Map of Maleme area, 20 May 1941

Map of Maleme area, 20 May 1941

Defending the Maleme area of Crete was 5th (NZ) Brigade. Commanded by Brigadier James Hargest, this comprised the 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 28th (Maori) Battalions; an engineer detachment; three troops of artillery; and the New Zealand Field Punishment Centre.  

Located around the perimeter of the airfield were 22nd Battalion and two companies of the 27th (Machine Gun) Battalion.

To the east of Maleme, 23rd Battalion was positioned along the road at right angles to the coast. Paratroops landed among their positions on 20 May. The battalion spent the morning patrolling and mopping up isolated pockets of German troops.

The under-strength 21st Battalion was located to the south of 23rd Battalion. Very few paratroops landed in this area.

The 28th (Maori) Battalion was positioned around the village of Platanias to cover the beach and the road. The battalion saw little early action, although a German glider and troop carrier crash-landed in D Company’s area. That evening B Company went off to help 22nd Battalion at Maleme. Aside from this, the day was spent mostly in mopping up and patrolling.

7th Field Company, New Zealand Engineers, was stationed to the east of 23rd Battalion. Around 100–150 paratroops landed on their west flank and were killed on the way down or mopped up shortly after landing.

19th Army Troops Company, New Zealand Engineers, was stationed between 7th Field Company and 28th (Maori) Battalion. They only received a few paratroops.

The Field Punishment Centre (FPC) was located south of 7th Field Company about 900 m to the west of the village of Modhion. The FPC was a detention centre for Allied troops who had broken military rules on Crete. German paratroops dropped in large numbers all through the FPC area. Most were killed or captured. Soldiers at the FPC spent the rest of the day dealing with snipers, evacuating enemy prisoners and wounded, and collecting equipment from canisters dropped by the Germans.

A, B and C Troops of the 27th Battery, 5th New Zealand Field Regiment, were stationed east of Maleme. Equipped with two 3.7-inch howitzers and seven 75-mm guns, the New Zealand gunners shelled enemy positions and themselves came under fire. They were also involved in small-arms skirmishes with paratroops.

5th Brigade Headquarters was located at Platanias when the invasion began. Brigadier Hargest returned to his battle headquarters with some difficulty and was able to observe Maleme airfield from there.

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