The Royal Navy and the Evacuation of British Troops from Crete – Part 3

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

New Zealand troops taken off the Greek mainland are brought to Suda Bay in Crete, then occupied by one British division of 14,000 men. These troops were meant as reinforcements.

Roughly 50,000 of the original 65,000 to 70,000 British troops on the mainland were rescued by the Royal Navy. Most these men were sent to Egypt — then a British protectorate — to be re-organized and re-equipped. Great Britain’s losses were heavy: 12,000 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing.

While the Royal Air Force made a brave effort — losing more than 200 aircraft — to fight off the Luftwaffe, the Brits never achieved air superiority over the Greek beaches or port. This left the merchant and naval ships evacuating soldiers to Crete at the mercy of German dive bombers. In Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War, author Correlli Barnett writes:

…the Luftwaffe sank 26 Allied ships during the evacuation, including five hospital ships.

The Germans seemed to have a special penchant for sinking British and later American hospital ships — this being a flagrant violation of the Hague Convention and articles in several of the Geneva Conventions.

Members of the Australian 2/1st Anti-Tank Regiment resting, 13 April 1941, after their withdrawal from the Vevi area. The unit suffered heavy losses in the first German attacks on Australian positions in Greece.

[Source: Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War by Correlli Barnett. Images courtesy of the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection 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:

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