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Thursday, 19 November 2015
The Battle of Crete and Greece Campaign - The Australian War Memorials Art Collection
One of the aims of the Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Commitee is to raise awareness of the Hellenic link to Anzac across both world wars. We are keen to assist in the coming commemorations of the battle of Crete and Greek campaign.
The Second World War began in Greece with the Italian invasion in October 1940 - ending in the first major defeat for the Axis powers. This Greek victory on the Albanian front brought about the German invasion in April 1941.
The Greek campaign saw Anzac's and British and other Empire troops fight alongside their Greek comrades in defence of liberty and against aggression. The battles at sea - at Matapan - and on the mainland - at Vevi, Platamon, Tempe, Brallos and Thermopylae, Corinth and Kalamata - would be followed by those on the Island of Crete - at Hania, Galatas, Rethymno, Heraklion to name a few, as well as the terrible naval war that erupted around Crete.
While the military campaign ended in defeat and evacuation, the campaign effectively delayed the German advance and was fought against overwhelming odds. It is argued that by delaying Germany's invasion of Russia, the Greek campaign sowed the beginnings of defeat in Russia and the whole war for Germany.
It also revealed the strength of the Greek civilian population in assisting the Allies and resisting the occupation of their country by the Axis - often at terrible cost.
The Anzac Artistic Legacy
Along with its great and extensive photographic collection of the campaign, one of the amazing elements of the Australian War Memorials collection of the Greek campaign is its collection of major paintings, commissioned by the Australian Government by Australia's official war artists.
These represent a great artistic legacy of the campaign, documenting the battles fought by Australian soldiers and sailors in Greece and represent in amazing images the reality of the Hellenic link to Anzac in thr Second World War.
The major works are reproduced above and below.
It would be great if these could seen by a wider public during the 75th anniversary and beyond.
HMAS Sydney in action against Italian cruisers. Painting by Frank Norton, 1941. AWM ART30095
"The scene depicts the phase in the action when HMAS 'Sydney' has hit and stopped the Italian cruiser 'Bartolomeo Colleoni' and at 4-5 miles distance is steaming past the vessel in pursuit of the second enemy cruiser. The British destroyer 'Hyperion', still firing, is closing prior to firing the torpedoes which destroyed the burning ship. The second cruiser, the 'Giovanni Delle Bande Nere' (making smoke), has rounded Cape Spada and is making smoke in her efforts to get away. In the running fight both vessels continue to fire salvoes, the Italian with her after turrets and the 'Sydney' with her foremost (A and B). X and Y guns, although brought to their maximum bearing, cannot be trained on the enemy. 'Sydney's' foremost funnel shows signs of damage from the direct hit received on the port side some 15 minutes earlier, Mediterranean Sea of Crete." Source AWM
Sydney - Bartolomeo Colleoni action, 19 July 1940 Painting by Frank Norton, 1941. AWM ART28486
"This large painting commemorates Sydney's place as one of Australia's most famous warships and its role in Australia's major naval success of the Second World War. In July 1940 a 90 minute battle between the Sydney and the Italian cruisers Giovanni Bande Nere and Bartolomeo Colleoni was fought off Cape Spada, Crete. Sydney fired upon Bartolomeo Colleoni and hit the boiler room of the ship, causing it to stop. Sydney then gave chase to Giovanni Bande Nere while the British torpedoed and sank Bartolomeo Colleoni. Thanks to its superior speed, Giovanni Bande Nere was able to outrun Sydney and escape. Norton has depicted Sydney ploughing through the ocean in chase of Giovanni Bande Nere, having successfully halted Bartolomeo Colleoni. Through the ocean spray caused by gunfire from Giovanni Bande Nere the hazy blue coastline of Crete can be discerned. In the distance the Royal Navy's destroyer Hyperion approaches the disabled Bartolomeo Colleoni to deliver the coup de grace. Norton has captured the drama of this event by depicting Sydney carving through the water at full speed. The sheer proportion of the picture plane devoted to the ship and the abundance of white water and foam, speaks of powerful movement of the ship through the waves. The stark yellow of the smoke that rises from the guns on the ship contrasts with the predominant blue of the painting, and draws the eye to the action that is unfolding in the upper third of the canvas. The painting was first accepted into the collection in 1942, but was later returned to Norton in 1961 for re-touching." Source AWM
HMAS Sydney in action against Italian cruisers. Painting by Frank Norton, 1941. AWM ART30095
"HMAS Sydney steaming past the crippled Bartolomeo Colleoni in chase of Italian cruiser Giovanni Dalle Bande Nere (out of sight), HMS Hyperion is approaching to rescue survivors and finally sink the wreck; probably Cape Spada, in background, off the Island of Crete, Mediterranean Sea." Source AWM
HMAS Stuart at Matapan. Painting by Frank Norton, 1941. AWM ART23513
"Mediterranean Sea; foreground: HMAS Stuart, l: probably HMS Havock, background: two Italian Zara-class heavy-cruisers. Depicts the Battle of Matapan, Greece on 29 March 1941. HMA Stuart was among 13 allied ships involved in the battle which saw the loss of five Italian ships and over 2,300 men. Victory at Matapan gave the allies control of the Eastern Mediterranean until the end of the campaigns in Greece and Crete. Cape Matapan was an important strategic victory for the British who could now concentrate most of their stretched resources against General Rommel in North Africa. The battleships have hit two of the Italians; one is steaming towards the enemy ships while the battleships are turning to starboard. The searchlight of the leading RN battleship "Warspite" has caught an Italian cruiser in its beam. This impression is from Captain Waller's (Captain of "Stuart") report and description and approved by him." Source AWM
HMAS Stuart in the Battle of Matapan, 1941. Painting by Frank Norton, 1941. AWM ART27623
"During the movement of some 58,000 troops from North Africa to Greece, an Italian fleet ventured to strike at the convoy route. Pre-warned, three British and an Australian cruiser (HMAS Perth) of the Mediterranean Fleet intercepted leading cruisers of the enemy force. An exchange of fire resulted in the Italian ship making off, shadowed by the British force while another three battleships and an aircraft carrier headed out to sea. That night the combined British battle fleet attacked two Italian cruisers and disabled them with a few salvos. Three Italian destroyers then attacked, these were engaged by the battleships and driven off by the ever-present destroyer divisions, on this occasion under Captain H.M.L Waller, in HMAS Stuart. The destroyers then went on to sink two of the enemy destroyers and finish off three previously-crippled cruisers. By dawn the sea was clear of Italian ships, and the air sweep from the carrier HMS Formidable found no trace of the survivors. The British fleet returned to base at Alexandria under almost constant air attack, but intact. Because it occurred off Cape Matapan in Southern Greece, the fight became known as the Battle of Matapan." Source AWM
Action at the Vale of Tempe, Greece. William Dargie, 1962. AWM ART27554.
"...This painting shows a scene of desperate activity in the area of the Tempe gorge, where lightly-armed Australian troops battle against German armoured units, with air support, as they advanced across the Pinios River in a thrust towards Larisa." Source AWM
Brallos Pass, Greece. Painting by William Dargie, c 1946. AWM ART26298
"View of the landscape across Brallos Pass where the 6th Australian Division and New Zealand troops fought a rearguard battle against invading German forces during the Greek campaign." Source AWM
The Battle of Retimo. Painting by Vernon Jones, 1972. AWM ART27776
"A large part of the Allied force evacuated from Greece at the end of April 1941 was disembarked on Crete in order that the ships could return quickly to Greece for more troops. British, New Zealanders, some Greeks and about half of 6th Division formed the ill-equipped Crete garrison, mostly deployed in defence of three airfields at Malame, Retimo and Heraklion. Others defended the Suda Bay-Canea area. At Retimo the defenders consisted mainly of the 2/1st and 2/11the Battalions. The Australians fought on until finally overcome by the Germans with losses amounted to 781 killed or wounded and 3109 captured. Commissioned painting of the Battle of Retimo in Crete." Source AWM
Australian troops disembarking at Alexandria after the evacuation from Greece. Painting by Ivor Hele, May 1941. AWM ART23954
"Study for the large painting Hele executed of this subject, depicting exhausted troops from the 6th Australian Division disembarking on the docks at Alexandria after the evacuation from Greece." Source AWM
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee