|"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
|"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
|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.
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
|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."
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.