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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume I

417 — General Freyberg to General Wavell

General Freyberg to General Wavell

23 May 1941

The following is a report on the situation as at 10 p.m. GMT, 22 May. The position is clear at Heraklion and also at Retimo, but the enemy have withdrawn at the flanks and have blown the road. Heraklion is now in touch by road with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders1 and I have ordered them to concentrate a battalion and tanks at Heraklion preparatory to reinforcing the Suda garrison, if possible by road. Enemy action has prevented road communication between Force [Headquarters] and Retimo and also, I believe, between Retimo and Heraklion. Retimo has no transport. I have ordered the two garrisons concerned to clear up the situation and they will do so provided the enemy do not carry out any further landing against them.

At Maleme the enemy have been most active. I want you to get the true picture so that our difficulties can be appreciated. They have continued to land troop-carriers, not only on the aerodrome under our shellfire but also on the beaches and a strip to the west, in the most methodical way. In all, fifty-nine landed between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. today, and this rate of arrival can be taken as the approximate guide for today, 22nd, and yesterday. To deny

1 A battalion of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders had landed at Tymbaki on the night of 18–19 May and had moved inland to guard the Messara Plain, with its potential landing grounds, against capture.

page 303 Maleme aerodrome to the enemy meant holding a long and vulnerable area. He is in strength in an area on the road south-west of Canea, and by attacking in the direction of the coast this evening he cut off the troops at Maleme. It was my intention to attack the aerodrome again tonight but the threat to my rear has forced my hand. I have decided to readjust the present insecure position and make ready for secure defence. The serious situation is that Maleme becomes an operational aerodrome within 20,000 metres of Suda Bay.

Small ships landed Germans on the peninsula behind Canea today and this may become a problem. Parachute and beach landings can cut any of our routes at any moment.

All these questions have to be considered and I have decided firstly, that I cannot continue to chance all the rear areas and coastline, and, secondly, that the troops cannot fight without a rest. Therefore I am taking up a line which will lessen my responsibilities. The enemy is now approaching equality in numbers. We shall continue to fight here and at other points in Crete, and we can fight on as long as maintenance does not break down. Everything depends on maintenance in the finish. In my opinion we must continue to use Suda. The only southern ports open are Tymbaki and Sphakia; the road to the latter is not completed and both must be protected, while further transport is essential before they can be used.

Later: 4.30 a.m. GMT, 23 May. Reference your telegram of 22 May (No. 414). I have already cabled you regarding Maleme and the air assistance required. A cable from my AOC, No. A.35,1 deals with landing grounds and re-fuelling. Our approximate line runs north-west and south-east 200 yards west of Galatas. I consider that RAF help, especially fighters, may alter the outlook and it is for very deep consideration whether this help can be made available and maintained for the next few days, which are critical. Enemy troop-carriers continue to arrive today.

1 Not published. Group-Captain G. R. Beamish (later Air Commodore; CB, CBE, commanded the Royal Air Force in Crete.