Galatas 25 May
Home Up Galatas 25 May 26th May

 

 

The Allied forces were gradually been forced eastwards along the coast towards Canea, but at Galatas the New Zealanders put in a strong counter attack against the Germans.  Unfortunately, they then had to pull back from here as well.

The link on the right is for a book by 'Sandy' Thomas who was injured during the battle at Galatas, evacuated to Greece by the Germans, he then managed to escape to Turkey.  He went on to become a Major General.

The situation on the 24th May had been such that General Ringel had not felt it right for him to launch a general assault, but that was to change on the 25th.  At 7.15pm on the 24th Ringel issued his orders for the following day.  There would be two thrusts, one towards the south and one in the north.  The southerly one would involve 85 Mountain Regiment who were required to take Alikianou and then push on south of Suda Bay and then cut the road from Canea to Rethymnon.  The other, the main thrust, would be carried out by 100 Mountain Regiment and Ramcke's paratroops; the Mountain Regiment would take Galatas and the high ground south of it while Ramcke' paratroops would attack north of Galatas along the coast road.  Heidrich and his 3rd Parachute regiment would be advancing south of the prison-Canea road, with the 100 Mountain Regiment on their left and the 85th Mountain regiment on their right.  [See map below]

The defenders around Galatas and north to the coast road were not in a good situation, many units had been depleted after hard fighting, and they had been forced to fall back from their original positions around Maleme.  That fall back from the airfield had allowed the Germans to bring in fresh units, including III Battalion of 85 Mountain Regiment, the reserves were made up of units who had suffered badly in the defence of Maleme, such as the 23rd and 28th Battalions.  Also, critically, there was no Allied air support.  All through the defence of Crete this was a decisive difference between the two sides.

The Allies had fully expected the German attacks to start during the morning of the 25th, but the Germans by now had a healthy respect for the fighting qualities of the new Zealanders, during the afternoon the Stuka attacks started on Galatas together with mortar and artillery bombardments along the front.  By about 2pm the attacks had started against all the forward companies, especially those of 18 Battalion; they were disposed with 'A' in the south of their area around Wheat Hill, 'D' in the north and B & C between them.  A and D companies came under particular pressure and were forced to withdraw, this exposed the flanks of B & C companies who then also found it necessary to pull back.  It then fell to Colonel Kippenberger to stop the stream of stragglers who were falling back and try to get them into some sort of order to hold the line to the coast on the right of 19 Battalion, which he did.
From AIR 23/6751 in PRO.  Para 134. "Heavy air attacks continued throughout the day (Sunday 25 May) with increased ground activity at various points along the front, especially on right and centre of 18 Bn. and at GALATAS.  Considerable mortar, NG, and artillery fire were directed against our forward positions and particularly severe dive-bombing and high level bombing attacks with the heaviest bombs delivered against GALATAS, 18 Bn. positions and our gun positions at 1600, 1800, and 2000 hrs.  Infantry pressure against 18 Bn. and GALATAS where RUSSELL'S Force was almost continuously engaged from midday.

Para 135.  After very severe dive-bombing and MG attack from the air at 1600 hrs., heavy infantry attacks, supported by mortar, artillery and MG fire, developed against 18 Bn. whose right flank along the coastal road was driven in for a distance of 700 yards.  The centre was also driven back 300 yards.  Counter attacks restored the position to some extent but the situation on this battalion's front was serious and two companies of 20 Bn. were moved forward by 4 Inf. Bde. to the coastal sector."

As dusk started to come on 23 Battalion was ordered forward from 5 Brigade to take over in 20 Battalion area and by using a number of reinforcing parties (including the Kiwi Concert Party) a continuous front was reestablished from Galatas north to the sea. 
With his defensive line to the sea north of Galatas restored Kippenberger heard that the Germans were now in Galatas and he decided that a counter attack should be made into the village, the attack to be led by two light tanks under Lieutenant Farran.  

The following is from 'Sandy' Thomas's book.  ".. Kippenberger believed the fate of the whole division depended on the recapture of Galatas."  He went on "We had been waiting for the tanks and now they appeared, rumbling slowly up the track, two old Mark VIs, built between the wars and to all intents and purposes useless as tanks - even armour-piercing bullets fired from an ordinary rifle could penetrate their sides.  Kippenberger, who had been moving quietly amongst the waiting troops, walked over to the leading tank and spoke to the fair-headed officer [Farran]."

But first Farran's two tanks would go through the village on their own to to test the German strength, they went slowly up the main street firing right and left into the buildings.  When they returned Farran had to replace the injured crew of the other tank, then led C & D companies of 23 Battalion into the village.  The fight was hard, both tanks were knocked out and Lt. Farran was badly injured but the blood of the New Zealanders was up and with screaming 'hakas' they took the village.  "From doors, windows and roofs they swarmed wildly, falling over one another to clear our relentless line.  There was little aimed fire against us now." [Report by Lt. Thomas quoted in Davin p314.]  The fight put up by the New Zealanders caused the Germans to believe that this was a general attack rather than a local action.

'Sandy' Thomas says of Farran; "Above the babble of voices and groans I could hear a very English voice calling, 'Good show, New Zealand, jolly good show, come on New Zealand ...' finishing in an exclamation of pain.  It was the young tank officer, Roy Farran."

In 'Crete Eyewitnessed' von der Heydte said that the Germans were close to losing; "We came very near to losing, I think nobody who fought here, no paratrooper who fought here believed up to the fifth day that we would win.  But the fifth day was the decisive one."

AIR 23/6751 from PRO records the attack as; "Two tanks 3 Hus(sars) moved in and out of GALATAS and reported it full of Germans.  Col KIPPENBERGER (formerly Commander 10 Inf. Bde. and acting as Commander of all forward troops under command 14 Inf. Bde.) ordered a counter-attack on GALATAS in order to extricate RUSSELL'S Force and check enemy advance.  Two companies of 23 Bn which had just arrived supported by two light tanks, and with some troops of 18 Bn led personally by Lt-Col GRAY, cleared the village by a determined and spirited attack from North and East after 20 minutes very fierce fighting, the enemy suffering very heavy casualties (estimated at several hundreds) from grenades, bayonet and close-quarter shooting.  Our losses were approximately 90." 

The map on the right is taken from Davin's Official History and shows the situation late on the 25th when the counter-attack was made on Galatas, following the two tanks of Lt. Farran.  The red line shows the direction of the attack while the green shows the front of the German position.

Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

One of Roy Farran's tanks in Galatas after the battle

The lack of air cover for the Allies was a serious drawback, but on the 25th Middle East command had tried to help with air attacks on Maleme airfield during the morning; the attack was carried out by Marylands, Blenheims and Hurricanes, then in the afternoon there were two attacks by Blenheims with a further four Wellingtons bombing the airfield that night.  This was not enough to make a difference.
During the night of the 25th there was a conference to assess the situation and to discuss the possibility of putting in another attack, the decision of the meeting was that this was not possible, that they would have to pull out of Galatas and that a new line was needed east of the present one.  The forward positions of the new line would be taken over by 5 Brigade, the men had a busy night ahead of them.
The following is the summary of the position on the 25th from AIR 23/6751; "The situation was obviously precarious, however.  The fighting during the day had been severe, from the sea down to and including GALATAS and the bombing of our forward positions had been of the most violent and concentrated character.  Casualties which had been severe prior to the day's operations had considerably increased, the weak battalions were becoming exhausted, and the loss of ground, incessant air attacks, severe mortar and MG fire, and heavy casualties were having their effect on morale.  the front was now too extensive to be held by the troops available and units of 4 and 5 Inf. Bdes. were becoming intermixed in the forward positions.

The Divisional Commander therefore decided to shorten the line by bringing the right brigade (4 Inf. Bde.) back from its advanced position at GALATAS to a general North and South line in prolongation of the left brigade (19 (Aust) Inf. Bde.).  At the same time, the right flank of the 19 (Aust) Inf. Bde., which had been advanced several hundred yards to effect a junction with 10 Bn on the left of 4 Inf. Bde., was to be brought back to its original position on the line of the stream.

At about 2300 hrs,  the Divisional Commander sent a situation report to Force HQ reporting the results of the fighting and expressing grave doubts (see signal below) as to his ability to hold the new positions tomorrow, Monday 26 May.  At the same time the situation was reported to the Commander SUDA BAY Defences (Gen WESTON) whose troops were holding the outer defences of CANEA to the West and South and who commanded the MNBDO which was responsible for coastal defence and AA defence of CANEA and SUDA BAY. 

Sit Rep from Div Comd to Force HQ

Most Urgent                                              25 May 41

Heavy attacks about 2000 hrs have obviously broken our line.  Enemy is through at GALATAS and moving towards DARATSOS.  Right flank of 18 Bn was pushed back about 1000 yards about 1800 hrs and 20 Bn moved forward and 23 and 28 Bns were moved forward to 4 BDE assistance.  Tanks were also moved forward towards 18 Bn area to assist in restoring line.  HARGEST says INGLIS is hopeful of establishing a line.
Am endeavouring to form a new line running North and South about 1200 yards West of Div HQ linking up on South with the wadi held by Australians, who have been warned to be ready to swing their right flank back to that line.
A second or support line will be established I hope on the line of the river from the right of the MARINES on that river, past the bridge at the rd junc East of Div HQ, thence down the river to the sea.
Reports indicate men (or many of them) badly shaken by severe air attacks and TM fire.  Am afraid will lose our guns through lack of tpt.  Am moving my Div HQ, about midnight 25/26 to near 19 (Aust) Bde HQ for the moment.  Am exceedingly doubtful, on present reports whether I can hold the enemy tomorrow (26th).
(Sgd) E.PUTTICK, Brig
Comd NZ Div
(sent about 2300 hrs 25 May)
Freyberg received the message (above) from Puttick while he was writing a reasonably optimistic situation signal to Wavell, he changed his view when he heard from Puttick and said instead; "I have heard from Puttick that the line has gone and we are trying to stabilise.  I don't know if they will be able to.  I am apprehensive."

Map [from Davin] showing the position on the 26th with the new line and the position of the Germans in front of them.
The following are a few extracts from the book by 'Sandy' Thomas, describing incidents around his wounding.

"But as I shifted my hand over on to my left thigh it sank deep into a warm, mangled mess.  At first it might have been someone else's leg - no pain at all - but one of my fingers groping deeper touched something hard.  My whole body jarred, the blackness welled up again and I felt weakly sick."   A little later some Germans who are fleeing come near him; "I groped and found my revolver.  I wondered whether it might be wiser to lie low and sham death.  They swung in our direction.  I fired point-blank into the leader's stomach as he passed.  He staggered on a few paces screaming.  The second one was almost on me.  I pulled the trigger, but nothing happened, and I knew that I had used the last of my ammunition.  But there was really no danger.  These men were driven by blind panic.  They charged on."  Thomas was taken to a field hospital which was later taken by the Germans and he became a prisoner.  Thomas was evacuated to Greece as a prisoner for hospital treatment, he was flown out on what he describes as a 'giant Junkers 52'; while not so big today, I guess they looked large from a stretcher.  Interestingly he seems not to be aware that it is a tri-motor, he describes the pilots as revving 'the twin motors alternately'.   "The twin motors of the transport plane revved in unison and we moved, slowly at first and then with heavy lumbering speed, down the runway.  In a few seconds we were airborne and climbing slowly into the sky".  The rest of the book is a good read, it is his account of his escape from the hospital in Greece and how he makes his way back to friendly forces.

The photo below was sent to me by Paul London who was with a large group of New Zealanders on a recent 'pilgrimage' to Crete, their trip is detailed at http://crete.angnz.com  The photo shows a veteran of the Petrol Company, Arthur Stubbs who has reached the grand old age of 103.