Military History

This Week in History | Week 21

By The Cove May 18, 2020

18 - 24 May


19 May 1915 | Turkish counter-attack on Gallipoli

The first two Turkish attempts in April to recapture the Anzac beachhead were unsuccessful. Just over two weeks later, the Turks had gathered a force of four Divisions (42,000 men) to conduct their second assault against the ANZAC's two Divisions (17,300 men).

The Ottoman element of surprise was lost due to Royal Naval Air Service reconnaissance planes observing the movement of reinforcements on the peninsula. The Anzacs were ready for the counter-attack when it came at 3:30 am in the early hours of the 19 May 1915.

Of the 42,000 Ottoman soldiers involved in the attack, 3,000 lay dead and another 10,000 wounded near the Anzac line, which was not breached at all. When the attacks ceased, the scene was horrific. Historian Charles Bean, who was present at the battlefield, wrote:

... the dead and wounded lay everywhere in hundreds. Many of those nearest to the Anzac line had been shattered by terrible wounds inflicted by modern bullets at close ranges. No sound came from that terrible space.

The Anzac losses were 160 killed and 468 wounded. The bloated putrefying bodies rotting in the sun were buried after a truce was arranged on the 24 May. Turks and Anzacs worked side by side as they buried their poor dead countrymen in large pits. They smiled at each other and shared cigarettes as they worked.

Additional Resource: First World War Official Histories | Volume II | Chapter V – The Turkish Attack of May 19th (Australian War Memorial)


20 May 1941 | The Battle for Crete

Crete, the largest and southernmost Greek island was strategically located in the eastern Mediterranean. Many British, Australian and New Zealand troops evacuated from Greece in April 1941 were landed at Crete while others were sent to Egypt.

On 20 May, Germany launched Operation Mercury, an airborne invasion on the island. This was the first invasion involving large numbers of airborne troops. German paratroopers and glider-borne soldiers descended upon Crete at Maleme, Retimo, and Heraklion airfields and the naval base at Suda Bay which were all situated on the northern coast of Crete. In the first 24 hours, the Germans suffered appalling casualties and captured none of their objectives.

At Retimo and Heraklion the Australian and British defenders kept the invaders off the airfields. But at Maleme, a mistaken withdrawal of a New Zealand battalion on the night of the 20th was exploited the next day by the Germans who captured the airfield. This vital pivot in the battle allowed them to bring in the reinforcements they needed to defeat the allies. On 27 May, the Allies decision to withdraw from Crete was made and the defending troops made their way to the south coast. About half the British force, including 3,000 Australians, were evacuated by the Royal Navy.

While Crete was a tactical defeat for the Commonwealth forces, the Australians, New Zealanders and British soldiers defending the island inflected such heavy loses that Hitler declared "the days of the parachute troops are over" while the commander of Germany's airborne troops, General Student. called Crete "the graveyard of the German airborne force". While German paratroopers were to continue to fight tenaciously as ground troops in Italy and north-west Europe, Germany never again conducted a major airborne operation.

Additional Resource: Book | Australian Army Campaigns Series – 1 | The Battle for Crete by Albert Palozzo

23 May 1942 | Kanga Force moved to Wau, New Guinea

On 23 May, the 2/5th Independent Company, under Major Kneen, were flown in from Port Moresby Wau Airfield to reinforce Kanga Force. Together with a platoon of the 1st Independent Company, under the command of Captain Howard, and the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR), these units formed Kanga Force. As the situation developed it was given the task to start a limited offensive to harass and destroy enemy personnel and equipment in the area.


24 May 1966 | Private Errol Noack killed in Vietnam

Private Noack was conscripted into the army for service in Vietnam and was the first Australian National Serviceman killed in action during this conflict. PTE Noack was killed by friendly fire during Operation Hardihood on 24 May 1966 after only ten days' service in Vietnam. An account of the incident can be found on the Australian War Memorial website.

The last goodbye from the first to fall | Adelaide Now





The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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