28 (Maori) Battalion
CHAPTER 5 — Crete
Dawn disclosed the decks of the Glengyle covered with khaki forms and out of sight of land, though not beyond the range of enemy aircraft. The weight and accuracy of the ship's anti-aircraft armament so embarrassed the German pilots who were soon overhead that no material harm was done to the convoy. In spite of the matter-of-fact attitude of the sailors operating the multi-barrelled, quick-firing ‘Chicago Pianos’ and the appearance of miraculously produced meals, the troops were very pleased indeed when they were beyond the range of the German fighters and under the protection of the RAF now based on Crete.
Where the British planes came from and where the Glengyle was going to was not as important to the Maoris as the fact that Greece was somewhere behind the horizon. By mid-morning hills, unsubstantial in the distance, began to take shape and substance. Soon everybody knew that they were nearing the island of Crete and, later, that they were to land there while the Glengyle went back for another load.
Early afternoon and the Glengyle was in harbour—a small harbour, but at that moment a busy one and, judging by the sight of the cruiser York sitting on the bottom in the bay with her front turret awash, not very safe. It was, in fact, the main harbour for the forces in Crete, although its single quay could accommodate only two ships at a time. Suda Bay was crammed with shipping, dotted with Sunderland flying boats, and alive with small craft dashing from ship to shore.
The troops, still in possession of the majority of the battalion's weapons, were loaded into ferries and directed by the landing authorities, plainly embarrassed by the multitudes, to a road that led to Canea, the capital, some three miles west.
The 28th (Maori) Battalion, marching along a hot and dusty road, was halted at a refreshment point near Canea where hot tea, cigarettes, an orange, and some chocolate were handed to each man by troops of the Welch Regiment. Every man was very grateful to the Welch Regiment, not only for the refreshments its men were issuing but for the sense of stability and the sight of disciplined organisation it provided.page 79
Another hour or so on the road and the visitors were directed to an open field with scattered olive trees, a part of the Perivolia plantation near the village of that name; rations appeared but no blankets and the Maoris spent a chilly night under the bright Cretan stars. In the morning (26th) the battalion shifted to another bivouac in the same plantation; it should have gone there in the first place but had been misdirected.
The next day it moved again—somebody had to defend Crete until reinforcements could be brought from wherever they were coming to replace the New Zealanders, who would embark on the empty transports. In the meantime, 5 Brigade was to protect the Maleme airfield in western Crete and also take care of the beaches as far as the Platanias River, about five and a half miles to the east of the airfield. The 28th Battalion as brigade reserve moved inland near Aghya village, south-east of Platanias, where a front of two miles facing south-west was allotted to it with instructions first to get comfortable and then to take up a defensive position. There was a belt of hills between the battalion and the coast and the company areas were situated on the southern spurs of the ridge. Canea was approximately nine miles away and the cafés beckoned to the more adventurous; others roamed the area and ate oranges, the biggest and sweetest the Maoris had ever seen. The fruit was cheap and plentiful, and through strict orders were issued that nothing was to be taken without payment the men would have been more than human if the edict had been strictly obeyed. Rations were restricted; was there not a proverb—Ka ki te puku, ka manawanui?1
After a few days spent in relaxation and settling in, Colonel Dittmer passed on very explicit instructions to his company commanders. These instructions included notice that platoon parades were to be held at intervals, stand-to morning and evening, and sentries posted by day and night.
The posting of sentries added complications not always the fault of leave parties returning from adjacent villages. There was, for instance, the night when the password was ‘St. George’ and the countersign ‘For England’. A sentry whose biblical knowledge was better than his mythology forgot the password and held up a party because they had no answer to his challenge of ‘St. John’. After some argument they were permitted to pass with the admonition that the countersign was ‘The Baptist’ and that they had better be more careful next time because some Maori sentries were quick on the trigger.page 80
Minor changes in the battalion dispositions were made to conform to the pattern of the defence that was emerging as more New Zealand troops became available.
By this time Captain Love and his party had reported in as well as Major Bertrand, RSM Wood, WO II Burke, and, most unexpectedly, Captain F. Baker, who had a very exciting time which included being captured by the enemy and getting away again. He had been detailed to Megara Beach on an evacuation job similar to that of Major Bertrand and consequently knew nothing of the Reinforcement Company or its fate. After the Megara embarkations had been completed the beach staff was to have moved across the Corinth Canal to another embarkation point, but paratroops had already seized the Corinth bridge. The result was that the truck carrying Lieutenant-Colonel Marnham, RA, and Captain Baker was halted by a German patrol and the pair were constrained to join a convoy already in enemy hands. Soon after the column moved off the pair escaped by turning up a side road and disappearing smartly into an olive grove. After a series of adventures, which included finding a seaplane which he couldn't fly, a speed launch which he couldn't start, and a horse which he couldn't catch, Captain Baker eventually got a lift in a Greek truck and finished up at Porto Rafti as a liaison officer on the staff of 4 Infantry Brigade and thence to Crete.
He was posted as second-in-command to Major Dyer (D Company) and Lieutenant Te Kuru took command of 18 Platoon vice Second-Lieutenant Gilroy, still thought to be missing but, through a set of fortuitous circumstances, actually in Egypt.
On the last day of April General Freyberg was given command of the forces in Crete and instructed that retention of the island was essential for the successful operation of the Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean. There was no likelihood of ground reinforcement and no further air support, although the Navy would do everything possible. He had approximately a fortnight to prepare and could then expect an invasion by airborne troops, plus a possible seaborne attack; conversely, he might be left alone and the enemy attack; conversely, he might be left alone and the enemy attack delivered against Syria or Cyprus.
The problem was how to hold a mountainous island 150 miles long and 40 wide at its greatest width, whose topography favoured the attack inasmuch as the few inadequate harbours, roads, and airfields were all on the north or enemy side.page 81
General Freyberg had at his disposal 30,000 Imperial and 12,000 Greek troops, but a considerable portion of the former consisted of specialists such as gunners without their guns, cavalry minus vehicles, engineers lacking equipment, and line-of-communication troops, many unarmed. They certainly could not be called infantrymen, the role in which they were now required to function, but though some were sent away to Egypt before action started, many of the others did extraordinarily well as amateur infantry. The Greeks were newly conscripted, untrained, and practically unarmed except for rifles of differing makes and varying antiquity; nevertheless they fought creditably when the time came.
Brigadier Puttick,2 now commanding the New Zealand Division, was given the task of defending Maleme airfield and the western end of Crete. He had the seven infantry battalions of 4 and 5 Brigades (6 Brigade had gone direct to Egypt) and a third brigade, the 10th, made up of a composite battalion of Divisional Cavalry, gunners—‘infantillery’ they called themselves—and ASC, 20 Battalion, detached from 4 Brigade, and two Greek regiments.
Final locations were decided upon as follows: 10 Brigade in the Galatas area, 5 Brigade between Platanias and Maleme, and two Greek battalions west of Maleme. Fourth Brigade was in Force Reserve, deployed between Galatas and Canea.
The vital area in 5 Brigade's sector was the Maleme airfield with, secondarily, the beaches from Maleme to Platanias if the enemy elected to come by sea. There was the Navy to make the second method a hazardous venture but very few planes to oppose an aerial attack. The RAF and Fleet Air Arm made a gallant effort to protect what they could of Crete until only one Hurricane was left. It was ordered back to Egypt.
The Maoris moved over to Platanias in the evening of 3 May, when the brigade dispositions were, facing the sea: 28 (Maori) Battalion on the right flank in and west of Platanias village; two detachments of engineers from 19 Army Troops Company and 7 Field Company in front of Modhion village; 23 Battalion around Dhaskaliana, with 21 Battalion (less than half strength after Greece) on high country to its south and facing west; 22 Battalion around the airfield, with its western flank on the wide page 82 page break page 83 and pebbly bed of the Tavronitis River. In addition, some miles to the west at Kastelli two Greek battalions were being organised and trained by a small group of New Zealand instructors. Finally, round Maleme airfield were fourteen coast and antiaircraft guns manned by Royal Artillery, Royal Australian Artillery, and Royal Marines, but not under the control of Brigadier Hargest, who was responsible for the defence of the area.
Fifth Brigade, Maleme, 20 May 1941
The road from Platanias to Maleme ran parallel with and about half a mile inland from the sea. Hamlets were scattered over the area and there were vineyards and olive groves and small cultivated fields criss-crossed by canals and irrigation ditches. Steep-sided riverbeds, dry for the greater part of summer, ran down from the hilly country only a mile inland.
The Platanias River, which was never dry, had its source high up in the White Mountains. The river itself was about a chain wide and varied in depth from a few inches to waist deep, while its valley was half a mile wide at the coastal strip. There were roads on each side of the river that deteriorated as they led back into the hills and into the Aghya valley.
Headquarters Company (Captain Love) was placed along the road and beach covering Platanias village, which was three quarters of a mile east of the river; D Company (Major Dyer) was further west holding an extensive area which included the mouth of the Platanias River and the road bridge. South of these two companies the country rose rapidly and was studded with 600-feet-high peaks. Battalion Headquaters was placed in a gully on the northern slopes of one of these features. C Company (Captain Scott) was north-west of Headquarters and in rear of the two forward companies; B Company (Captain Royal) was on a ridge to the west of Battalion Headquarters overlooking the Platanias River, while A Company (Captain Bell) was on the other flank, mainly facing east, but it could also operate to the south—that is, to the rear of Battalion Headquarters and towards the left of B Company.
On the western side of the river were the two detachments of engineers facing the sea, with an irrigation canal running through their lines and Modhion village behind them. Due south of the right flank of 7 Field Company and situated on a rise above the canal was C Troop 5 Field Regiment (Captain Snadden),3 and just south again was 5 Brigade Field Punish- page 84 ment Centre (Lieutenant Roach).4 The former was in a position to cover the beach to its front and to the west of 28 Battalion, while the guards and prisoners of the latter commanded the left rear of the battalion area.
In Major Dyer's sector, where most of the early fighting took place, the ground was flat to undulating with scattered clumps of bamboo and odd poplar trees in addition to the inevitable grape-vines, olives, and patches of crops. The area was also traversed by the river and by a bamboo-lined millrace which carried water to a story-and-a-half-high mill near the river bridge.
No. 18 Platoon (Lieutenant Te Kuru) was the link between D and Headquarters Companies; 16 Platoon (Lieutenant Ormond) covered the road bridge over the river and the flat between the engineers and the road; 17 Platoon (Lieutenant Logan) was on higher ground between and behind the forward platoons. The key to D Company's western front was a small plateau actually on the extreme right of the Engineers' (19 Army Troops Company) position. Fire could enfilade the whole front from there, and part of a section commanded by Sergeant George Te Hou5 with two Brens was dug in on its northern edge.
Brigade Headquarters called for a return showing the numbers of tools, automatics, and other equipment in the possession of the battalions. It was the first return that had been requested since Olympus and the Maori Battalion unsuspectingly disclosed untold wealth to a Brigadier almost bereft of military necessities. In spite of orders to dump everything except arms at Porto Rafti, and to leave their automatics on the quay at Suda Bay, the Maoris' return showed four wireless sets, twentyeight Bren guns, a three-inch mortar, and a goodly selection of picks and shovels. It was a bitter battalion that saw its wireless sets taken by Brigade, nine Bren guns distributed to other units, and most of its tools to the same destinations. The three-inch mortar, which had been picked up by B Company on the Olympus Pass road and had been smuggled on to the Glengyle and finally to Platanias, was left with the unit.page 85
With the prospect of action in the near future, Headquarters Company was reorganised as a rifle company with three rifle platoons commanded by Lieutenants W. Ngata,6 D. Urlich, and F. T. Bennett respectively. The signal platoon retained its identity and another mortar platoon, commanded by Lieutenant McKay, was formed and armed with three 3-inch mortars.
The battalion's officers at this date were:
CO: Lt-Col Dittmer
2 i/c: Maj Bertrand
Adjutant: Capt Te Punga
IO: Lt C. M. Bennett
MO: Capt Mules
QM: Capt Weir
Chaplain: Rev K. Harawira
Signals: Lt H. M. McDonald
Mortars: Lt W. H. McKay
Lt F. T. Bennett
OC: Capt R. Royal
Lt H. R. Vercoe
2 Lt R. Pene
Two days after the move to Platanias, on the afternoon of 5 May, a truck drew up at Battalion Headquarters and deposited a pair of Maoris grinning through a week's growth of whiskers. They were greeted with yells of amazement for it was thought that they were behind the wires of a German prison cage. Corporal Hayward7 and Lance-Corporal Hakaraia8 brought the first news of the fate of the carrier platoon.page 86
While the battalion was sheltering at Marathon the carrier platoon had spent the daylight hours hidden in olive groves at Cape Knimis and passed the time shooting at every plane that came within range. It was good clean fun and, though nothing was brought down, it was not from want of trying. After the Glengyle sailed the platoon was sent back behind 4 Brigade and some time during the night of 25–26 April was again diverted, this time in company with C Squadron of the Divisional Cavalry, to a new job on the Corinth Canal as local protection to anti-aircraft guns in that locality.
Soon after daylight on the 26th it was in hull-down positions overlooking the canal near Corinth. Most of the crews were enjoying a much-needed rest after the all-night drive when a yell, ‘They're coming down in parachutes!’ sent the carriers into action. In Corporal Hayward's words: ‘By this time the parachutists were coming down in dozens and gradually encircling us. At the same time we were being continually and systematically strafed with a string of ME 110's laying down a curtain of fire across the only gap that still remained as a possible escape route towards the hills.’
The sight of the Divisional Cavalry armoured cars already half-way to the hills decided Hayward to make a break through the gap while there was still time. There or four other carriers followed and, after charging through vineyards and over stone walls, got safely away. By this time two carriers had lost their tracks and it was decided to push the others over a cliff and march to an embarkation beach.
The party met a group of dismounted Divisional Cavalry men who had a map and a compass and a course was set for Navplion, in the Gulf of Argos, some 35 miles distant. They were there by dark and joined the tail of the column being taken aboard destroyers—and missed embarkation by a hundred yards of column. There was to be another embarkation the following night at T Beach, 15 miles down the coast, and the Maoris, now about a dozen, set off again. They waited all night but no ships came for the 1500 or so men waiting under the olive trees. By this time the Maoris had met Major Harford9 of the Divisional Cavalry, who told them the Germans had already passed them on the main road.page 87
Corporal Hayward continues:
I asked Captain [sic] Harford what was intended and he stated that he understood that the British officer in command had decided to surrender. I then asked him if he intended to surrender also. After a short discussion it was decided that as many as wished should make a dash for the beach and try to get off in the small boats that we had previously noticed.
In the scramble that followed Corporal Hayward found himself in an 18-foot boat with Lance-Corporal Hakaraia, Major Harford, and ten others of his squadron, rowing hard for the open sea. They waited until dark in the lee of a small islet off shore, then rowed across the gulf and down the coast until the late afternoon, when they decided to risk landing on a point where there were a few houses. There they obtained half a goat, four gallons of water and some cheese, also the information that the Germans were rapidly taking over the country. The goat was grilled over an open fire, and after a meal and a rest they resolved to row to Crete, or North Africa if they missed the island.
For rations they had what was left of the goat and cheese, the water, some biscuits, and their emergency ration issue. There was only one pair of oars but by half-hourly changes and by rowing day and night they made another island off Crete four days later. A larger Greek caique loaded with refugees was sheltering there waiting for dark to make the last dash to Crete, and after some parleying the skipper agreed to take some aboard and tow the others at a price of £1 a head. The sea which had been clam until then got up and their chances of making the last 30 miles would have been slim had they tried to row; so heavily laden was their craft that it had less than a foot of freeboard.
Hayward and Hakaraia were closely followed by Privates Epiha10 and De La Croix,11 whose adventures were much the same except that they rowed all the way and landed on the beach where the battalion was holding a bathing parade. These four were the only members of the carrier platoon to reach Crete.
Each company was given an offensive and a defensive role and training consisted of practice in repelling imaginary attacks by sea and land. Moves in support of D Company nearest the page 88 beach were carried out in turn by the other companies and times were reduced at each attempt. Night patrols made the men acquainted with the terrain around their areas, while officers and NCOs reconnoitred alternative routes forward to the Maleme airfield. An outbreak of dysentery at this time took fairly heavy toll of the battalion; first B Company's OC was evacuated, followed shortly after by OC C Company and the battalion second-in-command, leaving Colonel Dittmer short of experienced commanders. It was not all work, however. The weather was perfect and time passed pleasantly enough; there was a little leave to Canea, although it entailed thumbing a ride on infrequently passing vehicles or a nine-mile walk each way. Nearer home the YMCA established a small depot in Platanias village where Mr McIvor gave excellent service while his stocks lasted. The village also boasted a pleasnat wineshop with a very good radio, and the troops, especially Headquarters Company, thronged there nightly to sample the brew and listen to the BBC news bulletin. The Maoris rapidly acquired a little Greek and Lieutenant Wattie McKay, practising at every opportunity, became so proficient in the language that he acted as the battalion interpreter.
Bathing parades, a company at a time, were held frequently and had their moments of excitement, for on occasions a German plane would swoop out of the clouds and along the beach spraying bullets as it passed. There were numerous bombing raids on Suda Bay, but Suda was well away from the battalion area and in war you have enough troubles of your own without bothering much about those of others. This detached attitude altered somewhat after the CO's conference on the 13th. He told his hearers that the invasion threat was very real and that the attack could come in the next four or five days.12 The procedure would probably be preliminary bombing and machine-gunning to clear areas for paratroopers to land, after which the planes would continue circling and firing to protect the enemy while they organised.
The battalion answer would be action by fire power only until it was certain that any attack was not a feint, whereupon the troops would leave their dug-in positions, deal with the situation, and return again to shelter; reserve platoons were to be concentrated and mobile while all other positions were to page 89 be sited for all-round defence; firing was to be controlled as long as possible and only low-flying planes were to be engaged by the troops; trench sentries were to be responsible for operating a system of alarms, as follows:
A series of short whistle blasts—Slit trenches.
Long and short blasts—Battle stations.
White Very lights—Reinforce D and Headquarters Companies' area.
If the attack came from the beach, A Company would move behind and to the left of C Company. Facing west in rear of D Company, the formation would be B Company, left, C Company, right, A behind B, and the transport platoon behind C Company. If attacked from the east A Company would be on the right, C Company, left B in rear of A, and the transport platoon behind C Company.
Finally, in any advance, all tommy guns would go with the first wave so as to permit riflemen to get in with the bayonet.
Colonel Dittmer was even more explicit at his conference on the 16th. The invasion could be expected at any time within the next three days and would be carried out by a force estimated at 35,000, of whom 25,000 would be airborne and the balance by ship. Points likely to be attacked as far as the New Zealand Division was concerned were Maleme, Canea, and the Aghya valley. The attack would probably be preceded by a strafe from 500 bombers, which would come in waves of a hundred followed by 600 troop-carrying planes dropping successive waves of paratroops. The seaborne troops were to be escorted by the Italian Navy, Royal Navy permitting. Particular attention was to be paid by the Maoris to shelter from divebombers and to the screening of trenches, while company commanders were to have their battle headquarters in a pit near their company OP.
The CO closed the conference by ordering a full alter, every man to possess his quota of 100 rounds of ammunition and all to remain in their fighting pits during the day. Nothing unusual occurred in the Platanias area on the 17th or 18th although, judging by the noise and smoke, both Maleme and Suda Bay were being ‘done over’ at regular intervals. In actual fact, an oil tanker in the bay was burning and a dozen other ships were lying disabled in the harbour. The noise was more continuous the next day and planes in dozens could be seen diving down on Maleme.page 90
It was the opinion at stand-to on the dawn of 20 May that even more than the usual hate was being expended on the Maleme positions. The Maori are was again not generally included, although D Company was most annoyed at being machine-gunned at breakfast.
The men were sitting along the river bank when a group of yellow and black Messerschmitts swept down the Maleme road at tree-top height spraying the country with bullets. They were past with a rattle and a roar before the troops could dive for cover, but it was noticed that the bridge and miller's house were not molested. No doubt the bridge was needed for future operations.
At 8 a.m. Private ‘Monty’ Wikiriwhi, on duty in the ‘I’ section OP, reached for his pencil and wrote in the logbook:
It appears that the invasion is about to be launched. The area round the aerodrome is being most intensively bombed and machine-gunned by countless planes of all kinds. Clouds of dust are rising high into the sky turning the whole area into a real inferno of flying dust and metal and visibility was reduced almost to nil.
In the midst of all this pandemonium paratroops were dropped round the aerodrome.
Paratroops were dropped in the Agha [Aghya] valley area.
Some of these troops were dropped along the west bank of the Platanias River and beyond effective range but were optimistically fired on by A, B, and C Companies until they were hidden in the ground cover.
A parachute with a load that glistened in the sun floated down about half-way between the enemy and B Company and Private Tommy Duncan13 volunteered to go out and investigate. He stalked the ‘chute and found it contained a canister of weapons, field glasses, and grenades. He was dragging it back when he noticed a party of Germans also bent on retrieving his trophy, which he felt disinclined to part with. He shot two and the others disappeared. This and subsequent exploits won him the Military Medal.page 91
But to return to Monty Wikiriwhi in the battalion OP:
More paratroops were dropped round the aerodrome and also in the re-entrant behind the 'drome.
A further batch of paratroops disgorged in the aerodrome area. About 200 troop-carrying planes have now passed along the Agha valley and made their way out to sea flying about 10 ft off the water. We estimate that 800–1000 troops have been dropped round the aerodrome with about the same number dropped in the valley of Agha.
More troop planes have discharged their cargo in the reentrant behind the 'drome. Sound of heavy fighting coming from the aerodrome area.
One troop-carrying plane effected a landing on the beach opposite D Coy lines. It was immediately set on fire presumably by Bren gun fire.14 These enormous black troop-carrying planes are circling round and round the beach and above the aerodrome seeking landing places.
A glider landed on the beach about 200 yards ahead of the plane already on fire.
Enemy seen concentrating in a house near the beach.
Troops watching from the hills around Platanias saw with unbelieving eyes a new kind of plane hovering above the snarling, diving fighters. They were huge and without propellers and flapped backwards and forwards in an uncanny manner—troop-carrying gliders waiting their cue to crash-land their ten airborne troops.
Close behind the gliders came large, black, lumbering troop-carriers flying almost wing to wing, formation after formation stretching out beyond the horizon. Then the Maoris saw the sky filled with white, red, green, and brown parachutes to the east, west, and south of Platanias—paratroops and their equipment.page 92
No enemy dropped in the Maori area, but some glider-borne troops were noticed concerntrating at a house on the beach about half a mile west of D Company and Captain Tureia15 was instructed to send a platoon to assist another from D Company in removing them. A composite Ngatiporou platoon commanded by Lieutenant Reedy joined 17 Platoon (Lieutenant Logan) and both parties under the command of Captain Baker prepared for their first action in Crete.
By the time they had worked to within 500–600 yards of the objective they were closely attended by several planes circling and gunning as they came round, but the Maoris kept on with fire and movement as practised in England. Logan, on the left, swung his platoon in an arc and closed in. The Germans were in twos and threes around the house and, after seven or eight of their number had been killed, two officers and eight other ranks surrendered. The Maoris' casualties were two slightly wounded, so besides being very gratified at the sight of their captives disliking the attention of their own aircraft, the men felt that a reasonable amount of utu16 had been obtained for the men killed in Greece.
The battalion was not involved in the fierce fighting that went on during the first day of the invasion and the only airborne enemy that came within range were two strays who dropped behind D Company. RSM Ace Wood and Lieutenant C. M. Bennett happened to be in the battalion OP at the time and tried their marksmanship at 400 yards. The quarry disappeared and the pair decided to stalk them. One was found slightly wounded in a place that would have made sitting uncomfortable and both surrendered quitely. The prisoners were relieved of automatics, knives, maps and aerial photographs, and escorted to Battalion Headquarters. The tally for the day was twelve captured and eight or nine killed. From the Maori point of view it was a satisfactory day, but it must be remembered that Platanias was not a German objective and that the battalion had not received the punishment taken by the troops around Maleme.
Probably the only members of the battalion not feeling satisfied with the situation were those, including Major Bertrand and Captain Scott, in 7 General Hospital near Galatas. page 93 They were shot up, bombed, and finally captured by a wave of paratroops who, with shouts of ‘Hants oop!’, gathered all the walking cases together. The party, Major Bertrand estimates about 300, was marched towards Galatas, which town, according to the German timetable, was due to be in their hands—and wasn't.
Major Bertrand reported:
By about 1500 hrs we had moved about a mile or more from 7 GH [General Hospital] and were, as we found, in the vicinity of 19 Bn who were occupying a position just south of the road leading to Galatas. Our guards must have come into contact with 19 Bn as we were herded into as small a space as possible. Soon after this a patrol of one section could be seen through the olive trees moving down a ridge across our front about 100 yards away and separated from us by a slight scrub clad depression. I could hear the patrol talking as one of them said, ‘There are no bloody Huns down here.’ We dare not move to attract attention and in spite of a strenuous ‘mind over matter’ session the patrol slowly moved out of sound and sight…. About half an hour after their disappearance we heard them coming back and once more our hopes rose (one of the patrol fired a shot in the general direction of the prisoners and was answered by one of the guards). The patrol immediately swung into action, extended and moved across the depression under cover. The subsequent proceedings resulted in the killing of all our guards except one in our immediate vicinity…. He was severely wounded in the thigh. As he had been particularly good to us we took him along with us to 19 Bn for treatment.
The 22nd Battalion, hard-pressed at Maleme, had asked for help and Colonel Dittmer was instructed to send a company to Headquarters 23 Battalion, where guides would be provided for the rest of the journey to 22 Battalion. B Company was given the job but Captain Royal, who had returned from hospital two days earlier, did not know the suggested round-about route and decided to use the main road and fight if forced to. The Arawa Company left at 7 p.m. and was unmolested until close to 23 Battalion area, when 10 Platoon (Lieutenant Vercoe) encountered a few paratroops who were cleaned up without much trouble. Very soon afterwards a larger body was met and the platoon was held up until 11 Platoon (Lieutenant Pene) reinforced it. The Germans, who had concentrated around a page 94 tree, shouted ‘We surrender’ and at the same time a grenade was thrown which wounded two Maoris. That grenade was the signal for, as far as is known, the first use of the bayonet by New Zealand troops in the war, for with a yell of ‘Surrender be —’ the Maoris charged and killed twenty-four Germans. Those not actually engaged assisted with hakas. A pocket a little further on yielded another eight dead Germans, after which B Company reached 23 Battalion without further incident.
The firing and yelling had attracted the attention of Captain Moody,17 who with a section of 5 Field Ambulance was also under instructions to report to 22 Battalion, and he joined his party to B Company.
The guides arrived after some delay for Colonel Leckie,18 CO 23 Battalion, had also been instructed to send a company forward to 22 Battalion but had not been informed that the Maoris were likewise reinforcing.
Because of enemy in unknown numbers in the locality, the route was first south on to the ridge where 21 Battalion was dug in. Men could be seen moving about and, not wishing to be shot at in mistake for Germans, Captain Royal told his men to talk in Maori. The 21st Battalion was amazed at the clamour but amused at the explanation.
After traversing Vineyard Ridge, as 21 Battalion had named its area, the Maoris were led down a road that took them on to the main highway, where they turned left towards the airfield until they were halted by wire along its perimeter. Captain Royal asked a shadowy figure behind the wire if he belonged to 22 Battalion and was answered with a grenade which luckily did little damage, slightly wounding one man.
The company began to deploy for action but its destination, a low ridge where trees could be seen against the skyline, was clearly in enemy hands, and the troops, though reluctant to depart without a fight, were withdrawn. Their instructions were to report to Headquarters 22 Battalion which had evidently departed, so the guide then made for Pirgos village, where the 22nd's rear headquarters was thought to be located. It was page 95 actually the Headquarters Company area, but it had been isolated all day and the company there was preparing to move out under cover of darkness. The Maoris saw vague figures who, as far as they knew, were probably Germans, but neither party molested the other and both left Pirgos by different routes.
B Company was taken across country then back on to the road from Vineyard Ridge, where it finally met Colonel Andrew19 with part of 22 Battalion moving back to a new position. When Royal told him where they had been, Colonel Andrew said, ‘You are damn lucky to be alive’ and then instructed him to return to his unit. The company followed the same route back and reported in after eleven hours’ marching.
The position at the opening of the second day of the invasion was that, of the three airfields and the port of Suda Bay, Maleme was more than half lost and the others still holding; General Freyberg's communications, inadequate before the attack, were now extremely disorganised and the German commander had decided, preparatory to the landing of 5 Mountain Division, to throw everything into the capture of Maleme.
The programme of the previous day was repeated but the captured Bofors guns were used against the defenders. More men were dropped near Maleme. Some troop-carrying planes landed west of Maleme, and after 5 p.m. began landing on the airfield itself. C Troop of 27 Battery, the only guns with direct observation, engaged the planes, but with gunsights made from chewing-gum and matchsticks did not have the accuracy for really effective fire.
About 1 p.m. Captain Baker was again instructed to clear the beach of enemy who could be seen concentrating near a house about half a mile beyond the scene of the previous day's exploit. His patrol consisted of 17 Platoon less one section (Lieutenant Logan) and half of 18 Platoon (Sergeant Jerry Smith).20 They reached the first house without incident, but just beyond it saw and shot three Germans. A few minutes later six more were captured and sent back to D Company under escort. Almost simultaneously with their departure another five were sighted, but while they were in the process of being put page 96 in the bag like the others a grenade was thrown which wounded a Maori, whereupon no prisoners were taken. By this time the patrol was within 200–300 yards of the house when it was fired on from points in and about the objective. The two platoons tried to close in under mutual supporting fire but were strafed from the air and forced to take cover. When it was possible to move, Baker found himself separated from his party except for his runner and two wounded. Thinking that his force had moved back by the way it had come, he was about to do likewise when one wounded man said he had seen between five and six hundred paratroops drop into D Company and the general battalion area.
Captain Baker's intention to return to his company was frustrated by enemy machine-gunners in the house and both he and his runner took shelter in a drain. The position was further complicated by six planes landing on the beach between him and his hoped-for destination. Captain Snadden's battery was right on to them and only twenty men left the burning wrecks to run almost over the top of their two observers and take shelter in the scrub.
The estimate of between five and six hundred paratroops being dropped on the battalion was rather wide of the mark, but in actual fact 5 and 6 Companies of 2 Parachute Regiment had jumped between Platanias and Pirgos. Of that number twelve plane-loads fell along the Platanias River and D Company had the job of disposing of them.
Either by accident or design a number landed on the plateau previously mentioned, and 19 Army Troops Company was forced to withdraw after losing some men. Two Maori Brengunners, Privates John Whare21 and Matt Bailey,22 climbed out of their covered pits and went for the parachutists. Both died standing.
Major Dyer, with almost half his company absent on the beach patrol, had his hands full. Fire was coming from his left rear, a most unexpected quarter, while the undulating country with its many bamboo clumps, olive and poplar trees, and grape-vines made ideal hiding places for any enemy not shot before landing. If left until darkness they could become a real menace.page 97
They were not allowed to joint forces, for the Maoris hunted them, not without loss but with considerable success. Corporal Kopu23 put his Red Cross brassard in his pocket, teamed up with one of the company cooks, Private Curran,24 and the pair went off together; Private George McDonald,25 a signaller who also had no right to be away from the telephone, returned with a grin on his face and his shirt covered in blood. ‘They got me Sir but I can still mind the telephone’, he told Major Dyer. He lay down beside the phone and kept in touch with Battalion Headquarters until he fainted from loss of blood.
Lieutenant Te Kuru soon had his area under control and, seeing Germans on the plateau where the Bren-gunners had been killed, acted on his own initiative and led a section in that direction. It dealth with a few enemy en route and deployed to clear the plateau. Te Kuru was killed—the first officer casualty—others were wounded, and the rest took cover. Colonel Dittmer was also taking steps to deal with the situation in D Company area: Lieutenant Tuhiwai and his platoon were sent from C Company to reinforce and Sergeant-Major Ropata26 brought a section along the road from Headquarters Company in case there were any strays between the two areas.
Lieutenant Ormond on the western side of the river was having difficulty in clearing the area 19 Army Troops Company had been forced to vacate, but when Lieutenant Tuhiwai reported, Major Dyer led a sortie that eased the position very considerably.
The CO's next move was to instruct the RSM to get his Battalion Headquarters defence platoon together and sweep down the valley towards D Company. The defence platoon was a shadow body made up of batmen, drivers, provosts, and the ‘I’ section, about twenty in all, organised into three sections commanded by Sergeant W. Vercoe, ‘I’ section, Sergeant Don Haronga,27 provost section, and Sergeant Manawatu,28 in charge of the stretcher-bearers.page 98
This platoon was, by the nature of its duties, weak in combat training but was strong in fighting spirit. It dropped down into the valley, formed up with two sections forward and one in support, and advanced unopposed until it reached the corner where the western road crossed the irrigation canal, at which point it was fired on. A brisk exchange of grenades and smallarms fire resulted in ten dead Germans on the road and others in the scrub with no loss to the makeshift platoon. After this successful action Wood carried on down to D Company and then back to Battalion Headquarters, passing en route a number of dead paratroops in front of C Company's lines. Ngatiporou had made the most of such opportunities as had come their way.
In addition, Lieutenant Keiha29 was instructed to make a reconnaissance in the opposite direction to that taken by the Headquarters defence platoon, that is, south into the Aghya valley. The platoon rounded up ten stray enemy before returning by way of the plateau, where the German probably responsible for the death of Lieutenant Te Kuru was found in the canal near Te Kuru's body and killed.
Captain Bell and his Ngapuhis were throughly disgusted with the whole affair for they were situated on that side of the battalion area where nothing was happening. Their only job was to see that none of the enemy who had landed in the Aghya valley came in by the back door. If they had, A Company's task would have been difficult, but though the Maoris looked hopefully towards the south they found no employment.
The second day closed with 22 Battalion tied in partially with 21 Battalion and partially with 23 Battalion. The enemy held the airfield, though it was still covered by a dwindling amount of fire, but a substantial enemy force had concentrated west of Maleme airfield. The 21st Battalion, out of communication with Brigade Headquarters, was waiting instructions and wondering what was going on in the dust clouds below.
An all-in counter-attack at the earliest possible moment was essential if the vital airfield was to be recaptured, but poverty of communications and the impossibility of moving any body of men during the daylight made it imperative for Brigadier Hargest to wait until dark. The 28th Battalion was considered the sole unit in 5 Brigade fresh enough for the operation and Brigadier Puttick could spare only one battalion from his page 99 reserve; Colonel Kippenberger's30 10 Brigade was fully extended and might have to be reinforced, and intelligence reports predicted that the seaborne attack would come in that night.
The plan as finally worked out and sent to the forward battalion commanders after dark was: 20 and 28 Battalions were to carry out the counter-attack on Maleme; 20 Battalion would be relieved by an Australian unit and then taken by trucks to the assembly area immediately west of the Platanias River; the axis of advance would be the main road, with 20 Battalion on the seaward and 28 on the landward side, with three light tanks on the road itself. The task of 20 Battalion was to clear the airfield while 28 Battalion secured Point 107, where it would link up with 21 Battalion; after clearing the airfield 20 Battalion was to move back on to the ridge which dominated the airfield and also relieve the Maoris, who would return to Platanias before first light. The 20th Battalion would then hold the highest hilltop in the area—Point 107, the original position of A Company 22 Battalion and the key to Maleme. No planes could use the airfield while hostile troops held Point 107, nor could the New Zealand positions be readily outflanked while the left flank of 21 Battalion was in Xamoudhokhori.
The troops were to be ready to leave the start line at 1 a.m. on 22 May. Colonel Dittmer's plan was to advance on a two-company front, with D supported by Headquarters Company on the right and A leading C Company on the left. Although the first part of the advance to just short of Pirgos village was to be regarded as an approach march, the battalion had to be prepared to engage pockets of enemy en route. To this end the forward companies were instructed to put out a screen of scouts across the front.
There was also to be a preliminary bombing of the objective by planes fitted with extra fuel tanks so that they could fly from Egypt and return after their mission; but in the event they did not arrive. Finally, the three tanks moving up the road in support of the attack were to be given protection by Lieutenant Reedy's platoon from C Company.page 100
From this point a certain amount of what follows is conjecture and, owing to the death in action of some of the officers concerned, verification is impossible.31
Major Dyer, on the right of the battalion, had the road as the unit boundary. He was reinforced by two Headquarters Company platoons (Lieutenants W. Ngata and W. McKay) to compensate for the absence of Captain Baker's fighting patrol. The three-inch mortars were left at the Platanias bridge, where a team of mules that Lieutenant McKay had been deputed to obtain was to pick them up, plus some ammunition, and accompany Battalion Headquarters. The mules did not arrive and the mortars had to be left behind. Supporting D Company were two Headquarters platoons (Lieutenants D. Urlich and F. T. Bennett) in an infantry role.
On the left of the advance A Company was almost at full strength, but Captain Bell did not have Captain Leaf with him and when the advance began was not supported by C Company.
For some days Captain Tureia had been suffering severely from dysentery but, in the absence of Captain Scott, would not leave the company. He was unable to walk to the start line and Leaf undertook to lead the company in his stead. During the day Lieutenant Keiha had been detailed with a section of his platoon to guard a party of Divisional Signals repairing the line from Brigade Headquarters forward and he returned to Battalion Headquarters just as Colonel Dittmer was leaving for the start line. Keiha was told to get his men a meal and to remain behind. Captain Leaf therefore had a platoon commanded by Lieutenant Tuhiwai and the rest of Lieutenant Keiha's platoon under Sergeant Te Kawa. By some mischance Captain Leaf led C Company through the forward troops without knowing it and was killed at a bridge some distance in front of the start line. Lieutenant Tuhiwai then returned with C Company, again moved through the forward troops without contacting them, and returned to Battalion Headquarters where he reported to Lieutenant Keiha. According to the timetable the attack should by that time have been well on the way to Maleme, and it was decided by Keiha and Tuhiwai to await the unit's return at daylight.
Originally B Company was to have remained in the battalion area for Brigade Headquarters, located close by, required local page 101 protection, and there was also the possibility of enemy infiltration from the Aghya valley to be considered. This role was later altered, partly as a result of a request from Captain Anderson,32 commanding 19 Army Troops Company, for assistance in cleaning up its forward area, which was still infested with enemy who had taken possession of some of its weapon pits.
Captain Anderson explains:
Because of the position and because our engineers had no training in infantry work the Maori Battalion was asked to mop up our forward area—You can put it in the record that we were damned glad to have the Maoris clean up the frontage for us.
Captain Royal's revised instructions were to clean up any paratroops in front of 19 Army Troops' position and south of the Platanias-Maleme road, which was also the battalion forming-up area. When this was done he was to leave one platoon in B Company area as local protection for Brigade Headquarters and continue on the left of the advance as far as 23 Battalion.
B Company left on its mission at 10.30 p.m. Lieutenant Stewart was to patrol the forming-up area and then return to B Company lines, while the rest of the company re-established 19 Army Troops Company in its forward pits. This was accomplished by sending Private Timihou33 with a section to draw fire while the others, with the enemy located, worked in behind them. The result was a dozen dead paratroops and one live glider pilot. Because he appeared to be very young and could speak a little English, he was taken along as a mascot, was lost sight of later, and probably rejoined his own people.
After some trouble with 7 Field Company, whose men were firing first and asking questions afterwards, B Company followed the route it had taken the previous night to 23 Battalion area, where it waited for the counter-attack force to come up.
During all this time Colonel Dittmer was waiting on the Platanias bridge with Brigadier Hargest for 20 Battalion to show up, for there was little enough time to recapture Point 107 and return before daylight robbed them of their only advantage—freedom of movement. With a screen in front, the page 102 troops at four paces' interval were lying on the ground. They passed the time speculating on the meaning of red glows and the flashes of distant searchlights at sea but did not know until later that they were watching the funeral pyres of the seaborne invasion. The Navy had given ‘all possible help’ as promised.
One o'clock—two o'clock—and no 20 Battalion. At 2.15 trucks clattered up with half that battalion. The 20th had had to wait until an Australian unit took over its position, but the Australians had been delayed by bombing. Lieutenant-Colonel Burrows34 decided to start with his half-battalion and left instructions for the other companies to follow and move up behind him. About 3 a.m. the attack was ready to start; and although the Maori Battalion knew nothing about it at the time, Brigadier Hargest, knowing that the delay had made a night attack almost impossible, rang Divisional Headquarters and asked if the operation must go on. He was told that it must.
Before the operation commences we will return to Captain Baker and his patrol. Baker eventually, and with adventures that included the demise of two paratroops, made his way about midnight to 7 Field Company headquarters, where he learned that Lieutenant Logan and his platoon, and Sergeant Smith and his half-platoon, had been fitted into the engineers' forward positions. He was told of the proposed counter-attack on Maleme, but because of the indefinite position out in front the engineers were shooting on sight and he would have to wait until daylight before collecting his men and going about his affairs.
Lieutenant Logan had also seen the planes land on the beach and the survivors deplane and head inland. He led his platoon up a dry watercourse until he found a little hollow covered with grapes and olive trees and waited there until dark. When it was safe to move he led his platoon past a sleeping group of Germans and between two defended posts into the 7 Field Company area. The sergeant Logan met was not pleased to find that twenty Maoris had passed his listening post unseen. Logan, who reported to Brigade through 7 Field Company, was instructed to remain where he was, that his battalion would page 103 be advised, and further that the Brigade Major, Captain Dawson,35 was on his way up to see him.
The approach march had not gone more than half a mile before both battalions met opposition. The 20th Battalion found a large number of enemy sheltering in a house and after some sharp fighting captured it. The men of 28 Battalion, threading their way through trees and around houses, met scattered Germans firing from windows and from behind stone walls. The tanks helped by shooting at flashes from the houses, and grenade and bayonet did the rest. Further delay was caused by 7 Field Company—which had not been advised of the delay in the start of the counter-attack—fulfilling its instructions to fire on any movement and inquire afterwards. There was a sharp exchange of fire between the engineers and A Company before the misunderstanding was cleared up. There were also some casualties in A Company from anti-personnel mines scattered in front of the engineers' position, but the battalion carried on.
Daybreak was not far away when D Company reported enemy dug in ahead of it and Major Dyer was ordered to assault the position. He was trampling through the wire at the head of his troops when the ‘enemy’ yelled that they were 17 Platoon and what the hell did he think he was up to?
A Company had been rather disorganised by the death of Captain Bell during the approach march and the casualties caused by the engineers' mines. Colonel Dittmer therefore instructed Captain Royal, who had now reported in, to thicken up the left flank. Dawn also disclosed that a few Cretans had joined the battalion and seemed to view the coming fight with satisfaction.
By the time the crossroads at Dhaskaliana were reached it was nearly full light; Pirgos, the first objective, was still half a mile away and the airfield another half mile; aircraft were arriving in a steady stream. The leading tank was put out of action by a captured Bofors, the second broke down, and the third also stopped. No tanks, no RAF, and the sky filling with enemy planes; but the attack pushed on.
It was now rising, wooded country on the Maori sector and flat, sandy country where 20 Battalion, over towards the beach, had drawn ahead somewhat.page 104
Heavy opposition was encountered on the outskirts of Pirgos, and if the fullest use had not been made of the stone walls, ditches, and hedges it is doubtful if any further progress could have been made. D Company fought its way from one piece of cover to the next, but the enemy had the advantage of observation from the village church spire to bring mortar fire to bear and finally halted the advance on the line of an irrigation canal. A Company, having by this time lost Captain Bell killed and Lieutenant Porter wounded, had Lieutenant Te Puni36 as the only officer with it and was unable to move beyond the forward elements of 23 Battalion.
On the extreme left, B Company found itself on the bottom of Vineyard Ridge in a gap to the left of 23 Battalion. In front was a low ridge dominated by a stone house from which a spandau stopped any further movement. Private Tommy Duncan volunteered to silence the gun if the company would give him covering fire. This was arranged and he crept up from a flank and tossed a grenade into the house. No enemy emerged, but Duncan came out with the spandau and a lot of ammunition and there was no further trouble from that quarter.
The whole battalion was checked until Pirgos, which 20 Battalion had entered but had been unable to capture, was cleared. Colonel Dittmer appreciated that further head-on attacks by D Company would lead to heavy casualties without any advantage—Lieutenant McKay had already been mortally wounded trying to rush an enemy spandau post—and ordered Major Dyer to pull back slightly, veer to his left, and then try to get behind the village. While these movements were being carried out, the right flank company of 20 Battalion had reached the airfield but could not cross it in daylight against the mortar and machine-gun fire directed against it, nor could it stay where it was. Colonel Burrows ordered it to withdraw behind the Maoris and so get on to the high ground of Point 107, but a garbled version of the order suggested that the withdrawal was back to the start line. Parts of 20 Battalion's D and Headquarters Companies obeyed the mutilated order and the rest of the battalion gathered in 23 Battalion area. Vision was very restricted, and the result of the realignment was that Major Dyer brought D Company up on the right of B Company and Headquarters Company became mixed with A and the one platoon of C Company. Captain Love was reorganising when page 105 he was wounded, not seriously enough to be evacuated but too badly to move about. Fire was coming from a house and a vineyard above the position and men were falling fast. The fortunate arrival of the RSM saved a desperate situation.
‘Ace’ Wood writes:
All I remember was ordering a number of the boys up the track [shown on a rough sketch not reproduced] and jumping off into a bayonet charge in the direction of the stone house. I remember feeling an utter ass because, realising the seriousness of the position with our lads packed like sardines, I shot off yelling to the boys to follow and after going about thirty yards and hearing no yelling, I stopped and looked back—I was on my own. But they followed and we cleaned up what turned out to be a patrol of about Pl strength. Half the bods we speared and shot in the middle of the ridge, the other half, including the commander, in the vineyard.
Still with the intention of getting around the enemy flank at Pirgos, the battalion fought its way forward until it reached the top of a ridge that ran south towards 21 Battalion, where it was halted by fire from Point 107 and another ridge running up from that point across 21 Battalion's front.
By this time it was late afternoon and Colonel Dittmer ordered the battalion to consolidate. The position was then that the enemy was on the ridge above the road to Xamoudhokhori and the Maoris facing across the valley. Lieutenant MacDonald37 of 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion was also there with two guns left out of his platoon, and was a great help until both guns were knocked out by mortar bombs. The front quietened down as the planes went home and the Maoris set about looking for some kai. They were supposed to have returned to Platanias before daylight nearly twelve hours earlier, and the Maori does not like fighting on an empty stomach. There were plenty of Germans whom 23 Battalion had killed lying around, and very soon the battalion was eating German rations and smoking German cigarettes. Colonel Dittmer considered that, with some help, it was still possible to drive the enemy off Point 107. He accordingly went back to find Headquarters 23 Battalion and conferred with the CO of that unit and also with the CO of 22 Battalion who was sharing the same headquarters. He learnt that what was left of the sub-units of 22 Battalion had been page 106 allotted to 21 and 23 Battalions, and the commander of the latter could not suggest any way in which he could help because of the task previously given him by Brigade. There was no direct contact with that headquarters whereby new instructions might be obtained.
Colonel Dittmer, feeling extremely disappointed that the Maoris had been unable to take their objective, returned to his command, where increasing fire and movement suggested that an attack on the right flank of the battalion was pending and arrangements were being made to meet it. The machine-gunners and Maoris pulled back but left two observers. The observers yelled ‘They're coming’ and the reception committee fixed bayonets. In Lieutenant MacDonald's words:
The attack began with a bursting mass of flame from the grenades the Huns threw on the top—shook us up a bit. Then they came over. There was no order but we stood up and charged forward…. The Gouns [Germans] let out a shriek or two and the rest bolted down the hill like rabbits, over stone walls, plunging through vines. Very soon the MGs opened up together with the mortars and we got back quickly.
This is how it sounded to Sergeant Sullivan38 in 20 Battalion nearby:
Sounds of German attack. Heavy fire steadily approaching. Much tracer. Then blood curdling yells from the Maoris as they went over to counter attack. Immediate decrease in German fire. Confusion, pandemonium and war cries for a few minutes then silence.
The silence is accounted for by Captain Te Punga and Sergeant Eddie Morgan39 who passed Captain Royal's headquarters out of breath and laughing heartily. Royal asked the reason for the mirth and they told him, ‘The bastards are still running like Hell.’
Firing slowed down with the coming of darkness, and a line of flares indicated that the enemy had also taken up a position for the night. Losses had not been light, but a withdrawal was not contemplated at any level from the rank and file to the commanding officer. It was therefore with doubt and incredulity that Dittmer heard just before dawn that 23 Battalion was getting ready to withdraw. He left post-haste for 23 Battalion page 107 headquarters about a thousand yards away, and from the CO of that unit learned that Captain Dawson had been up with instructions for the brigade to retire to Platanias and that 28 Battalion was to be the rearguard. A 23 Battalion runner had been sent to him with the message, but it was just one of those things that happen in war—the message never got to 28 Battalion—and it was a very disgusted commander who prepared to give away the ground so dearly won. The order had been to withdraw under cover of darkness, but it was then nearly daylight and Dittmer knew that if he did not move quickly the Maoris would have the battle all to themselves, not only from the front but from each flank. The withdrawing units—21, 22, and 23 Battalions—had to pass over a north-south ridge which was in view of the enemy, and it was certain that as soon as troops were seen moving over this ridge the enemy would do something about it. An operation considered impossible in the attack had to be carried out in the withdrawal—a daylight move by ground troops without air support.
Colonel Dittmer, who had arranged for company commanders to be at his headquarters when he returned, gave his orders: Lieutenant C. M. Bennett, the ‘I’ officer, would guide the battalion, less rear party, along the line Kondomari-Modhion; Captain Royal would lead the withdrawal with B Company and place a covering party with two automatics on the north-south ridge already mentioned, and which was about a mile behind them; Major Dyer would command the rearguard—an officer and ten men from each company—and would not leave the position until the main body was making good the north-south ridge.
The troops began to filter back and the German air-taxi service to Maleme began to operate though not with the usual number of ground-strafing machines. The battalion main body, although under fire, was also under cover and got away in reasonable order, taking with it some of the battalion walking wounded from the RAP. The CO and Adjutant, who had waited to see the troops off, followed at the rear of the battalion and Major Dyer was left with his small rearguard to restrain any over-eagerness on the part of the enemy to pursue.
When by good luck and the use of cover the main body of the battalion reached the ridge, two Bren-gun sections, commanded by Corporal Martin McRae40 and Private Pine Timihou respectively, were placed on tactical points. The Platanias page 108 position was visible in the distance and, because of the situation, it was decided not to continue on to Modhion but to take a shorter route between the engineers and Modhion which would bring the battalion out on to the flat ground below B and C Companies' original areas.
Parties of 21 Battalion which had come down from Vineyard Ridge through Modhion were met, also Germans coming down the valley from Aghya. Covering fire from Lieutenant Stewart on B Company's hill kept the Germans back while the Maoris crossed the flat, waded the river, almost shoulder high, and climbed up to their old positions. The time was about 8 a.m., and from the sounds of firing there appeared to be a battle going on in D Company area. Captain Royal reported to Brigade Headquarters and was instructed to take command, with Lieutenant C. M. Bennett as adjutant, until Colonel Dittmer arrived.
The supposition that fighting was going on in D Company area was well founded. To return to the previous dawn. Captain Baker collected eight of his men who had been fitted into the Field Company defences (Lieutenant Logan had rejoined the battalion as already recorded) and was on the road to Maleme when parties of 20 Battalion men coming from that direction said that the attack was off and that they were returning to their own lines. An officer said that 28 Battalion was also withdrawing to Platanias by another route, whereupon Baker returned to his old company area at the Platanias River and awaited their arrival.
Noon came but no 28 Battalion. Troops did, however, appear in the river valley, but they were wearing the wrong uniform and the eight-man army swung into action. The appearance of some men of 19 Army Troops Company behind the enemy settled the question and sixty-odd prisoners, among whom were a number of walking wounded, were rounded up and sent back to Brigade. At dusk there was still no Maori Battalion—it was, of course, strung along its line at Pirgos.
The D Company garrison, augmented by one walking wounded, Private Kohere41 of C Company, passed an uneasy night bickering with enemy strays. At first light troops were seen returning from Maleme. ‘The Maori Battalion at last’—and Baker went to meet them. They turned out to be Captain page 109 Ferguson's42 7 Field Company and, after reading the withdrawal orders which indicated that the whole of the flat area between Maleme and Platanias was to be vacated by New Zealand troops by 7.30 a.m. when the Navy was to shell the area, Baker set out for Brigade Headquarters, where he was instructed by Brigadier Hargest to move his men into C Company's position.
At that moment, although Brigadier Hargest apparently did not know it, Lieutenant Stewart was holding B Company lines with one platoon, Lieutenant Keiha had two platoons in C Company area, and Lieutenant Porter had brought back about a dozen walking wounded from 23 Battalion's RAP and manned some A Company weapon pits.
While moving his men, now totalling fourteen, into C Company area, Captain Baker was overtaken by a runner with new orders to take command of about sixty men from 20 Battalion who had collected in Platanias village, return to D Company area, and hold the bridge there for twenty-four hours. The 20th Battalion men were being organised into platoons when yet another message stated that about 200 Germans were already in the vicinity of the bridge.
A conference was held with the 20 Battalion officers present and it was decided to attack before the enemy got established. The opposition, using captured Bofors guns, was too strong and the attackers were pinned to the ground 500 yards east of the bridge. It would have been too costly to press the attack without the benefit of support or covering fire and Baker ordered a withdrawal to a prepared position covering the bridge—the original 18 Platoon area. The order, passed from section to section, was apparently mutilated for the detachment from 20 Battalion, instead of occupying 18 Platoon's weapon pits, carried on down the road through Platanias to Galatas. Some sections did not receive the message, and Lieutenant Markham43 with one party, by taking advantage of the bamboo clumps skirting the road, got to within 100 yards of the bridge and Lieutenant Maxwell,44 with another, reached the riverbed. They captured a Bofors gun and put another out of action, but casualties, page 110 shortage of ammunition, and the sight of more enemy approaching with more guns necessitated a speedy withdrawal. These officers also missed Captain Baker in the smoke of houses and bamboo burning from the battle.
Although the operation failed in its primary object of dislodging the enemy at the bridge, it had distracted their attention to some extent from the returning battalion. It also discouraged their further movement forward for the rest of the day.
With the fight at the bridge going on at the same time as the main body of the battalion was climbing into position three-quarters of a mile away, what of the rearguard? The enemy, hard on the tail of 21 Battalion, was edging along the hills on one flank and following 23 Battalion along the main road on the other before Major Dyer gave the word to withdraw. His party was being fired on with everything the enemy could bring to bear and there were casualties before it began to move out. It is surprising that it was not overrun in spite of the cover and protection of the olive trees.
Skilful leadership enabled Dyer to get safely back to the first ridge. There the Bren-gunners were busily in action, reinforced by Lieutenant McDonald45 who had acquired a spandau and, with a Maori to carry ammunition, had settled in behind a tombstone in a Cretan cemetery. Besides the enemy the rearguard had an audience of two peasants who stood at their back door and, judging by their gesticulations, soundly berated the troops for running away and deserting them. Major Dyer's group, less Lieutenant Pene and his section who had lost contact, joined Colonel Dittmer, the RSM, and about ten others who were waiting for it and watching the enemy advancing in open order over the ground vacated by the battalion. The rear party continued its journey under a certain amount of fire until it was within a thousand yards of the river, when about twenty Germans were observed moving towards the party from the seaward flank. There was a patch of standing crop nearby, and the rear party crawled through it to the river and then waded upstream for about 400 yards. It again came under fire while climbing out of the river and there were more casualties before the safety of the top of the bank was reached. Private Tane46 was left for dead with two bullets in his body; he later got up, climbed into the lines—and recovered. The two Bren-gun crews page 111 were cut off and written off, but after hiding by day and moving by night turned up at Suda Bay two days later.
Lieutenant Pene's party was the last to report in. After finding that he was following a party of Germans, who in their turn were following 23 Battalion rear elements, he was forced off his route. ‘By now I had collected 16 members of the Battalion (stragglers some of them) including two wounded, Nat Wiwarena47 (later killed at Alamein) and Hopa Katene,48 now in Rotorua,’ he writes. ‘These two were being assisted by cobbers two to each. After two or three hours travelling these wounded boys came to realise that I had purposely slowed down our pace so as not to leave them behind so they decided not to have any aid at all…. All the morning I had been keeping an eye on a white monument49 in the distance. I curved inland until I was under this monument in a creek. There were two lots of Jerries behind us and one straight above in the direction of the monument…. I can remember clearly there was a patch of onions growing by this creek which we cleaned up. [Here the party rested for some time and Pene worked out a plan for crossing the Platanias river valley.] I issued the wounded chaps with a Luger pistol each and impressed on the boys when following me to take all precautions and that if it so happened that there were Jerries ahead of us to make sure to kill at least one each before we were downed—to help our battalion along…. We dived into the main river and finally after instructing the boys to be careful made our way to our coys.'
Colonel Dittmer set about reorganising his command. Strength returns showed over one hundred killed, wounded, or missing and indicated the nature of the fighting around Maleme. Some of the wounded, either by themselves or with the aid of other walking wounded, had made their way back into the gully below Battalion Headquarters; Lieutenant McKay and other seriously wounded men had been left behind. The battalion RAP had been put out of action when Captain Mules was wounded and serious Maori casualties had been carried to either 21 or 23 Battalion RAPs. There was insufficient transport to evacuate them, and when capture was seen to be inevitable the doctors and orderlies of both units elected to stay behind with their wounded. They were unselfish and gallant gentlemen.page 112
A Company had lost both its senior officers and Captain Baker was transferred to that command; D Company was fitted in between the other three rifle companies, and Captain Love manned a line along the western edge of Platanias village covering the road from Maleme and the now enemy-held D Company area.
Ammunition and grenades were in short supply and a mixed dump of rations and ammunition held in a gully below old Brigade Headquarters was broken into for replenishment. The gully, or rather ravine, was seething with Army and Air Force men from Maleme; officers were trying to sort their men out and the men were broaching the ration cases for food; the Maori carrying parties took both ammunition and rations back to their lines.
A Company passed the afternoon in snap-shooting practice against parties of Germans who kept filtering forward from the Aghya valley. Some who were sheltering in a cave were becoming a menace and Lieutenant Porter decided to quieten them. He obtained a length of wire from the signallers and, with a couple of his men, crawled to the ledge above the enemy hideout. Grenades were tied to the wire like hooks on a fishing line, the pins removed, and the whole apparatus lowered over the side. After the explosion there was no more firing from that quarter and Lieutenant Porter, still suffering from concussion and multiple splinter wounds caused during the Maleme attack by a bullet hitting his tommy gun, departed to get his injuries dressed at 7 General Hospital. For the rest of the day the Maoris were fairly consistently mortared and there were more casualties.
The brigade dispositions at nightfall were that 28 Battalion had lost its D Company area; 21 and 23 Battalions were east of Platanias; 22 Battalion was still further east, and beyond it were the two engineer detachments and some machine-gunners of 1 MG Company.
The 28th Battalion, originally in reserve, was in the front line now that the other units of 5 Brigade had withdrawn beyond Platanias. Colonel Dittmer had to face the enemy to the west, threats from the south, and the worry of being cut off completely (with the rest of the brigade) by an enemy thrust to the coast between 5 and 10 Brigades. The danger of being encircled was real and immediate orders were received to pull back behind the 4 Brigade and 10 Brigade front nearer Canea.page 113
As soon as it was dark enough the Maoris left their hilltops and marched seven miles along the main road into reserve, where they rested until daybreak. A Company had to take a different route and scrambled for three hours across hills and through gullies to the rendezvous. C Company was led by Lieutenant Keiha for Captain Tureia was too sick to walk and had to be carried on a stretcher. He insisted that all he needed was a little more rest and that he would be all right in the morning.
Brigade instructions were to dig in and be ready to move forward at short notice. Behind these instructions was an arrangement for 4 Brigade to call on 28 Battalion if necessary, and in pursuance of this arrangement the troops were again moved nearer the forward units into a position they were to occupy for the next two and a half days.
Fifth Brigade prepared a second line of defence, while 4 Brigade made ready for the attack which was bound to come soon. As many men as the enemy deemed necessary could now be landed at Maleme, and all forces west of Canea were free to concentrate for the attack on the key position at Galatas and the capture of Canea.
General Freyberg, with a difficult situation on his hands, found time to send a congratulatory message about the Maoris' part in the fighting:
wuna [5 Bde]
From duke [Div HQ]
Inform KELA [28 Maori Bn] that GOC intends to cable NZ informing of their splendid conduct and dash during the operations of the last few days.
W. G. Gentry Lt-Col.
The troops appreciated the message and worked with redoubled energy. The area was like the rest of that part of Crete—olive trees, stone walls terracing slopes planted with grapevines in early fruit. Pits were dug between the roots of the trees, on either side of rock walls with communication trenches underneath, and in corners of the winding walls.
Elsewhere the state of affairs had not altered materially—the vital areas were still held though communication between them was difficult and the passage of troops from one to the other almost impossible.page 114
At this stage Headquarters Company was commanded by Captain Love, who was slightly wounded, with Lieutenant Urlich his only other officer; Captain Baker and Lieutenant Te Puni were the only officers in A Company; Captain Royal in B Company had Lieutenants Stewart and Pene, the latter slightly concussed by blast; C Company was no better off—Captain Tureia had been evacuated on Colonel Dittmer's instructions, Captain Scott had not rejoined, and Lieutenant Keiha commanded with Lieutenant Reedy (slightly wounded) and Lieutenant Tuhiwai. In D Company Major Dyer still had Lieutenants Logan and Ormond, the latter slightly wounded. Major Bertrand had rejoined Battalion Headquarters but was still far from well.
The fighting strength of the battalion had been reduced by approximately 140 killed, wounded, missing, and left behind in dressing stations; much of its equipment, scanty enough at the best, was gone and the only thing plentiful was fighting spirit. Small-arms ammunition was very short and was carefully rationed.
The afternoon and next morning (the 25th) passed in comparative peace in the rear of the line. Early afternoon saw the enemy attempt to break through to Canea. The 18th Battalion and the Petrol Company bore the brunt of the opening thrust. A breach was made and 20 Battalion thrown in to fill the gap. Step by step the line was forced back in heavy fighting and 23 Battalion was ordered forward. The 21st Battalion moved into 23 Battalion's area and the Maoris were ordered to stand by for a counter-attack at dusk. Galatas was lost and regained by 23 Battalion at the bayonet's point. New Zealand has few more gallant feats of arms to relate than the counter-attack at Galatas, but the Maoris were not involved. Although Galatas was again in our hands both flanks had been bent back, and about nine o'clock that night 28 Battalion was moved forward to the rear of 4 Brigade and warned to prepare for a counter-attack.
It was a tough assignment. The troops were required to move at night over unknown country towards an objective that could not be identified and with no knowledge of the enemy positions.
Major Dyer led the battalion across country towards 4 Brigade while Colonel Dittmer went to a brigade conference. There is a passage in Infantry Brigadier50 that describes the conference and its result:page 115
It was quite dark when we arrived at Brigade Headquarters and we stumbled round for some time among the trees. Inglis [Commanding 4 Brigade] was in a tarpaulin-covered hole in the ground, seated at a table with a very poor light…. Dittmer, the Maori Battalion commander, arrived a moment after me. Inglis was anxious to use the Maoris in a night attack and recover the ground. It was clear to all of us that if this was not feasible Crete was lost. It was a difficult operation, perhaps impossible: darkness, olive-trees, vineyards, no good start-line, only 400 men in the battalion. Dittmer said it was difficult; I said it could not be done and that it would need two fresh battalions. Inglis rightly pressed, remarking that we were done if it did not come off—‘Can you do it, George?’ Dittmer said, ‘I'll give it a go!’ We sat silently looking at a map; and then Gentry, the G.I, lowered himself into the hole. Inglis explained the position. Without hesitation Gentry said ‘No’—the Maoris were our last fresh battalion and if used now we would not be able to hold a line to-morrow.
It is important not to attempt the impossible in war, particularly when you have lost a fifth of your force with no replacements available.
Colonel Dittmer hurried to countermand the preparations and the troops returned to the position they had just left. Fourth Brigade was to withdraw that night and 5 Brigade would be holding the front line with 21 Battalion on the coast, 19 Battalion centre, and 28 Battalion left, with its left flank resting on the Alikianou-Canea road. South of the road was the depleted 19 Australian Brigade. The morning (the 26th) followed the pattern the troops were getting used to—a thorough going over by low-flying planes. The Maoris were well dug in and escaped lightly though nerves were getting ragged under the constant punishment, the lack of sleep and the scanty meals. A German patrol tested A Company's defences but was quickly turned back; in reprisal A Company and 19 Battalion, on its right, were fiercely mortared for two hours. During the afternoon the Australians were heavily engaged, their left flank forced back, and their right penetrated at two points. Readjusting the position left a dangerous gap on the Maoris' left, which was met by 12 Platoon forming a flank along the Alikianou road, where it was reinforced by the Battalion ‘I’ section and other oddments and later by some Greeks who were distributed among the platoon.page 116
It was nearly dark when a Greek soldier reported to B Company that the enemy was marching towards the position along the road and a suitable reception was arranged. The platoon was told not to fire until Lieutenant Stewart at the far end of the line gave the word, which would be a blast from his tommy gun. The Maoris hidden above the bank watched at about ten paces while the Germans, four abreast, swung into the ambush. As soon as the head of the German column was opposite him Stewart gave the signal, and the platoon came into action with captured spandaus and grenades and its own tommy guns and grenades. The ambushed Germans were almost annihilated. The survivors took shelter in houses on the roadside but were ferreted out and dealt with.
A warning order to prepare for another withdrawal came in while the 12 Platoon action was in progress and was confirmed a couple of hours later. The companies concentrated about half a mile to the rear, at the spot where they had slept on the night of the 23rd. B Company was still leap-frogging down the Alikianou-Canea road when the head of the column moved off. Lieutenant C. Bennett left Private Monty Wikiriwhi to follow with B Company along the route they had reconnoitred that morning. The pair had distinguished themselves by capturing an English general, who had not appeared to relish being bailed up by a couple of tough-looking Maoris and made to identify himself. The name of General Weston meant nothing to them at the time, but his promise that they would hear more of it at a later date was not very reassuring. In actual fact, the Royal Marines were nearly deprived of a general for he was a little slow in putting his hands up.
The withdrawal route was across country, then back to the main road east of Canea, turning off to the right again at a road known as 42nd Street, a sunken road south-east of Canea and two miles west of Suda Bay, where the battalion arrived a little before dawn. The men were very tired and very hungry and dropped into whatever shelter they could find. A minimum number of sentries was posted as the battalion was thought to be behind a British brigade. That was the position as Colonel Dittmer understood it, but in actual fact there were no troops at all between the Maoris and the enemy.
The general position at that moment was that the original four vital areas on Crete had been reduced to three; Maleme had gone and Suda was about to follow. The battle for Crete had been half lost when Maleme had been wrested from 5 page 117 Brigade and wholly lost after Galatas had been conceded to the enemy. The decision had been forced on General Freyberg that Crete must be evacuated at the earliest possible moment—if the overworked and under-strength fleet could get the troops away. The force in Suda Bay area was to withdraw to Sfakia on the south coast and General Weston had been put in command of all forward troops, which included the New Zealand Division.
General Freyberg's communications were now so disrupted that his subordinate commanders were not always in touch with him, and orders sometimes arrived after they had been cancelled and new ones issued to deal with the changing circumstances. The consequence was that General Weston thought he had disposed his rearguard; Brigadier Hargest thought he had put 5 Brigade in the front line, and his battalion commanders in accordance with their latest instructions thought they were in reserve and resting with a covering force between them and the enemy. The German commander had also made his decision as to how to end the conflict—a concentric attack to pin the troops in and about Canea, where they were mistakenly supposed still to be.
After first light the Maoris, still very tired but even more hungry, were exploring a dump of engineer material near by. Colonel Dittmer, looking for Brigade Headquarters, met Colonel Allen51 (21 Battalion) on the same mission. The pair felt that things were not as they were supposed to be and were talking the matter over when General Weston joined them. He asked what they were doing there and said they should be marching south with the rest of the New Zealanders. The General was not known by sight to Colonel Dittmer and was told they were there because they had been told to be there and would not move until they got orders from their own brigadier. The General did not press the point and walked away, probably thinking uncomplimentary things about New Zealand colonels.
Brigadier Hargest's headquarters could not be found, so after conferring with Major Blackburn52 (CO 19 Battalion) the two commanders decided to arrange their troops tactically.page 118
Colonel Dittmer, from his headquarters in a sunken tent-hole, minus the tent, called his company commanders together, explained what he had arranged with Colonel Allen, and told them to get their men together and take up a defensive position east of 42nd Street. A Company would be on the right flank page 119 adjoining 21 Battalion, B Company centre, and C Company, left, in touch with 19 Battalion. D and Headquarters Companies were to move slightly further east into reserve.
While the company commanders were getting into position, Colonels Dittmer and Allen met again and after further discussion arranged that if the unexpected happened and the enemy got too close they would open fire and charge. It was a bold decision for morale was not at its highest. A sense of frustration was bearing heavily on the spirits of the troops; retreat, retreat, retreat, and seldom a chance to hit back. But the colonels knew that if the need arose the rank and file would not fail.
It was fortunate that the two commanders had prepared for the worst for low-flying planes, a sure sign that enemy troops were not far away, made an unwelcome appearance. It was about this time that Captain Scott, still weak with dysentery, reported in and took over command of C Company from Lieutenant Keiha.
That was the position when a runner from 2/7 Australian Battalion arrived with a message asking what the New Zealanders had in mind in the case of an enemy breakthrough. The runner was told of the decision to counter-attack and departed, but quickly returned with a further message to the effect that the Australians would be pleased to be associated in any such action.
I Battalion, the leading unit of 141 Mountain Regiment, was, as a matter of fact, very close indeed and intent on cutting the road west of Suda Bay. It will be remembered that the terrain was covered with olive trees which, while giving some cover from the air, also obscured the view from the ground.
Picture the scene: groups of tired and hungry men believing themselves safe for the time being and resting in the sunshine, grabbing their equipment before seeking shelter from the roaring menaces above. A rumble followed by a series of explosions and a cloud of smoke from the direction of the engineers' dump. A ragged rattle of small-arms fire, surprisingly close, and bullets mowing the leaves off the trees…. The Maori reaction was immediate—there was a glint of steel and a rattle as bayonets were fixed, then another rattle as magazines were filled and safety-catches released.53page 120
A, B, and C Companies jostled for starting positions in the confined area of 42nd Street, now immediately in front of the battalion; B Company, led by Captain Royal brandishing a bamboo walking pole like a taiaha in one hand and a revolver in the other, and C Company following Captain Scott got into 42nd Street first and deployed across the battalion front. By this time the Germans were within 200 yards of the sunken-road start line and advancing in sections dispersed in frontage and depth.
The appearance of a line of yelling Maoris sent them to ground and they opened heavy defensive fire which caused casualties in B Company. Meanwhile, A Company had left 42nd Street and was quickly in the an of the attack, with units on each flank of the battalion in full cry. A few stray Greek soldiers added their Hellenic yells to the blood-curdling din.
Section after section of the enemy was overrun as the Maoris fanned out and swept around them and then went in for the kill. Some used rifle and bayonet, some threw grenades, and some rushed forward with spandaus at the hip while their mates ran alongside carrying the belt containers. Casualties still continued, including Lieutenant Stewart killed.
Sundry others besides the three assaulting companies thought up good reasons for being in the party: Major Dyer, who with Corporals Hemi54 and Matthews happened to be in the vicinity when the firing started, went forward to ‘investigate’; the adjutant, the ‘I’ officer, and the RSM all decided that the position must be examined carefully and personally. Lieutenant Urlich, who was taking Lieutenant Porter, newly out of hospital and still bandaged, to report to Captain Banker, met the latter returning to have his newly acquired wound dressed. The pair carried on and Porter took command of A Company, which had just finished dealing with some twenty Germans dispersed along a dry creek-bed and was continuing its advance beyond.
The clearing of the creek-bed about 800 yards from 42nd Street was practically the end of the German resistance for those still alive threw away much of their equipment and disappeared westwards. They were chased for another 400–500 yards before fire from houses and a road where a second German battalion was deployed gave the harried I Battalion some relief.
At this point Major Bertrand, who had been sent by the CO to prevent the Maoris from going too far, caught up and said page 121 the ‘Old Man was going fair dincumb crook’ and to come back at once. Over eighty dead Germans were counted on the battalion sector for the loss of 10 killed and 14 wounded. The ‘I’ officer, Lieutenant Bennett, later reported:
The German machine gunners had taken up positions on our flanks and an attacking party of infantry were moving up between them. The enemy had put out a screen of Cretan civilians and these poor people received the full blast of our weapons and several were killed. One of them was a policeman I knew well at Platanias and after the action I went over to where he was lying seriously wounded in the stomach but still conscious and he smiled a recognition. I arranged for him to be taken to the RAP but he died before this could be done—still smiling and still on our side. It should be noted that not only were these people used as a screen but as pack horses for the transport of their heavy equipment.
The enemy had learned the wisdom of prudence and, always excepting the German Air Force, the Maoris were not further molested that day, but neither 19 Australian nor 5 New Zealand Brigade's commander could get any firm orders about the withdrawal they knew was in progress. Finally, they gave themselves orders.
The Australians would go first after dusk and take up a position at Neon Khorion while 5 Brigade made for Stilos by way of the Suda Bay road as far as the turn-off south to Beritiana. A detachment consisting of A and B Companies under the command of Captain Royal would fall out at the turn-off and, assisted by a body of Commandos about 100 strong, would form a rearguard.
The problem of evacuating the 42nd Street casualties was partly solved by Captain Baker, himself a walking wounded case, who took charge of the other walking wounded and, as an armed party, started off ahead of the brigade. The seriously wounded had to be left behind.
A and B Companies were given final instructions at the turnoff, which was reached shortly after midnight; they, with the commando unit, were to deny the road junction until nine o'clock that night (28 May) and so gain time for the preparation of holding positions further south.
Captain Royal, with Lieutenant Porter, OC A Company, Lieutenant Te Puni (A Company), and Lieutenant Pene, OC B Company, made a quick reconnaissance in the darkness while page 122 the troops who had found some rations had a meal. While the rest of 5 Brigade was passing through an all-round position was organised and the troops put on the ground, but the dispositions had to be altered somewhat unexpectedly. A Canadian captain in charge of the Commandos who were guarding high ground to the west and a bridge that was later to be demolished sent an urgent request for reinforcements. Sixty of his men, Spanish volunteers under a Spanish sergeant, had marched away with the last of 5 Brigade. Lieutenant Pene took 11 and 12 Platoons into the area, the bridge was blown, and the Maoris waited the dawn. We must return to the battalion in the meantime.
To make the next few days explicable it is only necessary to mention that the German commander in Crete mistakenly thought that his enemy in the Suda Bay area had retired eastwards towards Retimo and Heraklion and, in consequence, only light forces were sent after the troops retiring to the south.
The 28th Battalion, less A and B Companies, reached Stilos55 after a tough 15-mile march and the men had about three hours' badly needed sleep before they were awakened by firing. The 85th Mountain Regiment, following a route high in the foothills, bumped into 23 Battalion north of Stilos. The vanguard was roughly handled by 23 Battalion and soon withdrew. Beyond standing-to, the Maoris were not involved.
It was assumed that 23 Battalion had turned back the advance elements of a larger force and Brigadier Hargest discussed with his commanders the pros and cons of fighting where they stood, then trying to win clear at night. It was generally agreed that such a feat was not possible, so there remained the prospect of marching by day along the only road and taking the risk of planes spotting them.
Colonel Dittmer was against this course on the ground that half his battalion were still at the turn-off north of Beritiana and the rest of the Maoris would take a dim view of leaving them high and dry. Brigadier Hargest replied that they were cut off in any case but that he would do all in his power to get a message back to them. He considered that A and B Companies would have already concluded that the Stilos road was cut and would be doing something about withdrawing.
A despatch rider was sent with withdrawal orders but he did not get through. Some carriers and a tank were also sent back page 123 but were stopped by guns which the enemy now had covering the road between Beritiana and Stilos. Pursuant to an arrangement to pass 5 Brigade through 19 Australian Brigade, 23 Battalion began to thin out and Colonel Dittmer was preparing to follow them when a message from 23 Battalion said that another attack was pending. The sound of mingled Maori and pakeha yells behind the massing enemy caused another quick dispersion, but had they not been so precipitate they would have found in their rear only a small number of commando stragglers and walking wounded Maoris.
The battalion moved off behind 23 Battalion about 10 a.m. and made use of all available cover by marching in single file on each side of the road. Planes were overhead and the troops often had to dive for shelter but were successful in escaping attention. An hour's march brought them to Babali Hani [Babali Inn] where they rested for half an hour and listened to the sounds of a sharp engagement behind them. The enemy had finally made up his mind and was having it altered again by a mixed force of Commandos and Australians.
The troops marched on, climbing towards the pass over the towering White Mountains, 3000 feet higher than Stilos where the brigade had last fought. At three in the afternoon the battalion arrived at Vrises, where a three-hour halt was taken before the real ten-mile climb zigzagged, serpentined, and hairpinned over the pass. It was joined there by Captain Baker and some of the walking wounded who had gone on ahead. Those who felt unable to keep pace with the battalion kept moving independently. To spread more evenly the weight they were carrying, automatics were stripped and the parts and magazines distributed among the riflemen.
On the road was abandoned equipment and ordes of stragglers—some who had fallen out from their units, some who had left the battle over-early, some who had no unit to march with, and the balance made up of Cretans, Cypriots, and British troops. To avoid delay the battalion marched on the left of the road hard up against the bank, with instructions to stop when the Colonel held up his hand. He was the sole judge of the intention and imminence of enemy planes and a lot of time was thereby saved, for it had been found that those who leaped for over invariably jumped down off the road and took some time to climb back again.
It was near dusk and the tired, hungry, and thirsty Maoris were nearing the end of the climb over the first main ridge page 124 when an explosion was heard, and a little afterwards they saw the reason or cause. The road had been mined and instructions given to blow it at a certain time. Times had gone awry but the road was blown, in spite of the fact that an endless line of troops was still below it. The demolition spelt the end of any transport still coming and meant a difficult climb around it for the already dead-beat infantry.
There was, however, one bright spot which might be called the story of the unknown padre. Almost at the foot of the demolition was a well and a padre with a leaky biscuit tin attached to a line of web equipment. As fast as he could haul his tin up he filled the steel helmets of the waiting troops, who then tried to pour the liquid into their water-bottles or drank it forthwith. It was not very clean water to start with, and after you have worn a steel helmet day and night for a week it is in no shape for use as a water basin. Nobody knew that padre nor have the writer's inquiries been successful in identifying him. The Maori gratitude is best suggested by Kipling:
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from GUNGA DIN.
Hour after hour the battalion marched, hampered by the stragglers who became more numerous the farther it went. Everybody was determined that no Maori would be left behind even if the others had to carry him, and sergeants and officers dashed across the road whenever such a group was passed, taking a look at the faces of the stragglers. The Cypriots were the cause of much concern for they are of a brownish hue and, particularly from dusk onwards, easily mistaken for Maoris. To the sharp inquiry ‘You 28 Battalion?’ they shook an uncomprehending head or answered in their own tongue and the inquirer would rejoin the column.
Major Bertrand, whose military religion was march discipline which he preached with an insistence that sometimes left his listeners with tingling ears, had his reward that night. ‘I was in charge of the rear of the battalion,’ he wrote, ‘and took over all stragglers in what could be called a “Stragglers Platoon”. There was not a great number of them. The march discipline of the men was splendid and their reaction to previous strenuous training in marching and march discipline and care of feet in England and on the ship Athlone Castle on the way to ME showed the value of this part of their training. So far as I know we never lost a single man on this most arduous and nervestraining move from 42nd Street to Spakia though many of the page 125 men must have been very near breaking point at times. To my mind it was a wonderful show. To retain one's identity in the midst of so much general confusion, to emerge after several days fighting and strenuous marching and bombing from the air still a disciplined fighting unit speaks volumes for 28 Bn and makes a splendid page in their already fine history. They never lost their grip.'
Lieutenant Logan, who as a senior NCO and junior subaltern had often smarted under the Major's strictures, realised their value when the test came. He has written:
With darkness coming on, little food and after a hard day the men were moving automatically, almost insensible to time and place. It was then that I had the greatest difficulty in holding them together and keeping them moving. After the usual ten minutes halt the task would have been impossible without the assistance of men like Tainui, Matthews and several more of the really tough soldiers. As the night wore on kicks and swear words had to be used. Some of the men had almost given in and pleaded for ‘Just another five minutes and I'll be OK’ and ‘I'll catch you up but just let me have a little sleep.’ I often found myself, after ten minutes halt and sleep, rolling over on to my stomach, struggling on to my hands and knees and walking straight off from that position. Throughout the march, my batman Jim Koti56 was like a giant. A heart as big as a horse and no complaints.
Back at the turn-off A and B Companies had been attacked at first light and 10 Platoon (Sergeant Eddie Morgan) was, on account of mortaring, withdrawn from the forward slope of the ridge it was holding. As an alternative a Bren gun manned by Private Makoare57 of A Company and two stray Australians, who had volunteered for the job, covered the ridge from a flank.
The Maoris found that they were holding a plateau among some guns that had been abandoned and their breech blocks removed. Generally their position was not an enviable one— page 126 transport could be seen coming down the coast road towards the blown bridge, infantry had got behind them in the direction of Kalami, while others were plainly in sight streaming down the ridges on to the road to Stilos.
The Maoris were being fired on heavily when the commando captain reported that the remainder of his men had withdrawn, probably when their colleagues from Suda had passed through. A and B Companies were then, with the Canadian, his batman and the two Australians, the sole opposition to the German advanced guard. In effect, the usefulness of Royal's rearguard position had passed, for the demolished bridge led to Stilos and the enemy was pushing eastwards to Retimo and Heraklion. In addition, German patrols could be clearly seen climbing down the ridges to the road between Beritiana and Stilos.
Captain Royal decided to give his wounded a chance to escape if it was not already too late. There were a few walking and two stretcher cases in B Company and one seriously wounded and several walking cases in A Company. Four fit men were detailed to each stretcher, told to thrown away their rifles and trust to luck if they were seen. The A Company party under command of Staff-Sergeant H. Y. T. Samuel marched straight up the road and was not molested, although Samuel afterwards stated that it had passed in full view and at close range of an enemy group.
The B Company party kept off the road and managed to worm its way past parties of Germans moving across its line of march. The stretcher cases, Privates ‘Darkie’ Hall58 and Ted Leonard,59 pleaded to be left behind so that the others could have a better chance to escape. The bearers' answer was to throw away the stretchers and carry the patients. It was quicker that way. Some time during the morning the walking wounded disagreed over the route and the party divided, which accounts for the Maoris among the stragglers interrupting the attack on 23 Battalion. We must leave the other four carrying their wounded mates for the moment.
Firing died down as the morning passed. Evidently the enemy was in no hurry to gather in the stubborn opposition as there was no possibility of their escaping. Captain Royal, inclined to the same opinion, was considering the problem when he saw a tuatara with its head pointing directly over a cliff at the rear page 127 of the plateau. It is common knowledge that the tuatara exists only in New Zealand and consequently could not be in Crete; it is common knowledge that the British Army saw angels at Mons in 1914. Undoubtedly the old-time Maori god of war, Tu of the Red Eyes, had sent a sign to his people. It is no use suggesting that on Crete there may be a lizard that bears a superficial resemblance to a tuatara. To Captain Royal it was a tuatara and that is the end of it. The tuatara vanished and Royal decided to accept the omen and take his command down the apparently sheer cliff.
By this time two more men had been hit and it took over an hour to scramble down the cliff, swim a river at the bottom, and help the walking wounded along. Over the river was a field of barely, but tracer from somewhere set it alight and the troops had to run for it into a harvested field. There, like Ruth, ‘They stood amid the alien corn’ but not for the same reason—there were enemy planes overhead.
Thereafter the march was not interrupted until near Armenoi village on the road to Neon Khorion, whence it will be remembered the Australians had marched from 42nd Street. An attempt to bypass the village was turned back by enemy fire and the Maoris returned to the road. It was decided to go straight through the village and fight if necessary. Bayonets were fixed and the Maoris formed two lines—one on each side of the road, with Brens at intervals and spandaus in the rear. Royal led the column from the centre of the road with three tommy-gunners in arrowhead formation on either side of him. In this manner they passed through Armenoi without hindrance and turned off the road by a church where a path led uphill away from possible pursuit. The tail of the column had cleared the road before the Germans in the village opened fire, which was returned by Maori-operated spandaus. An enemy motorcycle section made an appearance from somewhere and got the same medicine. That was the last hazard. From there the party followed a track which brought it on to the main road behind the Australians, and eventually with its two wounded men, Corporal Mita Francis60 and Private Toi Wharewera,61 mounted on commandeered donkeys, the column caught up with eight dog-tired Maoris of B Company still carrying their wounded mates.page 128
Concerning the meeting Lieutenant Pene wrote: ‘I was very glad to see my brother in law (Bunny Jacobs)62 and the rest alive and wondered at the time how they made it with their wounded since it had been pretty sticky with us.’
It was dark by this time and the two companies marched and rested until they were challenged:
‘Halt! Who are you?’
‘A and B Companies 28 Maori Battalion.’
Colonel Dittmer held a conference with his officers in the morning (29 May) and Captain Baker resumed command of A Company after his two-day absence. There were strays of 23 Battalion, 2/8 Australian Battalion, and 1 Battalion, The Welch Regiment, among the Maoris. After details of reorganisation had been attended to the very urgent question of rations was considered. Since the 22nd (a week before) maintenance had been well below scale, but to a limited extent supplies had been replenished from German sources—enemy killed had supplied a quota from their emergency rations and containers of supplies had dropped in and near the Maori area—but at that moment there were no Germans dead or alive in the vicinity and the unit had eaten its own reserve rations and was without food of any kind. The CO authorised the companies to send out foraging parties to see what could be found in the deserted houses at Sin Ammoudhari, with the proviso that if the owners were about they must be paid what they asked. There was nobody about.
The result of the forage was four small pigs, a few fowls and a collection of vegetables, not much for four hundred hungry Maoris. A poaka cum poultry stew was in the making when another crisis occurred. The battalion was to march from Sin Ammoudhari some seven miles across the Askifou plain to the Vitsilokoumos area, which in turn was about 2000 feet above and three miles north of a fishing village called Sfakia. The battalion was furthermore to march at once instead of at 4.30 p.m., the time originally laid down, and it appeared that somebody would inherit an unexpected meal.page 129
Major Bertrand was equal to the occasion and detailed a carrying party commanded by himself to stay back until the stew was cooked. Both the meal and its bearers were welcomed with fervour on their arrival.
Meanwhile the Maoris had marched along the side of the road in single columns by sections to a running commentary of threats from dispersed and leaderless troops who feared the appearance of enemy planes. The Maoris replied with derisive actions and marched on.
From a dressing station near the road came a warning from Major Fisher, the original battalion MO, that all marching troops must remove their steel helmets while passing through the Red Cross area. A man feels very naked without his tin that and it was a relief to see the tents and flags of the dressing station drop behind, although the German airmen fully respected this area while the Maoris were there. The troops were halted before they reached the end of the formed road above Sfakia and were dispersed along a ravine under sparse cover, ate their delayed meal when it arrived, and slept.
Planes were circling the area in the morning (30th) and explosions sounded much nearer. Early instructions were that the battalion would be embarking during the night and the Maoris were not to move until evening. Weapons would be carried but there would be no rations issued because there were none to issue. Revised orders came in the afternoon: owing to shipping losses 4 and 5 Brigades could not, as originally planned, both be taken off that night. The 28th Battalion allotment was 230 all ranks to embark; the remainder would be commanded, together with other troops, by Colonel Burrows and would protect Force Headquarters; officers detailed to remain were Major Dyer, OC, and Lieutenants Porter (A Company), Pene (B Company), Tuhiwai (C Company), Logan (D Company), and Urlich (Headquarters Company).
Colonel Dittmer objected strongly to the arrangement—he maintained that all the battalion should go or all should stay; failing that either he or Major Bertrand should remain with the rear party. He was overruled on both counts.
While this unpalatable information was being digested yet another and final order was received: six officers and 144 other ranks were to stay behind and carry out the role of protecting Force Headquarters. Major Dyer would be in command with Captain Royal as second-in-command, and the company allocation (with arms) was as follows:page 130
|A Company||…||27 ORs and 1 officer||2||3|
|B Company||…||26 ORs and 2 officers||2||2|
|C Company||…||50 ORs and 1 officer||2||3|
|D Company||…||22 ORs and 2 officers||3||2|
|HQ Company||…||19 ORs and nil officers||1||1|
Lieutenant Urlich, transferred for the purpose to A Company, commanded both A and Headquarters Companies' detachments.
Each company commander was to nominate its quota to stay back but the distasteful task was made easier by the number of volunteers. ‘You go boy. You have a wife and kinds at home and I haven't.’ There were, in fact, more than enough volunteers to stay, and some had to be sternly ordered to prepare for evacuation. The two Australians were still with the unit and the Maoris wanted to keep them, but they were not on the battalion roll and had to be sent away. They were given a certificate to the effect that they were not stragglers but good fighting men who had lost their unit and voluntarily joined 28 Battalion.
By 6 p.m. everything was ready. Arms had been passed over to the ‘Stayers’ by the ‘Goers’ as well as some tins of golden syrup, marmalade, and jam disgorged by careful foragers. Captain Royal was presented with a young rabbit his men had caught that day. After quiet farewells and handshakes the ‘Suicide Company’, as they had been named, watched the battalion move off into the dusk and clamber down the steep track to the embarkation beach.
At the bottom of the track the men were divided into groups of fifty, each under an officers; all were carefully checked by Colonel Dittmer and then waited for embarkation. At midnight MLCs drew on to the beach and the troops were taken to the destroyers standing off shore. They were fully loaded by 3 a.m. and silently stole away from Crete but not from danger. Soon after dawn specks in the sky grew into enemy hawks and the destroyers, like young hares, twisted and doubled about to elude the menace overhead. Colonel Dittmer wrote: ‘It was a real thrill during these attacks to see how destroyers could be manœuvred at full speed to dodge the sticks of bombs and delightful to watch the enthusiastic actions of the ship's anti aircraft gunners while they strafed the enemy bombers.’ One destroyer, HMS Napier, did in fact suffer a near miss which damaged her engines and she was able to proceed only at reduced speed.page 131
The eventual arrival of friendly planes enabled the Navy to steer a direct course for Egypt and the CO ordered the battalion to get shaved and cleaned up for disembarkation. Shaving was something of a problem with about one razor to each company but the sailors produced sufficient spares, hot water, and soap for the operation. Some members of the battalion, because such foibles are permitted in the Army, sported moustaches of a surprising vigour.
Alexandria was reached by 7 p.m., and then the troops fell in by companies and marched ashore carrying all their possessions—arms and ammunition; nothing else. Tea, cakes, and cigarettes were awaiting them before they boarded vehicles provided by a South African unit and were driven to Amiriya, where a service conducted by the padre was held immediately on arrival. It ended with a special prayer for those still in peril on Crete.
After the battalion had moved off Major Dyer's party gathered together for mutual comfort for the men were resigned to the thought that they would probably never get off Crete and felt the need for companionship. Private Wipaki,63 a very practically minded man, thought a cup of tea would be helpful, so having scrounged a billy and the necessary tea leaves he built a cairn of stones round his proposed fireplace so that the flames would not be seen. (It was not safe to show a lighted cigarette for fear of being fired on by panicky troops, and there were also night-flying reconnaissance planes about.) For added safety a blanket was put over the top of the cairn but it unfortunately caught fire before the billy boiled. Yells of ‘Put that bloody fire out or we'll fire’ hastened the fire-fighting. The second attempt to make the tea was successful and Wipaki produced a few mouthfuls of tea for which he was gratefully thanked.
At first light Major Dyer was ordered to take a position behind the Australians holding the perimeter in case infiltrating patrols got through the cordon along the ridge. He was just in time to intercept a German patrol which was liquidated with the help of covering fire from the Australians. The troops were disappointed to find that their late enemies were also without rations.page 132
Further orders sent the Maoris to Komitadhes village, about two miles along the beach, in support of Layforce which was holding a position there.64 On the way they passed hundreds of leaderless and weaponless troops hiding in watercourses and ravines. One party was roasting a donkey over an open fire. The enemy had been taught caution so throughly that the day passed quietly. A ration party returned with some rations and five fowls it had captured on the way. It was not very long before there was chicken broth.
Late that afternoon Major Dyer was instructed to report with his party to Colonel Andrew at Sfakia, on the edge of a small shingle cove, and cover the embarkation to take place that night. On the way the column met a small party of Maoris sitting on the side of the track. They were walking wounded whose truck had broken down and who had marched most of the way across Crete. Dyer's orders, however, were strict and definite that not more than 150 Maoris were to embark and the column marched on. Fortunately, the plight of these wounded men came to the notice of Brigadier Hargest who, though busy enough in all conscience, was not too busy to take time off and personally march them up to Major Dyer with his instructions to attach them to the strength of the Suicide Company.
The Maoris formed an inner cordon around the beach and 22 Battalion an outer cordon. The leaderless stragglers closed in on the cordon, but the fixed bayonets and determined faces kept them at a distance until nearly dusk when a machine-gunning plane created a diversion and an unsuccessful attempt was made to break the line. It was not a sight to remember and is best forgotten.
About midnight a call came for 28 Battalion to go down to the beach and the Royal Marines took over. Two hours later the last Maoris were taken off on a landing craft. It was so heavily overloaded that some had to go overboard to lighten ship and get her moving. When the craft was finally waterborne and everybody on board, there were only two inches of freeboard and the men were cautioned not to move.
And so the last of the Maori Battalion left Crete.
1A full belly makes a brave heart.
2Lt-Gen Sir Edward Puttick, KCB, DSO and bar, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Timaru, 26 Jun 1890; Regular soldier; NZ Rifle Brigade 1914–19 (CO 3 Bn); comd 4 Bde Jan 1940-Aug 1941; 2 NZ Div (Crete) 29 Apr-27 May 1941; CGS and GOC NZ Military Forces, Aug 1941-Dec 1945.
4Maj W. J. G. Roach, MC; Inglewood; born Levin, 12 Oct 1909; bank officer; 2 i/c 21 Bn Oct 1943-Mar 1944; wounded 22 Nov 1941. The Field Punishment Centre contained men from all units, including 28 Battalion, who were expiating various military crimes, mostly misunderstandings with the provosts in Canea. When the attack came they were all soon armed and shot their share of Germans. The surviving inmates of the ‘Clinic’ eventually rejoined their own units, and when the Division reassembled in Egypt the balance of their sentences was remitted.
5WO II G. Te Hou; Tirau; born Tirau, 5 Apr 1912; labourer; twice wounded.
6Capt W. T. Ngata; Wellington; born NZ 16 Oct 1908; school-teacher; wounded 31 May 1941; served in 2 (Maori) Bn in NZ, 1942–44; 28 Bn, 1944–46.
8L-Cpl D. Hakaraia; born NZ 15 Aug 1905; labourer; killed in action May 1941.
10Pte J. Epiha; born Matauri Bay, 4 Dec 1917; labourer.
11Sgt H. T. De La Croix; born Kaikohe, 10 Mar 1910; labourer.
12The enemy had planned to launch his attack on 15 May, but because of delays in his preparations it was postponed first to the 17th and then to the 20th.
13Cpl T. E. Duncan, MM; born NZ 24 Feb 1917; labourer; wounded 23 May 1941; killed in action 24 Oct 1942.
14There is little doubt that this plane fell a victim to the battalion's self-appointed anti-aircraft sections. Brens were tied to or rested against the branches of olive trees and anti-tank rifles were also used in a role never envisaged by the inventor. The aircraft was seen to waver when directly overhead, then dive for the beach, where it received the combined attentions of the battalion mortars, D Company small arms, and the guns of C Troop, 5 Field Regiment.
15Capt P. Tureia; born Waiapu, 5 Jan 1897; civil servant; killed in action 23 Nov 1941.
18Col D. F. Leckie, OBE, ED, m.i.d.; Invercargill; born Dunedin, 9 Jun 1897; school-teacher; served in Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regt, Anzac Mounted Division, 1916–19; CO 23 Bn Aug 1940-Mar 1941, May 1941-Jun 1942; comd 75 Sub-Area, Middle East, Aug 1942-Mar 1944; wounded 25 May 1941.
19Brig L. W. Andrew, VC, DSO, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Ashhurst, 23 Mar 1897; Regular soldier; Wellington Regt, 1915–19; CO 22 Bn Jan 1940-Mar 1942; comd 5 Bde 27 Nov-8 Dec 1941; Area Commander, Wellington, Nov 1943-Dec 1946; Commandant, Central Military District, Apr 1948-Mar 1952.
21Pte J. Whare; born Poukawa, 27 Jan 1915; farmhand; killed in action 21 May 1941.
23Cpl R. Kopu; Tarata; born Carterton, 3 Jun 1900; labourer.
24Cpl F. K. Curran; born NZ 31 May 1916; baker; died 16 Jun 1953.
25Lt G. McDonald; born NZ 24 Nov 1917; PWD survey staff; wounded 21 May 1941; killed in action 23 Dec 1943.
262 Lt E. J. Ropata; born NZ 9 Mar 1911; motor driver; died of wounds 26 Oct 1942.
30Maj-Gen Sir Howard Kippenberger, KBE, CB, DSO and bar, ED, m.i.d., Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Ladbrooks, 28 Jan 1897; barrister and solicitor; 1 NZEF 1916–17; CO 20 Bn Sep 1939-Apr 1941, Jun-Dec 1941; comd 10 Bde, Crete, May 1941; 5 Bde, Jan 1942-Jun 1943, Nov 1943-Feb 1944; 2 NZ Div, 30 Apr-14 May 1943, 9 Feb-2 Mar 1944; 2 NZEF Prisoner-of-War Reception Group (UK) 1944–45; twice wounded; Editor-in-Chief, NZ War Histories.
31See also official war history Crete, D. M. Davin, for account of this attack.
32Lt-Col J. N. Anderson, DSO, m.i.d.; Te Awamutu; born Okaihau, 15 Apr 1894; civil engineer; OC 19 Army Tps Coy May-Jun 1941; 5 Fd Pk Coy Sep 1941-Oct 1942; 6 Fd Coy Oct 1942-Jul 1943; CRE 2 NZ Div Sep 1942, Apr-Jul 1944, Aug-Nov 1944; Engr Trg Depot, Maadi, Jan-Aug 1945.
34Brig J. T. Burrows, DSO and bar, ED, m.i.d., Order of Valour (Greek); Christchurch; born Christchurch, 14 Jul 1904; schoolmaster; CO 20 Bn Dec 1941-Jun 1942; 20 Bn and Armd Regt Aug 1942-Jul 1943; comd 4 Bde 27–29 Jun 1942, 5 Jul-15 Aug 1942; 5 Bde Mar 1944, Aug-Nov 1944; 6 Bde Jul-Aug 1944; Commandant, Southern Military District, Nov 1951-Oct 1953; Commander K Force, Nov 1953-Nov 1954; Commadant SMD, Jan 1955-.
35Lt-Col R. B. Dawson, DSO, m.i.d.; Lower Hutt; born Rotorua, 21 Jul 1916; Regular soldier; 23 Bn; BM 5 Bde, May-Sep 1941, Jan-Jun 1942; BM 6 Bde 1942–43; Senior Tactics Instructor, Royal Military College, Duntroon, Jul 1943-Jan 1946; CO 3 Bn, 2 NZEF Japan, Jun 1947-Oct 1948; Director of Plans, Army HQ.
41Pte P. W. Kohere; East Cape; born East Cape, 19 Jul 1910; farm labourer; wounded 23 May 1941.
42Lt-Col J. B. Ferguson, DSO, MC; Auckland; born Auckland, 27 Apr 1912; warehouseman; OC 7 Fd Coy May 1941; CO 18 Armd Regt Dec 1943-Jan 1944; 20 Armd Regt Jan-May 1944; 18 Armd Regt Jul 1944-Feb 1945; wounded 6 Dec 1943.
49Actually a beacon for the guidance of either shipping or aircraft.
53Assault troops are firm believers in the theory of ‘nine rounds in the mag and one up the spout’ when a bayonet affray is likely.
542 Lt J. H. Hemi, m.i.d.; Picton; born NZ 9 Jul 1916; labourer; wounded 4 Sep 1942.
55It should be mentioned that before starting for Stilos D Company acquired a Besa machine gun and carried it, plus belts of ammunition, right to Stilos. It was put on a truck the following day and finished up over the side of a ravine when the truck was cut off by a demolition.
56Pte J. Koti; born Taumarunui, 1 Nov 1917; labourer; twice wounded.
57Pte M. Makoare; Kaihu; born NZ 5 Mar 1919; farmhand; twice wounded.
58Cpl C. Hall; born NZ 2 Jun 1919; labourer; wounded 23 May 1941; killed in action 20 Apr 1943.
59Cpl E. Leonard; born NZ 21 Jul 1913; labourer; killed in action 16 Dec 1941.
64A commando force under Colonel R. E. Laycock.