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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume II



On Tuesday, 16 November, Fortress Headquarters, just south of Leros town at Meraviglia, was heavily bombed, and attacks developed against it from the German forces which had been on the Rachi Ridge and from the original bridgehead on the east coast of page 319 the central sector. However, the situation was sufficiently restored for the Commander to wireless that given further reinforcements to his exhausted troops and more air cover he could hold out. Affairs deteriorated rapidly in the evening and the island fell.

The garrison was for five days at the mercy of the enemy's concentrated bombing attacks, for which it is estimated that he had now concentrated in Greece and the Aegean some 400 aircraft. In the end this produced a weariness too great to be resisted. From sheer exhaustion the end became inevitable. Moreover, enemy air superiority had cut air and sea communications with Leros, except for such supplies and reinforcements as could be got in at night by sea and by dropping from aircraft. Our troops had fought throughout with the utmost courage and gallantry. The losses were not all ours; throughout the fighting very severe casualties were inflicted and the Navy took full toll of enemy efforts to bring in reinforcements, in spite of the increasing difficulties of operating surface forces in the face of heavy air attack in the bright moonlight: on 14 November alone three landing craft with German reinforcements were sunk, and in the early stages of the battle others were destroyed by accurate artillery fire from the island. German casualties, although not accurately known, were such that for some time the fate of the island hung in the balance; the victory might well have been ours had the conditions been only a little less in the enemy's favour. The enemy has announced that he captured on Leros 200 British officers and 3000 other ranks. If these figures can be taken as correct our casualties will have been in the neighbourhood of 500.