CHAPTER 4 — Battle for Crete
Battle for Crete
By 2.30 p.m. on Anzac Day the troops were safe in Suda Bay, on the north coast of Crete, where a little town clustered around the end of a single quay. Behind the houses were vineyards and olive groves which, commencing as easy slopes, rose into the green and purple foothills of the snow-crested White Mountains. The harbour was full of transports, around and between which small boats fussed continuously, while landing barges unloaded soldiers evacuated from Greece.
The 21st Battalion marched inland some three miles to an area in the Perivolia olive plantation, called Rest Camp B to distinguish it from any other area in the same plantation. Instead of tents there were olive trees. Rations came from somewhere; cigarettes and matches had been distributed at a point en route, and as a final comfort there was a stretch of water and the Navy between the troops and the enemy.
The locality was regarded more as a place to live in than a defensive area, for Crete was then considered to be only a transit camp during the evacuation of Greece. Get everybody off the mainland first, move on to Egypt, refit, then get our own back on the Italians and Germans now in the Western Desert. That was the programme—everybody knew it—and in the meantime shelter under the olive trees and reorganise.
But Crete, although the information had not seeped down to the rank and file, was to be something more than a staging camp and recruiting ground for harried troops. It was essential for Germany to complete the defence of her southern flank, and the island's possession was also an important factor in our Mediterranean strategy. Intelligence reports indicated that the enemy intended mounting an attack before very long.page 79
Brigadier Puttick1 took command of NZ Division on 30 April, when General Freyberg was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the forces on Crete. The latter soon found that he could expect no important addition to the ground forces and little or no air support. The Navy promised all possible assistance, but the sky was dominated by the Luftwaffe.
In addition to the original garrison of one British brigade, General Freyberg found he had available for the defence of Crete eleven partly equipped and practically untrained Greek regiments, four British, eight Australian and eight New Zealand battalions, all short of equipment and under strength. In addition there was a heterogeneous collection of specialists formed into infantry units, although virtually untrained from an infantry point of view and strange to their weapons.
The topography of Crete gave no help to the defence. The island is about 160 miles long and 30 miles wide and has only one main road running the whole length of it; the ports and airfields are situated on the northern side of a mountain backbone rising to 8000 feet, across which the roads are few and elementary. The enemy had absolute air supremacy, with German planes based on airfields in southern Greece and the Italians in the Dodecanese Islands; our nearest bases in North Africa, over 200 miles away, were beyond effective fighter range.
The New Zealand sector was the northern coast westwards from (but excluding) Canea. It was from one and a half to three miles in depth, with the inland boundary along a ridge roughly parallel with the coast, and was scoured with steep-sided valleys. Many of the hills were wooded and the lower land was filled with olive groves and occasional fields of corn. Between the lower land and the almost perpendicular country was an area of terraced vineyards.
Brigadier Hargest, with an additional battalion, the Maoris, under command, was given the task of defending Maleme airfield. Fourth Brigade, eventually to be commanded by Brigadier Inglis,2 was held in general reserve between Galatas and page 80 Canea. Tenth Brigade, an ad hoc formation formed later and commanded by Colonel Kippenberger,3 occupied the Galatas-Alikianou area.
Of the 5 Brigade units, 22 Battalion was made responsible for the airfield itself, with the other battalions in support to the east. On 30 April 21 Battalion moved to a position between Maleme and the Platanias River, with the dual role of defending the beach and river mouth against a sea landing and of counter-attacking in support of 22 Battalion.
The 21st Battalion's strength was only 237 all ranks, but two New Zealand Engineer companies (7 Field Company and 19 Army Troops Company), already in the area, were attached. It was decided, however, that a battalion so diversely composed would not be solid enough, and 23 Battalion was given the counter-attack role, while the 21st moved again to rising ground south of Maleme. The 28th (Maori) Battalion remained in Brigade reserve east of the Platanias River.
By 3 May 21 Battalion had settled into a valley about two miles south-east of Maleme. Major Harding, now temporarily commanding, set up his headquarters in Kondomari. The companies bivouacked in and around the village, with battle positions facing west along the forward slopes of what became known as Vineyard Ridge. The top of Vineyard Ridge was comparatively flat, about one hundred yards wide, and covered with orange, mandarin and olive groves, while along each side were the usual terraces of grapes within a few weeks of ripening. The higher, southern end of Vineyard Ridge was dominated by a small knoll about half an acre in area, on which were located two 50-foot masts and the machinery of a radio-location unit. It was extremely hush-hush and was spoken of as the wireless station. The RAF operators, about fifty strong, were mostly unarmed, and local protection was provided by a platoon from 22 Battalion. From the wireless station a road had been formed along the side of yet another spur down through Xamoudhokhori to the Maleme airfield, about a mile and a half away.page 81
As far as the troops were concerned, digging weapon pits on Vineyard Ridge was an exercise only, for unless the Germans arrived by air or the Navy took a long holiday, they considered there was small chance of using them.
Time passed pleasantly enough. There was a routine stand-to at dusk and dawn, and there were periods when all ranks had to be in their areas. At night one-third of the strength was placed on three hours' sentry duty, and in the daytime there was three hours' training; the balance of the time was spent in preparing battle positions, in swimming parades, and resting. Rations could have been more varied, but the cooks, working under battalion arrangements and cooking over open fires in kerosene tins, did their best to vary the invariable bully beef. Money was scarce, but fruit was cheap and wine not unheard of. There was in addition a minute percentage of leave to Canea, and Captain Panckhurst opened a small canteen. He financed the venture with money lent by a few who had been lucky at two-up; he borrowed a truck from the 1st Welch in Canea, and purchased his stock from the YMCA there.4
On 3 May, very much to everybody's surprise, Lieutenant-Colonel Macky, together with 39 men of all ranks, rejoined the battalion from Greece. They had marched all night over the hills from Tempe, hoping to get to the port of Volos, but when daylight came they were still far behind the enemy lines. Guided first by a Greek shepherd and then by a professional tobacco smuggler, they had climbed over Mount Ossa to the coast. There they had met Captain Dutton, Padre Sheely, and a handful of men who had missed Major Harding after escaping from the ambush on the Larissa road. They had been four days in the hills and nine at sea, during which time they had transhipped five times. Colonel Macky and several of the party were suffering from dysentery, brought on by irregular meals and exposure, and were evacuated to hospital. Lieutenants Smith and Roach, at the risk of being caught and shot, volunteered to return to Greece in civilian clothes and endeavour to collect odd parties of men still at large. The offer was not accepted by Divisional Headquarters, who evidently thought that two officers in the hand were worth an unknown number of men in the Aegean.page 82
Two days later Captain Trousdale reported with another party. With him were three officers and 51 other ranks; eight sick and wounded had been left behind in hospital at Heraklion. Their story was much the same as that of Colonel Macky's party: they had been bombed, machine-gunned, starved, and occasionally overfed. They had sheltered on half the islands in the Aegean Sea and had almost landed in Turkey, but had decided against it from fear of being interned.
Almost daily the strength rose by ones and twos as parties in caiques, some navigated by Greeks, others steered by guesswork, reached the island. Lieutenant Flavell brought a handful of men across with the aid of a Greek Automobile Association map, the help of Providence, and a stolen boat. Captain Hetherington and RSM Dave Sweeney, together with Sergeants Dave Hawkins,5 Herb Bellamy6 and Bill Kenny,7 rowed part of the way, then joined some Australians at the island of Tinos. They had stolen a larger boat with an engine and sails, but the engine broke down and the wind would not blow in the right direction. It took them three days rowing day and night to get about 25 miles from Antikithira to Kisamos Bay.
Naturally enough such events called for suitable celebrations, which in turn necessitated unauthorised trips to Canea for supplies. These out-of-bounds excursions and late returns from lawful leave were going on in other units also, and eventually it became necessary to establish a Field Punishment Centre. Major Harding was asked to detail an officer to command the centre, and went to A Company because it had the most subalterns. Lieutenant Roach's appointment was almost automatic, for four of his depleted platoon were already under sentence owing to a misunderstanding about leave passes.8
The castle on the ridge at Platamon
The coastline north of Platamon from the castle—the railway is on the left
Looking towards Pandeleimon from the castle
The outlook from 21 Battalion positions south of Maleme
CRETE, Allied Dispositions, 20 May 1941
There was another blow a week after the departure of the lookout detachment. Lieutenant Anderson, with a mixed platoon of pioneers and transport drivers, departed to a post two miles west on the Tavronitis River bank. Their mission was to strengthen 22 Battalion's western flank and form the nucleus of a possible battalion defensive position.
On Saturday, 17 May, any remaining doubts about the coming invasion were dispelled. The battalion, now commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Allen,10 was inspected by General Freyberg, who later told the men about the importance of holding Crete and the likely date for the attack. It was expected to come on Monday. The technique would probably be a preliminary strafing, followed by an attempted landing by parachute and glider troops. The General ended his remarks with a severe criticism of the withdrawal from the Tempe position in Greece and said that the transport column that had been ambushed on the Larissa road had panicked. The General, from the highest motives and without full knowledge of the facts, did less than justice to troops who, with inadequate support, had been required to meet the fire power of enemy tanks supported by experienced mountain troops.
There was no invasion on Monday. The troops agreed that the jittery prophets on the staff were wrong again as usual, or that the forecast was a trick to get them to dig weapon pits without picks or shovels to dig them with. In actual fact Intelligence had correctly reported the German timetable, later amended because their preparations took longer than was originally expected.
Tuesday, 20 May, began with the usual routine. The battalion had already stood down and was taking it easy waiting for breakfast. Topics of interest were the disposal of papers and parcels that had arrived late the previous night for men still missing in Greece, the somewhat heavier blitz over towards Suda Bay, and the new commanding officer.
Colonel Allen was no stranger to the men from the Hauraki district and within a few hours his biography was known to the battalion. He was a farmer from Morrinsville, had been elected to Parliament as Member for Hauraki, had been a Territorial officer in the Hauraki Regiment for years, and had sailed with 18 Battalion in the First Echelon. The commanding officer's short, slight, and wiry figure had covered much ground in the three days preceding the battle.
There was a rumble like distant thunder in the east. More reconnaissance planes, blast them, just when a man was going to have his breakfast. The rumble became a roar, and two dozen Messerschmitts, Dorniers and Stukas passed over the valley towards Maleme. They were followed by dozens more in quick succession. The muffled boom that distance and an intervening hill give to bursting bombs almost drowned the sound of the alarm. There was a hasty grabbing of equipment and a scramble for the positions that with much grumbling had been prepared on Vineyard Ridge. Those who had managed to evade the toil of digging owing to the lack of tools, put up miraculous records with tin hats, table knives, and finger nails.
The sky was black with planes swinging in over the high ground to the east, and the cloud of dust over Maleme, together page 86 with the thunder of explosions, the chatter of machine guns, and the quick bark of Bofors, settled all doubts. The invasion was on.
Like an orchestra following the baton of its leader, the noise built up to a climax of detonating bombs, then stopped as suddenly as it had started. There was a new sound in the sky, a throbbing sound that grew in intensity until the ground shook. Overhead long lines of great, lumbering Junkers 52s were followed by ghostly gliders almost as large. From the bellies of the leading planes, now far to the west, fluttered what appeared to be little white handkerchiefs with little black blobs swinging under them. Paratroops! A few minutes later the sky was raining paratroops: in the west across the river, in the north among 22 and 23 Battalions, and in the east around 10 Brigade.
Subsequently paratroops were dropped nearer 21 Battalion, and for a while the unit was able to shoot many of them in the air. When there were no other targets close enough, potshots were taken at the doors in the sides of the Junkers to try to get the first man before he made his jump. At approximately 8.30 a.m. four plane-loads were dropped near D Company, but very few of them reached the ground alive; this was a slight recompense to 21 Battalion for being pushed around in Greece. A little later 24 paratroopers fell in Kondomari; one was capture alive, two were wounded, and the rest were killed.
The battalion had been allotted three possible roles:
To move to the Tavronitis River, where Lieutenant Anderson was already located.
To remain and fight on Vineyard Ridge.
The telephone line to brigade was dead and no orders arrived. As in the first action in Greece, the battalion's commanding officer had to make his own decision. The 22nd Battalion had not asked for assistance, nor had 23 Battalion, with which he was in touch, been asked to counter-attack; so presumably 22 Battalion was successfully dealing with the situation. Lieutenant-Colonel Allen decided to remain and fight on Vineyard page 87 Ridge. His decision was understandable, but had he decided to move to the Tavronitis River area on the flank of 22 Battalion, the whole campaign in Crete might have taken a different course. Two companies of the enemy who had landed higher up the river might have been prevented from initiating a pincer movement on a vital sector of 22 Battalion's defences. The decision having been made, another platoon from A Company was sent to reinforce Lieutenant Anderson on the river bank and, if necessary, to clear the villages of Xamoudhokhori and Vlakheronitissa en route. They reported some hours later that they could not get past the second village and had lost two killed and one wounded in the attempt. Two further efforts were made to contact Anderson, but on each occasion the patrols returned after their leaders, Lance-Corporals Bill Craig11 and Jock Agnew,12 had been killed.
A patrol under Lieutenant Dee was then sent forward of Xamoudhokhori. They went through the village, searched all the houses, and reported occasional fire from the direction of Vlakheronitissa between them and the river. The patrol returned at dusk and reported that enemy pressure was increasing.
After the paratroop drop had been completed there were long periods when there was little or no air activity in 5 Brigade's area. The enemy planes were giving air cover to the landings further east, at Retimo and Heraklion. A hot and thirsty day ended without the battalion having been heavily engaged. Colonel Allen was still without orders, Anderson's platoon was not accounted for, and the lookout detachment at Kastelli almost certainly was lost.13 Double pickets were mounted, but the only indication that the airborne attack had secured a foothold at all was the coloured flares the paratroopers used for inter-communication, and they were mostly to the north and west.
At approximately ten o'clock the silence was broken by the sound of men approaching from the direction of 23 Battalion. page 88 They were talking and singing in Maori and were making a very considerable din. Captain Trousdale angrily asked what the idea was, and was told that B Company 28 Battalion was on the way to reinforce 22 Battalion. They were not sure of 21 Battalion's location and had no desire to be taken for paratroops and treated accordingly. They had adopted the ruse of speaking Maori to advertise their peaceful intention towards 21 Battalion.
At 2 a.m. on 21 May 23 Battalion rang through to say 22 Battalion was withdrawing from the airfield, and at about the same time the Maori B Company returned, accompanied by B Company 22 Battalion. The Maoris had been unable to locate 22 Battalion headquarters, but had encountered the withdrawing troops and guided them back.
Our show started about 6 a.m. The cook had started to get breakfast and the chaps were getting roused when planes started to search and strafe the area we were in. This went on for about an hour when parachutists began to drop and the men of my section climbed the olive trees to get a better view for firing. Our arms were one rifle per man, one tommy gun, one bren gun which had jammed and would fire only single shots. Lieutenant Anderson had a 38 revolver and I also had only a 38 until one of our lads was wounded and I took his rifle. We accounted for quite a number of paratroopers. When things had quietened down I went along to report to Lieutenant Anderson, but met some of the section he was with coming to tell me he had been killed in the first few minutes, and that the Hun was moving forward through the olive trees. I decided to leave my section where it was and place the others, a little shaken by Lieutenant Anderson's death, on the lower bank of our position. We soon saw the Hun in his grey uniform feeling his way through the olive trees. However, we had the advantage and after we had accounted for several we were left alone from that quarter. In fact the whole area was more or less quiet, so I took the opportunity of withdrawing one section under Corporal Franklin15 to the higher page 89 ground behind us as we did not know what might have landed there. This proved a good move for us, for no sooner had they left than we heard firing. I may say that one or two gliders had landed in the river bed by this time. The rest of the platoon moved up towards the firing and found Franklin's section very pleased with themselves. They had arrived just as a glider landed and had cleaned up everyone as they disembarked. I crawled out and counted seventeen and robbed one of his luger and ammo. Others in the section followed suit.
From what I knew our battalion was to have come forward to our area when the show started and joined up with 22nd Battalion on our right. My object was now, in view of the fact that we had no word at all from our commanding officer, to contact 22nd Battalion and let them know we were in the area and about ¾ of a mile away. I called for a volunteer to act as runner and Tom Cannon16 started with a message. I am sorry to say nothing has been seen or heard of Tom since he left me.
Later in the afternoon I decided to try again to contact 22nd Battalion. I crawled through some corn, but only found a dirty big glider and Huns could be heard talking; a problem with only a 38 and a luger, so I withdrew smartly and rejoined the boys. As soon as it was dark we started out to rejoin the battalion and got to our lines about 3 a.m.
At first light D Company saw a number of men whom they took to be enemy troops moving about. They opened fire and the ‘enemy’ took cover. Captain Trousdale managed to convince the company that the ‘enemy’ were in reality a portion of 22 Battalion, with a sprinkling of RAF, Australians and Royal Marine gunners, which accounted for the strange uniforms. He shouted to them to send two sergeants over to be identified. This was done, and elements of 22 Battalion's C, D and Headquarters Companies came into the 21 Battalion lines.
By early afternoon 22 Battalion had reorganised, with D Company and a few of C Company commanded by Captain Campbell17 strengthening 21 Battalion's right flank. The 22nd page 90 Battalion's headquarters and Headquarters Company moved into Kondomari, and the rest of the battalion stayed with 23 Battalion.
The enemy was also consolidating around the captured airfield, while his planes endeavoured to silence the guns still firing on the drome. By late afternoon he was largely successful and a taxi service of Junkers landed a battalion, plus part of a regimental headquarters of 100 Mountain Regiment.
Elsewhere the position at first light was not unsatisfactory. The paratroops dropped around the other airfields were reported to have been mostly cleaned up, though it was thought that approximately three enemy battalions had landed and were consolidating in the reservoir and Prison Valley area south-west of Canea.
Still no orders came for 21 Battalion. Colonel Allen decided to feel out the enemy strength between Vineyard Ridge and the Tavronitis, and a strong patrol under Captain McElroy was directed to go past the wireless station to Xamoudhokhori. They were pinned down for three hours while some fifty Stukas were intent on their task of putting the wireless station out of commission. By the time they had finished the installation was in ruins, and many of the garrison were casualties. All documents of importance were burnt, and what machinery the bombs had missed was smashed before the position was abandoned. The patrol eventually got past the wireless station to the village, where they found the enemy in some strength. He must have followed on the heels of the returning patrol, for shortly afterwards there was some sniping in A Company's area. The 23rd Battalion reported that the same blitz that had demolished the wireless station had also forced a withdrawal on its left flank but, with D Company 22 Battalion supporting Trousdale's company, Colonel Allen was not unduly disturbed. The three forward battalion commanders held a conference in the evening and agreed that the 23rd should retake the lost ground the following day, and that the 21st should assist with a platoon if necessary.
Meanwhile Brigadier Hargest had been preparing to recapture the Maleme airfield with 20 and 28 Battalions, the 20th being brought up from 4 Brigade and coming under command, page 91 but his difficulty was to let the forward battalions know the details. Neither wireless nor telephone was functioning, enemy aircraft made large-scale movement by day impossible, and snipers commanded the only road. Bren carriers or tanks by day or long detours on foot after dark were the only means of communication, and by a combination of both methods Allen was ordered to join 28 Battalion when the counter-attack reached Point 107, where the high country commanded the airfield. The unit axis of advance was the road from the wireless station to Vlakheronitissa, thence across country to the objective.
The battalion's attack was planned to commence at 7 a.m., and those not on patrol or picket duty were snatching a few hours' sleep. About midnight the sleepers were awakened to witness a battle off the coast. Tracer shells were curving across the sky, searchlights were waving wildly, balls of fire were speeding along the water, and there were salvos of gunfire. British destroyers and cruisers were racing among the German invasion fleet like terriers in a rat pit. Very soon there was no enemy fleet. Arguments as to the possible meaning of the sea action had hardly died down when the rattle of rifle fire and flares along the coast suggested that the counter-attack had begun. The noise of battle drew closer and by daylight was near Maleme. The 21st Battalion made ready to do its share. Headquarters Company cleared a few snipers off the wireless station and A Company followed through along the road to Xamoudhokhori. The village was entered without much opposition and B Company went forward. It was not until they tried to advance beyond the village that the enemy showed his hand.
Heavy fire from the direction of Vlakheronitissa killed Captain McClymont and wounded several men before the others were forced to take cover. Lieutenant Yeoman posted Corporal McCabe and his Lewis machine-gun section in the tower of the village church and, though targets were difficult to pick up among the trees and grape vines, the enemy fire slackened considerably. Eventually a machine gun got onto McCabe's section and, when bursts of fire started coming through the open window and ricochetting off the stone walls of the empty room, they had to move.page 92
A patrol from A Company under Lieutenant Southworth was directed to move south-west and, if possible, outflank the opposition. They did not return. It was then about midday. Headquarters Company was established under the olive trees near the wireless station, A and B Companies were around Xamoudhokhori, and C Company was moving up. A runner arrived from Major Harding at Rear Headquarters in Kondomari with a message from 23 Battalion, stating that the counter-attack had not gone well. There had been delay in getting on to the start line and then heavy opposition between the road and the beach at Pirgos.
Allen decided to stand on A Company's objective until he knew more of the general situation, and he went back to check with Captain Trousdale. A and B Companies were instructed to pull back if enemy pressure became too severe, and C Company was ordered to close the gap between D Company and the wireless station.
The enemy had not attempted to exploit the gap between D Company and 23 Battalion. Satisfied that the position there was satisfactory, Colonel Allen was returning to Xamoudhokhori when he met the forward companies back at the wireless station. Flanking patrols, snipers, and mortar fire had forced them into the village, but mounting casualties had decided the company commanders to withdraw in accordance with instructions. The enemy, appreciating the situation, had followed at a discreet distance, and his fire was increasing.
At the same moment that Colonel Allen arrived there was a lull in the enemy attack and a man came up the road carrying a white flag. He delivered a note to Colonel Allen who, after reading its contents, which demanded immediate surrender, screwed it up and threw it in the emissary's face. The gesture was sufficiently obvious, for the man retired quickly along the way he had come.
The track from the wireless station to Vineyard Ridge was now under fire, and there were some casualties before the battalion was reformed along its original position. Trousdale handed over to Lieutenant Daniel and took command of A Company beneath the wireless station, where the enemy strength was increasing. The sniping was extremely accurate, making movement difficult.page 93
The third day of battle ended with a threatened attack against D Company's flank, followed by an hour's fierce dive-bombing which failed to dislodge the battalion but which inflicted more losses. B and C Companies of 28 Battalion came up and occupied the gap between D Company and 23 Battalion.
Apart from patrol encounters the night was relatively quiet. Elsewhere the enemy build-up was becoming threatening and, although no vital positions had been lost, the constant raids on Canea had disrupted the essential services and the civilian population was moved southwards into the mountains.
Although 5 Brigade was in some danger of being isolated, to leave Maleme in German hands was to lose Crete, and Creforce Headquarters ordered another attempt to capture the airfield. Brigadier Hargest reported that 5 Brigade was exhausted and not fit to make a further attack. There were no fresh troops left to throw in, and the decision was made to withdraw the brigade east of the Platanias River.
The brigade orders, stating that all moves were to be completed before first light, did not reach Colonel Allen until 5.20 a.m. on the 23rd, and it was broad daylight before the battalion started to thin out the forward positions.
Captain Hetherington's RAP had outgrown the cottage in Kondomari and he had 70 wounded men, including some Germans and RAF, under the shelter of a huge fig tree. There was no possibility of moving them without transport, and the medical officer decided to remain behind with his patients.
The three miles' scramble across the hills to Platanias, carrying what little rations and equipment the men still had, was an exhausting effort. The battalion moved out in two main parties, both widely dispersed; although reconnaissance planes were about there were no fighters to machine-gun them from the air. Those who took a direct route to Platanias were joined by elements from 22 and 23 Battalions, with the enemy close on their heels. They were fortunate in finding that B Company 28 Battalion was already in position on the bluff above the waist-deep river and able to give covering fire while the troops waded the Platanias and climbed the bluff into brigade reserve.
The parties who took the higher route through the hills were less fortunate. Captain Trousdale was leading his company page 94 along a narrow track when they were fired on from Modhion village. He called very expressively for volunteers to get up the hill and deal with the snipers. Corporals Dave Evitt18 and George Isley19 and half a dozen others scrambled through grape vines to the top and engaged the enemy, who was firing through windows and holes in the roofs of houses. The snipers were soon silenced, but when the party returned to the track there was nobody in sight. While they were discussing the direction to take, a single German came along the track leading a donkey laden with a machine gun. He was a lucky man, because it was decided to let him pass in order to find out which way not to go.
The party thereupon split up into pairs, each taking what they thought the best route. The two corporals constantly encountered enemy troops ahead of them and spent two days hiding among the grapes and olives. They finally decided to make a detour over the hills and were creeping up a valley when a plane dropped a stick of bombs behind them and set the scrub alight. They scrambled up the valley ahead of the flames, only to be hit on the head with rifle butts by a party of Germans waiting for them.
The other sections making detours in the hills also did not arrive at Platanias. In all, the casualties since the opening of the attack were seven officers and 114 other ranks killed, wounded, or missing. With companies down to platoon strength, the word ‘battalion’ may be regarded as a courtesy title for the remainder of the campaign.
The 21st Battalion was detailed to picket the high ground south of Platanias hill, while the rest of 5 Brigade formed a line facing west between the hill and the sea. This new position was attacked frontally along the coastal road and pushed back to Platanias village, where another line was formed and held against determined attacks. Brigadier Hargest was very worried by another threat to his rear from the Prison Valley area, and the brigade was ordered to withdraw eastwards again.
The battalion was detailed to hold off the threat from the page 95 Prison Valley while the rest of the brigade moved towards Canea. The attack did not develop and, when the last of the brigade was through, the battalion began to thin out. It was close to midnight when the rear party clambered down a rocky creek bed and joined the others waiting on the main road. A four-mile march brought them to some olive groves a mile west of Canea, where they bedded down for the rest of the night. When daylight came the troops found themselves in divisional reserve between the road and the sea, with 22 Battalion on their left. Forward were 23 and 28 New Zealand Battalions and 2/7 and 2/8 Australian Battalions supporting the troops around Galatas. Brigade instructions were that an attack could be expected at any moment, and 5 Brigade was to be ready to act in any of four roles: anti-paratroop, anti-beach, counter-attack, or to take up a line position.
Although the battalion was well sheltered from view, it was such a likely hiding place that the men were advised to dig slit trenches, an almost impossible task among the trees with only steel helmets and bayonets for tools. They managed, however, to get a little below ground level before they were subjected to the most severe bombing and strafing they had yet experienced. Being technically out of the battle line, though it was scarcely noticeable, the men were ordered to shave, clean their boots, and generally smarten up. Personal cleaning gear was held by about one man in seven, but it was passed around until they were more or less fit for a regimental inspection.
Clean exteriors did not compensate for definitely empty interiors, for rations were scanty and hard to come by. A scrounging party discovered a house not far away that contained eggs, potatoes and onions, but it was not possible to make the best use of them. No sooner was a fire lit than enemy planes would be over strafing the area.
The tide of battle continued to flow against the New Zealanders: Galatas was lost and a line behind it formed with cooks, batmen, the Kiwi Concert Party, brigade bandsmen, and stragglers; then two companies of 23 Battalion, with some other troops and two tanks, went forward and recaptured Galatas. A proud page in New Zealand's history was written on 25 May 1941, but that is not part of 21 Battalion's story.page 96
The 21st endured another day in reserve, being bombed and strafed at intervals, but after last light was ordered forward again. The Galatas position was to be given up and 5 Brigade was to form a new defensive line. To fulfil its task 21 Battalion's strength was increased by taking under command a detachment of Divisional Cavalry (Major Russell20), numbering 130 men; the survivors of 7 Field Company NZE (Captain Ferguson21), 90 men; and A Company 20 Battalion (Lieutenant Washbourn22), 70 men. The 21st Battalion proper was now approximately 170 strong but, with the additional troops, made a unit capable of giving a good account of itself. The position allotted to the battalion was about a mile in length. It was a shallow valley that ran down to the sea just east of 7 General Hospital. The western side of the valley, known as Hospital Ridge, was bare, stony and without cover, but there were olive trees in the valley.
The dispositions made by Colonel Allen were as follows: The area from the seaward end of Hospital Ridge to the main road was held by Headquarters Company, about half the strength of the battalion, plus 7 Field Company, under the command of Captain Sadler; in reserve were A and B Squadrons of the Divisional Cavalry, with the additional task of preventing infiltration along the beach. A, B, C and D Companies of 21 Battalion and C Squadron Divisional Cavalry were on the left of the main road, with A Company 20 Battalion in reserve. Battalion Headquarters was at the foot of the ridge behind the reserve company.
There were only two hours of darkness left by the time most of the positions were occupied, and some of Headquarters Company did not get into position until dawn. The ridge was page 97 quite bare of cover and the ground so hard that picks would have been needed to dig weapon pits. There were no picks and there would have been no time to use them if there were. Rocks were gathered and sangars built to crouch behind. The sun rose on the bare, rocky hill and a hot and thirsty day began. Enemy spotter planes made a leisurely reconnaissance and were not gone more than ten minutes when an accurate mortar concentration fell on the forward slopes of Hospital Hill.
The left platoon of Headquarters Company retired without orders, but Sergeant Bellamy refused to withdraw and fought on behind his sangar until he was killed. The fire was particularly heavy on the right flank, where an attempt was made by the enemy to work along the beach. This was turned back by the Divisional Cavalry detachment, but a machine gun got into position about 800 yards back and remained a menace all day. From 9.30 a.m. to 11 a.m. dive-bombing was added to the mortaring. Some of the bombs were delayed action ones and, the hillside being too hard to penetrate, they rolled page 98 down the hill before exploding. This was probably the most nerve-racking experience the sorely tried troops had experienced. Captain Ferguson, eventually suffering unreasonable casualties, took his engineers off the ridge back to the reverse slope.
When Colonel Allen heard that the right front was apparently breaking, he personally led a reserve squad of Divisional Cavalry up to the front ridge, and by 1.30 p.m. the situation, never really seriously impaired, was stabilised. Captain McElroy was sent over to command the right front in place of Captain Sadler, who was wounded, and Captain Trousdale took command of the other four companies. A platoon from A Company 20 Battalion was sent across to reinforce the Divisional Cavalry squadrons on the extreme right. Although scarcely a German was seen on the ground all day, the air spotting continued, with planes flying so low that the pilots leaned over and dropped hand grenades as they passed.
Right flank has caused me considerable anxiety all day. Have had to counter-attack once and regained lost ground. Since then have reinforced once; am standing by to reinforce again. If I have to do so I shall have used all my reserves, but at present line is holding. Left flank position all right but a good deal of mortar fire coming over. 19th Battalion have withdrawn company from ridge in front of me.
J. M. Allen, Lt-Col.
During the previous night Brigade Headquarters had moved back into dugouts vacated by Divisional Headquarters and had instructed battalions that a composite brigade under Brigadier Inglis would take over that night from 5 Brigade.
The strain of enduring the continued mortaring and air attack was beginning to tell on all ranks. A report from a wounded officer that the right flank was broken brought some companies of 23 Battalion up to fill a gap that did not exist. The 23rd suffered severely while coming up under instructions page 99 to restore the line at all costs but, having got there, remained in position about half a mile in the rear of 21 Battalion Group until nightfall.
The route out was along the road through the outskirts of Canea, and at one minute to midnight (26 May) a weary ten-mile withdrawal commenced to a hide-up area south of Suda behind a sunken road known as 42nd Street. Casualties during the day were four officers and 80 other ranks. It was the worst day and the greatest test of endurance 21 Battalion Group had undergone. Odd cases of hysteria were not to be wondered at under the circumstances. It was just as well the half-dazed troops did not know the chaotic state of affairs behind them. There was a near breakdown of communication and control between Force Headquarters, Divisional Headquarters, and Brigade Headquarters.
A line is being formed two miles west of Souda at approximately the junction of two converging roads. Beyond this line all troops must go. Units will keep close together, liaise where possible to guard against sniper attack. 5 Brigade units in general will hide up in area along road between Souda and Stylos turn-off. Hide-up areas for units will be allotted by ‘G’ staff on side of road after passing through Souda. Bde HQ will close present location at 2300 hrs and travel at head of column. Will then set up adjacent to Stylos turn-off. A dump of rations boxes already opened is situated near the main bridge on main Canea road also some still at DID. Help yourself. It is regretted that NO further tpt is available for evacuation of wounded. It is desirable that MOs should travel with tps. There is possibility of a dump of amn being on roadside near main ordnance dump. Take supplies as you pass.
Captain Panckhurst had anticipated the instruction to do what he could about transport and had acquired a truck. The page 100 radiator had been damaged, but Private Jack Brydon24 patched it up, and the vehicle was loaded with rations and ammunition. When the battalion moved out Captain Dutton was given the job of taking the one-truck battalion B Echelon through Canea to the hide-up area, as the route the troops were taking was impracticable for vehicles. After Canea had been bypassed the country was criss-crossed by roads and tracks, with troops moving in different directions trying to find their dispersal areas.
The enemy added to the chaos with the first appearance of night-flying planes dropping parachute flares. They hung in the air for several minutes, outshining the brightest moonlight, and must have revealed the mêlée below quite clearly.
The 21st Battalion Group eventually staggered into a position in an olive grove at 4 a.m. on the 27th and, secure in the belief that there was a British brigade between them and the enemy, slept through the few hours of darkness.
Captain Dutton arrived in the area after daybreak. He had spent hours trying to find a passage through the confusion in Canea, and was eventually towed through by a tank which climbed over demolished houses without trouble. During the tank-conducted tour of Canea he had met 1 Welch moving west, but actually the covering force in front of 42nd Street had been outflanked and cut off. When Allen suspected that he was open to attack, he set about discovering who were on his flanks. He found 2/7 Australian Battalion on his right and 28 (Maori) Battalion on his left. The whereabouts of Brigade Headquarters was not known, and the three battalion commanders agreed that until orders arrived they would dispose their units tactically.
Forty-second Street, a road sunken for part of its length and a mile west of Suda, ran southwards to the hills. It was a natural defensive line. The 21st Battalion Group was disposed with A Company forward on the right and A Company 22 Battalion forward on the left. In reserve were Headquarters Company and 7 Field Company in an orange grove on the right rear, and the Divisional Cavalry, also under cover, on the left rear.page 101
About 8 a.m. General Weston,25 the commander of the Suda Bay area, passed through 21 Battalion lines and met Major Harding. He instructed the second-in-command to get the men moving back as quickly as possible, as the enemy was nearly up to 42nd Street and they would be cut off. He was told it could not be done without orders from Colonel Allen or Brigadier Hargest and left, not altogether pleased with Harding's point of view. General Weston then met Colonels Allen and Dittmer26 and told them (according to the latter) that ‘they were fools to stay where they were’, but his advice was again ignored. Eventually the two battalion commanders and Major Blackburn27 (of 19 Battalion) agreed that if the enemy attacked they would let him come right up and then have a go at him with the bayonet.
About ten o'clock there was a surprisingly close rattle of hostile small-arms fire on the unit front. Parties who had started to forage around for something more satisfying than cold bully converged from all directions on their company areas. There was a 50-yard field of fire with patches of oats and olive trees beyond, and there was movement in the scrub between the trees.
Meanwhile a runner from the Australians reported to Major Royal28 (28 Battalion) with his Colonel's compliments and asked what they were going to do about the advancing Germans.29 The runner was told that the Maoris were fed up with being pushed around and were going in with the bayonet. Arrangements were being made with 19 Battalion on the left of 28 Battalion to give covering fire, when another message came from the Australians asking the Maoris to wait a little and the Australians would be pleased to join them. The forward companies page 102 of 21 Battalion had scarcely lined the sunken road when they heard yells that could come only from Maori throats. It was a blood-stirring haka. The Australians produced a scream even more spine-chilling than the Maori effort, and the sight of the Maori Battalion charging with vocal accompaniment sent the whole line surging forward. The reserves were sent up, but most of them kept on going instead of stopping in 42nd Street.
The forward elements of the enemy did not wait. They threw away their packs and ran. They were shot from the hip, and those who hid in the scrub were bayoneted. Some mortar teams that tried to get into action were overrun and dealt with. Patches of crop were trampled flat, drains were peered into and buildings ransacked. The chase went on for about half a mile without a prisoner being taken, before it was checked at a group of houses with rifles firing from every window.
Private Brydon scouted around with his truck and eventually found another one with a radiator that was in good order, which he changed before the Germans recovered from their shock. The 21st Battalion Group had about thirty casualties, and approximately seventy dead Germans were counted. The ground troops gave no more trouble that day.
But it was the end of the defence of Crete. The rear units were in full retreat and almost out of control. General Freyberg had already signalled to Middle East Command that evacuation was inevitable.
The German Command had no intention of permitting the harried defenders of Crete to withdraw unmolested, and parties of enemy troops could be seen moving across the ridges in the south. The main road across Crete passed through a defile near Stilos, and the enemy's object undoubtedly was to block the only practical way out.
Part of the Layforce30 commando, with two companies of 28 Battalion, was ordered to form a line across the pass through the hills at Beritiana. Fifth Brigade would halt at Stilos at the far end of the pass while the Australian brigade continued on to the Neon Khorion junction, a mile farther on. That was assuming, of course, that the Germans did not get across the hills to Stilos first and close the route to Sfakia.page 103
It was a tough 15-mile night march back but, in spite of eight days' fighting with little sleep or food, the spontaneous bayonet charge at 42nd Street had raised the troops' morale. It was generally felt that if the movement had been allowed to continue the enemy would have been pushed right off Crete into the sea. If a man could only have a fair go and run the war as it should be run….
By the time Stilos was reached at 4 a.m. everybody was prepared to sleep where he stood—concrete floors and the lee of stone walls were as acceptable as feather beds.
At dawn on 28 May 21 Battalion Group was deployed facing north in dried-up drains and watercourses. The 23rd was on its right, the 19th on the left, and the 22nd and 28th behind them. They did not have long to wait. The trained German mountain troops had lost the race, but they had brought machine guns and mortars with them. They did not venture an immediate attack but put down mortar and machine-gun fire, while reconnaissance planes promised more trouble in the near future. At 7 a.m. 21 Battalion heard heavy firing from the flank, where the 23rd was holding off an attempt at encirclement. A Company 20 Battalion and the Divisional Cavalry detachment were sent to reinforce the 23rd, and were in position by eight o'clock in case the encircling movement continued.
There was a brigade conference at 8.30 a.m. The question was whether to stand and fight, with the probability of being surrounded and the necessity of having to fight their way out at night, or risk a march along the only road in daylight in full view of enemy ground-strafing planes. Some were for marching, some for fighting—and to hell with the consequences.
Brigadier Hargest put the question: ‘Can you fight all day and march all night tonight if we can extricate ourselves?’ There was only one possible answer, ‘No’, and the Brigadier wound up the conference with ‘Well, we'll march at ten’.
The 21st Battalion Group moved off at 11 a.m., followed by 22 Battalion, which became the rearguard until relieved by 2/8 Battalion of 19 Australian Brigade. The 21st Battalion Group marched by sections in file, taking advantage of what cover there was. The control post at Babali Hani was passed at 12.40 p.m. and the column halted for lunch, which was anything page 104 the men happened to be carrying. There was a small creek at the side of the road, and boots were taken off for the first time in nine days. Those who could get the socks off their blistered feet bathed them; those who could not bathed their feet without removing the socks; those who had no socks merely emptied the blood and sweat and water from burst blisters from their boots onto the road.
Before the move the battalion truck was turned into a Red Cross vehicle, with some cooks as attendants. It was filled with wounded whom it had not been possible to evacuate, covered with a large Red Cross flag, and sent to the clearing hospital near Sfakia. Enemy planes made frequent close inspections en route, but did not molest the makeshift ambulance. On the return trip the Q staff was left at Sin Kares to prepare hot tea and any rations available, while the truck met the battalion at Vrises.
Vrises crossroads was reached at 3 p.m. Here 21 Battalion Group was dispersed under some olive trees and told to rest for a few hours before the climb over the snow-capped mountains towering above them. Water was plentiful at this point and the troops were told to fill their bottles, as it was the last they were likely to see for many hours. Some rations had been located and distributed—seven men to a tin of bully—before the ten-mile climb over the mountains began at dusk. The brigade movement order covering the march ended: ‘Units are urged (1) to keep men together. (2) To adopt a reasonably easy pace. (3) To conserve water. (4) To retain arms and ammunition.’
The march to the top of the White Mountains began at dusk. The truck was again filled with sick and walking wounded, but the steep, winding road was too much for some of the wounded who could not be carried. One by one they dropped out to await some form of transport, hoping that the next vehicle going forward might have room for them. Along the whole length of the march the battalion group was impeded by others in like state from formations that had gone ahead. In addition the road was full of stragglers; some genuinely trying to find their units, some who had left the battle too early, some who were straight-out deserters. At every hourly halt there were men who could not get on their feet again. page 105 There was nothing that could be done except to leave them. Near the top of the pass the column was stopped by a road demolition. Somebody had blundered and added a painful two hours' detour to an already heart-breaking climb. Sin Kares, on the edge of the upland plain of Askifou, where Captain Panckhurst was waiting with hot tea, was reached by 2 a.m. on 29 May. Water bottles had been emptied hours earlier, and the hot drink was a godsend to men in the last stages of exhaustion.
The battalion group rested under scrub on a steep hillside until the late afternoon. There were a few Stukas trying to get at them, but for once they were foiled because of the steep hills: by the time they were over the area they had to climb to avoid crashing on the mountainside.
Orders received during the day stated that the battalion group was to embark the following night (30 May). There would be no water and probably no rations. There would probably be more fighting, and all arms and ammunition would have to be carried. Lorries for sick and wounded might be available, otherwise they would have to get down to the beach in daylight as best they could.
The battalion truck changed its role once more and became a water cart. Anything that would hold water was collected from the Sin Kares houses and loaded on the truck and filled.
The 21st Battalion Group moved again late in the afternoon and by midnight had passed through 4 Brigade, now covering the withdrawal to a point near Vitsilokoumos where, 2000 feet below and nearly three miles away as the crow flies, was the embarkation point, the tiny village of Sfakia. There was some air activity early in the march, but there was no time for the usual tactics of going to ground or remaining motionless while planes were overhead. The troops kept resolutely on. A greater hindrance to progress was the unorganised stream of stragglers, many of whom tried to slip into the column. Some managed to do so, but those without arms were summarily ejected. The men lay up in the scrub until daylight, when it was discovered that A Company 20 Battalion was missing. During the march through 4 Brigade's area Colonel Kippenberger had seen Lieutenant Washbourn and, in spite of the latter's protests, had page 106 ordered him to rejoin 20 Battalion for embarkation. It was not until after the return to Egypt that the disappearance of part of 21 Battalion Group was explained.
While the battalion slept during the few hours of darkness, walking wounded from the CCS at Imvros were staggering down the winding track to the beach, 4 Brigade was preparing to follow, and a transport, four cruisers, and three destroyers crowded with troops left before daylight; somewhere behind them a rearguard was holding a defensive line.
There was no move on the 30th until the late afternoon. Colonel Allen returned from a conference looking grim. The officers of the battalion were called together and soon they, too, were looking grim. The men gathered round their officers and were told that the 21st had missed out on the evacuation. The Navy was returning that night for the last time and 4 Brigade, with some of 5 Brigade, would be taken off, but 21 Battalion would fight a rearguard action back to the coast, then disperse into the hills. Flying boats would endeavour to drop supplies, but the troops would have to live off the land and be ready for any ships that might come, if they did not starve or get captured in the meantime.
Somebody pointed out that living in the hills was no novelty to 21 Battalion, but the laughs were a little strained. When the Maori Battalion passed through the area and heard that the 21st were staying on Crete, they handed over their water bottles and odd bits of equipment that might be handy. It was a fine gesture and, coupled with the news that a ‘suicide company’ of six officers and 138 other ranks had already been detailed from the Maori Battalion to be used by Force Headquarters as required, it started a friendship between the two battalions that lasted to the end of the war. The 22nd Battalion sent along their automatics and good wishes. They were going off that night. The 19th Army Troops Company had also missed out and was placed under command of 21 Battalion. The battalion group was disposed tactically, covering the road and a ravine that was a possible thrust line.
Whatever the evacuation arrangements had been, they were altered at the last minute, and Colonel Allen was informed that all 5 Brigade was staying and that it was hoped to get it all away the next night.page 107
There was no contact with the enemy during the night on the battalion sector. At first light the battalion group withdrew down the escarpment into a valley near Sfakia, where the Q staff was waiting with hot tea and some rations landed by the Navy during the night. Some empty caves were found and occupied, a haven of rest from marauding Stukas. The end of the road was almost in sight—but not quite. Orders arrived for 150 men to be detailed ‘Under good officers’ to picket the hills and help hold the line until dark. Captain Ferguson took his hundred men 2000 feet up the mountainside and joined some fifty men of 20 Battalion already there, and Lieutenant Roach took his fifty up a ridge that commanded the Sfakiano Ravine. Thus, dispersed in cave, on mountainside and on ridgetop, the battalion awaited the coming of darkness and the Royal Navy.
They were recalled before dark and formed up for the last march in Crete. After a few more tense moments when half a dozen Stukas machine-gunned the head of the long column, the crocodile writhed, spread out, and bunched along up the gully and on to the beach. They passed through a grim-faced cordon from 22 and 28 Battalions with rifles loaded and bayonets fixed, ready to use either bullet or steel on any stragglers who attempted to embark before the fighting men. Some had tried, but their fate convinced the mixed crowd of Greeks, Jews, Palestinians from labour units, as well as Australian, English, and New Zealand troops who had thrown away their arms, that the cordon meant to do the job it was there for. Assault landing craft and strings of lifeboats arrived like ghosts from the blackness over the sea, were filled, and disappeared again. The 21st Battalion's turn came at 11.30 p.m. and there were ready hands to help them on board the Phoebe.
Steaming hot cocoa and white buttered bread were passed around and, when the ship was fully loaded, 21 Battalion sailed and, in the terse report of the battalion war diary, ‘Arrived Alexandria 1630 hrs. June 1. Arrived Amirya transit camp 1830 hrs.’
The battalion's casualties in Crete were: 33 killed or died of wounds, 33 wounded, and 80 prisoners of war (of whom 32 were wounded and five died), making a total of 146.
1 Lt-Gen Sir Edward Puttick, KCB, DSO and bar, m.i.d., MC (Greek), Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Timaru, 26 Jun 1890; Regular soldier; NZ Rifle Brigade 1914–19 (CO 3 Bn); comd 4 Bde Jan 1940-Aug 1941, 2 NZ Div (Crete) 30 Apr-27 May 1941; CGS and GOC NZ Military Forces Aug 1941-Dec 1945.
2 Maj-Gen L. M. Inglis, CB, CBE, DSO and bar, MC, m.i.d., MC (Greek); Dunedin; born Mosgiel, 16 May 1894; barrister and solicitor; NZ Rifle Bde and MG Bn 1915–19; CO 27 (MG) Bn Jan-Aug 1940; comd 4 Bde 1941–42 and 4 Armd Bde 1942–44, 2 NZ Div 27 Jun-16 Aug 1942 and 6 Jun-31 Jul 1943; Chief Judge of the Control Commission Supreme Court in British Zone of Occupation, Germany, 1947–50.
3 Maj-Gen Sir Howard K. Kippenberger, KBE, CB, DSO and bar, ED, m.i.d., Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Ladbrooks, 28 Jan 1897; barrister and solicitor; 1 NZEF 1916–17; CO 20 Bn Sep 1939-Apr 1941, Jun-Dec 1941; comd 10 Bde (Crete) May 1941; 5 Bde Jan 1942-Jun 1943, Nov 1943-Feb 1944; 2 NZ Div 30 Apr-14 May 1943 and 9 Feb-2 Mar 1944; 2 NZEF Prisoner of War Reception Group in UK 1944–45; twice wounded; Editor-in-Chief, NZ War Histories.
4 On their return to Egypt the surviving financiers were repaid in full and a modest profit was passed over to regimental funds.
8 The Field Punishment Centre did not function as such for long; when the attack came it turned itself into a fighting unit which shot many paratroops, and eventually both guards and prisoners rejoined their respective units. The sentences were all remitted after the campaign.
17 Col T. C. Campbell, DSO, MC, m.i.d.; Fiji; born Colombo, 20 Dec 1911; farm appraiser; CO 22 Bn Sep 1942-Apr 1944; comd 4 Armd Bde Jan-Dec 1945; Area Commander, Wellington, 1947; Commander of Army Schools, 1951–53; Commander Fiji Military Forces, Aug 1953—.
21 Lt-Col J. B. Ferguson, DSO, MC; Auckland; born Auckland, 27 Apr 1912; warehouseman; OC 7 Fd CoyMay 1941; CO 18 Armd Regt Dec 1943-Jan 1944; 20 Armd Regt Jan-May 1944; 18 Armd Regt Jul 1944-Feb 1945; wounded 6 Dec 1943.
23 Lt-Col R. B. Dawson, DSO, m.i.d.; Lower Hutt; born Rotorua, 21 Jul 1916; Regular soldier; 23 Bn; BM 5 Bde May-Sep 1941, Jan-Jun 1942; BM 6 Bde 1942–43; Senior Tactics Instructor, Royal Military College, Duntroon, Jul 1943-Jan 1946; CO 3 Bn, 2 NZEF Japan, Jun 1947-Oct 1948; Director of Staff Duties, Army HQ, Nov 1949-Dec 1952.
26 Brig G. Dittmer, CBE, DSO, MC, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Maharahara, 4 Jun 1893; Regular soldier; Auckland Regt 1914–19; CO 28 (Maori) Bn Jan 1940-Feb 1942; comd Fiji Military Forces and Fiji Inf Bde Gp, Sep 1943-Nov 1945; Commandant, Central Military District, 1946–48.
28 Maj R. Royal, MC and bar; Wellington; born Levin, 23 Aug 1897; civil servant; served in NZ Maori Bn in First World War; 28 NZ (Maori) Bn 1940–41; 2 i/c 2 Maori Bn and comd Maori Training Unit, Rotorua, 1942–43; CO 2 Maori Bn May-Jun 1943; wounded 14 Dec 1941.
30 This commando (800 all ranks) was commanded by Colonel (later Major-General) R. E. Laycock, Chief of Combined Operations, 1943–47.