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CHUR 4/217A-C Literary: The Second World War: Volume 3 "The Grand Alliance", Chapter 15 "Crete [Greece]: The Advent.".

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CHUR 4/217/12-24

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, “The Second World War”. 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, WSC’s 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 WSC’s 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 WSC’s 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 Germans’ 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.

13 folios
25 Mar 1949
CHUR 4/217/26-29

Letter from General Sir Bernard Freyberg [former Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in Crete] (Wellington, New Zealand) to WSC, commenting on his draft account of the Battle of Crete in Volume 3 of his war memoirs, “The Second World War”. Freyberg states that he felt sending troops to Greece was correct, and that the battle of Crete had inevitably followed. He comments that Crete’s administrative organisation could have been better, while it was a mistake not to destroy its aerodromes. He thanks WSC for sending him a draft page from the memoirs to read, but suggests a few minor changes. He states that they first met in August 1914, when WSC was interviewing officers for the Naval Division, and lists some of the men he met at the time, who made a great impression on him. He also notes that WSC’s tally of his wounds was exaggerated. On Crete, he warns WSC about getting his facts right, particularly his statement that Freyberg had been over-confident on 16 May 1941, given his experience of the German attack on Greece, and the warning from General Sir Archibald Wavell that the forces on Crete could not be evacuated. Freyberg cites four telegrams and his Special Order of the Day to his troops (which he encloses), illustrating his grasp of the situation and fear that his forces would not even be able to put up a fight. He concludes by admitting that his forces were broken, but only after heavy fighting, with over 4,000 German graves in one area alone. Freyberg encloses copies of his telegrams to Wavell and to the New Zealand Government sent in May 1941 (two of which have been cut out), reporting on the situation in Crete. Includes brief annotations by Denis Kelly, literary assistant to WSC. Signed typescript.

4 folios
23 Feb 1949
CHUR 4/217/11

Letter from General Sir Bernard Freyberg [former Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces in Crete] (Government House, Wellington, New Zealand) to WSC, on his draft account of the Battle of Crete in Volume 3 of his war memoirs, “The Second World War”. Freyberg returns WSC’s draft, commenting that someone with his knowledge should have got it at least 99% right, but that he could only give WSC 95%. He states that though WSC might not agree with his arguments, he was sure that his opinion on Crete was worth very close study. In a postscript, he comments that there was enough material on the battle for a great story, and suggests quoting from some of the contemporary telegrams, as they would certainly be used later. The letter is annotated “For Gen. P[ownall]’s comments”. Manuscript.

1 folio
26 Mar 1949