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V: The Capitulation: 1 June

V: The Capitulation: 1 June


The troops who were embarked in this last evacuation had an uneventful passage and reached Alexandria at 5 p.m. on 1 June. But the Navy's trials endured to the last. To give the convoy additional protection the AA cruisers Calcutta and Coventry had been sent to meet it early in the morning. Shortly after nine o'clock they were attacked by two bombers and Calcutta was sunk. Coventry picked up 255 survivors and returned to Alexandria.

Meanwhile Brigadier Hargest had arrived in Alexandria about 4 a.m. and gone on by train to Cairo. Here he joined General Freyberg in consultations with General Wavell, Admiral Cunningham and Air Marshal Tedder, and presumably General Weston. Their prime concern was for those left behind. Already the previous day arrangements had been made for the dropping of rations by aircraft this night and the arrangements were now confirmed. There was nothing more that could be done. Weston had explained that he had left orders behind for capitulation; and in any case, as Cunningham had already told the Admiralty and now repeated in a further message, the shipping situation did not permit another attempt.

All that there was left for Freyberg and his senior officers to do was to return to their battered Division and begin the painful task of building it up once more for the many hard battles which were still to come, and in which they could hope that with a reconstituted force they would deal the enemy blows as severe as those given him in Crete but with a better outcome.


Colonel Utz had been promised support from the German Air Force on 1 June but only eight aircraft appeared—four Stukas and four twin-engined fighters—and these attacked Sfakia. As this attack ended the infantry gun on Point 892 began to fire with notable effect, and 7 and 8 Companies, on their own initiative, began to move forward.

page 454

But Lieutenant-Colonel Colvin had his orders from General Weston to capitulate. Early in the morning he had called the officers in command of the various groups and announced his intention, producing the written order as proof that he had been so commanded. Then Lieutenant-Colonel Walker of 2/7 Australian Battalion appeared and, finding he was the senior, Colvin handed him the orders. Deciding that resistance was hopeless, Walker told his men to destroy their equipment and escape if they could. Then, at Komitadhes, he found an Austrian officer and surrendered to him.1 To many the news came as a severe shock. Major Bull, who was not present at the conference, sent a representative before he could be finally ronvinced that it was true. The reaction of the rank and file can be gauged from the following representative samples:

We were ordered to pile arms (after having got rid of the bolts of course) and remove headgear. This caused the best argument I've ever been in—who were we to be ordered to surrender—let those who wanted to do so, do so, we'd go our own way. The only reasoning that clearly showed us how impossible the position was was the crash of mortar bombs immediately below us, a horde of Messerschmitts and a lot of Germans, tommy-gunners, blocking our escape.2

And again:

God Almighty! what a blow. A Prisoner of War. Me, I had had visions of wounds, death from various causes, including a fight to the finish in the event of a hand to hand go, but a prisoner, never. It was something that I had never reckoned on. The realisation was stupefying, dumbfounding. In all my previous existence and I had then had nearly 35 years of it, [never] had I received news that had knocked me all of a heap as this had.

Well, the next thing was what was to do now. Stay and take the consequences or bugger off into the hills. One could not go straight back into the hills as the Germans were coming down towards us from there. The only safe exit was along the coast towards the East. But then there was the problem of food. The majority of us by this time were thoroughly undernourished and now we had to depend on our captors to supply us with food. There was nothing left in the food dump and what little I had collected was not going to carry me far.3

It was not only the New Zealanders who were bewildered and surprised and confronted with this sudden necessity to chose between surrendering according to orders or taking to the hills. Not a few now and still more later, after they had tasted the life of the prison camp, thought like an Australian whom Driver Farley mentions:

‘The bastards are not laying hands on me. I'm for the hills,’ said one Aussie, and away he went along with a few followers.

Others busied themselves while there was still time with the two disabled MLCs off the beach and these were got going and set off

1 Draft history of Australian forces in Crete.

page 455 to the south, finally managing to reach the coast of North Africa after much hardship and danger.1

But the majority, weary and hungry as they were, surrounded and with the definite command to capitulate in front of them, decided that there was nothing for it but to obey. Destroying their weapons they made their way to Sfakia and surrendered to the enemy's advance patrols. Their captors, still at the honeymoon stage of victory and with that generosity towards a defeated enemy that is more often found among front-line soldiers than anywhere behind the line, shared rations with them and, fantastically enough, played tunes for them on accordions; an idyll interrupted by the arrival of further enemy aircraft bombing and strafing in ignorance of the surrender.

As the afternoon went on the enemy arrived in greater force. I Battalion of 100 Mountain Regiment was sent on towards Loutro in pursuit of stragglers, while the rest of the force set to work rounding up the prisoners. How many these were it is difficult now to ascertain. Estimates by those on the spot say about 5000; enemy claims for 1 June were 3000, but by 2 June 5 Mountain Division was claiming 6500 and this figure seems not unlikely.

As the prisoners were rounded up they were directed back up the escarpment and along the road towards Canea, even more weary, hungry, and footsore than they had been when they came down it only a few days before; and this time cheered by no hope of reaching the ships and escaping to Egypt to fight another day.