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

 

 

The Argylls join the evacuation from Crete.

Site Map

What went wrong?

Events on Crete were coming to a finale.  The Germans had consolidated their position at Maleme and driven back Allied forces from the west of the island.  General Freyberg had taken the decision to evacuate Crete.  At 0300 on the 28th C.O.s in 14 Brigade were summoned to Brigade H.Q.   When they assembled they were surprised to hear that they were to evacuate that night, "...this news came as a very great shock as none of us had anticipated any such move."
"We did not know at the time that Mid East had decided against further reinforcements, but we did know that Mid East resources would not permit any large scale reinforcements.  We were also unaware of the very critical situation that had developed in the West, a situation that would soon have made our position untenable and made evacuation inevitable.  Our immediate reaction to the news was concern over the fate of the half Battalion at Ay Deka, and very genuine sorrow at being compelled to desert our Cretan allies, who had served us so faithfully.  We were told not to make public the news of the withdrawal, except to certain key personnel, before 2000 hours, so that the day would appear as normal as possible.....The Battalion was timed to vacate its posts at midnight and proceed independently to the harbour area, where the R.N. would be waiting to take us off.  Embarkation was to be completed by 0300 hours 29th May.  Permission was given to thin out surplus personnel after dark."
The wounded in the hospital would, reluctantly, be left behind, P.O.Ws would be given food and locked in the local prison.  Plans were made for the evacuation routes, and the men were to take their rifles and some ammunition with them.  As the day wore on the German air activity increased until at 1800 it built up to the heaviest they had experienced and continued on until 1945 when it suddenly stopped.  The men were told of the evacuation and prepared to move off at midnight.
By 0100 on the 29th all were in the assembly area, and ready to move off to the docks.  They arrived at the dock gates at 0230 to be told that, with another half mile to go, the departure time had been brought forward by half an hour and they would need to double to make it.  "B" Coy. got aboard HMS Imperial with the remainder in HMS Kimberley.  "C" Coy. who had been with 2nd York & Lancs had left on HMS Orion before them.
Those of the Battalion at Ay Deka did not know what was going on, but heard on the BBC that the island had been evacuated, so some took to the hills to join up with the Cretan resistance.  The rest moved to Tymbaki from where a party of 50 managed to get away to Mersa Matruh by one of the MLCs that had been beached in the landings on the 18.19 May.  (Not sure if he was in this same group, but see the obituary of Maj. Macalister Hall from the battalion, who was captured and escaped from a POW camp in Greece.)
The sea convoy from Heraklion left a little before 0300 on the 29th May.  When it rounded the eastern end of the island it came under heavy aerial attack, they arrived in Alexandria at 2100 on the 29th.  WO 231/3 for 28th May; "Embarkation proceeded without a hitch and the withdrawal was in no way molested.  Convoy sailed at 03.00 hrs."

"29th May.  07.30 - 08.00 30 Stukas.  It is estimated that a total of 100 aircraft took part in these attacks, which were directed primarily on the cruisers and on one destroyer which was destroyed.  Casualties were heavy but the behaviour of everyone was magnificent.  21.00 arrived at ALEXANDRIA."

 

"About 625 all ranks embarked at Alexandria on the night of 17th - 18th May, and of those 298 disembarked on 29th May, and after a night in camp at Alexandria these were sent to Tahag camp in the canal area, where the remainder of the 16th Brigade had concentrated."

"The battle for Crete had been touch and go.  For some days the pendulum swung first one way then the other.  That it finally swung against us was due entirely to the total lack of any kind of air support."
"The heavy losses suffered by the Battalion may be attributed to poor or almost non-existent communications.  The wireless breakdown between Brigade and Battalion was responsible for the unco-ordinated attacks on 23rd and 24th May, and the lack of communications between the sectors left the Brigade Command without a clear picture of the battle as a whole, and without information of the Commander's decisions.  This lack of information was responsible for us holding on to Messara Plain and Tymbaki beach some days longer than was necessary.  If we had known, even as late as 26th May, that the plan to use Messara Plain as a landing ground had been abandoned, and that the arrival of further reinforcements was not contemplated we would have had an even money chance of bringing the Ay Deka detachment into Heraklion before the road was cut, or, again, if their location and strength had been known to Mid East their evacuation by sea or air would not have presented any insuperable difficulties."