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I: The Withdrawal of 5 Brigade

page 249

I: The Withdrawal of 5 Brigade


About four o'clock on the afternoon of 22 May General Ringel had received his orders to take command of all forces in Crete and fly to Maleme at once. His instructions from General Löhr, commander of 4 Air Fleet, were to secure Maleme airfield, to clear Suda Bay, to relieve the paratroops at Retimo, to make contact with Heraklion, and to occupy the whole island.

About 8 p.m. he and his HQ landed on the beach west of MalemeMaleme airfield itself still being under shellfire. He made himself acquainted with the general position and found that I Battalion, 85 Mountain Regiment, had been advancing since 4 p.m. from Point 197 (about four miles south of Point 107) in an easterly direction, with Mount Monodhendri (Point 259) as the ultimate objective. It was expected to reach Point 229 (Mount Psathoyiannos) about ten o'clock. I Battalion of 100 Mountain Regiment was following up. The main body of II Battalion, 100 Mountain Regiment, was in the area of Kamisiana and Point 295, but elements of it were also engaged on protective duties.

Since effective contact could not yet be made with any of the other groups under his command, Ringel's orders issued that evening confined their scope to the reorganisation of the reinforced Group West and preliminary preparations for an intensified drive towards Canea. He defined the task of his force as first of all to secure the airfield and by neutralising the defence's guns to permit further troops to land unhampered.

For this purpose he formed three battle groups. The first consisted of 95 Engineer Battalion under Major Schaette. It was to relieve II Battalion of 100 Mountain Regiment of all protective duties and to cover Maleme from the west and south by clearing Kastelli and Palaiokhora. The second group consisted of all the paratroops and was under Colonel Ramcke, who now reverted to the command of the Assault Regiment. His task was to assemble the paratroops and form them into a strong battalion under regimental command. With this he would cover the airfield page 250 against attack from the east and co-operate with the third group in the attack towards Canea.

The third group consisted of Colonel Utz's I and II Battalions of 100 Mountain Regiment and I Battalion of 85 Mountain Regiment. On it the enemy's main hopes now rested. Its task was to drive east in conjunction with Ramcke Group, and to continue the enveloping movement round the south flank that had already begun. By this manoeuvre Ringel hoped to eliminate the New Zealand artillery, join up with Heidrich's Group Centre, and cut the coast road near Ay Marina.


Had 5 Brigade remained in its forward positions another twenty-four hours it seems likely that the enemy plan might have brought about the result which Brigadier Hargest feared and cut off the brigade. And if the second counter-attack had been carried out the net would have had a still larger yield. But, as we have seen, orders were already on the way that night for 5 Brigade to withdraw. They reached Hargest about 1 a.m. At roughly the same time Captain Dawson got back over the hills from 23 Battalion. This was fortunate; for, owing to the destruction of the last No. 18 set, there was no wireless communication forward. The route was dangerous and familiar to few; no one had a better chance than the resolute Dawson—weary though he was—of getting through in the dark. So, while the Brigadier arranged transport for the evacuation of 5 Field Ambulance, Dawson drew up the withdrawal orders.

An hour later the orders were ready and with Lieutenants Chinchen1 two liaison officers, Dawson set out. Two light tanks which had been ordered to cover the evacuation of 5 Field Ambulance from Modhion left at the same time. Once on the main road, the tank commander was told by troops there that the enemy had an anti-tank gun and a machine gun covering the Platanias bridge. Dawson was sceptical, having crossed the bridge without difficulty two hours before. But he could not persuade the tanks to take his party forward. He therefore left the tanks3 and walked on with the two LOs. At first he was going to ford the stream and avoid the bridge; but to save time and

1 Maj M. P. Chinchen, MC; born Hokitika, 29 Aug 1915; journalist; killed in action 24 Oct 1942.

3 This is based on Dawson's report. 3 Hussars WD says: ‘Farran and Childs sent fwd a mile to hold a bridge while leading bns withdrew. This left two tanks in hand as another had been ditched and SL's tank not returned.’ According to the same source the squadron's task for 23 May was to prevent infiltration down the main road or between the road and the beach.

page 251 because ‘water too cold’ he used the bridge. There was no enemy there, and the party went on, apprising the Engineer Detachment of the withdrawal en route1 and reaching 23 Battalion in the early dawn.

His arrival is described by Lieutenant-Colonel Leckie:

… Capt. Dawson arrived at 23 Bn HQ very exhausted. It was full daylight. He said he had some ‘very surprising news’ for me. My remark was, ‘What! Have they tossed it in?’ (Wishful thinking, I'm afraid; but I did feel that we had made a mess of them the day before. And the morning was so quiet and peaceful with not even a plane in the sky, as yet.) Dawson said, ‘We are to retire to the Platanias R line. Will you get in touch with all Bns. The withdrawal was supposed to start half-an-hour ago.’ I gave Dawson my blanket and told him to have a sleep. I would wake him up in good time. We had phone communication to Jim Burrows and John Allen. Jim said he would inform Dittmer.2

By about 5 a.m. all the battalion commanders except Lieutenant-Colonel Dittmer had reached 23 Battalion HQ for a conference.3 The orders were bald enough. The battalions were to withdraw at 5.30 a.m.,4 each providing its own protection. The route was to be over the hills south of the coast road, and defensive positions were to be taken up by 10 a.m. The 28th Battalion was to hold its original front. The other units were all allotted new positions in the same general area—except for 20 Battalion which was to move back to the Canea area and come once more under the command of 4 Brigade.

The order to withdraw came as a surprise to the battalion commanders. ‘None of the unit representatives present considered they would have any difficulty in disengaging, as the enemy was so quiet at this stage. All were of opinion that we could hold the position.’5 Yet the withdrawal was necessary. The last chance of counter-attack was already gone. For 5 Brigade to be left where it was would have been to invite disaster. And the enemy quiescence on which Leckie comments was deceptive; for the move round the south flank was already under way.


It remained now to carry out the orders. Among those present had been the commander of 1 Company 27 MG Battalion, and he set off at once with all except Lieutenant MacDonald's platoon to take up a new position at Ay Marina.

1 NZE warned 5 Fd Amb and 4 Fd Hyg Sec in Modhion.

2 Letter from Col D. F. Leckie, 12 Apr 1951.

3 Maj Burrows had sent a sergeant, before leaving his own HQ, to warn Dittmer of the conference. For some unexplained reason this message did not reach him in time.

4 If Dawson was right and the withdrawal should already have begun, this must have been a fresh time arranged on the spot.

5 Letter from Col Leckie.

page 252

Meanwhile Dittmer had learned from one of his officers that the 23 Battalion companies on his right were about to withdraw. Leaving orders for his company commanders to report to his HQ he hurried to 23 Battalion HQ, about a thousand yards away. Here he discovered that not only was the withdrawal to take place but that 28 Battalion was to be rearguard. ‘I went extremely rude about being left in such a manner but had little time to go into the reason for it. I knew that enemy would see other units going over high ground to East and then 28 Bn would catch it.’1

It is not difficult to sympathise. A daylight withdrawal was an extremely disagreeable thing to have to contemplate, and withdrawal was not temperamentally congenial to a man of Dittmer's fighting spirit. But it was necessary none the less, and the unfortunate failure of the news to reach him in good time was the sort of mishap that, although it never fails to infuriate its victim, is inevitable in the haste of battle.

Time was needed for the orders to get down to companies and platoons. But about 6.30 a.m. the main body of 23 Battalion, led by Major Thomason2 and accompanied by Captain Dawson, left the area. C Company under Lieutenant W. B. Thomas followed half an hour later, acting as rearguard to the battalion. A platoon of D Company came out separately and Headquarters Company 2 withdrew with 21 Battalion. Lieutenant-Colonel Leckie, who had stayed behind to see that all his men got safely away, buried the battalion's payroll and finally came out alone, overtaking a platoon of 21 Battalion near Modhion.

Leckie left without his Medical Officer, Captain Stewart,3 however. For, although the walking wounded in 23 Battalion RAP had gone back before full daylight, Stewart still had some sixty stretcher cases under his charge. These men came from 20, 22, 23, and 28 Battalions. The Medical Officer of 22 Battalion, Captain Longmore, had been taken prisoner along with the rest of his RAP on 21 May; Captain Gilmour4 of 20 Battalion had no facilities; Captain Mules5 of 28 Battalion had been wounded; and Captain Moody, who had come back with the survivors of 22 Battalion, belonged to 5 Field Ambulance.

Stewart took the hard decision that it was his duty to remain with those of the wounded who could not be moved and see that


Theodhoroi Island in the background

‘THE GALATAS HEIGHTS’ FROM THE ALIKIANOU-CANEA ROAD LOOKING NORTH-EAST The feature on the left is Pink Hill, on the right Cemetery Hill. Galatas lies behind the centre feature

The feature on the left is Pink Hill, on the right Cemetery Hill. Galatas lies behind the centre feature

THE CHURCH AT GALATAS German graves in foreground

German graves in foreground




Farran's tank on left



The depth-charges have exploded. The ship is probably the Nubian, which subsequently reached Alexandria

Brigadier Hargest during the battle

Brigadier Hargest during the battle

Brigadier G. A. Vasey, commander of 19 Australian Infantry Brigade, the morning after his return from Crete

Brigadier G. A. Vasey, commander of 19 Australian Infantry Brigade, the morning after his return from Crete

THE WITHDRAWAL FROM STILOS A Bren carrier shelters under a tree from air attack

A Bren carrier shelters under a tree from air attack

Askifou Plain from the north

Askifou Plain from the north

Filling water-bottle from a well

Filling water-bottle from a well

Pushing a truck over the bank at the end of the retreat

Pushing a truck over the bank at the end of the retreat







SFAKIA FROM THE AIR An arrow marks the beach

SFAKIA FROM THE AIR An arrow marks the beach





INSIDE THE CAVE Pte T. Hall, General Freyberg (centre), Capt J. A. V. Morse, RN

INSIDE THE CAVE Pte T. Hall, General Freyberg (centre), Capt J. A. V. Morse, RN





Injured serviceman being helped off ship


Vice-Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, C-in-C Mediterranean, and Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand, meet returning troops

Vice-Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, C-in-C Mediterranean, and Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand, meet returning troops

Brigadier E. Puttick and Brigadier L. M. Inglis (Photograph taken shortly after Crete campaign)

Brigadier E. Puttick and Brigadier L. M. Inglis (Photograph taken shortly after Crete campaign)

Staff-Sergeant T. Moir (second from left) who returned to Crete in February 1943 to help escapers, shown with two Cretans and an English airman. He was captured shortly after the photograph was taken

Staff-Sergeant T. Moir (second from left) who returned to Crete in February 1943 to help escapers, shown with two Cretans and an English airman. He was captured shortly after the photograph was taken

Ravines in mountainous country crossed by escapers

Ravines in mountainous country crossed by escapers

The cover where the Royal Navy picked up Moir's party

The cover where the Royal Navy picked up Moir's party

1 Statement by Brig Dittmer, 1950.

2 Maj H. H. Thomason, MM, ED; Motueka; born Ngatimoti, Nelson, 9 Oct 1896; estate manager and orchardist; wounded 29 May 1941.

3 Capt R. S. Stewart; Gore; born NZ 17 Mar 1906; medical practitioner; RMO 23 Bn May 1940–May 1941; p.w. 23 May 1941.

4 Capt W. L. M. Gilmour; born Scotland, 19 Dec 1914; medical practitioner; RMO 20 Bn Jan–Nov 1941; killed in action 30 Nov 1941.

5 Capt C. M. Mules; Dargaville; born Woodville, 24 Oct 1909; medical practitioner; RMO 28 Bn Nov 1940–May 1941; wounded 21 May 1941.

page 253 they were properly treated by the enemy; for at that time it was by no means certain that the Germans would follow the usages of war with regard to prisoners as punctiliously as they did on the whole in the Mediterranean theatre.

Captain Griffiths,1 the 23 Battalion chaplain, decided for similar reasons to remain with Stewart. And their two orderlies, Privates Walsh2 and Buchanan,3 also elected to stay, as did Corporal Collie,4 a medical orderly from 20 Battalion. To the two officers fell the grim task of explaining to the wounded that capture was inevitable.

Meanwhile 23 Battalion had gone on its way and, after some casualties from air attack en route, reached the Platanias area about eight o'clock. It was at once put into line west of Platanias ridge and ordered to hold it until the other battalions passed through. C Company, the battalion rearguard, came back by a different route, along the line of the canal, and was in time to assist at an engagement near Platanias bridge.

Shortly after 23 Battalion, 22 Battalion moved out and went through Kondomari over the hills towards Platanias. Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew and his adjutant checked the men through as they set off in two groups. There were some casualties on the way, but the battalion reached the Platanias area without major mishap and Andrew reported to Brigade HQ at 8.27 a.m. From here he went on to Division, where he received his orders: the battalion, now rather more than 200 strong and divided into two companies under Captains Hanton and Campbell (who had been with 21 Battalion but had brought his group out separately), was to take up a position east of the Engineer Detachment—now in new positions near Ay Marina.

The 21st Battalion received the order for withdrawal from Major Harding, who may have represented Lieutenant-Colonel Allen at the dawn conference. It was decided that Headquarters Company should act as rearguard to the battalion, Allen remaining with it, and that the others should go ahead under Harding. Captain Hetherington,5 the RMO, preferred to stay behind with the 70 wounded in his RAP, and the chaplain of 22 Battalion, Captain

1 Rev R. J. Griffiths, MBE; Waimate; born Gisborne, 26 July 1905; Presbyterian minister; p.w. 23 May 1941.

2 Pte J. E. Walsh; Christchurch; born Auckland, 27 Jan 1915; NZR employee; p.w. 23 May 1941.

3 L-Cpl W. T. F. Buchanan, MM, m.i.d.; born NZ 17 Apr 1917; lorry driver; p.w. 23 May 1941; escaped Nov 1941.

4 L-Cpl A. F. Collie; Bayswater, Southland; born Otautau, 7 Oct 1913; dairy assistant; p.w. 23 May 1941; repatriated Oct 1943.

5 Capt O. S. Hetherington, MBE; Rotorua; born Thames, 3 Apr 1903; medical practitioner; RMO 21 Bn Jan 1940–May 1941; p.w. 23 May 1941; repatriated Sep 1944.

page 254 Hurst,1 decided to stay and help. The main body was clear of the position by 6.30 a.m. and Headquarters Company followed half an hour later. Both groups came under fire along the way and had casualties, but they reached Platanias about half past eight or shortly afterwards. The battalion then reformed and took up positions on the high ground south-east of Platanias.

The three companies of 20 Battalion had not had time to reform as a unit, and Major Burrows ordered the platoons to march with the units to which they were attached and to reorganise when they had reached their destination. This they did; but only A Company was sent on to join 4 Brigade again, the remainder being held back to help defend the Platanias line. Of those already in Platanias since falling back the day before—Headquarters Company and D Company—it will be more convenient to speak later.2

Dittmer had gone back to his battalion from 23 Battalion HQ meditating his plans for the withdrawal and rearguard. When he reached his own HQ and found his company commanders waiting he issued his orders carefully. The main body was to move out, guided by the Intelligence Officer, Captain Bennett,3 as soon as possible. Their departure would be covered by a rearguard party, consisting of an officer and section from each company, the whole group being commanded by Major Dyer.4

It was some time after six o'clock when the main body left. It met no opposition and reached the Platanias area about half past eight. As orders were to occupy the old position with whatever assistance could be found, the Intelligence Officer used the troops he had as well as he could and, within a quarter of an hour, had them manning a line.5

The rear party, meanwhile, was having a more difficult time. Major Dyer's orders had been to keep the enemy off until the troops had time to reach Platanias and man the line. He resolved to take about three hours over his task and to reach Platanias between half past nine and ten o'clock.

An enemy advance began almost as soon as the main body had begun to move. The Bren guns of the rear party at once opened up and the enemy was checked. Dyer then sent back his two centre sections. As they were taking up an intermediate position

1 Rev W. E. W. Hurst, m.i.d.; Stratford; born Moira, Northern Ireland, 17 May 1912; Anglican minister; p.w. 23 May 1941.

2 See pp. 2579.

3 Lt-Col C. M. Bennett, DSO; Wellington; born Rotorua, 27 Jul 1913; radio announcer; CO 28 (Maori) Bn Nov 1942–Apr 1943; wounded 20 Apr 1943.

4 According to some sources 18 Platoon of 23 Bn, under Lt G. H. Cunningham, came out with the Maori rearguard. Dittmer has no recollection of this. Lt MacDonald's MG detachment—with the German MG—did, however, travel with 28 Bn.

5 5 Bde's plan seems to have envisaged 28 Bn as moving out first and taking up positions through which the other battalions could pass. But delays in starting and the absence of Lt-Col Dittmer from the conference no doubt caused the change in plan.

page 255 the enemy followed up with fire from mortars and machine guns. The two outside sections then fell back into line with the centre sections. This manoeuvre was repeated with variations to a second and a third intermediate position. At each pause two sections had to cover the retirement of the other two; and at each pause there was firing not only from the front but from the flanks. Dyer was especially concerned for his sea flank, for there the enemy was pressing hard and using captured Bofors viciously.

At the third pause—which seems to have been on the high ground between Kondomari and Modhion—Dyer found Lieutenant-Colonel Dittmer who, with a platoon of about thirty men, had halted there to support the rear party. ‘It looked as though we were likely to be cut off, and under the circumstances, we felt the greatest admiration for our C.O. who had given us a tough task and then stayed back to see the job through.’1

The party made two more stages, encountering en route much less machine-gun fire than before. At the last stage they found themselves getting covering fire from their comrades at Platanias. But by this time the enemy had advanced level with them along the axis of the coast road and had brought up guns with him— perhaps Bofors—as well as machine guns, and these proved very troublesome. The rear party were forced to wade south along the river for some distance. Then one last dash was made up a slope almost destitute of cover and, although seven or eight men were hit, the greater number got over the crest and back inside their own front line. The time is difficult to establish but may have been as late as 2 p.m.


While the forward battalions were making this withdrawal, the troops east of them had also had to be on the move. The Engineer Detachment and the Field Punishment Centre had been able to make their way out before daylight and had gone on to the area of Ay Marina. One outlying picket of 19 Army Troops Company failed to get the order but, finding the others gone, managed to extricate itself and, moving south through the hills, rejoined its unit at Sfakia—a considerable feat.

The men of the Field Punishment Centre were reluctant to sacrifice their captured spandau machine guns and a heavy load of ammunition. They got them as far as the road but decided they would need help to get them any farther. Three men therefore went into enemy-held territory and impressed a donkey. Donkey carrying the machine guns and men the ammunition, they set off

1 Report by Maj Dyer, the main source of this part of the account.

page 256 again, by now only three as the others had gone on. Enemy fire soon forced them south into the hills and they decided to come on Platanias from the south. As they approached they found themselves in the middle of a minor battle, mounted two of their spandaus, and assisted in the capture of 20 enemy. By late afternoon they were back with 22 Battalion, their parent unit, to be welcomed by Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew with: ‘What have you been pinching this time?’ But spandaus and prodigals were a welcome addition to the battalion strength.1

The story of the artillery is less fortunate. Major Philp had got his orders from 5 Brigade at 4 a.m. This did not leave him time to organise the removal of his guns, even had there been transport to get them out in the dark. Thus A Troop had to leave both its 3·7 howitzers and B Troop its three Italian 75s. A few men from each troop stayed behind to disable them. C Troop had less distance to go and had four trucks to assist in towing its four guns. But one truck went over a steep bank and the other was found to have no towing attachment. Two guns had therefore to be ‘spiked’ and left behind. The remaining two were got safely to positions at Ay Marina chosen by Lieutenant-Colonel Strutt.

Without artillery, the gunners of A and B Troops and HQ 27 Battery now became infantrymen and went into line alongside the Maori Battalion. At this stage, it is worth noting, Strutt had in support of 5 Brigade the following guns: two French 75s from C Troop; his own four 75s (Italian) from 2/3 RAA Regiment; two Bofors from 156 LAA Regiment; two two-pounders from 106 RHA; and perhaps two French 75s from 2/3 RAA Regiment. All these were in position round Platanias and Ay Marina at this time.


By ten o'clock that morning the new line had been established just west of Platanias and the main bodies of the battalions were all settled in. The Maori Battalion had taken over its old positions —from Platanias bridge south-east in a curve covering Platanias— as it came in; and on the high ground to its east were 21 and 23 Battalions. Farther east, in the Ay Marina area, were the Engineer Detachment with the remnants of 1 MG Company and the guns. And 22 Battalion was a little farther to the east of the engineers.

The vital point in the front line at this stage was the ‘Platanias bridge’, about a mile west of Platanias itself. In the original system this bridge was the responsibility of D Company of the

1 Pte L. G. J. Follas.

page 257 Maori Battalion.1 And at daylight on 23 May Captain Baker and about fifteen men of D Company had been in the area. But when Baker saw the Engineer Detachment withdraw and learnt from it that there was to be a general withdrawal to the east of the


Platanias River, he decided to take his small force back to Brigade HQ and ask for orders. After some changes of plan he was finally ordered to collect elements of Headquarters Company and D Company of 20 Battalion—60–70 men and officers—who had come back that morning from the counter-attack, and with them and his own party return to the D Company area and be ready to hold on there for the next twenty-four hours. He found these men at breakfast and divided them into two platoons.

But meanwhile the enemy had been moving fast. Using captured RAF trucks from Maleme and bringing with them mortars, they had come along the road; and no doubt it was this advance that had given the Maori rearguard so much worry about being outflanked.

Lieutenant Farran and Squadron Sergeant-Major Childs had been on guard at the bridge from about four in the morning to cover the withdrawal. What they understood to be the last party of

1 It is odd that no arrangements seem to have been made for the demolition of the bridge. Perhaps hope of moving westward across it once more had not been entirely given up.

page 258 28 Battalion came through them some time before 8.45.1 According to Farran, his orders had been to fall back on Platanias when the Maoris were all through and so, with the enemy infantry advancing and some anti-tank fire troubling him, he withdrew his two tanks to the other two tanks of the squadron which had been ordered to cover the right flank of the brigade. Farran's two tanks were now ordered to cover the beach.

In this interval which left the bridge uncovered the enemy had kept coming forward, and while Baker was still organising his force to occupy the area word reached him that there were about 200 enemy already in the old D Company positions and that they were getting mortars ready to open fire. It is not clear at what time this happened. The 28th Battalion war diary reports that at 11.5 a.m. about 100 Germans approached the bridge bringing up what looked like a mortar; that five minutes later they attempted to cross the river south of the bridge dragging a field gun; and that at 11.30 the gun was set up on the east side of the bridge but was withdrawn owing to attentions from our artillery.2

It seems likely, however, that these reports refer to later enemy concentrations than the one reported to Captain Baker. At all events, Baker at once decided to attack, though he was short of automatic weapons and had no supporting arms. He began to filter his force forward under such cover as there was. His men had not gone far and were about 900 yards from the river in low, flat open ground when they came under mortar fire and concentrated fire from machine guns. None the less they managed to reduce the gap to about 500 yards before the fire became intolerably intense.

Baker decided that to go on would be suicidal. He therefore ordered a withdrawal to the positions formerly prepared by D Company's reserve platoon. The order was passed forward section by section and, when he thought all ranks had safely withdrawn, including the wounded Captain Garriock3 who had commanded one of the ad hoc platoons, he himself followed under cover of the smoke from houses which had been set on fire by mortars.

While he had been waiting, the troops had come under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire in their new positions. ‘We were not there very long before Jerry turned all his fury loose at us. Mortars and MG, the Mortar fire was terrific, I think it was the

1 The tanks helped cover the withdrawal of 5 Fd Amb during the night; although 3 Hussars WD does not mention this.

2 This would be one of the guns that fired on the rear party of 28 Bn as they approached the river south of Platanias bridge about 11 a.m.

3 Capt A. I. Garriock; Christchurch; born Helensburgh, Scotland, 15 Apr 1911 traffic officer; wounded 23 May 1941.

page 259 hottest hour I had during the war. We were simply being blasted out of the place.’1 The men therefore continued to fall back and many of them went on to their original battalion area. Baker himself, unable to find them and seeing that Captain Tui Love2 of Headquarters Company 28 Battalion was holding a line across the road, went through and reported to Lieutenant-Colonel Dittmer, who put him in command of A Company.

But the attack had been more successful than Baker knew. Lieutenant Markham3 managed to get a detachment within 100 yards of the bridge, where the enemy had a gun in the middle of the road and busy mortars and machine guns on both sides. ‘My section had no dug positions and they brought very heavy Mortar fire to bear on us. We were able to put the gun temporarily out of action by killing or disposing of the crew…. ‘4 Lieutenant P. Maxwell also got a section as far forward as the riverbed and captured a Bofors. He then got in touch with Markham, who pointed out a column of enemy coming up the road with more field guns. The two officers considered their position: they had few men with them and among those few casualties were steadily occurring; ammunition was short; and the enemy was reinforcing. They decided to withdraw and were confirmed in this by the arrival of Baker's message. In falling back they failed to find Baker and appear to have helped the Maori Headquarters Company in the outskirts of Platanias.

This probably happened late in the morning. The enemy was cautious from now on, and it is not till 2.20 p.m. that 28 Battalion war diary mentions him again. At that time enemy parties were reported to be digging gun emplacements along the main road about 500 yards west of the bridge. A quarter of an hour later concentrations were reported in the stream bed and at five minutes to three enemy were seen laying wire between the bridge area and a house on the beach, probably a local HQ. Then at 3.22 a gun from Maleme began to shell A Company and trucks brought up infantry and material. An assault seemed imminent.

It was about this time that the defence were heartened by their first sight of the RAF. At five minutes to four a bomber was seen to attack the airfield and five minutes later three more. Six planes at least were observed to be on fire and transport aircraft appeared to be leaving the airfield.

2 Lt-Col E. TeW. Love, m.i.d.; born Picton, 18 May 1905; interpreter; CO 28 (Maori) Bn May–Jul 1942; died of wounds 12 Jul 1942.

3 Maj P. G. Markham; Little River; born London, 8 Sep 1908; farm manager.

4 Report in 20 Bn war diary, probably by Lt Markham.

page 260

Meanwhile our own artillery had begun to shell the German concentrations at the bridge. Already during the early morning the retiring gunners of 27 Battery had been delighted to hear two six-inch naval guns at Suda Bay shelling Stalos as a likely enemy headquarters. As soon as they themselves were in position they set about getting their two surviving guns into action, their difficulty being that they had no way of calculating where their shells were likely to land. But early in the afternoon an Australian troop went into position nearby and, correcting the elevation of his own guns by means of the Australian OP, Lieutenant Boyce1 was able to come into action.2 Soon after, however, an enemy mortar scored a direct hit on one gun and set fire to the ammunition. In spite of the danger Corporal Buchanan,3 a newcomer from 4 Field Regiment, shovelled earth over the flames and put out the fire. But from then on the Australian OP was too busy serving its own guns and the second gun had to remain silent.

Counter-battery fire was not the only danger to the artillery. By this time enemy parties were filtering in from the south and at one time during the morning a sudden enemy sally took the two Bofors in Strutt's little group. But they were successfully retaken.

The Australian guns continued to work hard all afternoon. At one stage a message to 5 Mountain Division records that the parachute artillery battery had fired three times its ammunition establishment. Even so it had not been able to silence the Australians who, besides shelling Pirgos, drove an enemy party in company strength out of the bridge area, silenced two enemy guns that came into action in the same neighbourhood, and destroyed one of two motor cycles that came to rescue them. In fact it seems likely that the enemy's failure to mount a full-scale assault on the front that day may in large measure be due to the guns.

It was not only near the bridge that the enemy was trying to get forward, and there was plenty of work for the defending infantry. On the right, between the road and the sea, were B and C Companies of 20 Battalion—each about 40 strong—which Brigadier Hargest had decided must join in the defence instead of going back to their original area. These combined with Maori detachments in the same area to break up several enemy attempts to get through along the beach, and Lieutenant Rhodes,4 mortar

1 Capt A. H. Boyce; Wellington; born Napier, 10 Feb 1910; bank officer; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

2 Capt Snadden, the commander of the gunners, had gone away temporarily to get orders and medical attention for his four wounds. He came back later.

3 Sgt M. J. Buchanan, MM; born Auckland, 5 Mar 1913; Regular soldier; wounded 30 Nov 1941; lost at sea (SS Chakdina) 5 Dec 1941.

4 Capt G. A. T. Rhodes, m.i.d.; Taiko, Timaru; born Timaru, 20 Oct 1914; farm cadet; twice wounded.

page 261 officer of 20 Battalion, did good execution with his single mortar and two Maori mortars—one complete, one without a base-plate, and one without a firing pin. An enemy effort to retaliate by bringing up a gun was thwarted by a spirited attack led by Captain Love of 28 Battalion.

South of the road and in the hills there was less direct contact but—as everywhere else that day—much trouble from enemy mortars, captured Bofors and enemy aircraft. The 23rd Battalion alone had 35 wounded, who were cared for in an improvised RAP by the RQMS, W. H. Dalton.1

As the day wore on it became apparent that the enemy was preparing an outflanking attack from the south in addition to the frontal attack that had been threatening all afternoon.2 Parties of enemy were seen making their way south-east from Pirgos into the hills, and A Company of 28 Battalion during the afternoon ‘carried on snap-shooting practice with occasional good grenade throwing against small parties of enemy who had moved up on the southern and south-western side of the Company area and finally took cover in caves below our position.’3 The 23rd Battalion felt similar pressure on the left flank and was forced to strengthen it with an additional company; while farther to the east the Engineer Detachment found its positions threatened from the south, where an enemy party had established itself in a farmhouse not far away and caused 14 or 15 casualties.


It was clear to both Brigadiers Hargest and Puttick that 5 Brigade was in a dangerous position. Its withdrawal and a move forward by the Composite Battalion of 10 Brigade4 had improved the situation from that of the day before. None the less, the enemy was obviously stronger and more aggressive, and 5 Brigade was still too far forward to be proof against a strong attack from the south at its point of juncture with 10 Brigade. Already at eleven o'clock that morning Puttick was discussing the situation with General Freyberg, and the upshot was his decision to withdraw 5 Brigade after dark into Divisional Reserve.

Hargest also was coming to see that further withdrawal was inevitable. At 1.10 p.m. he reported to Puttick that the enemy had crossed the bridge with mortars and guns and that the front

1 Capt W. H. Dalton, m.i.d.; Ashburton; born Ashburton, 21 Mar 1913; company secretary.

2 II Bn 100 Mtn Regt had reached the Platanias River at noon, two kilometres south-west of Platanias, and no doubt crossed it lower down.

3 Report by Capt Baker.

4 See p. 265.

page 262 line was just west of Platanias. The 23rd Battalion was forming a second line and he hoped to be able to hold out on this at least till nightfall.1 There is no record of Puttick's reply, unless it may be inferred from the fact that at 2.30 Hargest was making arrangements with 23 Battalion which envisaged the strengthening of this second line and its prolongation south. The troops forward of it would probably withdraw into it at dusk. And again at 2.50 p.m. he signalled to Puttick that a new line running through ‘Platanias Hill Village’ was being prepared and that he proposed to withdraw to it at dusk ‘if can hold out that long’. The Engineer Detachment had been ordered to be ready to come forward and assist. He ended by asking what relief Puttick proposed to give and stated his strength in men to be 600.2

To this—and perhaps later unrecorded messages—Puttick replied by special despatch rider at 3.15 p.m.: 5 Brigade was to withdraw that night but not, except for reconnaissance parties, before 8.45 p.m. Detailed orders reached 5 Brigade at 5 p.m. Their substance was as follows: the New Zealand Division would hold a line running from the coast at Staliana Khania south to Point 98·4, from there south-east to Ruin Hill, and thence south-east again via Cemetery Hill and the feature immediately west of the Prison to the Turkish fort.3

The right of this line would be held by 4 Brigade with the Composite Battalion and the Divisional Cavalry under command and, also under command, two 75s from 5 Brigade and a machine-gun detachment of six guns from 10 Brigade. The left of the line would be held by 19 Australian Brigade. The boundary between the brigades, inclusive to 4 Brigade, would be the Prison–Canea road. Fifth Brigade was to go into reserve east of Karatsos in much the same area as that originally held by 18 and 20 Battalions.

To this Hargest in an untimed message replied that the order would be carried out at 10 p.m. The Brigadier pointed out that his units would need a day to reorganise, that some of 20 Battalion had been kept in the line instead of returning to 4 Brigade, and that he would like to keep the Engineer Detachment for at least another day. And since he speaks of 22 Battalion as being with 4 Brigade, he was evidently unaware that Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew had returned on Puttick's orders to support the Engineer Detachment near Ay Marina.

1 NZ Div WD.

2 Ibid.

3 NZ Div OO No. 6, 3.15 p.m., 23 May. The order gives map references, not place-names. It seems more convenient for the reader to substitute the latter for the former. See p. 267 for further comment.

page 263

The estimate of unit strengths given in this message shows as well as any figures can the hard fighting the brigade had had: 21 Battalion was down to 170, 22 to 110, 23 to 250, and the Engineer Detachment to 300.1 No statement is made about the number of wounded but they must have been numerous, and Hargest was anxious that at least one or two medical officers should be sent up together with medical equipment. And in a message at 7.15 p.m. he asked for ambulances to be sent up at nine o'clock.


No copy of Hargest's order to his units for the withdrawal is available, but no doubt it went out to the battalions by runner soon after the divisional order was received, and there must have been further communication between the two commanders since arrangements were made by which the six-inch guns at Suda Bay were to begin firing on enemy-held territory from midnight on.2 The tanks of 3 Hussars were to act as rearguard.3

Both 20 and 28 Battalions effected their withdrawal safely and were settled in their new areas before daylight. The 21st Battalion followed them, and after it came 23 Battalion. The atmosphere of the move is well conveyed in the narrative of Lieutenant Thomas, then commanding C Company 23 Battalion:

We withdrew under orders soon after midnight, carrying our wounded on improvised stretchers down the steep cliff face and then along a difficult clay creek bed to the road. Then we marched until nearly dawn. I was very impressed by the continued discipline of the men. Mile after mile we trudged. Everyone was tired. All were vaguely resentful, although none of us could have put a finger on the reason. Those who could bear the strain better carried the rifles and bren guns of those who were fatigued. Len Diamond, a rough and lovable West Coast miner with a difficult stammer, raised a smile whenever things seemed a bit much.4

Difficulties for the wounded did not end with arrival at the road. Two of the three trucks assigned to 23 Battalion had been shot up and the last had to be crammed. ‘This delayed the move, and C Company 23 Battalion, which was co-operating with two tanks and some 28 Battalion Bren carriers in doing the rearguard, had some worried moments when the enemy began to follow up. But the company put up road blocks and was safely back in its allotted area by 4 a.m.

1 For strengths of units on 20 May see Appendix IV.

2 In the event this could not have been very effective as the enemy began to drop flares near the guns and they ceased fire after 18 rounds. WD Suda Area.

3 C Sqn WD. According to this, withdrawal was to begin at 9 p.m.

4 Report by Lt W. B. Thomas.

page 264

While these units were on the move the Engineer Detachment also withdrew, and got back without trouble. Captain Snadden— back again in spite of his wounds—got out the two guns of C Troop and parked them for the night near the point where the road to Galatas branches from the coast road—the Galatas turn-off, as it was usually called. Moreover Lieutenant-Colonel Strutt was able to report to Divisional HQ at 10.30 p.m. that he had brought back a total of four French 75s, four Italian 75s, two Bofors, and two two-pounders, a feat the more satisfactory as most of these had been reported lost at one stage or another of the day.

Perhaps the most difficult task of the evening fell to 5 Field Ambulance. It waited for ambulances until 3 a.m., when two arrived. These were loaded with wounded, and a party of those able to walk set off about this time also. Of the eight trucks which were to have come up, some were destroyed when the road was shelled by the enemy and others were appropriated by marching troops in the absence of the drivers who had abandoned them. Volunteer drivers had to be fetched from 5 Field Ambulance and found only three trucks that could be used. These three took off a full load at 4 a.m.; at half past five, as dawn was breaking, Captain Coutts1 arrived with fresh trucks, which were enough to take the rest of the patients and the skeleton staff which had been left with them. In all 135 patients were brought out. A new position was established for the MDS in that vacated by 6 Field Ambulance.

For the time being, and for the first time since the battle began, Brigadier Hargest and his battalions were out of the fighting. It was not to be for long.

1 Maj P. E. Coutts, MBE, ED, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 4 Dec 1903; salesman; OC 1 Amn Coy Oct 1941–Jan 1943, Feb–Oct 1945; 18 Tk Tptr Coy Jan 1943–Mar 1944.