Egypt: Operation Lustre; Following his meeting with New Zealand’s General Freyberg the previous day, General Archibald Wavell, Commander in Chief, Middle East Command met with General Thomas Blamey, General Officer Commanding I Australian Corps, and explained the composition of an Allied force intended for operations in Greece. The force was to consist of the New Zealand Division, the Australian 6th and 7th Divisions, HQ of the I Australian Corps, the British 1st Armoured Brigade and the Polish Independent Carpathian Rifle Brigade.
Austria: Vienna; At the Belvedere Palace, Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovich signed the Tripartite Pact and formed an alliance with the Axis powers. Foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop signed on behalf of Germany.
Yugoslavia; Belgrade; Following widespread protest against the signing of the Tripartite Pact, the regime of Prince Paul was overthrown in a coup d’etat that had British support. King Peter II was declared to be of age despite being only 17. The new Yugoslav government, under Prime Minister and General Dusan Simovic refused to ratify Yugoslavia's signing of the Pact and started negotiations with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.
Mediterranean: Information gained by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Blectchley Park, from their first reading of the Italian naval Enigma code, was that an Italian battle fleet consisting of one battleship, six heavy and two light cruisers plus destroyers was sailing to attack the Allied convoys en-route to Greece. Dispatched to intercept them, Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Pridham-Wippel with four light cruisers and a number of destroyers sailed from Greek waters for a position south of Crete. Led by Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, the British Mediterranean Fleet consisting of the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable with battleships Barham, Valiant and Warspite and accompanied by the 10th and 14th Destroyer Flotillas, departed Alexandria to rendezvous with them.
Mediterranean: Battle of Cape Matapan; At 07.55 the Italian heavy cruiser group consisting Trento, Trieste and Bolzano, accompanied by three destroyers, encountered Admiral Pridham-Wippell's light cruiser group south of the Greek island of Gavdos. Thinking they were attempting to run from their larger ships, the Italians gave chase, opening fire at 08:12 from 24,000yd but scored no significant hits. As they had not reduced the distance after an hour of pursuit, the Italian cruisers broke off the chase, turning to the north-west on a course to rejoin battleship Vittorio Veneto. The Allied ships changed course in turn, following the Italian cruisers at extreme range. At 10:55 Vittorio Veneto joined the Italian cruisers and immediately opened fire on the shadowing Allied cruisers. The Allied vessels, until then unaware of the presence of a battleship, withdrew, suffering slight damage. Cunningham's force, which had been attempting to rendezvous with Pridham-Wippell, launched an attack by torpedo bombers from HMS Formidable at 09:38. They attacked Vittorio Veneto without direct effect. A second aerial attack at 15:09 surprised the Italians; Lieutenant-Commander John Dalyell-Stead was able to fly his Albacore to within 1000yd of Vittorio Veneto before releasing a torpedo which hit her outer port propeller and caused 4,000 tons of flooding. Dalyell-Stead and his crew were killed when their aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the battleship. The ship stopped while the damage was repaired, but she was able to get under way again at 16:42, making 19knots. A third attack by Albacores and Swordfish from Formidable and Crete took place between 19:36 and 19:50. Admiral Iachino deployed his ships in three columns and used smoke, searchlights, and a heavy barrage. The tactics prevented further damage to the battleship, but one torpedo hit heavy cruiser Pola. This blow knocked out five boilers and the main steam line, causing Pola to lose electric power and drift to a stop. Unaware of Cunningham's pursuit, a squadron of cruisers and destroyers was ordered to return and help Pola, while Vittorio Veneto and the other ships continued to Taranto. This squadron included Pola’s sister ships Zara and Fiume. At 20:15 cruiser HMS Orion’s radar picked up a ship six miles to port, apparently dead in the water; she was the crippled Pola. The bulk of the Allied forces detected the Italian squadron on radar shortly after 22:00, and were able to close without being detected. The Italian ships had no radar and could not detect British ships by means other than sight; The battleships Barham, Valiant and Warspite were able to close to 3,800 yards at which point they opened fire. After just three minutes, Zara and Fiume were destroyed. Fiume sank at 23:30, while Zara was finished off by a torpedo from the destroyer HMS Jervis at 02:40 on 29 March. Two Italian destroyers, Vittorio Alfieri and Giosue Carducci were sunk in the first five minutes. British boarding parties were sent to Pola and after her crew were taken off she was sunk by torpedoes from the destroyers Jervis and Nubian shortly after 04:00. The Allied ships took on survivors but left the scene in the morning, fearing Axis air strikes. The Italians received a signal made on the Merchant Marine emergency band. The location of the remaining survivors was broadcast, and the Italian hospital ship Gradisca came to recover them. Allied casualties during the battle were a single torpedo bomber shot down with the loss of the three-man crew. Italian losses were up to 2,303 sailors, most of them from Zara and Fiume. Amongst them was Admiral Carlo Cattaneo. The Allies rescued 1,015 survivors, while the Italians saved another 160.
Hungary: Prime Minister Count Pál Teleki, unable to prevent Hungary's participation in the war alongside Germany, committed suicide in the night. The regent, Admiral Horth, and the new Prime Minister, Laszlo Bardossy, continued to work with the Germans.
Greece: The New Zealand Division under Major-General Sir Bernard Freyberg completed its concentration on a position stretching from the Aegean coast north of Katerini westwards along the south bank of the river Aliakmon.
Libya: The British 2nd Armoured Division was authorized to withdraw from Benghazi through El Regima. On learning that the British had evacuated Benghazi, Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, commander of the Afrika Korps, ordered his troops to advance on to the city during the night.
Red Sea: While attempting a raid on Port Sudan, four destroyers from the Italian Royal Navy based at Massawa, Eritrea came under attack by Allied land and carrier based aircraft. Pantera and Tigre were damaged and scuttled off the Arabian coast while Manin and Sauro were sunk by Fairey Swordfish. A fifth destroyer, Battisti was scuttled at Massawa to prevent capture by British troops advancing from Asmara.
Iraq: A coup d'état was led by the nationalist politician General Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani and a group of officers calling themselves the "Golden Square;" the group was opposed to the British presence in the country. A 1930 agreement between Iraq and Britain had granted the British two bases there: Shuaiba, south of Basra, and Habbaniya, in the Euphrates Valley about 48 miles west of Baghdad. It was from Habbaniya that the British had flown their March 1940 espionage flights over Baku and Batum in the Soviet Union.
Yugoslavia: Operation Retribution; At 07:00 today the Luftwaffe opened the assault on Yugoslavia by conducting a saturation-type bombing raid on the capital, Belgrade. Flying in relays from airfields in Austria and Romania, 300 aircraft, of which a quarter were Junkers Ju 87 Stukas, protected by a heavy fighter escort began the attack. The dive-bombers were to silence the Yugoslav anti-aircraft defences while the medium bombers consisting mainly Dornier Do 17 and Junkers Ju 88 attacked the city The initial raid was carried out at 15-minute intervals in three distinct waves, each lasting for approximately 20 minutes. Thus, the city was subjected to a rain of bombs for almost one and a half hours. The German bombers directed their main effort against the centre of the city, where the principal government buildings were located. When the attack was over, some 4,000 inhabitants lay dead under the debris. This blow virtually destroyed all means of communication between the Yugoslav high command and the forces in the field, although most of the elements of the general staff managed to escape to one of the suburbs. Having reached Niš from its initial attacks from Bulgaria and broken the Yugoslav defences, the German 14th Motorised Corps headed north in the direction of Belgrade. The German 46th Panzer Corps had advanced across the Slavonian plain from Austria to attack Belgrade from the west, whilst the 41st Panzer Corps threatened the city from the north after launching its offensive drive from Romania and Hungary.
Greece: Operation Marita: Battle of Greece; The Germans had to break the Metaxas line, in order to capture Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city and a strategically-important port. The attack started on 6 April with one infantry unit and two divisions of the XVIII Mountain Corps. Due to strong resistance, the first day of the attack yielded little progress in breaking the line.
Libya: Axis troops reoccupied Mechili and Msus. A German motor-cycle unit captured a staff car containing Lieutenant-General Philip Neame, commander of 13 Corps, Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor and Brigadier John Combe, until recently CO of the 11th Hussars. They were later transported to Italy for imprisonment.
Ethiopia: British troops captured Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia which had been abandoned by its Italian defenders who were believed to be heading north-east to re-group with other units of the beleaguered Italian East African army.
Yugoslavia: The German XL Panzer Corps advancing from Bulgaria, captured Skopje in Macedonia and advanced towards Monastir. In the north, the German 2nd Army, under General Maximilian Baron von Weichs, advanced on Zagreb while the Italian 2nd Army under General Vittorio Ambrosio crossed into north-western Yugoslavia from Italy.
Greece: The German 12th Army under General Wilhelm List crossed the Greek border from Bulgaria and after hard fighting, captured the important Rupel Pass.
Libya: On the coast, Derna was overrun in the continuing Axis advance. Inland near Mechili an armoured battle began between the German 5th Panzer Regiment and the remnants of the British 2nd Armoured Division. As a result, the commander of the 2nd Armoured Division, Major-General Richard Gambier-Parry and much of his command, surrendered at Mechili.
Greece: The last British, Australian, New Zealand and Polish troops were taken on board ship today from Kalamata in the Peloponnese after a fighting ten-day retreat from Thermopylae. About 7,000 men were captured at Kalamata by a German Panzer force before they could be evacuated. Amongst the New Zealanders taken prisoner was Sergeant John (Jack) Daniel Hinton, 20th Battalion, 2NZEF (wounded) who was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the day of his capture.
Citation published The London Gazette, Friday, 17 October, 1941:
“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to the undermentioned:- No. 7930 Serjeant John Daniel Hinton, New Zealand Military Forces.
On the night of 28th–29th April, 1941, during the fighting in Greece, a column of German armoured forces entered Kalamata; this column, which contained several armoured cars, 2" guns, and 3" mortars, and two 6" guns, rapidly converged on a large force of British and New Zealand troops awaiting embarkation on the beach. When the order to retreat to cover was given, Serjeant Hinton, shouting "to Hell with this, who'll come with me," ran to within several yards of the nearest gun; the gun fired, missing him, and he hurled two grenades which completely wiped out the crew. He then came on with the bayonet followed by a crowd of New Zealanders. German troops abandoned the first 6" gun and retreated into two houses. Serjeant Hinton smashed the window and then the door of the first house and dealt with the garrison with the bayonet. He repeated the performance in the second house and as a result, until overwhelming German forces arrived, the New Zealanders held the guns. Serjeant Hinton then fell with a bullet wound through the lower abdomen and was taken prisoner.”
Crete: Major-General Bernard Freyberg took command of British and Imperial forces.
80 years ago on 13 May 1941, Rudolf Hess abandoned his Messerschmitt Bf 110 above Scotland and parachuted into captivity. Why he did this has been theorised about in many books and articles, but suffice to say, his overtures to peace were unsuccessful and his appearance at the Nuremberg Trials post-war enhanced the popular opinion that he had lost his mind. An engine from the Bf 110 on display in Scotland:
Hess took his own life at Spandau Prison, as the last inmate of the seven sent there following the trials, on 17 August 1987. With his death, the prison was finally closed and destroyed, but a few buildings including guard houses on-site around the Kaufland supermarket remind us of its period architecture and its morbidly fascinating history. Kaufland Spandau, formerly on the site of a British military commissary, wryly nicknamed 'Hessco's' after the British supermarket chain Tesco's.
Mediterranean: Battle of Crete; Operation Mercury, the German invasion of Crete began in the morning, the largest airborne assault yet seen. They had amassed 22000 paratroopers and mountain troops in southern Greece as well as 280 long-range bombers, 150 dive-bombers, 90 Bf 109s, 90 Bf 110s and 40 reconnaissance aircraft, along with 530 Ju 52 transport aircraft and 100 gliders. Facing them was the Allied garrison on Crete which included about 15,000 Britons, 7,750 New Zealanders, 6,500 Australians and 10,200 Greeks, many of whom were ill-equipped and recently evacuated from the Greek mainland. At 08:00 the first of the German paratroopers, jumping out of dozens of Ju 52s landed near Maleme Airfield and the town of Chania. Most of these parachutists were engaged by New Zealanders defending the airfield (21st, 22nd and 23rd Battalions) and by Greek forces near Chania. Many gliders following the paratroops were hit by mortar fire seconds after landing, and the New Zealand and Greek defenders almost annihilated the glider troops who landed safely. A second wave of German transports supported by Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica attack aircraft, arrived in the afternoon, dropping more paratroopers and gliders containing assault troops. One group attacked at Rethymno at 16:15 and another attacked at Heraklion at 17:30, where the defenders were waiting for them and inflicted many casualties. The Rethymno–Heraklion sector was defended by the British 14th Brigade, as well as the 2/4th Australian Infantry Battalion and the Greek 3rd, 7th and “Garrison” Battalions.
Norway: In the evening the German battleship Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen were sighted in a fjord south of Bergen. Two of the Home Fleet's capital ships, battlecruiser HMS Hood and battleship HMS Prince of Wales (the latter new and still working up), sailed from Scapa Flow towards Iceland to support the cruisers on Northern Patrol.
Crete: In the afternoon of 21 May, Freyberg ordered a counter-attack to retake Maleme Airfield during the night by two New Zealand battalions, the 20th Battalion of the 4th Brigade and the 28th Maori Battalion of the 5th Brigade. The delayed counter-attack on the airfield came in daylight on 22 May, when the troops faced Stuka dive bombers, dug-in paratroops and mountain troops. Despite their valiant efforts, notable amongst them those of Second-Lieutenant Charles Upham of 20th Battalion, they failed to retake the airfield and were forced to withdraw towards the eastern end of the island.
In the Aegean, a large Royal Navy force prevented a second flotilla of Axis transports from reaching Crete with reinforcements. But without air cover and running low on anti-aircraft ammunition they were subjected to prolonged attack by German bombers. Destroyer HMS Greyhound was sunk in the early afternoon and cruisers HMS Fiji and Gloucester before nightfall, with many other vessels badly damaged.
Atlantic: In the early evening, heavy cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk sighted Bismarck and Prinz Eugen north west of Iceland and shadowed them southwestwards through the Denmark Strait. HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales with escort of 6 destroyers pressed on to intercept west of Iceland. HMS Ark Royal, Renown and Sheffield, accompanied by 6 destroyers were dispatched to the Atlantic also in search of Bismarck.
Crete: The New Zealand forces around Maleme airfield retreated to a new defensive line. By mid-morning the majority of 5th (NZ) Brigade had reached the line near Platanias. The Germans made several probing raids against 28th (Maori) Battalion units holding the bridge into the village. Supporting fire from Australian artillery ensured that the Germans were unable to mount a concentrated attack on the bridge, Meanwhile Sergeant Clive Hulme of 23rd Battalion made many sorties during the day, often alone, to seek out the numerous enemy snipers in the area. As the day wore on it became apparent that the Germans were attempting to outflank the New Zealanders from the south. Once again 5th Brigade was in danger of being cut off. The decision was made to pull the brigade back to a position east of Galatas.
South of Crete, destroyer HMS Kelly (commanded by Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten) in company with HMS Kashmir, was attacked by a force of 24 Ju.87 dive-bombers. Kelly was struck amidships by a single bomb whilst turning under full helm at 30 knots and rolled over to port. She remained afloat upside down for half an hour before sinking. There were 128 survivors, including Mountbatten who was thrown in to the sea. He had been on the bridge of the ship when it flipped over but nevertheless, managed to swim to shore and take control of the rescue operation. HMS Kashmir was also hit and sank within two minutes of the air attack. There were 153 survivors who were also rescued by HMS Kipling and taken to Alexandria.
Atlantic: Battle of Denmark Strait; Just before 03:00 HMS Suffolk regained contact with Bismarck. Hood and Prince of Wales were 35 miles away. At 05:35, lookouts on Prince of Wales spotted the German ships 17 miles away. Without waiting for King George V and other ships to arrive, Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland aboard Hood ordered his squadron into action at 05.37. However the rough seas in the Strait kept the destroyers' role to a minimum and the cruisers Norfolk and Suffolk would be too far behind the German force to reach the battle.
Hood opened fire at 05:52 at a distance of approximately 26,500yd. Holland was a gunnery expert; he was well aware of the danger posed by Hood’s thin deck armour, which offered weak protection against vertical plunging fire. Holland therefore wanted to reduce the range as quickly as possible, because at a shorter range the trajectory of Bismarck’s shells would be flatter, and the shells would therefore be more likely to hit the armour belt protecting the sides of the ship or glance off the top deck, rather than penetrate vertically though the deck armour. Holland closed the range at an angle that placed the German ships too far forward of the beam, which meant that only 10 of the 18 British heavy guns could train and presented the Germans with a bigger target than necessary. Prince of Wales struck her target first. A further two hits on Bismarck caused machinery damage and medium flooding. Damage to the bow cut access to 1,000 tons of fuel oil in the forward fuel tanks, caused Bismarck to leave an oil slick and reduced her speed by 2 knots.
The Germans held their fire until 05:55, when both German ships fired on Hood. A shell hit Hood’s boat deck, starting a sizeable fire in the ready-use 4 in ammunition store but this fire did not spread to other areas of the ship. At 06:00, Holland ordered his force to turn once again to port to ensure that the aft main guns on both Hood and Prince of Wales could bear on the German ships. During the turn, a salvo from Bismarck fired from about 9 miles, was seen by men aboard Prince of Wales to straddle Hood abreast her mainmast. It is likely that one 15 in shell struck somewhere between Hood’s mainmast and "X" turret aft of the mast. A huge pillar of flame that shot upward 'like a giant blowtorch,' in the vicinity of the mainmast. This was followed by an explosion that destroyed a large portion of the ship from amidships clear to the rear of "Y" turret, blowing both after turrets into the sea. The ship broke in two and the stern fell away and sank. The bow rose clear of the water, pointed upward, pivoted about and sank shortly after the stern. "A" turret fired a salvo while in this upright position, possibly from the doomed gun crew, just before the bow section sank. Splinters rained down on Prince of Wales 5 miles away. Hood sank in about three minutes with 1,415 members of the crew. Only three survived to be rescued two hours later by the destroyer HMS Electra.
After making an emergency avoidance turn away from Hood’s wreckage, Prince of Wales resumed her previous course, but was now under the concentrated fire of both German ships. She was struck four times by Bismarck and three times by Prinz Eugen. Suffering serious gunnery malfunctions as well, Captain Leach decided that continuing the action would risk losing Prince of Wales without inflicting further damage on the enemy. He therefore ordered the ship to make smoke and withdraw. She turned away just after 06:04, firing from her rear turret under local control until it’s guns also became inoperable. The final salvoes fired were ragged and are believed to have fallen short. The ship retired from the battle around 06:10. Thirteen of her crew had been killed, nine were wounded. The timing of Prince of Wales withdrawal was fortunate for her, as she had come into torpedo range of Prinz Eugen and turned away as the German cruiser was about to fire.
Admiral Lutjens aboard Bismarck decided not to pursue Prince of Wales and with battle damage and losing fuel he aborted the mission against the Atlantic convoys and turned towards St Nazaire in France for repairs. Admiral Wake-Walker aboard Norfolk continued to shadow the German ships accompanied by Suffolk and followed by Prince of Wales.
Atlantic: At about 03.00 on 25 May Bismarck increased speed to maximum and altered course. Although Lutjens was unaware of it, she had managed to break away from radar contact with her pursuers. Then followed a frantic search by the Royal Navy to re-locate Bismarck. In all, six battleships and battlecruisers, two aircraft carriers, thirteen cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers were committed to the chase, but they were dispersed over a wide area. Later in the day British code-breakers were able to decrypt some of the German signals that indicated Bismarck was heading for Brest in occupied France. Admiral Tovey aboard King George V could now turn his forces toward France to converge in areas through which Bismarck would have to pass. Coastal Command Catalinas based in Northern Ireland joined the search. At 10.30 26 May, a Catalina from 209 Squadron piloted by Ensign Leonard B. Smith of the US Navy, located her, some 690 nautical miles north-west of Brest. At her current speed, she would have been close enough to reach the protection of U-boats and the Luftwaffe in less than a day.
Most British forces were not close enough to stop her. and many others low on fuel were forced to break off. The only possibility for the Royal Navy was HMS Ark Royal with Force H. At 20.47 fifteen Swordfish loaded with torpedoes began their attack. Two torpedoes struck Bismarck, the second in her stern on the port side, near the port rudder shaft. The coupling on the port rudder assembly was badly damaged and the rudder became locked in a 12° turn to port. The explosion also caused much shock damage. The crew eventually managed to repair the starboard rudder but the port rudder remained jammed. Bismarck was now steaming in a large circle, unable to escape from Tovey's forces. At 21:15, Lütjens reported that the ship was unmanoeuvrable.
Atlantic: When the battleships HMS Rodney and King George V located Bismarck at sunset on 26 May, Admiral Tovey ordered that the final action be delayed until the following morning. Throughout the night and into the morning, Captain Vian's destroyer group harried Bismarck, illuminating her with star shells and firing dozens of torpedoes, none of which hit. After daybreak today, King George V led the attack. Rodney followed off her port quarter. At 08:43, lookouts on King George V spotted Bismarck, some 25,000yds away. Four minutes later, Rodney’s two forward turrets, comprising six 16 in guns, opened fire, then King George V’s 14 in guns began firing. Bismarck returned fire but the ability to aim her guns deteriorated as the ship, unable to steer, moved erratically in the heavy seas. As the range fell, the ships' secondary batteries joined the battle Norfolk and Dorsetshire closed and began firing with their 8 in guns.
At 09:02, a 16-inch shell from Rodney struck Bismarck’s forward superstructure killing hundreds of men and severely damaging the two forward turrets. According to survivors, this salvo probably killed both Captain Lindemann and Admiral Lütjens and the rest of the bridge staff. The main fire control director was also destroyed by this hit, which probably also killed first gunnery officer Schneider. A second shell from this salvo struck the forward main battery, which was disabled, though it would manage to fire one last salvo at 09:27. Lieutenant von Müllenheim-Rechberg, in the rear control station, took over firing control for the rear turrets. He managed to fire three salvoes before a shell destroyed the gun director, disabling his equipment. He gave the order for the guns to fire independently, but by 09:31, all four main battery turrets had been put out of action.
With the bridge personnel no longer responding, the executive officer CDR Hans Oels took command of the ship from his station at the Damage Control Central. He decided at around 09:30 to abandon and scuttle the ship, to prevent Bismarck from being boarded by the British, and to allow the crew to abandon ship so as to reduce casualties. Oels ordered the men below decks to abandon ship; he instructed the engine room crews to open the ship's watertight doors and to prepare scuttling charges. Gerhard Junack, the chief engineering officer, ordered his men to set the demolition charges. He primed the charges and ordered his men to abandon ship. They left the engine spaces at around 10:10. Junack and his comrades heard the demolition charges detonate as they made their way up through the various levels Oels rushed throughout the ship, ordering men to abandon their posts. On the battery deck a huge explosion killed him and about a hundred others.
By 10:00, Tovey's two battleships had fired over 700 main battery shells, many at very close range. Rodney closed to 3,000yds and continued to fire. Tovey would not cease fire until the Germans struck their ensigns or it became clear they were abandoning ship. Overall the four British ships fired more than 2,800 shells at Bismarck and scored more than 400 hits, but were unable to sink her by gunfire.
The scuttling charges detonated around 10:20. By 10:35, the ship had assumed a heavy port list, capsizing slowly and sinking by the stern Bismarck had been reduced to a shambles, aflame from stem to stern. She was slowly settling by the stern from uncontrolled flooding with a 20 degree list to port. She disappeared beneath the surface at 10:40. Around 400 men were now in the water; Dorsetshire and destroyer HMS Maori moved in and lowered ropes to pull the survivors aboard. At 11:40, Dorsetshire’s captain ordered the rescue effort abandoned after lookouts spotted what they thought was a U-boat. Dorsetshire had rescued 85 men and Maori had picked up 25 by the time they left the scene. A U-boat later reached the survivors and found three men, and a German trawler rescued another two. One of the men picked up by the British died of his wounds the following day. Out of a crew of over 2,200 men, only 114 survived.
Crete: A new defensive line was established at ‘42nd Street’ – a dusty 2-km lane running north from the village of Tsikalaria to the main Suda–Canea road. The line was held by soldiers from 5th (NZ) Brigade and 19th (Australian) Brigade. Both units were exhausted after nearly a week of almost constant fighting and movement. After preparing defensive positions and eating whatever rations they had brought with them, most of the men took the opportunity to rest and catch up on sleep. When the first enemy troops appeared, the Anzac defenders launched an impromptu counter-attack. Taking their cue from nearby Australians, New Zealand soldiers – led by 28th (Maori) Battalion – fixed bayonets and charged forward. Surprised by the ferocity of the onslaught, the Germans buckled and pulled back. After stalling the German advance, both brigades began retreating toward Stilos (about 13 km to the south-east) that night. With not enough trucks to transport all the wounded men, the most seriously wounded had to be left behind. By midnight, the bulk of both brigades had successfully extracted themselves from 42nd Street. Behind 42nd Street the remainder of the 2nd New Zealand Division was already beginning the long trek to the evacuation beaches at Sfakia. Meanwhile, Freyberg had at last received authorisation from Cairo to evacuate his force. The battle for Crete was over; the evacuation of Creforce was about to begin.
Crete: Amongst the 1400 evacuated by sea from Sfakia tonight were walking wounded Sergeant Clive Hulme, 23rd Battalion and Second Lieutenant Charles Upham, 20th Battalion 2NZEF.
Published in the Supplement to The London Gazette:
War Office, 14th October, 1941.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of awards of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned: —
Second Lieutenant Charles Hazlitt Upham (8077), New Zealand Military Forces.
During the operations in Crete this officer performed a series of remarkable exploits, showing outstanding leadership, tactical skill and utter indifference to danger. He commanded a forward platoon in the attack on Maleme on 22nd May and fought his way forward for over 3,000 yards unsupported by any other arms and against a defence strongly organised in depth. During this operation his platoon destroyed numerous enemy posts but on three occasions sections were temporarily held up. In the first case, under a heavy fire from a machine gun nest he advanced to close quarters with pistol and grenades, so demoralizing the occupants that his section was able to "mop up" with ease. Another of his sections was then held up by two machine guns in a house. He went in and placed a grenade through a window, destroying the crew of one machine gun and several others, the other machine gun being silenced by the fire of his sections. In the third case he crawled to within 15 yards of an M.G. post and killed the gunners with a grenade. When his Company withdrew from Maleme he helped to carry a wounded man out under fire, and together with another officer rallied more men together to carry other wounded men out. He was then sent to bring in a company which had become isolated. With a Corporal he went through enemy territory over 600 yards, killing two Germans on the way, found the company, and brought it back to the Battalion's new position. But for this action it would have been completely cut off. During the following two days his platoon occupied an exposed position on forward slopes and was continuously under fire. Second Lieutenant Upham was blown over by one mortar shell, and painfully wounded by a piece of shrapnel behind the left shoulder, by another. He disregarded this wound and remained on duty. He also received a bullet in the foot which he later removed in Egypt. At Galatas on 25th May his platoon was heavily engaged and came under severe mortar and machine-gun fire. While his platoon stopped under cover of a ridge Second-Lieutenant Upham went forward, observed the enemy and brought the platoon forward when the Germans advanced. They killed over 40 with fire and grenades and forced the remainder to fall back. When his platoon was ordered to retire he sent it back under the platoon Sergeant and he went back to warn other troops that they were being cut off. When he came out himself he was fired on by two Germans. He fell and shammed dead, then crawled into a position and having the use of only one arm rested his rifle in the fork of a tree and as the Germans came forward he killed them both. The second to fall actually hit the muzzle of the rifle as he fell. On 30th May at Sphakia his platoon was ordered to deal with a party of the enemy which had advanced down a ravine to near Force Headquarters. Though in an exhausted condition he climbed the steep hill to the west of the ravine, placed his men in positions on the slope overlooking the ravine and himself went to the top with a Bren gun and two riflemen. By clever tactics he induced the enemy party to expose itself and then at a range of 500 yards shot 22 and caused the remainder to disperse in panic. During the whole of the operations he suffered from dysentery and was able to eat very little, in addition to being wounded and bruised. He showed superb coolness, great skill and dash and complete disregard of danger. His conduct and leadership inspired his whole platoon to fight magnificently throughout, and in fact was an inspiration to the Battalion.
No. 10725 Serjeant Alfred Clive Hulme, New Zealand Military Forces.
Serjeant Hulme exhibited most outstanding and inspiring qualities of leadership, initiative, skill, endurance, and most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty from the commencement of the heavy fighting in Crete, on 20th May, 1941, until he was wounded in action 28th May, 1941. On ground overlooking Maleme Aerodrome on 20th and 21st May he personally led parties of his men from the area held by the forward position and destroyed enemy organised parties who had established themselves out in front of our position, from which they brought heavy rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire to bear on our defensive posts. Numerous snipers in the area were dealt with by Serjeant Hulme personally; 130 dead were counted here. On 22nd, 23rd and 24th May, Serjeant Hulme was continually going out alone or with one or two men and destroying enemy snipers. On 25th May, when Serjeant Hulme had rejoined his battalion, this unit counter-attacked Galatos Village. The attack was partially held up by a large party of the enemy holding the school, from which they were inflicting heavy casualties on our troops. Serjeant Hulme went forward alone, threw grenades into the school and so disorganised the defence, that the counter-attack was able to proceed successfully. On Tuesday, 27th May, when our troops were holding a defensive line at Suda Bay during the final retirement, five enemy snipers had worked into position on the hillside overlooking the flank of the Battalion line. Serjeant Hulme volunteered to deal with the situation, and stalked and killed the snipers in turn. He continued similar work successfully through the day. On 28th May at Stylos, when an enemy heavy mortar was severely bombing a very important ridge held by the Battalion rearguard troops, inflicting severe casualties, Serjeant Hulme, on his own initiative, penetrated the enemy lines, killed the mortar crew of four, put the mortar out of action, and thus very materially assisted the withdrawal of the main body through Stylos. From the enemy mortar position he then worked onto the left flank and killed three snipers who were causing concern to the rearguard. This made his score of enemy snipers 33 stalked and shot. Shortly afterwards Serjeant Hulme was severely wounded in the shoulder while stalking another sniper. When ordered to the rear, in spite of his wound, he directed traffic under fire and organised stragglers of various units into section groups.
Crete: Unable to be evacuated, the remaining 16,000 Allied troops were forced to surrender today. During the Battle of Crete total casualties among Commonwealth forces were 15,743, of whom 1751 were killed or died of wounds. Of the 7700 New Zealanders involved in the battle, 671 were killed – a fatality rate of nearly 9% – while another 2180 were taken prisoner. For the British, the Battle of Crete was the costliest naval engagement of the entire war, three cruisers and six destroyers sunk and 17 ships crippled, with the loss of 2,011 lives. Warship casualties included: Battleships HMS Barham and Warspite badly damaged. Carrier HMS Formidable badly damaged. Cruisers HMS Calcutta, Fiji, Gloucester sunk; HMS Ajax, Dido, Orion, HMAS Perth badly damaged; HMS York disabled and later destroyed by demolition charges at Souda Bay during the evacuation. Destroyers HMS Greyhound, Hereward, Imperial, Juno, Kashmir and Kelly sunk; HMS Kelvin, Nubian badly damaged. German losses were very heavy. More than 3000 died during the battle and a similar number were wounded. Crete would prove to be, as General Kurt Student later commented, the ‘graveyard of the paratroops’. They were never again used in a large-scale airborne offensive.
East Africa: Eritrea; Operation Chronometer. From 10 to 11 June, after a surprise landing, the 3/15th Punjab Regiment from Aden captured Assab, the last Italian held harbour on the Red Sea. They were carried by a flotilla comprising cruiser HMS Dido with sloops HMIS Indus, Clive and armed boarding vessel HMS Chakdina accompanied by SS Tuna. The 3/15th Punjabis took 547 prisoners in the operation along with two generals and 35 Germans. With the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden now cleared of Axis forces, ships of the United States were once again permitted to proceed to the Suez Canal and to carry supplies direct to the Middle East, which helped to relieve the strain on British shipping resources.
Eastern Europe: Operation Barbarossa: At around 01:00 the Soviet military districts in the border area were alerted by NKO Directive No. 1, issued late on the night of 21 June. It called on them to "bring all forces to combat readiness," but to "avoid provocative actions of any kind." At around 03:15 the Axis Powers commenced the invasion of the Soviet Union with the bombing of major cities in Soviet-occupied Poland and an artillery barrage on Red Army defences on the entire front extending from the Arctic Ocean southward to the Black Sea. Air-raids were conducted as far as Kronstadt near Leningrad, Ismail in Bessarabia and Sevastopol in the Crimea. Meanwhile, ground troops crossed the border, accompanied in some locales by Lithuanian and Ukrainian fifth columnists. Roughly three million soldiers of the Wehrmacht went into action and faced slightly fewer Soviet troops at the border. Accompanying the German forces during the initial invasion were Finnish and Romanian units as well.
Off the Dutch coast: Sergeant Pilot James (Jimmy) Ward volunteered to climb out on the starboard wing of their Wellington bomber to extinguish a fuel fire near the engine. He successfully smothered the fire and returned to the cockpit. His actions saved the crew and aircraft which eventually made an emergency landing at Newmarket.
Citation published in The London Gazette 5 August 1941:
The KING has been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the undermentioned airman in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:-
NZ / 401793 Sergeant James Allen WARD, Royal New Zealand Air Force, No. 75 (N.Z.) Squadron. On the night of 7 July 1941, Sergeant Ward was second pilot of a Wellington bomber returning from an attack on Munster. While flying over the Zuider Zee at 13,000 feet his aircraft was attacked from beneath by a German Bf 110, which secured hits with cannon-shell and incendiary bullets. The rear gunner was wounded in the foot but delivered a burst of fire sending the enemy fighter down, apparently out of control. Fire then broke out in the Wellington's near-starboard engine and, fed by petrol from a split pipe, quickly gained an alarming hold and threatened to spread to the entire wing. The crew forced a hole in the fuselage and made strenuous efforts to reduce the fire with extinguishers, and even coffee from their flasks, without success. They were then warned to be ready to abandon the aircraft. As a last resort Sergeant Ward volunteered to make an attempt to smother the fire with an engine cover which happened to be in use as a cushion. At first he proposed discarding his parachute to reduce wind resistance, but was finally persuaded to take it. A rope from the aircraft dingy was tied to him, though this was of little help and might have become a danger had he been blown off the aircraft.
With the help of his navigator he then climbed through the narrow astrodome and put on his parachute. The bomber was flying at a reduced speed but the wind pressure must have been sufficient to render the operation one of extreme difficulty. Breaking the fabric to make hand and foot holds where necessary and also taking advantage of existing holes in the fabric, Sergeant Ward succeeded in descending three feet to the wing and proceeding another three feet to a position behind the engine, despite the slipstream from the airscrew which nearly blew him off the wing. Lying in this precarious position he smothered the fire in the wing fabric and tried to push the engine cover into the hole in the wing and on the leaking pipe from which the fire came. As soon as he had removed his hand, however, a terrific wind blew the cover out and when he tried again it was lost. Tired as he was, he was able, with the navigator's assistance, to make a successful but perilous journey back into the aircraft. There was now no danger of fire spreading from the petrol pipe as there was no fabric left near it and in due course it burned itself out. When the aircraft was nearly home, some petrol which had collected in the wing blazed up furiously but died down quite suddenly. A safe landing was made despite the damage sustained to the aircraft. The flight home had been made possible by the gallantry of Sergeant Ward in extinguishing the fire on the wing in circumstances of the greatest difficulty and at the risk of his life.