Allies Begin Retreat Southward Across Crete

Fighting against a constant supply of fresh enemy troops, the Allies began a series of retreats working southward across Crete.

The 5th Destroyer Flotilla, consisting of Kelly, Kipling, Kelvin, Jackal, and Kashmir, under Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, was ordered to leave Malta on 21 May, to join the fleet off Crete. It arrived in the area after Gloucester and Fiji were sunk. They were first sent to pick up survivors, but were then diverted to attack some caïques off the Cretan coast and then shell the Germans at Maleme. Kelvin and Jackal were diverted on another search while Mountbatten with Kelly, Kashmir and Kipling were to go to Alexandria.

While the three ships were rounding the western side of Crete, they came under heavy air attack from 24 Stuka dive bombers. Kashmir was hit and sank in two minutes and Kelly was hit and turned turtle soon after. Kipling survived 83 bombs aimed at her, while she picked up 279 survivors from the two ships. The Noel Coward film In Which We Serve was based on this action.

After air attacks on Allied positions in Kastelli on 24 May, the 95th Gebirgs Pioneer Battalion advanced on the town. These air attacks enabled the escape of German paratroopers captured on 20 May; the newly-liberated paratroopers killed and captured several New Zealand officers assigned to lead the 1st Greek Regiment. Despite this setback, the Greeks put up determined resistance, but with only 600 rifles and a few thousand rounds of ammunition available for a force of 1,000 ill-trained men, they were unable to repel the German advance. Fighting with the remnants of 1st Greek Regiment continued in the Kastelli area until 26 May, hampering the efforts of the Germans to land reinforcements. The Germans finally secured the port at Kastelli and landed some light tanks.

On the night of 26/27 May a detachment of some 800 men from No. 7 and No. 8 Commandos, as part of Layforce, landed at Suda Bay. Their commander, Colonel Robert Laycock, had tried to land his force a few nights before on 25 May, but had been turned back due to bad weather. Although lacking any indirect fire support weapons and armed mainly with only rifles and a small number of machine guns, they were tasked with carrying rearguard actions in order to buy the garrison enough time to carry out an evacuation.

In a ferocious bayonet charge on the morning of 27 May, the New Zealand 28th (Māori) Battalion, the Australian 2/7th Battalion and the Australian 2/8th Battalion, cleared a section of road between Souda and Chania which was under threat from troops of the German 141st Mountain Regiment.

Command in London eventually decided the cause was hopeless and on 27 May, ordered an evacuation. Major-General Freyberg concurrently ordered his troops to begin withdrawing to the south coast to be evacuated.

On D + 5 the mountain troops outflanked the British positions east of Maleme, and on the next day they entered Hania, the capital of Crete, and occupied Souda Bay after a forced march across the mountains. During this fighting the British offered strong resistance and showed no signs of willingness to give in. They made very skilful use of the terrain and delayed the German advance by sniper and machine gun fire. Wire and mine fields protected some of their positions. Armed bands of Cretans fought fiercely in the mountains, using great cunning and committing acts of cruelty such as mutilating dead and wounded German soldiers.