Tom Atherton
Home Up Maleme 20 May 21 - 25th May Stuka Ju87 Tom Atherton

 

 

The following is taken from one of the files at the Second World War Experience Centre near Leeds; it is from the oral record left by Tom Atherton who was with the Searchlight Regt.
They were sent to Heliopolis, then to a new unit, 27th Searchlight Regiment.  When sent to Crete, Suda Bay, it was already under attack from the Italian Air Force.  They moved from Suda to Hania and then to the Akrotiri peninsular; it was here that they came under attack by Stukas prior to the invasion.  For some ten days or so they saw 'sixties and seventies at a time'.

"We had no Air Force, no opposition, just a couple of batteries of anti-aircraft guns".

They received the code word 'Cromwell' which told them the invasion was imminent - with the Northumbrian Hussars who were 'supposed to be responsible for ground protection while we dealt with the air defence of the Suda Bay area and Hania'.  However, like many units on Crete they found that all communication was broken.  At one point 'my batman came running in to say a plane was landing in the back garden.  I told him not to be a B.F.'.  But a glider did come in.
Although Atherton could see parachutists 'in our area we were subject to gliders, not parachutists, gliders, and the gliders were hit by anti-aircraft fire.  One that came in my back garden, literally, was an ammunition glider which exploded'.  Atherton believed that German intelligence was good.  He and his men captured three Germans with a map.  His position was marked with a figure '5' - they said it was the objective number and so far they had reached '3' - it was time to move.

They held their area 'for about a week', they were not aware of plans to evacuate.

Atherton was critical of Freyberg giving up Maleme; 'God knows what he was thinking about'.
They needed to know what was going on; 'We sent somebody down to our headquarters in Canea only to find headquarters had gone, evacuated.  And we'd received no instructions, no messages'.  They retreated to Sternes on the Akrotiri 'which was the wrong thing to have done had we known the position'.  They did get some instructions 'I don't know they came from' there was no 'command structure'.  From there they moved south and Atherton said that 'I got right the way through to Sfakia'.  However, 'there was no food', 'water was very poor' and then 'that's where the surrender order came through'.
Atherton's comment was that 'It was a wicked waste of effort'.  They were captured and he was kept on Crete about 3 months 'then they flew us off by Junkers 52 with a tommy gun escort to Athens'.
His comment on his captors was probably similar to that of many; 'I've got no, no grumbles about the German front line troops, the mountain troops [regarding his treatment] but I have a high disregard for the second line troops in, in Athens who knocked hell out of us.  The brave second line support!'  Following this he moved to various camps ending up at Lubeck on the Baltic.