|[Click link for larger image] Chronicle of the Battle of Crete|
|An example of some of the terrain in Crete and Greece|
The next day was a rest day and in the evening the men staged an impromptu concert. However at the end of the concert they were told to be ready to move on again in ten minutes. The men who needed boots and basic equipment would stay until equipment arrived. They then rejoined their comrades. Because of the imminent invasion of Crete by the Germans, the men were to be moved further along the coast to help defend the airports. The men of the 2/4th travelled in the two destroyers, Hotspur and Havock, along the coast to Heraklion. At Heraklion airfield they joined forces with a number of other units.
1 May was spent settling into the camp and digging weapon pits. This became easier when stores including picks, shovels and sandbags arrived. The ground was rocky making the digging deep pits difficult. This included the pit toilets which needed to be filled in and re-sited regularly. Local women and children visited the area selling fruit, eggs and other food as well as offering to do laundry.
On 4 May A and C companies were moved to new positions closer to the airfield. The airforce at Heraklion initially consisted of twelve Gloucester Gladiators. By the time the invasion commenced two weeks later all the planes had crashed on landing or had been shot down removing the possibility of aerial back-up when the airfield was under attack.
Apart from German daily reconnaissance the next three days were relatively uneventful as plans were made to counter an invasion. A practice counter-attack between A and C companies was staged on 8 May and the signal equipment was tested. As most of the equipment had been lost in the evacuation from Greece make-shift equipment such as wall phones, with crank handles and operated with wet cells, borrowed from businesses in the town were used. Knowing that the Germans may land at the nearby beaches as well as on the airfield, some members of C company joined forces with the Black Watch to guard the area east of the town.
|German bombing of Heraklion|
|Plane crashing at Heraklion|
|Invasion by parachute|
|More parachutes descending over 'The Charlies'|
On 29 May the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the area began and the soldiers moved back towards the beach. Most of the men from the 2/4th were taken aboard the destroyers, Hotspur, Jackal and Imperial but some were boarded onto Dido and Orion and a few on Hereward. Ken Moses was aboard the Dido. There were two other destroyers in the convoy, Decoy and the Kimberley. At 3 am the first ships sailed from Crete. Unfortunately the Germans located the ships. The Imperial was the first ship hit and the men were transferred to Hotspur. Hereward was the next ship bombed and those on board were told to abandon ship. The survivors were rescued by an Italian torpedo boat and were taken to a P. O. W. camp in Italy. The next casualty was the Orion which was hit three times. One hundred men died, including the captain and 200 were wounded. The ship managed to stay afloat and reached Alexandria. Decoy had also been hit. The Dido was then hit on a forward gun turret resulting in many deaths and casualties. This ship also managed to reach port. An article about the bombing of the Dido, written by Ken Moses, was initially published in the Sunday Telegraph. Part of the article read:
At 8 am we copped ours. A 500-pounder came straight through the forward gun turrets above us, killing the crew, shattering our deck and the deck below us.Back in Alexandria the sick were taken to hospital while the remainder were taken by train to the staging camp near Amariya, arriving in the early morning on 30 May. Comfort funds parcels were issued, the soldiers recieived their pay and they queued to send cables home to Australia. The next evening they were on the train back to Palestine.
The lights went out, water pipes burst and the confined space was filled with cordite fumes and the sweeter smell of burning flesh.
There was no panic. Those that were left filled the empty 5.2 shells with water from the broken pipes and began putting out the fire that started to lick the walls of the magazines. The deck below was written off and all in it. Within a few minutes of the hit the ship's inter-com came on: - "This is the Bridge. We have been hit. Precious lives have been lost - but remember this is war. We are still in convoy and we have not lost speed. Thank you for youe calmness. We will make it."
Those who could helped stretcher parties to the sick bay where blood and water swilled around the feet of the ship's medical officer and army doctor. The surgeons started amputating. The casualty list in a fraction of a second had been approximately 250.
Once again the book, White over Green, 1963, provided the basis for this post.
Other books on experiences of Australian troops on Crete during the Second World War include:
Australians in World War II: Greece and Crete published by Dept of Veteran Affairs 2011 This publication is also available online
Diggers and Greeks: the Australian campaigns in Greece and Crete by Maria Hill 2010
Crete: the battle of resistance by Antony Beevor 1991
Australia in the war of 1939-1945 - Greece, Crete and Syria (AWM)
Greece and Crete (DVA)