Into Battle
Home Up Into Battle Heraklion Pull Out Maj. Macalister Hall

 

 

The Argylls moved into action on the 24th May around Kaireti Farm

Site Map

C.O.'s plan

This page covers two actions, on the 23rd and 24th of May, and the following withdrawal of the Argyll's into the Heraklion perimeter.

The attack on 23rd

Map of operations area

Attack on the 24th

Withdraw to Heraklion

"No attack had been made on us at Ay Deka, and it is doubtful if our presence on the south coast was known.  Motrais had been bombed during the afternoon, but this was probably a terror raid and not directed at the Company occupying the village.  After all the information had been sifted and considered the C.O. decided on a change of plan.  It looked to us as if the whole weight of the German attack was to be concentrated on the northern ports, and that not until Heraklion was taken was an extension southwards probable.  it looked as if we were wasting our time sitting guarding a plain which was not likely to be required by British aircraft.  The C.O. decided, therefore, that on the following day, 23rd May, we should make an attempt to clear up the German positions near Kaireti Farm and so open up the main road into Heraklion.  He was influenced in making this decision by the fact that 16 Brigade HQ and the Queen's Royal Regiment were expected to land at Tymbaki during the early hours of the 23rd May, and he thought that if he could open the road it would give 16 Brigade Commander more freedom for any action he thought necessary."
As part of the C.O.'s plan, the tanks would move out at 06:00 on the 23rd, but the C.O. received his only radio message from Egypt in the ten days on Crete "to send his tanks immediately to Canea, where the situation was rapidly deteriorating."  Because of the petrol supply problem after the landing there was insufficient for the journey.  The tanks would have to break through the German position at Kaireti Farm, refuel in Heraklion and take the coast road through Rethymnon to Hania.  Later on the 23rd the tanks were put out of action trying to break out of Rethymnon to Hania.
The Bren carriers carried out their planned recce of the German positions at Kaireti Farm and by 10:00 had told the C.O. that they could be taken by an attack with one company supported by the carriers.  A two company attack could not be done that day as the transport needed to go back to Ay Deka and then bring up another company, and there was insufficient time for these movements.
"A" company were to make the attack, and were despatched at 11:00 towards the German positions, but it was anticipated that they would not arrive, recce and be ready for jump off until 17:00.  The two objectives would be first Kaireti Farm and second the position a little to the north of the farm near the coastal road.  
"The attack went in at 1700 hours and made good initial progress by capturing the first objective.  When about half-way between the two objectives an untoward event occurred.  The Germans called up more paratroop reinforcements, about 200 of whom were dropped in the nick of time just behind the second objective.  With this extra padding they staged a counter attack, which forced "A" Company back through its first objective to its starting point, where it was finally held.  At dusk "A" Coy. had established itself on high ground west of the road and overlooking Kaireti Farm, and the Germans were holding their initial positions.  Casualties had not been heavy.  But for the last minute intervention of the German parachute reinforcement, "A" Coy. would, in all probability, have succeeded in its task."
The communication problems raised their head again.  The C.O. at Ay Deka received orders from Brigade at about the time "A" were jumping off, telling him to make an attack with not less than three companies to clear the Germans astride the Ay Deka - Heraklion road at 05:00 on the 24th.  It was too late to stop "A" Company.  The position now was that they had "A" Coy. and the Carriers up, two companies with the C.O.'s recce party, Battalion HQ , ammunition, rations, petrol etc still to be transported.  With insufficient transport they managed by marching and shuttling the transport they had to get everyone in place by 04:45, only 15 minutes to spare.
"After the experience of "A" Coy. during their recent attack, a frontal assault was ruled out, so it was decided that "B" Coy. on the right would attack east of and parallel to the main road, and that "D" Coy. would make a detour round the left, both companies to be guided by personnel of "A" Coy. who had already been over the ground.  "A" Coy. was to remain in situ, but to be ready to exploit success on either flank.  Such was the plan or what was going to be an unrecced night attack against opposition whose strength was unknown, and without the knowledge as to whether artillery support would be available or not.  We were landed in this difficult position by the complete breakdown in communications."  There was to be no artillery support from the Heraklion area, and no simultaneous attack by the Heraklion garrison.

The map below shows the area in which A&SH operated, from the landing at Tymbaki to Heraklion, including the attack on the 24th, and their final positions in the Heraklion defence perimeter.  D, A & B companies are shown close to Apex Hill.  C Company would be with the York & Lancs.

"At 0500 hours on the 24th the attack commenced.  It was important that we should succeed before 0730 hours, the normal hour the German Air Force started play for the day.  At 0530 hours very heavy German machine-gun fire opened on "D" Coy. front, but there was no sound from "B" Coy. axis of advance.  At 0730 hours, when the air offensive opened up, "D" Coy. were still well short of their objectives, having encountered heavy fire from machine-guns  firing on fixed lines and located in the entrance to caves.  "A" Coy. were also pinned down by heavy small arms and mortar fire, and "B" Coy. had vanished into the blue, no message having been received from them since the attack had started.  It soon became obvious that an all-day slogging match was in front of us, so a message was sent back to Ay Deka for the immediate dispatch of "C" Coy. and the mortar platoon.  We hoped that with these fresh troops we might turn the scale in our favour after the cessation of the daily air offensive, and when we were in a better position to know exactly what we were up against and where they were.
At 0830 hours there was little change in the position, except that some of "B" Coy. had been located held up in line with "A" Coy. F.D.Ls by fire from Kaireti Farmdirection; one platoon, however, that on the extreme right, was missing.  At this hour complete disaster nearly overtook the Battalion.  The Germans, as they had on the previous evening, again called up parachute reinforcements, and approximately a Battalion were dropped in front of, and to the left of "D" Coy.  Those that fell in the rear of the Company were actually between the Company and Bn. H.Q.  The position of "D" Coy. was now hopeless.  Heavily attacked on three sides by these new reinforcements and under heavy fire from the air, there was no way out, and it became a case of every man for himself.  There was nothing for it now but to sit tight and try and hold on where we were.  The intense air attacks over the whole battlefield made an attempt at movement impossible.
At 1000 hours the last Platoon of "B" Coy. arrived, having marched all the way from Ay Deka, and at the same time about 17 survivors from "D" Coy. found their way back, and these formed the only immediate available reserve in the hands of the C.O.  It was clear that the arrival of "C" Coy.  and the mortars might be long delayed by the intense air activity over all areas, including the road back to Ay Deka."
"At 1400 hours the I.O. of the York and Lancashire regiment arrived at Bn. H.Q. from Heraklion.  He had been sent by Brigade, who had heard the sounds of battle, but, owing to the wireless breakdown, were without information as to how we were faring.  He brought orders to the effect that we were to break off the battle forthwith and go to Heraklion by the cross country route he had used., guided by local Cretans whom he had brought."
The daylight withdrawal was not attempted for various practical reasons, and the C.O. opted for a 2100 withdrawal to Gournies.  Their withdrawal would be covered by "C" Coy. when they arrived from Ay Deka at 1800.  "The withdrawal went according to plan."  "It had been a bad day, but unreconnoitered attacks like this, unsupported by artillery or mortars against an enemy in well-defended localities, with absolute air-superiority and able to parachute reinforcements into the battle area at will, are definitely not on.  We were perhaps fortunate to extricate as many as we did, as there were certain periods during the day, before the arrival of "C" Coy. and Mortars, when a German counter-attack could scarcely have failed.  As it was, casualties in "A" and "B" Coys. were not heavy, but "D" Coy. was almost a write off."
The Battalion did not relish the night march to Heraklion, tired and weary as they were.  The guides anticipated a 7 hour trek, and it was decided they would leave at 2200 which they hoped would put them in Heraklion before dawn.  Unfortunately weariness and bad guiding meant that they did not arrive until the afternoon, having left one platoon, stretcher bearers and the M.O. at Gournies to collect the wounded and remove them to Ay Deka.