Middle East 1930 - 1947:
Crete is a large island in the eastern Mediterranean. It was part of the Ottoman Empire, and became part of Greece in 1900. The islanders, however, remained independent in terms of culture and spirit. The island is about one-hundred miles long and varys in width from seven and half miles to thirty-five miles. The spine of the island is a mountain range, and the best harbours are to be found on the northern coast.
In June 1940, Italy declared war on the Allied nations, and on 28 October 1940, it invaded Greece from Albania. The next day, the decision was taken to send British troops to Crete to garrison the island, as the resident Greek Division was sent to the Albanian front. The 14 Infantry Brigade (comprising two infantry battalions and some supporting units) was sent from Egypt to Crete, arriving on 6 November 1940. This brigade formed ‘Creforce’.
The 14 Infantry Brigade formed the only garrison until units were evacuated from Greece and sent to Crete. The main reinforcements for Crete came from the New Zealand Division, and the new commanding officer for Creforce was Major General FREYBERG, the General Officer Commanding New Zealand Division. Some Australian units evacuated from Greece were sent to Crete, but, the majority of Australian troops were sent directly to Egypt. As well as the Australian, British, Greek and New Zealand troops on the island (about 32,0000) in total, there were about 15,000 Italian prisoners-of-war, captured by the Greeks on the Albanian front.
A chronology of key events is available via this link:
The defences of Crete were organised upon a Headquarters, and four sectors. From east to west, the sectors were:
- Force Headquarters
- Heraklion Sector – 14 Infantry Brigade,
- Retimo Sector – 19 Australian Infantry Brigade,
- Suda Bay Sector – Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation 1,
- Maleme Sector – New Zealand Infantry Division.
German paratroop troops began landing at Maleme on 20 May, with the intention of capturing the airfield. Landings at Retimo and Heraklion followed, but these failed to make any significant gains. At Maleme, German pressure and poor communitions led to a New Zealand unit retiring from a hill that overlooked the airfield. This allowed German mountain troops to be flown in, and slowly they gained the ascendency. Troop convoys at sea were mainly intercepted, although the Royal Navy suffered serious losses.
The evacuation commenced on 28 May, and on 1 June, German forces had control of Crete. The island remained a centre of resistance to occupation, which resulted in several reprisals against the civilian population right through to late 1944, when the Germans vacated the island.
One of many individual stories concerns an officer of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. 41 year-old 119327 Lieutenant Alan Linnell TAYLOR, R.A.O.C., A.M.I.A.E., commanded the Light Aid Detachment (L.A.D.) attached to the Northumberland Hussars. The Hussars formed 102 Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery, and served in Greece. Lieutenant LINNELL was praised for ensuring that the majority of the Regiment were able to use their vehicles to reach the embarkation beaches. He ensured that his L.A.D. took their one and only Bren gun with them when they left Greece, and they successfully carried it back to Crete. Lieutenant LINNELL was placed in command of the H.Q. Company of the Hussars, which served as infantry during the German invasion, and he was killed in action on 20 May 1941. He is buried in Grave 4.C.6. of the Suda Bay War Cemetery on Crete. He was married to Nancy Franklin LINNELL, who came from Northamptonshire.