IT is now six years since I undertook to write this history and four years since I felt I had a sufficient command of the evidence to begin a first draft. Meanwhile new facts have kept on appearing and frequently the treatment of particular detail has had to be modified; less often, a more general conclusion has had to be reconsidered. The exigencies of a daily profession, moreover, made it impossible to bring to the task the continuity of reflection ideally desirable but so seldom the fortune of the historian in these nagging times. And this was a particularly unlucky circumstance, since the battle of Crete was, and I fear will remain, one of the most baffling and controversial of the late war.
Far more trying, however, was the fact that I, a very junior and ignorant subaltern in that battle, was forced by the nature of the historian’s role not merely to try and discover what happened and present it in a lucid and logical way, but also, by considering the decisions taken and the alternatives possible, to imply or express judgment on the actions of men immeasurably my betters in courage, military capacity and experience: among them men under whose command I had served and whose personal friendliness to me in times past reinforced the loyalty a junior officer owes to his commanders long after the temporary ties of discipline have been severed; among them also men of whom death during or since the war has deprived us and whose testimony, if we had it, might make plain a great deal that is obscure.
The only possible course seemed to be to treat loyalty to the truth of the facts so far as they could be ascertained as overriding. The historian’s is also a duty and men who died generously for theirs would be the last to reproach another for trying to do his. I hope therefore that this history will be read as one written in the earnest belief that nothing should be set down in malice; and I hope also that the reader will keep it in his mind, as I have tried to keep it in mine, that the commanders whose actions are being subjected to such close consideration took their decisions in grim conditions of urgency; that they were pitifully lacking in equipment which later in the war would have been considered essential; that much now clear was then hidden; that the time to ponder the facts which is the privilege of the historian and his readers was not theirs; and that consequences which seem to us
inevitable because we know they took place were, even for those who then predicted them correctly, uncertainties of an inscrutable future.
Many parts of this book have been written and rewritten with the most anxious consideration lest inaccuracy steal in or lest by faulty emphasis injustice should lay an ambush. Even so, wrong reasoning or hasty presumptions may still lurk beyond immediate detection.
That such blemishes are not as numerous as they might have been is largely due to the invaluable help of Mr. W. E. Murphy. In acting as the filter to me of information from New Zealand he very soon made himself an authority on the battle, saved me from countless errors of detail, and many times, by adducing considerations overlooked or insufficiently weighed, compelled me to modify a conclusion. In particular, the book owes to him the excellent appendices which appear under his name. Without the help of the General Editor and such an assistant, the difficulties of writing a history 12,000 miles away from one’s main sources might have proved insuperable.
My debt, indeed, to the whole of the War History Branch staff is too considerable to admit specification; but I cannot dismiss it without a grateful acknowledgment to Mr. M. B. McGlynn, who supplied two appendices, of which the one dealing with prisoners and escapers reveals so impressively the stubborn, loyal courage of many British, Australians, Greeks, Cretans and New Zealanders, and to Miss P. M. Lissington who prepared the very thorough index.
Help from persons outside the War History staff was freely given. To acknowledge it all would be impossible; but I cannot forgo the pleasure of recording the indispensable aid, often agreeably accompanied by generous hospitality, given by Lord Freyberg. Lieutenant-General Sir Edward Puttick, Major-General L. M. Inglis, Major-General Keith Stewart, Major-General W. G. Gentry and Brigadier R. C. Queree have taken great pains in considering the various drafts and have offered searching criticism of which I have done my best to take advantage. And I am much indebted to Brigadier L. W. Andrew, Brigadier G. Dittmer, and Colonel D. F. Leckie for the readiness with which they drew on their recollections. Other New Zealanders to whom I am obliged in various ways for help are Mr. Geoffrey Cox, who supplied the material for the appendix on Crete News; Mr. W. G. McClymont, who compiled the invaluable narrative of events which was the basis of my own book; Mr. Wynne Mason, formerly Staff Captain of 5 Brigade; and Mr. Angus Ross, the historian of 23 Battalion.
In England there have also been many who lent willing aid: in particular, Brigadier H. B. Latham of the Cabinet Office who put his records at my disposal and offered valuable criticisms in proof; Mr. Winston Churchill, who through the good offices of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Pownall allowed me to see proofs of Volume III of his the Second World War; Major-General ‘Bob’ Laycock who dispensed information and hospitality with equal liberality; Colonel E. E. Rich, on whose compilation for the War Office, the Campaign in Crete, I have leaned heavily in the earlier sections of this work; Lieutenant-Colonel G. A. D. Young, DSO, RE, Mr. Evelyn Waugh and Mr. Anthony Cheetham, all of whom provided information without which it would have been almost impossible to do justice to the role of the Commandos in the concluding stages of the battle; Mr. Jack Wills who, having been GSO 1 to Major-General Weston in the battle, was able to throw helpful light on some of the more obscure phases and gave useful details about the role of MNBDO; and the late Christopher Buckley to whom I owe help by correspondence and discussion.
Finally, I should like to express my gratitude to the New Zealand Government which, through the High Commissioner’s Office in London, has afforded me courteous assistance at all times and which, besides making the whole enterprise possible, arranged for my passage to New Zealand in 1948 and so gave me the opportunity of interviewing in person many of the chief actors in the drama.
The occupations given in the biographical footnotes are those on enlistment. The ranks are those held on discharge or at the date of death. In Crete some men temporarily held higher rank than that recorded by 2 NZEF Records.
This volume was produced and published by the War History Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs:
Editor-in-Chief: Sir Howard K. Kippenberger, KBE, CB, DSO, ED
Associate Editor: M. C. Fairbrother, DSO, OBE, ED
Sub-Editor: W. A. Glue
Illustrations Editor: J. D. Pascoe
Archives Officer: A. E. Monaghan
Draughtsman: L. D. McCormick
Major D. M. Davin, MBE, m.i.d., served as an infantry subaltern in 23 NZ Battalion in Greece and Crete, where he was wounded. After a long period as an Intelligence officer at GHQ Middle East and in Eighth Army, he served on the staff of Headquarters 2 NZ Division as GSO 3 (Intelligence) from January to July 1944. A Rhodes Scholar in 1935, he graduated MA with first-class honours from Otago University and took a first in Greats at Balliol College, Oxford. He is at present Assistant Secretary to the Delegates of English Literature of the Clarendon Press. He is the author of several novels and a book of short stories, and was co-author with the late John Mulgan of a short history of English Literature.