Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sutherland pays tribute to the fallen of Crete and Greece

UNDER the piercing eastern Mediterranean sun, sailors from HMS Sutherland salute the fallen of the short – but brutal – struggle for Crete at 70th anniversary commemorations of ‘the lost battle’.
The ten-day struggle for the island was among the most ferocious fought in World War 2 – and claimed a particularly heavy toll of the Royal Navy.
The Mediterranean Fleet was stretched to breaking point in its efforts trying to stop the Germans reinforce their paratroopers landed on Crete using the sea lanes from Greek mainland.
Those efforts by the Royal Navy were largely successful – but the Luftwaffe sank or badly damaged 30 warships at a cost of more than 2,200 lives.

The battle on land went no better for Commonwealth troops who were forced to abandon Crete after a week’s fighting; more than 16,000 were evacuated to Egypt by the RN in a hurried ‘mini Dunkirk’.
Seven decades on and a dwindling band of brothers from the UK, Australia and New Zealand – almost all in their 90s and one aged 102 – gathered at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery overlooking Souda Bay.
They were joined by sailors from the Devonport-based frigate, plus the Duke of Gloucester and Commander in Chief Fleet Admiral Sir Trevor Soar, leading the UK contingent honouring the dead of 1941.
The Fighting Clan sent a 21-gun salute echoing around the bay from her berth not far from the cemetery as a backdrop to the service of remembrance.
With the ceremonies over, veterans were invited aboard Sutherland – for many it was their first visit to a Royal Navy warship since that fateful evacuation in 1941.
“For the ship’s company the greatest sense of achievement came from the interaction they were able to have with the veterans themselves – they are genuinely remarkable people with truly incredible stories to tell,” said Lt Cdr Paul O’Shaughnessy, Sutherland's weapons engineer officer.
“Their stories of hand to hand battles in the village squares and the warmth and hospitality of the Cretan people in their time of need, really brought out the contrasts of that period. 
“The sheer numbers of servicemen who lost their lives on both sides is simply immense and the immaculately-presented cemeteries are very humbling places to visit.” 
Upon leaving Souda Bay, Sutherland sailed for Kalamata in Greece for more 1941 commemorations; a month before the battle for Crete, the Royal and Merchant Navies were charged with pulling Allied troops out of Greece following the Germans’ lunge into the Balkans.
The entry to the Peloponnesian port was “somewhat challenging due to the tight confines of the harbour”, but once alongside the Type 23 rather dominated the harbour front. “At least the town could see that the Royal Navy had arrived,” said Lt Cdr O’Shaughnessy.
Once again the Fighting Clan had the honour of supplying a guard for the commemorations held at the town’s war memorial.
Other highlights of the visit to Greece were a display by the Red Arrows display, which was witnessed by the entire ship’s company from a nearby beach, and the chance to meet yet more veterans.
Upon sailing from Kalamata, a short memorial service and wreathlaying ceremony was conducted at sunset to remember the men lost during the evacuations 70 years ago.
The frigate has now sailed through Suez in company with HMS Albion on the latest stage of the Cougar 11 deployment.


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...