MAJOR General Ian Campbell, CBE, DSO, and Bar, who has died aged 97 in Australia, defended Retimo (now Rethymno) airfield in Crete for 10 days, when the Germans launched an airborne assault on the island, and inflicted so many casualties that the Germans never ventured an airborne assault again in the course of the war. Campbell, who had already won a DSO for his planning and personal hazardous reconnaissance of Bardia (Libya) in January 1941, had been given command of the 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion which he joined in northern Greece and commanded skilfully during the fighting retreat in the face of greater superior German forces, until evacuated to Crete.

He was assigned the task of holding Retimo airfield with a mixed force consisting of two Australian battalions of barely more than half strength, two untrained Greek battalions, and a collection of police cadets. Their arms were totally inadequate for confronting the fire power of the Germans attacking them on May 20, 1941, but they shot down so many parachutists and glider-borne troops that the Germans battled for 10 days before massing forces made available for the capture of the rest of the island, made further resistance hopeless. As the German tanks converged on the airfield, Campbell, who had been out of radio and telephone contact with the other Allied forces on the island for many days, surrendered in order to avoid pointless slaughter of his remaining troops. The order to evacuate had been given three days earlier but had never reached him.

He was interred in Germany for the remainder of the war but after release returned to Australia where he held a number of important military appointments, such as Director of Infantry, Director of Military Training, Commander of Australian Troops assigned to the Korean War, and commandant of the Australian staff college and Royal Military College, Duntroon. He was appointed CBE in 1954 and retired from the army in 1957, subsequently working for James Hardie Limited and later as chairman (unpaid) for the NSW Red Cross. He also worked unobtrusively for several other charitable organisations.

Ian Ross Campbell was born on March 23, 1900, was educated at Scots College, Sydney, and the RMC Duntroon (where he won the Sword of Honour), before being commissioned and serving with the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the north-west frontier of India. A keen mountaineer, he made several climbs on Everest during his leaves. After returning to Australia in 1927 he served in Sydney, attended the staff college and was appointed Brigade Major in 16th Australian Infantry Brigade in 1939.

He was appointed Knight Commander of the Royal Greek Order of the Phoenix, and many parts of Retimo (eg Campbell Park) are named after him. The Cretans sent an urn of Cretan soil to be interred with him.

He married Patience Russell in 1927; she died in 1961. They had a daughter. In 1967 he married Irene Cardamatis.