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RAF at Crete

Of the two aerodromes, Maleme and Heraklion, only the latter could be used for all types of plane. Construction was still going on at both. At Retimo the aerodrome was no more than a landing strip; and at Pediada Kastelli there was a landing ground. The fact that the RAF was responsible for the construction of its own airfields, and the absence of co-ordination with the military in the initial stages, were all the more important because it was the position of these aerodromes that largely determined the dispositions of the defence.

At Maleme also was 252 AMES in full operation and feeding information to a Gun Operations Room at Canea, ultimately developed to control the fighter and AA defences of Suda Bay area but still without RAF controllers or operations officers, being served by FAA staff. And there was no R/T between Gun Operations Room and aircraft. A second (220) AMES at Heraklion was in the final stages of erection but its Gun Operations Room was not yet complete. These deficiencies and shortcomings were to some extent offset by an efficient Greek observer system, which reported to a centre in Canea from which reports were relayed to the Canea Gun Operations Room.

His force seems to have been increased almost at once by the basing of Sunderlands of 230 General Reconnaissance Squadron at Suda Bay. These were intended to assist in evacuating troops from Greece to Crete and from Crete to Egypt. Further reinforcement came with the move out of Greece of the squadrons that had been operating there. No. 30 Squadron, with 14 Blenheims I, arrived on 18 April and was subsequently supported by 203 Squadron from Egypt with nine Blenheims IV. And between 22 and 24 April came the remnants of 33, 80, and 112 Fighter Squadrons, all in a low state of serviceability which on Crete could hardly be remedied. Among them they could muster at the most 12–14 Hurricanes and about six serviceable Gladiators. All of these were engaged in the protection of convoys from Greece and so had little chance of preparing for an attack unless it should be most improbably delayed.

In February 1941 aircraft from the Illustrious (heavily dive-bombed west of Malta the month before) were transferred to Maleme, reinforced by fighters from Egypt, moved to southern Greece, and in five weeks sank five Italian ships, damaged five more, and attacked Brindisi. The squadron returned to Maleme, now under RAF command (it should be noted), the Swordfish and Blenheims returned to Egypt, and the Fleet Air Arm and RAF pilots took turns in flying the handful of Hurricanes, Fulmars and Gladiators. On 17 May only one plane, a Hurricane, was airworthy; it was piloted by Lieutenant A. R. Ramsay, RNVR, who had shot down two enemy aircraft the day before. This steadfast officer's testimony will be given later.Thus the situation found by Wing Commander Beamish on 17 April when he arrived to take command of the RAF on the island was far from reassuring. There was only one squadron. The only planes there were at Maleme and belonged to 805 FAA Squadron. Their primary role was to provide fighter defence for Suda Bay. But the squadron was operating at a reduced strength and consisted of a mixed force of Fulmars, Gladiators and Brewsters, of which the last could be flown only in an emergency.

Defence of Maleme airfield
The New Zealanders at first had no guns; but an independent command, the Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisation (MNBDO) of the Royal Marines, under Major-General C. E. Weston, had already deployed an assortment of artillery, mainly at Maleme. Two 4-inch coast guns were on the hillside immediately south of the airfield, together with two 3-inch heavy antiaircraft guns, and a handful of Bofors guns encircled the landing strip. None of these were under New Zealand command, a serious error of the defence, which made it impossible to co-ordinate the defence of this all-important airfield. Further confusion resulted from the presence of Fleet Air Arm and RAF ground staffs and the specialists operating a secret radar installation known as the Air Ministry Experimental Station (AMES).
805 Squadron  FAA
805 Squadron formed Feb 1941 with 12 Fairey Fulmar two-seat fighters, carrier capable, to support a planned invasion of Rhodes, off the coast of Turkey, held by Italians. Squadron leader Lt Cmdr Alan Black, Fleet Air Arm. Based at Maleme in northeastern Crete. That seems to have been the Brewster's only sortie from Crete. In the British Order of Battle on April 5, 805 Squadron is shown only as having Fulmars and Sea Gladiators on strength, and by the end of April: "The two remaining Buffalos were also totally unservicable now." When German paratroopers over-ran Crete at the end of May, the Brewsters were apparently left in the boneyard. German photographers delighted in photographing their planes landing over the hulk of a derelict Brewster.
203 Squadron
203 Squadron Crest
With war imminent, the 203 Squadron, now equipped with Singapores, flew to Aden and converted shortly after to Blenheims. After the Italian declaration of war in June 1940, No 203 became heavily involved in the East Africa campaign before moving on to Crete to cover the evacuation of the beleaguered island. The Squadron flew anti-shipping patrols around the Middle and Far East with a variety of types including Baltimores, Wellingtons and Liberators, remaining in Ceylon until May 1946 when it returned to Leuchars and then St Eval and to re-equip with Lancasters.
80 Squadron 


80 Squadron Crest
In February 1941, No. 80 Squadron started to convert to Hurricanes, and after evacuation from Greece the Squadron spent a period in Syria, Palestine and Cyprus before returning to the Western Desert in October flying patrols in the area until the Battle of Alamein. With the retreat of the Afrika Corps, No. 80 was given the task of providing air defence of the long line of communication and coastal convoys supplying the 8th army until January 1944 when the Squadron moved to Italy. In April 1944 No. 80 moved back to the UK and, equipped with Spitfires, began flying sweeps and escort duties over France and the Low Countries. In August 1944 it converted to Tempests which it took to the Continent at the end of September to fly armed reconnaissance missions for the rest of the war.


30 Squadron

30 Squadron Crest
No. 30 Squadron. Bomber escort duties in the Western Desert were followed by a move to join the unsuccessful defence of Greece in March 1941 during which time Hurricanes arrived, only to be evacuated to Egypt in May as the defending forces retreated.

33 Squadron

33 Squadron Crest
With the outbreak of World War II, No. 33 moved to the Western Desert, active action beginning with the entry of Italy into the War in June of 1940. Conversion to ground attack Hurricanes was completed some six months later. Following the disastrous defence of Greece in 1941. With the exception of a time in Greece in 1941, 33 Sqn remained in the Middle East for most of World War Two. Equipped initially with the Hurricane, the squadron flew in support of the Army in the Western Desert, including at the Battle of El Alamein before returning to the UK in April 1944 and receiving Spitfires.


112 Squadron

112 Sqn

On 16 May 1939, No. 112 reformed aboard the aircraft carrier 'Argus' at Southampton for transportation to the Middle east, arriving in Egypt ten days later. Gladiators were recieved in June and when Italy joined the war a year later the Squadron flew fighter patrols over the Western Desert. In January 1941 No. 112 moved to Greece to provide air defence and fly offensive patrols over Albania. When the Germans invaded Greece the Squadron provided fighter cover for the Athens area until evacuated first to Crete and then back to Egypt.

On 22 April 1941 the 112 Squadron was ordered to leave for Heraklion, Crete.When the squadron arrived at Heraklion only six of its 14 Gladiators were serviceable. It was decided to send one flight back to Egypt therefore, and on the toss of a coin the eight pilots of ‘A’ Flight flew out in a Bombay, the flight’s ground crew following by sea next day. Ten pilots remained under Flight Lieutenant Fry, hoping to receive early reinforcements of Hurricanes; their strength was rapidly augmented by the arrival of six new pilots from 1430 Flight, recently arrived from East Africa, under Flight Lieutenant J. E. Dennant.

On 16 May 112 Squadron was preparing to put its two new Hurricanes into use at Heraklion, but only three pilots had previously flown the type, and only Flight Lieutenant Fry had any real experience. Crete was hardly the ideal place to undertake operational training, but most pilots managed to get at least one flight between raids. When yet another strafing attack by Bf110s approached – this time undertaken by thirty aircraft of I and II/ZG 26 – both Hurricanes and three Gladiators were ordered off. Fry in Hurricane V7857 managed to bounce eight Bf110s at 6000 feet and hit Unteroffizier Erhard Witzke’s 3U+SM of 4 staffel. Unfortunately for him, as he broke away Witzke’s gunner, Feldwebel Karl Reinhardt, got an accurate burst of fire into the Hurricane’s engine and it streamed glycol. Fry was forced to bale out. Struck a glancing blow by the tailplane as he did so, he landed three miles from the airfield with a badly bruised chest. Meanwhile Witzke’s Bf110 was forced to ditch as he struggled to get back to Argos, when the damaged port engine failed. Rescued from the sea by a Crete fishing boat, the crew was brought back to Crete where they were hospitalized.

The second Hurricane had come under attack by other Bf110s, and force-landed after sustaining damage, but Bofors gunners of 7th Australian Light AA Battery hit U8+MK of 2 Staffel, this aircraft crashing into the sea with the loss of Unteroffizier Erwin Bauer and Gefreiter Karl-Heinz Heldmann.

Because of his wounds Fry was not able to escape when the island fell to the Germans a few days later, and he spent the rest of the war as a POW. He was awarded a DFC, gazetted after his capture and a Greek DFC. Fry ended the war with 4 biplane victories and a total of 5. After release from the POW camp he applied for a Permanent Commission, but this was not granted, as he was now too old for his rank, still being an Acting Flight Lieutenant, as he had started the war, no promotion having been made whilst he was in prison camp.


230 Squadron

No 230 Squadron Crest
The basing of Sunderlands of 230 General Reconnaissance Squadron is at Suda Bay for April and May 41. These were intended to assist in evacuating troops from Greece to Crete and from Crete to Egypt. Further reinforcement came with the move out of Greece of the squadrons that had been operating there


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Stand: 18. September 2005