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To Greece

Embarkation Successes and Disappointments, Night 27–28 April

Embarkation Successes and Disappointments, Night 27–28 April

For other units in Greece the night of 27–28 April had probably been more tense than it had been for 6 Brigade. Fourth Brigade at page 443 Porto Rafti and the mixed group at Rafina, though in contact with the assembling German forces, had been left to embark undisturbed. But for those waiting on the beaches at Tolos and Kalamata there were only hours of disappointment.

In the TolosNavplion area 1500 men had been left1 behind on the night of 26–27 April. Many were stragglers, but there were 200 men from 3 Royal Tank Regiment who had become detached from the main body and 150 from the ‘Australian Composite Battalion’ who had been sent back from Tripolis Pass to cover the embarkation They now provided a rearguard covering the beach at Tolos, where the others in four columns waited for the destroyers which never appeared. At 3 a.m. they dispersed, efforts were made to collect boats or caiques, and officers were told by Colonel J. H. Courage that they and their men could take to the hills or escape by boat. The small force from the Australian battalion attempted to hold the beach but by the late afternoon, 28 April, it had been overwhelmed.2

At Monemvasia there was as yet no embarkation staff. The only group at the little port was that of Colonels Quilliam and Blunt who had been acquiring local caiques for future evacuation. They left that night for Kithira Island,3 where they set about organising the evacuation of the several hundred men who had missed the other embarkations.

Farther south at Kalamata ships had been expected and some 7000 men, including the New Zealand Reinforcement Battalion, had assembled4 on the beach. But the Navy did not arrive. Some page 444 units kept their formation and returned to their particular areas but others broke up, the men seeking cover in the extensive olive groves between the town and eastern mountains.

1 See pp. 4289.

2 The confusion which developed in the Navplion-Tolos area during 28 April was intensified by several air attacks and finally by the approach of detachments from 5 Panzer Division. Even so, many parties escaped, some finding boats along the beach, others hastening south until they found seaworthy caiques. Among them were Lieutenant Staveley and the eight men from 4 Field Regiment who had already escaped by caique from Volos to Khalkis and had then been sent south to Argos. Like several other groups, they left the beach under fire and rowed down the coast to Kiparissi. Here they obtained a caique and went south with some British officers to Cape Malea, where they met other New Zealanders. They then set out for Crete, but when their vessel was disabled in a storm they put in to the island of Antikithira. Obtaining another caique and accompanied by some Greeks, they reached, on 4 May, the coast of Crete at Kastelli, to the west of Maleme airfield. All but three or four of the thirty men from the Divisional Cavalry Regiment and 28 (Maori) Battalion who had come over the hills from the Corinth Canal were equally successful. Not being evacuated from Navplion on the night of 26–27 April, they had walked the 15 miles to Tolos. Then, when it was definite that there would be no evacuation on the night of 27–28 April, they made their own arrangements. One group, European and Maori, led by Captain E. R. Harford and Lieutenant M. P. Studholme, seized an 18-foot boat, crossed the bay and went down the coast, rowing in shifts from island to island and eventually reaching Crete in a Greek fishing boat. Another group had hired a caique and was about to leave the bay when a German patrol boat appeared. The caique was sunk but Lieutenant I. L. Bonifant and others took to the hills, joined up with British and Greek troops, and about ten days later slipped away in another caique to Kithira and thence to Crete.

3 See p. 446.

4 See p. 451.