History of Europe

The Battle of Crete:Glory and Testimonies of Heroism (vid./podcast)

The Battle of Crete refers to the war events of World War II that took place on the island of CRETE during the period from May 20 to June 1, 1941. With the start of the Greco-Italian War, the security responsibility of Crete, after agreement of the Greek Government, Britain took over, due to the geographical position and the strategic importance that the island had for British interests in the Middle East. The V Division, which until then was stationed in Crete, was recruited and transferred to mainland Greece, where it was used in the Albanian Theater of Operations.

At the end of April 1941, and while the rest of Greece was already occupied by the Axis forces, the command of the British-Greek Forces of Crete was assumed by the Commander of the 2nd New Zealand Division Major General Freiberg. Until then definitive plans for the defense of the island had not been drawn up and preparations to face a serious enemy invasion had barely progressed, although a German attack was considered imminent.

The total military strength of Crete, after being reinforced by the forces transferred from mainland Greece, amounted to approximately 11,500 Greeks and 31,500 British, but it was seriously lacking in terms of equipment, since armaments, ammunition and other supplies were very scarce. below the acceptable ratio. Apart from that, there was no air force on the island, while the guns and tanks available were insufficient.

Major General Freiberg studied the situation and requested the Commander-in-Chief Middle East to immediately send arms, ammunition and other means and supplies to the island, as well as the provision of air and naval support. Unfortunately, of the materials sent to the island less than half arrived, due to the action of the enemy air force.

The military forces of Crete, based on the importance and vulnerability of the island's strategic points, were distributed in the Maleme, Chania, Rethymnon and Heraklion Sectors. Their mission was the defense of the island, prohibiting the enemy from using its airports and ports.

Crete also seriously occupied Hitler long before Germany actually manifested its intentions against Greece. Hitler believed that by taking Crete he would ensure rapid success in the Eastern Mediterranean and that the attack on the island should be carried out by airborne power, utilizing the elite corps of paratroopers. Thus, on April 25, 1941, the "No. 28" order of general directions was issued with the code name "HERMES", which related to the operation for the occupation of Crete.

The total German forces that would take part in the attack amounted to 22,750 men, 1,370 aircraft and 70 ships. The operation would also be supported by a small number of Italian destroyers and torpedo boats, while a reinforced Italian regiment from the Dodecanese, following Mussolini's request, would land on the eastern shores of the island. This action was finally carried out at the end of May, when the fate of the island had already been decided.

The German air attack against Crete began on the morning of May 20. After heavy bombardment, numerous squadrons of transport aircraft began to drop parachutes in the Chania- Maleme area. At the same time, the landing of gliders with airborne sections also began. A fierce fight ensued, during which the Germans managed to create a small bridgehead to the east of the Tavronitis river and put Maleme airport and the hill under fire. 107, i.e. the vital ground of the 2nd New Zealand Division. After that, the British forces abandoned on the night of 20/21 May the height. 107 and collapsed southeast.

In the areas of Rethymnon and Heraklion, the German attack took place in the afternoon hours of the same day. The
paratroopers in these areas suffered terrible losses and could not achieve any success. Major-General Freiberg, due to not being informed in time by the Commander of the 5th New Zealand Brigade, ignoring the critical situation that had arisen in the Maleme Sector, was too late to intervene to restore the location. Thus the counter-attack, launched at 0330 on 22 May to recapture Maleme Airport and Ht. 107, failed.

After this failure and the advance of the ever-reinforcing German forces to the north-east, the British-Greek forces there collapsed on the night of 23/24 May in a new location further east. From that day the initiative of operations fell to the Germans, while the fate of the island was now decided. Nevertheless, the struggle, in which the inhabitants of the island actively participated, continued hard until May 29, when the evacuation of Crete by the British forces began. The withdrawal of most of the British was completed by 23:20 on 31 May. The British, who remained on the island, as well as the Greek units, capitulated to the Germans or fled to mountainous areas, from where they then fled to the Middle East.

Of special importance for the history of the Greek Army was the voluntary participation in the military operations of a section of the Military School of Evelpidon. Almost all the first-year Evelpides (300 men), together with their officers, crossed southern Greece and on April 29, 1941, they arrived in Kolymbari, Chania, by gas tankers. Upon its arrival in Crete, the Evelpidon Military School under Lt. Col. Loukas Kitsos, was directly subordinated to the Ministry of Military in Chania and was defensively established in the area between the Monastery of Gonia and the village of Kolymbari. During the first day of operations, the Hope Battalion received its "baptism of fire", receiving successive attacks from units of the II German Assault Battalion, which it successfully repelled, causing serious losses to the attackers.

However, due to its losses and the lack of ammunition, the School was forced on the night of May 20/21 to collapse towards the area of ​​Deliana, where it settled defensively. The Euelpid Order, after the capture of Chania, moved to the White Mountains with the hope of escaping to the Middle East and continuing the fight from there. His march through the steep passes of the White Mountains lasted eight days. Before Sfakia, the commander of the School gathered the Euelpides and after informing them that there was no watercraft to leave Crete, he told them that according to the Government's instructions, from that moment the School was disbanded. The Evelpides, after hiding the School's war flag in a safe place, left, dispersing in the wider area of ​​Embros Nero - Askifou.

On June 1, 1941, after a struggle of more than ten days, the Battle of Crete ended with the German forces prevailing, despite the bravery with which the British-Greek forces fought there and the stubborn resistance of the heroic Cretan people, whose courage, courage and the spirit of self-sacrifice were insurmountable and caused the admiration of both the Greeks and all the Allies. But the price of this victory was so serious that until the end of the war the Germans did not dare to do a similar action again. Crete, as the Commander of the XI German Air Corps Lieutenant General Student was forced to confess, was "the Grave of the German Paratroopers".