Air commodore Grigson's "Evacuation of Greece" report

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by 7mark, Aug 28, 2012.

  1. 7mark

    7mark Active Member

    Air commodore Grigson's evacuation of Greece report, 3rd May 1941.

    Every time there's a "Cont.." indicates a new page
    There is probably some typos and mistakes (I have tried to be true to original document and probably there is a few extra errors)

    22nd-19th April 1941

    1. On the evening of 21st April, 1941 the Air Officer Commanding, B.A.F., Greece detailed me to proceed to ARGOS to take charge of R.A.F. in PELOPONNESUS, including the fighter rearguard and evacuation of such personnel as could not be evacuated from the ATHENS area.
    2. I arrived at ARGOS by air on 22nd April, 1941 at 0830 and found a nucleus staff under Flight Lieutenant N.S. JENKS already established in a well concealed camp near the main landing ground which latter had been in use by the Elementary Flying School of the R.H.A.F.. Flight Lieutenant JENKS' party had a VT set operating at their camp.
    3. The main landing ground at ARGOS was completely lacking in any form of cover in which to conceal the fighter aircraft, nor were there any shelter trenches for their personnel. I therefore decided that they must be operated from the smaller landing ground three miles North where there was a telephone and where the Greek F.T.S. aircraft were concealed in an extensive olive grove. There were also ample trenches and other accommodation for the personnel. My operational headquarters and a W/T set were established here. Experience at LARISSA, ELEUSIS and MENIDA had shown clearly that some form of concealment was essential as an antidote to the German low flying machine gun attack in addition to anti-aircraft defences.
    4. The anti-aircraft defences’ available on 22nd April were two Greek Bofors and two Greek Hotchkiss machine guns at the northern L.G. and one Greek Hotchkiss at the southern main L.G.
    5. A site in extensive olive groves south of the main L.G. was selected as the bivouac area for R.A.F. personnel sent down from ATHENS for evacuation. Two schools in ARGOS were lot from the Greek Air Force for the same purpose.
    6. All available Hurricanes arrived at ARGOS from ATHENS area in the afternoon of 22nd April, 1941 and were parked in the North L.G. olive grove. No ground personnel had arrived. Greek airmen (of whom some 60 of the elementary F.T.S. were still present) were used for this and for refuelling,. These aircraft were fired on by the Greek Bofors when circling to land and one was put out of action.
    7. During the evening and night of 22nd/23rd April the personnel for evacuation began to arrive by road.
    8. On the morning of 23rd April a fighter offensive patrol was dispatched over the ARGOS-MEGARA-LAVRION area to cover the movement of troops to collecting areas and arrival of ships. Reconnaissance’s (Hurricanes) were also sent to Northern EUBOEA and to the road ARTA-MISOLONGAI; very little movement seen.
    9. From a communication received from H.Q., B.A.F. Greece (S.180 Ops. 22/4/41) it appeared to be the intention to attempt to operate evacuation land-planes from ARGOS and flying-boats from NAUPLIA in daylight. I considered this quite impracticable in the face of the enemy air activity which was rapidly intensifying, and signalled urging that evacuation aircraft should arrive between sunset and dark and leave before dawn.
    10. Additional British anti-aircraft (two heavy and some Bofors) under Major Pulford began to arrive on 23rd April. The heavies were placed between the two landing grounds and two of the Bofors at the South landing ground, the remainder going to the North landing ground.
    11. During the morning of 23rd April enemy aircraft bombed two merchant vessels off NAUPLIA, which were being cleared ready for evacuation use. They had arrived during the night 22nd/23rdApril and one contained mules for the Greek Army aria the other high explosive. The mule ship was sunk and the explosive ship, whose cargo was being dumped into the sea off NAUPLIA point, WELZ set on fire. She eventually blew up at about 1900 hours, causing extensive damage to windows in N.AUPLIA.
    12. Consequently a W/T signal was despatched on behalf of Sea Transport Officer to Army Force Headquarters saying that he did not consider evacuation by day in merchant ships feasible and suggesting destroyers arriving and leaving in darkness.
    13. During the morning of 23rd April five reinforcing Hurricanes arrived from CRETE. While on the main L.G. one of then was destroyed by an enemy bombing attack, having failed to get off with the other four to attempt to repel the attack. The other four landed at the North L.G. where unfortunately, one ran into a nullah and was so damaged as to be out of action.
    14. On the afternoon of 23rd April the offensive patrol and reconnaissance’s of the morning (see para. 8.) were to be repeated. One reconnaissance aircraft and six of the patrol had taken off when a very large force of enemy fighters (30-40 Me.110) appeared and, after silencing the Bofors guns (some of the Hotchkiss continued to fire), they subjected the North and South landing grounds and the olive-tree aircraft park to the most thorough low flying attack I have ever seen. The attack began at approximately 1600 hrs. and lasted till 1640. Some M.T. on the road near the North L.G. were also attacked and set on fire. Thirteen Hurricanes on the ground and one in the air were destroyed as well as a number of Greek aircraft on the South L.G. and in the olive tree aircraft park.
    15. The reconnaissance again reported no great activity on the ARTA-MISOLONGAL road.
    16, Pilot Officer B. ASHMOLE, R.A.F.V.R.,(a Greek linguist and with a wide knowledge of Greece) proposed that he should go by car to KALAMATA to reconnoitre the possibility of evacuating personnel in local craft. Owing to the increased numbers of R.A.F. personnel who had been sent to the ARGOS area and to the ship sinking’s which had occurred, I agreed to this proposal because it seemed unlikely that all the RAF and Army personnel then present could be evacuated from NAUPLIA
    17. Between sunset and dark on 23rd April one Sunderland and three Lockheed Lodestars arrived. Parties for evacuation were detailed for them in accordance with an order of priority which had been indicated by H.Q., B.A.F. Greece. They left before daylight on 24th April.
    18. In consequence of the obvious impossibility of protecting the surviving Hurricanes while on the ground, and of the fact that they were so utterly outnumbered by the eneny as to be non-effective in Greece, I decided that they would be of more value based upon CRETE and employed to protect evacuation vessels during the daylight portion of their voyages when nearing CRETE. I therefore ordered the six serviceable Hurricanes, plus one flyable but not fit for operations, to leave for CRETE at daylight on 24th April and signalled S.A.F.O. CRETE, HQ, BAF, GREECE, 114, RAF, LE and 3,1, BTG accordingly. Unfortunately, owing to damage to the W/T set sustained in the enemy attack of the afternoon, only part of the signal was transmitted. A second signal was made through Army VT channel (NAUPLIA) on 24th Aril.
    19. During the night of 23rd/24th April the Sea Transport Officer expected to be able to evacuate a number of troops and suggested that I should send down 500. This was done but no evacuation was possible.
    20. Early in the morning or 214th April, Group Captain LEE arrived From ATHENS to assist in administrative matters. At the same time a favourable report was received by telephone from Pilot Officer ASHMOLE regarding evacuation possibilities from KALAMATA. I therefore decided that Group Captain LEE and the 1,700 (approx) officers and men still at ARGOS should go by train am' road to KALAMATA for evacuation thence, either direct to CRETE or to the island of KRYTHIA, as a safer preliminary than remaining on the mainland. They left before noon after destroying their technical vehicles. The Army movement Control , NAPAULIA, and later Brigadier LEE, then commanding PELOPONISSOS, were duly informed.
    21. Wireless communication from the Southern L.G. Cap was re-established during the Clay, but unfortunately the cypher officers who had been detained for duty (Pilot Officers EDGELL and COLEMAN) went off with the KALAMATA party with their cypher books. An attempt was made by telephone to get them back from KALAMATA but it was subsequently found that their cypher books had been destroyed and consequently Group Captain LEE did not send them back. A transposition cypher was therefore inaugurated instead.
    22. During the day, 24th April, enemy aircraft were continuously active and made several attacks on both the North and South lancing grounds and on M.T. on the road. Group Captain LEE's party were, however, successful in getting away unscathed. It is noteworthy that the 2,000 odd personnel who were concealed with their W.T. in the olive groves remained undetected. This was undoubtedly due to the care which eras observed by all ranks to remain hidden from enemy aircraft.
    23. Between sunset anti nark of 24th April two Sunderlands landed at NAUPLIA and were loaded during- the night with R.A.F. personnel, including four R.A.F. injured, and also With Major,- General Sir Ivor McKay (Commander 6th Australian Division) and one member of his staff, who had been sent from Army Force H.Q. for air evacuation. These aircraft left at about 0230 L.T. on 25th April. The four R.A.F. injured cane from a Dressing Station which had been improvised in a Church at NAUPLIA by Flight Lieutenant GRIFFIN It contained both RAF and Army patients and the way in which it was being run reflects great credit on Flight Lieutenant GRIFFIN.
    24. During the night 24th/25th Aril the 500 R.A.F. personnel who had been sent to NAUPLIA area on 23rd April (see pare 19) as well as about 250 personnel who had gone to NAUPLIA on arrival from ATHENS owing* to mis-direction by Army guides, were evacuated to CRETE in ships under arrangements by the Army Movement Control. Unfortunately one vessel, the "ULSTER PRINCE", was ran aground when being brought into NAUPLIA. She was duly destroyed by an enemy J.U.87 squadron on the morning of 25th April.
    25. On the 25th April low enemy air activity continued, periodic attacks being made with bombs and machine guns on the two landing grounds in spite of the fact that the number of Bofors guns had by now increased to about eight.
    26. I wasted much time and energy trying to locate the concealed headquarters of the Army Officer Commanding Troops in the PELOPONESSOS (Brigadier LEE) and later Force Headquarters. While doing so I found Army officers similarly engaged. Brigadier Lee, stated that the A.A. defence of the North larding Fro 'rd could not be strengthened and agreed that its use was consequently not a feasible military proposition.
    27. On the afternoon of 25th April Force Headquarters was found and there General HAYWOOD (Military Mission) and Admiral TURLE (Naval Attaché) asked to be informed if a Sunderland was coming that night to fetch them and some members of the Greek Government whom they had with them. In due course they were told that no Sunderland had come and one was asked for the following night.
    28. A request was also made to Heat quarters, R.A.F. Middle East for land aircraft to come in on the evening of 26th April but a reply was received to the effect that this was not possible.
    29. On 26th April I reported to the G.O.C. Force Headquarters (General Sir Henry Wilson) and again asked for a strengthening of the light defence of the ARGOS landing ground against low flying attack as a requisite to bringing back fighters. The G.O.C• said that he had not got the means required and agreed that the landing ground was not therefore useable.
    30. I found that arrangements had been made by Group: Captain PELLY for a Sunderland to take off General WILSON and his party (including General HAYWARD etc.) from MYLOI on the night of 26th April. I therefore reserved passages for my headquarters party of 20 in this aircraft.
    31. During the day, 26th April, enemy air activity was much intensified against the roads through ARGOS and southward and 2,000 parachutists seized the CORINTH Bridge. Troop carriers also landed at PERYALI landing ground near CORINTH. Special precautions were taken against troop landings on ARGOS South landing ground which was Very suitable for the purpose.
    32. I attempted to prepare for flight to CRETE a Proctor aircraft which had suffered damage which did not preclude its flying, but I VAS unable to repair a bullet-punctured type. I succeeded in flying it from the North to the South aerodrome getting well shot at by our own A.A. in the process. But, as a result of this experiment, I did not consider the machine could be taken off in the starlight with one flat tyre. I therefore destroyed it.
    33. My Headquarters party of 20 moved dorm to MYLOI on the evening of 26th April to find that all but 16 of the capacity of the Sunderland had been filled. I therefore embarked 16 and with Flight Lieutenant JENKS and two wireless operators (Sergeant KAY and Corporal MESTON) with a VT set I made South with two cars.
    34. During the daylight of 27th April we lay up under trees South of TRIPOLIS arts received great hospitality from the local inhabitants. Enemy air activity on the road was continuous.
    35. During the night of 27th/28th April we drove to GITHION where we found that the R.A.F. party (part of Group Captain LEE's contingent) which had been there, had gone. We could not telephone to Group Captain LEE at KALAMATA because the telephone lines had been damaged by bombing.
    36. We then went on to MONEMASIA where General FREYBURG (Commanding ANZAC Corps) had his headquarters and whence evacuation of troops was planned to occur.
    37. Here W/T communication was established with HQ, R.A.F.,
    38. The Army Head quarters believed that a Sunderland was coming on the evening of 28th April and 1-1.42., R.A.F., M.E. was asked for confirmation in order that arrangements might be made. No reply could be obtained and at 2000 L.T. the W/T was destroyed.
    39. The party embarked on HMS "HAVOC" during the night 28th/29th April, reaching CRETE in the morning of 29th April.
    40. I wish to bring to notice the following for their good work and devotion to duty during the period covered by this report :-
    Flight Lieutenant N.S. JENKS, R.A.F.V.R.
    Squadron Leader E.G. JOE, Officer Commanding, No. 80 Squadron.
    Flight Lieutenant W.P. GRIFFIN, Royal Air Force Medical Serviced,
    No. 567623 Sergeant KAY. - Wireless &_ Electrical mechanic.
    No.517296 Corporal MESTON - Wireless Operator.
    No.590801 Sergeant STRINGER. G. - Clerk G.D.
    No.791153 A.C.2 CASAR - Driver Petrol.
    41. Considerable assistance was received from the Greek Air Force, particularly the local senior officer at ARGOS, Wing Commander ARGONYOPOLIS. This assistance was only made possible by the fact that Flight Lieutenant JENKS spoke fluent Greek and had already established cordial relations with these Greek officers.
    42. I was most impressed with the effectiveness of the German dive bombing attacks on ships and similar small targets, and with the deadliness of their low flying attacks on aircraft on the ground. Adequate means to counter the latter must be found. Suggestions are :-
    (i) Concealment so as to render difficult the selection of objectives at which to shoot.
    (ii) Intense machine gun defence, the gunners being shielded so as to give them the maximum fighting chance.
    (iii) Dispersion of landing grounds in depth so that aircraft are on the ground as little as possible while within range of enemy fighters.
    (iv) Fighter cover while re-fuelling is in progress on forward landing grounds.
    (v) Pens with bullet proof head cover and with a traverse wall in front of opening.

    3rd May 1941
    Air Commodore GRIGSON
  2. joni007

    joni007 New Member

    AIR COMODORE J.W.B. GRIGSON i know this person and noe i also wwant to know more about this ..
    what a great job..
  3. SO2APSR

    SO2APSR New Member

    This is a very interesting report; can you tell me which AIR file, or other file was it in? A couple of things stick out in the report.

    The first was that Grigson felt isolated because of poor communications with the RAF and Army.

    The second is that D'Albiac, described by Grigson as AOC BAF Greece, decided to leave Grigson in charge of the fighter rearguard and the evacuation of RAF personnel, but that Grigson felt compelled to retain the short-range Hurricane's in Greece rather than send them to Crete (where radar existed and airfields were available) to cover the evacuation of the ships which should have left under darkness. Roald Dahl's 'Going Solo' Dahl shows the folly of Grigson's decison, as the Argos satellite airfield was easy to spot due to the decision to pitch white military tents around it and by the experience of seeing reconaissance aircraft, swiftly followed by offensive sweeps by German fighters - an indicator to what happened shortly afterwards.

    The third is that the decision to retain at Argos of the 3 of the 5 additional Hurricanes dispatched to Argos and the others that remained from the Greek campaign led to the loss of 14 Hurricanes and damage to another. Had these been in Crete with the advantage of radar to detect incoming raids the Germans may have had a much more difficult task in achieving their planned invasion. And if the Me109s could reach Crete from Greece then the Hurricanes could have provided significant cover to the ships from Crete.

    In sum, I think Grigson should have had the foresight to make the decision to send the Hurricane's to Crete in a similar way to the decision made by Kenneth Cross in sending the squadrons 150 miles to the rear when Rommel made his first thrust in the desert. Ultimately, his poor decision may have led to his next post in Rhodesian flying training system.
  4. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

  5. phylo_roadking

    phylo_roadking Very Senior Member

    Thats two separate historical points-of-deviation; don't forget that that "radar" on Crete wasn't actually much cop ;) It was a Type 6 MkI, with a range of only 18 miles at 2,000 feet, and 25 miles at 6,000 feet. It was only a converted ASV radar, used for limited early warning and/or as locating radar for 3GHz Gun Control Radar!

    Any fighters scrambled with only 18-25 miles' early warning is going to be like Eleven Group fighters from the coastal dispersal fields during the Kanalkampf in July 1940 I.E. giving the advantage of altitude away to the incoming attackers....and coming off worst.
  6. Shirt Off

    Shirt Off New Member

    I think you are wrong the issue of radar on Crete. Yes, the Type 6 was on Crete but it was not AMES. The AMES sites 252 at Maleme and 220 at Heraklion were more likely to be the hand tuned Mk 5. Overseas Low set, which would have had a much longer range. It was a version of the Type 2 system for overseas.

    Moreover, on page 5 of Group Captain Beamish's Most Secret report on Air Operations in Crete 17th April - 21 May, 1941 it clearly states 'Very good results were being obtained by A.M.E.S stations at the time. A weak sector however existed parallel to the coast and also for enemy aircraft approaching from the South very little warning was received.'

    Also, Keith Park faced much the same problem you describe about height advantage - when he took over from Lloyd in Malta, but he found breaking up the raids to affect their operational effectiveness and disrupt their targeting was better than letting them bomb and trying to shoot them down on their return leg. If Grigson had let the Hurricanes go to Crete the odds would have been significantly different.

    That said, the eventual removal of the AD fighters to Egypt and the preference of the commanders to use them in an air reconnaissance role in support of offensive bombing raids by Wellingtons to attack HASSANI, MENIDI, ARGOS, MOLADI, RHODES, MARITZA, CALATO and ELEUSIS (pp. 8-9 of Beamish's report), suggests they may have been mishandled in performing AD anyway.
  7. Shirt Off

    Shirt Off New Member

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