|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
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
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
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.
from Div Comd to Force HQ
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
|(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
||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
"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
photo shows a veteran of the Petrol Company, Arthur Stubbs who has
reached the grand old age of 103.