Annotated second copy of a letter from General Sir Bernard Freyberg [former Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in Crete] (Auckland [New Zealand]) to WSC, on his draft account of the Battle of Crete in Volume 3 of his war memoirs, ÂThe Second World WarÂ. Freyberg comments on what an extraordinary story the battle was, remarking that those who were actually there would know more of the truth than those not in Crete, while knowing little about the bigger picture, and therefore he asks WSC to read his detailed account of the campaign.
Freyberg starts with the Allied view in April-May 1941 that Germany would have a relatively easy approach to Crete, using a sea-borne force with air protection. He quotes from his own cable to General Sir Archibald Wavell, warning that he could not hold Crete with the forces at his disposal, and from his Special Order of the Day, assuring his troops that they could defend the island. He outlines the German plan for the invasion, attacking on a broad front with great force. Freyberg points out that while Germany was preparing a large and well-equipped force, he had only the small garrison on Crete, with elements of forces which had come from Greece, numbering little more than one division. (At this point there are annotations by Denis Kelly and Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Pownall, WSCÂs literary assistants, with Kelly querying whether the Allied forces were actually outnumbered sixteen to one, and Pownall noting that the Germans had fifteen divisions, of which five were used in Greece, while they could not have assembled shipping for all fifteen). Freyberg comments on the air position, and the lack of fighter cover for the Fleet, to protect against a sea landing, and for countering German air attacks. He also states that the lack of earlier planning had little effect, as a plan of defence from 1940 would only have enabled them to hold Crete for a little longer, and quotes the opinion of the Inter-Services Committee from July 1941, a month after the island had fallen, that defending Crete was impossible, given the circumstances.
Freyberg recalls the earlier decision to station the Anzac Corps in Crete, and his realisation that since the troops could not be evacuated in time, he had to stay and fight. He criticises the failure to evacuate headquarters staff from Greece to Crete, as his own forces were badly disorganized. He reiterates the Allied preoccupation with a sea-borne attack, admitting that it had never occurred to him that the Germans would use two air-borne Corps to take a relatively unimportant position, and stating that it was a dubious and costly success for them. He cites WSCÂs view of him as over-confident (circled by WSC in red), and counters that though he under-estimated the scale of the air attack, his attitude to the over-all danger was correct. Freyberg also quotes WSCÂs statement that the battle could have been won with any effective addition to the Allied forces, stating that this would only have been because of the GermansÂ mistake in landing their air-borne troops so close to the Allied garrisons, and in landing their sea-borne troops by night, without air support. He claims that the battle was not a disaster, but was bravely fought by tired, ill-equipped troops, at considerable loss to the Germans, and gives figures for the German losses. He particularly notes that though Allied losses were very heavy, German ones were even heavier, and states that they lost their best parachutists, most of their paratroopers and a large amount of equipment. He concludes that while the Germans never tried an air-borne attack on such a scale again, the Allies gained time enough to establish their position in Iraq and take Libya.
In an appendix, Freyberg makes further remarks on defence policy towards Crete, particularly the refusal to commit adequate forces, the lack of continuity, with seven commanders of Crete in six months, and the lack of a clear plan of defence in advance. Signed typescript, with a further copy at CHUR 4/19/206-218.