ANZAC Escapers from Crete
I have visited Crete three times in recent years, walking in the Lefka Ori and following some of the routes used by retreating Allied troops in May 1941 as they made their way south over those harsh mountains to the coast to be evacuated. Not everyone got away and I want to remind readers to this site that the troops left behind, some of whom evaded on the island for years, were only able to remain free because of the traditional, selfless hospitality of the people of Crete.
This article is based around the book 'On the Run' by Seán Damer and Ian Frazer. The book tells the story of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who evaded on Crete after the Royal Naval evacuations of May 1941 and those who subsequently escaped, but this page is only about the escapers. I have tried to cross-check details in the book from other sources, and have added some further information that the reader may find useful. Unfortunately the book does not include much about British soldiers and so there is only brief mention of a few of them included here. Ian Frazer is the son of Len Frazer AIF, who escaped from Crete in June 1942.
There are many references to 'On the Run', hereafter referred to as OTR, and also to the ANZAC Freemen in Europe website (Part 5 Other European, Chapter 5 Crete) hereafter referred to as Freemen - but sadly this page seems no longer available. The nominal rolls mentioned in the text are those accessable from the Freemen website (Part 6 Chapter 3). Freeman includes OTR as one of its sources but there are some discrepancies that I am unable reconcile. Click HERE for an alphabetical list of the ANZAC escapers mentioned by OTR and Freemen.
Reference is also made to the Australian Government nominal roll at
Many of the later evacuations are hard to find details about but as there was so much SOE, SIS and MI9 maritime activity that could be related, references are also made to the book 'Crete, the Battle and the Resistance' by Antony Beevor, hereafter referred to as Beevor.
Please note that the spelling of many Cretan place names vary with source.
This page updated 27 May 2017
Crete was attacked by German paratroops on 20 May 1941. Despite fierce resistance by Allied troops and Cretan civilians, the Germans quickly took control of the northern part of the island and the majority of Allied soldiers reteated across the mountains to the southern coast where they hoped to be evacuated by ships of the Royal Navy. OTR quotes a figure of some 16,000 men taken off from Hora Sfakia, but at tremendous cost to the Navy in both ships and seamen. Beevor (346) says that 12,254 Allied troops were taken as POWs. Not all the soldiers surrended however, and some of the POWs subsequently escaped ...
Escapes from the island can divided into three main types : escapes initiated by the evaders themselves, escapes specifically organised by Allied Command, and men who were exfiltrated following covert operations mounted against the island by Allied forces.
Garratt MLC from Hora Sfakia 1 June 1941
"Major R Garratt, RM, was the officer commanding the Royal Marines in the rearguard, and who had been left behind at Sfakia. He commandeered one of the three abandoned Motor Landing Craft (MLC) which had been used to ferry troops out from Hora Sfakia to the warships which were evacuating them." (OTR 34)
The MLC was partially disabled with both engines out of action and a hawser wound around one of the propellors. With one of the engines repaired by Australian Lt Keith Walker, Garratt set off on 1 June with 99 British soldiers, including 56 of his own Marines, 25 (sic) Australians, 8 (sic) New Zealanders, 3 Palestinians, 1 Maltese and a Greek, and picked up New Zealander Wilfred Hancox on the way. They finally reached the Egyptian coast, behind British lines, west of Sidi Barrani, in the early hours of 9 June.
Note that the above figures are taken from a first-hand account by Cpl Ian Walker AIF quoted in OTR whilst OTR only lists 17 Australians and 3 New Zealanders, including Pte Hancox. The AIF and NZ nominal rolls agree with OTR. Walker also mentions an English Sergeant Colwell and a Second Lieutenant Bavie RN.
Freemen says they were a party of 135 including 56 Marines ...
Day MLC from Hora Sfakia 1 June 1941
"A second abandoned MLC was commandeered on 1 June 1941 by Lt G M Day of 1 Welch Regiment. He put to sea with a company of 44 men, including many from his own regiment, There were at least 5 Australians on the craft, all from 2/7 Australian Infantry Battalion." (OTR 250)
Freemen says that Lt Day put together a party of 144 including 44 men of his regiment, various marines and commandos, and five Australians.
OTR lists the five Australians and the AIF nominal roll adds 2 more but Catchlove and Anstis (along with Bradfield) are shown as being recaptured - and Freemen adds John Green. Bill Rudd, author of the Freemen website, explains that with supplies getting low, Lt Peter Catchlove and two other Australians were despatched in a long boat that the MLC was towing to forage for provisions. The remainder of the party in the MLC reached Allied Lines (AL) in North Africa on 10 June. The foraging party also reached North Africa but landed on the Italian side of the lines and were captured and sent to POW camps in Italy. Pte John Green escaped to Switzerland from PG58 (Gruppignano) following the Italian armistice but Catchlove and Cpl Frank Anstis were sent to Germany.
Richards MLC from Hora Sfakia 1 June 1941
"A third abandoned MLC was commandeered at Hora Sfakia on 1 June by Australian Pte Harry Richards. With New Zealand Pte Alfred Taylor as engineer, the MLC landed near Sidi Barrani on 9 June with about 60 men (Freemen says 2 officers and 50 men) on board." (OTR pages 37 & 251)
OTR lists 13 ANZACs and since one of their references for this event is a book about the Royal Marines, it seems reasonable to assume many of the other escapers were Marines. Note that OTR includes Pte Eric Holt in this party while the AIF nominal roll says that he was brought out on HM Submarine Torbay in August.
Fitzhardinge MLC from Agia Galini 2 June 1941
In addition to the withdrawal from the Chania area and subsequent evacuations from Hora Sfakia, the Royal Navy also picked up 3,486 troops (OTR) from Agia Galini following the battles at Rethymno and Heraklion. As before, not everyone got away first time ...
At Agia Galini, two abandoned MLCs had been washed ashore. One was judged a complete write-off but the other had the potential for repair. Batteries and coils were salvaged from abandoned trucks, the MLC engine was repaired and fuel scrounged from a crashed aircraft by a South African airman, Sgt McWilliam. There was only limited space available and the craft set off on 2 June with 11 officers, including Captain J B Fitzhardinge AIF, and 66 other ranks. Unfortunately the MLC was intercepted by the Italian submarine Adua that took all but two (query) of the officers prisoner but the remainder of the party landed safely near Mersa Matruh on 5 June.
OTR (42) says the wounded Lt Bedells (AIF) and a 2/Lt of the Black Watch were the only two officers not taken by the submarine but then lists 11 Australian escapers, including Monger and Mortimer who the Australian Government nominal roll shows as lieutenants. Freemen lists 29 AIF escapers but includes Lt Fitzhardinge, Lt Morish and Capt Ryan who they name on the page as taken on the submarine. There is also a duplication of VX5609 Mills for VX5609 Sgt Colin Stuart Knox.
Sgt McWilliam was a crewman on 24 Sqn SAAF Maryland 1608 (Ford) which was shot down by fighters and crashed near Tymbaki on 25 May 1941. All four crew - Lt E G Ford, 2/Lt G L W Gill, Sgt D D McWilliam and Sgt T O Muller - evaded and were on board the MLC but 2/Lt Gill drowned during transfer to the submarine. (Gunby & Temple)
The website also lists AC1 G R McLennan, LAC Harrington, AC Malloy, F/O Richard J Bennett and P/O Leonard Bartley as being on board the MLC. (Thank you Jeanette Dall for that link.)
Pte Carroll from Agia Galini 11 June 1941
The other escaper in June was Pte Stanley L Carroll AIF who salvaged a Greek fishing boat near Agia Galini and improvised enough rigging to set sail on 11 June. He got within sight of the North African coast before wrecking the craft and swimming ashore near Sidi Barrani on 19 June.
Buchecker Group from Sougia - 16 July 1941
"This group (of four evading soldiers) stole a small boat from a beach near Souyia (sic) and rowed and sailed it to the coast of North Africa, arriving at Sidi Barrani on 20 July." (OTR 252)
HM Submarine Thrasher from Limni Beach near Preveli - 28 July 1941
Following the escape to Egypt of the first evaders from Crete, HM Submarine Thrasher was sent to the island, arriving off the coast at Limni Beach on the morning of 22 July. She landed Lt-Cdr Francis Pool RNR and a Cretan guide, Stratis Liparakis. Pool worked for SOE but was loaned to MI9 for this operation to collect evading soldiers who were gathered in the area. The submarine returned in the evening of 26 July and embarked 62 British (sic) soldiers, 5 naval ratings and 11 Greeks. (OTR pages 94-97 including quotes from the submarine's log book in PRO ADM 236/30) (also see Beevor page 241) details this operation and also quotes File ADM 236/30, complete with a list of all the men taken off in this operation. In addition to the 42 ANZACs, they were :
ERA R Clough RN
HMS Widnes
L/Cpl J W Summers
Royal Corps of Signals
L/Stoker J J A Gibson RN
HMS Glenroy
Sig R Decker
Royal Corps of Signals
AB A J Taylor RN
HMS Glenroy
Sig L Fletcher
Royal Corps of Signals
L/Smn J E C Middleton RN
HMS Glenroy
Sig C Jenkinson
Royal Corps of Signals
OD D F Pierce RN
HMS Glenroy
Sig C F Senier
Royal Corps of Signals
Sgt J Tourner
1 Bn Argyll & Sutherland
Sig F B Shaw
Royal Corps of Signals
L/Cpl R Brown
1 Bn Argyll & Sutherland
Sig F B Shaw
Royal Corps of Signals
L/Cpl D Christie
1 Bn Argyll & Sutherland
Sig E M Thomas
Royal Corps of Signals
Pte J Bale
1 Bn Argyll & Sutherland
Rflmn A Crow
King's Royal Rifle Corps
Pte J Buckley
1 Bn Argyll & Sutherland
Rflmn G Sinclair
King's Royal Rifle Corps
Pte J V Carr
1 Bn Argyll & Sutherland
Gnr G F Webb
Royal Artillery
Pte J McClelland
1 Bn Argyll & Sutherland
Pte W E Roberts
Royal Engineers
Pte P R Young
Welch Regt
Cpl R T Weston
Royal Army Pay Corps
HM Submarine Torbay from Limni Beach near Preveli 20 August 1941
Lt-Cdr Pool stayed behind after Thrasher left and organised a second evacuation. On 20 August, HM Submarine Torbay collected 125 men, including 42 Australians and 62 New Zealand troops, from the beach at Limni. Also included was Lt Jack Smith-Hughes RASC who was to join SOE and return to the island by submarine in October 1941.
The AIF nominal roll includes a further 14 men credited to Torbay but notes that they are not shown on the PRO AIR 20 list. The Freemen page also notes the 14 men (plus Casgoigne NZ) and says that they came out at the same time (all given an arrival date at AL of 22 August except Frank Duffy who is given an arrival date of 28 July) but were perhaps brought out by some other method. Strangely, Richard Casey (NZ) is credited to Torbay by OTR and Freemen but the Freemen list of 103 ANZAC passengers gives his arrival date at Allied Lines as 13 November 1943.
It is possible that PRO File ADM 236/32 may shed further light on this operation - but I don't have a copy ...
Misc 21 September 1941 Nichol
OTR lists Pte Hugh Nichol AIF as reaching AL on 21 September 1941. Freemen says that a caique under the command of Captain Adonis brought 11 men out, including Hugh Nicol.
Misc 9 October 1941 McNab & Morice
OTR lists Sgt Donald McNab and Dvr James Morice NZEF as reaching AL on 9 October 1941. The NZ nominal roll shows them as independent escapers from Greece (Marathon) via Turkey.
Redpath Group to Greece then caique Agia Irini to North Africa
Sgt John Redpath (NZEF) took a group of 8 evaders to the Rodopos Peninsula where he hoped to seize one of the caiques that he understood were making secret crossings between Crete and mainland Greece. However, on boarding a suitable vessel they decided to go to the Peloponnese first. After some weeks evading there, the group (and joined by others) hijacked a caique and sailed it to North Africa (OTR 108-9). Freemen, which describes all the men as POWs, says they were sheltered in Agios Nicolaos near Cape Malea where they were joined by other escapers. A total of 17 (query) soldiers sailed for North Africa on about 3 October in the caique known as 'Aghia Irini' and reached AL near Mersah Matruh on 15 October.
Freemen shows a letter from John Redpath to their Greek helpers that includes the names of 18 escapers, adding 1876300 J Roe 67 Fld Coy RE and 13358 G Witty 9L G.E. (sic) to the list of ANZACs.
The NZ nominal roll adds 481427 George Roderick Roe 22 Fld Coy.
Captain Emilios with Embrey (AIF) Hildyard and Parish small boat via Greece
Greek Lt-Cdr Emmanuel Vernikos RNR (aka Capt Emilios) took the three officers to the Greek mainland from the Rodopos Peninsula in north-western Crete, then sailed by small boat through the Cyclades to neutral Turkey, and thence Egypt. (OTR 105) According to Freemen, they reached Allied Lines on 17 October 1941.
Myles Thoroton Hildyard and Michael Woodbine Parish Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Rangers) Yeomanry. Captain Parish joined MI9 in Cairo in 1941 and was captured in September 1943. (
Misc 2 November 1941 Howard
OTR lists Pte Ernest Howard NZEF as reaching AL on 2 November 1941. The NZ nominal roll shows him as an independent escaper from Greece.
Misc - 10 November 1941 Kilby Group
OTR lists 6 ANZAC escapers reaching AL on 10 November 1941. Nominal rolls refer to them as the Kilby group and say that they escaped from Greece via Turkey.
Misc 11 November 1941 Donovan group
OTR lists 4 NZ escapers reaching AL on 11 November 1941. The NZ nominal roll refers to them as the Donovan group, that they escaped from Greece, stole a boat from Ajivoros (sic) and got back via Turkey.
MI9/SOE Operation Hedgehog from Treis Ekklesies 23 November 1941
On 9 October 1941, HM Submarine Thunderbolt landed former escaper Lt Jack Smith-Hughes and ISLD (SIS) radio operator Sgt Ralph Stockbridge near Tsoutsouros Bay. In addition to other tasks for SOE, Smith-Hughes organised the evacuation of 86 soldiers from Treis Ekklesies beach on 23 November by the converted trawler HMS Hedgehog. (OTR page 124/5) Freemen list of 56 ANZACs has them reaching AL on 29 November 1941.
Beevor (244) says this was the caique Escampador (Mike Cumberlege) which also delivered SOE agent Monty Woodhouse to take over from Jack Smith-Hughes, although Smith-Hughes did not leave the island until the week before Christmas. Woodhouse was in turn replaced by Tom Dunbabin in April 1942.
It is possible that PRO File HS 5/434 may shed further light on this operation - but I don't have a copy ...
Lt-Cdr Claude Michael Bullstrode Cumberlege was captured in Greece in May 1943 and executed at Flossenburg on 10 April 1945. (
Misc November 1941 - Loveridge & Rosson
OTR lists Dvr Sydney Loveridge and Pte Lionel Rosson NZA as reaching AL in November 1941. The NZ nominal roll shows them as escaping from Crete and coming out on Escampador (Cumberlege).
Misc - December 1941 Lilievre, Downing & Shepherd
OTR lists Pte William Lilievre (NZEF) Pte Charles Downing and Pte William Shepherd (AIF) as reaching AL in December 1941. The NZ nominal roll shows Lilievre as escaping from Greece via Turkey. The Australian nominal roll shows Downing as an independent escaper from Crete via Turkey (SOE) with Shepherd, who is shown as escaping from Greece.
OTR (page 141) mentions two mates of Len Frazer AIF being evacuated by submarine on Christmas Day 1941 but I don't know who they were.
Misc January 1942 Bailey, McGrane & Scott
OTR lists Pte Stanley Bailey, Pte Patrick McGrane and Pte Stephen Scott AIF as reaching AL on 4 January 1942. The Australian nominal roll shows them as escaping from Crete and coming back on Escampador.
11 January 1942 : HM Submarine Torbay lands SOE agents Xan Fielding and Guy Turrell. (Beevor 245)
Moir Group from Sfinari via Cape Krios April 1942
"Led by Sgt Tom Moir, this group stole a boat at Sfinari on the west coast of Crete, sailed south to Cape Krios from where they left on 8 April 1942 for North Africa." (OTR 259) The plan was to take the boat to a hidden cave near Eliphonisos, Ktista (Cape Krios) until any fuss over the theft had died down and then sail for North Africa. Included with the party of 8 ANZACs was a Royal Marine. (OTR 152 on) OTR says the men landed near Sidi Barrani on 14 April while the Freemen list shows this party reaching AL on 8 April.
Tom Moir was recruited by MI9 and returned to Crete in February 1942 to arrange the collection of more escapers see Hedgehog 4. Moir was captured in early May.
15 April 1942 : SOE agent Tom Dunbabin arrives by ship to replace Monty Woodhouse, and Guy Turrall left with him. (Beevor 246)
Misc April 1942 Hosie
OTR lists Pte Andrew Hosie (AIF) as reaching AL in April 1942. Freemen says that Captain Adonis helped Hosie to obtain a small yacht with two young Cretan lads who wished to join the Greek army.
Misc 4 May 1942 Foley
OTR lists Dvr Edward Foley (NZEF) as reaching AL on 4 May 1942. The NZ nominal roll notes him as escaping from Crete via Turkey.
Misc 5 May 1942 Thomas
OTR lists Lt Walter Thomas (NZEF) as reaching AL on 5 May 1942. The NZ nominal roll notes him as escaping from Greece via Turkey.
Misc 6 May 1942 Brown, Dyer & Watson
OTR lists the three AIF escapers reaching AL on 6 May 1942. The AIF nominal roll notes them all as A-Force with WO2 John Dyer escaping from Crete, Capt Charles Brown escaping from Crete via Turkey and L/Cpl William Watson escaping from Greece via Turkey. A-Force was a cover name for MI9.
MI9/SOE Operation Hedgehog 2 (Saunders Group) from Trafoulas May 1942
On 22 May 1942, about 90 men (including 13 ANZACs) were evacuated from Trafoulas beach near Krotos probably by HMS Hedgehog.
"Reg Saunders and two mates ... found 15 British, New Zealand and Australian troops and a Greek agent with the improbable name of Sam. That same night Sam escorted the 15 escapers to the beach where they found about 75 other Allied troops ... It turned out to be a North Sea trawler ... anyway that was about ten o'clock that night and then they got us all aboard ninety of us ..." (OTR 157-8)
23 May 1942 : Tom Dunbabin meets SBS advance party and provides them with guides. Their mission was to reconnoitre for attacks the German aerodromes at Haraklion, Maleme, Kastelli Pediados and Tymbaki, which were carried out the following month. Survivors of the raiding force were evacuated from Trypiti (Tripiti) by the caique Porcupine on 23 June. (Beevor 261-2)
MI9/SOE Operation Hedgehog 3 (Frazer Group) from Trafoulas June 1942
On 6 June 1942, a group of men (including 13 ANZACs) were evacuated from Trafoulas beach near Krotos. Although known as Hedgehog 3, this operation was carried out by a high-speed motor launch Len Frazer says she was ML 354 (OTR 163). Freemen says they reached AL on 8 June 1942.
RHN Submarine Papanikolis - June 1942
In June 1942 the Greek submarine Papanikolis delivered a group of commandos to raid German aerodromes on Crete. One of the commandos was Sgt John Medley who had been evacuated earlier and sworn to come back for the other evaders. Word got around to some of them and they were able to make their way to a rendezvous point where they were told that rubber dinghies had been hidden in a sea cave. Eight NZ escapers left Crete on the submarine and are shown as reaching AL on 19 June.
23 June 1942 : The caique Porcupine delivers SOE agent Paddy Leigh Fermor and radio operator Sgt Matthew White to the beach near Tripiti, and evacuates survivors from the SAS and SBS raids on German airfields. (Beevor 262)
5 August 1942 : RHN Submarine Papanikolis collects SOE agent Xan Fielding (and others) from a beach on southern Crete. (Beevor 264)
27 November 1942 : RHN Submarine Papanikolis lands SOE agents Xan Fielding and Captain Arthur Reade, and an ISLD (SIS) mission. (Beevor 267)
14 February 1943 : SOE agent Tom Moir landed at the eastern end of Crete. (OTR 185)
MI9/SOE Operation Hedgehog 4 (Fielding/Moir Group) from Tripiti May 1943
The group is referred to as Fielding/Moir for SOE officers Xan Fielding and former escaper Tom Moir (until he was captured) who collected the escapers together (including British soldier Sid Robinson and his Cretan wife Elevtheria) and organised their evacuation. The operation was carried out by a Royal Navy motor launch, described by escaper Sgt Geoffrey Ruddick AIF as a sub-chaser. OTR and Freemen have the 29 ANZACs reaching AL on 8 May 1943.
7 June 1943 : Petrakageorgis returned from Cairo. (Beevor 280)
Misc June 1943 Nicholls & Ledgerwood
OTR lists Sgt William Ledgerwood (AIF) and Sgt Donald Nicholls (NZEF) as reaching AL on 11 June 1943. The nominal rolls note their escape from Crete via A-Force (MI9).
Misc June 1943 Amos
OTR lists Sgn Frederick Amos (NZEF) as reaching AL on 22 June 1943. The nominal roll notes his escape from Crete via A-Force (Plan 6).
23 June 1943 : Three SBS teams (Sutherland, Lasson & Lamonby) landed on Crete prior to the Allied landings on Sicily. (Beevor 295)
27 June 1943 : Fourth SBS team (Rowe) landed on Crete prior to the Allied landings on Sicily. (Beevor 295)
Misc July 1943 Spriggs - query
OTR lists Pte Thomas Spriggs (AIF) as reaching AL on 1 July 1943 but then (on page 196) has him leaving by MTB on 8 September 1943 with Swinburne. The AIF nominal roll notes his escape from Crete via A-Force (Plan 6).
c. 11 July 1943 : SBS teams evacuated by ML from Treis Ekklisies. (Beevor 285)
Misc Aug 1943 Sheppeck & Walker
OTR lists Cpl Thomas Sheppeck and Pte John Walker (AIF) as reaching AL on 18 August 1943. The AIF nominal roll notes their escape from Crete via A-Force (Plan 6).
Misc September 1943 Swinburne, Dudley & Poschalk
OTR lists Pte Walter Swinburne (NZEF) Pte Norman Dudley and Pte Herbert Poschalk (AIF) as reaching AL on 8 September 1943. The nominal rolls note all three as escaping from Crete via A-Force.
OTR (page 196) says Swinburne was evacuated by MTB with Pte Spriggs AIF (see 1 July 43) and adds a West Indian pilot, a New Zealand pilot and 14 Cretans as taken off. The same page also says that the fate of Sgt D Nicholls is unknown but the OTR Miscellanous list shows him as 4232 Sgt D Nicholis (sic) NZEF reaching AL on 11 June 43.
The Australian nominal roll shows VX24068 Cpl Herbert Wrigley as escaping from Crete by submarine (A-Force) but does not include a date.
Click HERE for a list of the ANZAC soldiers mentioned by OTR and Freemen. Note that not all of the men listed escaped from the island of Crete, and that some of those who did, were captured before they reached safety.
Sean Damer & Ian Frazer (2006) On the Run published by the Penguin Group (NZ)
Antony Beevor (1991) Crete - The Battle and the Resistance published by John Murray