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

429 — General Freyberg to General Wavell

General Freyberg to General Wavell

27 May 1941
It is obvious that you do not realise the position here.1 Retimo is practically foodless and without ammunition, and is cut off by road in every direction. Because of the absence of gun tractors, all artillery in this sector has been lost. We can survive only if food is landed at Sphakia at once. Although our ration strength is large, our effective strength is very small. Unless given adequate air support there is no possibility of our existing as a fighting force.

1 The message referred to cannot be traced. General Freyberg in his report on the campaign in Crete refers to the receipt early on 27 May of a telegram from General Headquarters, Middle East, notifying the arrival of General Evetts, ‘an expert in I tanks’, as liaison officer, and suggesting that he (General Freyberg) should retire on Retimo and hold the eastern part of the island. This is most probably the telegram to which this message refers. General Evetts was Major-General (later Lieutenant-General) J. F. Evetts, CB, CBE, MC, who in 1942 became Assistant Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

page 309 Under the present conditions the Retimo plan courts disaster. Our only chance with the present force, which has been battered and shaken by an overwhelming air force, is to hide by day and return by night to selected beaches. Once engaged in battle we are an easy prey for dive bombers.

Therefore, my outline proposals are to fight a rearguard action. Can commandos be spared to cover the remainder of the force? I repeat that the bulk of the troops in this area have never been fit for offensive action and at the present time have deteriorated to a marked degree.

I urge, therefore, that the only course is to go to Sphakia, which seems to give some chance of saving some of my force. Retimo is also in difficulties unless moved at once.

Your O. 67722 has just been received.1 Infantry tanks cannot be used in the open here as they would last only a few minutes against dive bombers. We have counter-attacked and succeeded, only to be bombed out in each case in the course of a few hours. No troops can stand up to 500-pound bombs and our men have been blown out of the ground. What we require is air support.

Reference liaison officer: A suitable officer who has the whole picture cannot be spared. Your request for a liaison officer arrived within a few minutes of the arrival of the plane. A package for the Intelligence Branch is in the bag for HQ 2nd NZEF on the flying boat. An urgent reply to this is vital.

1 See note on page 308.