Evacuations Continue during the Night 26–27 April
Evacuations Continue during the Night 26–27 April
At Miloi itself the patience of the flying-boat group—General Wilson, Prince Peter of Greece and certain Greek Ministers, Major- General T. G. G. Heywood and some members of the British Military Mission—had been severely tested. As the pilot explained, he could not risk a landing in Suda Bay until 6.30 a.m. and he could not make an immediate departure because he had not the petrol to remain in the air all that night. Consequently they had to wait. The hours passed by; the 6 Brigade rearguard passed through to Tripolis. Since there was then no force between the flying boat and the advancing enemy, the pilot taxied off down the coast in an unpleasantly choppy sea until at last he was able to take off for Crete.
On the coast east of Athens the rearguard position about Tatoi had been maintained during the day by 1 Rangers, A Squadron Divisional Cavalry Regiment, N Troop 34 Anti-Tank Battery and L/N Battery 2 Royal Horse Artillery; in the evening C Company 1 Rangers and N Troop 34 Anti-Tank Battery had covered the withdrawal to the beaches at Rafina. Assembled there when the Glengyle arrived off shore with the destroyers Nubian, Decoy and Hasty were 6 Field Regiment, 7 Anti-Tank Regiment, 2 Royal Horse Artillery, 102 Anti-Tank Regiment, 155 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, Divisional Cavalry Regiment (less C Squadron), 1 Armoured Brigade and many odd detachments from the Athens area, such as the group of New Zealand reinforcements who had been guarding the Hassani airfield. Uncertain about their orders to move with the Reinforcement Battalion to Navplion, the men had collected some thirty stragglers of all nationalities in Athens and then followed their original orders to move to Rafina.
Owing to the heavy swell the Glengyle had to remain a mile and a half out to sea; this meant that if the convoy was to sail at 3 a.m. the last boat had to leave the beach by 2.15 a.m. The result was that, although men1 were taken to the destroyers as well as to the Glengyle, several hundred were still on the beach when the convoy departed.
1 3503 all ranks—according to naval reports.
At Porto Rafti1 there had been the troopship Salween, the cruiser Carlisle and the destroyers Kandahar and Kingston. Most of Advanced Headquarters New Zealand Artillery, 4 Field Regiment, 5 Field Regiment and 64 Medium Regiment (less Headquarters 234 Battery and D Troop) went aboard the Salween. Sections from the last named and from 5 Field Park Company and 7 Field Company were also taken by the troopship; the remainder left in the escort vessels. Headquarters 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion, with 2 Company complete and 1 Company, less 1 and 3 Platoons with 4 Brigade, had come south with Duff Force. Second-Lieutenant Luxford2 and a small group were now manning the road blocks until 4 Brigade reached the area but the others went aboard the Salween, complete with Vickers guns less tripods. To their surprise 3 Company was already aboard, having come south with 6 Brigade and been directed3 from Mazi to Porto Rafti for embarkation.
The night was also notable for the reappearance of the 500 men4 who had been taken to Kea Island on the night of 24–25 April. To their great relief a naval officer had appeared about noon on 26 April to say that the tank landing craft would be leaving the other side of the island at 8 p.m. The men had been hurriedly called together and in groups of twenty despatched across the mountains. Once the majority had arrived the landing craft had hastened to Porto Rafti. The heavy ground swell prevented all but a few getting aboard the Salween, but the others eventually got aboard the Carlisle. In the meantime the destroyer Nubian had called at the island only to find that the men had already been collected. Three fortunate men from the Supply Column who had missed the LCT were then evacuated.
The convoy sailed at 3 a.m., 27 April; the destination of the troops was to be decided later that night.
1 4720 all ranks—according to naval reports.
At Navplion the hulk of the Ulster Prince made it impossible for the destroyers to get alongside the quays and the choppy sea made it dangerous to use small boats; in fact one report has it that 100 men were drowned. And there was only one motor caique transporting men to the Slamat, so although the Navy did what it could with its own boats the Khedive Ismail embarked no troops at all.
To complicate matters word was received during the embarkation that the Stuart at Tolos was full and that many troops still remained ashore. The Stuart was thereupon brought back to Navplion, her troops were transferred to the Orion, and with the Perth she was sent back to continue the embarkation. The naval records state that 1559 were taken off from Tolos; another source1 states that about 2000 embarked and that some 1300 were left on the beach.
The cruisers, destroyers and the troopship Slamat took away from Navplion a possible 2968 men; another source states that they sailed with 2600 men, leaving 1700 ashore,2 including 700 from the Australian Reinforcement Battalion.
The LCT which had been operating at Navplion departed next morning for Monemvasia3 with 600 Australians, but the evacuation was still incomplete. According to the naval sources approximately 5500 men, and not the 8000 as planned, had been evacuated from the area (Navplion and Tolos).
The troops evacuated had been for the most part from Base and W Force Headquarters, but there had also been fighting units such as 3 Royal Tank Regiment, less C Squadron,4 and small detachments of New Zealand troops, including some medical orderlies from 1 General Hospital5 and the remainder of E Section (Workshops) 4 RMT Company.6 There were also those wounded from Megara who had been fortunate enough to be south of the Corinth Canal before the parachutists landed. Less fortunate were the men from C Squadron Divisional Cavalry Regiment who had managed to cross the hills from the Corinth Canal area. Sent to the tail of a long column ‘with a half promise that there might be some room in a ship’, they had almost reached the water's edge when embarkation stopped and they were once again left to their own resources.
1 Long, p. 170.
2 Ibid., p. 171.
Next morning all three convoys were still within range of German aircraft. The ships from Kalamata and those from Rafina and Porto Rafti were attacked on several occasions but no great damage was done. The convoy from Navplion and Tolos was less fortunate. By leaving the former port at 4.15 a.m., although ordered to do so at 3 a.m., the Slamat was exposed to too great a risk. At 7 a.m. bombers came over; the transport was hit and began to sink. The destroyer Diamond was sent to her aid and about 9 a.m., when three more destroyers joined the convoy, the Wryneck was sent to help with the rescue work. Most of the survivors had been picked up but at 10.25 a.m. the Wryneck signalled for fighter protection. Then all was blank until a destroyer that night picked up some survivors. From the two destroyers and the Slamat, on which there were some 500 soldiers, only 1 officer, 41 ratings and 8 soldiers survived. Among those drowned were the New Zealand medical officers Captains Douglas2 and Newlands.3 They had been members of a group of 12 medical officers and 24 orderlies who had been sent aboard the transports by the Middle East command, which wished for the best and earliest care to be given to the evacuated troops. Of the eight New Zealanders in the Slamat only one was saved: Private Kellec,4 who was taken aboard one of the destroyers. It was afterwards sunk, but he reached a raft from which he was picked up next morning by another destroyer.
The result was that by 29 April the New Zealand Artillery group was divided: 6 Field Regiment and the greater part of 7 Anti-Tank Regiment had reached Alexandria in the Glengyle but 4 and 5 Field Regiments were hopelessly dispersed, some men having arrived in the Salween and others having been taken to Crete, where they were to serve as infantrymen in the coming campaign.
The last embarkation of any importance that night was not arranged by the Navy. On the night of 25–26 April a group from 80 Base Sub-area had moved out of Athens and, like the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion, was to have embarked from Navplion. But in the morning, 26 April, it had been diverted to Tripolis, where it remained all day under cover. That night it had gone south to Yithion, the port of Sparta. No arrangements had been made for its embarkation but an advance party had fortunately been able to charter three caiques, one of which was already engaged by some Greek Army cadets. They sailed that night, 26–27 April, two of them eventually reaching Crete and the third having to turn back with some Royal Army Service Corps personnel because it was too heavily laden.