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To Greece

The German Advanced Guard enters Kalamata

The German Advanced Guard enters Kalamata

The next day, 28 April, saw more air raids and more casualties, until by nightfall there were 200 military wounded in the Greek hospital. The rumours of the parachute landings about the Corinth page 452
the battle for kalamata waterfront, 28–29 april 1941

the battle for kalamata waterfront, 28–29 april 1941

page 453 Canal had been confirmed the previous evening, but at 4 p.m. 4 Hussars reported that there were as yet no signs of the approaching enemy. Nevertheless Major MacDuff, when he reported that afternoon to Brigadier Parrington, was instructed to cover the embarkation. The men were already on their way to the assembly areas of the previous night, but MacDuff decided that A Company could cover the approaches to the waterfront from the north and B Company the Sparta road which extended eastwards from the town.

The plan was never put into operation. The outer screen of 4 Hussars had already been overwhelmed by the advanced guard of 5 Panzer Division, which was now hurrying south from the canal area. No warning could be given to the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion; in any case, the majority of that unit had already moved into Kalamata. But the covering party, including Captains Yates and Bryson1 and Lieutenant Curtis, who were waiting for stragglers, and Major Thomson,2 who was attending to some wounded, was surprised and captured. Several men attempted to break away. Some were successful, but the majority were checked by bursts of machine-gun fire and soon marched back to join 4 Hussars in the open trucks at the end of the column. The force then moved on, Major Thomson accompanying the German medical officer. Meeting with no opposition and capturing still more prisoners, the Germans entered the town, crossed the bridge over the dry creek and turned south to the harbour, where they drew up near the Customs House. The prisoners were bustled off the vehicles and placed under guard; the Germans, obviously surprised at the number of soldiers about the town, began to probe eastwards along the waterfront.

Just how much time they had to establish themselves before darkness came down it is now impossible to estimate. The important fact was that there had been no serious opposition. The majority of the Allied troops were already to the east of the town; the rest were drifting along the tracks and side roads to the assembly areas. There had certainly been some intermittent rifle fire, but that had been common enough during the day and caused no inquiry. The result was that still more men were surprised and captured.

The greatest misfortune of all was the capture of Captain Clark- Hall, who, with his signalman, had been about to go down to the waterfront. Thereafter the difficulty of communicating with the Navy was to be the vital problem of the evacuation.

1 Capt C. D. Bryson, ED; Sydney; born Auckland, 22 Sep 1904; accountant; p.w. Apr 1941; repatriated Sep 1944.

2 Maj G. H. Thomson, OBE, ED; New Plymouth; born Dunedin, 5 Mar 1892; obstetrician; gunner, 4 How Bty, Egypt and Gallipoli, 1914–16; RMO 4 Fd Regt Sep 1939–Apr 1941; p.w. 29 Apr 1941; repatriated Oct 1943.

page 454

Two New Zealand officers, Lieutenant Daniel1 and Second- Lieutenant Willis,2 after bringing their men to the waterfront, had gone to MacDuff's headquarters near the junction of Link and Beach roads. On their way back along one of the side streets they saw grey-uniformed soldiers in the distance but thought that they were some of the Yugoslavs—until a German had appeared from a doorway with an automatic and marched them back to the Customs House area, already packed with prisoners, lorries and AFVs.

The Germans had by then realised that they were in great danger. They questioned prisoners about the arrival of the convoy; they wanted to know how many men were at the other end of the waterfront and when there were signs of a counter-attack they became very disturbed. The prisoners were then marched back towards the town, across the bridge and along the highway to the waiting vehicles of the main body.

While this was taking place, the arrival of the enemy force had become known to the thousands assembled in the olive groves.

When the first reports reached the different headquarters the senior officers had been inclined to doubt the nerve of their informants. But a liaison officer ordered back to 4 Hussars returned to say that the road through the town was blocked by the enemy; lorry drivers rushed back from the hospital area calling out that there were Germans in the town; more regular bursts of machine-gun fire were heard; and men could be seen running back to the safety of the olive groves.

The next stage of the action cannot be told in exact detail but the first serious opposition seems to have come from Major B. Carey, 3 Royal Tank Regiment, who with Major Pemberton, Royal Signals, had been walking towards the harbour when excited men had rushed back along the waterfront. Pemberton went back to warn Brigadier Parrington. Carey, collecting a Bren gun, spent the next two hours on the seaward side of the Beach road firing at the German guns on the quay and encouraging those among the Allied soldiers who wished to fight.

About the same time Lieutenant-Colonel H. H. E. Geddes, Royal Army Service Corps, and Lieutenant-Colonel J. P. Robinson, 8 Hussars, had been approaching the waterfront. The bursts of machine-gun fire and the reports from men running back for shelter soon convinced them that the enemy had reached the quay. They decided that paratroops must have landed; neither thought that the enemy could have driven down the highway and through Kalamata. Geddes went forward with what troops he could collect, joined

1 Capt M. E. Daniel; born NZ 25 Apr 1916; clerk; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

2 Capt H. F. Willis; Auckland; born Kirkee, India, 7 Sep 1919; student; p.w. 28 Apr 1941.

page 455 Carey and learnt something of the German positions. Then he returned to the olive groves and from there organised parties to clear the streets inland from and parallel to the waterfront. The majority were New Zealand, Australian and British troops, some led by non-commissioned officers, others by officers.

The small Australian force, though short of weapons, was equally active. Lieutenant-Colonel Harlock organised parties while Captain A. W. Gray sent one platoon with the New Zealand groups and led another along the waterfront.

The other source of resistance—probably the major one—was the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion, whose headquarters had been established by Major MacDuff at the junction of the Link and Beach roads. Before the fighting actually started, Lieutenants O'Rorke1 and Rhind2 had been sent to see that the covering companies went into position. On their instructions Captain Simmonds,3 with men from B Company, Lieutenant D. R. Brickell and his platoon, and Lieutenant J. W. Moodie from Battalion Headquarters moved back to cover the Sparta road and the eastern exit from the town. Warned by lorry loads of troops yelling ‘Jerries in town’ and by Greeks who called out ‘Germania’, the group reached the crossroads ‘on the run’. Directed by Moodie, who knew the latest technique of street fighting, they had pulled down stone walls and prepared a defence post. At the same time Lieutenant F. G. Spackman had been sent forward by Major MacDuff to find out who was responsible for the bursts of rifle fire: ‘if Greeks to shut them up; if Germans to find out where they were.’ At the bridge he collected a German car, the disturbed occupant of which was taken back to the beach for cross-examination. Soon afterwards a truck drawing a heavy gun and then a motor lorry had approached the road block, but bursts of fire had forced their drivers to swing hurriedly away. Thereafter the group was not disturbed; heavy fighting could be heard about the harbour, but it eventually died down and about midnight the men were ordered back to the beaches, where the crowds were assembling for the expected embarkation.

Meanwhile O'Rorke and Rhind, when moving towards the centre of the town, had heard bursts of fire and seen Germans in the area to the west where A Company was to have been placed. They had returned to the road junction, collected about twenty New Zealanders and Australians, and moved towards the enemy, Rhind along the waterfront, O'Rorke one street inland.

1 Lt F. O'Rorke; born England, 31 Jul 1906; sheep-farmer; killed in action 28 Apr 1941.

2 Capt P. K. Rhind; Christchurch; born Lyttelton, 20 Jun 1915; clerk; p.w. 29 Apr 1941; joined Regular Force; Area Commander, Christchurch, 1952–55.

3 Capt K. Simmonds; Dunedin; born England, 15 Mar 1907; factory manager; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

page 456

By then the light was fading and there was hopeless confusion in the thickly packed olive groves. If a soldier wished to fight he could do so—if he hesitated it was simple enough to remain among the excited thousands. Nevertheless, through the efforts of Geddes, Harlock and MacDuff, several parties had already moved off or were about to do so. The officers and men did not always know each other so it is impossible to record the names of many who took part in the actual fighting. But it is known that from this area patrols went in led by Lieutenants Canavan,1 Simpson, Watt, Davies,2 Buckleton,3 Fay4 and Harris.5 Moving through the eastern outskirts of the town, they reached the back streets and approached the quay from the north.

Ahead of these parties, however, was another collected and led by Sergeant Hinton,6 20 Battalion. At the sound of firing he had gone to the headquarters corner and attempted to find out what was happening. Unable to get any response in the general confusion, he had moved along the Beach road towards the town and had then crawled across to Major Carey's gun post near the beach. With Carey's assurance of covering fire he had returned, collected about a dozen New Zealanders and started up the road to deal with the big gun which had just opened up. When machine-gun fire became too heavy, the party turned north up a side street and then went forward again a block or two inland from the waterfront. In this street Hinton dealt with a machine-gun post set up at a corner to cover the eastern and northern approaches.

At this stage there seems to have been a pause in the advance. The parties organised by MacDuff were coming in from the side streets to give their support but the scene was incredibly confusing. All was dark except for the streams of tracer bullets and the sudden clarity after a flare went up; mortar bombs were exploding; stray Germans hidden in the doorways opened fire, wounding several men, including O'Rorke and Sergeant Hesson;7 and, most important of all, there was no overall command. In spite of these difficulties the attack was soon switched south towards the waterfront. Canavan and an Australian sergeant with their group covered the street in

1 Capt W. A. O'N. Canavan, m.i.d.; born Blenheim, 19 Dec 1908; school-teacher; p.w Apr 1941; died 7 Aug 1955.

2 Capt R. Davies; born Newport, Wales, 20 Oct 1912; engineer fitter; p.w. Apr 1941; died of wounds while p.w. 21 Apr 1945.

3 Capt J. G. Buckleton, m.i.d.; born Auckland, 15 Jul 1908; sharebroker; p.w. Apr 1941.

4 Capt J. A. O'L. Fay; Auckland; born Wellington, 29 Jun 1912; insurance inspector; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

5 Capt H. R. Harris, ED; Wellington; born Wellington, 24 May 1907; company manager; wounded and p.w. 28 Apr 1941.

6 Sgt J. D. Hinton, VC, m.i.d.; Templeton; born Riverton, 17 Sep 1909; driver; wounded and p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

7 Sgt J. Hesson; born NZ 18 Nov 1918; farmer; wounded and p.w. 29 Apr 1941; repatriated Nov 1943; died Alexandra, 10 Jul 1948.

page 457 which the German supply trucks were drawn up. Hinton, supported by covering fire from Private A. M. Jones,1 moved down another street, dealing with machine-gun posts and reaching the waterfront near the more forward of the two heavy guns.

Meanwhile Rhind, with the supporting fire from Carey's group along the Beach road, had led his party from block to block along the waterfront until it met those coming in from the side streets. They were reorganising when ‘a truck went up the road towards the German positions, loaded with N.Z. and Australian troops.’2

This truck, driven by Sapper Gourlick3 with eight men aboard, including Privates Snooks,4 Turner5 and Lewis,6 had been sent in by MacDuff. At some speed it had been rattled along from the olive groves, turned on to the waterfront and rushed forward to within 50 yards of the first gun. There it had been pulled up sharply, the crew dashing to cover up the nearest side street and opening fire on the Germans about the gun and along the open pavement of the quay. Their fire, Hinton's advance from the side street and, most probably, the never-ceasing machine-gun fire from Carey forced the gun crews to seek refuge in the buildings along the waterfront. Behind them they left the biggest collection of killed and wounded seen by any of those who took part in the action.

Thereafter the fighting was along the waterfront, from one block of buildings to another, the Germans withdrawing and leaving to the British the RAP set up by their captive, Major Thomson. Hinton, Jones and other members of the advance parties were wounded but reserves were hastening forward from the olive groves. They may have approached according to plan for Captain G. A. F. Kennard7 of 4 Hussars, who had escaped from the Customs House area, had given MacDuff some useful information about the German strength and positions. But the actual fighting went on as before, without any direction whatsoever. Nevertheless it was spontaneous and irresistible. Some men broke into the buildings, others darted from

1 Pte A. M. Jones; Invercargill; born Greymouth, 13 Jul 1917; bricklayer; wounded and p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

2 Information from Captain Rhind to D. J. C. Pringle (co-author 20 Battalion history); Major F. B. Topham; notes from Gourlick, Lewis, Snooks and Turner.

3 Spr W. P. Gourlick, MM; Mosgiel Junction; born NZ 11 Mar 1905; engineer; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

4 Pte C. Snooks; Taupo; born Waitara, 13 Jul 1916; butcher; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

5 Pte W. G. Turner; Lyttelton; born NZ 27 Sep 1906; labourer; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

6 Pte O. R. Lewis; born NZ 17 Sep 1903; mechanic; p.w. 29 Apr 1941; repatriated Nov 1943.

7 This officer, who had been captured outside the town, had ‘filed off’ when the fighting began and taken cover until he met a New Zealand officer, with whom he ‘doubled back’ to MacDuff's headquarters.

page 458 place to place, returning the bursts of fire that were coming from the windows and balconies of the last buildings overlooking the almost open waterfront.

No account of the initial stages of the surrender was prepared by the British. Members of the different groups very often did not know each other and within a few hours they themselves were to be taken prisoners of war. In a German propaganda publication1 there is, however, an account which more or less agrees with the reports of those who are known to have been in the immediate vicinity. The details are not always accurate, but the personal reference to at least one British officer suggests that the author had interviewed German officers who had taken part in the action.

According to him one of the British had called upon the Germans to surrender. A lieutenant had replied, ‘Fire stopping—finished’, and had then been sent over with instructions not to surrender but to make a parley: ‘We haven't a shot left. Gain time.’ He had been forced to call over his company commander, but the ‘Australians’ had threatened to shoot both Germans ‘unless within five minutes all encircled in the harbour laid down their arms.’ At this stage an ‘English Colonel’2 arrived and conducted the negotiations. The Germans probably mentioned the force outside the town and the hopelessness of the situation so far as the British were concerned, for they record that ‘The wild fellows … bellowed with indignation.’ And that seems to have decided the case for by midnight the Germans had surrendered to whoever happened to be near and the final number was over 120 all ranks.

Their casualties had been heavy, particularly about the more forward of the two heavy guns and in one of the side streets where ‘somebody must have caught them with a bren.’3 In all there were 41 killed and 60 wounded. The British casualties were 3 officers and 30 other ranks killed and 50 or more wounded, who were cared for ‘in what was called a British Hospital where a New Zealand doctor4 was doing magnificent work with negligible equipment.’

The chances of evacuation now seemed to be good. Barriers were erected to control the roads, parties were detailed to hold them and efforts were made to signal the Navy.

The cruisers Perth and Phoebe and the destroyers Nubian, Defender, Hereward, Decoy, Hasty and Hero were already approaching the harbour. The last named had been sent ahead to make contact with the shore and at 8.45 p.m., using lamp signals,

1 From Serbia to Crete, translated by the War History Branch.

2 Just who this was it is now impossible to say.

3 It has not been possible to find out who was responsible for these casualties.

4 Major Thomson.

page 459 Brigadier Parrington had told its commander that the Germans were in the town. An attempt to recapture the quay was already being undertaken. This was passed on to the Perth whose captain, Bowyer-Smith,1 was senior officer of the squadron. The Hero nosed her way closer to the beach, her first lieutenant went ashore and a review of the situation was wirelessed to the Perth. Soon afterwards, at 9.30 p.m., he reported that the beach was suitable for evacuation and the following signal was sent to the Perth, but owing to wireless defects it was not received until 10.11 p.m.:

Troops collecting on beach south-east of town. All firing ceased in town. Consider evacuation possible from beach. Brigadier is reporting.

By then Bowyer-Smith, acting on the earlier signals and observing fires and explosions ashore, had at 9.29 p.m. abandoned the operation and was moving south with all ships except the Hero. He did not alter his decision.

As the Hero had only two whalers the chances of embarkation were very limited. But the naval authorities in Crete, having been told that there were 1500 Yugoslavs and thousands of troops still in Kalamata, had sent over the Kandahar, Kingston and Kimberley to assist the original force. These destroyers arrived at 1 a.m. and more embarkation was possible. The sick and wounded from the hospital and the men wounded in the town had by then been taken to the beach, but there was still a shortage of boats and very little available time. So in the end only 332 all ranks were evacuated. As some fit men, including several New Zealanders, were among that number, it is regrettable that the majority of those who did the actual fighting were not evacuated. They saw the last boat leave the beach and were told that it would be back again. But it never appeared. The destroyers moved out about 3 a.m., signalling ‘Many regrets’ several times. The disappointed troops, unable to understand the departure of the ships, found their own solution and accepted the often repeated and quite incorrect rumour that the approach of an Italian fleet made it necessary for the destroyers to get clear of the coast.

The Brigadier then had the unpleasant task of calling his senior officers together and informing them of their hopeless situation. Any further resistance was considered impossible and unnecessary. Calls were made for any officer who could speak German and Captain Kennard was sent back with his German officer to say that the force would surrender before daybreak. Next morning swastikas were spread out on the beaches as a warning to the Luftwaffe to cease its bombing; the troops were assembled by the now exultant Germans; and for several days trainloads of prisoners were taken north to Corinth and to four unhappy years as prisoners of war.

1 Captain Sir Philip Bowyer-Smith, RN.