HC Deb 22 May 1941 vol 371 cc1678-80

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn"—[Major Dugdale.]

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill): This is a somewhat indeterminate moment in the battle for Crete on which to make a statement, and I can only give a very provisional account. Fighting is continuing with intensity, and, although the situation is in hand, the Germans have gained some local successes, at heavy cost. They are using large numbers of air-borne and parachute troops, and these are being increased daily. The position at Heraklion is that our troops are still holding the aerodrome, although the Germans are now in what is called occupation of the town, which probably means that they are ensconced in certain buildings in the town. In the Retimo district there is no report of any particular fighting, although an attempt by the enemy to attack an aerodrome early yesterday morning was successfully held. In the Canea-Suda Bay sector heavy enemy air attacks in the early morning of yesterday were followed, in the course of the day, by further parachute landings South-West of Canea, which were heavily engaged by our artillery and machine guns. At Malemi Aerodrome, 10 miles South-West of Canea, it appears that the enemy are now in occupation of the aerodrome and the area to the West of it, but the aerodrome is still under our fire. Elsewhere in this sector the coastal line remains in our hands.

The fighting is going on, deepening in intensity, and will certainly continue for some time. Last night the enemy began to try sea-borne landings, but a convoy, making for Crete, was intercepted by our naval forces, and two transports and a number of caiques, Greek boats, which probably contained troops intended for landing operations, were sunk, and an enemy destroyer, which was escorting the convoy, was also sunk. But, during the course of to-day, very much larger attempts have been made by the enemy to carry an army into Crete, and a convoy of 30 vessels was discerned this morning by our forces, and was presumably attacked by them. My information is not complete to that point. The convoy turned away towards the Islands of the Archipelago, and was being attacked by our destroyers and light forces. I have not received any further information as to what happened, except that there has been a great deal of fighting during the day, with the enemy air forces attacking our ships, and we attacking the convoy. I am sorry to say that I have got no definite information as to the results, but I feel they can hardly be other than satisfactory, in view of the naval forces of which we dispose in the Mediterranean sphere.

Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

Will the Prime Minister use whatever methods are available to him to convey from the House of Commons, this Sitting Day, our admiration of and confidence in the defenders of Crete?

The Prime Minister

I certainly will. It is a most strange and grim battle that is being fought. Our side have no air, because they have no aerodromes, and not because they have no aeroplanes, and the other side have very little or no artillery or tanks. Neither side has any means of retreat. It is a desperate, grim battle. I certainly will send the good wishes of the House, and the encouragement and approval of the House, to these men who are fighting what is undoubtedly a most important battle which will affect the whole course of the campaign in the Mediterranean.

Mr. Hore-Belisha (Devonport)

As I asked the Prime Minister to make this statement, may I say how greatly the House appreciates his courtesy throughout the week in making these periodical statements, how gratified we are at those parts of the statements which have been satisfactory, and how we would wish to sustain those who, with him, are in this struggle?

Mr. Benson (Chesterfield)

The Prime Minister suggested that the other side have no tanks. Are we to imply from that that we have an adequate supply of tanks in Crete? If that is an undesirable question, perhaps my right hon. Friend will not answer it.

The Prime Minister

I certainly had not thought of following the matter into those categories.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.