In late May 1941 the Germans started the invasion of Crete with mostly light forces. What followed was a vicious campaign with a lot of bitter fighting and heavy losses on both sides. Late in the afternoon of the 25th of May the 100th Gebirgsjäger Regiment with close air support forced a scratch defensive force of Commonwealth troops out of the small village of Galatas.
Knowing the line was in trouble the commanding officer of the New Zealand forces facing Galatas decided to try and re-take the position with a hasty counterattack. At his disposal were two MKVIB light tanks and two companies of Maori infantry, against a dug in German force. The two tanks were commanded by Lieutenant Roy Farran. A fair haired young officer, he had been born on January 2, 1921 in India. His father was a Warrant Officer in the RAF. The two MKVIB light tanks immediately on arrival at the front launched a headlong charge straight into Galatas as a form of reconnaissance. Machine guns blazing they swept in and out of the village, and when they returned from their dashing recce Lt Farran reported that the village was "...stiff with Germans". The two light tanks vulnerability was also highlighted as both the turret crew in the second tank had been wounded during the run through the village. When asked if he'd attack again, Lt Farran asked for volunteers to replace the wounded men, and two infantry who knew how to serve Vickers guns stepped forwards. Lt Farran gave them a quick briefing and some instruction while the infantry formed up.
The plan was simple, due to the speed with which the counter attack was organised. The two tanks would advance up the road to Galatas, with one each of the companies of infantry on each side of the road. The column would storm up the road and re-take the village. A runner was dispatched to the neighbouring battalion advising them to attack as soon as they could. With the tanks ready, the force moved off into the dusk.
The two VIB's raced ahead in a cloud of dust, the infantry companies began to chant Hakka's as they charged towards the nearest houses. Most were empty, and clearing them was losing the charges momentum. So the decision was made to not clear the houses and continue the advance. Ahead the machine guns from the two light tanks could be heard.
LT Farran had raced to the main square. Lt Farran describes what happened next:
"There was a blinding flash inside the tank and my gunner sank groaning to the bottom of the turret. He said that he had been hit. I felt a sort of burn in my thigh and thought it probable that I also had been wounded. I told the driver to turn round, but as he swung broadside to the enemy we were hit again. My driver was wounded in the shoulder and in consequence pulled the tiller too hard, putting us into the ditch. We sat there, crouched in the bottom of the turret, while the anti-tank rifle carved big chunks out of the top. I was hit twice more - in both legs and in the right arm. Stannard, my gunner, was in a bad way, having stopped one in the stomach. I pushed them both out through the driver's hatch and crawled out myself. I pulled myself along on my elbows until I was under cover of a low stone wall. There I lay in the infernal din (for the Germans were still shooting bits out of the tank), praying for the New Zealanders."Upon seeing the tank knocked out and in a very unfamiliar and frightening experience (being inside a tank in a street fight for the first time) the other MKVIB turned and ran. As it fled down the narrow streets it came across a platoon led by Lieutenant W.B. 'Sandy' Thomas. He leapt out in front of the oncoming tank and caused it to halt. After an argument with the commander Lt Thomas pulled out his pistol and threatened the driver with it. The driver, the only original tank crew member in the crew replied:
"I'm game sir, there's no need for that. It’s the bastard above who needs the pistol!"The driver immediately began to rotate the tank, smashing the walls on either side of the road out of the way. The infantry man acting as the commander is reported to have clambered from the tank and fled screaming, only to be shot by a private.
As the second MKVIB advanced, a German NCO, leader of the HMG platoon, lurked in a doorway with a bundle of grenades.
As the tank drew parallel to him he leapt out of his hiding spot and raced towards the tank. The gunner saw him coming and started to turn the turret, spewing bullets from the Vickers .50. Just as the stream of heavy slugs was about to reach the German, he lobbed the bundle of grenades and dove behind a wall. The bundle of grenades landed on the ground wide of the tank, the Germans aim spoiled by being forced to duck.
|Picture from Galatas
The MKVIB halted his tank about five meters away from the building and began to saw it into chunks with both machine guns blasting away, while return fire sparked off his tank. As the Maori infantry rushed up behind him the Germans fell back from the position.
As they reached the square they could hear LT Farran yelling "Come on New Zealand!" and other words of encouragement. The Germans were firing from the other side of the square, fire sparking off the tank's armour. The infantry then launched a charge towards the Germans. As they began Lt Farran spotted a German on the roof and yelled a warning, however it was too late. The German’s grenade wounded Lt Thomas. The infantry were across the square quickly carrying the bayonet charge into the Germans. Under this relentless assault the Germans began to fall back. Eventually they were pushed all the way out of the village with heavy casualties. As the fighting moved away from the square the Germans began to land mortar rounds on it, believing the fighting was still going on there. While these rounds were falling the civilians of Galatas emerged to help the wounded bringing water and milk to the men.
Eventually all the wounded were evacuated back to a hospital, LT Farran was rescued by one of his own squadron's tanks. Whilst in the hospital Crete fell and LT Farran was captured. But for Lt Farran, the war was not over!
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