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Beevor and McDougal Stewart write that the defence of Alikianos gained at least 24 more hours for the completion of the final leg of the evacuation behind Layforce. The troops who were protected as they withdrew had begun the battle with more and better equipment than the 8th Greek Regiment. British and Commonwealth troops used the standard Lee—Enfield rifle, Bren light machine gun and Vickers medium machine gun. The British had about 85 artillery pieces of various calibres, many of them captured Italian weapons without sights. The guns were camouflaged, often in nearby olive groves, and some were ordered to hold their fire during the initial assault to mask their positions from German fighters and dive-bombers.
High explosive rounds in small calibres were considered impractical.
Most tanks were used as mobile pillboxes to be brought up and dug in at strategic points. One Matilda had a damaged turret crank that allowed it to turn clockwise only. Many British tanks broke down in the rough terrain, not in combat. The British and their allies did not possess sufficient Universal Carriers or trucks, which would have provided the mobility and firepower needed for rapid counter-attacks before the invaders could consolidate.
Hitler authorised Unternehmen Merkur named after the swift Roman god Mercury with Directive 28; the forces used were to come from airborne and air units already in the area and units intended for Unternehmen Barbarossa were to conclude operations before the end of May, Barbarossa was not to be delayed by the attack on Crete, which had to begin soon or would be cancelled.
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Planning was rushed and much of Unternehmen Merkur was improvised, including the use of troops who were not trained for airborne assaults. The invasion force was divided into Kampfgruppen battlegroups , Centre, West and East, each with a code name following the classical theme established by Mercury; glider-borne troops, 10, paratroops, 5, airlifted mountain soldiers and 7, seaborne troops were allocated to the invasion.
The largest proportion of the forces were in Group West. German airborne theory was based on parachuting a small force onto enemy airfields. The force would capture the perimeter and local anti-aircraft guns, allowing a much larger force to land by glider. One transport pilot crash-landed on a beach, others landed in fields, discharged their cargo and took off again.
With the Germans willing to sacrifice some transport aircraft to win the battle, it is not clear whether a decision to destroy the airfields would have made any difference, particularly given the number of troops delivered by expendable gliders. At on 20 May , German paratroopers, jumping out of dozens of Junkers Ju 52 aircraft, landed near Maleme Airfield and the town of Chania. The 21st , 22nd and 23rd New Zealand battalions held Maleme Airfield and the vicinity. The Germans suffered many casualties in the first hours of the invasion: a company of III Battalion, 1st Assault Regiment lost killed out of men, and of men in III Battalion were killed on the first day.
Many gliders following the paratroops were hit by mortar fire seconds after landing, and the New Zealand and Greek defenders almost annihilated the glider troops who landed safely. Some paratroopers and gliders missed their objectives near both airfields and set up defensive positions to the west of Maleme Airfield and in "Prison Valley" near Chania.
Both forces were contained and failed to take the airfields, but the defenders had to deploy to face them. Greek police and cadets took part, with the 1st Greek Regiment Provisional combining with armed civilians to rout a detachment of German paratroopers dropped at Kastelli. The 8th Greek Regiment and elements of the Cretan forces severely hampered movement by the 95th Reconnaissance Battalion on Kolimbari and Paleochora , where Allied reinforcements from North Africa could be landed.
A second wave of German transports supported by Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica attack aircraft, arrived in the afternoon, dropping more paratroopers and gliders containing assault troops. The Greeks lacked equipment and supplies, particularly the Garrison Battalion. The Germans pierced the defensive cordon around Heraklion on the first day, seizing the Greek barracks on the west edge of the town and capturing the docks; the Greeks counter-attacked and recaptured both points.
The Germans dropped leaflets threatening dire consequences if the Allies did not surrender immediately. The next day, Heraklion was heavily bombed and the depleted Greek units were relieved and assumed a defensive position on the road to Knossos. As night fell, none of the German objectives had been secured. Of German transport aircraft used during the airdrop, seven were lost to anti-aircraft fire.
The bold plan to attack in four places to maximize surprise, rather than concentrating on one, seemed to have failed, although the reasons were unknown to the Germans at the time. Among the paratroopers who landed on the first day was former world heavyweight champion boxer Max Schmeling , who held the rank of Gefreiter at the time.
Schmeling survived the battle and the war. During the previous day, the Germans had cut communications between the two westernmost companies of the battalion and the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Andrew VC, who was on the eastern side of the airfield.
The lack of communication was assumed to mean that the battalion had been overrun in the west. With the weakened state of the eastern elements of the battalion and believing the western elements to have been overrun, Andrew requested reinforcement by the 23rd Battalion. After a failed counter-attack late in the day on 20 May, with the eastern elements of his battalion, Andrew withdrew under cover of darkness to regroup, with the consent of Hargest.
The Allies continued to bombard the area as Ju 52s flew in units of the 5th Mountain Division at night. By the time the battalion moved north to relieve 20th Battalion for the counter-attack, it was , and the 20th Battalion took three hours to reach the staging area, with its first elements arriving around Force D under Rear-Admiral Irvine Glennie , with three light cruisers and four destroyers, intercepted the convoy before midnight; the convoy turned back with the loss of more than half of its boats, despite Lupo 's defence. A total of German soldiers, two Italian seamen  and two British sailors on Orion were killed.
Of the German soldiers who landed at Akrotriri, only one managed to get through the British lines and join the German paratroopers already fighting for Chania. The defending force organised for a night counter-attack on Maleme by two New Zealand battalions, the 20th Battalion of the 4th Brigade and the 28th Maori Battalion of the 5th Brigade. A New Zealand officer present at the battle claimed a long delay ordering the planned counter-attack turned a night attack into a day attack, which led to its failure.
The delayed counter-attack on the airfield came in daylight on 22 May, when the troops faced Stuka dive bombers, dug-in paratroops and mountain troops. The attack slowly petered out and failed to retake the airfield, which forced the defenders into withdrawals to the eastern end of the island, to avoid being out-flanked. Admiral Andrew Cunningham sent Force C three cruisers and four destroyers, commanded by Admiral King into the Aegean Sea through the Kasos Strait, to attack a second flotilla of transports, escorted by the Italian torpedo boat Sagittario.
The British squadron was under constant air attack and, short of anti-aircraft ammunition, steamed on toward Milos, sighting Sagittario at King made the "difficult" decision not to press the attack, despite his overpowering advantage, because of the shortage of ammunition and the severity of the air attacks. Eventually, the convoy and its escort managed to slip away undamaged. King's ships, despite their failure to destroy the convoy, had succeeded in forcing the Axis to abort the landing by their mere presence at sea.
During the search and withdrawal from the area, Force C suffered many losses to German bombers. Their commander did not know of the shortage of anti-aircraft ammunition in Gloucester and Fiji , which were down to 18 and 30 percent, respectively, four hours before they were detached to support the destroyers. The Royal Navy had lost two cruisers and a destroyer but had managed to force the invasion fleet to turn round. Kelvin and Jackal were diverted to another search while Mountbatten, with Kelly , Kashmir and Kipling were to go to Alexandria.
While the three ships were rounding the western side of Crete, they were attacked by 24 Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers. Kashmir was hit and sank in two minutes, Kelly was hit and turned turtle soon after and later sank. Kelly shot down a Stuka immediately and another was badly damaged and crashed upon returning to base. The Greeks put up determined resistance, but with only rifles and a few thousand rounds of ammunition available for 1, ill-trained men, they were unable to repel the German advance. Despite the dangers posed by British naval forces, the Kriegsmarine made another attempt to supply the invasion by sea.
At dusk the next day, the lighter, towed by the small harbour tug Kentauros , left Piraeus and headed south towards Crete. He stressed the "absolute and immediate need" for "reinforcement by sea shipment of heavy weaponry if the operation is to get ahead at all. Upon nearing the shore on 28 May, the lighter was positioned ahead of the tug and firmly beached. A party of engineers then blew the lighter's bow off using demolition charges and the two tanks rolled ashore. They were soon assigned to Advance Detachment Wittman , which had assembled near Prison Valley reservoir the day before.
This ad-hoc group was composed of a motorcycle battalion, the Reconnaissance Battalion, an anti-tank unit, a motorized artillery troop, and some engineers. General Ringel gave orders for Wittmann to "strike out from Platanos at on 28 May in pursuit of the British 'main' via the coastal highway to Rethymno" and thence towards Heraklion. On 26 May, in the face of the stalled German advance, senior Wehrmacht officers requested Mussolini to send Italian Army units to Crete in order to help the German forces fighting there. At on 28 May, the Italians believed that three cruisers and six destroyers of the Royal Navy were steaming up towards the northern coast of Crete in support of Allied troops, but the Royal Navy was fully occupied evacuating the Crete garrison.
The 3, men of the division and their equipment were on shore by and advanced west mostly unopposed, rendezvousing with the Germans at Ierapetra. The Italian troops later moved their headquarters from Sitia to Agios Nikolaos. The Germans pushed the British, Commonwealth and Greek forces steadily southward, using aerial and artillery bombardment, followed by waves of motorcycle and mountain troops the rocky terrain making it difficult to employ tanks. The garrisons at Souda and Beritania gradually fell back along the road to Vitsilokoumos , north of Sfakia. About halfway there, near the village of Askyfou lay a large crater nicknamed "The Saucer", the only place wide and flat enough for a large parachute drop.
Troops were stationed about its perimeter, to prevent a landing that might block the retreat. On the evening of the 27th, a small detachment of German troops penetrated Allied lines near Imbros Gorge threatening a column of retreating unarmed Allied forces. The attack was held off by four men, the only ones with weapons. Led by Cpl Douglas Bignal, the men sacrificed themselves, securing the withdrawal of the remainder. The Luftwaffe was over Rethymno and Heraklion and they were able to retreat down the road.
Layforce was the only big unit in this area to be cut off. Layforce had been sent to Crete by way of Sfakia when it was still hoped that reinforcements could be brought from Egypt to turn the tide of the battle. Layforce and three British tanks were joined by the men of the 20th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, who had been assigned to guard Souda docks and refused to believe that an evacuation had been ordered. Laycock and his brigade major , Evelyn Waugh , were able to escape in a tank. Most of the other men of the detachment and the 20th HAA Battery were killed or captured.
By the end of the operation about of the commandos sent to Crete were listed as killed, wounded or missing; only men got off the island. About 18, men of the 32, British troops on the island were evacuated; 12, British and Dominion troops and thousands of Greeks were still on Crete when the island came under German control on 1 June. Colonel Campbell, the commander at Heraklion, was forced to surrender his contingent. Rethymno fell and on the night of 30 May, German motorcycle troops linked up with the Italian troops who had landed on Sitia. On 1 June, the remaining 5, defenders at Sfakia surrendered.
While scattered and disorganized, these men and the partisans harassed German troops for long after the withdrawal. Cretan civilians joined the battle with whatever weapons were at hand. In one recorded incident, an elderly Cretan man clubbed a parachutist to death with his walking cane, before the German could disentangle himself from his parachute. The Cretans also used captured German small arms. The Crete civilian actions against the Germans were not limited to harassment; mobs of armed civilians joined in the Greek counter-attacks at Kastelli Hill and Paleochora; the British and New Zealand advisors at these locations were hard pressed to prevent massacres.
Civilians also checked the Germans to the north and west of Heraklion and in the town centre. The Battle of Crete was the first occasion during the Second World War where the German troops encountered widespread resistance from a civilian population, which initially surprised and later outraged them. As most Cretan partisans wore no uniforms or insignia such as armbands or headbands, the Germans felt free of all of the constraints of the Hague Conventions and killed armed and unarmed civilians indiscriminately.
Between 2 June and 1 August, persons from the village of Alikianos and its vicinity were killed in mass shootings known as the Alikianos executions. On 3 June, the village of Kandanos was razed to the ground and about of its inhabitants killed. After the war, Student, who ordered the shootings, avoided prosecution for war crimes , despite Greek efforts to have him extradited. Throughout the German occupation in the years that followed, reprisals in retaliation for the involvement of the local population in the Cretan resistance continued.
On several occasions, villagers were rounded up and summarily executed. In one of the worst incidents, around 20 villages east of Viannos and west of the Ierapetra provinces were looted and burnt in September , with more than of their inhabitants being massacred. In August , more than houses in Anogeia were looted and then dynamited. The same month, nine villages in the Amari valley were destroyed and people killed in what is now known as the Holocaust of Kedros.
Although the conquest of Crete was considered a grandiose victory of the airborne corps,  the German leadership focused on the heavy losses incurred. The German Air Ministry was shocked by the number of transport aircraft lost, and Student, reflecting on the casualties suffered by the paratroopers, concluded after the war that Crete was the death of the airborne force.
Hitler, believing airborne forces to be a weapon of surprise which had now lost that advantage, concluded that the days of the airborne corps were over and directed that paratroopers should be employed as ground-based troops in subsequent operations in the Soviet Union. The battle for Crete did not delay Operation Barbarossa. The delay of Operation Barbarossa was caused by the late spring and floods in Poland.
The sinking of the German battleship Bismarck on 27 May distracted British public opinion but the loss of Crete, particularly as a result of the failure of the Allied land forces to recognise the strategic importance of the airfields, led the British government to make changes. Shocked and disappointed with the Army's inexplicable failure to recognise the importance of airfields in modern warfare, Churchill made the RAF responsible for the defence of its bases and the RAF Regiment was formed on 1 February Operation Barbarossa made it apparent that the occupation of Crete was a defensive measure to secure the Axis southern flank.
For a fortnight, Enigma intercepts described the arrival of Fliegerkorps XI around Athens, the collection of 27, registered tons of shipping and the effect of air attacks on Crete, which began on 14 May A postponement of the invasion was revealed on 15 May, and on 19 May, the probable date was given as the next day. The German objectives in Crete were similar to the areas already being prepared by the British, but foreknowledge increased the confidence of the local commanders in their dispositions.
On 14 May, London warned that the attack could come any time after 17 May, which information Freyberg passed on to the garrison. On 16 May the British authorities expected an attack by 25, to 30, airborne troops in aircraft and by 10, troops transported by sea. The real figures were 15, airborne troops in aircraft and 7, by sea; late decrypts reduced uncertainty over the seaborne invasion. The British mistakes were smaller than those of the Germans, who estimated the garrison to be only a third of the true figure.
The after-action report of Fliegerkorps XI contained a passage recounting that the operational area had been so well prepared that it gave the impression that the garrison had known the time of the invasion. Dated 24 May and headed "According to most reliable source" it said where German troops were on the previous day which could have been from reconnaissance but also specified that the Germans were next going to "attack Suda Bay". This could have indicated that Enigma messages were compromised. Antony Beevor in and P. Antill in wrote that Allied commanders knew of the invasion through Ultra intercepts.
Freyberg, informed of the air component of the German battle plan, had started to prepare a defence near the airfields and along the north coast. He had been hampered by a lack of modern equipment, and the lightly-armed paratroopers had about the same firepower as the defenders, if not more. Ultra intelligence was detailed but was taken out of context and misinterpreted. Hinsley , the official historian of British intelligence during the war, wrote that the Germans had more casualties in the conquest of Crete than in the rest of the Greek campaign and that the losses inflicted on the 7th Fliegerdivision were huge [ vague ].
It was the only unit of its kind and was not rebuilt. Hinsley wrote that it was difficult to measure the influence of intelligence gained during the battle, because although Ultra revealed German situation reports, reinforcement details and unit identifications and although more intelligence was gleaned from prisoners and captured documents, it was not known how swiftly the information reached Freyberg or how he used it. The German parachute warfare manual had been captured in , and after the war, Student said that he would have changed tactics had he known this.
Field-signals intelligence was obtained, including bombing instructions and information from the Fliegerkorps XI tactical code. Lack of air cover prevented much British air reconnaissance north of Crete, but on 21 May signals intelligence enabled an aircraft to spot a convoy. After midnight the navy sank twelve ships and the rest scattered, which led to a second invasion convoy being called back.
The second convoy was intercepted during the morning of 22 May, despite the cost to the navy of a daylight operation, and no more seaborne attempts were made. Official German casualty figures are contradictory due to minor variations in documents produced by German commands on various dates. Davin estimated 6, losses, based upon an examination of various sources. Reports of German casualties in British reports are in almost all cases exaggerated and are not accepted against the official contemporary German returns, prepared for normal purposes and not for propaganda.
In , Playfair and the other British official historians, gave figures of 1, Germans killed, 2, wounded, 1, missing, a total of 6, men "compiled from what appear to be the most reliable German records". Exaggerated reports of German casualties began to appear after the battle had ended. Churchill claimed that the Germans must have suffered well over 15, casualties, while Admiral Cunningham felt that the figure was more like 22, The official historians recorded Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed and 64 damaged beyond repair by enemy action, with 73 destroyed due to extensive non-combat damage, for a total of aircraft.
Another 84 planes had repairable non-combat damage. In , Shores, Cull, and Malizia recorded losses of aircraft destroyed and 64 written off due to damage, a total of aircraft between 13 May and 1 June: in combat, 73 non-combat, 64 written-off, and damaged but repairable. The British lost 1, killed, 1, wounded, and 11, taken prisoner from a garrison of slightly more than 32, men; and there were 1, dead and wounded Royal Navy personnel.
A large number of civilians were killed in the crossfire or died fighting as partisans. Many Cretan civilians were shot by the Germans in reprisal during the battle and in the occupation. German records put the number of Cretans executed by firing squad as 3, and at least 1, civilians were killed in massacres late in Royal Navy shipborne anti-aircraft gun claims for the period of 15—27 May amounted to: "Twenty enemy aircraft At least 15 aircraft appeared to have been damaged For the German occupation of Crete, see Fortress Crete.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Battle of the Mediterranean. Balkans campaign. Greek Campaign. Main article: Battle of Greece. Main article: Battle of Crete order of battle. This section needs additional citations for verification.