion.page 105
By about I a.m. on 22 May, at which time the 20th was supposed to begin the attack with the Maoris, the leading elements of the Australian battalion had arrived, and half an hour later Colonel Burrows was told by Brigadier Inglis to get away to 5 Brigade Headquarters, send on the first two companies that were relieved, and get the others up as soon as he could.
C and D Companies, the first to be relieved, hurriedly embussed and followed the CO's party to Platanias. The Cypriot drivers had not been told that they were to take 20 Battalion forward and had to be restrained from attempting to return. Various reasons were given by the Australians for their late arrival. They had been unable to leave their positions till relieved, their relief was late, they ran into heavy air attack on the way and some vehicles lost contact with the guide who was to direct them through Suda.
At 5 Brigade Colonel Burrows received his orders from Brigadier Hargest. The battalion was to attack the aerodrome between the road and the coast from the east and was to capture it and the guns which had been doing so much damage to 5 Brigade. This done, the 20th was to move to the high ground south of the aerodrome (Point 107), which was the objective of the Maori Battalion attacking simultaneously with the 20th but on the south side of the road. There the 20th was to remain, overlooking the aerodrome, and prevent further enemy aircraft from landing; the Maoris were to return to Platanias by first light.
By 3.30 a.m. C and D Companies were on the start line just across the bridge over the Platanias River. The position was so desperate, in view of the time factor which required the troops to be on their objective before first light, that the CO, after waiting half an hour, began the advance with only these two companies. The promised air support had not bombed the aerodrome and the Navy had been fully occupied with the seaborne expedition.
Three light tanks from 3 Hussars under Lieutenant Roy Farran8 took part in the early stages of the advance, moving one behind the other along the road. At first the tanks were shooting over C Company towards the beach. Just before dawn they were engaged by a Bofors gun firing down the road. The leading tank, while turning, was hit, the guns of the second tank jammed, and the third had orders not to go on alone. Its commander, however, assured Colonel Burrows that he would follow as soon as he could. ‘We didn't see the tanks again,’ said the Colonel. Their absence was felt later when dawn broke.
C Company worked at first through olive groves and vineyards with short, low-growing vines and a few houses. D Company's advance was made through more open country, fairly level, but with some ditches and steep-banked stream beds. There were no olive trees but plenty of scrub and clumps of bamboo like shelter belts run wild, and more open country near the gravel beach.
Before long the leading companies were in among the German posts. From in front, on either side, and sometimes from behind came streaks of fire, but the tracer gave the enemy's positions away, enabling men to pick their way between the lines of fire and get close enough to throw grenades. It was a strange sensation for the attackers: the machine-gun fire seemed terrific, and tommy guns, pistols, grenades, and the shouts and screams of men combined in an unearthly din like nothing they had ever heard before. Through the darkness the troops pressed resolutely on, meeting resistance in depth—in ditches, behind page 108 hedges, in the top and bottom stories of houses, in fields and gardens along the road. In some cases the Germans had bored holes through the walls of houses and used bales of hay as protection.
As extreme [left] flank man I walked in the ditch along the road and it was my responsibility to see that no Huns got through on the road behind us. Suddenly we ran into our first opposition. A Jerry machine-gun nest opened fire on us at a range of 50 yards and they got four of our boys before we could drop to the ground. The man just on my right gave a sharp yelp and I crawled over to see what was the matter. Two fingers of his right hand had been blown off by an explosive bullet. Jerry was using tracer and it was strange to lie there under the olive trees and see the bullets coming. I could see the explosive ones go off in a shower of flame and smoke as they hit the trees. We waited on the ground and finally the order came for my section to advance and wipe out the nest.
We edged forward on our stomachs until we were within 20 yards of the Nazis, who were tucked away behind a large tree, and then opened fire with our one Tommy gun, one Bren gun and eight rifles. As we kept up the fire the platoon officer [Lt Upham] cautiously crawled round to the side and slightly to the rear of the tree. Although it was still dark, we could tell by the way the Jerries were shouting to each other that they didn't like the look of the situation. When he got round behind the tree the platoon officer jumped to his feet and hurled three Mills bombs, one right after another, into the nest and then jumped forward with his revolver blazing. Single-handed he wiped out seven Jerries with their Tommy guns and another with a machine gun…. Two machine-gunners managed to hobble away in the darkness, but we got them later.
We reformed our lines and as we did so I could hear shouting from down along the beach, where the boys were dealing with more nests. We pushed on slowly for another 50 yards or so. By this time it was getting light and I could make out the shape of a house on the edge of the road just ahead. Just then Jerry opened up with machine guns from the windows of the house and from a small outhouse at the rear. We fell to the ground again and took cover.
I got a bead on one of the windows and as soon as one of the Nazis poked his head above the sill with his machine gun I let fly…. Our platoon officer dashed ahead again and came around from the back towards the door of the outhouse.
‘Come on out,’ he shouted. Jerry's answer was a burst of fire…. page 109 Taking a Mills bomb from his pocket he [Upham] calmly pulled the catch then carefully placed it into the hand of a dead Jerry whose arm was stretched out through the outhouse door.
‘Take that, you b—s,’ I heard him say; then he stepped back and waited for the explosion. As soon as the bomb went off he shouted, ‘Come on, boys, they're finished’ and we rushed forward.
There were about eight German wounded inside. Half a dozen more came running out of the house … with their hands held high and … yelling ‘Kamerad, kamerad’. The majority of them were well-built, strapping fellows who looked like picked men. Most of them knew a smattering of English. In neither nest had I seen any officers: those in charge were either corporals or sergeants.
We dumped their guns down the well and left their wounded under guard to wait for the upcoming stretcher bearers, and then moved on. Over on my left I could hear wild shouts coming from the Maori lines as they forged ahead. All along the line to the beach we ran into Jerry fire as the enemy retreated back on to the aerodrome …. at one point I saw a long bamboo fence neatly whittled down as the Germans raked their machine guns across the fields and groves.
It was broad daylight by this time. Our lines had strung out in a semicircle, on my right the boys on the beach strip had managed to fight their way through to the aerodrome … but we in the middle sector came up against Maleme village,10 where Jerry had taken up vantage points in the houses. We slowly blasted our way from house to house, wiping out one nest after another, while the snipers kept up a constant, deadly fire….
At one house the Nazis had mounted a captured British Bofors gun from the aerodrome behind a well and were turning it on our men with devastating results. We just had to wipe out that gun crew. With two Bren gunners I sneaked forward until I was in a position to cover my platoon officer who …. crawled forward on his stomach for 30 yards; then he tossed his Mills bomb smack on to a gunner crouched behind the wall. We rushed forward and carelessly stood up behind the battered gun and the dead Jerry. At that moment a Hun sniper opened up from the houses. The New Zealander on my right died instantly with a bullet in his head. The Maori on my other side fell to the ground with a bad wound in his stomach.
I flopped behind the well and waited for a chance to dash for cover…. A minute later I scrambled to my feet and dashed across the rough road. Right in the middle I … tripped and fell sprawling on my face. Instantly the sniper opened up on me. I decided the only thing to do was to lie doggo and make believe he had killed me.page 110
For five agonizing minutes I lay still as a corpse. Then, for some reason, he took another shot at me. The bullet pinged into the road just under my knee…. for 20 more horrible minutes I lay dead still. Then, gathering myself for a spring, I jumped and ran for the ditch on the far side of the road where his bullets couldn't reach me. I wiggled back down the ditch and rejoined my outfit….
The troops in Pirgos village were under fire from snipers and several men were wounded. Upham and Lieutenant Bain11 of Headquarters Company rallied the men to carry out the casualties when the battalion was ordered to withdraw left into the hills. While Bain and Hill-Rennie gave covering fire, Upham and a private carried Lieutenant George Brown,12 badly wounded in a leg, out on a door. ‘While we waited by the roadside I ran through the special kit carried by all the Nazi parachutists,’ said Hill-Rennie. ‘It contained, among other things, some energine tablets and six bars of Cadbury's (English) chocolate. I ate one of the bars and I remember thinking that it was the best thing I had tasted in my life…. I managed to make my way up to the hilltop overlooking Maleme where my outfit was reforming some sort of line. By this time the German air activity was terrific.’
Meanwhile, on the right flank, D Company engaged enemy posts both in scattered houses and in clumps of canes. Half an hour after the start of the attack, while the men were awaiting the signal to attack a farmhouse and outbuildings, a deep-throated German officer broke the silence only a few yards ahead by shouting ‘Kompanie! kompanie!’ and rattling on with other orders. Enemy troops began to move about quickly and then opened fire. The men rushed the house and, after grenades had been thrown, the enemy surrendered. The company pushed on, houses on the way up to the aerodrome being taken in turn and machine-gun nests in the bushes being dealt with as they were discovered. Private Amos fired his anti-tank rifle at one of these posts, silencing the post and deafening those of his section in front of him. Towards daylight Lieutenant page 111 Maxwell,13 who appeared to be the only officer left in the company, handed over to Sergeant Sutherland14 and went over to the road to contact Battalion Headquarters. The Adjutant, Captain Cameron,15 instructed him to continue the advance and Maxwell rejoined the company, which had kept going, near the edge of the aerodrome. Here 5 Brigade mines and barbed wire were encountered, which hindered progress. Groups of D Company reached the clear part of the aerodrome by the beach and saw scores of aircraft on the ground. Private Amos again used his anti-tank rifle with effect, this time on one of the aircraft.
By this time it was broad daylight and the forward troops had come under most intense mortar and machine-gun fire, with the clear ground of the aerodrome still to be crossed. Casualties were heavy: some sections had only one man left. Lieutenant Maxwell then pulled the survivors back about 100 yards to the cover of some bamboos where sections of B Company were found.
Half an hour after the leading companies had set off the supporting companies, A, B, and HQ, had reached Platanias and received brief directions from Captain Rice, who exhorted his men to the task ahead of them. The companies marched straight off to the sea, deployed, turned left and, at the signal blast of Rice's whistle, advanced. A Company extended from the road, inclusive, half-way to the coast, and B Company from there to the sea. Headquarters Company platoons moved as a second supporting line. After about 800 yards had been covered firing began in front, and some distance ahead A Company caught up with the rear of C Company, which was recognised by the voice of Lieutenant Upham. There were a few isolated shots at first and the odd German missed by the leading company had to be dealt with until the platoons reached Pirgos village just before first light. Here tracer became more common. Because of the rough ground, the patches of canes and low-growing vineyards, contact was not easily kept and sections page 112 went forward to a large extent on their own. No. 8 Platoon, spiritedly led by Lieutenant Markham,16 caught up with D Company in front of the aerodrome and had some severe fighting. The platoon was almost cut off when the Germans later advanced on the right flank.
B Company, in extended formation ‘like a hare drive’, had had a busy time mopping up. A strongpoint in one house was engaged by throwing grenades through a window. There was a rush and a stream of Germans dashed out like sheep in a panic. Corporal Lockie17 got seven in a row with his tommy gun. Machine-gun fire was intense and there was a Bofors firing at the same time. At one stage the company was held up by fire that seemed to come from a burnt-out plane on the beach. After all Bren guns had been turned on it there was no more trouble from that quarter. In places enemy machine-gun positions were not deeply dug in and some gun crews surrendered when approached. Others hid by their guns, hoping not to be seen, and when stumbled upon came up like rabbits; but more often there was grenade and bayonet work as Germans hung on till the bitter end.
At first light B Company found itself close to D Company, which was a short distance ahead. The enemy appeared to have withdrawn to the far edge of the aerodrome and was covering the level ground with heavy machine-gun fire. Planes were now coming over at tree-top height, strafing up and down the lines, and the troops were fairly well pinned down.
When B Company went to ground near the airfield Lieutenant McPhail18 went back for orders to Captain Rice, who was well forward and moving about ‘as if he was on a parade ground’, completely ignoring the small-arms fire. The company's position, however, was not pleasant. There was no shelter under the olive trees and the scrub and vines were too low to permit anyone to stand up unobserved. The bamboo was close but too obvious a choice of cover, and some of the tracks through it were wired and booby-trapped. Rice decided to ask page 113 the CO for instructions. The next few minutes are well described by Private Clarke,19 one of three brothers in the battalion:
By this time it was daylight and I could see Captain Rice ahead of me walking about. He called for a runner and as I was attached to B Company in that capacity I went over. He told me to go to Bn HQ and ask Col. Burrows what we should do. Earle Cuttriss,20 the other runner, went with me. Captain Rice had said, ‘Two of you better go.’ We were shot at all the way as we cut straight across through the grape vines, the tops of which were being shot off. Reaching a house I was directed to a bridge near the road where I reported to Col. Burrows and gave him the message. He replied that B Company were to stay where they were. Cuttriss and I returned. The fire was worse than before. I delivered the message to Captain Rice who asked me to go back to say that things were a bit too hot and to ask whether we could withdraw. Cuttriss and I started off again but I lost him on the way. Later I found that he had been wounded in the back of the neck.
Reaching Bn HQ I gave Col. Burrows the message and he seemed rather upset…. The C.O. said ‘Yes. Withdraw and come up here.’ I ran back with this message to Captain Rice who was standing behind some canes. He called to McPhail, ‘Come on you chaps, you've got to get out of here.’ I was standing near him when an MG opened up, firing through the canes. I dropped down beside some Headquarters chaps who were already lying there and was about to suggest that Captain Rice do the same when he was hit and fell [About this time, also, Lieutenant Scoltock21 was mortally wounded as he shepherded the men across to the shelter of some trees.]
By this time McPhail and the rest had gone so I called to the others to follow me and set off for the road…. At the road I met Charlie Upham who asked me where B Company were. I pointed to the beach and said, ‘What's left of them are down there.’ I asked him where Bn HQ was and he said, ‘Up on that hill,’ pointing to a hill on the left of the road. I went up the creek bed and …. reported to Bn HQ and told the Adjutant that Captain Rice was killed.
By this time Colonel Burrows had appreciated that it would be impossible to carry the first stage of the original plan any further since it would mean crossing the open ground of the airfield in broad daylight under heavy fire from the ground and page 114 attack from the air. He decided to carry out a modified form of the second stage of the plan and try to get what remained of his battalion in behind the Maoris and eventually, if the Maoris had taken their objective, on to the high ground overlooking the aerodrome. Runners were sent out to the companies with these orders, but by this time they were well scattered and the message did not reach them all. Part of D Company received the order to withdraw to the high ground, but Maxwell's group nearer the coast withdrew through B Company to the start line, accompanied by 8 Platoon of A Company.
On getting back to Platanias D Company was sent forward in the afternoon to a point 300 yards past a church situated beyond the bridge and on the right-hand side of the road leading to Maleme. The company was to hold a line until relieved. The advance met intense machine-gun and mortar fire and halted at a creek near the church, where the men took shelter under trees and in some canes. At dusk the advance was resumed but again the men could make little progress against small-arms and Bofors fire. The night was spent in a creek bed, and next morning 5 Brigade withdrew the party to Platanias as there was every likelihood of its being cut off.
In the meantime platoons of Headquarters Company had had a wide variety of experiences as third line in the attack. The anti-aircraft platoon was led with determination by Lieutenant Bain and actually caught up with C Company in Pirgos village, sharing in the heavy fighting there. The mortar platoon, which had arrived in Crete with all its weapons except the anti-tank rifle, had been halted at the Platanias bridge by machine-gun fire. Unable to move forward, Lieutenant Rhodes reported to 5 Brigade Headquarters and was ordered to come under command of the Maori Battalion. Rhodes then took command of the Maori Battalion mortar platoon—seven men, two mortars, and their ammunition.
Pioneers at Lava. From left: Jack Lloyd, Harry Reid, Sgt Peter McGhie, Don McLean, Harry Cain, and Stan Weir
Lieutenant Upham at Kriekouki
A group of 20 Battalion officers on the day of arrival in Crete
From left: Lt M. G. O'Callaghan, Maj C. Wilson (back to camera), Lt J. D. Aiken, Lt G. A. Brown, Maj J. T. Burrows (back to camera), Lt D. J. Fountaine, Lt-Col H. K. Kippenberger, Capt D. B. Cameron, Capt M. C. Rice (standing), 2 Lt N. J. McPhail (standing), 2 Lt C. H. Upham (holding mug), Lt R. L. D. Powrie.
The counter-attack on Maleme airfield
Junkers 52S dropping paratroops, Galatas
C Company platoons at Baggush
From left: A. T. Shaw, R. C. Bellis, A. G. Pepper, J. H. Breeze, J. U. Vaughan, V. Horgan, Sgt B. N. Beechey, H. W. Johnson, 2 Lt C. H. Upham, F. J. G. Lidgett, and R. B. E. Matthews
Battalion area in the Baggush Box, November 1941
Sgt J. D. Hinton, VC
Upham's platoon, October 1941. Playing cards are (from left) Percy Port, Bob May, Alan Pepper and Bob McBrydie; Lt Upham, with pipe, looks on
In the meantime, far ahead on the Maleme road, the situation was critical. After receiving the second message from Captain Rice, Colonel Burrows realised that the attack could not be pushed any further. In fact, it was surprising that the forward companies had been able to advance as far as they did in the time. The only supporting arms were a few Italian 75-millimetre guns fired by the New Zealand gunners from the Platanias area at dawn. The range was too great and the shells fell near the attacking troops. Contact had been kept with the Maoris, on one or two occasions by the CO himself, but communication with the companies was by runner and most difficult to maintain. The Battalion Headquarters group had itself been forced to take cover near a bridge. Colonel Burrows had had a narrow escape when a burst of enemy fire ripped his pistol holster and tore his trousers on either side, disintegrating harmlessly a hand grenade which was in his pocket.
After B Company had been ordered to move up the gully near Pirgos village and take up position behind the Maoris, Private Sheppard23 of A Company was sent towards the canes to collect page 116 any troops in that area. He returned later to say that he had been shot at on all sides by Germans but could find no trace of 20th troops. When Lieutenant Upham was asked for two men to bring back D Company from the right flank, he went himself with Lance-Sergeant Kirk24 and brought back some B Company men from round the aerodrome. The mortar and machine-gun fire on the open ground was heavy and they were lucky to get back alive. Planes were landing on the 'drome and troops were jumping out and getting straight into the battle, for the Germans were following up the withdrawal. To protect B Company's move up the creek bed the CO put A Company under Captain Washbourn to line the bank of a ravine, while Lieutenant Bain and the ack-ack platoon cheerfully held up the enemy as the wounded were carried away.
Gradually what remained of A, B, and C Companies and elements of D Company moved into the area on the hill behind the Maoris. They were actually in 23 Battalion's area, and Colonel Burrows at once got in touch with Lieutenant-Colonel Leckie,25 CO of that unit, and Colonel Dittmer26 of the Maori Battalion. All agreed that the best use that could be made of the 20th was to use it to strengthen weaknesses in the line.
By about midday the companies were in a defensive position with a distant view of Maleme aerodrome but unable to reach it with fire. They had no tools and could not dig in. Soon the German mortars began to shell them, inflicting casualties, and a captured Bofors gun added to their troubles. A Company, on a hill, could see enemy reinforcements arriving by air all day, well out of reach of the Brens. Battalion Headquarters saw an enemy gun section in operation beside a house near the aerodrome. Men loaded the gun, fired, and ran for cover again under the trees. B Company, in 23 Battalion's Headquarters page 117 Company area, was located in and about a small group of houses like a country estate and had good slit trenches dug by 23 Battalion. The company overlooked the flat down which Germans were infiltrating, their helmets occasionally bobbing up above the scrub. The fire of four Bren guns was used with effect. Later in the morning ‘about twenty Germans as bold as brass’ came down the road from the aerodrome, apparently confident that they had air cover. They were pulling a gun that looked like a Bofors. Lieutenant McPhail directed the Bren-gunners to sight on the position into which the Germans were pulling the gun, and when they were in a close group a concentration of fire ended their activity.
C Company was well forward, and as the Germans pushed out patrols feeling for a gap in the line, Lieutenant Upham and his men repulsed them, on one occasion capturing a machine gun. Their area had three heavy mortar bombardments.
About dusk, after heavy strafing, the enemy attacked a ridge held by the Maoris slightly to the left of 20 Battalion. Colonel Burrows describes the action:
They [the Germans] gave the ridge all they had with MG and mortar fire and then attacked with rifle and bayonet. I was across a valley just behind the ridge attacked and had had sent me by Col. Leckie a group of oddments from his HQ and any other soldier he could collect. These, in addition to any I could gather up were waiting ready to counter-attack if the Germans were successful…. The Maori doesn't believe in waiting to be attacked if he is not dug in. When the Germans got to within 20 or 30 yards there came the usual Maori yelling and shouting and down the hill they all went to meet the Hun. I couldn't see but just had to wait after things had quietened to decide from speaking voices whether we'd won or lost. Not long afterwards I heard, ‘Don't waste any more bullets on the b—s,’ so I dispersed my group and we prepared to spend a long night where we were.
The position when night fell on 22 May was, therefore, that the survivors of A, B, and C Companies, less 8 Platoon, were in position on the high ground south of the road, while most of D Company, 8 Platoon, and elements of Headquarters Company were in the Platanias area near 5 Brigade Headquarters or in the muddy watercourse about half-way between Platanias and Pirgos.page 118
The supplying of the forward troops presented a serious problem for the quartering staff. A convoy of three 7-ton lorries driven by Royal Marines and carrying Battalion Headquarters personnel, the ‘I’ section, rations, and mortar ammunition set out for Maleme early on the morning of the 22nd. The convoy was led by the battalion second-in-command, Major Paterson, in a 15-cwt Fordson, but became separated from its leader, lost its way, and eventually arrived back at the Canea bridge at daylight. The ammunition had to be off-loaded and the 15-cwt took over the job of taking supplies forward. During the day Private Don Caley27 made several trips in the 15-cwt truck, and in the evening he set off again in advance of the 7-ton lorry which was to try to get through with ammunition. This small convoy encountered the famous ‘ambush’, here described by Private Morris28:
The first part of the trip as far as the road block … [at the Composite Battalion] was uneventful, except that we passed a fairly large crowd of prisoners, under guard, moving down in the general direction of Canea…. From the road block on, the road continued round one or two bluffs and then the escarpment eased off to the left (the sea was on our right and not far away) so that we went out on to a narrow plain covered by either bushes or flax or cactus and long grass. We … passed several burning houses and then … [just before Ay Marina] the fireworks commenced with … a man jumping from behind cactus and shouting ‘Surrender’ several times. Following this, a stream of bullets … commenced to go past with tracer interspersed. On the 15-cwt, which took it all, there were I think, five, with Dvr Caley driving, RQMS Bolwell29 passenger, myself on the toolbox in the centre and Corporal Spriggs30 behind the RQMS…. At the cry of ‘Surrender’ I can remember pulling my trigger in the general direction of the shouter, unfortunately missing. This shot, it appears, caused the RQMS temporary stunning as it was only an inch or so away from his ear, and that will explain his late departure from the truck, … several seconds or minutes after us. Cpl Spriggs, I remember, went off the truck like a sack of spuds…. [He pitched forward over the bonnet (there was no windscreen) on to the road, falling at the feet of one of the enemy, who was forced to step aside to avoid him. Unhurt by his fall except for abrasions, Spriggs lay ‘doggo’ and awaited developments.] Apparently the rest had also decamped by different page 119 routes when I took off via the driver's seat, rifle and all. On clearing the truck I acquired the prone position with much greater speed and skill than in Burnham or Maadi days and was in rather a dilemma as to whether to put my bayonet on or not. I eventually did, but it rattled so much (I must have been either very nervous or it was a badly fitting bayonet) I took it off again. My water bottle also caused me worry as I had to sling it on the kicking straps and it dragged and rattled.
Meanwhile the RQMS had come to, to find that a German officer standing within a few feet of him was again ordering him to surrender. Instead of complying he stared at the German for a moment and then quickly stepped down on to the road on the far side, hearing as he did so a fire order given in German. He slipped round the side of the truck and, according to Morris, ‘went past me like a Catherine wheel’, to the accompaniment of much tracer.
As it happened [Morris continues] I think that I was the only one with a hand grenade, they being scarce on the island (except for certain people who seemed to have boxes of them), so after a little thought to discern the Jerries' movements, I finally let them have it…. I must have got their GOC troops as the loudest voice closed down and …. except for some moaning, quiet reigned, and during that time I worked my way backwards through the odd undergrowth to a house that stood about 20 yards or so away from the truck. Here … I wondered what to do and, thinking that perhaps another crowd … might come through and get caught as we had, I decided to try and circumnavigate the ‘wily’ Jerry…. I finally decided to swim off from the beach and try and get ashore opposite the village…. I planned to watch the headland … and try to come ashore opposite it and get to 5 Bde HQ or 20 Bn HQ.
I worked my way to the beach past the house. One had to be careful as it was fairly open and they had a big searchlight playing up the coast from near Canea…. Stripping, except for Bombay bloomers and wrist watch and burying all, plus rifle, in the sand, I worked my way down and into the water and took off for ports indefinite. It was here that the RQMS told me afterwards that he had seen me and nearly let me have it, placing me as one of the Jerries.
Just how long that swim took I don't know but it was for at least 1 ½ hours, but as I was about done by the time I got ashore, it was probably more. The main trouble was that the water was so phosphorescent that overarm could not be used, only dog-paddle, as even breast-stroke caused sparks…. That Ay Marina bluff seemed to go backwards at times as there must have been a current. However, I finally made a spot opposite it and came in to land … nearly page 120 opposite the village. Being very cold I tried to run along the beach … to get warm, and seeing a point of vegetation I decided to work my way across to it by degrees. This I started to do and immediately came under … fire, immediately going to earth. On quietness descending, forgetting our password ‘Salmon Trout’, I endeavoured to call ‘Friend’, only to find my throat out of action. However, I cleared a ‘No. I stoppage’ and managed to get the message away. This brought ‘Salmon Trout’ to which I gave ‘Blenheim’ and was told to come forward and be recognised, which I did with hands up and fingers well spread!
My captors told me that they were a 5 Brigade HQ patrol who, it appears, heard the noise of our ambush but did not move far enough down the road to recover the truck. I told my story and, not having glasses or boots, caused some noise on the way in over the thorny rough ground to deliver my message to those higher up and, under Padre Spence, to be shown a place to have a rest…. The following morning I recovered what clothing and equipment I had left in both the truck and under the sand and continued on back to our old area at Canea bridge.31
Battalion Headquarters, also, had had its problems. After its false start the night before the ‘I’ section went forward about 1 p.m. on 22 May with the RSM, who organised small parties near Platanias village while the section established a check post near a small white house on the road. German tommy-gun fire came from unpredictable directions and odd buildings, indicating that the enemy was infiltrating steadily. At dusk shots and tracer came closer and at one stage a wounded Bren-carrier driver from another unit staggered in, saying that he had been ambushed.
This ambush and that experienced by the quartering staff formed part of an enemy movement from south to north-west of Galatas in an attempt to cut the Canea-Maleme road behind 5 Brigade. The brigade had been severely attacked; its men were considerably exhausted and were not considered fit to make a further attack.
With the approval of General Freyberg, General Puttick decided that the Maori Battalion would withdraw on the night of 22–23 May to its former area which it had held when in brigade reserve; 23 and 21 Battalions were to occupy areas to the east of the Maoris, and the 20th was to return to its former page 121 position near Canea in divisional reserve. Engineer detachments were to move to an area north of Galatas where they would come under command of 4 Brigade. Artillery and machine-gun personnel were to accompany the battalion in whose area they were then situated.
A warning order was accordingly despatched by wireless to Brigadier Hargest,32 Commander 5 Brigade, at 10.30 p.m. telling him to be prepared to withdraw during the night of 22–23 May. All other forms of communication with 5 Brigade Headquarters had been interrupted and it was necessary to send the written message—which followed three hours later—by Bren carrier because of enemy detachments threatening the road leading to Brigade Headquarters.
Meanwhile, the battalions on the hill were in a precarious position. As Colonel Burrows says:
I honestly didn't see how we could last another day. The Hun was sure to try another attack perhaps in a different position, and if he broke through anywhere we were for it. My HQ got an hour or two of sleep…. At 4.30 a.m. word came through to go to a conference with Col. Leckie and the other 5th Bde COs. I reached the spot in the dark after ten minutes and learned we were to withdraw at once to … Platanias…. The message should have been delivered at 10 p.m. the night before. We were lucky to get it at all. Here was a case where we suffered through lack of modern equipment. A battalion fully equipped should carry portable wireless sets. We had none. The Germans had swags of them.
Withdrawal began immediately…. As we knew we'd be caught in the light it was decided to keep to the high ground. This made the journey much longer and more difficult, but there was cover for the troops, especially from the air. The orders for the 20th Battalion were to go right through to Galatos and come again under 4th Bde command. Owing to lack of time I sent word to platoon commanders to move back with the 5th Bde units to which they were attached as far as Platanias where I intended to reform and send the companies independently to Galatos. In the event of any soldier being lost he was to go straight back to the Battalion's old bivvy area near Div HQ.
We moved to Platanias in small groups. Nothing much happened to my group and we arrived without casualties. Some groups were caught by MG fire and some by planes. We had to cross a deepish page 122 river and our group got safely across a swing bridge. Jack Bain and his men, however, had to wade as a machine gun had ranged on to the bridge. They came in wet to the neck.
At Platanias I reported to Brigadier Hargest and learned from him that the mixed groups that had withdrawn the previous day had been sent forward again to hold a position on the coast strip, had been withdrawn from that, and were now put into positions to guard the bridge.
Lieutenant Markham of 8 Platoon A Company describes this action:
On the morning of 23 May 1941 … some 60 members of the 20th Battalion under the command of Capt Garriock were assembled at 5th Bde HQ after being withdrawn from a forward position between the road and the sea…. We remained in Bde HQ area at least an hour waiting for orders—during this time some rations were obtained and issued.
After this, a Capt Baker33 [28 (Maori) Battalion] arrived who apparently had orders to put us in positions covering the road at the bridge some 400 yards from Bde HQ. We were told that we might have to stay there as long as twenty-four hours. We immediately set about organising into two platoons for there were representatives from three different companies there. However, we had to conceal the men owing to intense air activity overhead. About as soon as this was over—it lasted about 15 minutes—someone at Bde shouted that the enemy were already at the bridge.
Capt Baker assumed command and placed one platoon [under Captain Garriock] about half way between Bde and the bridge. He directed that the other platoon, of which I was put in command, should attack through the first platoon and establish itself in the dug positions about the bridge—with one section on the seaward side of the road and two on the other side. Capt Baker would lead these two sections—I was to lead the one on the seaward side.
Once having crossed the road I could not see what was happening on the other side, but pressed on to within 100 yards of the bridge where the enemy had a gun in the middle of the road and was holding our positions beside the bridge. The enemy had mortars and machine guns and made full use of them on both sides of the road.
My section had no dug positions and they brought very heavy mortar fire to bear on us. We were able to put the gun temporarily out of action by killing or disposing of the crew—and it was then that a runner crossed the road with a message from Capt Baker to cover his withdrawal. This I did to the best of my ability.
My section thinned out and withdrew by bounds to behind a page 123 burning house—we sustained two casualties. When I got there I found that practically everyone from the other side of the road had proceeded on down the road. I and the two other officers waited for a while but no one else came out. I could not find out whether Capt Baker had gone on ahead—at all events I did not see him again.
Captain Garriock was wounded in this attack and Lieutenant Maxwell took over. His platoon went to ground and fired on the enemy gun crew but was engaged by enemy machine guns from a hillside which overlooked its positions. ‘… Jerry turned all his fury loose at us,’ said the carrier platoon's sergeant, Wally Kimber. ‘Mortars and MG, the Mortar fire was terrific. I think it was the hottest hour I had during the war. We were simply being blasted out of the place.’ Then the Stukas took a hand, and while the platoon lay low the enemy opened fire from the beach flank. Casualties increased and the platoon was withdrawn, subsequently holding a line to cover the withdrawal of the Maori Battalion before it itself withdrew farther back to the ‘old Welch positions’.
The counter-attack at the Platanias bridge had been a short sharp affair but it had held up the enemy long enough to allow the troops around Platanias to take up positions. The rearguard was reinforced at short notice by two companies of the 20th, who manned a hastily formed line between the road and the sea. Colonel Burrows describes their part in the day's fighting:
Platanias was to be held by 5th Bde. The difficulty was to get … into position before the place was attacked. The Germans are very quick at following up any opportunity and it's a bad lookout if there is confusion in a withdrawal.
However, the 20th had orders to get back to beyond Galatos, about another 7 miles. A Coy had left. D Coy with most of HQ Coy had already gone after a bit of scrapping along the beach. Then came a deuce of a blitz by German planes and I was waiting with what remained of C and B Coys, with some of HQ Coy, for the blitz to finish so that we could get away. Next I received a message from Brig Hargest to say a German attack was developing and I was to take charge of all troops in the sector where I was and organise them for defence. This was a hectic task to have thrown at one at short notice. I belted B and C Coys into position forming a line thin as tissue paper…. I had a platoon of Maoris on the beach and, I learned later, two tanks…. Our Intelligence Sergeant, Jack Sullivan,34 went to the OP we decided on and stuck there till dark with a wound in his shoulder.page 124
During heavy mortaring of 15 Platoon's position, Lieutenant Upham was wounded in the shoulder by a piece of shrapnel. His platoon sergeant, Dave Kirk, tells how Upham ‘… handed me his pocket knife and insisted that I extract the offending shrapnel. After carrying out what I thought was rather a neat bit of surgery, though it must have been rather painful for the patient, I tried to persuade him to go and have it dressed at the RAP. As he refused to go I went and reported it to Captain Den Fountaine35 who then came down to us and ordered Charlie to the RAP for treatment.’
Lieutenant McPhail of B Company commanded his platoon in this rearguard:
We took up a defensive position … on the beach under Tui Love36 of the Maori Battalion. While there Guy Rhodes used his mortars very effectively…. The Germans were seen coming up between the road and the beach with something that looked like a Bofors gun and obviously digging in. One of our tanks was … in the courtyard of a house or blacksmith's shop but was very dubious about attacking the position, so Tui Love got a Bren carrier, called for two or three Maoris, and rushed the Huns. They had a heavy MG but Love mopped them up and then returned—a good show. While there we were given great treatment by the Maoris. They must have found a dump … for when I said we were hungry they gave us pineapple and tinned milk. When the men needed clothes they were given socks and greatcoats.
The mixed mortar platoon—two Maori Battalion mortars and two from the 20th—under Lieutenant Rhodes was in action all day. The platoon was divided into four detachments. Nos. 1 and 2 had as their target the cane brake on the left flank, No. 3 engaged the stone bridge, and No. 4 was sited mainly to thicken up fire on the bridge. Their fire inflicted heavy casualties and put out of action an armoured vehicle and five motorcycles.
The day wore on [Colonel Burrows continues], but apart from trying to push patrols along the beach the Germans made no further serious attempt to crack the line. We were mortared all day long, though, and I was glad when night fell. All the wounded were page 125 taken away in trucks during the day … [to 7 General Hospital]. That night the whole of the 5th Bde withdrew behind the 4th Bde and Col. Kipp's 10th Bde. B and C Coys of the 20th remained in their positions until about 9 p.m. and [we] then made our way unmolested by infantry patrols to our former bivouac positions east of Galatos. It was a longish tramp but we kept to the roads, passing through burning villages. Dawn was not far off by the time I visited Div. and returned to the battalion. We had to take up a defensive position.
Sergeant Basil Borthwick's description of the return of the Maori Battalion is worth recording:
Moved out on road and waited on the side while the Maori Bn came back through us. We could not help but be impressed by these Maori boys. There seemed a never ending column of them and they marched without a sound apart from the creak of their equipment and tramp of feet. We felt better after seeing them.
The treatment and evacuation of casualties during the attack on Maleme was carried out by the battalion RAP section under extremely difficult conditions. Wounded who assembled at a white house on the Canea-Maleme road were sent away on trucks flying Red Cross flags. Many enemy planes flew up and down the line of trucks but did not attack. Some of the drivers were from 6 Platoon of 20 Battalion who had volunteered to drive the Red Cross trucks.
When the attack began the RAP section moved forward with Battalion Headquarters at the side of the road. Captain Gilmour, the RMO, went ahead with one of the rifle companies towards Maleme, where he set up an RAP under a little culvert on the road. Seriously wounded cases had to be carried on improvised stretchers some distance up the riverbed which, in its upper reaches, narrowed considerably and contained huge boulders which made progress extremely slow and difficult. Leaving the riverbed, stretcher-bearers had to scramble up a slippery track over a hilltop and down into a deep gully on the other side where the casualties were left at 5 Brigade ADS.page 126
Here Sgt Bruce Mark,38 Private Ernie Boyce,39 the MO's batman, and I gave first aid to the walking wounded and sent them back to a 5th Bde ADS on the side of a hill. Serious cases were kept till dark and evacuated by passing trucks. The Maori Battalion supplied two trucks and swastika flags were placed over their roofs to protect them from German aircraft. While attending a wounded man Sgt Mark was himself wounded in the back when enemy aircraft strafed the house and he later died of wounds.
About 200–250 casualties were treated here. We had few supplies as we had brought from Greece only what we could carry in our haversacks. The men's field dressings were used and a jar of cognac in the shed provided effective treatment for shock. Captain Rhodes of the Mortar Platoon did good work directing the wounded to our RAP and later assisted them on their way to the ADS….
The RAP was actually in a very bad position. It was on a corner only 100 yards from an ammunition dump which received a direct hit … [next morning] and enemy planes returned at intervals to strafe the area. In addition, an Australian gun was sited nearby and attracted enemy fire. There were no Red Cross flags available, these having been lost in Greece. We had no stretchers and very bad cases had to be carried away on doors taken from the building.
There were some German paratroopers amongst the wounded and also some PW's who had been sent back by the forward troops. When their own planes came over these Germans dived into a ditch and were in no hurry to come out. Finally, under threat from one of their own Lugers they were made to hold up swastika flags or put them on their shoulders and stand out in the open. This measure successfully protected the RAP post.
With Private Boyce I maintained the RAP throughout the night of 22–23 May and until late in the following afternoon. Wounded were coming in all the time from not only the 20th but also from the Maori Battalion and other 5th Bde units. After the forward troops had withdrawn the 5th Bde officer advised me to go back and try to locate my own unit. We waited till we saw Bruce Mark away on an Aussie truck and then Ernie Boyce and I made our way back under cover towards Canea. A few stragglers joined us and on the way we were badly strafed, Ernie Boyce being severely wounded. I patched him up and also some of the others, hailed a passing truck, and asked the driver to take the wounded back to 42nd Street where there was a hospital.
Arriving back at the Battalion I reported to the RSM who shouted for me out of a bottle of rum. In the unit [area] there were some light casualties requiring treatment and many cases of dysentery, probably caused by the bad water, tinned food, and lack of fresh page 127 vegetables. The grapes were finished and there were only a few oranges to be had. No First Aid stores had been received in Crete and after Maleme there was not much left. We had severe air raids but casualties were surprisingly light.
Members of the signals platoon, in the absence of equipment, helped to maintain communications by runner. When 10 Brigade was formed under Colonel Kippenberger's command, some of the platoon were attached to the new unit. As wire and 'phones were in short supply, most messages had to be sent by motor-cyclists or runners. On 20 May the signallers maintained the exchange although all lines had received a thorough pounding from the air. About 4 p.m. a Greek officer with an interpreter came in with the news that their battalion, which had been holding the line in front of the exchange, had been forced to withdraw. Shortly afterwards two enemy fight machine guns opened up but about 5 p.m. the Divisional Cavalry came up and drove the enemy back. Maintaining the exchange at this stage was of vital importance, and for his coolness in doing so and for repeatedly repairing lines under fire Private Poole40 was awarded the Military Medal.
There were many acts of personal gallantry on the night of 21-22 May but only a few typical cases can be quoted. WO II Grooby41 of C Company commanded a platoon throughout the attack with conspicuous gallantry and leadership. At one stage near Maleme he personally commanded the withdrawal of a stretcher party and when attacked by four Germans killed two; the others fled. Lance-Sergeant Kirk in the leading C Company platoon fought his way forward resolutely, repeatedly rushing and destroying machine-gun posts. In the same company Corporals McKegney and Vincent led their sections with coolness and determination to capture buildings and machine-gun posts, while Corporal Grattan,42 acting as platoon sergeant, led his men to the edge of the aerodrome and, after being wounded, walked to rejoin his unit at Sfakia. WO II Goodall43 of D Com- page 128 pany dragged a wounded man to cover off the open ground on the right flank near the aerodrome, and at the withdrawal carried him out. Sergeant Ian Lang44 of the same company, whose feet had been badly burned in a tent fire in Greece, went into the attack wearing sandshoes and later commanded a platoon. It was a purely infantry affair, another Inkerman, where the momentum of the advance was maintained as much by the initiative and fighting spirit of the men in the ranks as by the leadership of commanders.
Next day the survivors had time to reflect. The battalion had suffered heavy casualties but the Germans' losses had been much heavier. Many of the enemy encountered in the houses were unprepared for a night attack. Some were without trousers; others had no boots on; one paratrooper captured by a C Company runner was wearing only his identity discs. The enemy troops were nonplussed in the dark, but in daylight and under officers and NCOs it was a different matter. With the coming of dawn the whole situation changed rapidly for the worse. Darkness had at least given the attackers the advantage of an unobserved approach before contact with the enemy was made. Enemy fire was wild and the element of surprise was a powerful factor in the success of the advance. After daybreak the attackers not only lost the valuable cover of darkness and the advantage of surprise but, both on the right flank where they were emerging on to clear ground and in the centre where they were encountering strongly defended posts in houses, their casualties rapidly mounted as enemy fire became heavier and better directed. In addition, whenever the troops attempted to move they were mercilessly strafed by the Luftwaffe, which had complete command of the air, so that the attack gradually lost momentum and the troops went to ground.
In the words of Captain Upham: ‘With another hour we could have reached the far side of the 'drome.’ But the precious hour, and more, had been lost before the attack began, and the grim fighting throughout the approach to the aerodrome imposed further delays that sealed the fate of the battle.
The position on 23 May is quoted from 4 Brigade's report on the operations in Crete:page 129
During the afternoon of 23 May, NZ Div issued instructions that the Bde was to take up a defensive posn running north and south through galatos and joining up on the left with 19 Aust Bde. 5 Inf Bde was to withdraw through this posn during the early hours of 24 May.
10 Inf Bde … was placed under command 4 Inf Bde…. Shortly after midnight 23-24 May, 20 Bn reverted to command 4 Inf Bde … and were placed in reserve … with the primary task of CA [counter-attack] in the 19 Bn area….
5 Inf Bde withdrew through 18 Bn FDLs [forward defended localities] after midnight 23-24 May and went into Div res[erve] in area about aptera … [just west of the junction of the coast and Prison valley roads].
By 0500 hrs 24 May units were in posn. 18 Bn took over Comp Bn front from the sea to wheat hill [coming under command of 10 Brigade], while the Div Cav and det[achment] Div Pet Coy … and the 19 Bn remained in their original posns.
The Comp Bn (less det Div Pet Coy) took up supporting posn on the ridge running north from galatos. A detachment of 6/ Greeks, some 370 strong under command 10 Inf Bde, were held in reserve at galatos.
Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows again takes up the story:
Bde HQ were in our area and we again became reserve battalion. [The positions were just east of the Karatsos road: Headquarters Company across the coast road overlooked the beach, A Company held the Galatas turn-off, and C, B, and D Companies formed a semi-circle to the south.] We had no tools to dig in of course and the men had to take advantage of any natural cover…. Nothing much happened to us that day. Col. Kipp's bde was getting most of the fighting at Galatos. We had a nasty plane blitz in the morning. They dropped one of their really heavy bombs in our area which made a hole like a volcanic crater…. I saw Col. Kipp during the day and learned from him what he wanted the Bn to do in case we were sent up to him to help in a counter-attack…. His brigade had done a lot of fighting with the Germans who had originally landed in the area SW of Galatos but now this force was able to combine with the Germans coming East from Maleme.
Sunday, 25 May, was critical. All morning there were constant air attacks and steadily increasing machine-gun and mortar fire. When enemy troops were seen massing in front of 18 Battalion's positions B, C, and D Companies of the 20th, organised into two companies under Captain Fountaine and Lieutenant O'Callaghan,45 were sent up to 10 Brigade by Brigadier Inglis and placed in a reserve position in the olive page 130 trees north of Galatas. The enemy was coming along the beach and, if 18 Battalion was beaten back, it might be possible to attack north and drive the enemy into the sea. Early in the afternoon these companies were very heavily bombed and machine-gunned in a four-hour blitz. At one stage there was an alarm that paratroops had landed in the hospital area. Colonel Burrows, with an Italian camouflaged groundsheet flapping behind him, ran over with Sergeant Sullivan to investigate. Later, the Bren platoon under Lieutenant Green was sent out on a patrol of the area but no paratroops were discovered.
Between 4 and 6 p.m. the Germans dive-bombed the 18 Battalion positions and put in a heavy infantry attack. That battalion's right-hand company was overwhelmed and a counter-attack by its Headquarters Company failed to restore the situation. By 5 p.m. Colonel Kippenberger decided he could not wait to counter-attack but must use the 20 Battalion companies to try to hold the line.
Kippenberger ordered Fountaine and O'Callaghan to take their companies and occupy positions along Ruin Ridge, a support position that could be seen from his headquarters in the EFI building, sometimes called ‘The Blockhouse’. This ridge had previously been held by the Composite Battalion, which was beginning to withdraw.page 131
The companies moved off and within a quarter of an hour a steady crackle of rifle and Bren-gun fire broke out and continued till an hour before dark. By this time casualties were heavy and the position looked grave. C, B, and D Companies lay in that order north from Galatas. When the enemy broke through between the town and Ruin Ridge, C Company at one stage was fired on from behind. Lieutenant Upham's platoon was heavily engaged from the outset. While his men stopped under a ridge, Upham crawled forward, observed the enemy, and brought his platoon forward as the Germans advanced. The platoon killed over forty with fire and grenades and forced the remainder to fall back. Just at dusk the enemy attacked determinedly in an attempt to capture Galatas. There was a danger of the 20th being cut off, and Colonel Kippenberger sent four runners to find the two company commanders with orders to withdraw towards A Company, which had come up during the afternoon and was manning the line of a ravine a little to the east.
We went forward through grape vines to our position on the crest of a hill behind a stone wall. When in position Lt O'Callaghan sent me back to Col Kippenberger to tell him he had taken over the position and everything was in hand. The Germans' fire by now was terrific; I sprinted the whole distance, taking advantage of any cover. Colonel Kippenberger was calmly standing on the hill crest smoking his pipe, talking to some officers. By this time the Germans had broken through on our left and were charging through a crop of oats, yelling ‘Hock Heil’, etc. I gave Col Kippenberger my order from Lt O'Callaghan to which he replied, ‘Go back as quickly as you can and tell Lt O'Callaghan to watch the position very carefully and to withdraw to the road and back to a burning house.’ He warned me to be careful as the enemy had broken through.
I ran as fast as my legs would carry me. On my left a crowd of Germans were squatting in the oats, spraying bullets about. Others were setting machine guns on tripods. I hugged a stone wall and when level with them I sprinted on. When I reached the bottom of the gully enemy were poking about among the trees and some by a wall on my left. I could hear them talking. I dashed across the track, hurdled a stone wall, and raced up a grape-vine slope to meet Lt O'Callaghan a short distance below the Coy. I gave him the page 132 orders. He said, ‘Go up and tell Lt Maxwell to withdraw at once down the valley.’ He turned and started to trot down the slope where I had come from. I called to him, ‘Mike, don't go down there; there was a crowd of Huns there when I came through.’ He said, ‘I'm going down to have a look and will collect the left flank Coys.’ I again warned him. Machine-gun fire was intense. I gave Lt Maxwell the orders. When withdrawing down the slope a C Coy boy said to me, ‘Your officer got it just after you left him. I saw it.’
Captain Fountaine commanded C Company in a cool and skilful manner. Many of his company, including sections commanded by Corporals Vincent and McKegney, had to fight their way out. McKegney, though already severely wounded in a hand and leg, later took part in the counter-attack that night. When ordered to withdraw Upham sent his platoon back under Lance-Sergeant Kirk and went back to warn other troops that they were being cut off. When he came out himself he was fired on by two Germans. He fell and shammed dead, then, crawling into a position and having the use of only one arm, he rested his rifle in the fork of a tree and killed both Germans as they came forward. The second actually hit the muzzle of the rifle as he fell. When his company was outflanked Sergeant Kirk organised a party and led a counter-attack which was completely successful, forty-four Germans being accounted for. Being then separated from the company, he and his party later joined in the counter-attack into Galatas, disposed of a large number of the enemy, and remained on the outskirts of the village until 5.30 next morning. Finding that all other troops had withdrawn some hours before, he skilfully led out his party and rejoined his unit.
For his part in this action and in the counter-attack at Maleme Kirk was awarded the DCM. No higher praise could be given him than that of his platoon officer, Lieutenant Upham:
During the whole of the fighting on Crete concerning C Company … Lance-Sergeant Kirk behaved as I have never seen a soldier behave since. He was the really superb fighting man because of his wonderful bodily strength and fitness and he certainly did the work of many men. A crack shot, he always carried a Bren gun and used it with deadly effect, and was one of the few who could fire it accurately at close range like a tommy gun. I personally saw him kill a number of Germans at long range and at close quarters. His reputation in the platoon was such that everyone carried ammunition especially for Dave. He really enjoyed the whole fight.page 133
While the 20th was fighting on Ruin Ridge there was a constant stream of stragglers from various units passing back along the road from Galatas. Colonel Kippenberger, the RSM of the 18th, Sergeant Sullivan and Captain Washbourn attempted to stem the tide with varying success. Those who responded were ordered to line a ridge west of Karatsos north of a white church to cover the right flank of 19 Battalion. The Greeks attempted a charge while the 18th were being rallied but wilted in the face of a withering fire.
Sergeant Johnston, 20 Battalion's orderly-room sergeant, and a platoon of B Company assisted the Greeks in this attack. The sergeant had led his platoon determinedly at Maleme and did so again on this occasion. At one stage he was wounded in the foot when attacking a group of enemy in a gully. The leading German had advanced with his hands up and the second had thrown a stick bomb. Though in considerable pain, Johnston led his men to the attack and remained with the platoon until he was evacuated by hospital truck that evening.
Brigadier Inglis in the meantime had sent up all available reinforcements to the commander of 10 Brigade, who set to work to build a new line. The first to arrive was 4 Brigade Band, which was put to line a stone wall 100 yards in front of 10 Brigade Headquarters. The pioneer platoon of the 20th and the Kiwi Concert Party prolonged the band's right. Twenty-third Battalion had taken the place of the 20th as divisional reserve, and its A Company extended the line towards the sea. The two companies of the 20th withdrawn from Ruin Ridge prolonged the 23 Battalion company's right. A Company of the 20th was in behind the other two. Parts of the line were thinly held. Privates Ross47 and Cousins, Colonel Kippenberger's driver and batman, manned a wall thirty yards long between two companies and kept up a steady fire. Cousins was later sent on a message and Ross continued to man the wall alone.
Headquarters Company of the 20th under Lieutenants Bain and Green had been told to join 18 Battalion on Karatsos ridge. Tremendously heavy rifle fire came from both sides and there was a continual roar from the enemy's mortars. Evidently the enemy was making a supreme effort to take Galatas before nightfall. Two tanks from 3 Hussars under Lieutenant Farran page 134 were sent to investigate and on returning reported that the town was ‘stiff with Jerries’. Two companies of 23 Battalion had arrived and, led by the two tanks and with Headquarters Company of the 20th and a small group of 18 Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel Gray, were ordered by Colonel Kippenberger to counter-attack and retake Galatas in a last desperate throw to retrieve the situation.
Sergeant Kimber of the Bren platoon relates his experiences in the counter-attack:
A bit further along near the fork in the road we met Kip, armed with a German tommy gun…. He did not say much to us, but one knew by the expression on his face that the situation was very grim. Soon after this we left the road and made our way across country … [to the CO 18 Battalion, Colonel Gray] personally directing operations and undaunted by all the enemy fire … going on around him. Col Gray told us smartly that the Jerries had occupied the village and that we were to go in with a bayonet attack and clear the village…. Owing to enemy action while we crossed the open ground our party had been well and truly scattered. By the time we reached the starting point … we only had a dozen or so men left. One or two had been wounded I know.
As Lt Bain was senior officer he assumed charge of us, and I would like to pay tribute … to the determined and gallant manner in which he led that bayonet charge and pressed it home. Nothing short of a 25-pounder would have stopped him….
At the church we were held up by MG fire, so Lt Bain and about half a dozen men went one side [while] Lt Green and six of us went to the other side. We were just turning the corner into a narrow lane [when] an MG opened up at about 20 yards' range … [killing Lt Green and a machine-gunner, wounding Private Dave Whitteker48 and a man from 18 Battalion] leaving a Maori boy from the 18th Bn and myself untouched. We tried desperately to get the Bren gun into action but … it simply refused to fire so we smartly dumped it into a burning bomb crater…. the MG post was quietened and … we eventually got into the village square. Here there was some very sharp action and it was not long before we could see by the glow from burning bomb craters and buildings the figures of Germans going out the back of the village in all directions. The German is a good soldier when he has his tanks and planes in unlimited numbers with him in the daylight, but he does not relish bayonet warfare in the dark, especially with Aussies or New Zealanders.
We gradually worked our way through the village and up a road- page 135 way. Near the end of this road Lt Bain was seriously wounded in the leg and could not carry on. Very shortly after this happened the village seemed to be ours…. [Then] men were coming back from all directions, all saying that we were to withdraw the way we had come….
We got Jack Bain down to the main road where a truck could reach him… and I returned to see what could be done for Dave Whitteker. I found him … seriously wounded … but with the help of an 18 Bn chap … tied him up as well as we could (it was very dark by this time) and started to carry him to the 18 Bn RAP. … The going was rough, up hill and down, over stone walls. It was a very slow job. We tried all ways of carrying him without much success, and to add to our difficulties, as we were trying to get him over the last wall the Germans put up a flare which threw all its light on to us. We expected to get a burst any minute…. As a last resort we wrenched the door off a house and converted it into a stretcher…. It took us over two hours to reach the RAP….
Galatas had been retaken and the 23 Battalion companies were in position, but the task of regaining the ground lost north and south of the village required at least two fresh battalions. Only the Maori Battalion was left, but if it had been used it would have been impossible to hold a line next day. At a conference at 4 Brigade Headquarters orders were received from Division that a new line was to be held east of Karatsos, running north and south, with 5 Brigade on the right and 19 Australian Infantry Brigade on the left. A Company of 20 Battalion was attached to 21 Battalion and the rest of the 20th withdrew along the Canea highway over the bridge and moved through a ‘hole in the wall’ to an area in olive groves south-west of Canea. Prior to the withdrawal Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows had sent Lieutenant McPhail with a platoon of B Company down to the beach to stop any Germans from pushing along there and getting behind the 20th. When word came to withdraw, two runners sent to find the patrol failed to contact it, so vigorously had it pushed forward along the beach. One runner volunteered to stay till dawn and the platoon returned the next day.
During 26 May the 20th rested in a ditch under the olive trees with the usual machine-gunning from planes ‘which buzzed about like bees all day’. Although the men were very weary not many could sleep when they tried and few had the energy even to smoke. On this day the Germans systematically bombed page 136 Canea, almost razing the town. Fresh enemy forces penetrated 5 Brigade's right flank and 19 Australian Brigade reported Germans moving round its left flank. Fourth Brigade's units were worn out and could scarcely be called an effective reserve.
Unable to make contact with General Weston of the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation who was nominally in command of the area, Brigadier Puttick decided to shorten the line by withdrawing his troops to a defensive position at the head of Suda Bay on a general north and south line running through Khristos and Tsikalaria to Ay Marina. This line, called 42nd Street, was named after a British engineer unit which had worked there before the invasion.
Twentieth Battalion, less A Company, marched all night, passed through battered Suda and reached Stilos at dawn. Though hidden again in olive groves, the troops were spotted by planes and heavily attacked late in the afternoon—‘the most intense and systematic blitzing that I saw anywhere’, one observer describes it. The attack, directed mainly against an Australian supply dump from which the men had replenished their rations, lasted about an hour. Incendiary bullets set fire to the dry grass and olive trees, and several trucks and a petrol dump went up in flames. Miraculously, 4 Brigade had only one casualty.
Meanwhile, 5 Brigade had established a line along 42nd Street, about a mile west of Suda township. A composite force of 1 Welch Regiment, Northumberland Hussars, and 1 Rangers went forward to cover the withdrawal. It came into action about 5.30 a.m. on 27 May and two hours later had been driven back with heavy casualties. Throughout the day various parties of enemy troops were observed moving up on the left flank out of range. It soon became apparent that there were not enough troops to hold the German advance on the Canea front and that withdrawal to the south coast was inevitable. Sufficient reinforcements and supplies could not be transported from Egypt, and, after full consideration of the situation on Crete, General Wavell decided that the island would have to be abandoned. On the same day preparations were made to evacuate the garrison and instructions were issued to the New Zealand Division to provide an anti-paratroop force on the plain of Askifou and a flank guard on the Georgeoupolis road.page 137
In the evening Colonel Kippenberger, who had returned to the 20th after the disintegration of 10 Brigade, assembled the men and told them of the intention to evacuate the forces on Crete. There was a hard march ahead but they would halt ten minutes to every clock hour. He would lead the march, and he stressed the need for rigid march discipline and the absolute necessity for seeing that each man was wakened after the hourly halts.
Many of the men were almost physically exhausted. Apart from the fighting at Maleme and Galatas, the troops had been so harassed by day by enemy planes that they had had little rest. By night they had usually been on the move. This lack of sleep was particularly hard on commanders, who often covered huge extra distances on foot, inspecting troops and attending conferences.
The need for regular rests had been shown during the previous night's continuous trek to Stilos when men had been forced to drop out, some arriving the next day. In many cases unsuitable footwear was the cause of the trouble. New Zealand boots were unprocurable on Crete and replacements, which were of a narrower type originally intended for Indian troops, caused many sore and blistered feet.
Sergeant Borthwick's diary describes the next four days:
Tuesday 27 May: On the move at 2030 hrs with a good step. A lot of stragglers with no arms and good to see the 4th Bde in formation and all with a rifle. Congestion on the road and we seemed to be held up by the same truck time and again…. Some chaps had no water bottles and some begged water from those that had bottles. At one stage our column was overtaken and passed by three hatless Australians who were singing in great heart as they passed us … ‘When there isn't a girl about you do feel lonely.’ Can safely say our spirits improved after this incident. A feature of the night march was the stout-hearted singing of Cpl L. G. Smith of the RAP…. Col Burrows also sang….
Private George Robson49 of the signals platoon relates how ‘Men of C Company sang for an hour on end and gave vent to their irrepressible humour by mimicking a Cockney Marine who called repeatedly and plaintively for an elusive “Major 'Oont.”’page 138
At this stage Sergeant Kimber, who had linked up with 18 Battalion after the withdrawal from Galatas, found his mates again. ‘About 10 p.m.,’ he says, ‘we were halting on the side of the road for a spell when along came the 20 Bn with Kip marching under extreme difficulties at the head of them [he had sprained his ankle badly on the morning of 20 May]. It was really good to see a unit still under perfect control, retiring in an orderly and well organised manner, thanks to Kip's good discipline (no rabble or rafferty rules about this outfit). For days past one had become used to seeing a rabble of panic stricken men making their way to the beach…. I might say that I smartly paid my respects to the CO 18 Bn and rejoined the 20 Bn. It was good to be home again.’
But let Sergeant Borthwick continue the story of the march:
Wednesday 28 May: As the night wore on we seemed to strike a lot of uphill going. More congestion. Everybody short of water. … When we halted chaps just slept in their tracks and once I think we all slept for about half an hour. Marched till daylight…. All utterly exhausted and just pulled off the road and slept. Took our boots off. No sooner asleep than it seemed we came awake again. I could not swallow biscuits but ate some tinned beetroot. Harold Roberts50 went off with our water bottles…. Filled them at a well where might was right.
On the move at 1000 hrs. To go to Askifou Plain in an anti-parachutist role. Left the road to avoid strafing and taken [by a ‘short cut’] over a mountain pass. Hard going, especially up the last ridge. One or two dropped out with exhaustion. After the stiff pull up everybody thirsty and the sight of a well in the plain below very welcome. A very steep face to descend to the plain and took one and a half hours to get down. After a good drink went well on flat ground…. Moved into a village and slept outside on some concrete with no blanket…. Other chaps left behind on the mountain with bad feet, etc., straggled in.
Thursday 29 May: Up at daylight and moved two miles nearer the coast to a defensive position…. Halted in a narrow gully where some trucks had been wrecked…. lay low under cover of trees all day…. Everybody short of water. Thirty enemy planes over about 1900 hrs.
While the battalion was disposed about the Askifou Plain A Company, which had been attached to 21 Battalion in the page 139 line at Suda, caught up. Captain Washbourn describes the company's experiences:
When we withdrew from the crossroads [north-east of Galatas] the company was sent on attachment to 21 Bn and strengthened with the Transport Platoon of 23 Bn. The withdrawal was only a short one to the old positions held by the Battalion prior to the invasion, this time, however, on the other side of the road. A quiet day and at night the company acted as rear guard for the Div Cav and 21 Bn. I kept a section back to check all through, but owing to a hold-up in the Div Cav who were looking for one of their sections we were late getting to the rendezvous point at the POW cage. There was no map and after marching speedily to the stream behind the original Bn HQ area outside Canea I met two tanks, also lost. As I had no idea of the way out to Suda Bay by [way of] Canea I decided to make our way back by the track used when we first arrived in Crete. This was no use to the tanks as they could not cross the river. However, they followed with us for a while and were left at the ford.
Then came the long and hasty march to Suda Bay. At one stage we ran into the B Echelon of the Welch Regiment and they directed us on our way. The rest of the company was finally contacted again at 42nd Street.
We dug slitties under the olive trees and were ready in a defensive position … just after dawn [27 May]—the left flank being the Maoris. About 0930 some enemy were seen at a dump of Marine equipment among the olive groves, approximately 200 yards to the west of the sunken road. The Maoris immediately went into the road and commenced a haka and then went off to the attack, together with 7 and 8 Platoons of A Company.
According to Private Jack Sheppard, whose section was alongside a Maori platoon when the Germans advanced, the Maoris began muttering and shouting and jumping with excitement. One, according to Sheppard, jumped a bit higher than the rest, right on to the bank, and, as if this was a signal, all the Maoris did likewise. Down the hill they went, followed, without orders from their officers, by some of A Company. In this attack Private ‘Mac’ West,51 although seriously wounded, carried on with a pistol until the attack was completed.
The men eventually returned about an hour later [Washbourn continues]. The rest of the day was quiet except for long range machine-gun fire, apparently on fixed lines as it all hit the west side of the road. Columns were noticed going up the steep hill well to the page 140 left flank, but owing to the distance could not be identified…. That night another withdrawal through the Maori rearguard to Stylos and at 0800 hrs [28 May] we were sent up the hill to the west of the village to a position on the left of 19 Battalion. About 1000 hrs an attack was made on 19 Bn—who were assisted by fire from the company…. At 1030 hrs the 19th began retiring and for a long quarter of an hour I awaited orders which came by runner. We then returned to the village and followed the [19th] Bn along the road covered by two tanks…. Our next stop was at dawn the following day at a village just over the top of the hill in Askifou Plain where we rested until 1630 hrs. Just as we left mortars opened up on the top of the hill but no enemy was seen. On the other side of the plain I was called by Col Burrows … and I then rejoined the Bn, moving with them to the wadi near the beach.
Private West, whose part in the bayonet charge at 42nd Street has already been briefly mentioned, tells how he was carried away by the excitement of the charge. He writes:
On arriving at a sunken roadway I was busily peering ahead trying to see what chaps on all sides of me seemed to be able to see, namely, Germans lying tucked in behind most of the olive trees. In fact alongside me on our right a Maori was terrifically eager to be up and at 'em and brandished his rifle in an endeavour to keep from rushing forward. The excitement was intense and I spotted Germans thirty yards away.
Some semblance of control was being attempted, but someone kept shouting ‘Charge! Let 'em have it!’ etc. and we all leaped out of the sunken roadway and blazed our way straight through, leaving dead Germans lying everywhere.
I distinctly heard Peter Markham's voice shouting ‘All back A Coy!’ but I'm afraid I just had to keep going. I had grabbed up a Bren gun from a wounded Maori, but the thing would only fire single rounds. As I was shooting from the hip I was very annoyed and chucked it down and hurried on shooting at various Germans with a luger.
It was then I was hit in the thigh, nothing much, but the sight of blood made me curious, and as the others seemed to be getting ahead of me I decided to cut off my trouser leg and put on a bandage. I carried on a little further. Dead Germans seemed to be the order of the day. Soon I came across a wounded New Zealand officer lying propped up and with him was a fat Maori sergeant bleeding from a gunshot wound right through his buttock. I took his first aid package from his pocket and bandaged him up. The officer told me to walk back as he was sure the attack had been successful. On the way back I was amused to meet some Kiwis whose job it appeared was to count the dead Germans. Most of these, they stated, had been shot in the head. I distinctly remember Germans page 141 jumping up and running away, forgetting to surrender, and being shot as they ran.
On returning to A Coy I discovered that they had been held back and had missed out on the assault. Here I discovered some raw eggs and a tin of beetroot. The others couldn't understand how I could relish such a mixture. I was then told I would have to make my way to an RAP.
Meanwhile the battalion spent the day under cover and the troops rested in readiness for a further move after dark.
Orders to move at 1945 hrs [Sergeant Borthwick's diary for 29 May continues]. Moved off and ran into bad road blocks…. During a prolonged hold-up a curious incident occurred. Most of our troops were asleep on the road when something happened at the head of the column. What it was nobody seems to know; some thought a Bren [carrier] had run amok or we were being run over by tanks. Anyway this sort of panic spread right through our column and everybody just flung themselves off the road in great haste…. At last we got under way again and passed a good number of troops lined up on the side of the road. Some abusive remarks from them. Did some uphill work and pretty rocky. Climbed up off the road and ended up in a position on a mountain brow overlooking the beach.
By this time the effort to keep going was perhaps greater than that needed when in actual contact with the enemy. The excitement of a battle can rouse tired men to superhuman efforts for a short time, but the ability to hang on and march night after night with little chance of sleep by day and less food and water requires a different quality of stamina. Esprit de corps is a cliché but it counted at this stage.
Illustrating this, Colonel Kippenberger relates an incident regarding the battalion chaplain, Padre Spence. The CO had been standing by the side of the road watching the men trudge wearily to their dispersal areas at a halt. As the Padre came along the Colonel noticed that he was carrying several water bottles, which at the time were scarce.
The Colonel remarked, ‘I see you are well equipped with water bottles, Padre.’
‘Oh, yes,’ came the reply, ‘I just carry one or two in case any of the boys are short.’
It was then that the CO noticed that the Padre's lips were parched and cracked. He had evidently not had a drink for a page 142 long time. In the Colonel's words, ‘It was the most Christ-like thing I think I ever saw.’
Another far-sighted soldier had also anticipated the importance of water when the CO explained the nature of the march that lay ahead when the battalion formed up at Stilos. ‘Pop’ Lynch promptly obtained a valise into which he packed a full two-gallon tin of water. Many a man had reason to be thankful to him.
After a few hours' rest the battalion left the formed road and moved down a very steep and winding track to a ravine in which rhododendrons were growing—Rhododendron valley— halting close to a cave which housed Force Headquarters. Here the CO learned that the embarkation plan allowed for only 230 men from each of the 4 Brigade battalions and the Maori page 143 Battalion to be embarked that night. Not counting the Kiwi Concert Party and 4 Brigade Band, that still left forty of the 20th to stay. While he was considering the position firing broke out in the ravine. Fifth Brigade's rearguard was six miles away and these shots, ‘right at our back door’, were strange. Evidently a large enemy patrol had pushed through or round the covering force almost to the beach, where it began to shoot at everything, hoping to create panic. Brigadier Inglis placed B Company of the 18th on the eastern side of the ravine, while Colonel Kippenberger called to Captain Washbourn to take his company up the bed of the ravine and to Captain Fountaine to send C Company up the cliffs to the western side. The account of the final sortie is given by Corporal Vincent of C Company:
The going was hard and the men were very tired, but, led by Lt Upham, they toiled up the steep slope until they observed Germans running between rhododendron bushes in the bed of the ravine which was otherwise devoid of cover. A party under Sergeant-Major Grooby were disposed along the side of the ravine while the leading group climbed about ½ mile to head off the enemy who were soon accounted for. The sides of the ravine were so steep that one man … had to be held by the legs so that he could lean over far enough to fire with his Bren. When all the enemy to be seen had been dealt with the men returned to the mouth of the ravine where they were told that some of the company would not be taken off that night.52
Volunteers were then called for to stay with the rear party. In C Company the NCOs insisted on remaining and the rest, ‘after much argument’, were chosen by ballot. The other companies made their selections from their volunteers or drew lots. Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows, who had been detailed to command the rear party, which was to be known as 4 Battalion, began to organise the three platoons of which it was composed. Those who were to go gave ammunition, food, water, and any tobacco they had to those who were to remain.
At this stage [Borthwick's diary records] several fellows who had not been with us in the march over the island (they had preferred independent movement rather than stick to the unit) now presented themselves with as good a face as possible when they heard that some of us were being taken off. They just had no show.page 144
We said cheerio to the chaps staying behind and moved down nearer the beach in darkness. We had strict instructions not to let anybody break into our formation. Finally we formed a single file and Pop Lynch and myself were detailed to scrutinise every man's face as they filed past to make sure there were no strangers among us. After what seemed an interminable period of waiting [we were] taken off in small boats to two destroyers, HMAS Napier and HMAS Nizam. A great feeling of relief and chaps on the outside seat of the small boat were dangling their hands in the water just like kids. It did all seem rather miraculous….
Saturday 31 May: …. Once aboard [the Napier] about a dozen of us were looking for a place to go and someone says, ‘Come up here boys.’ It was the stoker P.O's mess and they looked after us … right royally. Laid on stew, tea with milk and sugar, bread, butter and jam, and cigarettes in abundance. We heard the BBC news at 3 a.m. ship's time, and although we were all badly in need of sleep not one of us in that Mess went to sleep. We just talked and talked.
At 9.5 a.m. came a bombing attack by nine Dorniers. The Nizam disappeared completely from view behind huge columns of spray as bombs fell around her, and the Napier had seven near misses forward and to starboard, some of them very close indeed. The lights and the ammunition hoist failed and the men helped to handle the ammunition up to the guns. The CO had commenced to shave, but, taking in the situation quickly, joined the line and incidentally added a touch of colour in his borrowed blue dressing gown and with flakes of dried soap blowing off his face.
Men washed and shaved in the washrooms all day. Their clothes were filthy. Air support arrived but the Navy, taking no chances, fired on the planes until they dropped the correct flares. There was an anxious moment later in the day when one of the boiler valves exploded with a loud bang and the ship slowed down, but she carried on at reduced speed. Alexandria was sighted about 4 p.m. and the Napier docked two hours later. The battalion manned ship and saluted as Admiral Cunningham passed in his pinnace.
The final act of the main party is quoted from General Kippenberger's account in Infantry Brigadier:
We tied up and I went up to the bridge to thank the Captain. While there I was very distressed to see R.S.M. Wilson hurrying down the gangway. Then he called loudly for markers from Twentieth Battalion and I watched with pride while he collected, dressed, page 145 and placed them, all as correctly and smartly as if at Maadi. The men filed down and it was good to see that every one was armed and every one was shaved. The R.S.M. fell them in, handed over to the Adjutant with full routine, the Adjutant handed over to me— and we marched off, I stumping hatless and very proudly at the head and everyone on the wharf saluting.
South African transport took the battalion to Amiriya, where the men were issued with a blanket, a razor, and toilet gear. ‘Good meal and a blanket and slept in a tent,’ writes one diarist. ‘It seemed like heaven.’
Many of the battalion's walking wounded were already in Egypt, having been taken off in HMAS Perth on the night of 29-30 May. After leaving Crete the cruiser had been attacked by enemy aircraft. The captain had skilfully avoided all the bombs except one, which glanced off the funnel and exploded in the galley, the only part of the ship not crowded with soldiers. Four of the crew and nine soldiers were killed.
Meanwhile on Crete the rear party, organised into three platoons under Colonel Burrows and Lieutenant Rolleston, had taken up defensive positions to block the ravine against infiltrating German troops. Corporal Vincent describes the events of 31 May:
At midnight, under Sergeant-Major Grooby, the rear party went back up the ravine, beyond the point reached in the morning, to where the crest flattened out giving a field of fire to the north. The party was in position by 2 a.m. and every man had an automatic and as much ammunition as he could carry.
About 10 a.m. next day … [Private Bob Doig53 and I] went down to Lt-Col Burrows to report that no enemy had been seen, that the men were still on duty but suffering badly from thirst, and to ask if water could be sent up to them. On the way down we searched the ravine and counted twenty-two dead German (Austrian?) Alpine troops, seven of whom, below a bend in the gulch, had been accounted for by two Australian machine guns, not previously known to be there. It appeared that the enemy had been guided by a Greek dressed in civilian clothes and carrying a rifle. At Headquarters water was duly promised but the carrying party failed to reach the forward troops who finally had to go down for it themselves.
About 4.30 p.m. word was received from the CO to withdraw to Force Headquarters in the caves. There was seldom time for page 146 written orders on Crete, but that sent to the 20 Battalion rear party has been preserved. It is copied from the original retained by C Company's Quartermaster-Sergeant, Gordon Fraser.54
To:} C and D Pls.
From: Lt-Col Burrows
You will assemble your pls. in the valley and not in the olive groves. Time of assembly 2000 hrs.
C and D. Pl. should therefore commence withdrawing at about 1900 hrs.
Withdrawal must be orderly, controlled and silent.
A. R. Fitchett, Lieut.
At night the rear party moved to the beach, passing through cordons provided by 22 Battalion and the Maori Battalion. As on the previous night, each man placed a hand on the shoulder of the man in front of him to keep contact and to prevent stragglers from breaking in. On board HMS Phoebe and the destroyer Jackal the sailors were generous with food and tobacco, and it seemed a just reward for the rear party that its ship enjoyed freedom from enemy air attack. At Alexandria, as on the previous night, the men were swamped with hospitality by the YMCA and taken to Amiriya, where they slept the night in the familiar EPIP tents. Next day the rear party rejoined the battalion at Helwan.
The battalion's most costly action in Crete was the counter-attack on Maleme airfield. In this attack, and in the subsequent fighting around Pirgos and Platanias, it lost two officers (Captain Rice and Lieutenant Scoltock) and over fifty men killed in action or died of wounds. 55 Its losses in the fighting in the Galatas area between 20 and 26 May were three officers killed (Major Wilson, Lieutenants Green and O'Callaghan) and nineteen men. No record exists of the number killed by air attack or in the other smaller actions of the battle, but there page 147 were not many. The serious toll taken of the battalion by the campaigns in Greece and Crete is shown in the following table:
|Killed or Died of Wounds||4||20||5||75|
|Wounded and prisoner of war||—||11*||2||54†|
|Prisoners of war||4||65||—||32|
Total casualties: 22 officers, 424 other ranks.
* * * * * * *
Sergeant Allison describes his visit to Crete in September-October 1954:
10th Sept., 1954
An hour has passed since sunrise and the valleys and hills with their cottages and churches dotted here and there make a picture you'll recall quite vividly…. Below lie the very familiar landmarks of the gaol and the little cemetery. Last night I slept under the olive trees again, near our old positions just below this hill. A little shack of a very poor type is new on this rise. I cannot get things in their right directions, because for some reason I always recalled the gaol in the opposite direction and there appears to be so many roads and tracks which all look alike. The weather is still sunny and very warm in the daytime, but the nights are beginning to cool off. I would like to spend a whole year here, it's so peaceful and beautiful….
14th Sept…. The news had gone round the village and its environs that a New Zealander was in Galatos. I can honestly tell you that to walk through Galatos if you are an NZ-er is the most difficult thing yet, for you are besieged, not by one or two, but by dozens of people, old and young. I made 4 attempts to go from one side of Galatos to the other but did not succeed at all. There is a wine shop every few chains. In the end I had to by-pass the village by taking to the fields and going with determination to the spots I want to see.
Last night I slept in a little cottage close to the spot where Harry Gilchrist, Billy Horn, Jock Hoffman and Jack Friend were killed. page 148 I've heard many stories about the deaths of NZ-ers and of the escape of some. I am writing now amongst some olive trees between Galatos and Daratsos, but again I'm interrupted by three small boys - one eating a handful of grapes and very ragged in dress. There's such a great deal to tell you….
20th Sept. In the positions we occupied the night of the last fight at Galatos - near Galatos turn-off…. You might recall a fairly severe morning and afternoon (?) bombing (Uke's leather coat hanging on a tree). At that time I was with Spicer visiting Charlie Macdonald [McDonald] on the other side of road. There was one terrific bomb (aerial torpedo or parachute I think somebody said). It made a grand hole and for some reason I always remembered it. Well, I'm writing now exactly on the edge of it. It's much - very much smaller, grass covered, and has been filled in quite a bit, but still large. A girl is singing as she gathers olives nearby and I can hear a goat bell tinkling - birds are chortling and some distance off I can hear children playing. I had quite a few conversations with the locals who all wanted to direct me - but to different places. At last I went off on my own - a little confused and [un]certain if memory was correct, but a sudden flash of the past reminded me that Charlie Macdonald's [sic] position was in a slightly open space and then I saw a ditch and a stone wall along which I was told to direct Jim Burrows and the fellows from Maleme - and in less than ten minutes from there I walked right to the exact spot. I recall walking over to it with Spicer and Charlie Mac and finding Hugh Drawbridge (and George Weenink) looking stunned and somewhat bewildered…. It was in this area that I remember last seeing Mike O'Callaghan. The other bomb holes, too are quite plain.
You'll wonder at the lapse of days between writings. I've been up to Platanias and Santa Maria and Maleme a couple of times. The Greeks have dealt savagely with the German cemeteries: wheat and vines, olive trees and orange trees send their roots to tangle with the German dead. In a way I don't blame the Greeks. Leaving a margin for exaggeration they yet must have suffered badly. Yet I find them very truthful; they all say the Germans did not molest their women, except in odd circumstances perhaps, nor did they shoot any women en masse (in this area) and they wouldn't need to either - they made such a bl—mess of them during the actual battle and in the little battles of resistance which followed our departure….
In New Zealand I was told that the Germans had built a large monument near Galatos on the Maleme road to the memory of … [their] dead and ours. Well, the monument is there all right with a huge eagle on top swooping down like a Stuka but this monument commemorates German dead only. The Greeks call it the “Bad Bird” - some say “Smash it Down”, others say “Leave it as a souvenir, a reminder of their defeat.” Near Furnes there is a grave page 149 yard containing the bodies of 20 “Deutch Kammarden” (Paratroopers who fell at that spot). The plot is overgrown and a notice in Greek says “They are here because they were defeated by a people whose only weapon is their love of liberty.” At Maleme above the 'drome overlooking the sea is a huge German burial ground set in tiers - now growing wheat and vines. I counted 15 tiers some 50 yards each in length, there might be more….
… in Galatos all is quiet in the afternoon sun and the men (some men) sit at the tables sipping coffee oozoo(?) - a wine, and playing at cards or “tric-trac” - or just sit and talk. The village priest sits there too - the same priest as our day - talking with his flock. He told me he buried 179 New Zealanders from in and just around Galatos behind his church. He showed me the list of their names and numbers - some without identification, however. Hanging on the wall of his house is a photo of Kip taken at a table on his return here after the Krieg. He is a very modest fellow, this priest.
I like him….
The day is perfect, and from these caves Sphakia has all the charm of a Mediterranean village, but once you approach it and live in it the charm very rapidly vanishes and you find yourself amid the ruins of Stuka days and the utter filth of to-day, for which there is no excuse whatsoever. These caves, as you will know, were old “Frey's” headquarters. It was here that Tom Jackson and I were sent to act as runners on our last day here. From here Tom and I went to fill water bottles at a well about ½ a mile away. I tried to find the well this morning but no luck. I found two other wells, and probably they are the ones and my memory has failed me. I thought they were in a slightly different position.
I came here at 4 p.m. yesterday. I walked from Canea to Suda and about another 4 or 5 miles past Suda. On the way I took a swim in the sea and then waited on the bus. It had been my plan to walk the distance to Sphakia but the curiosity of the villagers and the police made this not easy. To be perfectly honest the days are still hot, my legs lazy, and the haversack heavy….
Last night I had to stay at the police station - there's no other place. You just want to see it to believe it. I've not seen dirt and filth like it. Uke would go mad if he saw it. I can stand and have stood a fair amount of sad surroundings but last night I had had enough. This morning I arose very early, bought some dry bread at a smelly wine shop and set off alone. I had been gone an hour when my policeman appeared down the slope shouting furiously. Hell, man, I was mad - he keeps up such a babble of yap - not one word of which I understand.page 150
However, he has just left after spending 1 ½ hrs up here watching every move I make. There are ten “cops” in this village, the main street of which is not quite 4 chains long. Now, do you know what some of the villagers thought with great suspicion - that in 1941 I had buried some treasure here in the form of English money and I had come back for it and wanted nobody to know. There are also the two old suspicions, spy or commo. I get quite angry when they keep telling me I am rich - little do they realize.
Generally speaking they are all very good people, very friendly and always wanting to help, especially a New Zealander, but I'm a bit disgusted with the attitude of thinking they are the only poor people in the world and that anybody who is British is rich - that is the attitude of some, especially in this area and around Heraklion….
I'm writing this note in our old positions near Canea overlooking the sea, and the island to which Berry led us on one of his wildgoose chases. I'm down on the flat near the road where if my memory serves me correctly I recall you, paper or book in hand, checking numbers of personnel as the sections came back from Maleme. This is the area we were in [on] the morning of the invasion. You will remember Pop Lynch attempting a shave. Now I'm about to be interrupted by an old Greek - he gave me a meal the first day (this time, 1954) I passed by. The little boy from across the road who would collect our “dobie”, and sell us bread, Vasseli by name, now lives in Athens. Two bomb holes are still visible here. I am now complete with bicycle, one borrowed from Emmanuel Tapinaki (Anna's father). Now, believe it or not, my friend, but this bicycle is none other than one of ours, perhaps not belonging to our Battalion - but one of the ones on issue. Emmanuel, finding it after our escape, took it to pieces, bit by bit, carefully hiding the parts in various places, and assembling it after the German defeat. Yesterday I made a “flying” visit on it to Platanias, Gerani and Maleme, coming across another derelict German grave-yard on the way. It has been smashed to pieces and is growing clover. It would, on my estimation, contain about 600–800 bodies. The German monument with (Stuka) eagle atop is just about ½ mile from here, where B Coy had its HQ just prior to the Maleme affair….
11 Capt F. J. Bain; Waipara; born NZ 16 Mar 1916; warehouse assistant; wounded and p.w. 26 May 1941.
25 Col D. F. Leckie, OBE, ED, m.i.d.; Invercargill; born Dunedin, 9 Jun 1897; school-teacher; served in Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regt, Anzac Mounted Division, 1916–19; CO 23 Bn Aug 1940-Mar 1941, May 1941-Jun 1942; comd 75 Sub-Area, Middle East, Aug 1942-Mar 1944; wounded 25 May 1941.
26 Brig G. Dittmer CBE, DSO, MC, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Maharahara, 4 Jun 1893; Regular soldier; Auckland Regt 1914–19 (OC 1 NZ Entrenching Bn); CO 28 (Maori) Bn Jan 1940-Feb 1942; comd 1 Inf Bde Gp (in NZ) Apr 1942- Aug 1943; 1 Div, Aug 1942-Jan 1943; Fiji Military Forces and Fiji Inf Bde Gp, Sep 1943-Nov 1945; Camp Commandant, Papakura Military Camp, 1946; Commandant, Central Military District, 1946–48.
31 RQMS Bolwell also swam out to sea and escaped, while the others returned by various routes. The 7-tonner was able to turn round and return.
32 Brig J. Hargest, CBE, DSO and bar, MC, m.i.d.; born Gore, 4 Sep 1891; farmer; MP, 1931–44; Otago Mounted Rifles, 1914–20 (CO 2 Bn Otago Regt); comd 5 Bde May 1940-Nov 1941; p.w. 27 Nov 1941; escaped Italy, Mar 1943; killed in action, France, 12 Aug 1944.
33 Lt-Col F. Baker, DSO, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Kohukohu, Hokianga, 19 Jun 1908; civil servant; CO 28 (Maori) Bn Jul-Nov 1942; twice wounded; Director of Rehabilitation, 1943–54; Public Service Commission, 1954-.
35 Col D. J. Fountaine, DSO, MC, m.i.d.; Westport; born Westport, 4 Jul 1914; company secretary; CO 20 Bn 21 Jul-16 Aug 1942; 26 Bn Sep 1942-Dec 1943, Jun-Oct 1944; comd NZ Adv Base Oct 1944-Sep 1945; wounded 26 Nov 1941.
47 Pte F. G. Ross; Invercargill; born Invercargill, 15 Jun 1904; caretaker. Ross, cut off with Colonel Kippenberger's rear party in Greece, had made his way on foot in civilian clothes, and later in Greek uniform, down through German-occupied Greece and across by boat to Crete.
52 About twenty Germans were killed by Upham's party. For this exploit, and for his part in the battles of the last few days, Upham was awarded his first VC.
55 This figure is approximate. It is arrived at by subtracting the known losses at Galatas from the total for the whole campaign. A number of men posted as missing at the end of the campaign have since been reclassified as killed.
* One man died of wounds while a prisoner of war.
† Six men died of wounds while prisoners of war.