The German Advanced Guard enters Kalamata
The German Advanced Guard enters Kalamata
The plan was never put into operation. The outer screen of 4 Hussars had already been overwhelmed by the advanced guard of 5 Panzer Division, which was now hurrying south from the canal area. No warning could be given to the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion; in any case, the majority of that unit had already moved into Kalamata. But the covering party, including Captains Yates and Bryson1 and Lieutenant Curtis, who were waiting for stragglers, and Major Thomson,2 who was attending to some wounded, was surprised and captured. Several men attempted to break away. Some were successful, but the majority were checked by bursts of machine-gun fire and soon marched back to join 4 Hussars in the open trucks at the end of the column. The force then moved on, Major Thomson accompanying the German medical officer. Meeting with no opposition and capturing still more prisoners, the Germans entered the town, crossed the bridge over the dry creek and turned south to the harbour, where they drew up near the Customs House. The prisoners were bustled off the vehicles and placed under guard; the Germans, obviously surprised at the number of soldiers about the town, began to probe eastwards along the waterfront.
Just how much time they had to establish themselves before darkness came down it is now impossible to estimate. The important fact was that there had been no serious opposition. The majority of the Allied troops were already to the east of the town; the rest were drifting along the tracks and side roads to the assembly areas. There had certainly been some intermittent rifle fire, but that had been common enough during the day and caused no inquiry. The result was that still more men were surprised and captured.
The greatest misfortune of all was the capture of Captain Clark- Hall, who, with his signalman, had been about to go down to the waterfront. Thereafter the difficulty of communicating with the Navy was to be the vital problem of the evacuation.
2 Maj G. H. Thomson, OBE, ED; New Plymouth; born Dunedin, 5 Mar 1892; obstetrician; gunner, 4 How Bty, Egypt and Gallipoli, 1914–16; RMO 4 Fd Regt Sep 1939–Apr 1941; p.w. 29 Apr 1941; repatriated Oct 1943.
Two New Zealand officers, Lieutenant Daniel1 and Second- Lieutenant Willis,2 after bringing their men to the waterfront, had gone to MacDuff's headquarters near the junction of Link and Beach roads. On their way back along one of the side streets they saw grey-uniformed soldiers in the distance but thought that they were some of the Yugoslavs—until a German had appeared from a doorway with an automatic and marched them back to the Customs House area, already packed with prisoners, lorries and AFVs.
The Germans had by then realised that they were in great danger. They questioned prisoners about the arrival of the convoy; they wanted to know how many men were at the other end of the waterfront and when there were signs of a counter-attack they became very disturbed. The prisoners were then marched back towards the town, across the bridge and along the highway to the waiting vehicles of the main body.
While this was taking place, the arrival of the enemy force had become known to the thousands assembled in the olive groves.
When the first reports reached the different headquarters the senior officers had been inclined to doubt the nerve of their informants. But a liaison officer ordered back to 4 Hussars returned to say that the road through the town was blocked by the enemy; lorry drivers rushed back from the hospital area calling out that there were Germans in the town; more regular bursts of machine-gun fire were heard; and men could be seen running back to the safety of the olive groves.
The next stage of the action cannot be told in exact detail but the first serious opposition seems to have come from Major B. Carey, 3 Royal Tank Regiment, who with Major Pemberton, Royal Signals, had been walking towards the harbour when excited men had rushed back along the waterfront. Pemberton went back to warn Brigadier Parrington. Carey, collecting a Bren gun, spent the next two hours on the seaward side of the Beach road firing at the German guns on the quay and encouraging those among the Allied soldiers who wished to fight.
The small Australian force, though short of weapons, was equally active. Lieutenant-Colonel Harlock organised parties while Captain A. W. Gray sent one platoon with the New Zealand groups and led another along the waterfront.
The other source of resistance—probably the major one—was the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion, whose headquarters had been established by Major MacDuff at the junction of the Link and Beach roads. Before the fighting actually started, Lieutenants O'Rorke1 and Rhind2 had been sent to see that the covering companies went into position. On their instructions Captain Simmonds,3 with men from B Company, Lieutenant D. R. Brickell and his platoon, and Lieutenant J. W. Moodie from Battalion Headquarters moved back to cover the Sparta road and the eastern exit from the town. Warned by lorry loads of troops yelling ‘Jerries in town’ and by Greeks who called out ‘Germania’, the group reached the crossroads ‘on the run’. Directed by Moodie, who knew the latest technique of street fighting, they had pulled down stone walls and prepared a defence post. At the same time Lieutenant F. G. Spackman had been sent forward by Major MacDuff to find out who was responsible for the bursts of rifle fire: ‘if Greeks to shut them up; if Germans to find out where they were.’ At the bridge he collected a German car, the disturbed occupant of which was taken back to the beach for cross-examination. Soon afterwards a truck drawing a heavy gun and then a motor lorry had approached the road block, but bursts of fire had forced their drivers to swing hurriedly away. Thereafter the group was not disturbed; heavy fighting could be heard about the harbour, but it eventually died down and about midnight the men were ordered back to the beaches, where the crowds were assembling for the expected embarkation.
Meanwhile O'Rorke and Rhind, when moving towards the centre of the town, had heard bursts of fire and seen Germans in the area to the west where A Company was to have been placed. They had returned to the road junction, collected about twenty New Zealanders and Australians, and moved towards the enemy, Rhind along the waterfront, O'Rorke one street inland.
1 Lt F. O'Rorke; born England, 31 Jul 1906; sheep-farmer; killed in action 28 Apr 1941.
By then the light was fading and there was hopeless confusion in the thickly packed olive groves. If a soldier wished to fight he could do so—if he hesitated it was simple enough to remain among the excited thousands. Nevertheless, through the efforts of Geddes, Harlock and MacDuff, several parties had already moved off or were about to do so. The officers and men did not always know each other so it is impossible to record the names of many who took part in the actual fighting. But it is known that from this area patrols went in led by Lieutenants Canavan,1 Simpson, Watt, Davies,2 Buckleton,3 Fay4 and Harris.5 Moving through the eastern outskirts of the town, they reached the back streets and approached the quay from the north.
Ahead of these parties, however, was another collected and led by Sergeant Hinton,6 20 Battalion. At the sound of firing he had gone to the headquarters corner and attempted to find out what was happening. Unable to get any response in the general confusion, he had moved along the Beach road towards the town and had then crawled across to Major Carey's gun post near the beach. With Carey's assurance of covering fire he had returned, collected about a dozen New Zealanders and started up the road to deal with the big gun which had just opened up. When machine-gun fire became too heavy, the party turned north up a side street and then went forward again a block or two inland from the waterfront. In this street Hinton dealt with a machine-gun post set up at a corner to cover the eastern and northern approaches.
Meanwhile Rhind, with the supporting fire from Carey's group along the Beach road, had led his party from block to block along the waterfront until it met those coming in from the side streets. They were reorganising when ‘a truck went up the road towards the German positions, loaded with N.Z. and Australian troops.’2
This truck, driven by Sapper Gourlick3 with eight men aboard, including Privates Snooks,4 Turner5 and Lewis,6 had been sent in by MacDuff. At some speed it had been rattled along from the olive groves, turned on to the waterfront and rushed forward to within 50 yards of the first gun. There it had been pulled up sharply, the crew dashing to cover up the nearest side street and opening fire on the Germans about the gun and along the open pavement of the quay. Their fire, Hinton's advance from the side street and, most probably, the never-ceasing machine-gun fire from Carey forced the gun crews to seek refuge in the buildings along the waterfront. Behind them they left the biggest collection of killed and wounded seen by any of those who took part in the action.
2 Information from Captain Rhind to D. J. C. Pringle (co-author 20 Battalion history); Major F. B. Topham; notes from Gourlick, Lewis, Snooks and Turner.
7 This officer, who had been captured outside the town, had ‘filed off’ when the fighting began and taken cover until he met a New Zealand officer, with whom he ‘doubled back’ to MacDuff's headquarters.
No account of the initial stages of the surrender was prepared by the British. Members of the different groups very often did not know each other and within a few hours they themselves were to be taken prisoners of war. In a German propaganda publication1 there is, however, an account which more or less agrees with the reports of those who are known to have been in the immediate vicinity. The details are not always accurate, but the personal reference to at least one British officer suggests that the author had interviewed German officers who had taken part in the action.
According to him one of the British had called upon the Germans to surrender. A lieutenant had replied, ‘Fire stopping—finished’, and had then been sent over with instructions not to surrender but to make a parley: ‘We haven't a shot left. Gain time.’ He had been forced to call over his company commander, but the ‘Australians’ had threatened to shoot both Germans ‘unless within five minutes all encircled in the harbour laid down their arms.’ At this stage an ‘English Colonel’2 arrived and conducted the negotiations. The Germans probably mentioned the force outside the town and the hopelessness of the situation so far as the British were concerned, for they record that ‘The wild fellows … bellowed with indignation.’ And that seems to have decided the case for by midnight the Germans had surrendered to whoever happened to be near and the final number was over 120 all ranks.
Their casualties had been heavy, particularly about the more forward of the two heavy guns and in one of the side streets where ‘somebody must have caught them with a bren.’3 In all there were 41 killed and 60 wounded. The British casualties were 3 officers and 30 other ranks killed and 50 or more wounded, who were cared for ‘in what was called a British Hospital where a New Zealand doctor4 was doing magnificent work with negligible equipment.’
The chances of evacuation now seemed to be good. Barriers were erected to control the roads, parties were detailed to hold them and efforts were made to signal the Navy.
2 Just who this was it is now impossible to say.
3 It has not been possible to find out who was responsible for these casualties.
4 Major Thomson.
Troops collecting on beach south-east of town. All firing ceased in town. Consider evacuation possible from beach. Brigadier is reporting.
By then Bowyer-Smith, acting on the earlier signals and observing fires and explosions ashore, had at 9.29 p.m. abandoned the operation and was moving south with all ships except the Hero. He did not alter his decision.
As the Hero had only two whalers the chances of embarkation were very limited. But the naval authorities in Crete, having been told that there were 1500 Yugoslavs and thousands of troops still in Kalamata, had sent over the Kandahar, Kingston and Kimberley to assist the original force. These destroyers arrived at 1 a.m. and more embarkation was possible. The sick and wounded from the hospital and the men wounded in the town had by then been taken to the beach, but there was still a shortage of boats and very little available time. So in the end only 332 all ranks were evacuated. As some fit men, including several New Zealanders, were among that number, it is regrettable that the majority of those who did the actual fighting were not evacuated. They saw the last boat leave the beach and were told that it would be back again. But it never appeared. The destroyers moved out about 3 a.m., signalling ‘Many regrets’ several times. The disappointed troops, unable to understand the departure of the ships, found their own solution and accepted the often repeated and quite incorrect rumour that the approach of an Italian fleet made it necessary for the destroyers to get clear of the coast.
The Brigadier then had the unpleasant task of calling his senior officers together and informing them of their hopeless situation. Any further resistance was considered impossible and unnecessary. Calls were made for any officer who could speak German and Captain Kennard was sent back with his German officer to say that the force would surrender before daybreak. Next morning swastikas were spread out on the beaches as a warning to the Luftwaffe to cease its bombing; the troops were assembled by the now exultant Germans; and for several days trainloads of prisoners were taken north to Corinth and to four unhappy years as prisoners of war.
1 Captain Sir Philip Bowyer-Smith, RN.