The Royal Navy and the Evacuation of British Troops from Crete – Part 2

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British Troops Fight a Desperate Rearguard Action in Greece While Falling Back to the Coast

Bundesarchiv photo showing New Zealand and British troops who were compelled to surrender during the bungled effort to stop the German invasion of Greece. This is April 1941. When the general retreat of British and Commonwealth troops began, units tried desperately to reach the coast so they could be taken off by the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, thousands were captured by the Germans.

When British and Greek troops failed to hold Greece against the German invasion, the Royal Navy had to evacuate tens of thousands of British and Commonwealth troops from open beaches off the Greek mainland. As you might imagine, this is a lot more difficult to do than board troops off of docks and piers. While ports were certainly in operation, they were under fierce air attack by the Germans. Plus the British troops often could not get through to a Greek port. They could only get to the coast itself. As in Lord Nelson’s day, many of the soldiers had to be taken off the beaches by Royal Navy cutters which were large boats rowed by a crew of eight to ten.

The Royal Navy was not able to rescue them all as the above photograph testifies. Many of the soldiers were British and Commonwealth troops from New Zealand and Australia. Many British and American generals believed that aside from the elite British units such as the Brigade of Guards, British Commonwealth troops fought better and harder than the average British division conscripted for the war. As these evacuations continued with the Commonwealth troops putting up a stronger fight than the British divisions, there was widespread fear in the upper ranks of the British Government and military that British infantry did not want to fight.

Nazi Germany’s Attack on Greece – The map above will give you an idea of how the British Army retreated down the Greek mainland and subsequently were lifted off to Egypt or Crete.

[Images courtesy of World War 2 Today and Wikipedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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