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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Battle for Galatas

Battle for Galatas

On the afternoon of the sixth day, 25 May, the Germans attacked in force in the Galatas sector following intensive mortar and air bombing, which reached a terrific climax about 4 p.m. For more than two hours the New Zealanders held their line intact, but extreme pressure forced a fighting withdrawal and the Germans took Galatas. But as darkness fell the New Zealanders launched a counter-attack which drove the Germans out of the village, with heavy casualties to both sides. The troops, dog-tired after days of fighting and continuous bombardment, with their ranks thinned by casualties, were not in a position to follow up their advantage. During the night 4 Brigade withdrew through 5 Brigade, which had reformed and moved into a new line east of Galatas, alongside 19 Australian Brigade and also east of the hospital area.

On 24 May Captain Lomas, moving with Headquarters 10 Brigade, resited his RAP on the northern outskirts of Galatas. During the battle of Galatas many of the casualties from the Divisional Cavalry RAP run by Captain Stevenson-Wright1 went through this RAP, and some of the casualties from the 18 Battalion RAP under Captain Dempsey were also sent on by Captain Lomas. On some days the number evacuated from Lomas's RAP reached ninety. It is estimated that there was an average of seventy casualties a day for the six days' fighting at Galatas.

The 18th Battalion had been moved forward to the west of the Composite Battalion on 24 May and from the fighting near Wheat Hill, west of Galatas, many wounded came in to its RAP, which was situated in a depression about 200 yards from Battalion Headquarters. Many were severely wounded by mortar fire, and Captain Dempsey thought the proportion of killed to wounded was abnormally high. The serious cases were loaded on to a small truck and rushed back to 6 MDS in daylight. The truck was strafed on its journeys and had to run off the road many times, but it was not thought that any of the wounded received further wounds. The walking wounded made their way back on foot.

When 18 Battalion retired behind Galatas, Captain Dempsey and Padre Dawson2 at the RAP were unaware of the move until they discovered there was no one between them and their forty wounded and the Germans. There was still time to move the wounded back – many could walk but some were carried on stretchers; three had to be left behind. Captain Dempsey was not, therefore, in touch with his unit in the final fighting at Galatas.

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On the afternoon of 25 May the enemy's fierce attacks produced about ninety casualties, which were evacuated with great speed once the defence line was broken. Here again the drivers of the light trucks did splendid work in the daylight, being subjected to aerial attacks most of the time. All the casualties had been evacuated by the time of the start of our counter-attack which led to the recapture of Galatas. In the withdrawal the Divisional Cavalry did not inform its RAP, but Captain Stevenson-Wright became aware of the position and managed to bring back the few wounded he held and rejoin his unit near Canea.

In the retirement towards Suda Bay 18 Battalion suffered many casualties from air strafing. Its headquarters was hiding under some trees when one of its officers crossed the road to the hiding place while a plane was overhead. The plane came down and strafed the area, killing some, including the stretcher-bearer sergeant, and wounding a number. There were other such incidents on a smaller scale. First field dressings were applied to the wounded, but those who could not walk had to be left behind. They were well treated by the Germans.

1 Capt E. Stevenson-Wright, MBE; Wellington; born Dannevirke, 16 Feb 1909; medical practitioner; medical officer 1 Gen Hosp Mar 1940–Feb 1941; RMO 2 Div Cav Mar–May 1941; p.w. May 1941.

2 Ven Archdeacon F. O. Dawson, MC; Morrinsville; born London, 23 Feb 1909; Anglican minister; SCF 2 NZ Div 1944–45.