4 NZ Inf Bde O. Instruction No. 9 to O.C. 19 Bn
4 NZ Inf Bde O. Instruction No. 9 to O.C. 19 Bn
Enemy are preparing what appears to be a landing ground 1000x to the west of the Prison 0553.
19 Bn will counter attack this area forthwith with
One tp 3 Hussars will come under comd 19 Bn for the operation.
Major Blackburn had four companies—only three of them rifle companies—with which to carry out this order. With the agreement of Major Sanders he decided he could afford to use only two— thus accepting the second of the alternatives allowed him by Brigadier Inglis. To use more would be to endanger 10 Brigade's left flank too seriously. He determined therefore to attack with A (Wellington) and D (Taranaki) Companies, filling the gap left by the former with the Greeks who had come into the battalion area that morning, and the gap left by D Company with a platoon from C (Hawke's Bay) Company, the mortar platoon, and a party from Battalion HQ.
This was an important decision; for it meant that the attack would go in at half the strength contemplated by Puttick. Blackburn should not be blamed; for he had the authority of the brigade order, and his reasoning about the importance of his own defensive position was correct. The fact is that a counter-attack at even battalion strength was in any case too little.
Both troops had some encounters with enemy during the day and inflicted casualties, at the price of one tank damaged by anti-tank fire. When evening came Farran was ordered to support A and D Companies of 19 Battalion, while the rest of the squadron went into reserve near 4 Brigade HQ.
At 19 Battalion it was decided that Farran's three tanks should attack along the Galatas-Prison road, while the infantry would first move west from 19 Battalion area through 10 Brigade's posts north of Galatas and then attack southwards. The infantry objective was, on the map, a line running a thousand yards from the prison westwards. Their real task, it was understood, was to find and attack the landing ground wherever it was to be found. Zero hour for leaving 19 Battalion area was 7.15 p.m.
Since the original order reached Major Blackburn at half past six, the plan had had to be arranged hastily and there was no time to consult Colonel Kippenberger. There was little time for detailed orders—the OC 9 Platoon had about 15 minutes to prepare his men2—and this, with the vagueness of the original order, may explain a certain haziness about the precise objective.3
1 WD C Sqn, 3 H.
3 ‘There was some confusion as to the objective, and Col. Blackburn stated that the 2 Coys were to reach the W edge of the olive groves N of the Prison and remain there to deal with another landing in the morning.’—10 Bde Report. ‘Three light tanks of the Third Hussars came into the village. These people said they were going to attack at 8.30 p.m. but were not at all clear what their objective was.’—Infantry Brigadier, p. 57. Capt Pleasants, OC A Coy, said his orders were to prevent the making of the landing ground but speaks of having ‘no set objective to go to’.
5 Infantry Brigadier, p. 57. General Kippenberger does not give the source, and unless orders had been changed the report must have been mistaken; for 19 Bn was to come under command only after completion of the attack.
By this time, however, the two companies had got well on their way and the patrols failed to find them. Control even within the attacking companies was difficult to maintain. Darkness was coming on, there was no wireless contact, the country was close, and flanking men were unable to keep touch between platoons, let alone between companies.
D Company on the left, after passing north of Galatas and then turning south, ran into trouble from small pockets of paratroops presumably in the Pink Hill area, which the Divisional Petrol Company would by this time have vacated. In dealing with these pockets they killed about twenty enemy, destroyed two mortars and three LMGs, and lost several killed and wounded.
These mortars and machine guns had been holding up Farran at the road block just outside Galatas. Their destruction enabled the tanks to get through and push south-west along what seems to have been the more westerly of the two tracks leading from Galatas to the prison. This route brought them across the front of A Company which had come southwards on the left of Ruin Hill, losing contact with D Company in the darkness and in the confusion of D Company's encounter with the paratroops.
When Captain Pleasants met the tanks he decided that in the darkness and without a fixed objective there was no point in going on. He was no doubt confirmed in this view when he discovered shortly afterwards that 9 Platoon, which had been his right-hand platoon, was not to be found and runners sent out could make no contact.1
1 Weston pushed on with 9 Platoon till it was clear he had lost contact with A Coy Thinking to find the others in the morning, he decided to make for the hills to the south-west, reached them, and lay up next day. In the late afternoon he joined in an encounter between Germans and Greek guerrillas and was fired on by both. One of his sections got into difficulties and he sent on the others, remaining behind himself to help. When he reached the section, however, he found the men had been either killed, captured, or dispersed. He therefore made his way back to 10 Bde alone, except for a PW he took en route. The other survivors got back on 23 May after difficult adventures.
It is enough to recall General Suessmann's plan to see that the reality had turned out to be very different. The glider force had achieved only a very small part of its intention. One of its companies was practically destroyed with nothing done; and the other, reduced to a third of its strength, had been driven off the guns it had captured and was now making its way back to the main body. I Battalion had effectively failed to get further than Perivolia in its thrust towards Suda. II Battalion had landed scattered and with heavy losses. Unable to co-operate as a battalion with I Battalion's drive to the east, it had been bogged down in operations around Galatas. And III Battalion, which should have taken Galatas and Karatsos and then pushed on to attack Canea, had failed in all three cases. Its only success, the capture of the ‘tented camp’, had been temporary and resulted in the total loss of the company concerned. Finally, the Engineer Battalion had been repulsed at Alikianou.
True, failure in the landing programme had been partly responsible, and Colonel Heidrich had adjusted himself resolutely to the altered situation. He had grasped quickly that Galatas and the heights about it were the key to the defence and that major attack towards Canea was impossible while these remained untaken. He had therefore gathered together the odd companies from II and III Battalions and, Cemetery Hill owing to the withdrawal of 6 Greek Regiment being already in his hands, had concentrated on seizing Pink Hill. Here bad luck dogged him. For the withdrawal of the last posts of the Petrol Company after dark enabled Major Derpa of II Battalion to effect a lodgment and, had this been maintained, the situation would have looked ugly for 10 Brigade. But Derpa evacuated the hill again because of an unexplained misunderstanding—perhaps because of the arrival of the two companies of 19 Battalion and the light tanks—and there was no chance of the Germans getting possession of the hill again that night.
The day thus ended with Heidrich in a state of some nervousness. He must have felt that the initiative now lay with the defence and that a heavy counter-attack was inevitable. Of his regiment I Battalion was battleworthy but exhausted and was too far away at Perivolia. II Battalion had had very heavy casualties. III Battalion page 173 was dispersed and in part destroyed. The Engineer Battalion, reasonably strong but too distant in the altered situation, he had already recalled.
Heidrich therefore withdrew I Battalion from Perivolia to help form a defensive front south of Galatas. With it and the Engineer Battalion, he believed he was just strong enough to hold his present positions.1
In preparing to meet a counter-attack in strength Heidrich was assuming an opponent of his own temper, and one who would act promptly and forcefully on the simple principle that the initiative should be seized as soon as opportunity offered. Brigadier Puttick, however, reasoning in the way that has already been discussed and hesitating to strike the full counter-blow for fear of depleting his reserves against contingencies that were still remote, let the opportunity pass, if it existed. And so at midnight—except for the two-company attack by 19 Battalion, itself defensive in conception even if the landing ground it was intended to destroy did not exist— the initiative which Colonel Heidrich had relinquished had not been seized. Such a chance would not recur.
The account of the situation on the New Zealand Division front at the end of 20 May is now complete except in one respect: the events at Kisamos Kastelli, defended by 1 Greek Regiment and its New Zealand instructors under Major Bedding, have not yet been dealt with. They have had to be left till this stage, not because they fit more aptly here than elsewhere, but because from the first this sector was so isolated that its story, wherever placed in the history of the battle as a whole, must be an isolated episode.2
The parachutists who attacked Kastelli came from the detachment of II Battalion, the Assault Regiment, which had been detailed under Lieutenant Muerbe to land just east of the town, to reconnoitre it, and to provide protection for the main force against attack from the west. The detachment landed in two parties, one north and south of the main road just outside the town and the other farther to the east. The Greeks in Kastelli at once sallied and, greatly assisted by Bedding and his men, by 11 a.m. had reduced the enemy still fighting to a single group.
1 It now appears that by evening the German units in the Prison Valley west of Galatas, after 540 casualties, had a remaining strength of 1260. (I Bn 3 Para Regt 520; II Bn 590; HQ and Medical 150.) On either side of the Alikianou-Canea Road east of Galatas and considerably scattered were 30 men of the Assault Regt, 200 of III Bn and 80 of the MMG Bn—310 survivors out of 1060. The Engineer Bn and 3 Coy Mtn Bty in the Alikianou area had lost 150, still had 590, but were temporarily isolated.
In a dash led by Bedding this group too was disposed of and by midday the immediate front was clear. The enemy had lost 48 killed and 28 prisoners, by our account. By their own they lost 54 killed and 20 wounded. The Greeks lost 57 killed and 62 wounded, partly through failing to use cover. One New Zealander was wounded.