The  Strategic  Importance  of  the  Island  of  Crete 

  1. The island of Crete lies in the centre of the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, on the cross-roads of the air and sea lines of communication, from east to west and from north to south or vice versa. Thus, it constitutes an excellent base for aeronautical operations in every direction and the power that occupies it secures the control of all communications in the Mediterranean. These characteristics lend particular strategic importance to the island.

A natural consequence of this strategic importance was that, since the beginning of the Second World War, Crete was of interest both to the British and Hitler.

  1. The occupation of Crete by the British, or at least the assurance that it would remain under allied or friendly forces, was of vital importance to them, because it offered them the following advantages :
  • Considerable protection to the British bases in Northern Africa against the attacks of the German Airforce, forcing the latter to launch its attacks from the remote airfields of mainland Europe.
  • Forward aeronautical base and as a base of amphibious operations towards the shores and the islands of the Aegean and the Dodecanese, while, at the same time, it posed a serious threat for the Romanian oil wells.

  • Contribution to the security of transportation from the harbours of the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, towards the British bases of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Given that the greatest part of the re-supply sources of the above British bases came from India, Australia and South Africa, the importance of the occupation or the control of Crete for the British can be easily understood.

Furthermore, Crete was the only free section of the Greek territory with both Greek and British forces and in which the free Greek State still existed, by virtue of the presence of the King, the Government and the national Armed Forces. Consequently, it was extremely important for Greece and Britain, both morally and politically, to hold on to it.

  1. On the other hand, if Crete were occupied by the Axis, it would offer to its forces the following strategic advantages :
  • Capacity for direct airforce threat against the sea and air lines of communication of the Allies and particularly against the British Fleet in the Mediterranean.

-Excellent base of operation towards the Middle East  and the Northern Africa area in general.

-Safe Aegean sea lines, provided that Turkey would remain neutral or pro-Axis and free naval communication with the ports of the Black Sea and the Adriatic sea.

  1. The following communicee of the German General Headquarters, dated June 12, 1941, sums up the strategic importance of the island of Crete for the adversary powers in the Mediterranean area, during the Second World War :

‘… As a powerful naval and airforce stronghold, in close proximity with our sea lines of communication through the Aegean, as a forward base to cover and secure both flanks of the Northern African Front and the British sea lines of communication between Alexandria and Malta, Crete was of equally great importance for the war operations of the adversary in the Eastern Mediterranean, both from the offensive as well as from the defensive aspect. The island had a similar importance, in reverse, for the subsequent operations of the German Military leadership in the Eastern Mediterranean…’   

The Greek Plans for the Defence of the Island

  1. In Crete, before the war, the V Division had already been established and was stationed at Hania. The units under its command were the 14th, 43rd and 44th Infantry Regiments at Hania, Rethymno and Iraklio respectively, as well as the V Artillery Regiment at Souda and the Military Hospital of Hania and other Military installation and Services. The transition of the Division from peace to war establishment had been prepared on the basis of the Mobilisation Plan of 1939.

Upon the occupation of Albania by Italy, on April 1939, the threat of war for Greece loomed as an indisputable fact. As a result, the abovementioned Plan IB was drawn up, and among others, foresaw the English-French assistance as a definite development, in the case of an Italian attack.

On the basis of Plan IB and the instructions of the Army General Staff, the Division had drawn the following three plans for the defence of the island:

  • Plan No. l , to cover the mobilisation in case of threat to the island.
  • Plan No. 2, to repulse any enemy landing after the termination of the Mobilisation and before the Division was transferred from Crete.
  • Plan No. 3, to define the mission of the Military Command of Hania in case the island was attacked after the departure of the Division.

According to Plan No 3 the following units would remain on Crete under the Military Command of Hania:  The 44th Infantry Regiment, the 44th Artillery of Escort Platoon, the Base Battalions of Hania, Rethymno and Iraklio, three rifle companies manned by transportation troops from the 44th Infantry Regiment and a Pack Artillery battalion.

  1. Furthermore, as part of the measures that had been taken by the Garrisons of the islands, by order of the Army General Staff, the Division had deployed the coastal defence troops by the end of May, 1940, while simultaneously activeted the sea and air surveillance network.

The troops provided for the coastal defence comprised, in total, three Infantry companies and one Machine-gun platoon.

For the operation of the surveillance network, two centres were established and became active:  the Information Centre of Hania (Joint Centre of the Royal Navy and Field Army), which had ten surveillance stations, and the Information Centre of Iraklio (also joint), which had three surveillance stations.

On the naval side, no specific measures were taken for the protection of Crete, due to the lack in defence organisation means (guns, mines, and other equipment) and, most important, because the Government believed that the intervention of the British Fleet in the Mediterranean was assured in conjunction with the overall British assistance.

Crete under the British Responsibility

  1. Since the morning of October 28, the V Division began to mobilise its units and to prepare to be transferred to mainland Greece, so as to be employed in the Albanian Theatre of Operations. That same day, the British Headquarters in the Middle East decided on and ordered the reinforcement of Crete.

On November 4, the Greek Government notified the British Government that it wished to transfer the V Division from Crete, under the condition however, that the island’s defence would be undertaken by the British. The proposal was immediately accepted and the responsibility for the defence of the island was assumed by the British.

The transfer of the V Division was carried out from November 18 to 25, using requisitioned Greek ships, under the protection of the Greek and British Fleet. The numbers transferred in total were, 566 officers, l8,662 enlisted men, 687 pack animals and 81 vehicles, without any losses.

  1. After the departure of the V Division, the command of the Greek forces on the island was assumed by the newly formed Military Command of Hania, under Lieutenant General Ioannis Alexakis. It was subordinate to the A’ Military High Command of Athens. The Military Command of Hania had under its command the Depots of Hania, Rethymno and Iraklio. Each Depot had at its disposal an Infantry battalion (of two companies) and a Saint Etienne Machine-gun platoon. On January 1941, in agreement with the British Headquarters in the Middle East, these battalions were also transferred to mainland Greece. Thus, there remained in Crete only the nuclei of the Depots, their strength comprising transit soldiers, and its armament, one thousand Gra rifles, l2 Saint Etienne machine-guns and approximately 40 light machine-guns.

Following the orders of General Headquarters, in December 1940, preparations were made for the organization militia units. These units were assigned to protect the technical works and the vulnerable points, of the island in general. The strength of the militia was originally 3,000 men, but reduced in February 1941 to approximately 1,500 men, organised in four battalions, one in each Prefecture (Hania, Rethymno, Iraklio and Lasithi). The militia was supposed to be armed by the British, but this never happened. The militia units were subordinate to the Gendarmerie authorities who were also responsible for their training. Tactically they were subordinate to the Military Command of Hania.

During March 1941, the Gendarmerie Academy was transferred to Crete and disembarked at Rethymno, in order to reinforce the units in Crete. Its total strength was 15 officers and about 900 men. Furthermore,  during the second fortnight of April 1941, eight recruit battalions were transferred to Crete from the Training Centres of the Peloponnese, their total strength being 85 officers and 4,825 men. These battalions, after their arrival, were designated as Infantry Regiments, temporarily retaining their original title, i.e. the 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. Their men were recruits from the classes of 1940, 1941 and had received an extremely brief and barely sufficient training.

The armament of all the above Greek units varied. There were between five to twenty cartridges per rifle, while one third of the strength was unarmed.

On April 29, 1941, the Military Academy arrived by motorboats at Kolymbari in Hania, the initiative having been taken by certain officers and Cadets of the Academy. The Military Academy was directly under the command of the Ministry of the Army in Hania and was deployed defensively between the Moni [Monastery] Gonias and the village of Kolymbari.

It is also noted that, at various times 16,000 Italian prisoners (including 576 officers) had been transferred to Crete and were placed in three POW centres in the Prefectures of Hania, Iraklio and Rethymno.

  1. The British, upon assuming responsibility for the defence, proceeded to organise a fuel depot in the bay of Suda and gradually transfered a very small number of forces for the defence of the island. Thus, by the end of March 1941, the following units had been transfered on Crete :  The Headquarters of the 14th Infantry Brigade and the Commander of the Brigade O.H. Titbury, the 156th Light Antiaircraft Battalion, the command of the 52nd Light Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment, the 151st Heavy Antiaircraft Battalion, the 42nd Engineer Company, the 2nd Blackwatch Battalion, the 51st Raiding Force and the 1st Welsh Battalion.

After the German troops entered Bulgaria and the Bulgarian airfields were occupied by German airforce units,  the German attack against Greece was regarded as imminent.

This new threat led the British Headquarters to decide that Crete should cease to constitute merely a refuelling base and it should be organised into a naval and airforce base.

On March 29, the Commander of the MNBDO (Mobile Naval Defence Organisation), Major General Weston arrived on the island, in order to examine thoroughly the issue of the island’s defence.

In his report, submitted on April 15, 1941, he proposed the serious reinforcement of Crete, with forces and equipment. The General Headquarters of the Middle East agreed on these proposals, nevertheless the situation prevailing in that area did not permit their implementation. The final decision would be made after the retreat of the British forces from mainland Greece.

However, since April l7, when the evacuation of the forces of mainland Greece had been considered, (operation ‘Demon’), it was decided that a large section of the retreating British forces should land on Crete. Thus on April 25, the first substantial British force of approximately 5,000 men arrived in Crete, mainly of the 5th New Zealand Brigade.

During the following days and until April 30, approximately 45,000 men retreated from Greece, to Crete and Egypt. Approximately 25,000 of them remained on Crete. However most of them were unarmed, without any individual items, heavy armament or vehicles.

On April 27, General Wilson, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force in Greece, landed also on Crete, assigned to examine, along with the Senior officers of the Cretan Garrison, the situation from the aspect of the forces required for the defence of the island.

General Wilson, after a briefing on the situation and an examination of the entire matter, reported to the Middle East Headquarters that, the strength of the Field Army should be three brigades, with four battalions each, a motorised battalion and furthermore the strength of the MNBDO for the bay of Suda. He also mentioned the need to provide one additional heavy and one light Antiaircraft Artillery Battalions. The above forces would be sufficient to secure, the vital areas of the island, that is, Iraklio with its airfield, Hania, the Maleme airfield and the bay of Souda.

The proposed forces were considered by General Wilson to be the minimum required for the island’s defence and he underlined that the use of less than those would bring disaster, and that it was expedient to come to a decision at once.

The Arrival of the King and the Government to Crete

  1. When the King and the Government were convinced that there was no possibility of conducting the struggle in mainland Greece any more, they decided to continue the fight wherever it would be possible, according to the general guide line of the honourable national policy that Greece had adhered to towards its friends and allies.

On April 23, 1941, the King, Prince Petros, the Prime Minister, certain members of Government and the British Ambassador to Athens arrived on Crete by a British hydroplane. The plane touched down in the bay of Souda, which had been bombarded by the German Airforce shortly before.

  1. The effort of both the King and the Government, since the first hours of their arrival on Crete, was to succeed in arming the Greek Army and the inhabitants of the island, as well as to reinforce the British forces there, particularly the airforce, since there was no fighter-plane unit stationed permanently on Crete.

The Greek Government took the initiative to hold a meeting at Hania, which was attended by British Generals Wilson and Weston, General Skoulas, British Airforce Marshal D’ Albiac, Vice Admiral Terl, Captain Bemich, as well as other Greek and British Army officers.

The Greek Prime Minister, as Head of the meeting, in the course of the discussions requested that a British General be assigned the command of the Greek – British forces on the island, that British armament be given to the Greek forces and that their feeding be provided by the British. He also added that he considered the air support as inadequate. On the following day, a note was delivered to the British Ambassador, in which the Greek views on the British assistance were clearly laid out while, at the same time, the King and the Government, at every opportunity and contact with the British, did not fail to stress the need to reinforce the island’s defence.

The British Preparations

  1. On April 30, 1941, the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, General Wavell arrived on Crete. During a meeting on the same day, he assigned the command of the Greek – British forces on the island to the Commander of the 2nd New Zealand Division, Major General Freyberg, who had arrived on Crete from mainland Greece on the previous day. Furthermore, he added that the German attack upon the island was expected to begin in a few days and that the island had to remain free at all costs. After the meeting General Wavell departed for Egypt.

Until the end of April 1941, no final plans had been drawn yet, nor had any preparations begun for the defence of the island against a serious enemy threat, although Crete had been under British responsibility for the last six months. The island, despite the views of the British Prime Minister, who aspired to see Crete organised as a second Scapa Flow (one of the most important bases of the British Fleet in the Atlantic, on the Orkney isles), was far from being able to defend itself against a strong enemy attack.

Major General Freyberg, upon assuming command of the Greek – British forces on the island, examined the situation immediately and discovered the enormous shortages in armament, ammunition and all kinds of other supplies. On the same day, he also received the intelligence report of April 29, from the British Ministry of Military Affairs, according to which the attack against the island should be regarded as imminent and would be conducted by 3,000-4,000 parachutists and airborne troops, who would be supported by 315 bombers, 60 double-engine fighters, 240 dive bombers and 270 single engine fighters. Furthermore, the enemy would be provided with sufficient naval forces and means, in order to conduct a landing from the sea.

Based on the above information, Major General Freyberg reported immediately to the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East that his forces were totally inadequate to confront the expected attack and that if the number of fighter aircraft was not increased and the island was not protected from the sea, he was not able to hope to last long with an army, lacking artillery and inadequately provided with supplies and ammunition.

In reply to General Freyberg’s report, the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East answered that he considered the predictions of the Ministry to be exaggerated, he admitted, however, that there was a possibility of a large scale attack. At the same time, he informed him that, though it would be difficult to offer greater air support, the Fleet of the Mediterranean would be ready to help, if the Germans attacked Crete. In the end, he made it known to the General that, the British Council had expressly ordered that Crete be retained, and that, even if such a decision was revoked, it was doubtful whether the island could be evacuated before the German attack.

  1. At the same time, Major General Freyberg occupied himself actively in making the most of the forces and the means available to him, awaiting the supply reinforcements he had requested.

Unfortunately, less than half of the supplies that were originally sent to the island, arrived there, owing to the action of the enemy airforce. Thus, by mid-May, 15,000 tons of army supplies and 3,000 tons of ammunitions, were unloaded,  instead of the 27,000 tons of ammunitions that had been sent. The above materiel included 6 medium and 10 light tanks as well as 49 Italian and French guns of 75 and 100mm calibre. The latter were spoils of war and most of them lacked the necessary equipment and spare parts, while some had no sighting instruments.

Apart from the supplies, the following units and troops landed on Crete:

  • MNBDO units, that is, the Staff of the 2nd Antiaircraft Artillery Regiment of the Royal Marines. The A’ and C’ Heavy Antiaircraft Battalions, with eight three-inch guns each. The X’ and Z’ Coastal Defence Artillery Battalions with two four-inch guns each. The 23rd Light Antiaircraft Battalion with light guns and a Searchlight Battalion along with the Staff of the II Searchlight Regiment. A Signals company, a Surveillance platoon and a Docks and Transports company.
  • The 10th New Zealand Brigade.

  • The 2nd Leicester Battalion.

  • The 1st Light Battery (four 3.7 inch Howitzer guns).

  • Meanwhile, the works on the defence of the island continued at a vigorous pace, while great care was being taken to conceal and camouflage the supplies.

    On May l6, the Commander of the Crete Forces reported to the Headquarters of the Middle East that he had completed the plan for the defence of Crete and that he was very optimistic.

    The General Disposition of the British-Greek forces and Missions

    (Sketch-map no. 28, 29, 30, 31)

    1. The general disposition of the British-Greek forces on the basis of the importance and vulnerability of the strategic points, the width of the area, the configuration of the terrain and the existing strength was as follows :
    • Cretan Forces Headquarters (Major General Freyberg) at the village of Agios Mattheos in Hania.
  • Maleme-Agyia Sector

  • The 2nd New Zealand Division (Brigadier Sir E.Puttick) with its Headquarters near the road junction Alikyanos-Hania and Maleme-Hania. It cousisted of the 5th New Zealand Brigade (21, 22, 23, 28 Infantry Battalion and New Zealand Engineer Field Detachment), the 10th New Zealand Brigade (6th, 8th Greek Infantry Regiments, a Joint New Zealand Battalion comprising gunners and soldiers from various services, the 20th New Zealand Battalion[1] and Cavalry Divisional Field Detachment[2]) and the 1st Greek Infantry Regiment [3].

    The artillery of the Division comprised the 27th and 28th Artillery Battalions, the 1st Light Battery and platoons from the 156th Light Antiaircraft Battalion, one battery from the 7th Australian Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion and one from the Heavy Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, the Heavy Coastal Defence Battalion and one battery from the 23rd Antiaircraft Battalion.

    The Division had been reinforced with 2 medium tanks, that were placed at the disposal of the 5th Brigade and 10 light tanks from the 3rd Hussars Regiment, which were kept in the zone of the 4th Brigade.

    The boundaries of the Sector were to the west, Tavronitis river, to the east,  Kladissos river, to the north, the coast. The southern boundary was not a definite ground line, but depended on the unit boundaries, according to their missions.

    • The Hania-Souda Sector

    The MNBDO Group (Major General C.E.Westoin) with his Headquarters in Hania. At its disposal there were: the 2nd Greek Infantry Regiment, the Depot Battalion of Hania,  the 1st Rangers Battalion, infantry troops from the 16th and 17th Australian Brigades and field troops from the 106th Horse-drawn Artillery Battalion, the 2/2 and 2/3 Australian Artillery Regiments, the 11th Searchlight Regiment and the Northumberland Hussars.

    The artillery of the Sector comprised the ‘M’ Artillery Group (151st Heavy Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, 129th Light Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, one platoon from the 156th Light Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, one platoon from the 7th Light Antiaircraft Artillery battalion and one battery from the 23rd Light Antiaircraft Battalion) and the ‘S’ Artillery Group (A’ Heavy Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion of the Marines, one platoon of the ‘C’ Heavy Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, one platoon from the 106th Heavy Artillery Battalion, 15th Artillery regiment minus platoon and the 304th Searchlight Battalion).

    The Boundaries of the Sector were: to the west, the rivers Kladissos and Perivolianos, to the north, the coast from Kladissos river to cape Drapanos. The eastern and southern boundaries depended on the power of the MNBDO troops, that were deployed as far as Drapanos and the troops of the 2nd Greek Infantry Regiment, that were deployed in the area Mournies-Perivolia.

    • The Rethymno-Georgioupolis Sector

    The 19th Australian Brigade (Brigadier G.A.Vasey) with its Headquarters directly to the west of Georgioupolis, which had the Groups of Georgioupolis, Rethymno and the Airfield of Pigi under his responsibility.

    The Group of Georgioupolis included the Headquarters of the 19th Australian Brigade, the 2/7 and 2/8 Australian Battalions and one Australian Machine-gun Platoon. The artillery of the Group comprised the 10th Heavy Coastal Artillery Battalion and one 75 mm battery from the 2/3 Australian Artillery Regiment.

    The Group of Rethymno included the Depot Battalion of Rethymno and the Greek Gendarmerie Battalion under the orders of the Commander of the 11th Army District, Colonel Stamatis Pothoulakis.

    The Pigi Airfield Group included the 4th and 5th Greek Infantry Regiments, the 2/1, 2/11 Australian Battalions and two Australian Machine-gun platoons under the Commander of the 2/1 Australian Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell. The artillery of the Group comprised 10 guns (4 were 100mm calibre and 6 were 75mm calibre ) of the 2/3 Australian Artillery Regiment.

    • The Iraklio Sector

    The l4th British Brigade (Brigadier B.H.Chappel) with its Headquarters at New Alikarnassos, which had the Groups of Iraklio town and Iraklio airfield (Rousses) under his responsibility.

    The Group of Iraklio had the 3rd and 7th Greek Infantry Regiments and the Base Battalion of Iraklio.

    The Iraklio Airfield Group had the 2nd Leicester Battalion, the 2nd Blackwatch Battalion, the 2nd York and Lancaster Battalion and the 2/4 Australian Battalion.

    The artillery of the Sector comprised the 234th Artillery Battalion (13 guns of 75 and 100 mm calibre), one platoon from the 15th Royal Coastal Defence Artillery Regiment (two 4-inch guns), the 7th Light Antiaircraft Battalion minus three platoons (6 Beaufort guns), one battery from the 156th Light Antiaircraft Royal Artillery Battalion (4 Beaufort guns), 2 platoons from the Heavy Antiaircraft Royal Marine Battalion (four 3-inch guns) and one battery from the 23rd Light Antiaircraft Royal Marine Battalion.

    In addition to the above forces, on May l9, the 2nd Argyle and Sutterland Highlanders Infantry Battalion (Scottish unit) and 3 medium tanks landed Crete. The Sector had also been reinforced with 2 medium and 6 light tanks.

    • Reserves at the disposal of the Commander of the Forces on Crete.

    The 4th New Zealand Brigade (18th and 19th Battalions), deployed in the Sector Malame-Agyia and the 1st Welsh Regiment in the Sector Hania-Souda.

    The total number of men of the Greek – British forces on Crete was: 1,512 British officers and 29,977 British soldiers, 474 Greek officers and 10,977 Greek soldiers. Regarding guns and tanks, there were 151 guns (of which 62 were Antiaircraft and 4 Antitank) and 25 tanks (9 medium and 16 light).

    Apart from the military units, many other armed civilian teams were organised during the German attack. Some were organised by the British and the Greek Gendarmerie authorities, while others were formed by villagers who came forth spontaneously at the point of conflict or parachutists drop.

    There was no Airforce on the island. The very few aircraft that were left, departed, by order of the Commander of Cretan of Forces, on May l9, to the airfields of Egypt.

    In conclusion what must be emphasised is that even though the total number of men constituting the Cretan strength sounded impressive, the weapons at their disposal were significantly below the acceptable proportion for all types of armament.

    1. The abovementioned British-Greek forces allocated in the Maleme, Hania, Rethymno and Iraklio Sectors, were entrusted with the defence of the island, by forbidding the enemy to use its airfields and ports.

    In detail, their missions were the following:

    • 2nd New Zealand Division, (Maleme-Agyia Sector) :  To conduct defence within its area, forbidding the enemy to occupy its coast, the Maleme airfield and the valley of Agyia from sea and air.
    • MNBDO Group (Hania-Souda Sector) :  To conduct defence within its area, forbidding the enemy to occupy the town of Hania and the harbour of Souda from sea and air.
    • The 19th Australian Brigade (Rethymno-Georgioupo1is Sector) : To conduct defence within its area, forbidding the enemy to occupy Rethymno, the Airfield of Pigi and Georgioupolis from sea and air.
    • The 14th British Brigade (Iraklio Sector) : To conduct defence within its area, forbidding the enemy to occupy the town, the airfield and the port of Iraklio from sea and air.
    • Reserve (4th New Zealand Brigade minus battalion, plus 1st Welsh Battalion) :

    To conduct counter-attacks for the 2nd New Zealand Division and the MNBDO Group.

    The German Plans and Preparations

    (Sketch-map no 28)

    1. On November 12, 1940, Hitler expresses his intentions to occupy mainland Greece, so as to be able to use the German forces against targets in the Eastern Mediterranean.

    On December 13, 1940, the Directive No. 20 was issued, by which the mission of the airforce in all phases of the attack against Greece is clearly defined. On April 15, 1941, Air Marshal Alexander Lohr, Commander of the IV German Airforce, to whom the air operations in SE Europe had been assigned, submitted a plan to Marshal Hermann Goering, regarding the occupation of Crete, which had been drawn by Vice Marshal Kurt Student, Commander of the XI Airforce Corps. On the same day, the Army High Command submitted a plan for the occupation of Malta.

    As the available forces did not suffice for the implementation of both the above plans, Hitler decided in a meeting on April 20, attended by Air Vice-Marshal Student as well, that the operation for the occupation of Crete should be carried out first.

    1. Based on the above plan and the decisions of Hitler, the Directive No. 28 was issued on April 25, 1941, under the code name “Fall MERKUR” (Operation “MERCURY”), concerning the operations for the occupation of Crete and the use of the island as an air base against Britain in the Eastern Mediterranean.

    The high command of the operation was assigned to the Marshal of the Airforce, Goering, while its tactical preparation was entrusted to the Commander of the IV Air Force, Air Marshal Alexander Lohr. The command of the forces of the XI Airforce Corps, that were to be used in Crete, was assigned to Air Vice Marshal Student. The VIII Airforce Corps, under the command of Air Vice Marshal Von Richthofen would undertake to weaken the defence, before the day of the attack, and would then support the airborne operations and the operations of the land forces. Air Vice Marshal Conrad, Commander of the Transport Airforce of the XI Airforce Corps, was ordered to consider and conduct the transportation of troops and supplies with aircraft. The Commander of the SE Europe Naval forces, Rear Admiral Schuster, was assigned to organise the sea transportation pertaining to the operation, using all means available.

    The Italian dictator requested that the Italian Army should take part in the operation, with a strength of a reinforced regiment, that would be operating from the Dodekanese and would land on the eastern shores of the island. This action was finally carried out on May 28, at a time, that is, when the fate of the island had already been decided.

    1. For the implementation of the operation “MERCURY”, the Commander of the German forces of the operation, Air Marshal Alexander Lohr, had the following forces under his command :
    • The Staff of the IV Air Force (Kifissia).
  • The forces of the XI Airforce Corps, that comprised the 7th Airborne Parachutist Division (three Parachutist regiments), the 5th Mountain Division reinforced with units from the 6th Division, one Paratroopers Assault Regiment and the Transport Airforce of the same Corps with 600 transport aircraft and approximately 100 gliders.

  • The VIII Airforce Corps, with 60 reconnaissance aircraft, 280 bombers, l50 dive bombers and 180 fighter of which 90 had a long range capability.

  • The Naval Forces of South-eastern Europe.

  • The total number of forces employed for the assault on Crete amounted to 22,750 men, 1,370 aircraft and 70 vessels for the transportation of landing forces and supplies, supported by a small number of Italian destroyers and motor torpedo boats.

    The island would be assaulted by 10,000 paratroopers and 750 men in gliders. Furthermore, 5,000 men would be transported to the occupied airfields and coastal areas by transport planes and 7,000 by ships and other vessels.

    The VIII Airforce Corps was allocated to the airfields of Central and Southern Greece, as well as to the airfields of the islands Milos and Karpathos. The airfields of Megara, Topolia, Dadi and Tanagra were used for the transportation of troops, the airfield of Faliro (Elliniko) for the staffs and the one in Korinthos, for the transportation of supplies.

    The lack of concrete or metal runways in most of the airfields in mainland Greece, resulted in a thick cloud of dust being raised at every landing or take off. This was damaging to the aircraft engines and caused delays in their departure, owing to the lack of visibility in the take-off runway. During the preparation of the attack, an effort was made to deal with the problem and provisions were made to concentrate fire pumps and other appropriate means.

    The estimate was that it would take two weeks to concentrate the personnel and supplies. The Transport units were not in Greece at that time. The 7th Parachutist Division was at the training centres in Germany, with the exception of one of its regiments.

    Between May 10 and l2, the airfields and areas of concentration were appointed for each unit. The concentration was terminated by May l6. On May 18 transport aircraft formations landed at the airfield. On the following day, May l9, the distribution of fuel for the operations, to the various airfields, was completed,  amounting to approximately 3,535 tons.

    1. The plan of operations, under the code name “MERCURY”, provided for the following, in general :
    • Gaining and maintaining air superiority.
  • Occupation of the airfields of Crete using paratroopers and gliders with the main effort at Maleme.

  • After the occupation of the airfields,  landing of airborne mountain troops in order to complete the occupation of the island.

  • The troops in Maleme would be reinforced by sea with units that would be transferred from the nearest shores.

  • The land forces would be reinforced by sea with a strong echelon of artillery, tanks, vehicles and pack animals.

  • The airborne troops would operate in three assault groups :  Group West, Group Centre and Group East.

    The Group West (code name “KOMET”), its strength comprising the Assault Regiment minus two companies, under the command of Major General Eugen Meindl would occupy the Maleme airfield.

    The Group Centre (code name “MARS”) under the orders of Lt. General Suessmann, Commander of the 7th Airborne Division, divided into two echelons and assigned to occupy the Sectors of Hania-Souda and Rethymno-Pigi airfield, as follows :

    The A’ Echelon (Commander Colonel Heindrich), that comprised the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment, two companies from the Assault Regiment and various other divisional units, would occupy Hania and Souda.

    The B’ Echelon (Commander Colonel Sturm), that comprised the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment (minus the II Battalion), would occupy Rethymno and the Pigi airfield.

    The Group East (code name “ORION”), its strength comprising the 1st Paratrooper Regiment from the 7th Airborne Division (plus the II/2 Paratrooper Battalion),  under the command of Colonel Brauer, would occupy Iraklio along with its airfield (airfield of Rousses).

    The above Group would conduct an assault on the island in two waves, in two time steps. The first wave would launch the assault with the “KOMET” Group and the first echelon of the “MARS” Group, at 0800 hrs, on May 20, 1941, against the airfield of Maleme and the area of Hania respectively. The second wave would launch the assault with the B’ Echelon of the “MARS” Group and the “ORION” at 1600 hrs on the same day, against the towns and airfield of Rethymno and Iraklio respectively.

    The B’ Echelon of the “MARS” Group, after the occupation of Rethymnon and the Pigi airfield, would have to move towards Souda so as to link up with the A’ Echelon of the same Group.

    The “ORION” Group, after the occupation of Iraklio and the airfield of Rousses (Iraklio), would have to seek to link up with the B’ Echelon of the “MARS” Group (Rethymno) and send patrols eastwards and southwards. The phasing of the operation in two time steps was imposed by the necessity for a better air support.

    On the first day, according to the German plan, the airfield and ports of Hania, Rethymno and Iraklio would be occupied. On the second day, Souda would be occupied. During the same day, units from the 5th Mountain Division, that would be transferred by sea would land on the area of Maleme as well as on other suitable coastal areas, so as to complete the occupation of Crete.

    [1]  Belonging to the 4th New Zealand Brigade

    [2] Known as the Detachment of Major Russell

    [3] This Regiment was deployed in the Kasteli area of Kissamos and was assigned to defend the area and repulse sea landing or air attack