Chapter 5: The Campaign in Greece
See Map 9
The British campaign on the mainland of Greece was from start to finish a withdrawal. There was seldom time for one move to be finished before the pressure of events imposed another, so the story is a complicated one. The purpose of the brief summary which follows is to help the reader to keep his bearings. He must not imagine that the phases were as clear-cut as they here seem.
The Germans invaded Yugoslavia and north-eastern Greece before General Wilson’s W Force had completed its deployment on the Aliakmon position. The southern Yugoslav Army was quickly defeated, and the way to Greece through Monastir lay open. General Wilson adjusted his dispositions to counter the immediate threat, but this weakened the main position still further without making the new left flank strong enough to resist for long. The only sound course was to fall back to a position which was less liable to be turned, and the choice fell on a line from Mount Olympus through the Servia Pass, while the passes at Siatista and Klisoura, connecting the Servia–Monastir road with the valley of the upper Aliakmon, were also to be defended. This was the first big withdrawal.
Any hopes of making a prolonged defence on this line were soon dispelled, for the Germans succeeded in crossing the mountains into the upper Aliakmon valley, endangering the Greek armies on the Albanian front and threatening again the left flank of W Force. Lacking the strength with which to restore the situation General Wilson had no choice but to fall back again—this time to Thermopylae, where the peninsula is only some thirty miles wide. This was the second big withdrawal—right across the plain of Thessaly. It meant giving up the principal airfields.
At Thermopylae there seemed to General Wilson to be some chance of making a useful stand no matter what befell the Greek forces. Nevertheless, the Germans might be expected eventually to cross either to the island of Euboea on the north or to Peloponnesus on the south, or even to work round by both these routes. Two divisions were not enough to deal for long with determined attacks on the peninsula in addition to defending the vital points behind.
Factors bigger than tactics, however, had begun to shape the campaign. The long fight against the Italians had exhausted the Greek
armies and drained the national resources. The political framework was beginning to crack. While W Force was still moving back to Thermopylae the Greek and British leaders met to discuss whether the British forces had not better leave Greece. The decision was taken. It remained to withdraw to the beaches, and to lift off as many men as possible.
That was the course of the campaign with the emphasis on the British share. Naturally there were many rearguard actions and there were several attacks by comparatively small German forces involving a brigade group or less. The main forces on both sides never came to grips.
From the point of view of the Allied Commander-in-Chief, General Papagos, the sector held by W Force was the eastern half of one whole front. It so happened that the German advance through Monastir struck at the junction of the two halves. A boundary between allies is for obvious reasons a sensitive spot; a defensive battle astride such a boundary requires very careful handling—as regards the use of reserves for example—while the conduct of a retreat is more difficult still. In Greece coordination of action was complicated by many factors, the principal ones being perhaps that W Force was caught with its deployment incomplete and the British and Greek forces that were hastily assembled to operate at the point of immediate danger—the Monastir Gap—were too weak and had little chance of concerting their action properly.
A long retreat is arduous and trying at best. In Greece events moved fast: positions which had cost much toil to reach and prepare had to be soon abandoned, only for the whole disheartening business to begin all over again. The need for speed and the great strain on the signal communications made it hard to explain the changing situation, the orders and the counter-orders, even to the commanders—let alone to the men. In such circumstances the soldier lives in a world which seems to hold nothing except unreason and purposeless effort. To make matters worse, in the air the enemy had very much his own way.
The troops were unprepared in many ways for the conditions. They had to carry, march, and climb far more than mechanized war in the desert had accustomed them to do. Hills and mountains pose their own problems, and the best troops need time to allow mind, eye, and muscles to discover the answers. In Greece there was no time. (The Germans, it may be noted, made great use of their specialized mountain divisions). Troops had to move far and often, sleep little, rest little, and endure cold. Many saw snow for the first time in their lives. Commanders and staffs had their share of these trials besides their special problems and anxieties. At the end of it all came the anti-climax of evacuation.
When all this has been said there remain two outstanding facts. The
Force withdrew and embarked successfully in the teeth of a greatly superior air force with far less loss than might have been expected. And among the confused impressions which the soldier brought away from Greece was a conviction that these formidable Germans, if faced on anything like equal terms, could be beaten.
On 24th March 1941 the German 12th Army had completed its struggle with the weather and the primitive communications in Bulgaria, and Field Marshal List reported that he would be ready to invade Greece on 1st April. His orders were to occupy the whole Greek mainland and the islands of Thasos, Samothrace and Lemnos. On the 27th Hitler received word of the Belgrade coup d’état and at once decided that Yugoslavia must be made incapable of interfering with his plans for Greece and, more important still, with his plans for Russia. The formal Army Order No. 4, dated 2nd April, begins with these words: ‘Developments in the political situation have led to the decision to smash Yugoslavia. The attack on Greece will be carried out simultaneously.’ Luftflotte 4, then in Vienna preparing for BARBAROSSA, was given control of the main air operations against Yugoslavia. The 2nd German Army was to enter the country from Austria and Hungary, while the 12th was to go ahead with the invasion of Greece and was, in addition, to attack Yugoslavia from the east. The Italians were expected to suit their movements to these plans, and it was thought that Turkey would not intervene. All was to be ready by 5th April.
This meant that the 12th Army had suddenly to move several divisions from east to west across Bulgaria, and open new supply routes. Bad weather and bad roads made the task most difficult. But in only seven days it was done, and by 5th April the 12th Army was ready. The air strength was distinctly formidable. Under Headquarters Luftflotte 4 were 576 aircraft rapidly withdrawn from Sicily, France and Germany; and 168 more were at call from Fliegerkorps X. In support of the 12th Army were 414 aircraft of Fliegerkorps VIII. Including the close reconnaissance units attached to army formations the total number of serviceable German aircraft ready for the operations against Yugoslavia and Greece was about 1,000.
Of the campaign against Yugoslavia all that need here be said is that in a few days she was cut off from Greece and faced certain defeat. Against Greece the German plan was for the 18th Corps (one armoured, one infantry, and two mountain divisions) to cross the Rupel Pass and advance rapidly on Salonika, Verria, and Edessa. From farther east the 30th Corps was to capture the northern Aegean ports. The 40th Corps (one armoured and one infantry division, and one SS division) was to enter Yugoslavia and make for Skopje and there move to the Albanian frontier and gain touch with the Italians;
it might also be wanted to move into Greece.1 The operations began on 6th April. By the evening of the 7th the advanced troops of the 9th Panzer Division, 40th Corps, were at Skopje and next day the 73rd Division reached Prilep. Armoured units of the 18th Corps entered Salonika on 9th April, in spite of gallant resistance by the three divisions under General Bacopoulos. Hostilities on the Eastern Macedonian front ended next day.
On the night 6th/7th April the air forces of both sides began to strike at communications. The Luftwaffe attacked the port of Piraeus with bombs and magnetic mines causing only minor damage until the SS Clan Fraser caught fire and blew up. She was carrying 250 tons of high explosive, which could not be reached until part of the rest of her mixed cargo was offloaded. This was in progress at the main quay, where it could best be done, when she was hit: a number of other ships, many lighters, and much dockyard equipment were destroyed, and the principal port in Greece was almost completely out of action.2 The same night six Wellingtons of No. 37 Squadron RAF wrecked an ammunition train and railway installations at Sofia, while Blenheims of No. 84 Squadron did much damage to a railway station fifty miles farther south.
By 8th April it was apparent to General Wilson that there was going to be a threat by the German 40th Corps from the direction of Monastir, and after discussion with General Blamey he decided to adjust the left of W Force’s line. He ordered General Mackay to take over the small Amyntaion detachment and strengthen it with whatever troops of his 6th Australian Division should arrive in time. Mackay Force was to be directly under General Wilson, and would defend the Veve Pass, whence the new line of the Greek 20th Division would run across Lake Vegorritis to the hills above Edessa. Edessa itself would be given up. From Verria to the coast there would be part of 12th Greek Division, 16th Australian Brigade, and the New Zealand Division—all under command of General Blamey. General Papagos agreed with this plan and had begun to move a Greek Cavalry Division to Florina in order to gain touch with the left of W Force and to hold an important pass and tracks leading to Kastoria and the upper Aliakmon valley. He also agreed with General Wilson’s proposal that W Force should prepare to fall back to the line Olympus–Servia. From here the front would run along the mountains west of the Servia–Veve road towards Lake Prespa, and the Siatista and Klisoura passes would have to be defended. General Wilson was so sure that this withdrawal would be necessary that he instructed General Blamey to take preliminary
action; in particular he was to ensure the defence of the Olympus Pass and form a reserve near Servia.
The following moves accordingly took place. One Australian infantry brigade (the 19th, of two battalions—the third was not yet in Greece), one field artillery regiment and one anti-tank regiment were hurried north to Veve. The 1st Armoured Brigade was brought in from Edessa to Amyntaion. General Mackay placed his headquarters at Perdika, near that of General Karassos, who had superseded General Kotulas. Part of the 10th Greek Division began to take position on the right flank of Mackay Force, west of Lake Vegorritis. In General Blamey’s sector the 4th New Zealand Brigade moved back from Katerini to Servia and 6th New Zealand Brigade got ready to move south of the 5th, which was on the Olympus Pass. (General Freyberg would have liked to make these moves much sooner.) In the plain in front of the Aliakmon position the demolitions were blown. By the morning of 10th April W Force was in a fair way towards reaching its new positions. On that day the leading troops of the SS Adolf Hitler Division came under shell-fire from Mackay Force in front of Veve, and the same evening there were encounters between patrols.
Until only the day before, 9th April, the Greeks had been attacking the Italians on part of the Albanian front. General Papagos now broke off this battle, being fully aware of the increasing threat to his troops, especially in the Pogradetz area, from the German advance. He intended to draw the Greek armies back to a line running from the west coast near Santa Quaranta across the Pindus range to the big bend in the Aliakmon river south-west of Servia. He would thus have advantageously extended the Olympus-Servia position westwards but did not give the orders till 12th April, which was too late. General Papagos had in fact done all he could; he seems to have sensed that a voluntary retreat from in front of the Italians would have a bad effect on Greek morale, and subsequent events proved him right. His reluctance is understandable, but it will be seen that the Greek right wing, or Western Macedonian Army, eventually had its line of retreat cut and had to take to the mountains.
On 10th April General Papagos ordered the withdrawal of W Force to the intermediate line Olympus–Servia–Lake Prespa to be completed by the 14th. General Wilson had decided to place his Greek troops of the 12th and 20th Divisions on the left flank once more, where the mountainous country would suit them and where they would be in touch with their comrades on the right of the Albanian front. This meant posting them on the passes at Siatista and Klisoura. Nevertheless, the movement of these divisions, and of the 20th in particular, caused General Wilson much concern. In his opinion the Greeks lacked the cohesion and training to cope rapidly with the difficulties; they had little transport and the state of the mountain tracks was bad. He
decided to begin the move of the Greek troops that night—10th April—with as much British help as possible, hoping to finish it in three nights. Mackay Force would have to hold the Germans at Veve until the night 12th/13th. The subsequent moves of Mackay Force would be: 19th Australian Brigade to the bend in the Aliakmon, 1st Armoured Brigade to Grevena, and the rest of the Force to Servia.
In the area of the Veve Pass General Mackay had under his command the 19th Australian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier G. A. Vasey) and the 1st Armoured Brigade Group (Brigadier H. V. S. Charrington).3
The motor battalion of the Armoured Brigade, 1st Rangers, was placed temporarily under Brigadier Vasey’s command, and he had then three battalions on a front of about ten miles.4 On the right was the Greek Dodecanese Regiment. In support Brigadier Charrington had the 4th Hussars (light tanks) and the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment (cruisers). The Australians were to withdraw after dark on the 12th covered by the Rangers who would then revert to Brigadier Charrington’s command. The 1st Armoured Brigade would act as rearguard along the road to Kozani, and two delaying positions were chosen at Soter and Ptolemais.
By 11th April the Germans had still not got their supporting arms forward, and were content with probing along the front. But early on the 12th they attacked the junction of the Rangers and the 2/8th Battalion. The day’s fighting was confused, and the Rangers were unable to hold their ground or to cover the withdrawal of the Australian battalions. In consequence, these had great difficulty in extricating themselves, but the enemy did not follow up during the night and was successfully delayed next day at the rearguard positions as intended. The action at Ptolemais was particularly brisk and the Germans were roughly handled. In addition the SS Adolf Hitler Division and the 9th Panzer Division ran short of petrol and ammunition, and could not follow up until the next day. Its task over, the 1st Armoured Brigade concentrated near Grevena, where it would oppose any threat from the direction of Kastoria.
On the front of the New Zealand Division there had been only artillery fire. After the 6th New Zealand Brigade had withdrawn from Katerini, there remained ahead of Mount Olympus the armoured cars and Bren carriers of the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry Regiment. The 16th Australian Brigade, in moving from Verria to near Servia,
was purposely not transported by the main road through Kozani, as this would have become unsafe if the enemy broke through at Veve, but was sent across country by a gruelling march and climb of fifty miles and more. By 14th April the greater part of General Blamey’s Anzac Corps was deployed on the new position and the 17th Australian Infantry Brigade was beginning to arrive at Larissa from Piraeus. The old title Anzac, made famous at Gallipoli twenty-six years earlier, was revived by agreement between Generals Blamey and Freyberg to mark the union of the Australian and New Zealand Divisions.
The Anzac Corps was not to stay long on the Olympus–Servia–Grevena line. There was an obvious danger that the Germans would drive a wedge between W Force and the Greek Army of Western Macedonia. General Wilson received disturbing reports of dissent and defeatism in the Greek Army, and nearer at hand it was evident that the 12th and 20th Greek Divisions had barely survived the difficulties of their cross-country move. General Wilson could not avoid the conclusion that the Greeks had little capacity left for opposing the Germans, and as early as 13th April he had discussed with General Blamey the advisability of falling back to Thermopylae. Next day he decided to start the preliminary moves on 15th April, and to make the Anzac Corps responsible for conducting the withdrawal.
It was not until 16th April that General Papagos and General Wilson were next able to meet. General Papagos then approved the retirement to Thermopylae and explained the plight of the Greek Army. He suggested that the British should consider withdrawing their forces from Greece altogether, in order to save the country from devastation. General Wilson immediately reported the discussion to General Wavell, to whom the news came as no surprise. For when the Germans entered Belgrade on 13th April it was realized in Cairo that the Balkan situation was extremely grave; indeed, an examination of the problem of embarking the British forces had already been begun. On hearing of General Papagos’s suggestion General Wavell asked for instructions from London. He explained that he had instructed General Wilson to go on fighting in cooperation with the Greeks as long as they resisted, but had authorized him to fall back as necessary. General Wavell added that an outline plan for evacuation based on holding the Thermopylae position had been prepared, and that he had stopped the movement of supplies to Greece. The Prime Minister replied on 17th April that if the Greek Government endorsed General Papagos’s suggestion the evacuation should proceed, without however prejudicing a withdrawal to Thermopylae in cooperation with the Greek Army. Crete was to be held in force.
Meanwhile at the front the enemy had been moving forward to regain contact. The leading troops of the 40th Corps, after their rebuff at Ptolemais, felt their way through Kozani and a few crossed the
Aliakmon during the night 14th/15th opposite Servia. At dawn about two companies tried to rush the 19th New Zealand Battalion in a strong position covering the main road, but failed completely, losing heavily in killed and wounded and about 180 prisoners. Further attempts during the day, preceded by vicious air attacks and supported by artillery, also failed.
On the front Katerini–Verria the advance of the 18th Corps was being led by the 2nd Panzer Division along the coast and the 6th Mountain Division inland, and it will be seen that these two very different formations worked together extremely well. On the evening of 14th April the New Zealand Cavalry withdrew through the Olympus Pass, where two hours later the leading Germans collided with the 22nd New Zealand Battalion and were driven off. Next day several attacks were made against all three battalions of the 5th New Zealand Infantry Brigade and were all repulsed.5 Nearer the coast the enemy was observed to be in considerable strength, with a number of tanks, and he began to work round the left flank of the 21st New Zealand Battalion which was guarding the narrow corridor carrying the road and railway between the foot-hills of Mount Olympus and the sea.
The arrival of the 17th Australian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier S. G. Savige) allowed a force—Savige Force—to be posted at Kalabaka to guard the roads running from Epirus over the Pindus mountains to the plain of Thessaly and to provide some depth on the approach from Grevena.6 The 1st Armoured Brigade was still out in front, near Grevena, and was withdrawn with great difficulty to a better tactical position behind the Venetikos, a tributary of the Aliakmon. The state of this brigade was now alarming. Its cruiser tanks had been reduced to six, and all the transport had suffered severely from air attacks. In fact, except for its artillery, the brigade had practically no hitting power.
To reach the Thermopylae position most of General Blamey’s units had to cover well over a hundred miles. They had to be extricated from their widely scattered positions—it is sixty miles as the crow flies from Kalabaka to the sea—matched with their transport, and brought right across the plain of Thessaly. The lie of the roads was unfortunate, for those on both sides of Mount Olympus and from Servia all ran through Larissa, as also did the lateral road from Kalabaka, while Lamia was a focus of the roads leading from the plain of Thessaly to Thermopylae. By sheer weight of numbers the enemy had rapidly
gained a large measure of air superiority, and little could be done to protect these roads from constant air attack. The danger to traffic by day, especially at Larissa and Lamia, was very great.
Some of the most awkward problems were, as usual, administrative. Extra transport had to be provided to give the fighting units the mobility to enable them to break right away; as much as possible of the stores had to be moved from the advanced base at Larissa; the subbase at Volos had to be cleared, together with many sick and wounded, and the heavy stores and equipment that could not be moved had to be destroyed. Apart from all this was the need to create Field Supply Depots to serve the new dispositions. Worsening communications of all kinds made these problems more difficult.
General Blamey’s plan was first to occupy three rearguard positions: one to the north of Larissa near Elasson, one on the Kalabaka road at Zarkos, facing west, and one at Domokos where the main road from Larissa climbs out of the plain. The first was to be manned by the 6th New Zealand Brigade (Brigadier H. E. Barrowclough) at present in reserve south of the Olympus Pass; the second by the 16th Australian Brigade (Brigadier A. S. Allen) from Servia; and the third by a mixed force under Brigadier E. A. Lee. Through them the remaining forces would withdraw. A New Zealand detachment, east of Mount Olympus, already covered the coastal route to Larissa from the northeast. The vital road centre of Larissa would therefore be guarded on the north and on both flanks.
The timing was to be as follows. On 16th April General Freyberg would take command in the Larissa area. On the night 17th/18th the 5th and 4th New Zealand Brigades and Savige Force would disengage from contact with the enemy at the Olympus Pass, at Servia, and at Kalabaka and withdraw through Larissa to Lamia. When clear of Larissa the New Zealanders would take the road through Volos and the remainder the main road to Lamia. The following night (18th/19th) the rearguards at Zarkos and Elasson would withdraw, covered by 1st Armoured Brigade.
Three important alterations had soon to be made to this plan. In the first place the chief danger developed on the eastern flank and not on the western as had been expected, which entailed a sudden change in the role of 16th Australian Infantry Brigade. Secondly, the 1st Armoured Brigade had had a nightmare of a march from the Venetikos to Kalabaka in the rain along what was at best a mountainous mud track, which had been heavily bombed and was littered with derelict transport. After this the Brigade was mechanically incapable of carrying out its covering role. Thirdly, by 17th April the bad road through Volos became impassable, and traffic from Larissa had to be routed along the main road. The unfavourable air situation made the prospect of dense traffic most alarming.
Rain and low cloud had greatly limited the air operations on both sides during the first week of the campaign. The small British bomber force had been directed against targets in the Struma valley and at Strumitsa, and then against defiles and concentrations of transport on the roads of Yugoslavia leading towards the Monastir Gap. When contact at Veve was imminent, and during the retreat from there, all the available air effort was applied to slowing down the German pursuit, a task which became increasingly hazardous. On one mission all six Blenheims of No. 211 Squadron were shot down with the loss of the Squadron Commander and the Commander of the Western Wing.
The Axis air forces had at first devoted most of their attention to targets in Yugoslavia and Eastern Macedonia, but as the Germans overcame the difficulties of moving forward their squadrons they began increasingly to attack the British positions and rearward areas. Apart from direct damage the interference with the civil organizations—railways, telegraph, police—created many problems for the British. The Royal Air Force did its utmost to reduce the pressure. Pilots were constantly facing almost fantastic odds, and inevitably they suffered. A grievous loss occurred on 15th April when German fighters, now working from near Monastir and Prilep, attacked Niamata airfield (a satellite of Larissa) and destroyed all the aircraft present, ten Blenheims, on the ground.
It was unfortunate for the British that the weather improved just as they began to withdraw across the plain of Thessaly. When it became necessary to give up the airfields in the plain the Royal Air Force was forced to work from the two near Athens, because there was none in between. The only fighter protection that could then be given was two short sorties a day near Lamia. It is remarkable that the stream of traffic between Larissa and Lamia, which offered a wonderful target in the fine clear weather, did not suffer more loss. Dive-bombers cratered the roads and held up the traffic, but most of the casualties were caused by machine-gun and cannon fire from low-flying fighters. Few realized at the time, however, how small the casualties were; what was much more obvious was that the day seemed to consist of one long air attack.
The threat to Larissa from the coastal flank began with an attack by German infantry and tanks on the 21st New Zealand Battalion’s positions near the railway tunnel at Platamon.7 By early morning on the 16th the attack had made some progress, and the battalion fell back to the narrow gorge of the River Pinios—the ancient Vale of Tempe. The Germans followed up energetically and even managed to get a number of tanks along the Pinios Gorge. General Blamey ordered Brigadier Allen and part of his 16th Australian Infantry Brigade, who
were extricating themselves from the mountains before going to Zarkos, to move across and secure the western end of the gorge. The leading units arrived by dusk, very tired. The Germans, however, had begun to advance right over the southern peak of Olympus and by mid-day on the 17th the advanced guard of 6th Mountain Division had entered Gonnos. More troops followed during the night 17th/18th April and, together with the tanks of 2nd Panzer Division that had come along the Pinios gorge, they cut off the 21st New Zealand Battalion and part of the 2/2nd Australian Battalion, who were forced to take to the Ossa hills. A few hundred men at length rejoined, but these two battalions could only perform minor tasks for the rest of the campaign. The troubles of Allen Force were not yet over, for some enemy managed to reach the road to Larissa behind part of the Force, which therefore tried to move across country southwards. Fortunately the enemy was unable to exploit his advantage, and was held off long enough for the main withdrawal to proceed without further interference from this flank.
The 5th New Zealand Brigade (Brigadier J. Hargest), below and north-east of the top of the Olympus Pass, repulsed several attacks by infantry and tanks on 16th April. At dusk it withdrew to positions at the top of the pass. On 17th April the brigade disengaged successfully—although one battalion had some difficulty in shaking off the persistent German mountain troops—reached its transport, and joined the stream of traffic through Larissa. At Servia the 4th New Zealand Brigade (Brigadier E. Puttick) was shelled and bombed during these two days but also disengaged successfully. On 17th April the 1st Armoured Brigade, which had begun to withdraw from the Venetikos river on the previous day, passed through Savige Force on its long trek to Thermopylae. Savige Force followed that night.
Just before mid-day on the 18th enemy tanks appeared in front of the 6th New Zealand Brigade, which formed the rearguard at Elasson. 2/3rd Australian Field Regiment, one troop 64th Medium Regiment RA and 27th New Zealand Field Battery engaged them during the rest of the day. Towards evening the rearguard was heavily shelled but after dark it succeeded in breaking away. Much use was made by all these brigades of the opportunities for demolition in the hilly and rocky areas, and this so hindered the enemy that he was able to trouble W Force seriously only from the air. By the evening of the 19th the greater part of the Force had reached its positions in the Thermopylae line, with Lee Force as rearguard at Domokos.
By now the Yugoslav army had surrendered, W Force and the Greek armies had become separated, and the Greek Government and nation were heading for a crisis. On 18th April the President of the Council,
M. Koryzis, committed suicide. The political situation was becoming chaotic: some ministers declared further resistance to be impossible, others thought that the Government should leave Athens for Crete. General Wilson, summoned to confer with the King, suggested, with the support of General Papagos, that the King and Government should remain in Athens as long as possible to stiffen public opinion and keep up resistance. To this the King agreed.
On 19th April General Wavell flew to Athens and met General Wilson, his two senior staff officers, Brigadiers Galloway and Brunskill, Rear-Admiral Baillie-Grohman, and Air Vice-Marshal D’Albiac, to consider the future action of the British forces. So far neither the King nor the Government had endorsed the suggestion made by General Papagos to General Wilson on 16th April that the British should withdraw altogether in order to save Greece from devastation. For the moment, therefore, no decision could be taken, but the pros and cons had to be examined. In favour of continuing the fight was the prospect that a successful defence would contain strong enemy forces, cause them heavy losses, and restore prestige. During an evacuation, on the other hand, we might have heavy losses ourselves and their price would not be wrung from the enemy in battle. Much valuable equipment would be lost, because the only port that could handle heavy gear—Piraeus—was unlikely to be usable. The two strongest arguments against continuing the struggle were, first, that the enemy’s air forces were greatly superior, and the British had no prospect of restoring the balance; even if the reinforcements could be found there were few airfields for them to use. Secondly, the British would have to feed the population behind the front in addition to maintaining their own forces. There seemed no prospect of being able to do this. Most reluctantly General Wavell concluded that the sound course was to withdraw, but without hearing the views of the Greek Government he could not adopt it nor even advocate it.
The same afternoon the British commanders and Sir Michael Palairet met the King and General Papagos. The latter gave a gloomy account of the Greek army in Epirus and repeated his proposal that the British should leave Greece. General Wavell said that the British forces hoped to establish themselves firmly on the Thermopylae line and he was prepared to hold on if the Greek Army continued to fight and if the Greek Government wished him to do so. Air Vice-Marshal D’Albiac emphasized the difficulty of countering the heavy air attacks that must be expected. Sir Michael Palairet then asked whether the Greek Government endorsed General Papagos’s proposal. The reply was that no decision could be given until a new government was formed; moreover, the King wished to enquire further into the state of morale of the Army of Epirus.
General Wavell had of course communicated his own conclusions to
London. On 20th April Sir Michael Palairet reported to the Foreign Office that after careful consideration he himself thought it unfair to place on the Greek Government the onus of making the decision on the grounds that the continuance of resistance would involve the devastation of the country. Was not the real question whether our common cause stood to benefit by the prolonged defence of Thermopylae or not? The reply was that while the War Cabinet was considering the problem nothing must be done to preclude a firm decision to stand at Thermopylae if the commanders in Greece thought it practicable to do so.
Early on 21st April, before his next meeting with the Greek leaders, General Wavell visited General Blamey, learned his situation and told him how things stood. General Blamey’s view was that he could not hold the Thermopylae position indefinitely, or indeed for very long: the only course was to decide on embarkation. General Wavell and his colleagues then went on to meet the King and the new President of the Council, M. Tsouderos. General Wavell asked what was the state of the Greek Army and whether it could immediately and effectively help on the left (or southern) flank of the Thermopylae position. Without this help, he said, the British could not hold out indefinitely or possibly for very long. The King replied that the General he had sent to report at first hand on the state of the Army of Epirus had not yet returned. Nevertheless, he could say that it was impossible for any organized Greek force to be ready to support the British left flank before the enemy could attack. General Wavell then said that, this being so, his duty was to prepare immediately to embark such part of his force as he could. The King agreed and spoke with deep regret of having been the means of placing the British forces in such a position. He promised full support in every way. His Majesty’s open and generous attitude made a deep impression on the British officers present.
Shortly afterwards, the King informed Sir Michael Palairet that the news from Epirus was bad. General Tsolacoglou, commanding the 3rd Corps, and certain other senior officers had deposed their own Army Commander and had begun to negotiate with the Germans for an armistice. This report was the hard truth, and on the evening of 21st April General Tsolacoglou’s surrender was accepted by the Chief of Staff of the 12th German Army.
In the wake of this disaster the Greek Government maintained its dignified attitude. M. Tsouderos wrote to Sir. Michael Palairet expressing his Government’s thanks to the British Government and to the Imperial Forces for the help that they had given to Greece. He pointed out that after six months of victorious struggle against great odds the Greek army was exhausted. It could neither fight with any hope of success nor could it help its Allies. The Greek Government was obliged to state that further sacrifice of the British Expeditionary Force would
be in vain, and that its withdrawal in time seemed to be rendered necessary by circumstances and by interests common to the struggle.
See Map 10
The withdrawal from Greece faced Admiral Cunningham with a hazardous and intricate operation at a time when his forces were already severely taxed. For seven weeks there had been added to the Navy’s activities the transporting of LUSTRE Force and its supplies to Greece. Now, on 21st April, the Mediterranean Fleet was returning from bombarding Tripoli, and was not due back at Alexandria for two days. A mass of detailed arrangements had to be made—and made quickly—although there was as yet no firm date to work to. In Egypt all possible preliminary steps were taken, including the collection of small craft from as far off as Tobruk and the Suez Canal. In Crete the ship’s company of HMS York, reinforced from Alexandria, was organized into beach parties. Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippell was appointed to command afloat, and Rear-Admiral Baillie-Grohman was placed in charge of the naval shore arrangements. The latter had already arrived, together with the Middle East Joint Planning Staff, who had made an outline plan.
Air Vice-Marshal D’Albiac now abolished his two Wings and took command of air operations from Athens. He decided that his remaining bombers should do their best to delay the enemy’s advance, but that if they were to survive they must operate by night. On 20th April a large force of bombers and fighters attacked the Athens airfields. Greatly outnumbered, the fifteen remaining Hurricanes went up to intercept. Five were shot down and most of the others damaged, as against the Germans’ recorded loss of eight destroyed and two damaged. After this gallant fight very few Hurricanes were fit to fly, and the German air force was able to do very much as it liked. For some reason, however, it did not operate at night, and so gave a welcome opportunity for drivers of vehicles to use their side-lights, and thus to save much time and avoid innumerable accidents on the badly cratered roads strewn with derelict vehicles and dead animals. But the daytime attacks were bad enough; the forward areas were constantly patrolled and dive-bombed, while on the 21st and 22nd twenty-three Greek ships, including a destroyer and a hospital ship, were sunk in coastal waters. Unfortunately there was no reason to expect this situation to improve.
The Commanders-in-Chief’s policy for the embarkation was that as many men as possible were to be got away, carrying their small arms and light and specially valuable equipment such as gun-sights and optical instruments. Supplies and stores of value to the Greek people would be given to them; everything else would be destroyed or made useless. Embarkation was to take place at widely scattered beaches.
Ships laden with troops would go to Alexandria, except the Glen ships and the destroyers, which would ply between Greece and Crete. It was clearly desirable to cover the whole operation against interference by Italian surface forces. The battleships, if used for this purpose, would have required destroyers as escorts and these would not then have been available for the evacuation. Admiral Cunningham therefore decided to leave the battleships at Alexandria.
The ships under Admiral Pridham-Wippell’s command were the cruisers Orion, Ajax, Phoebe and Perth ; the anti-aircraft cruisers Calcutta, Coventry and Carlisle ; about twenty destroyers and three sloops; the infantry assault ships Glenearn and Glengyle, which were equipped with powered landing craft; nineteen medium-sized troopships; four ‘A’ lighters—an early type of tank landing craft—and some miscellaneous craft. In addition, a number of caiques and motor-boats had been collected in Greece. A general survey of the beaches in Greece had been made in connexion with the arrival of LUSTRE Force; a more detailed reconnaissance was now undertaken. If the beaches were widely spread the dangers of air attack would be reduced, but there were many other factors to consider, such as the need to have deep enough water for ships to stand close in and for small craft to touch without grounding. (The absence of any tide was an advantage.) On shore, ease of movement was wanted to and from the concealed dispersal areas. Beaches were chosen at Raphina and Porto Raphti on the south-east coast of Attica, at Megara between Athens and Corinth, and at the head of the Gulf of Nauplia in Peloponnesus.
The general method of withdrawal, behind a covering force, was to be this. On a given night a formation would make a single move in vehicles to its dispersal area. There it would hide all next day, and at dusk the units would silently destroy whatever equipment was to be abandoned, and would be called down to the beach by the embarkation staff. Ships were to arrive one hour after dark and leave not later than 3 a.m., so as to reduce the chance of being observed and attacked from the air. That was the plan and it is right that a plan should be simple. Many things occurred to make it less simple in practice.
The Royal Air Force had to some extent a plan of its own. This was to fly out as many airmen as possible, giving first place to aircrews and the more highly skilled technicians. Some had already been ferried by the Blenheim squadrons to Crete, and others were now to be taken by Bombays and Lodestars of Nos. 216 and 267 Squadrons and by the flying-boats of 228 and 230 Squadrons. The Wellington detachments of Nos. 37 and 38 Squadrons had already left. Any airmen who could not be flown out were to embark with the soldiers. This plan depended largely upon how long the airfields near Athens could be used.
The date provisionally fixed for the embarkation to begin was 28th April, two days after new moon, and it was to be finished in three
nights. Since 19th April the Anzac Corps had been deployed on the Thermopylae line. Late on the 21st Generals Wilson and Blamey and Admiral Baillie-Grohman met on the roadside near Thebes. News of the Greek collapse in Epirus decided them to begin the embarkation on the night of the 24th/25th—the earliest date by which the first ships could be in position. It was agreed also that the transports and the cruisers, after embarking a load of troops, should proceed only as far as Crete, as this would effect a saving in escorts and shorten the turn round. These decisions gave rise to the following detailed plan.
The 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade was to move back on the night 22nd/23rd to Erithrai, about twenty miles out of Athens on the main road, to become the main covering force for the embarkation. The crossing from Euboea would be guarded by part of the 1st Armoured Brigade. Troops were already watching the approaches along the shores of the Gulf of Corinth, and a small New Zealand detachment was now formed to prepare the bridge at Corinth for demolition and to guard the road to Megara. On the night 23rd/24th the 16th and 17th Australian Brigades, counting as one because of their reduced numbers, would move to Megara, and the 5th New Zealand Brigade to Marathon, to embark the next night. On the 24th/25th the 19th Australian Brigade would move to Megara and the 6th New Zealand Brigade to Marathon, to embark on the 25th/26th. The covering forces would move so as to embark on the 26th/27th. These brigades were really brigade groups, containing many units in addition to the infantry battalions. There were also many other units and individuals to be fitted into the programme: for example, the headquarter and base units, men of the Royal Air Force,. hospitals and their patients, British civilians, the Greek Royal Family, members of the Government, numerous Yugoslav refugees, and so on. The general policy was to move units from the base area to Peloponnesus to clear the way for the fighting troops. A start in withdrawing royal and diplomatic personages was made on 23rd April when the Royal Air Force flew the King of the Hellenes, the Prime Minister and the British Minister to Crete.
Enemy air action soon caused a major change in the plan. On 22nd April Air Vice-Marshal D’Albiac sent his few outclassed Gladiators to Crete. Constant low-flying attacks were making the Athens airfields untenable, so he sent his Hurricanes to Argos in Peloponnesus where, the very next day, a furious attack destroyed the four anti-aircraft guns and fourteen Hurricanes. To save the six remaining Hurricanes from certain and useless destruction on the ground the Air Vice-Marshal sent them also to Crete. There was now no fighter protection at all except by patrols over the beaches and ships by a few Blenheim fighters based on Crete. General Wilson and Admiral Baillie-Grohman therefore decided to embark some troops at the more distant beaches
in Peloponnesus, especially Monemvasia and Kalamata, from which the sea voyage to Crete was much shorter. By land, Kalamata was 70 miles farther off, and Monemvasia 100 miles, than the present southernmost beach at Nauplia, and the roads to them were hilly and winding. As a first step in this shift to the southward the 16th and 17th Australian Brigades were diverted from Megara to Argos, to move on the 24th/25th instead of embarking that night at Megara.
The defence of the Thermopylae line had entailed the blocking of three main routes: one between the sea and the northern slopes of the backbone of hills; one through the Brallos Pass—the main road to Athens; and one to the south of Mount Parnassus through Delphi. The New Zealand Division held the first and the 6th Australian Division the second. The third was not immediately accessible to the Germans, but after the Greek collapse in Epirus it also had to be defended. Throughout 22nd and 23rd April there was intermittent artillery fire and some dive-bombing. On the 24th there was an artillery duel lasting until the middle of the afternoon and culminating in an attack on the 6th New Zealand Brigade at Molos by infantry and tanks of the 6th Mountain and 5th Panzer Divisions.8 The weight fell on 25th New Zealand Battalion, which stood firm, dealt with the German infantry, and enabled the artillery to destroy about fourteen tanks. At 9 p.m. the action was over and 6th New Zealand Brigade was able to start its withdrawal as intended. At the Brallos Pass the 9th Australian Brigade was also able to disengage. Later in the night the German 72nd Division made a night attack at Molos, which hit the air.
The progress of the embarkation can be seen from the table on page 105. It had a good start on 24th April marred by two mishaps. At Nauplia the Ulster Prince grounded across the fairway and prevented the destroyers from coming alongside the wharves. At Piraeus the yacht Hellas was bombed and sunk, and most of the civilians and wounded soldiers on board lost their lives. The Athens airfields were by this time closed, but the flying-boats were able to fly to Crete from Eleusis Bay, Nauplia, Gythion and Kalamata, taking loads of sixty passengers and more at a time. About 500 airmen left in this way and nearly 2,000 by sea. Air Vice-Marshal D’Albiac closed his Headquarters in Athens on the 24th and flew to Crete where he attempted to cover the evacuation with the few aircraft available.
General Wilson’s plan provided for the comparatively early departure of the headquarters of the Anzac Corps and of both Divisions, and for himself to remain with part of his own headquarters to make such
decisions as might be necessary in consultation with Admiral Baillie-Grohman. Accordingly General Blamey flew early on the 24th to Alexandria to give Admiral Cunningham a report at first hand on the evacuation, and General Mackay left for Crete next day. General Freyberg took the view that because one of his brigades was fighting a battle at Molos and one was about to become the main rearguard it was his duty to remain. His headquarters embarked as ordered by Force H.Q., but he himself remained behind and, as will be seen, assumed command when General Wilson left.
On 25th April the Germans began to move forward from Molos and General Wilson had reason to suspect that they might attempt an airborne attack on Athens or the Isthmus of Corinth. An attack on either place would, to say the least of it, hinder the evacuation, and General Wilson sought to avoid the danger by making still greater use of the more southerly beaches. Accordingly, the 16th and 17th Australian Brigades were ordered from Argos to Kalamata. 6th New Zealand Brigade was to go not to Marathon but to Tripolis, where it would guard the focal point of the roads leading to the southern beaches. The main covering force of 4th New Zealand Brigade, instead of embarking at Megara on the night 26th/27th, was to move then to south of the Corinth Canal to embark with the troops already covering this defile. Only the 1st Armoured Brigade would not cross the Corinth Canal; it would embark at Raphina, where it would move on the evening of 26th April from a rearguard position north of Tatoi. These changes meant prolonging the whole operation, because the troops bound for beaches in Peloponnesus could not reach them by the 27th/28th.
During 25th April the enemy made no contact with the covering force. That day the Ulster Prince was bombed where she lay, caught fire, and became a total loss. The transport Pennland on her way to Megara was also bombed and sunk, but three destroyers were quickly switched from Nauplia to take her place, and all but about 500 of the troops at Megara were taken off.
Late in the afternoon General Wilson closed his headquarters at Athens and left by road for Myloi, followed by Admiral Baillie-Grohman. He could not have deferred this move any longer, but it meant that his communications and those between the Admirals ashore and afloat now depended upon field wireless sets which were the cause of much anxiety. General Wilson crossed the Corinth Canal bridge about two hours before dawn on the 26th. At about 7 a.m., after a heavy preparatory air attack, two battalions of German parachute troops dropped on both sides of the Corinth Canal and overwhelmed the defences, but not before the British had demolished the bridge. The attack cost the enemy 285 casualties, but it cut off all British troops north of the canal, including the 4th New Zealand
Brigade and many other units bound for Peloponnesus. It was a day of uncertainty and rumour. The 1st Armoured Brigade was to embark at Raphina that night and so was not directly affected, but there was great anxiety for the 4th New Zealand Brigade which was out of wireless touch. By good fortune a wireless message reached it through the 1st Armoured Brigade, telling it to embark at Porto Raphti on the night 27th/28th. These occurrences show how important it was for the plan to be flexible both ashore and afloat and how much depended upon good communications.
The embarkations on the night 26th/27th were on the whole successful, but there were set-backs. At Raphina a heavy swell caused delay, and about 800 men were left behind until the last night. The Glenearn, on her way to Nauplia, was bombed and disabled and had to be towed back to Suda Bay. To offset this loss Admiral Pridham-Wippell took in the Orion, Perth and Stuart, but ferrying by ships’ boats and one motor caique was a slow business, and about 1,700 men had to be left behind. The Dutch transport Slamat, in a well-meant effort to embark her full quota, held on until after 4 a.m. in spite of the most definite orders to leave earlier. She was caught by dive-bombers at daylight and sunk. The destroyers Diamond and Wryneck picked up the survivors only to be themselves sunk at about noon. From this triple loss only one naval officer, forty-one ratings, and eight soldiers were saved. At Kalamata all went well and about 8,000 men were taken off, including almost the whole of the 16th and 17th Australian Brigades, but so many other units had also been sent to this destination that about 7,000 men remained on shore.
On 26th April General Wilson flew to Crete leaving General Freyberg in command. There was roughly the equivalent of a division left in Greece and it was appropriate that there should be a Divisional General with them, though it was extremely difficult for him to exercise control. The troops were widely scattered, information from the various beaches was scanty, the tactical situation was uncertain, and General Freyberg had very meagre means of communication. Admiral Baillie-Grohman sent his principal staff officer with General Wilson and remained himself with a small staff. He moved from Myloi to near Monemvasia during the night by caique and destroyer. His wireless set was beginning to work uncertainly, but fortunately all vital messages were successfully sent and received.
By 27th April Admiral Pridham-Wippell had decided that there were at Suda Bay too many loaded transports for safety. He therefore sailed a convoy of six ships for Alexandria, escorted by two cruisers and five destroyers and covered from the north-westward by two other cruisers and seven destroyers. This convoy was attacked from the air and the Costa Rica was sunk, but all her troops and crew were rescued. Meanwhile, one destroyer lifted the troops from Raphina while the
Ajax and two destroyers went to Porto Raphti where the 4th New Zealand Brigade had been heavily bombed during the day, fortunately without many casualties. A small German column had appeared in the evening but had met so hot a reception that it failed to interfere with the embarkation.
By 28th April most of the troops remaining in Greece, save for parties cut off near Megara, Corinth, and Argos, were concentrated at Monemvasia and Kalamata. At the former was the 6th New Zealand Brigade, which had been bombed on the way but was not otherwise interfered with. At Kalamata there were between seven and eight thousand men of various units, and on Kithera Island were about 800 men who had found their way there in small boats. Admiral Pridham-Wippell’s plan was to send a cruiser and four destroyers to Monemvasia and three sloops to Kithera. HMAS Perth with one other cruiser and six destroyers released from covering the Alexandria convoy were to go to Kalamata. Three more destroyers were later sent to Kalamata, after Admiral Baillie-Grohman had reported that there were also 1,500 Yugoslavs to be taken off.
At Monemvasia the troops were quickly embarked, largely because ten landing craft slipped from HMS Glenearn, when she was bombed the day before, had, with admirable foresight, been diverted there. With the last boatload went Admiral Baillie-Grohman and General Freyberg. At Kithera too all went well, but at Kalamata there was a sad disappointment. Brigadier L. Parrington found himself in command of about 800 men of the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion, some 380 Australians and about 300 of the 4th Hussars. 6,000 others were from administrative units, mostly unarmed and in various states of disorganization. At about 6 p.m. Brigadier Parrington’s patrols reported that they had been 25 miles north of the town and had seen no enemy. But at 8 p.m., as the move to the embarkation points was beginning, a German column crashed into the town and made for the quays. Here by ill chance the naval embarkation officer and his signalman were captured, and the vital link with the approaching ships was cut. Several British, Australian; and New Zealand officers led counter-attacks and a most confused affray began. By about 1 a.m. the town had been cleared and 100 Germans killed or wounded. For his gallantry in this action Sergeant J. D. Hinton of the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion won the Victoria Cross.
HMS Hero had been sent ahead of the force led by HMAS Perth to gain touch with the shore, and at 8.45 p.m. was three miles off the harbour. Fighting was clearly going on and a signal was flashed from the shore ‘Boche in harbour’. This was passed to the Perth and the First Lieutenant of the Hero went ashore to get further information. At 9.30 p.m. he reported that embarkation was possible from the beach and the Hero passed the news on to the Perth. A wireless defect
delayed this signal until 10.11 p.m. Meanwhile the Perth, ten miles off shore, had received the first signal, had seen tracer fire on shore and had heard explosions. Her Captain reluctantly decided that the number of men that could be taken off in these circumstances was too small to warrant the risk to the ships and at 9.29 p.m. the force withdrew. The Hero embarked as many men as she could with her two whalers and at 1 a.m. the Kandahar, Kingston and Kimberley arrived and did the same. In all some 300 men were taken on board before the ships had to sail.
On shore no one knew the reason why the main naval force had withdrawn. A rumour spread that it was owing to enemy ships being at sea. In any case, Brigadier Parrington was in a most unenviable position. He was unable to protect the harbour against artillery fire, and was short of rifle ammunition and food. He decided that resistance was useless and at 5.30 a.m. on the 29th he surrendered. Of the 7,000 men captured in this way about 2,000 were Palestinians and Cypriots.
This unfortunate event did not prevent the Navy from sending in ships on the two following nights and taking off a few more men from the beaches near Kalamata and about 700 from the island of Milos. This ended the organized part of the operation, although for months small numbers of escapers continued to make their way out by all sorts of means. In this they were helped by friendly Greeks. The dignified behaviour of the King and his Government in time of adversity has already been commented upon; the attitude of the Greek people was equally striking. They had welcomed the arrival of the British with enthusiasm, and it would have been understandable if this welcome had turned to resentment when the British Force speedily departed, having apparently accomplished nothing. But throughout the withdrawal, and after it, they remained friendly and generous, and showed no resentment but only kindness and gratitude.
The German orders for the pursuit from Thermopylae are of interest. The advanced troops of 5th Panzer Division were to make for Lavrion, the port at the south-eastern tip of Attica. The main body was to pursue via Corinth and Tripolis, directed on Argos, Kalamata and Sparta. Simultaneously elements of the SS Adolf Hitler Division which had crossed by boat to Patras were directed on Pyrgos. The road and railway bridge over the big cutting of the Corinth Canal had been destroyed by the British, but there was no great difficulty in crossing near the ends of the canal, where the ground on each bank is flat. Pressing on to Kalamata, the 5th Panzer Division and some of the parachutists encountered those British troops least able to resist attack. Monemvasia seems to have escaped their attention, although at least one New Zealand battalion was seen and bombed on the way to it, and the whole 6th New Zealand Brigade lay hidden there throughout the day of the 28th with German aircraft circling overhead. Neither that
night nor on any other night did the German aircraft interfere. By 29th April the Germans were satisfied that they had driven out or captured all formed bodies of the British, and were able to concentrate upon the plan for capturing Crete by airborne assault to which Hitler had given his approval a week before.
The table below shows the measure of success attained during the embarkation in spite of all the alterations, delays and uncertainties. On shore it means that leadership, discipline and staff-work stood the test, though this would have profited nothing but for the resource and determination of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy. It is not surprising that the admiration and respect of the soldier for the Senior Service, always high, rose even higher. His confidence was soon to be put to a still sterner test after the attempt to repel the airborne onslaught on Crete had failed and the Army had once again to be rescued by the Royal Navy.
Details of Embarkation from Beaches in Greece: 24th April to 1st May 1941
|Date||Beach||Warships and transports engaged||Total numbers of men embarked||Remarks|
|24/25th D1||D. Raphti||
Calcutta, Glengyle, Salvia
|5,700||5 N.Z. Bde Group|
Phoebe, Glenearn, Stuart, Voyager, Hyacinth, (Ulster Prince)
|6,685||Corps H.Q., RAF, Base and other details|
|25/26th D2||P. Megara||
Coventry, Thurland Castle, Havock, Decoy, Wryneck, Hasty, Waterhen, Vendetta
|5,900 (including over 1,000 wounded)||19 Aus. Bde Group|
|26/27th D3||C. Raphina||
Glengyle, Nubian, Decoy, Hasty
|3,503||Part of 1 Armd Bde. N.Z. Div. troops|
Carlisle, Kandahar, Kingston, Salween
|4,720||Corps and N.Z. Div. troops|
|S. Nauplia T. Tolon||
Orion, Calcutta, Slamat, Khedive Ismail, Isis, Hotspur, Diamond, Perth, Stuart
|4,527||Force H.Q., Base details and part of 1 Armd Bde|
Phoebe, Dilwara, City of London, Costa Rica, Defender, Hero, Hereward, Flamingo
|8,650||16/17 Aus. Bde Group|
|27/28th D4||C. Raphina||
|800||1 Armd. Bde. (part).|
Ajax, Kingston, Kimberley
|3,840||4 N.Z. Bde Group|
|28/29th D5||X. Monemvasia||
Ajax, Griffin, Isis, Hotspur, Havock
|4,320||6 N.Z. Bde Group|
Hero, Kandahar, Kingston, Kimberley, (Perth, Phoebe, Nubian, Defender, Hereward, Decoy, Hasty)
Auckland, Salvia, Hyacinth
|29/30th and||Vicinity of Kalamata||
Isis, Hero, Kimberley
|30/1st||Vicinity of Kalamata||
Isis, Hero, Kimberley
NOTE TO TABLE
The figure 50,732 includes an uncertain number of Greeks and Yugoslavs.
The total number of British service personnel transported to Greece in all the LUSTRE convoys was 58,364 spread over about six weeks. About 4,200 had been transported previously. The British casualties from all causes were about 12,000, of whom many sick and wounded returned to duty later. The RAF lost 163, of whom all but 33 were aircrew. 209 aircraft were lost or had to be abandoned. 8,000 lorries were lost.
HMS Diamond and Wryneck, and the transports Ulster Prince, Pennland, Slamat and Costa Rica were sunk, and the landing ship Glenearn was twice bombed and damaged.