The historian of a force which forms only a part of a larger Allied army is constantly faced by the question on what scale he should attempt to write of the operations of the other contingents in that army. His resources do not enable him to write comprehensively of the experiences of other forces and, in any event, it is not his task. On the other hand he has a responsibility for ensuring that the operations of his own force are seen in proportion, and not larger than life. In this volume this problem presented itself in an interesting variety of forms. In the first engagement which is described, an Australian general commands a force including British and Australian units and some New Zealanders. Afterwards, in Greece, the I Australian Corps, temporarily renamed the Anzac Corps, includes a New Zealand as well as an Australian division, and a British brigade. From time to time New Zealand units are included in Australian brigade groups and vice versa. In Crete an Australian battalion becomes part of a British brigade; in Syria one Australian battalion joins an Indian brigade and then a British one, another serves in a Free French force; a British battalion joins an Australian brigade group; Australian cavalry and artillery serve in a British division; an Australian corps commander controls British, Indian and Free French formations.
As a general rule I have attempted to narrate in some detail the experiences of individual Allied units which were incorporated within Australian brigades. On the other hand, the operations of Allied formations included in the Australian Corps – the New Zealand Division in Greece, for example, or the 6th British Division in Syria – are described in more general terms; the operations of Allied formations in an area remote from the Australian one – for example, the 21st Indian Brigade in Syria – are told in little more detail than usually appears in a Commander-in-Chief’s dispatch. Nevertheless the aim has been to enable the reader to see each phase of the operations in true perspective.
In these campaigns the cooperation of navy, army and air force was often of crucial importance. I have briefly recorded those naval and air operations which directly affected the troops on the ground, but the story of the naval and air forces in the Middle East in 1941 will be narrated in detail (from an Australian point of view) in the first volume of the naval series and the third volume of the air series of this history. The medical story is told in the first and second volumes of Dr Allan S. Walker’s history.
Books and periodicals quoted are mentioned in footnotes. It is significant of the eventfulness of this brief period that the books thus referred to number more than forty; they include memoirs by or biographies of a number of the senior leaders, political and military, including Mr Winston Churchill, Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham, Field Marshal Earl Wavell, Field Marshal Lord Wilson, Field Marshal Papagos, General
Catroux, and Marshal of the RAF Lord Tedder. Unfortunately no senior Australian soldier of this period has produced a memoir.
At the tactical level these chapters are based largely on formation reports and formation and unit war diaries with their appended documents and maps; but such records, particularly of operations in Greece and Crete, were sometimes so scanty that this volume depends more than any other in the series on interviews and correspondence with participants. Many of these took great trouble to establish the facts. It may reassure those who are inclined to mistrust such evidence to know that much of it has been perused and checked by other participants, and to reflect that those who provided these post-mortem accounts knew that what they were saying or writing would be open sooner or later to critical examination by others who also were on the spot. Also, as a general rule, the relevant parts of this volume were read in draft form and commented on by the commander or some other knowledgeable member or members of every formation or infantry unit concerned. It is inevitable, however, that some of the emphasis, some of the conclusions and some of the facts and figures will not be completely acceptable to all of these helpers. Among those who have given generous assistance either during the war or since, are:
Lieut-Generals F. H. Berryman, Lord Freyberg, Sir John Lavarack, Sir Iven Mackay, S. F. Rowell, Sir Stanley Savige; Major-Generals A. S. Allen, I. N. Dougherty, S. H. W. C. Porter, C. S. Steele, J. E. S. Stevens; Brigadiers A. W. Buttrose, I. R. Campbell, F. O. Chilton, W. E. Cremor, C. R. V. Edgar, D. Macarthur-Onslow, M. J. Moten, A. W. Potts, W. L. Rau, R. L. Sandover, J. R. Stevenson, H. W. Strutt; Lieut-Colonels A. P. Bennett, A. E. Caro, T. Cotton, A. G. Fenton, A. P. Fleming, R. R. Gordon, R. Honner, J. T. Lang, J. McCarty, R. H. Marson, A. C. Murchison, T. Mills, P. K. Parbury, W. T. Robertson, E. M. Robson, F. A. Stanton, P. D. Starr, F. H. Sublet, R. R. Vial; Majors J. R. Anderson, G. W. Austin, H. McP. Austin, S. B. Cann, H. S. Conkey, C. J. A. Coombes, E. A. Daly, H. M. Hamilton, J. S. Jones, R. R. Macartney, C. W. Macfarlane, G. O’Day, A. C. Robertson, W. B. Russell, C. A. W. Sims, D. E. Williams; Captains C. B. Britten, L. M. Long, D. H. Millar; Lieutenants J. Copeman, A. R. Cutler, VC, B. H. MacDougal, W. N. Macpherson, B. W. Moloney, R. Sheppard.
Other valuable sources were the several regimental histories which are acknowledged in the following pages. While this volume was being revised the trustees of the late Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey lent his wartime papers to me and my colleagues; these enabled me to strengthen the concluding chapters of this volume.
I am greatly indebted also to Major-General Sir Howard Kippenberger, Editor-in-Chief of the New Zealand Official War History, and his staff, particularly Messrs W. E. Murphy and I. McL. Wards. They provided much of the documentary material on which the first half of this volume is based, and read and re-read the typescript; correcting many defects and making many valuable suggestions. Brigadier H. B. Latham of the Historical Section of the United Kingdom Cabinet Office, and his colleagues, particularly Major-General I. S. O. Playfair, also gave invaluable support, pointing out errors of fact and emphasis, and making documents available which greatly helped me to write accounts of the higher planning, of the
operations of British formations, and of the enemy’s story. Much help was obtained from narratives of the campaigns in Greece and Crete written within the British Historical Section by Mr E. E. Rich.
My colleagues Mr G. Hermon Gill, who is writing the naval volumes of this history, Squadron Leader John Herington, who is writing the volumes dealing with the Australian part in air operations in Europe and the Middle East, and Mr Chester Wilmot, who is writing the volume which follows this one in the army series, contributed much valuable correction and criticism. I am indebted to my wife, to whom this volume was read in order that verbal infelicities and obscure terminology might be detected. My principal assistant was again Mr A. J. Sweeting, who assembled the material, did much checking, compiled the biographical footnotes and index and, with the help of my secretary, Miss Mary Gilchrist, prepared the manuscript for the printer. Mr. Hugh Groser drew all the maps.
Some of the description in this volume is based on personal observations. I was with the British force in Greece as a correspondent of Australian morning newspapers, and spent a few days in Crete. I was recalled to Australia, however, before the operations in Syria began.
1st March, 1953