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Battle of Crete

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Battle of Crete , World War 2 , Maleme 1941

Maleme Airport 1941 , WW2.jpg German troops onthe way to Crete 1941 Germans on the Way to Crete 1941     

The Battle of Crete is considered one of the most sensational events os t he Second World War ( in 1941 ) .

It highlights the final act of the German - Greek war . Because of the occupacion of Crete ( Kriti ) was considered an unrealistic military obsective , no significand defense preparationshad been made of the island . Hitler himself could not see the expediency of the operation hesitated to undertake an air attack on Crete , the only viable way to achieving its occupation . Kurt Student , commander of XI Air Corps , managed to change Hitler's mind , while the majority of the German militaryleaders had opted for an attack on Malta , not on Crete . Student argued that the occupation of Crete - Kreta - Kriti   would ba an easy and glorious operation wich wou ld strengthen German air superiority in the Mediterranian and , at the same time , provide other military benefits. Thus , began Operation Mercure on the morning of May 20 , 1941 . It was the largest in scale operation of the troops air transport during the second world War . 

german Paratroopers jump out of a Ju52 over Crete.jpg Maleme Paratroopers 1941 1941 Maleme WW2 Crete

The airport of Maleme , the main target of the invaders,was subjected to a mercile ss bombardment in the earlymorning hours . 

The Cretan Sky was filled with thousands of German invaders , the finest of German parachutists . In the evening of the same day , Parachutists dropped on Rethymnon and Heraklion , their obsective was to occupy the local airports and sea - ports . From the Greek side , the war-ready V Division wascut off in mailand Greece . The defense forces on the island consisted of British Commonwealth troops and eight , poorly trained and equipped battalations of Greek recruits wich had been transported from Nafplion and Tripolis .The most effevctive force on the island was the gendarmerie  and the first class of the Military academy , albeit insufficiently equipped . Add to this the common folk who although unarmed , put up a fierce resistance against the new invaders . The situation on the island was described in the following manner by the Minister of the Interior at that time , Mr Stelios dimitrakakis , of the Tsouderos govermant 

No significant defence works had been set up on the island on Crete , in spite of the fact that British forces had landed on the island since November 1940 . The British commander changed every so often and there were no sufficient British forces on the island . Since the beginning of the war , Cretan youth had been fighting on the Albanian mountains . What is more , the previus govermant had demanded the disarmament of the locals . It was common knowledge that each Cretan kept a riffle at home . It was an old Cretan tradition . The Cretans revolted each time the conquerors imposed impossible measures . This reflected the prospect of the relative freedom that slaves occasionally impose on their masters . Atradition very much alive today . The Cretans gladly surrendered their arms to the poorly equipped Greek Army . 

Battle of Crete German Soldiers.gif Battle of Crete , 1941

Thus , in April 1941 , Crete was almost unurmed. Last minute reinforcements came from Peloponnese : 8 battalions of poorly trained Greek recruits armed with riffles but not with sufficient ammunition . Of course , after the fall of Greece , 27000 - 28000 British soldiers arrive

The Cretans often take up arms , mainly obsolete and of historical value only , to engage in flights of dubious or questionable effectiveness . Here , one can not help but wonder wh d on the island , most of them were exhausted after fierce and heroic resistance in mainland Greece . Unfortunately , time had not been exploited properly and the prospects both for Geeks and Britis were rather bleak . 

y the Cretans had been left unarmed . If this had not been the case , the cretans could have formed a civil guard wich would have participated in the battle in a more effective and dinamic way . The above run contrary to Germans intelligence wich took for granted that the attitude of Cretans towards the Germans would have been neutral , if not friendly . Perhaps this misleadind information was disseminated by the British secrete service .

Crete German Soldier , Maleme German on Crete Crete surrendering British

The Battle of Crete was unique for three reasons : 

  • Firstly : it was the first battle to be won exclusively by airforces . 

  • Secondly : the commander of the allied forces , General Freyberg had at his disposal a unique and valuable source of information about the enemy : the ULTRA system , wich made possible the decoding of wireless telecommunications concerning Operation Mercury . German telegrams were ciphered by a device called ENIGMA . A copy of this device had been made available to the British by the Polish allies .

Thus on May 6 , the British new not only of the date , but also of the exact time the air attack on the island was going to take place . 

  • Thirdly : nowhere else within the European and African war theatres did the Nazi troops meet civillian resistance as in Crete . What is more , resistance continued even during occupation until the forces of the axis were finally and completely overwhelmed . Apart from the stones ,all else rose against us in Crete . All living things fought to the last moment , giving this Battle its most paradoxical and glorious nature in the history of Battless ......... a German officer noted later . 

British, Australian and New Zealand troops disembark at Suda Bay..jpg 1941 Above Souda bay 1941 British field hospital near Chania

The British historian Alan Clark , referrring to the resistance of the Cretans noted : How different the route of history would have been , if a year earlier the people of the West had exhibited the same fortitude when their villages were being invaded in the same way by the Germans ....  

During the Battle of Crete , the Germans formidable and invincible weapon , the 
parachutists , the spear-head of the Nazi forces , was completely annihilated . Most of the first wave of paratroopers was annihilated within minutes following their drop . A large number of planes were shot down or crush

 landed after serious anti-aircraft damage . The German forces perished on Crete could have been deployed for the occupation of Cyprus , Iraq , Syria and possible of Persia .  

The parachutists suffered a devastating blow from which they never recovered . In addition , they
lost their status as a suprise attack weapon . Even the architect and instigator of this operation , General Student , was obliged to admit : I confees that i recommended this attack based on miscalculations . Unfortunately , Crete succumbed under the weight of a more modern and terrifying German military machine . By the end of the sweep-up operations in May 29, 1941 , the swastika waved all over the island .Unarmed Crete was finaly occupied. 
1941 Hiroic resistance , Crete

The whole world witnessed in awe and admiration that unequal confrontation . Events in Crete captured the imagination of the world , and  the international press devoted lengthy articles and comments on those events . The same month the Time of Tokyo wrote the following : We propose , as a matter of ultimate duty and honour , the establishment of an extraordinary order of Cretans knights to honour with a special medallion each citizen and officer who participated in that epic battle .Cretans must take their place among a special order of superhumans . 

Kontomari 1941 Father and Son 1941 Kontomari 

But let the numbers speak , and let us follow the statistics of blood . On May 20, 1941 the Cretan guard numbered 42600 men aproximately - 28164 of British Commonweatlth and 14000 Greeks . Allied aircrafts were not available in the Battle of Crete , for they had flown to Egypt the previous day . Specifically : The British Commonwealth & Greek forces as well as their respective losses were : 

British : total 15603 ( Dead or prisoners 7704 -Transported to Egypt 7289 ) 

Australians : total 6541 ( Dead or prisoners 3332 - Transported to Egypt 3119 ) 

N.Zealanders : total 7100 ( Dead or prisoners 2541 - Trasported to Egypt 4559 ) 

Greeks : total 14000 ( dead or prisoners 592 - transported to Egypt -) 

Greek 1941 Crete  Graves 1941 Battle of Crete Greek Graves 1941

The number of Cretans who died in the battle fields or who were captured and shot rose to 8575 . We should note at this point the the German losses on the third day of the Battle were significantly higher then the total losses they had suffered in all war fronts . The di stribution of forces per difense sector are the following :

14822 at Chania - Souda area ,  11859 men in Maleme ,  6100 at Rethymnon and  8000 at Heraklion . 

Hitler reinforced paratroopers with a Division of Alpinists . The total of German forces was approximately 23000 men . Their losses were estimate to 5500 men , 4685 of which buried at Maleme Cemetery . This is a testimony to the dramatic epilogue of the German operation . The dead of the allied forces are buried at the cemetery of Souda . 
The British Commonwealth fleet in the Mediterranean numbered 54 war vessels , 11 of wich were sunk and 22 suffered severe damages . The air crafts of  Luftwaffe wich took part in the Battle of Crete were 1180 , 147 of wich were shot down and 73 crush landed . 

The Germans resented the fortitude and fierce resistance of the Cretans  . So , after the fall of the island , began a period of brutal reprisals and more bloodshed . Concentration camps , mass executions , village arson and indiscriminate murders complete the devastating effect of bombardments . The number of victims increased , as unsuspected civilians found themselves within mined areas on Crete .
The Cretans bear a gloriousinheritance a deep faith in freedom and indepedence , wichforged their will to resist . The Mt. range of Madares at chania , Mt. Psiloritis and the Lasithiotica mountains hosted resistance units wich inflicted severe casualties to the enemy who , many a time , was forced to a standstill . Among the great achievements of the resistance was the abduction of General Kreipe near the Spilia area of Heraklion in August 1944 . 
 Maleme Airport , WW2  Dead German assault troops lie beside a crashed glider German Soldiers Maleme Airport




Biography: George I, Panagiotakis 

Programme of the Battle of Crete 2020 - 79th Anniversary of the Battle of Crete . 


Battle of Crete , Maleme
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