Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 5 May 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 5 MAY 2018 19 HISTORY Sergeant Jack Hinton, VC, of the 20th New Zealand Battalion. Captain Albert Gray. Sunderland flying boats in Kalamata Harbor waiting to pick up British troops for evacuation at Kalamata on 28 April 1941. PHOTO: IWM Private Max Wood 2/6th Battalion, (now Sergeant), MM, Syria, January 1942. PHOTO: AWM British and Australian troops marching through a street in Kalamata to the embarkation point during the withdrawal of the Allied forces. PHOTO: AWM COLLECTION Australian troops resting under trees in the Kalamata area while awaiting embarkation during the withdrawal of the Allied forces, 26 April 1941. PHOTO: AWM COLLECTION Battle of Kalamata waterfront, 28 April 1941, NZ OH. It was now that Albert's courage and leadership shone through. While he was in command of some 400 Australian troops from various units, only around 70 could take part in the engagement due to a shortage of weapons and ammunition. Albert split his force into two platoons. One platoon joined the 30-strong New Zealand force which moved along the streets parallel to the waterfront with the aim of attacking the Germans from a flanking position and in the rear. Albert and his group moved along Navarino Street, attacking the Germans head-on. While under constant enemy fire, Albert's force first occupied defensive positions in a ditch running at right angles to the beach near Navarino Street. Private Bowler of Albert's battalion was wounded here. At 8.45 pm the attack began. Albert and his men made a frontal assault on the German position on the waterfront. One account of the attack talks of an intense fight, of "mad confusion" and of the men fighting "like wildcats". The only thought in the digger's minds was "to get the jerries from that quay at all costs". At one point the Australians drove a truck full of diggers "yelling, shooting and swearing" straight towards the German position. At the same time the combined Anzac force led by Sergeant Hinton of the 20th New Zealand Battalion, pistol in hand, attacked the Germans from the north, making good use of a single Vickers machine gun. Hinton led the assault on a number of German positions, hurling grenades and capturing an artillery piece. In the attack he was severely wounded in the stomach and was later captured. The battle lasted under an hour, the Germans were overwhelmed by the Anzac-led combined attack and the port was retaken. Over 100 German soldiers were killed or wounded, and another 100 captured. Meanwhile another combined British and Anzac force led by British Major Geddes engaged and defeated German troops in the northern part of the city, taking 150 prisoners. VICTORY THEN CAPTURE Due to the bravery of Albert and the other troops who took part in the battle, the evacuations were able to continue for another night. In the end 9,217 Allied troops were safely evacuated from Kalamata, including 8,650 Australian troops. When the 2/6th Battalion assembled in Palestine on 2 May there were only 10 officers and 220 other ranks from a force that originally totalled 900 men. Albert achieved Mentioned-in-Dispatches and was awarded the Military Cross "for exemplary conduct and leadership at Kalamata". Albury-born Private Max Wood of the 2/6th Battalion was awarded the Military Medal "for high courage and devotion during the evacuation from Greece". Major Geddes was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Sergeant Jack Hinton received the highest accolade, being awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the action on that night. While 330 Allied troops were taken off in the final evacuation in the early hours of 29 April, Albert was not one of them; an officer was not to abandon his men. When the Germans finally secured Kalamata on the morning of 29 April, Albert was one of the 7,500 Allied troops taken prisoner, along with a quarter of his battalion. One who escaped capture was Private Max Wood who made his way down through the villages of the Mani and was evacuated by an Allied warship two days later. Albert's bravery did not end in captivity; he made no less than four escape attempts from German POW camps and assisted in many more. After the long night of incarceration and liberation, Albert returned to Australia after the war, first to Black Rock and then to his beloved Red Cliffs. His name is proudly etched on the local war memorial. I wonder what went through Gray's mind as he contemplated capture all those years ago. Maybe he would have gazed out across Kalamata Bay as the last evacuation ship made its way south to Crete. And I wonder if the water, with its silvery reflections, took him back to earlier days on the banks of the great Murray River as it bent its way through his home town. Standing on Navarino Street there are few reminders of the battle of Kalamata. I hope that the memorial might be one day complemented by one at the site of the battle for the waterfront itself, honouring the service of Captain Albert Gray and the other brave Allied soldiers who defeated the German forces in Kalamata on that terrible night in April 1941. Lest we forget. * Jim Claven is a trained historian and a freelance writer. He is currently working to erect a memorial plaque in Kalamata to Captain Albert Gray and his comrades who fought in the Battle of Kalamata.
28 April 2018
12 May 2018