Part 5 - Other European "Free Men"

Chapter 5 - Crete

Many centuries before the birth of Christ, the island of Crete was home to the Minoan civilisation, and its capital Knossos was a pivot of ancient trade and culture in the Mediterranean sea.

But a terrifying volcanic explosion which tore apart the neighbouring small island of Thera, with its accompanying volcanic ash outfall, literally wiped Knossos off the map. Nevertheless when King Xerxes of Persia invaded Greece in 480 BC, he used Crete as a supply base for his vast army.

In WWII, its strategic geographic location remained an equally tactical prize for each of the warring antagonists. For the Axis powers, it was a moored aircraft carrier, only a little over 1,000 km from the all important oilfields of Ploesti in Rumania. For the Allies, it was also an ideal naval base, only half that distance from its other strategic island bases of Malta and Cyprus, and its ports of Alexandria, Port Said, Haifa and Beirut.

When, early in 1941, the Allied High Command decided to withdraw their forces of some 50,000 men fighting in Greece alongside their Greek comrades-in-arms against the Axis invaders, about 20,000 were pulled back to Egypt and the remaining 30,000 were evacuated to Crete. But those arriving in Crete were without their vehicles and heavy weapons. These troops also included a lot of non-fighting personnel.

On April 30, 1941, the New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg was given command of all Allied forces on Crete, both newly arrived and garrison troops. He had the almost impossible orders of defend it against a probable attack by the crack German airborne army of General Kurt Student. His own "army" consisted of a mixed bag of 15,000 British, 11,000 Greek, 7,700 2NZEF and 6,500 AIF soldiers who themselves had been evacuated from Greece.

There was no railway system in Crete and very little of its narrow roads were paved. The expected German airborne invasion may have over-estimated these internal transport problems, but had assembled a fleet of smaller vessels to follow up the parachutist landings with heavy supplies.

The coming battle for Crete was the first time in the history of modern warfare that was to be a battle between overwhelming air power against dominant seapower, for when the Allied navy destroyed the Axis supply fleet at Matapan, nearly all supplies and reinforcements for the invading German parachutists, had to come in by air. But the British navy, mindful of the evacuation of Dunkirk, had also drawn up it plans for the possible evacuation of Crete. The planned operations for evacuation, laid side by side with the plans for landing.

References:

A2 "Greece, Crete and Syria", Gavin Long, Vol II (Army) Series 1. 
A6 "Prisoners of War" - Official History of NZ WW2", Wayne Mason. 
Relevant files from the National Archives - Canberra and Wellington -
Personal correspondence and memoirs of "those that were there".

The Battle for Crete - May 1941

The resolve to support the Greek armies against the Axis invasion from Albania had been as much a political as a military decision, but the evacuation to Crete from Greece was based on strictly military grounds. Nevertheless King George, and his uncle Prince Peter with their entourage, which included Prime Minister Tsouderous, accompanied the Allied forces evacuated to Crete, and in turn were evacuated again from Crete to Cairo.

On April 30, 1941, the New Zealand Major-General, Bernard Freyberg VC was given command of all Allied forces on Crete, both those newly arrived and the garrison troops already stationed on that island.

His orders were to defend the island against an impending attack by German elite parachute troops under the command of Colonel General Alexander Loehr, the commanding general of the German Fourth Air Fleet, based in Bulgaria.

The AIF Sixth Division forces, Commanded by Brigadier G.A.Vasey were from:

16th Brigade -  2/1st and 16th Composite Infantry Battalion - the combined remnants of the 2/2nd and 2/3rd Infantry Battalions
17th Brigade -  17th Composite Battalion - the combined remnants of the 2/5th and 2/6th Battalions and the 2/7th Infantry Battalion
19th Brigade -  2/4th, 2/8th and 2/11th Infantry Battalions, frequently lumped together as the Composite 19th Brigade.

All of these infantry battalions were under-strength, under-equipped and battle weary.

In addition there were many corps troops, portions of other units such as the 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/3rd Field Regiments RAA, the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion, the 2/3rd LAA, the 2/1st, 2/3rd and 2/8th Field Companies RAE, the 2/1st, 2/2nd and 2/7th Field Ambulance units, the 2/5th AGH, Signals, MPs and even the Sixth Division Postal Unit.

Field Regiments and other artillery support were reduced to single batteries - even single guns - and any able-bodied soldier had a rifle, but very little ammunition, pressed into his hands, without any real training of how to use it properly.

The entire force lacked equipment, adequate supply and cohesive communications.

The Germans enjoyed complete control of the Cretan skies, negating the Allied naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. This was the critical deciding factor for when, despite a heroic New Zealand defence, the Maleme airfield was lost, so too was the battle for Crete. On May 27th 1941, General Wavell ordered the Allied forces to abandon the island.

The Allied naval forces had decided that in view of the commanding German airpower, there was no hope of evacuating the troops defending the north and eastern side of the island around Canea, Suda Bay and Retimo, where the operational plans for landing Allied troops in eastern Crete were lying beside the operational plans for withdrawing them from Sfakia, on the western side. When orders were issued to fight their way back across the mountain spine of Crete to Sfakia where the navy would evacuate them on May 31st, many allied troops were successfully pulled out, but 12,000 unfortunates, for whom no places were available on the evacuation fleet, were left behind as German POW. Included among them were 3,102 Australians and 1,672 New Zealanders

But in many ways, their Cretan victory was a Phyrric one for the German High Command. Just as General Bernard Freyberg had been beaten, the German general commanding the Ist Airborne Division, Karl Student, saw the demolition of Germany's airborne elite troops. One in every four German parachutists had been killed, many of them in their 15 seconds as floating sitting ducks before their feet even touched Cretan soil. The thoroughly trained, equipped and disciplined "Fallschirmjaeger" were the flower of Hitler's armed forces. They remained so, but as infantry - The Werhmacht cancelled prepared plans for a similar air invasion of Cyprus and never seriously deployed unsupported air attacks again. 

The German Fourth Air Fleet casualties in Crete totalled more that all previous casualties suffered by the Wehrmacht in all their previous battles to May, 1941. The towering wooden cross of the Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof monument atop Hill 107, is as much a tribute to the professionalism and determination of the German parachutists to attain and hold their objectives as it is to the dogged New Zealand and Greek defenders of Hill 107, overlooking the airfield of Maleme and the key point of the whole of the Crete campaign.

It too is also a constant reminder of the native Cretan men and women who, without formal military training, fought with fanatical fury alongside the Allied units, to preserve their homeland against the Axis powers - a fight they continued to wage until the last remnants of the German occupation force were withrawn from western Crete on May 15, 1945, a week after VE-Day and four years after its invasion.

The battle for Crete was very  much "touch and go" - the title of a subsequent film written and directed by Tom Steel and produced by Jeremy Isaacs Productions for NZBC.

The enormity of the military disaster of Crete can be evaluated from the official tables which have been updated by the Recorder, with the benefit of feedback information from individual unit association historians.

Statistics:
A2 "Greece, Crete and Syria", Gavin Long, War Memorial Canberra, 1953. (Ch. 14)
A6 "Official History of NZ in WWII-POW", Wayne Mason. Wellington, 1954. (Ch 3)
C16 "Greece and Crete", Christopher Buckley, Athens, 1977 (Ch 2)
C24 "Ten Days to Destiny- The Battle for Crete 1941", G.C. Kiriakopolous, USA, 1985 (Ch.19)
C21 The "Parker File" 54 781/6/6, The Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Crete - Defeat and Evacuation

Of the 4,000 New Zealand troops, which included the Maori Battalion,  Brigadier James Hargest had under his command in Crete, only 900 returned to Cairo. And back in Cairo, General Thomas Blamey, knew that two of his Australian infantry battalions, the 2/7th and the 2/11th, would have difficulty in being included in the Allied evacuation planned from Sfakia. Even when the 2/7th arrived at the embarkation zone, and its commander Colonel Theo Walker immediately sent a few of his men directly on to a waiting landing craft, he knew that time was rapidly running out for the remainder. His second in command - Major K. Marshall - remembers  - "I found Theo (Walker) and we sat together on the stone sea-wall. He told me that things were all up and that the Navy had gone." (A2 Long p307)

But amongst the fighting troops left, there was still a high level of discipline and cohesion. The order "each man for himself" had been given and many escape parties began to organise their means of successfully doing so.

Major Garrett (Royal Marines) with Lt Keith Walker (2/7th Inf Bn) and Lt Robert Macartney (2/3rd RAA) immediately commandeered one of the three landing barges left behind by the Navy at Sfakia. Major Garrett organised and sailed with a party of 135, including 56 of his own marines. The "Garrett" Barge succeeded in reaching AL at Sidi Barrani.

Lt G.M. Day of the 1 Welch Regiment took charge of another barge bringing together a party of 144, including 44 men of his regiment and five Australians - The "Day" Barge.

Major Sandover and Captain Honner of the 2/11th, at Retimo on the other side of the island, collected a party and one of two barges discovered in a cave. Captain J.B. Fitzhardinghe (2/3rd RAA) led their group, which had the bad luck of being intercepted by an Italian submarine. He and other officers aboard became Italian POW. The remainder of the "Fitzhardinghe" Barge under the command of a South African Sergeant sailed on to make a successful landfall at Mersa Matruh.

WX953 Sgt Stan Carroll collected a Greek fishing boat and made his own way, solo, across the Mediterranean to Egypt.

WX1944 Harry Richards DCM with 5431 A.H.Taylor NZ lead the "Richards" Barge.

VX4712 Henry Buchecker with VX4632 Cpl Bob Gordon reached Tobruk.

The SOE and MI9, on the fall of Crete, had immediately sent agents to organise escape parties. Among them were Captain Xan Fielding and Lt Commander F.G. Poole who organised naval assisted evacuations of "Fielding" Groups from Limni in July.

And a New Zealander - WOII John Redpath - commanded a party which hi-jacked a Greek trading caique - a story which has just been written in a book by one of the participants, Charles Jager - "The Pirating of the Aghai Irini" C11. Details of these first "Barge" escapes, subsequent SOE organised "Groups" and individual efforts such as the "Aghai Irini" follow in alphabetic order.

The Battle for Crete - The Cost

The bald statistics of the casuality lists, for both sides, in the Battle for Crete are stark indeed.

The Allied forces defending the island lost 1,742 KIA, 1,737 Wounded and 11,853 POW. The Allied Mediterranean Navy lost 1,828 KIA, 183 wounded. The invading German air-borne division lost 4,500 KIA, more men than the whole German army had lost in all previous fighting until May 1941.

The Royal Navy damaged 1 enemy destroyer, sunk about 20 caiques and small steamers but at the staggering cost of 4 cruisers and 6 destroyers sunk, 3 battleships, 1 aircraft carrier, 6 cruisers, 1 landing ship and 8 destroyers damaged.

In the one week commencing May 21, the cruisers "Gloucester" and "Fiji", the destroyers "Juno", "Greyhound", "Kashmir", "Kelly" and five motor torpedo boats had been sunk, while the battleships "Warspite" and "Valiant", the aircraft-carrier "Formidable", the cruisers "Naiad", "Carlisle" and the destroyer "Nubian" had suffered severe damage .

The Luftwaffe lost 170 Junkers heavy transporters, 64 other aircraft and many gliders but virtually shot the RAF out of the sky.

However, the strong resistance movement which developed in Crete and was fostered by Allied agents dropped back there, tied up 5 German Divisions which might have been committed to the Russian front. The timetable for the capture of Crete also delayed the opening of the German invasion of Russia while the weather was still favourable.

For months after the surrender of Crete, allied clandestine operations by submarine and small armed ships succeeded in bringing many hundreds of Allied and Greek POW off the island, while delivering urgent supplies and explosives to the resistance fighters.

The costs of a successful invasion by air alone, which demonstrated the superiority of air-power to naval power, were so great, that the German High Command never sanctioned its use under those conditions again.

Australian Casualties - Crete Campaign - by Unit

AIF Units Killed Wounded POW Total
2/1 Bn 43 64 511 618
2/4 Bn 22 33 24 79
2/7 Bn 27 60 431 518
2/8 Bn 10 41 95 146
2/11 Bn 53 126 423 602
2/1 MG 11 22 49 82
16 Brig Comp 4 9 97 110
17 Brig Comp 3 13 198 214
2/2 Fld Rgt 6 23 56 85
2/3 Fld Rgt 20 30 126 176
7 LAA 2 2 144 148
TOTALS 201 423 2154 2778

New Zealand Casualties - Crete Campaign - By Unit

NZEF Units Killed Wounded POW Total
Div Cav Rgt 10 50 7 67
18 Bn 108 157 71 336
19 Bn 65 117 85 267
20 Bn 86 179 32 297
21 Bn 36 65 44 145
22 Bn 64 144 94 302
23 Bn 56 187 56 299
28 Bn 73 147 26 246
27 MG 18 29 75 122
4 Fld Rgt 17 37 68 122
5 Fld Rgt 20 65 194 279
TOTALS 553 1177 752 2482

(Men who were wounded before being made prisoner or died of wounds in enemy hands are not included under the heading "POW" in this table but are so included in the AIF figures.)

References:

C24 "Ten Days to Destiny",  G.C. Kiriakopoulos, 1985.
C31 "The Land and Sea Battle for Crete 1941",  Lewis J. Lind BEM, 1971.

The Abbey of Perivolia

One of the stongest common social bonds that held mountain societies together in both Crete and Italy was their strong religious faith. All levels of the heirachy of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches gave their unstinting support to the local resistance defying the Axis occupation of their countries.

The Abbot of Perivolia was no exception.

The monastery of Preveli, strategically dominating the Bay of Limni, had become an assembly point for hundreds of Allied POW "on the loose". They received unreserved hospitality of the monks and the locals and when Cairo learned of the situation, they sent Lt. Commander Pool RNR in the submarine "Thrasher" to the Bay of Limni.

Poole had been the representative of Imperial Airways at Heraklion, and spoke fluent Greek. At dawn on July 26, 1941, the "Thrasher" landed Poole on the Limni beach where some Australian POW were sending signals out to sea. The Australians conducted Poole to the Lower Monastery, where the Abbot Agathangelos Lagouvardos was conducting High Mass at the church of St. John the Baptist.

The Abbott at first was very suspicious of him, thinking that he might have been a German spy, but was finally convinced of his bona fides. Poole then divulged to him the information that on the following evening the submarine would return to the bay to take almost 100 soldiers back to Egypt. Poole was to remain to assess his intelligence gathering back to Allied HQ in Cairo.

"At sunset some 80 who had been staying at the villages of Fratti, Vatos, Ardakos and at the Monastry itself, were informed that they would be leaving that night. Their numbers soon swelled as the news got around, but the Abbot served them all with a dinner of meat and okra at the Lord's table in the Monastery. It had grown dark as the embarkation party made their way to the rendezvous point on the beach.

"A brave young Australian sub-liutenant by the name of Jack, climbed the cliff overlooking the bay of Limni and began transmitting signals towards the sea with the use of a torch and a petrol lamp. At exactly 22:50 the submarine came into sight about 100 metres from the shore. The waters vary in depth around this area and the submarine began to submerge. Sub-Lt. Jack made his way down from the cliff and crossed over to a rock west of the church of St. Savvas. He called to the Cretans and allied soldiers in the bay and showed them his hand, which was wrapped in a white hankerchief, so that it could be seen in the darkness - "All English here, all Cretans here", he said slowly but clearly in broken Greek. We could tell he was very moved because his trembling voice gave him away. He climbed down from the rock.

Presently there followed scenes which one does not often come across in world history. The gallant Australians did not know how to express their gratitude to their saviours - those men who had risked death and destruction to save them from German reprisals. The Cretans bade farewell to friends they had made under the harsh and deadly circumstances of battle - a battle they had all fought together against the horrific German war machine."

C8 "Crete 1941 - Eyewitnessed", Michalis M. Papadakis, Hadijpateras & Fafalios, Crete. (p293).

Escape from Crete to Turkey

Unlike the 600 Anzac POW who made their way back to Egypt on fishing boats, submarines or landing barges, those who chose to head for neutral Turkey or British Cyprus were definitely classified as escaped POW on arrival in Turkey. They were treated under the Hague Convention much in the same manner as those later POW reaching neutral Switzerland, unarmed and in civilian dress, from North Italy in 1943. While mostly Ninth Division escapers, their experiences whilst on the run were strikingly similar to their Sixth Division colleagues in Crete. For without food, information, shelter, and other assistance unstintingly given by the local population at enormous risk to themselves, many would have soon found themselves "mopped up" by persistent Axis search parties.

Just as the Recorder chose to categorise all ANZAC escaped POW in Europe as "Free Men", so he has treated all escapers from Greece and Crete as "escaped POW". There appears to him to be a very fine line between those that chose a survival direction that led to a neutral country,directly to Allied Lines, or "going underground" until eventual liberation. Those who directly reached AL in Egypt or via neutral Turkey are all so classified, even if not so listed in the DVA internet roll - (www.ww2roll.gov.au).

Some individuals such as NX18434 WOII Frank Barrett, 2/1st Inf Bn, not only escaped from a train taking him to Austria, becoming a "Free Man" in Yugoslavia, but he returned to Greece, and after several attempts, finally made it to Turkey. (On his eventual return to Australia, he was commissioned, joined "Z" Force and was KIA on October 24, 1943 in New Guinea.)

NX3814 Walter Boon was captured as a private soldier with the 17th Brigade. He too, escaped from the prison train taking him to Germany, joined the Chetnik partisans in Yugoslavia and finally a British Mission there, eventually re-joining AL in Italy.

SX1154 Lt John Morish, 2/3rd RAA, one of the officers re-captured when the "Garrett" barge was intercepted by an Italian submarine, became an Italian POW. He jumped from a German prison train while it was still in Italy and finished up in Switzerland.

Thus they are listed on several of the nominal rolls of ANZAC POW covering particular geographic areas in Europe.

While the Recorder enjoyed the most willing co-operation with the Swiss Consulate-General in Melbourne who arranged for material held in Swiss Army archives in Bern, it is proving more difficult to arrange for similar material from Turkish authorities here in Australia or in Istanbul. Nevertheless, he is perservering but has no plans to extend such research to other countries that played host to AIF POW "Free Men" in Europe.

But for his present self-imposed research brief, it is the identification of those individual POW "who were there" and whose presence and exploits hold his attention that this report is concentrated.

There are 9 AIF escapers from Crete to Turkey listed here in .pdf format.

Escape from Crete to Allied Lines

Immediately after the battle for Crete had been lost and organised, evacuation by the allied navies was terminated. Individuals from units left behind, swiftly developed plans to commandeer abandoned landing barges, fill them with escapers and supplies and bring them back across the Mediterranean to Allied Lines in North Africa.

The first wave of barge groups succeeded in bringing some 700 Allied servicemen back - at least 70 of that number were Australians. The “barge groups” were usually identified by the barge skipper, irrespective of rank or service.

On May 30, 1941, the “Fitzhardinge” barge under command of artillery Captain, J.B. Fitzhardinge, brought out 77 escapers from Heraklion. But the barge was intercepted by the Italian submarine “Adua” that took off the officers, with the exception of the wounded Lt Bedells ordering the remainder to sail to the nearest enemy port! Of course, they set out in the direction of the Allied Forces in Egypt and got there.

From the other side of Crete, at Spafkia, on June 1, 1941, the “Day” barge, brought out Lt G.M. Day of the First Welch, together with a party of 44 men from his regiment, various marines and commandos, 5 AIF from the 2/7th Bn (and 1 Greek) from Spafkia, arriving at Sidi Barrani on June 10, 1941 having been without any food for five days. Lt Day himself, with 7 men, including Frank Anstis and John Green from the 2/7th, had previously taken the longboat which the barge was towing, to forage for supplies, but they were captured by an Italian motor torpedo boat and became prisoners of the Italians. John Green was eventually to escape from Italy to Switzerland.
 
On the same day and from the same location, the “Garrett” barge sailed under command of Major R.B. Garrett of the Royal Marines, taking off 135 men, including 56 of his own marines, 10 AIF and 2 men of the Maori Battalion.

Simultaneously, Pte. Harry Richards of the 2/11th Bn earned the DCM for getting 2 officers and fifty men to Sidi Barrani on the “Richards” barge.

Pte Stan Carroll of the 2/11th Bn rowed and sailed himself, solo, in a small fishing boat to that same Egyptian port a few days later. 

These escapers were dispersed back to their various units and were not recognised in CARO records as having become POW. It can be argued that they had never surrendered to the enemy or been imprisoned by them, but undoubtedly some of them had escaped from enemy transit camps. Originally they had been listed a “missing”, but were later re-classified as “rejoined unit”.

Just as the Recorder has chosen to classify all ANZAC escaped POW in Europe as “Free Men”, so has he classified all successful escapers and or evaders from Greece and Crete as “Free Men”. There appears to him to be a very fine line between those who chose their own best survival policy, to be that of making direct for Allied Lines, the nearest neutral country, or staying put, melding into the local countryside until eventual liberation.

Throughout the Axis occupation of Greece and Crete, Allied HQ in Cairo organised continuous efforts to assemble parties of evaders “on the loose” in Crete, where they continued to be protected and fed by heroic Cretan peasant families. MI9, SOE and other intelligence agencies in Cairo sent out agents such as Xan Fielding and Francis Pool, and backed their assemblies with naval support to bring them off the island.

The rapid advance of Rommel’s thrust towards Cairo made North African coast ports a less desirable escape target. As time went by, the emphasis on escape objectives shifted to neutral Turkey or British Cyprus. The Greek intelligence service (HIS) was also active and the Greek Naval small ships in the Aegean helped bring out more escapers.

A caique under the command of Captain Adonis, brought a party of 11 men out, including WX2253, Hugh Nicol of the 2/11th Bn. Another member of the same battalion - WX2522 Andrew Hosie - after a year's freedom on Crete - was helped by Adonis to obtain a small yacht with two young Cretan lads who wished to join the Greek Army.

These operations lasted until the final ANZAC escapers - VX17570 Tom Spriggs 2/7th Bn and 4381 Wally Swinburne, NZASC - were evacuated by motor torpedo boat (MTB) in September, 1943.

Those Allied POW escapers in North Italy after the Italian Armistice was signed in September 1943 had experiences “on the run” strikingly similar to those of their comrades-in-arms in Crete. For without the food, information shelter and other assistance unstintingly given by the local Cretan population at enormous risk to themselves, many ANZAC “Free Men” would soon have found themselves re-captured by persistent Axis search parties - a pattern which was to duplicate itself later by the local peasant population in North Italy.

Turkey, in accordance with the Hague Conventions, was able to repatriate unwelcome escaper guests immediately, either by sea to Haifa or Alexandria or by train through Syria, which by this time had been cleared of Vichy French troops and was under firm British control.

Switzerland, which was to later play host to an influx of Allied escaped POW from Italy under the same Hague Conventions, was entirely landlocked by the Axis powers and did not enjoy the luxury of instant repatriation of its escaper POW guests. These were to remain there until the border at Geneva was opened thus remaining in Switzerland for a year (plus or minus a few weeks) depending on the date of arrival in Switzerland.

While the Recorder has enjoyed the most willing co-operation from the Swiss Consulate-General in Melbourne, who arranged access to material held in Swiss Army Archives in Bern, it has proved much more difficult to arrange a similar facility with Turkish authorities either in Canberra or Ankara.
Most Turkish records relate to Ottoman and WWI wars, so that virtually the only way to check a nominal sub-roll of those ANZAC “evades” who reached Turkey from either Greece or Crete, is by working back through the records of the Unit Associations concerned.

References:

J1 “Aegean Adventures”, Michael Woodbine Parish.
C10 “Dare to be Free”, W.B. Thomas.
C11 “Escape from Crete”, Charles Jager.
C14 “Flowers of Rethymon”, Lew Lind.
C18 “My Escape from Crete”, Jim McDevitt.
J4 “On The Run”, Sean Damer and Ian Frazer.
C27 “The Cretan Runner”, George Psychoundakis.
C34 “The Stunned and The Stymied”, Molly Watt.
C35 “Vasili - The Lion of Crete", Murray Elliot.
C36 "War In The Islands", Adrian Seligman.
C37 “Winged Dagger”, Roy Farran.

Acknowledgments and Thanks to:

Bill Bazeley MM MID
Hugh Gilchrist
Charles Jager
Ken Johnson
Brian Sims
Ivor White
Lew Wiles

The "Day" Barge

Ex Spafkia 01.06.41. Arrived AL 10.06.41 (2 AIF Officers - 50 men - {9 AIF})

Lt G.M. Day, of the First Welsh Regiment, commandeered another of the abandoned barges at Spafkia on 01.06.41 and put to sea with a company of 44 men of his regiment, various marines and commandos, nine Australians and a Greek interpreter named Georgacopoulos.

The Australians, mostly from the 2/7 Bn, had heard of Lt Day’s activities with the landing barge, and asked could they join him. They were welcomed onto the barge.

Their exploits are covered in Gavin Long's book "Greece, Crete and Syria" (A2 p309):

“They stopped at a small island to collect food and water and on the evening of the Ist, when they set course for Derna, they had 80 gallons of petrol, 1 tin of biscuits, 9 of beef, 4 of meat and vegetables, 2 of bacon, 1 of fruit and “the unexpended portion” of a sheep given to them by Greeks on the island.

"The petrol was exhausted on the morning of the 2nd. A sail was made for the barge from two blankets, and Day, with 7 men of his regiment and Lt Peter Catchlove, Cpl Frank Anstis and Pte John Green - all of the 2/7 Bn with Ron Bradfield of the 2/11 Bn, boarded a long boat they had been towing and set off, using an improvised sail and four oars, to obtain help, and to let the rescuers know about the other party.

"On the island the barge had picked up an Australian sailor - L. Donnelly - who believed he was the only survivor of the "HMS Kimberley" which had been sunk off it. No more was seen of them by the men in the barge, but they eventually reached Egypt.

"VX12399 Jack Hansen took control of the landing craft “He said he was able to navigate and had knocked around a lot”. From the 2nd to the 5th of June, the crew had biscuits only to eat, but they gave out on the 5th. From then on we had nothing to eat, but were able to keep to our ration of water (four spoonfuls night and morning)...”

"About 8th June some of the commandos started to drink sea water. Hansen had a tommy gun and told them if they did not stop he would take severe action. This threat effectively stopped them. They reached land near Sidi Barrani on the 10th, having had no food for five days."

Ron Bradfield, DCM, for escaping from a German camp in Crete, was later commissioned to become a Lieutenant in the 2/3rd Pioneer Bn. The men in the Longboat - Lt Peter Catchlove, Frank Anstis and John Green - reached the Libyan coast on the wrong side of Sidi Barrani and were captured by Italian troops. They were sent to prison camps in Italy, while Peter Catchlove and Frank Anstis ended up in Germany. John Green managed to escape from his work camp in Italy to reach the sanctuary of Switzerland.

The 9 AIF passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

References:

A2 "Greece, Crete and Syria", Gavin Long, p308
C29 “The Fiery Phoenix", Bolger and Littlewood, p.111
 
The "Fitzhardinghe" Barge

Ex Ayia Galini 02.06.41. Arrived AL 05.06.41 (11 Officers {5 AIF}- 66 Men {24 AIF}

When Major Sandhover, still in command of the remnants of his 2/11 Bn decided to stay with his men behind enemy lines in the mountains of Crete, he appointed WX9 Captain J.B. Fitzhardinge, 2/3 Field Regiment, AIF, to lead a party of escapers on one of two landing barges found abandoned on a small bay at Ayia Galini, on the south west coast of Crete. One barge was completely useless, with both propellers twisted and with little chance of being repaired, but the other had much better possibilities and, with new batteries, might be seaworthy.

Again quoting from Long (A2 p310): 
 
"Two 2/1 MG men, VX6508 Cpl Roy McDonald and VX5510 Sgt Pat Lee, were eventually successful in making the barge operative. Batteries and ancillary equipment were scavenged from abandoned army trucks, while some parts were cannibalised from the useless barge. However, with the barge seaworthy, it resisted all attempts at re-launching.

Capt Fitzhardinge then took WX14 Lt Tom Bedells and WX983 Sgt Bill Mortimer from the 2/11 Bn with WX2052 Peter Monger, 2/3rd RAA, in a small sailing boat to Timbakion to collect provisions. While they were there, German motorcyclists arrived and opened fire on them, wounding Lt Bedells. They dashed back to the boat and he and two men lay on the bottom, while Capt Fitzgerald and Bill Mortimer swam and towed the boat away from the beach. Lt Bedells lying on the bottom was wounded again. But the dinghy managed to return to Ayia Galini and have Lt Bedells treated by QX6083 Capt John Ryan, RMO 2/11 Bn and enjoyed the amazing sight of the barge having been finally launched and being provisioned for its escape."

The escapers included 5 AIF Officers, including the wounded Lt Bedells, with 8 2/11, 17 2/1 MG and 3 2/3 RAA men. But the “Fitzhardinge" barge had the misfortune to be intercepted by the Italian submarine “Adua”. This submarine removed all the officers in the barge with the exception of the wounded Lt Tom Bedells. All the other officers including Capt John Ryan RMO, with the 2/3 RAA officers, SX1154 Lt Morish and Capt Fitzhardinge himself, were taken on the submarine for a direct trip to Italy.

The Italian submarine commander then ordered the remainder of the men in the barge to sail back to Crete or to the nearest Italian port. Sgt  Bill Mortimer, who was then skippering the barge, could scarcely believe his luck in being able to continue his journey. He offered anybody who wanted to return to Crete to dive overboard. Nobody accepted!

Three days later, 05. 06. 41, the desert coast loomed into view, but vehicles moving around seemed unfamiliar. After some debate, it was decided that Sgt Bill Mortimer 2/11Bn and Sgt Tom Ennis of the 2/1 MG, would swim to the coast on either side of the headland. If all was OK the barge would come ashore.

The barge had made landfall 10 miles south of Mersa Matruh - then occupied by South African troops, probably accounting for the strange looking vehicles, close to the position of the 2/7 Field Regiment in which a brother of Capt Fitzhardinge and a brother of Lt Morish were serving. It had only three hours of fuel sailing time left (Johnson, p. 115-6).

The 29 AIF passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

Capt Ryan was later repatriated from Italy, promoted to T/Lt Col commanding a Field Ambulance Unit in the Pacific theatre of operations.
 
Lt Morish subsequently escaped from the “Moosburg Express”, the train taking Allied officers from Italian prison camps to further imprisonment in Germany after the Italian Armistice on 09. 09. 43 and reached the sanctuary of Switzerland.

References:

A2 “Greece, Crete and Syria”, Gavin Long.
J4 “0n the Run”, Sean Damer & Ian Frazer, p.251-2
C30 “The Gatekeepers of Galatas”, Brian Taaffe.
B10 “The History of the 2/11th Bn 1939-46”, K.T. Johnson.
B15 “The Long Carry” - History of the 2/1MG", Phil Hocking.

Acknowledgements and Thanks to:

Ian Frazer
Phil Hocking
Ken Johnson
 
The "Garrett" Barge

Ex Hora Sfakion 01. 06. 41. Arrived AL 09. 06. 41 (5 officers {2 AIF} and 134 men {16 AIF - 3 2NZEF})

Major R. Garrett of the Royal Marines took over one of the three landing barges which had been left behind by the British navy at Spafkia. These barges were designed to carry 100 men or two 15cwt trucks.

Major Garrett assembled a party of four officers, including VX4740 Lt (later Major, DSO) Keith Reid Walker, 2/7 Inf Bn and VX115 Major Robert Roy Macartney, 2/3rd RAA, together with 135 ORs including 56 of Major Garrett's marines and 23 AIF soldiers and 3 2NZEF soldiers. His barge set off on 01. 06. 41.

Quoting Long again (A2 p308):

"That day it reached the island of Gaydhapoula, eighteen miles from the coast, where the engines were overhauled and rations collected; that night it started for Africa. The petrol was exhausted the next day, and the craft drifted along on the 2nd, 3rd (a despondent Palestinian soldier shot himself on that day) and 4th days.

"On the 5th, a sail was made by lacing 7 blankets with bootlaces and the barge got under way, though when she veered out of the wind, the fit men had to go over the side and push her into it again. That day the ration was reduced to half a biscuit coated with bully beef and half a cup of water per man.

"On the 6th there was no wind. On the 7th a British soldier died of exposure. By the 8th all the men were very weak; Garrett held a church service "which did a lot to help us sail along". That evening land was seen and with expert handling of sail by Cpl Henry Nugent, and Alan Legge, both of the 2/2 Inf Bn guided by the wonderful sailing knowledge of Major Garrett, eventually beached the barge at 0230 hours of the 9th June ... position approximately nineteen miles west of Sidi Barrani."

The 21 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

References:

A2 "Greece, Crete and Syria", Gavin Long.
C29 "The Fiery Phoenix", Bolger and Littlewood, p.106, 118.

Acknowledgments and Thanks to:

Ken Drew
Jack Wiles

The "Richards" Barge

Ex Hora Sfakion 01. 06. 41. Arrived AL 09. 06. 41. (2 officers - 50 men {10 AIF 3 NZEF})

When WX1944 Pte Harry Richards DCM of the 2/11 Inf Bn realised that the battle for Crete had been lost, he "rescued" an invasion barge 96 SD 15 which he christened "Leaving" and concealed it in a cave. It had 80 gallons of petrol and Richards decided he could take off fifty men and sail them to the African coast, calling at Gavdhos Island on the way to replenish food, water and fuel. The barge started at 9.20 on 01. 06. 41. As it moved noisily into open water, Germans opened fire with two machine guns but Richards and his engineer, a New Zealander 5341 Pte A.H. Taylor, HQ NZ Division, soon had it moving at top speed. Just before dawn next morning it ran aground on Gavdhos. There the passengers filled the water containers.
Finding that only 55 gallons of petrol remained and food was short, Richards appealed for volunteers to remain on the island to give the others a reasonable chance of reaching Egypt. Ten men, including NX6214 Ken Griffen and NX6267 Clarrie Croucher, both drivers of the 2/1st Fld Amb stood aside hoping to be picked up by the Navy. (They were later captured by the crew of a German flying boat and flown back to Athens.) At dusk the barge set sail, now with two officers and and fifty men, including one Greek.

On the afternoon of the 3rd, the "Leaving" met another barge sailing south (the "Garrett" barge?); at 5.30 he wrote in his log (Long p. 309): "Here is where we want a lot of luck as now our petrol is all used up and still have over 100 miles to go". On the 4th and 5th, the barge sometimes drifted sometimes moved at a "fair speed" with a sail made by Richards from four blankets. On the 5th the food was practically exhausted and for the next three days consisted of only some tins of margarine and cocoa which Richards mixed and issued in small quantities with cocoa mixed with hot water.

On the morning of the 8th the men were very weak. Richards wrote in his log: "Sunday 8 June 0900 hrs. Flat calm - more cocoa and margarine - all hands, very weak and conditions becoming worse hourly. At this stage I have had to address some of the members in words I cannot write - just the same moaning few. 1000 hours. I have called all members together and we held a service which was conducted by an English sergeant. I might mention here that every man on the boat put his heart and soul into this service. 1030 hrs ... I have sighted land, but am afraid for the time being to announce this as it might be a trick of imagination, but no - as I creep nearer I distinguish land clearly.

For fourteen more hours the barge drifted towards land and grounded near Sidi Barrani at 02.30 hours the next day. Wrote one escaper: "Richards care and devotion for us was beyond description. He exercised his command in a most masterly manner and inspired every one of us to keep his spirits up."

The 13 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

The "Fielding" Groups

Many enterprising and daring escapes from Crete were made not only immediately after the Allied surrender by various "barge parties", but throughout the Axis occupation of Crete, by evacuation "groups" organised by Allied HQ in Cairo. SOE and other organisations, such as MI9, were constantly dropping specialist personnel and supplies to help their agents in the field, aided by British naval forces, particularly submarines, for the only feasible way out from Crete was by sea.

In his book "My Escape from Crete", New Zealander Jim McDevitt vividly describes his various attempts to contact an elusive and secretive "Captain Emilios" an MI9 agent. "Captain Emilios" was the nom de guerre of Lt Commander Vernacos, RNVR, based in Alexandria. Fluent in English, Greek and Turkish, he carried a Turkish passport, and maintained close liasion with General Mandakis, the renowned Cretan freedom fighter, respected and revered by the rural population of Crete.

However Jim's eventual successful escape from Crete was organised through an SOE operative Captain Xan Fielding. This extraordinary officer could speak many different languages and had networks of friends in almost every Mediterranean country.

A. HMS "Thrasher"

Embarked 28 July, 1941, at Limni Bay, near Preveli, on submarine HMS "Thrasher" reaching Alexandria 31.07.41. (61 in all including 39 AIF and 3 NZEF).

The 42 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

B. HMS "Torbay"

Embarked 20 August, 1941, at Limni Bay, near Preveli, on submarine HMS "Torbay" reaching Alexandria 22.08.41. (125 in all including 42 AIF and 61 NZEF).

The 103 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

According to official numbers, this would mean there would be 22 non-ANZACS on the "Torbay". But we know 17 of these were either British, Cypriot or local Greeks, leaving 5 unaccounted for.

15 ANZACs, primarily from the AIF 2/11 Bn, are shown in photographs as having been evacuated around the same time. They must either have been on board the "Torbay" and not recorded or brought out from Crete by the official British naval evacuation fleet prior to the "Torbay".

These 15 "extra" ANZACS are listed here in .pdf format.

Redpath Group

Embarked October 9, 1941, from the village of Agios Nicolaos, in the vicinity of Cape Malea in SE Peloponnese and arrived in Mersa Matruh on 15.10.41. 10 AIF and 7 NZEF were aboard.

The 17 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

A diverse group of Allied POW on the run in Crete were assembling in the hope of quitting the island by sailing to neutral Turkey or Egypt and ultimate freedom. This group was acting on its own initiative and was led by New Zealander Sgt John Redpath, 30836, NZASC.

Redpath held a master-mariner's ticket and hoped to pirate one of the trading vessels that regularly paid fleeting visits to the small port in order to drop off Cretan smugglers before sailing on their way to Piraeus. The Mayor of the small village was Demetrios Livanos, known to all as Jim, who had once worked on the South African goldfields and could speak good English.

He and John Redpath had hatched a plan to pirate one such boat, suitable for a trip across the Mediterranean, the small group acting as both crewmen and passengers to freedom. Other Greek ex-patriates, Bill Pantelakis and Jim Boueteris, who had returned to Greece to marry and could also speak good English, were involved in the planning. After several false starts, a caique they renamed "Aghia Irini", loaded with figs, was successfully pirated, while dropping off smugglers.

17 POW boarded the vessel for its planned trip to Sollum. Jim Bouteris also joined to act as interpreter, leaving his family behind. Before boarding the ship, John Redpath penned the following testimonial letter to Demetrious Livanos and his escape committee:

Demetrious G. Livanos, Esq.
Merchant, St. Nicholas, Neon Batika
Greece

3rd Oct. 1941.

Dear Jim,

For some time, we have realised that your life and the lives of your family, have been at stake through us.

We know that despite continued threats to your life both verbal and written, from the Italian garrison of 150 men, you have continued to give your loyal support, notwithstanding the fact that the Italians know we are here and are looking for us in this vicinity. Since our arrival on the 14th Aug., we have been most grateful to you for your hospitality in looking after us for food and clothing & now with the time arriving for us, through your efforts to return to our country, we wish to leave this letter as a record for you.

We appreciate the possibility that after our leaving here, some traitorous person may give you away & should this happen, our country will recognise that your loss has been suffered through loyalty to us. We sincerely trust that no such thing will come to pass, but that the time will soon arrive when you are all free & are once again enjoying the peace & happiness that should justly be yours!

Repeating our verbal thanks,
We remain your most grateful friends,

VX14087 Frank Travers 2/2nd Field Rgt AIF
1876300 J. Roe 62nd Field Coy RE
VX15848 Reg Hipwell 2/7 Bn AIF
VX856 Cpl Kingsley Murphy 2/2nd Fld Rgt AIF
VX15841 Ted Millman 2/7 Bn AIF
9375 T.S. Leaver 20th Battalion NZEF
NX15437 Ian McLaren 2/2nd Bn AIF
NX8942 Ernest Noel Park 2/2nd Bn AIF
WX179 John Cole 2/3rd Field Rgt AIF
VX17073 Charles Jager 2/2nd Field Rgt AIF
2548 W.H. Bristow 18th Bn NZEF
955 B. Barrow OHC NZEF
13358 G.Witty 9L G.E.
2702 A. Empson 18th Bn NZEF
VX10532 Leo "Pat" McLaren 2/2nd Field Rgt AIF
21069 G.E. Voyce 5th Field Rgt NZEF
WX399 Charles Hosking 2/11th Bn AIF
30836 G. Moysted 19th Army Troop Co NZEF

John Redpath had a compass, a map given to him by "Jim" Livaros, a passenger/crew of 17 jubilant "escapados" on deck and the swearing skipper and two man crew of the "Aghia Irini" locked below with their cargo of figs.

He took a fix from the lighthouse on Cape Matapan, plotted a course between Matapan and Kythera, ran up a swastika flag he found in a locker and began to allocate duties. But only one day's rations had come aboard, for a journey that was to last 8 days. For five days the "Aghia Irini" resolutely held her course under a Greek flag. Fuel had long run out, but winds continued to fill her sails and at at last Cole, on watch, sighted the North African coast and the harbour entrance to Sollum. But nearing that entrance, they were attacked by enemy planes. Sollum was still in the hands of the Afrika Corps!

Despite juggling with the swastika, the Greek flag and finally a white one, a well-disposed fate switched the wind to a southerly blowing from the desert which rapidly developed into a "khamseen" - the dreaded desert dust storm. This not only hid the boat from enemy view but blew them into striking distance of Mersa Matruh, still in British hands. The "Aghia Irini" had finally found a safe berth, and its crew found their long sought freedom at last!

VX17073 Charles Jager, 2/2 Fld Rgt, was a passenger on the "Aghia Irini" and the following is reproduced by kind permission from his book "Pirating the "Aghai Irini"": 

"In 1991, the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion of Greece, the Department of Veteran Affairs sent me a letter, which had been written by Helen Sara of Figtree, NSW. Helen enclosed a copy of the original letter of thanks, signed by the 18 escapers, which was sent to her grandfather - Dimitri "Jim" Livanos - on 3 October, 1941.

"In her letter to DVA, Helen wrote "the risks that my grandfather and his family took were great and the costs of reprisals from the Germans and Italians were heavy. My mother, Mrs. Georgia Tsiamis (nee Livanos) is now almost 66 years old. At the time she was a sixteen year old, who because of her youth, had to run errands between her father and the hidden ANZACs. My mother migrated to Australia in 1956 and has remained a citizen of Australia. I am certain that there are many here in Australia who partook in partisan activities to help the Allied Forces during WW2. I also know that Australia has acknowledged many of these people."

"As Helen asked to be advised how to contact any of the men who signed the letter to her grandfather, the DVA forwarded it to me. I contacted Pat Murphy and we drove up to Wollongong to meet Helen, her husband, daughters, brothers and mother, Georgia, the slip of a girl whose laden donkey carried food to those dauntless people of Saint Nicholas to our cave. What would they be like, we wondered? Successful Greek settlers, with charming Australian children! Helen teaches English at a Catholic Girls College in Wollongong. This is her story of the happenings in St. Nicholas after we sailed to Sollum:

"Thirty six hours after you sailed from St. Nicholas, the company of Italian infantry, quartered in Neapolis, began a sweep through Cape Malea searching for your cave. My grandfather, Dimitri Livanos, who was Mayor of St. Nicholas, had impressed on his family that, under whatever duress, they must deny all knowledge of you and maintain their stance to the end. Consequently, when Italian infantry broke the doors and entered my grandmother's kitchen - demanding your whereabouts and threatening to shoot the children one by one if it were not divulged - my mother grappled with a pointed rifle and in the melee which followed, received shots through the lip, the right arm, a thigh and just below the right knee. My grandfather was beaten unconscious and jailed.

"But his family remained steadfast in their story and by this time the evidence against them was far away at sea. The skipper of the "Saint Irini", the caique which you pirated, was recompensed by the British Administrator for the losses he'd suffered, with a purse of gold sovereigns. He declined a job offer and when his caique was again seaworthy, sold his figs and sailed for home. Instead of retracing his route, he crept up the coast of Palestine, Syria and Turkey, then, hopping from island to island by night via the Dodecanese to the Peloponnese, he anchored in the cove where you had stolen his boat. From there he walked to our house in St. Nicholas and in the kitchen, pulled out his purse and thanking my grandfather for making his fortune, trickled a stream of sovereigns onto the table. His reward from the British authorities in Alexandria for co-operating with you, enabled him to buy his own caique and become a successful trader."

Subsequent organised evacuations

A. Smith-Hughes/Carstairs Group 

A Group organised by Fielding's successor, Capt J. Smith-Hughes with the assistance of Lt Jim Carstairs of the 2/7 Inf Bn, embarked on HMS "Hedgehog" at Treis Ekklessies on 23.11.41. arriving in Alexandria 29.11.41.

The 56 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

B. Moir Group

Led by Sgt Tom Moir, this group stole a boat in Sfinari on the west coast of Crete, sailed south to Cape Krios, from where they left on 8.4.42 for North Africa. They made landfall at Sidi Barrani on 14.4.42., bringing out 3 AIF and 6 NZEF soldiers.

These 9 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

C. Cumberledge/Saunders Group

Under the overall direction of SOE, this group was taken from a small beach at Trofalas below the village of Krotos on 22.5.42. They reach Alexandria on 25.5.42. There were 4 AIF and 9 NZEF aboard.

These 13 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

D. Campbell/Frazer Group

Under the direction of SOE, this group was taken from the same small beach at Trofalas below the village of Krotos. Embarked on 6.6.42 and reached Alexandria on 8.6.42. There were 5 AIF and 8 NZEF aboard.

These 13 ANZAC passengers are listed here in .pdf format.

E. "Papanikolis" Submarine

RHN "Papanikolis" was providing support for sabotage operations in western Crete in June 1942. It embarked 8 NZEF soldiers listed in this .pdf.

F. Fielding/McDevitt Group

The responsibility for assembling this group was taken by Xan Felding and Tom Moir (before he was captured). Jim McDevitt took his place. The group assembled at Tripiti. They departed 6.5.43 and arrived in Tobruk on 8.5.43.

This party included some local Cretans, and a VIP lady, who in order to escape her village where she was being watched by a Gestapo informer, had to take to the mountain tracks in high heel shoes (to match her cover story of visiting a local family birthday party) which forced her to walk several difficult miles to keep a rendezvous with a submarine.

Some 15 AIF and 14 NZEF members were aboard and are listed here in .pdf format.

In the unit history of the 2/7th Infantry Bn, "The Fiery Phoenix", Geoff Ruddick writes (B7 p130-1):

"There were many familiar faces among the assembly - Claude Peck, Johnny Duncan, Tommy Spriggs and "Money Bags" Corbould. Cliff and I agreed it was not wise to remain too long in an unfamiliar area, so the next day headed back to Dhrakona. A couple of weeks later, when we had left our cave unbeknown to anybody in the village, a runner came through the area with the news of another boat. He was taken to our cave, but finding it deserted, had gone on his way. By this time our party had grown considerably following the false alarm three weeks earlier, and now numbered ten. Cliff and I, as the only ones acquainted with the area, decided to go on the scrounge for food. At last fate smiled on us.

"On this trip we caught up with the runner who gave us the information about the craft. We hurried back to the rest of the party, nearly walking into the arms of two Germans on our way. Having convinced everyone that the news was true, we travelled until at last we met up again with our old mates. This time they included Johnny Greaves and Slim Howard. Soon after crossing the Omalo flats, we were joined by the escape organiser, Captain Xan Fielding.

"We holed up in a large cave that night and the next day and as evening approached, set off towards the coast, slipping and sliding in the loose shale, until we reached a small sandy cove, surrounded by rocky outcrops. The boat was due to arrive at 9.40pm. As darkness settled in, the tension and excitement began to build up. Then there was a deep rumbling out to sea. Twenty minutes or so later, the vague outline of a boat could be seen. What it was no one knew. Then the engines stopped. It was 9.40 pm.

"Captain Fielding flashed a brief signal with a lamp. No reply was made. Minutes passed. Then we heard a sound close into the shore and saw a dark outline in the water a few yards out. Then "Captain Fielding?" It was May 6 and we had almost made it. Our boat had arrived and soon a small two-man dinghy started to ferry out the 40 odd anxiously awaiting throng to the ship. Cliff and I made sure we got into the same lift, just in case. We clambered up the side of the boat and were quietly led to our waiting area. An hour passed, a second; then soon after midnight, the ship's engines burst into life and the boat began to move. Quickly it built up speed, with sparks belching from the funnel and the engines going full blast, pulled away from Crete and the Germans.

"The 2/7th Australian Infantry Battalion personnel, who came off Crete that night were: Claude Peck, John Duncan, Jack Corbould, John Greaves, Vic Howard, Dave Pettigrew, Wally Allan, Cliff Ruddick and myself.

"The German listening stations just along the coast of Crete, must surely have seen our departure but all went well without incident. As soon as we were underway, we were served mugs of steaming hot thick soup, with bread and butter and each man was given a blanket. All through the night, our little ship raced along, but we were too excited and too cold, despite the blanket, to sleep much. With daylight, came mugs of hot cocoa, jam and cigarettes - as many as we wanted. Soon after midday, we could see the hazy outline of the African coast. About one hour later we were racing towards the entrance to Tobruk harbour.

"Just as the ship was entering, a small launch sped towards us, signal lamp blinking, and we suddenly veered to starboard and proceeded to follow the smaller boat into the harbour. Our ship, a sub-chaser, was apparently unfamiliar with the Tobruk defences and we heard later that we were heading straight for a minefield when warned away. The ship tied up at the wharf. We were free at last.

"After being issued with British Army uniforms at Tobruk, we were taken to Alexandria for interrogation. After the de-briefing, we were required to sign a declaration not to divulge any details of our escape. The security for the entire Cretan rescue operations was pretty tight; so much so, in fact, that the drivers of the British transport unit which we met and later moved us, were only told to pick up some cavemen from Tobruk!

"What do I remember of Crete? The unselfish help given by the people, their loyalty and courage and their unswerving faith in ultimate victory. The many characters we had met - Nick, Billy Gilberet, Mick "The Thief", Pete "The Barber", Yankee Johnny and many more. We saw no evidence of reprisals carried out by the Germans, although we heard of a few imprisonments for helping prisoners to escape.

"On our return to Australia, we were given some leave. Those who were to re-join the 2/7th Battalion did so at Wondecla in the Atherton Tablelands as the unit was arriving home after its magnificent victories in the Wau-Salamaua campaign. Tommy Spriggs missed the boat from Crete and was taken off at a later date, as was Bill Ledgerwood, who remained behind to work with some British Intelligence Officers."

References:

C8 "Crete 1941 - Eyewitnessed", Hadjipateras & Fafalios, NZ, 1989. ISBN 1869411153
A2 "Greece, Crete and Syria", Gavin Long, Vol II "Australia in the War of 1939 -1946."
E10 "Greece and Crete -1941", Christopher Buckley, Efstathiadis Gp, Athens, 1984 .
A6 "Prisoners of War", Wayne Mason, Official History of N.Z in WWII.
C18 "My Escape from Crete", Jim McDevitt, NZ, 2002. ISBN 0473083108
C24 "Ten Days to Destiny", G.C. Kiriakopoulos, USA, 1985. ISBN 0531097854
B7 "The Fiery Phoenix", Unit Association History of the 2/7th Inf Bn, AIF.
B10 "The 2/11th (City of Perth) History of the 2/11th Inf Bn", ISBN 187686401X
C21 "The Parker Report", AWM, Canberra, File 54-781/6/6 et al.

Aegean Adventures with Caiques

As in neutral Switzerland, the British Secret Service in Turkey used its established Consulate structure in Turkey as a basis for its Intelligence activities there. An ex-naval Lt Commander Noel Rees, the British Consul in Izmir (Smyrna) had established a clandestine naval base at Cesme, opposite Chios on the peninsular west of Izmir. He had even persuaded the local Turkish authorities to declare the peninsula a prohibited area to deter unwelcome Turkish and German access to the base. Noel Rees had been Vice-consul in Chios, his Mother was Greek, and his family providoring  business was well-known throughout the Levant.

After the fall of Greece, he set up an evasion route through the Southern Aegean with another hidden caique base at Antiporas, supplied by submarine.

When Lt George Greenway, the former Intelligence Officer of the 2/11th Inf Bn was brought out from Crete among the Fielding Group parties on the submarine "Thrasher", he volunteered to go back to Crete as an SOE agent to assist further evacuation of the many Allied POW still hiding out there. But as Cairo had decided not to give a high priority to further evacuations from Crete, he volunteered to work under Captain Parrish of the SOE with the "mosquito" fleet of caiques and small vessels being assembled in Cesme to transport men and materials servicing the escape routes.

He was joined by two other AIF escapers who had volunteered to work behind enemy lines -  Bill Bazeley of the 2/5th Bn and Frank Brewer of the 2/1st RAA on the "Evangelista" one of the first vessels chosen for the secret ferrying organisation "trading" in refugees between neutral Turkey and German-occupied Greece and Crete. The "Evangelista" was selected from several Greek vessels being repaired and modified at Famagusta, the chief port of Cyprus.

She was a big 75 foot caique designed for inter-island trading capable of carrying quite heavy cargoes. Powered by a Dutch diesel engine of a very early design which needed to be started by compressed air. This was stored in a cylinder which was kept filled by the engine when it was running - hence no air, no engine - as it was impossible to start up the big diesel by hand. A second smaller type of fishing vessel, of basically the same design, was also selected and re-named the "Lady May".

The long periods of inactivity, lack of plans, frustrations with command and the continued bad weather endured on board the "Evangelista" as it moved from port to port, are evidenced in the log kept by George Greenway of his five month tour of duty on the "Evangelista" from November 1941 to April 1942. This log has been superficially edited by the Recorder, by omitting some, now superfluous weather reports and technical notes - repetition of minor events and movements etc. but is substantially verbatim to reflect the conditions under which the "Evangelista" and her crew fulfilled her duties:

Dec 15 - Arrived at F. at 09:15 - Met by C. and taken to Arty Mess.
Dec 19 - Completed loading. Due to leave tomorrow.
Dec 21 - Left Famagusta 11:30. Moderate swell around Cape Greaves. Arrived Larnica 19:30. Vibration. Terrible rain.
Dec 22 -  Left Larnica 08:30. Calm. Later fair S wind. Arrived Limasol 14:30. Third boat taken over.
Dec 23 - At Limosal. Vernicos ashore all night. Light E breeze S swell.
Dec 25 - What a Xmas! Rain, wind and thunder. No word from Vernicos or Parrish.
Dec 27 - Parrish and Vernicos buzzing about. Weather pretty unsettled. Blew strongly from W later veering back to NW.
Dec 30 - At North Bay. Strong W to SW wind. Finishing off jib. Had meal with Turkish goatherders.
Jan 1 - Tried crossing but too rough. Lying on Kyrenia side of North Cape 20 miles from Kyrenia. Wind SW. Blown out of shelter by shift of wind and driven to Kyrenia arriving at 14:30. Lost dinghy. Snow during night.
Jan 4 - Weather improving. Heard of refugee ship with 60 people arriving on coast during night. Got new dinghy.
Jan 7 - Weather changed for worse at midnight. Fierce squalls of wind from SE. Very rough. Arrived Fetiya 12:15. Very cold. Things only so-so.
Jan 11 - Lot of rain. Left Papas Is. 10.00. Ordered into Marmarice at 13.00. Located No1 by phone.
Jan 14 - Passed Turkish patrol launch and two caiques. Passed Point Krio at 15.00. On to Bodrum.
Jan 15 - Moved into harbour. Lying very quiet as there are two Italian caiques in port. Five PM caiques from Pireous in harbour with Greek refugees also another Italian from Coz. Filled up with fresh water.
Jan 18 - Cleaned up a very dirty ship washing and getting shipshape. Not too popular around here. Told to clear out but pointed out that engine was out of order pending return of No.1. Rotten day. Rain from E. Little wind.
Jan 20 - Rain. Forced from anchorage and had to move round to Basilicos Bay. Doutful attitude of Turks. Fowls a damned nuisance - one died.
Jan 24 - Wind all over the place. Very cold. Forced out of Skrophos Bay 07:00 and went to Basilicus Bay. Rain and sleet.
Jan 29 - No.2 rejoined us in Skrophos Bay at 15.00 yesterday. Too rough for them. Turks fired on them when they tried to land.
Jan 31 - At Kushadasi. Parrish to Smyrna. Customs very inquisitive. Very doubtful and suspect. News not so good and everybody a bit blue. Wish we knew where the unit is. Drew one and a half pounds sterling from Vice-Consul.
Feb 5 - Still at Ayasmata Bay. Started engine and blew up air bottle. Duncutter changed tap and pipe. Consulate Rep down. Orders to move to Smyrna countermanded.
Feb 11 - In Bay all day. Fine but still fair SE wind. Feel pretty rotten. Touch of flu.
Feb 13 - Rain. SE breeze. Getting very fed up. OC too superstitious to sail, What a show!
Feb 16 - Arrived Polymos 07:00. Heard Var. had left for Athens about 10 days ago. Stores all gone. Saw several planes en route Crete. Crossed to Kimolos in evening. Nothing in house so returned to Polymos.
Feb 21 - Still on west of Island. Feelings strained. Capt. Parrish informed us that he had never wanted any Australians on the trip, but we were forced on him.
Feb 26 - Still hung up. Wind now blowing right into bay and very uncomfortable. Left 18:45 for Polymos.
Feb 27 - Bit of excitement. Went up to recce Red House and saw patrol boat arrive. Later embarked 8 armed men, but went round W of Antiparos. Small boat arrived and took same course.
Mar 3 - At island of Fourni. Bad fright when patrol boat searched adjoining island. Left at 19:00 for Turkish coast. Quick trip and reached Samos Straits at 21:30. Arrived Paraskevi Bay, turned north and headed for Paraskevi. Two other caiques in same business as ourselves in bay. Cold and threatening rain.
Mar 7 - At Paraskevi Bay awaiting orders. Coldish NE Wind. Played bridge and read.
Mar 10 - Cold night. Overcast. Light NE winds. Boys received mail today. Mr. Rees was in Cesme yesterday and we think we might be called on.
Mar 11 - Still no news from Smyrna. Boys all getting very hostile as they think common decency might have dictated a note to tell us how things were going. Patrol departed again. Parrish at 17:00.
Mar 13 - Guess Parrish would say that this is a bad day to do anything again. Transhipped stores. Fitted pipe. Left for Paraskevi at 14:00.
Mar 14 - Struck reef at 02:00. Can't do a thing. Bow high up on rocks. Making little water. "Evangelista" gone on to unload and return. Back at 07:30. Unloaded fuel and put out stern anchor. Got off at 08:30. Arrived Paraskevi 09:15. Plugged leak.
Mar 16 - Caique from Cesme came round and took on 15 drums of fuel oil. Cold NW wind. Parrish from Smyrna at 16:30. Orders to move and pick up refugees from Cesme. Left Paraskevi 18:15. Hit rocks at 18:50.
Mar 17 - Rotten night. Things looked very black for some time. "Lady May" arrived at 12:30 and towed us off rocks and around to Cesme arriving 15:30. To bed at 18:00 and will I sleep!
Mar 19 - Finished engine repairs in morning and filled up with water. Waiting orders. Left at 18:30 with 75 refugees. Calm.
Mar 22 - Broke rudder collar in squall at 01:30. Heavy seas. Roped collar roughly and staggered into bay on W side of C. Kaledonyia. Customs out. No trouble. Will try and leave at daybreak. Mod. N Wind.
Mar 23 - Heavy squalls during night. Started up at 10.45. Heavy seas off cape. Clutch slipping so turned back.
Mar 25 - Heavy gales during night. Bought more eggs and milk. Bit worried about condition of one of our passengers. He is very weak. Wind dropping.
Mar 27 - Arrived Larnica at 06:45. Stopped by Customs launch who promised to ring Famagusta. Boom opened and moved in 07:00. Medical authorities difficult. Got rid of Greeks at 13:00 but not allowed on shore. Ship fumigated.
Mar 29 - Moved back to caique at 07:30 and out to quarantine camp at Maurovourni at  10:00. Everybody most helpful. Capt. Haimer out. Also F/O Asche. Bathed and changed clothes. Brewer to Hospital.
Mar 31 - Mass visit from our little lot of evacuees. They looked very funny as all their clothes have been taken away and they are dressed in pyjamas. Their gratitude rather embarassing. Lt. Reide out. Also two RAF chappies. Leave tomorrow?
Apr 1 - Reporters out interviewing refugees. Nothing doing. Strong W to SW wind. Large party of refugees moved out to new camp. Getting very impatient. Attention slipping a bit.
Apr 2 - Director of Medical Services out re shipment of flour to Turkey. Does not hold out much hope of any release before our ten days are up.
Apr 3 - Up to see F/O Ashe. Gave him report on Italian aerial patrols to pass on. Bored stiff. Can't be bothered reading or anything else.
Apr 4 - Note from Capt. Haimer. Slept and read all day. More new arrivals in and a bunch of women and rejects departed.
Apr 5 - Heard of arrival of "Anna" from Cesme. Slept and read. Budding soldiers from our camp departed to another camp.
Apr 6 - Rang Haimer and made arrangement for transport for 10:00 tomorrow. 450 fresh arrivals in CMO (Civil) out. Also chappie re flour for Turkey. Choked him off.
Apr 7 - Transport did not turn up. Rang Haimer and found that truck was to be supplied by Indian T. Sec at Maurovourini. Went up and saw them and made arrangements for 09:00 tomorrow. Saw our own little lot depart.
Apr 8 - Left Maurovourini at 09:15. Saw Capt. Haimer at Nicosia and arrived Famagusta.  Met Capt. McDonald. Dinner with Harrison. Picked up Brewer at Nicosia Gen. Hospital as we came through.
Apr 9 - Had lunch with NOIC Capt. McDonald. Ammo and weapons to be stored in Naval Magazine ML Yom Haifa. Orders to proceed to Haifa on "Foudeiah." ML to Beirut. Brewer with fever. Phoned Haimer.
Apr 10 - Slept up with Navy lads last night. Handed over 3 tommy guns to Lt. Harrison. Had lunch with Commissioner (Mr. Browne). Can't get any money for crew.
Apr 11 - Rang Haimer pm. Got as much satisfaction as I expected - precisely nothing. He is sending 25 Pounds to make an advance to crew. Can't get on with anything until we get definite instructions and "Foudeiah" is due tomorrow - Lovely! Harbour full of caiques. Received the 25 pounds from Haimer and paid boys 5 pound each.
Apr 12 - Mr Browne down - asked me up for a drink. "Foudeiah" and "Empire Ortolan"  arrived. No news yet from M.E. Looks sick. Preparing to have another try to raise tug. Two sigs from Haimer re engine repairs and reporting to ESO.
Apr 13 - Efforts to raise tug a failure. Signal from Haimer re handing over our caique. Saw ESO. Paid Capt. and skipper 5 pound on account.
Apr 14 - Reported to ESO at 10:00. Put gear on board. Bazeley, Brewer and Ritson to go on board at 14:30. Had tea with STO people. SA escort. Left Famagusta 18:30.
Apr 15 - Off Beiruth at 05:30. Haifa 13:30. Joined by tanker and destroyer. Slight swell and a few casualties.
Apr 16 - Arrived Port Said at 11:00. Saw ESO and obtained rail warrants. Departed Port Said 14:10. Arrived Cairo 18:15.

References:

J1 "Aegean Adventures 1940-43", Michael Parish, Lewes, 1993.  ISBN 0863327885
M20? M11? "Escape and Evasion - 1939-45", Foot and Langley, London, 1979 (p 89-93)
B10? "2/11th Inf Bn 1939-45", K. T. Johnston, Perth, John Burrage, 2000.

Acknowlegments and thanks to:

Bill Bazeley MM MID
Ken Johnston
Ivor White
Lew Wiles

AIF POW in Crete - Support Troops

An examination of the figures set out in Table "B" of the Parker File, indicates that of the total figure of 3,109 POW, 2,045 were from infantry battalions, 1,000 were front line support groups and 64 were base troops.

When the order was given "every man for himself", such support units as the 2/3rd RAA, the 2/8th RAE and the 2/6th Field Ambulance with a relatively large number of both officer and OR POW managed to maintain unit discipline which is reflected in their number of POW escaping by barge.

Under such general orders it was more the calibre of the individual, rather than his unit discipline which was reflected in later successful escapes.

Although the 2/1st Field Regiment had no men in Crete, one of their gunners, NX3461 Francis Neil Tudor Brewer, MID, left behind in Greece after formal evacuation there ceased, managed to escape from the German Transit POW Camp at Salonika and succeded in reaching Turkey. He volunteered to return to Salonika to use his contacts there by working behind enemy lines helping others escape. He was later to receive the MM (Supp 35499 of 24/3/42)

VX13678 WOII Thomas Alfred Milton Boulter of the Intelligence Section of HQ 1 Aust Corps also escaped from the German POW Camp in Corinth on June 7, 1941. Single-handedly, he made his way to Turkey and eventually back to Palestine, bringing back much valuable information. He was awarded the MM (Supp 35499 of 24/3/42). He subsequently was commissioned ending his war as a Captain in 9th Divisional HQ.

NX3814 Cpl Walter Jeffery Boon of the 6th Division Postal Unit was another MM who managed to escape Germany capitivity in Crete and joined partisans in Yugoslavia. He was commisioned as a Lieutenant on 04.08.43 and was discharged as a Captain.

NX8611 Lewis James Lind of the 2/3rd Field Regiment, lived underground in Crete until selected for a Fielding group and evacuated from Limni by submarine. His book "Escape from Crete" C12 published in 1944 was heavily censored for security reasons, but fifty year later, he re-wrote and expanded it in 1994 under the title "Flowers of Rethymon" C14.

More recently still, VX17073 Charles Henry Jager of the 2/2nd Field Rgt gives his story of "Escape from Crete - The Pirating of the "Aghia Irini"" C11

VX10100 Ian Ramsay also of the 2/2nd Field Rgt has also written a book - "POW - A Digger in Hitler's Prison Camps" M28. His escape was not from Crete, but from a forced march from Stalag 383, near Nuremberg in Germany in the dying stages of hostilities.

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