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II: Dispositions of New Zealand Force

II: Dispositions of New Zealand Force

In spite of some preliminary uncertainties2 General Weston seems to have felt himself definitely in command on 26 April. So far as he knew, moreover, the troops then being evacuated from Greece were in transit only and would eventually be replaced by fresh troops from Egypt, presumably 6 British Division.3

Till shipping was available for the onward move of the evacuated troops it was obvious that he must not only make the best provision he could for their reception but also utilise them to help make good the gaps in the defence; for, with Greece in enemy hands, invasion was already a threat and might soon become something more. As soon, therefore, as Brigadier James Hargest,4 commander of 5 NZ Brigade, visited Creforce HQ on 26 April he was given the task of defending the Maleme sector. And on the afternoon of that day an order was issued designed to knit the new arrivals into the whole scheme of defence.5

The details of this order were to be modified by the arrival of further troops and by the later change in command; but it is interesting in so far as it reflects the situation as seen by Weston at this time and because it embodies an outline appreciation of vulnerable points which did not alter.

The order states that the Commanders-in-Chief Middle East had decided Crete was vital to our operations in the Eastern Mediterranean and was to be held at all costs; that the Greek Government also favoured defence and intended to co-operate; and that Maleme, Suda Bay, and Heraklion were essential to the defence, while the retention of Retimo was at least desirable. Airborne attack was clearly envisaged as the most likely—hence the importance of the airfields—but seaborne invasion was possible also. Middle East HQ intended itself to use the airfields as much as possible; but air support would be limited till evacuation from Greece was complete and the air force reorganised.

In these circumstances the order allotted the defence of the Suda Bay area and Maleme against attack from the west to the

2 See p. 16.

3 It is not clear that Weston knew this, but it seems reasonably likely that he would have been told. The London Gazette, 2 Jul 1946.

4 Brig J. Hargest, CBE, DSO and bar, MC, m.i.d.; born Gore, 4 Sep 1891; farmer; Member of Parliament 1931–44; Otago Mounted Rifles, 1914–20 (CO 2 Bn, Otago Regt); commanded 5 Bde May 1940–Nov 1941; p.w. Sidi Azeiz 27 Nov 1941; escaped Mar 1943; killed in action, France, 12 Aug 1944.

5 Creforce Operational Instruction No. 5, 26 Apr.

page 28 New Zealand contingent; Heraklion and the Akrotiri Peninsula to 14 Infantry Brigade; and the south-east approaches to Suda Bay to 6 Australian Division. Retimo would be the responsibility of Greek forces.

While these orders were being prepared and issued the New Zealand troops already on the island were being organised under Hargest's command. He formed a headquarters staff, delegated command of his brigade to Lieutenant-Colonel Falconer (CO 23 Battalion),1 received his verbal orders from Creforce, made a reconnaissance as far as Maleme, and decided his dispositions. The units under his command were sorted out and issued with rations and blankets; those units which had left equipment at Suda returned to collect it, only to find that some of it had already disappeared and that the scepticism of those who refused to part with their hard-kept weapons had been bitterly justified;2 medical arrangements were put in train, a party of about fifty New Zealand nurses from Greece carrying on their work at 7 General Hospital while New Zealand MOs and their ADMS arranged for an MDS3 to be opened up by HQ Company, 6 Field Ambulance.

These arrangements inevitably took up the whole of 26 April and it was not till the following day that the troops were able to move into their sectors. According to Operational Instruction No. 5 they were to go to the Platanias area, take it over from 1 Welch, and develop it as soon as possible from a living into a defensive area. Accordingly, by 9 a.m. 27 April advanced parties were reporting in, and by the end of the day all units were in position, with Brigade HQ established at Platanias and NZ Force HQ at Ay Marina. The four battalions (21, 22, 23, and 28) faced west with orders to ‘deny the advance of enemy landing parties from the west’.4

Back at Creforce HQ, however, an attempt was being made to tidy up sectors and simplify commands. In consequence, 5 Brigade HQ received orders that same day to take over the defence of Maleme airfield itself and the AMES south of it by 2 p.m. on 28 April, thus permitting two companies of 1 Welch stationed there to rejoin their battalion; this order also sent 2 Yorks and Lancs and a composite battalion formed from evacuated British troops to

1 Brig A. S. Falconer, CBE, DSO, MC, ED, m.i.d.; Dunedin; born Mosgiel, 4 Nov 1892; tobacconist and secretary; Otago Regt 1914–19 (BM 2 NZ Inf Bde); CO 23 Bn May–Aug 1940 and Mar–May 1941; commanded 7 and 5 Inf Bdes in UK, 1940–41; NZ Maadi Camp Jun 1941–Oct 1942; 5 Div (in NZ) Dec 1942–Aug 1943; Overseas Commissioner, NZ Patriotic Fund Board, Nov 1943–Feb 1945.

2 ‘Of the Bren guns and mortars left in the wharf shed, 28 Bn received back less than it left there.’—Lt-Col Dittmer.

3 MO, Medical Officer; ADMS, Assistant Director of Medical Services; MDS, Main Dressing Station.

4 Brig Hargest's diary, as copied from original by Maj A. Ross.

page 29 Heraklion.1 The 22nd Battalion was therefore warned that it was to move and the necessary transport was borrowed from 1 Welch and the RASC.

Administrative arrangements went forward, meanwhile. A supply dump was arranged for at Ay Marina and HQ NZASC moved into the olive groves near the village; 5 Field Ambulance also moved to Ay Marina and set up an MDS; 6 Field Ambulance continued to operate its MDS at the Perivolia camp and set up another at the junction of the Canea-Galatas road.

On 28 April, while 4 Brigade was still making its way towards Crete, 5 Brigade continued the reshuffle occasioned by the move of 22 Battalion to Maleme. This complete, the brigade settled down to tackle its defensive tasks, a pattern of training was swiftly devised, and the hard skeleton of discipline and organisation once again asserted itself.

A notable feature in this process was the reorganisation of the ASC and artillery. Since the former was without transport for its normal role it had to be diverted to the primary task of the soldier. And so the 1100-odd men not employed on ASC duties had been formed into infantry companies under Major McGuire2 by 28 April and given sectors in the Ay Marina area to defend against paratroops. The artillerymen had similar readjustments to make: by 28 April there were assembled round Ay Marina about two-thirds of 4 and 5 Field Regiments, about 80 men and officers of 6 Field Regiment, 90 of 7 Anti-Tank Regiment, and almost the whole of HQ New Zealand Divisional Artillery and 1 Survey Troop.3 None of the regimental commanders had landed on Crete and most of those trained in administration had gone with them to Egypt. But the most grievous deficiency was in guns. All of them had had to be left behind in Greece, though much of the portable equipment had been brought off.4 But the men remained, and now began the process of organising them into infantry companies which was to culminate in the formation of Oakes Force some days later.5

By 29 April New Zealand Force was already taking a more formidable shape. Brigadier Puttick,6 who had commanded 4 Brigade in Greece, had reached Crete on 28 April with his

1 Creforce Operational Instruction No. 7, 27 Apr.

2 Lt-Col W. A. T. McGuire, ED, m.i.d.; Auckland; born NZ 22 Dec 1905; police officer and motor engineer; OC Div Amn Coy Oct 1939–Oct 1941; OC NZ Base ASC 1941–44.

3 ‘NZA on Crete’, W. E. Murphy.

4 Thus 5 Fd Regt brought off all its dial sights and clinometers.

5 See p. 54.

6 Lt-Gen Sir Edward Puttick, KCB, DSO and bar, m.i.d., MC (Greek), Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Timaru, 26 Jun 1890; Regular soldier; NZ Rifle Brigade 1914–19 (CO 3 Bn); commanded 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.

page 30 brigade and now took command of the whole force. Brigadier Hargest had returned to the command of 5 Brigade. Colonel Kippenberger1 had left 20 Battalion to take command of 4 Brigade. Supply problems were more or less under control. Fourth Brigade was resting and reorganising in Perivolia camp and preparing to take up defensive positions next day. Fifth Brigade, already in position, was settling into its unit areas, the men trying with the very few tools they had to prepare defences. The artillery and ASC contingents were being organised and taking over sectors as they did so; the engineers—19 Army Troops Company, 5 Field Park Company, and 7 Field Company—had also been allotted infantry roles east of Galatas. Divisional Signals, with a strength of seven officers and 180 other ranks, were controlling signals at NZ Force HQ, with a rifle company not far away. Divisional Cavalry and the personnel of 27 MG Battalion were collecting and organising. And on the medical front a similar process was going on, the nursing sisters having now departed for Egypt. Fourth Field Ambulance was reported safe in Egypt.

1 Maj-Gen Sir Howard K. 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 NZ Bn, Sep 1939–Apr 1941, Jun–Dec 1941; commanded 10 Bde (Crete) May 1941; 5 Bde, Jan 1942–Jun 1943, Nov 1943–Feb 1944; 2 NZ Div, 30 Apr–14 May 1943 and 9 Feb–2 Mar 1944; 2 NZEF Prisoner of War Reception Group in UK, 1944–45; twice wounded; Editor-in-Chief, NZ War Histories.