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Battle of Crete 1941

Discussion in 'Naval War in the Mediterrean, Malta & Crete' started by Erich, May 11, 2002.

  1. stevenz

    stevenz Member

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    A lot of people can,t understand how our officers could have been so bad on Crete and i wondered the same thing and i learned over the years that if you want to find out the answer why you have to look off the battle field to the 1930,s in New Zealand.

    After WW1 which was supposed to be the war to end all wars the army was disbanded and not one brigade sized exercise was carried out between WW1 and the beginning of WW2 even worse officers were not able to go over seas and train with other armies until 1934 so the end result was at the beginning of WW2 our officer corps was full of men whose knowledge of war was based on WW1 principles we did have some younger officers who had a clue but the senior officers who were going to have the final say in battle were old men from WW1.

    Our army was one full battalion and about 1500 reserves with hardly any weapons we had guys marching with broom handles instead of rifles.

    Even after the division was built up a lot of people in the division knew things were not where they needed to be i have a quote in one of my books i can,t remember who the individual was but he told Freyberg quote"the weakness is in the battalion commanders there is going to have to be a cleanout" and on Crete it was in the battalion commmanders that the disaster happened at malame with all three battalion commanders from the 21stn22nd,23rd plus the brigade commander hargest failing to carry out there orders.

    One of the battalion commanders Howard Kippenburger who went on to command the division also said quote'' there are going to be disasters and we should expect heavy casulties" so people in the division knew we really weren,t prepared for what we were getting into but there was also nothing we could do about it at the time we just had to go with what we had.

    Another interesting point was the Brigade commander james Hargest who was in charge at malame and failed to carry out the battle plan he was not wanted by Freyberg and the army at the start of WW2 but Hargest was a member of parliment and pulled strings with the prime minister Peter Fraser to get himself into the division and so freyberg had no choice but to put him in charge of a brigade and boy did that come back to bite us.

    It,s a lesson for all nations about what can happen when people are appointed to military positions because of who they know not what they know.

    It is very sad for us the fact that of the three brgade commanders on the Island Lindsay Inglis who was in Charge of 4th brigade and Howard Kippenburger who was in charge of 10th brigade in Prison Valley both called for immediate counter attacks and were both turned down by the divisional commander Puttick.

    The 4th brigade 18th,19th,20th battalions the 19th was in prision valley the 18th near prison valley and the 20th was in reserve.

    In prison valley we had the 19th battalion,6th greek regiment and the composite battalion made up of the petrol company,artillary regiments with no artillery etc brave but with no infantry training and not much in the way of weapons except rifles.

    Brgadiar Inglis wanted to take the whole 4th brigade on the frist day into prison valley link up with the composite battalion which was about 1000 strong wipe out the germans in the area then head for Malame and link up with 5th brigade but he was turned down by the divisional commander puttick and it was reported that when the word come through that the request for the attack had been turned down the brgade major starting screaming we,ve lost crete and Inglis reply was you don,t have to tell me that.

    Kippenburger who was in charge of the soldiers in prison valley had a problem that it was hard for him to counter attack with the troops he had because they had no infantry training and the 19th had a place to hold in the area so he needed the 20th battalion a proper infantry battalion from the reserve to lead the attack and the other non infantry types could follow but he was also turned down.

    Puttick said that Prision Valley was only a secondary front and was only a holding action and our commanders were cautious of using up there reserve because we had been told through the secret ultra communications that the sea borne landing was going to be 10,000 strong baring in mind that the new Zealand division on the island was 7700 strong with no vehicles so we had no ability to mass large numbers of troops in an area quickly and in day light hours we couldn,t move anyway because the planes would smash us so our commanders held the reserve back in the vital early days of the battle.

    It should also be noted that the divisional commander puttick was sent home after crete and never served overseas again and the 22nd battalion commander at Malame Colonal Andrew was sent home early 1942 the offical line was to train soldiers at home from i understand the real reason was they had lost confidence in him and after the war officers were scathing of him and his performance on Crete.

    Another intersting point i read in one of my books was i think Brigadar Inglis from 4th brigade commenting on the fact that there was no counter attack in the first vital 36 hours and there seemed to be an obbsesion with static defenses and barbed wire which again reverts back to that WW1 doctrine.
     
  2. Erich

    Erich Alte Hase

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    not sure about accepting that all the German battle plans were lost, let us remember that many of the Para CO"s were either killed or wounded gravely in the jump and it was up to the NCO's down to lowly privates to make command decisions in an area they really knew nothing about. obvious too the LW paras did not know about the resiliancie of the Allied ground forces on the island. also the way the LW paras were incredibly spread out for miles their unification only came later in the battle when it was just small battle units trying to contain the Allied defenses early on and paid for it with their lives.
     
  3. stevenz

    stevenz Member

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    I agree about doctrine Jeff we were losing battle after battle till late 1942 because we weren,t doing things right like in the desert war splitting the divisions up into brigades and sending them into battle piecemeal and fighting the tanks seperate from the infantry.
     
  4. JeffinMNUSA

    JeffinMNUSA Member

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    Steven;
    A counterattack at Maleme D2 could have turned the whole thing. Unfortunately the Allied command was not that fast on the draw, and the Axis was able to land the Mountain Div. So why could such relatively small numbers of troops make such a critical difference? Well they were Wehrmacht troops...
    JEffinMNUSA
     
  5. Gebirgsjaeger

    Gebirgsjaeger Ace

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    Sorry if i worried you! The explanation was about loosing the "Sichelschnitt" plannings for the Battle of France. It should only show Steven that not only the allies lost their plans.

    Regards

    Ulrich
     
  6. JeffinMNUSA

    JeffinMNUSA Member

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    Ulrich;
    It didn't seem to matter that the Allied commanders knew of the German plans in France 1940; they did not seem to believe in the feasibility of mobile warfare in the first place. They were about to learn...
    JeffinMNUSA
     
  7. Gebirgsjaeger

    Gebirgsjaeger Ace

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    Jeff,

    they learned it the hard way and to late for some countries. But than they were really good to beat us with our own tactics.

    Regards

    Ulrich
     
  8. stevenz

    stevenz Member

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    On the second day of the battle no counter attack could be attempted in day light because of the german airpower so all day the germans were able to bring in reinforcements 800 mountain troops and a battalion of para were also dropped approx 600 about 350 were dropped on the west side of hill 107 on german ground and were safe another 240 were dropped on the east side where our people were and 160 were killed the other 80 escaped up the beach so all up they were able to get around 1200 on the ground basically they were able to replace most of what they had lost on the first day and by the end of the 2nd day had 1800 on the ground fit for action and had resupplied with ammo and brought in more equipment.

    Our commanders were afraid of the seaborne landing they had been told by the secret Ultra communications that it was 10,000 strong keep in mind the New Zealand division was 7700 strong short on ammo and equipment and totally immobile we had no vehicles so had no way to mass in an area quickly in big numbers and even if we had vehicles we couldn,t move in daylight because of the german airpower.

    When it came time to attack our commanders insisted on the 20th battalion that was in reserve at canea carrying out the attack with the 28th maori with the 23rd battalion operating in a mopping up role but this was a mistake 5th brigade at malame was made up of

    21st battalion approx 350 strong
    23rd battalion aprox 540 strong
    28th maori approx 600 strong
    22nd battalion approx 250 strong
    Engineers fighting as infantry approx 300

    The 22nd were split into two companies headquarters company and D company went with the 21st and A,B,C companies went with the 23rd so each of those battalions would have had there numbers boosted by around 125.

    The attack should have been carried out by the 23rd and 28th because they were close and could have moved as soon as it was dark and they were ready with the 20th coming up from canea to mop up but it didn,t happen and the conseqences were severe because they were so afraid of the seaborne landing they wouldn,t let the 20th move from there coastal postion until the Australians had arrived to replace them so instead of getting off the start line at 1.30am they didn,t get away until 3.30am and were only about 30mins off the start line and were already engaged so they had to fight there way to Malame which slowed them down.

    One of the companies of the 20th reached the airfield but by the time they got there it was daylight and the german mortar and machine gun crews could see our people on the edge of the airfield and the Germans plane were back in the air machine gunning and our people couldn,t cross they got pinned down.

    The attack was carried out by the 20th and 28th in the dark the 21st with the company of the 22nd that was attached to it started there attack moving along the southern flank of hill 107 towards the river bed around 7.00am already daylight.

    The total number of riflemen and company officers depolyed in the attack would have been around 1000-1100 and they had nothing in the the way of tank,artillary or air support and even motar support was minimal so they needed the night once they lost the cover of darkness they were in trouble.The germans were well armed with Mg 34 belt feds and mortar and had air supremecy there planes were machine gunning and bombing anything that moved.

    Trying to attack an enemy defender in daylight with nothing but rifle and bayonet no heavy weapon support of any kind and they are well armed with automatics and mortars and have control of the air is never going to work.

    Our commanders sent to small a force and they got off the line to late because they were so afraid of the seaborne threat and it was a threat that played on our commanders minds the whole fight they were always trying to fight looking over there shoulders and it had a big effect on there conduct in the battle.
     
  9. stevenz

    stevenz Member

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    It wasn,t just the fact that they were Wehrmacht troops it was also the fact that they had far superior weight of fire on the ground ie machineguns,mortar,artillery they also had total air supremecy and far better communications to direct there troops movements call in air strikes and direct there mortar and artillery fire and they had a resupply of ammunition the allies didn,t.

    Once the airfield was lost the allies were stuffed because they didn,t have the logistcs to fight a long battle by the 22nd the 3rd day of the fight the Maori battalion was already suffering shortages by the 24th the 4th Brigade had 72 mortar rounds for the whole brigade and the front at galatas they had 6 vickers guns for a front of 2km.

    Our artillary in the battle was 49 captured Italian 75mm with 350 rounds per gun a drop in a bucket in a fierce battle on top of that the guns were pathetic they had no sites our people had to make sights out of pieces of wood and chewing gum some used horse hairs and the guns had no elevation on them if you wanted to increase the range you put a bigger rock under the gun and if you wanted to decrease the range you put a smaller rock,on top of that there were no radios to call in and direct fire so the artillary had to shoot blind.

    Not one of our rifle companies had a wireless set we had people running around with bits of paper and this is a modern high speed battle the equipment we were given to fight the german military at the peak of it,s power was pathetic.
     
  10. JeffinMNUSA

    JeffinMNUSA Member

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    Steven;
    Amazing that our guys nearly won the battle for Crete-given the handicaps that they were working with. It does say something about the heroic performances of the New Zealand, Australian, British and Cretan troops that they were able to fight the mighty Wehrmacht to near defeat.
    Unfortunately modern technology prevailed in this close fought battle.
    JeffinMNUSA
    PS. The insurgency that followed the conquest is the subject of a new documentary; http://agora-dialogue.com/?p=395
     
  11. stevenz

    stevenz Member

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    So true jeff the same can be said for the Germans in Normandy they didn,t nearly defeat us there but when you look at what we had compared to what they had to throw they put up one hellova fight.

    Rommel found out the same thing in the desert war.

    LOGISTICS.
     
  12. Neutron

    Neutron Member

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    Just for the sake of correctness, the place is not Malame but MALEME.
     
  13. AndyPants

    AndyPants Ace

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    Currently reading 'The Lost Battle, Crete 1941' by Callum MacDonald, ....so far a very enjoyable read, as my current knowledge on the battle is rather limited.
     
  14. john.wolfe

    john.wolfe Member

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    Andy,

    If you're interested in reading the Australian and New Zeland perspectives on Crete, at least as written in the official histories, I recommend these links:

    New Zealand: Crete | NZETC

    Australia: Australia in the War of 1939 The Australian War Museum also has the war diaries hosted for the Aussie units that participated in the battle. Might provide some additional interesting details.

    Hope you enjoy these works.

    Cheers,

    John
     
  15. AndyPants

    AndyPants Ace

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    Thanks John for the links,

    Yes I'm finding the battle to be very interesting, when im finished I'll definitely read some more sources.

    Andy
     
  16. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    test
     
  17. urqh

    urqh Tea drinking surrender monkey

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    Ok LJ....i'll test yer...Name one airfield that fell to German airborne troops on the island?

    Oh...got you..just testing the thread...sorry..
     
  18. Brian Smith

    Brian Smith Active Member

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    Location:
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