Greece and Crete April-May 1941

In March 1941, Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, with the concurrence of his Cabinet, agreed to the sending of Australian troops to Greece. Both Menzies and the Australian commander in the Middle East, Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Blamey, felt that the operation was risky and might end in disaster. But Menzies, like the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, felt that Greece should be supported against German aggression and that the defence of Greece was a 'great risk in a good cause'.

A black and white photo of two older clean-shaven men in heavy black coats and hats.
Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies with the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill in England, March 1941. [AWM 006414]

In Greece, the Australians joined with a New Zealand and British force to defend the country against a threatened German invasion. Hitler was concerned that if Greece became a British ally then oilfields in Romania, on which Germany relied for her fuel, might be open to air attack from Greece. As the Germans were planning an invasion of Russia for June 1941, they could not allow such a threat to their essential oil supplies.

The 6th Division arrived in Greece in early April 1941 and on 6 April the Germans began their invasion of Greece. Despite their efforts, the Allied force, together with Greek units, was unable to halt the rapid German advance down central Greece towards Athens. After a month of intensive fighting, the Allied force was evacuated from the Greek mainland on British and Australian warships and British transports. Some soldiers were taken back to Egypt but many were put ashore on the island of Crete. Here, with Greek troops, they formed 'Creforce' and prepared to meet the Germans, who came on 20 May 1941 in the shape of a major paratroop landing at three different places along the north coast of the island. Despite vigorous opposition to the Germans, the Allied force had eventually to be withdrawn, once again by British and Australian warships.

Greece and Crete were costly operations.

About 39 percent of the Australia troops in Greece on 6 April 1941 were either killed, wounded or became prisoners of war.

More than 450,000 Greeks died during the next four years of German occupation, nearly 25,000 of them executed for assisting the allies.

Horrie the Wog Dog

'Horrie the Wog Dog', a small 'Egyptian' terrier, was found 'wandering on the fringe of the Western Desert' in Egypt by Private J B (Jim) Moodie of the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion.

Jim and the Signal Platoon of the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion adopted Horrie and he remained with the unit for the 18 months they were overseas. He shared their experiences in Egypt, Greece, Crete, Palestine and Syria, including the sinking of their Dutch transport ship, Costa Rica, as the platoon was being evacuated from Greece. During the afternoon of 27 April 1941, Royal Navy destroyers saved the entire contingent of over two and a half thousand troops who had been on board when German aircraft sank the ship.

In 1942 Jim Moody smuggled Horrie back to Australia with the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion on the transport Westpoint. Three years later, early in 1945, quarantine officials became aware of Horrie's illegal arrival in Australia and ordered his destruction under Section 68 and Regulation 50 of the Quarantine Act (1908-24).

In a letter to the Director of the Division of Veterinary Hygiene at the Department of Health in Canberra, Jim Moody pleaded for leniency for Horrie. He explained that being aware of the risk of rabies in the Middle East he had taken Horrie to a local vet in Tel Aviv before he brought him home. He had been assured that his dog was 'free of canine disease'. Apart from his own attachment to him, Horrie was now quite well known and he could be used for fund-raising for the war effort.

The dog's service with my unit was of such interest that Ion L. Idriess has written a book about him. The book is to be published this month. I realised that with the publicity the dog will receive through the book, he could be made an asset to the Red Cross in their appeal for funds, so I offered the service of the dog to them "¦ The first job for him is being an attraction at the 1945 Easter Show to be held at the Lady Gowrie Red Cross Home, Gordon. The dog will no doubt be of great assistance in raising funds at various patriotic functions. With this in mind I have brought him to the public eye through the newspapers and have consequently subjected myself to the penalty of my misdemeanour in smuggling the dog into Australia.

[From a letter written on 2 March 1945 by J B Moody to the Director, Division of Veterinary Hygiene, Department of Health, in Canberra, NAA A432/82 Item 45/480]

Despite his apparent clean bill of health, Horrie was put down in March 1945.


Last updated: 27 February 2020

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Greece and Crete April-May 1941, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 15 August 2020, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/world-war-ii-1939-1945/events/greece-and-crete-april-may-1941
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