The Battle for Crete is most famous (in my mind) for the German Airborne assault and eventual victory over the Commonwealth land forces on the island. Peripheral to this in some histories is the desperate action carried out by the Royal Navy in an attempt (on Churchill's orders) to support the land forces and eventually evacuate the remnants.
- Ken Otter.
HMS Gloucester was a Southampton class cruiser launched in October 1937. Initially assigned to the East India Station with the initiation of hostilities in 1939 she was redirected to the Mediterranean where the Royal Navy were hard pressed to cope with the multiple demands on their meagre resources.
The author's Father was the Chief Yeoman aboard the cruiser. On 22nd May 1941 Gloucester was sunk by German aircraft during the frantic naval actions around Crete. Out of the crew of 810 only 83 men survived sadly Fred Otter was not one of them. The author was seven months old at the time. Driven by a deep desire to know more about his Father the author has made a meticulous study of all available sources of information including surviving crew members.
The result is a fascinating snapshot of this vicious microcosm of Second World War naval warfare. The rise of air power as a decisive factor in nautical engagements. The book examines the “perfect storm“ leading up to the ship's loss. The lack of Allied air cover, the paucity of Anti Aircraft ammunition in theatre, and a number of key tactical decisions. Also covered in detail is the fate of the survivors and the experiences of the crew in captivity, this in itself is very interesting. I've rarely read accounts of Naval POWs and their treatment is quite revealing especially the Germans interest in the ships radar.
The subject, and style of this study alone is enough to make this book a must read for any student of naval history. The author's approach and engaging style make it of great interest to those of us with a more broad interest in the era.