II: The Canea-Galatas Front
II: The Canea-Galatas Front
The general tenor of enemy orders for 22 May and the emphasis on the role of Group West suggest that Heidrich's 3 Parachute Regiment in the Prison area was not expected to make any major move. But Heidrich was not the man to wait passively until Group West could fight its way through to him. He formed a battle group from parts of III Battalion of 3 Parachute Regiment and the Engineer Battalion and put it under command of Major Heilmann, the commander of the former.1 Its role was to advance from the Prison Valley north towards Stalos, to deny us the use of the coast road, and to establish contact with German troops east of Maleme. This was the move that Hargest had feared from the first.
Of the activities of the troops remaining under Colonel Heidrich's command, German sources give little information beyond the statement that the general situation remained unchanged, that positions were maintained, and that supplies were dropped as required.
CANEA-GALATAS SECTOR, 22 MAY
From the south of the battalion front a patrol from Divisional Supply went out in conjunction with another led by Lieutenant Carson. Little fresh information seems to have been derived though there was much speculation about enemy movement observed towards dusk which some interpreted as suggesting evacuation and others as a preliminary massing for attack. The most likely explanation is that it was Heilmann's battle group on its way north. Perhaps as a cover for this move, mortaring had become even heavier on the front, so heavy indeed that after dark two sections of the Divisional Supply Company had to retire to the reverse slope of Ruin Hill and there dig in as best they might without tools. Later on Dill, now back from his patrol, brought a platoon of gunners to their support.
Colonel Kippenberger had little faith in reports of evacuation and decided to carry on with the plan he had formed for clearing the ground lost on his left the first day. Such an attack would in any case answer the purposes of a fighting patrol. The task naturally fell to 19 Battalion, whose troops were the freshest and who were well placed to carry it out. The attacking companies were to make for the Turkish fort, do all the damage they could, and then return to their original positions. The three guns of F Troop 28 Battery, assisted by two mortars, would give what support they could. And 18 Battalion was to help on the left flank by putting a platoon into Galaria.
The attack began at 3 p.m. with A Company on the right and Headquarters Company on the left. The platoon from 18 Battalion duly got into Galaria. But the enemy showed no intention of giving ground without fighting for it. His machine-gun posts hung on stoutly and his aircraft were very active in support. Consequently A Company found itself unable to make much headway and unable also to get round the enemy flanks. At 5 p.m. it returned, having lost four killed and three wounded in exchange for an estimated ten casualties inflicted. Two hours later Headquarters Company returned. They had got within 200 yards of the objective but found it too strongly held to warrant making an assault. They brought back a captured mortar and three captured machine guns and claimed to have destroyed others.
On the part of the front which had hitherto seen the hottest fighting, that held by the Divisional Cavalry south-east of the Prison-Galatas road and by the Divisional Petrol Company north-west of it, the morning was quiet enough. But in the afternoon the defence was heavily bombed and towards evening enemy patrols became active. Then about seven o'clock, after heavy mortar fire and more attacks from the air, the enemy made a strong attack on the ground held by the battle-worn Petrol Company. This attack seems to have had some initial success. The enemy got some troops onto the top of Pink Hill, which since the previous day had been a no-man's-land, and from there was able to cover the assault on the Petrol Company's centre. ‘A breach was made in the centre but Cpl N. M. Stewart, who had been in reserve with about 30 men of the night-watching patrols, rushed into the breach and drove the enemy back about 100 yards.’1
To Colonel Kippenberger the situation looked dangerous and he hastily called up half the Composite Battalion reserve, about twenty-five men of 4 Field Regiment under Lieutenant MacLean,2 and sent them in to help. He himself, with Lieutenant Carson and Carson's patrol—a similar small force—moved quickly round to Wheat Hill so as to counter-attack the enemy on his left flank.
There then occurred one of the most striking incidents of the whole battle:
There was a beautiful opening for Carson, and I was waiting for him to line his men up before giving him the order to charge, when a most infernal uproar broke out across the valley. Over an open space in the trees near Galatos came running, bounding, and yelling like Red Indians, about a hundred Greeks and villagers including women and children, led by Michael Forrester twenty yards ahead. It was too much for the Germans. They turned and ran without hesitation, and we went back to our original positions.3
Captain Forrester and his Greeks deserve another quotation for this act of valour, and this time we may quote from an interview with a member of Carson's patrol:
1 Report by CSM C. E. James.
The Greeks who took part in this charge were mainly from 6 Greek Regiment and Forrester had been holding them in reserve behind the Petrol Company since he had first collected and reorganised them. In the German assault Forrester—‘one of the coolest men I have ever met’2—had recognised the kind of crisis for which he had been waiting and had at once launched his counter-stroke. The civilians in his force had apparently joined in as the charge got going.
The line thus restored and the Petrol Company still in good heart—Captain H. A. Rowe, its commander, was indignant at the idea that his men might have been dislodged and reported to Colonel Kippenberger, ‘Div Pet are, and will remain, in their original positions’3—Kippenberger decided to put this whole part of the line under the command of Major Russell, thus making sure that both sides of the vital road were under a single tactical command, Russell Force. The Greeks reassembled behind Galatas under Forrester.
There were two other counter-attacks that day in which Greeks also figured. One took place on the right flank of the Divisional Cavalry and appears to have been intended to deal with a German attack coming in on the south-east side of Pink Hill, no doubt at the same time as the one which troubled the Petrol Company. This time it was the detachment of Greeks under Captain H. M. Smith that was involved. At first there was a delay because Smith's signal to charge was misunderstood. But then the Greeks went forward, about a dozen civilians joining in.
… they surged around and went on with great enthusiasm—at the trot or steady jog yelling ‘area’ or something like that which I was told was the Evzone's war cry. It was very effective and the whole show was the most thrilling moment of my life.4
The attack does not seem to have met much opposition and it carried forward almost as far as the old front line near Pink Hill. Here Russell decided to leave the Greeks for the night.
2 CSM James.
3 Report by Capt Rowe.
4 Report by Capt Smith. (The word used by the Greeks must have been Aera—the battle cry of the Evzones.)
Seccombe got off to a slow start because his orders had to be interpreted and then discussed by the Greeks taking part, all of whom had views of their own to contribute. Eventually the ‘Ayes’ had it and the whole party rushed up the hill after the RSM. The attention of the enemy was distracted towards the remonstrances being fired into their position by the Petrol Company, the Greek attack came as a complete surprise, and all the enemy were killed.
By now it was dark and the Germans on this front seem to have had enough for the day. No doubt Heidrich felt that while the defence remained so spirited it would be impossible to effect anything more with his weary and depleted force. He had already gambled on the assumption that the counter-attack which had not yet come would never come by sending off Heilmann's battle group. It would be best to remain elsewhere on the defensive till the more promising situation at Maleme brought him relief and reinforcement.
Now that the isolated parties of paratroops had all either been disposed of or had found it prudent to make their way through to join the main body, there was little happening on the 4 Brigade front, beyond patrolling and the move to Galaria in support of 19 Battalion's probe to the Turkish fort. By daylight 2/7 Australian Battalion was safely in the position formerly occupied by 20 Battalion. And the machine guns of the Australian MG Company were with the brigade until the middle of the afternoon, when they came under command of 5 Brigade.
That no more was done seems regrettable now. For the Greeks and the Australians might have given considerable support to the attack by 19 Battalion towards the Turkish fort. Colonel Kippenberger had indeed asked Brigadier Puttick to arrange for the Australians to launch a simultaneous attack towards the Turkish fort, but Puttick had limited his action to providing some support from his own command—the occupation of Galaria by 18 Battalion. No doubt he felt that 2/8 Battalion, not being under his command, lay outside his province. As it was, the attack by 19 Battalion seems to have taken place without the knowledge of 2/8 Battalion or 2 Greek Regiment, although both were considerably nearer (than 19 Battalion) to the Turkish fort.
On the front held by Suda Force, General Weston's command, there were no major developments. The 1st Welch had patrols out in the Akrotiri Peninsula rounding up the last remnants of glider troops. The allotment of 2/8 Battalion and 2 Greek Regiment to Brigadier Vasey and NZ Division made some rearrangement necessary within Suda Force itself, and so 2/2 Australian Field Regiment, a company of Rangers, and troops from 23 LAA Battery RM, now took over the defence of the Canea plain. The members of a Royal Marine searchlight battery were also turned into an infantry battalion and given a defensive position to the south of Canea.
These arrangements rather suggest that too defensive an outlook had been establishing itself. It may be that Freyberg, reading the consequences of the counter-attack's failure at Maleme, was anxious to keep some troops in reserve for the hard battles that were bound to follow the enemy's continued reinforcement through Maleme. On the other hand, the sea invasion had been beaten and there could now be little likelihood of further parachute landings in the Maleme area; and had some of these forces now defending Canea Plain been added to 2/8 Battalion and 2 Greek Regiment for an all-out attack on the Turkish fort area, an unsteady flank might have been cleared and a stronger position established for eventual defence. Alternatively, had they been used to reinforce 10 Brigade, it might not have been yet too late to demolish Colonel Heidrich and 3 Parachute Regiment. But all eyes were on Maleme now.