The  German  Preparatory  Bombardments  and  the  Results

  1. The preparation of the German attack with view to the occupation of Crete had essentially begun as of April 16, that is, since the VIII German Airforce Corps had taken action to destroy or impede the movement of the allied vessels sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean. Within the scope of this action, the ports of Souda and Irakleio had already been subjected to air attacks.

As of May l4, however, systematic bombardment commenced, in accordance with the German plan. The main targets were the airfields of Maleme, Rethymno (Pigi), and Irakleio (Rousses), the ports of Souda and Irakleio, the Antiaircraft pill boxes and the towns of Hania, Rethymno and Irakleio. At the same time, aircraft that were constantly patrolling, forbade ships to approach the shores of Crete. From May 14 to 18, merchant ships of 36,000 tons capacity were sunk at sea on their way to Crete, as were the Greek destroyer ‘Leon’ and the British corvette ‘Salvia’.

  1. As a result of this activity, the ships no longer approached or unloaded their cargo in Souda harbour during the day. The ships approached Crete at night only, sailing in the harbour of Souda at midnight to unload and sailing away on the same night. However, in order to achieve this, it was necessary to use ships that would be able to develop a high speed, that is, cruisers and destroyers, so that the demands of the situation could be met (arrival, unloading and departure) within the available limited space of time.

Nevertheless, the small capacity of these ships -which were not intended for transportation- and the small duration of the night, could only barely suffice for unloading approx. 100 tons of supplies, which were naturally insufficient to cover the daily needs that amounted to approx. 600 tons. As a result, the Greek -British forces in Crete were forced to be deprived of large quantities of valuable war supplies, that could not reach their destination.

The  Commencement  of  the  German  Airborne  Assault  (May 20, 1941)

The  A’  Sector  of  Maleme – Agyia  ( 2nd  New  Zealander  Division )

(Chart no. 29)

  1. At 0630 hrs, on April 20, bomber and fighter flights pertaining to the VIII Air force Corps, crowded the air space of the areas Maleme-Agyia and Hania-Souda. Severe bombing and strafing ensued, mainly against the positions of the artillery and the defenders who had surrounded the Maleme airfield, as well as against the town of Hania.

The bombing, that was intensified with the arrival of new aircraft flights, developed into a true barrage of fire. It was clearly discernible by then that this activity of the German Airforce, that was greater in intensity, extent and duration than any previous one, aimed at the preparation of an immediate invasion by air.

The Commander of the British-Greek forces in Crete, Major General Freiberg, signalled to the units, at 0730 hrs to be ready to repulse an impending German airborne action. Indeed, while the fighters were taking off after short while, flights of transport ‘Yunger 52’ aircraft and gliders,  that were towed, two or three together, crowded the air space of the 2nd New Zealander Division Section and the parachute jump began in waves, while the gliders landed on the ground. Simultaneously, the British-Greek troops began the defence. The antiaircraft guns hit the transport aircraft and gliders, while the infantry units hit the paratroopers with their effective fire, both in the air and on ground.

Soon the entire area was turned into a theatre of localised deadly conflicts. In time and while the German operation for the occupation of Crete unfolded in full, the localised conflicts began to take the definite shape of a tactical action.

  1. The airfield of Maleme (5th New Zealander Brigade zone), was subjected to the action of the Western ‘COMET’ Team, that is, the Assault Regiment of Major General Meidl minus two companies (lst and 2nd Company of I Battalion). The landing of the Team began at 0815 hrs and ended at 0915 hrs, with the use of parachutes and more than fifty gliders.

The I Battalion (minus the lst and 2nd Company), the Detachment of Major Koch, landed on the estuary of Tavronitis river and east of the village Vlaheronitissa, assigned to neutralise the antiaircraft means in the area and to seize height 107.

The II Battalion landed at the area of Ropaniana village, as a reserve force.

The III Battalion (minus the 9th Company) landed on the south-east of Maleme village, assigned to cut off the airfield of Maleme from the east and to link up with the Central ‘ARIS’ Team, which would be acting towards Hania and Rethymno.

The IV Battalion (minus the l6th Company) landed between the II Battalion and the western bank of Tavronitis river, as a reserve. The Assault Regiment Staff also landed in that area.

The 9th Company of the III Battalion (Braun Detachment) landed south of Tavronitis bridge, assigned to seize and hold the latter.

The l6th Company of the IV Battalion landed in the area of Sirili village, assigned to act northwards and to assist the action of the Koch Detachment towards height 107.

At 0930 hrs, the Commander of the Assault Regiment,  Major General Meidl, also landed at the area west of the river Tavronitis and ascertained the following:

  • The Braun Detachment had already occupied the bridge and had driven a wedge into the adversary front.
  • The Koch Detachment had been unable to seize height 107.
  • The III Battalion had almost completely disbanded.
  • All British troops in the area of the Maleme airfield had been engaged in the fight.

Based on these ascertainments, Major General Meidl decided to attack with the troops of the II and IV Battalion, which had not been directly committed to the action,  in order to seize height 107. The attack upon height 107 was launched from two directions. From the west, via the Tavronitis bridge and from the south, in the direction of Vlaheronitissa village. A tough struggle followed and by that evening the Germans managed to advance and approach height 107 from the north-west and the south, at a distance of one thousand meters approximately, while the troops of the Braun Detachment occupied various positions within the area of the airfield.

      1. Following this development, the Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion who had been assigned to defend height 107, requested from the 5th New Zealander Brigade, at 1700 hrs, that the latter should intervene by conducting a counter-attack with the 23rd Battalion, as authorised by the defence plan. The Brigade replied that the 23rd New Zealander Battalion had already been engaged in combat against the paratroopers in its zone and that its intervention was impossible. Subsequently, the Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion counter-attacked at 1715 hrs, with an Infantry platoon and two tanks, but the attempt failed and the tanks were destroyed.

At 2200 hrs, a company from the 23rd New Zealander Battalion arrived at the positions of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion, sent to reinforce the latter. This company was ordered to be established defensively on height 107. The Germans became aware of its movements and fired against it. Though it suffered many losses, its establishment was successfully conducted.

In the meantime, the situation in the area of Maleme airfield was the following:

  • Major General Meidl, in spite of having committed all of his forces, was unable to complete the occupation of the airfield and of height 107. The German losses were grave. They lost almost the entire III Battalion, while the Commanders of the I and III Battalions were killed. Major General Meidl himself was wounded, but continued to direct the fight of his Unit. Owing to the fatigue and the casualties, the Germans lacked any further ability for offensive action.
  • The 22nd New Zealander Battalion, that was forced to carry the weight of the German attack, retained height 107, but it was doubtful whether it would be able to confront another German attack. Two of its companies had been crushed. The two tanks at its disposal had been destroyed,  while the greatest part of the guns and machine-guns it was provided with, had been lost or destroyed. An additional company was expected, as reinforcement, but this had not arrived yet.

On the basis of this situation and, furthermore, due to the fact that the Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion was expecting a new German attack on the following day, both by air as well as by land, he decided to withdraw to new positions between the 2lst and 23rd New Zealander Battalions, that held their ground firmly and had confronted the German parachutists with success. The 5th New Zealander Brigade, which had been notified, as of 2130 hrs, of the Battalion’s decision to withdraw, did not forbid it but neither did it notify the Division nor the Cretan Forces Command accordingly. On the contrary, it gave the Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion complete freedom to act on his own initiative. The withdrawal commenced at midnight and was completed during the night. All guns in the Battalion zone and the supplies of two Machine-gun platoons were abandoned on site.

Thus, height 107 and Maleme airfield, that is, the vital ground of the 2nd New Zealander Division and one of the most important strongholds of the Cretan Forces were left at the disposal of the Germans. The latter, expecting a counterattack by the British forces, were established defensively at the positions they had occupied during the course of the day and failed to notice the withdrawal of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion.

  1. In the area of Kasteli, a strength of approximately seventy paratroopers landed at 0800 hrs, under the command of First Lieutenant Moerb. It was part of the II Battalion of the Assault Regiment. This strength was successfully confronted and was neutralised at the end of an extremely tough struggle, conducted by the troops of the lst Greek Infantry Regiment which were in the area. Twenty-eight Germans were taken prisoners, while the rest were killed. The Greek casualties amounted to 57 dead and 62 wounded.
      1. The Army Cadet Military Academy, that had established its defence between the monastery of Gonia and the village of Kolymbari in the Rodopos peninsula, was subjected to successive attacks by the troops of the II Assault Battalion, which it was able to repulse successfully, causing serious losses to the attackers. However, owing to its casualties and the shortage of ammunition, the Academy was forced to withdraw on the night of May 20 to 2l, towards the area of Deliana village, where it established its defence.
      1. In the area of Agyia (zone of the l0th New Zealander Brigade) action was taken by the 3rd Parachutist Hunters Regiment of the 7th Parachutist Division and other divisional units, that commenced at 0815 hrs. These units belonged to the A’ Echelon of the ‘ARIS’ Team and had been assigned to foothold strong hostile forces, in order to assist the action against Maleme airfield, occupy the town of Hania and finally to seek to link up, as soon as possible, with the Western ‘COMET’ Team.

The I a II Battalions landed with parachutes in the area of the Agyia prison, between the 6th and 8th Greek Regiments.

The III Battalion also landed with parachutes in the area of Galatas village, near the positions of the Joint New Zealander Battalion.

The Parachutist Hunters Engineer Battalion landed with parachutes on the west of the village Episcopi, near the positions of the 8th Greek Regiment.

The Headquarters of the 7th Division landed with parachutes on the south-east of Galatas village. The glider carrying the Division Commander, Major General Susman, had crashed near the isle of Aegina and all passengers were killed. Subsequently, the command of the Division was assumed by the Commander of the 3rd Parachutist Regiment, Colonel Heinrich.

A tough fight ensued, which lasted the entire day. The greatest pressure was applied on the 6th Greek regiment,  which occupied the heights south of Galatas and happened to be in the landing zone of the bulk of German parachutists. This Regiment had been subjected to successive attacks since the very beginning, from all directions and even from within its own positions and had suffered grave losses. Among the first killed, was the Commander of the Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Grigoriou, the Deputy Commander, Captain Ioannis Psimoulis, the Commander of the 4th Company, First Lieutenant, Dimitrios Xiroyiannis and many Platoon leaders.

Nevertheless, the Regiment continued its uneven struggle until the early afternoon hours, whereupon it withdrew towards Galatas. Thereafter, it ceased to have organic ties and exist as a self-contained unit. However, strong sections of the Regiment continued operations effectively until the end of the struggle in Crete.

The Germans also suffered grave losses and, by night on May 20, they had only succeeded in consolidating their positions in the area of the Agyia prison.

      1. The 4th New Zealander Brigade, which was a reserve at the disposal of the Commander of the Cretan Forces, was placed at the disposal of the 2nd New Zealander Division, as of 1100 hrs, on May 20. After neutralising the near-company strength of paratroopers that landed in its area, it was ordered by the 2nd New Zealander Division to conduct a counter-attack in order to recapture the area of the Agyia prison, within the zone of the l0th New Zealander Brigade. The counter-attack was launched at 1930 hrs with a battalion, which was, however, later immobilised at a distance of one kilometre from the German positions.

The  B’  Sector  of  Hania – Souda  (MNBDO Group)

(Chart no. 29)

      1. In this very area, the Germans acted with Paratrooper Companies from the 1st and 2nd Parachutist Battalions of the I Battalion of the Assault Regiment, which formed part of the A’ Echelon ‘ARIS’ Team. These companies had been reinforced with machine-gun teams from the Assault Regiment and formed two detachments which were transported by glider planes.

Their principal mission was to conduct preliminary probing attacks, in order to assist the units of the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment,  which would be acting from Agyia towards Hania.

At 0800 hrs on May 20, 1941, the gliders of the one detachment were directed towards Akrotiri. However, owing to the fire of the Antiaircraft artillery in the area of Souda, they were prematurely released from towing and were scattered in all directions. Some of them were destroyed upon landing on the ground, whereas the rest became an easy prey for the defending forces. Thus, the detachment was neutralised without managing to accomplish its mission. Its losses amounted to 48 dead and 36 wounded.

The other detachment, directly after landing on the south-east of Mournies, attacked the battery of the 234th Battalion and managed to neutralise it. Of the battery men, eight were taken prisoners while the rest were killed on the spot. Following a counter-attack against the detachment, by other troops of that area, it was forced to withdraw to the area of Perivolia village with grave losses.

      1. At the end of the day, the situation for the German Commander of the A’ Echelon of the ‘ARIS’ Team, appeared to be as follows:
  • The planned occupation of Hania had not been achieved.
  • The raiding troops in the area Hania-Souda had suffered grave losses and had been unable to achieve their objectives.
  • The III Battalion of the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment had lost two thirds of its strength, without being able to occupy the area of Galatas.
  • The planned link up with the Western Team (Assault Regiment) had not been achieved.

Following the above facts and foreseeing a counterattack by the British during the course of the night, it concentrated his forces to the area of Agyia prison where it commenced the defensive establishment.

The  C’  Sector  of  Rethymno – Georgioupolis  (l9th Australian Brigade)

(Chart no. 30)

      1. In the Sector of Rethymno, action was taken by the B’ Echelon of the ‘ARIS’ Team, that commenced at 1615 hrs. The Echelon comprised the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment (minus the II Battalion) and was under the command of Colonel Sturme. Before the paratrooper assault, the area ad been subjected to severe bombing by approx. twenty aircraft, which began at 1600 hrs.

The arrival of the transport aircraft above the paratrooper landing zones did not coincide, as planned, but lasted more than two hours. This ruled out the possibility of a tactical surprise move against the defenders and deprived the Germans of the ability to take advantage of the bombings that had preceded.

The dropping of parachutists and their supplies was conducted by 161 aircraft in total, as follows:

  • The I Paratrooper Battalion (minus two companies) landed on the east of the Pigi airfield, assigned to occupy the latter.
  • The III Paratrooper Battalion landed on the east of Perivolia village, assigned to occupy Rethymno.

  • A group from the Staff of the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment and a company from the I Paratrooper Battalion landed between the village of Platanes and the airfield.

  • A company, also from the I Paratrooper Battalion, landed at the positions of the 2/11 Australian Battalion and the 4th Greek Infantry Regiment.

        1. The III Battalion Paratroopers, that landed on the east of Perivolia village, attacked immediately against the almost unarmed Depot Battalion, which they broke up, and they proceeded to occupy the villages Perivolia and Kastelakia. Their action towards Rethymno was repulsed by the Gendarmerie Soldiers Battalion, which counter-attacked, forcing the Germans to withdraw towards the village of Perivolia. There were grave losses on both sides.

    The Paratrooper Company, which landed at the positions of the 2/11 Australian Battalion and the 4th Greek Regiment near ‘B’ hill, was seriously damaged and broke up. The 2/11 Australian Battalion had taken more than 80 parachutists prisoners by that same evening.

    The I Battalion Paratroopers, that landed on the east of the Pigi airfield were established at the village of Stavromenos and launched an attack upon the strong point of the ‘A’ hill, which they occupied, thus directly threatening the airfield.

    Subsequently, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, Commander of the 2/1 Australian Battalion and, at the same time Commander of the Pigi Airfield Group, decided to counter-attack on the following day, in order to mop up his area completely. Although the reinforcement he had requested from the Commander of the Cretan Forces in order to implement his decision was not given, Campbell planned two counterattacks for the following morning, using his own forces.

        1. Thus, by the night of May 20 to 2l, the German paratroopers had occupied the villages Perivolia, Kastelakia and Stavromenos, as well as the ‘A’ hill.

    The German Casualties amounted to one third of their strength, with approx. 400 dead and the rest wounded or prisoners and no objective having been attained.

    As the Georgioupolis Group had not been subjected to any hostile attack, the Commander of the Cretan Forces gradually transferred the strength of the Group towards Hania during that night and on the following day. They were accompanied by the Headquarters of the l9th Australian Brigade.

    The  D’  Sector  of  Irakleio  (l4th  British  Brigade)

    (Chart no. 31)

        1. In the Sector of Irakleio, an attack was launched as of 1600 hrs, by the Eastern ‘ORION’ Team, that is, the lst Paratrooper Regiment minus one company and the II Battalion of the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment minus two companies. These companies remained in the mainland Greece because it was not possible to transport them to Crete. Previous to the Paratrooper assault, the sector had been severely bombed by approximately twenty aircraft for one hour and serious damages had been caused, mainly to the town of Irakleio.

    It had not become possible to offer air support to the parachutists during their landing, due to the exhaustion of fuel supplies for the fighter aircraft This de-synchronisation decided the fate of the German troops as of the early moments of their landing.

    The II/1 Paratrooper Battalion landed in two echelons, on the west and south of the airfield, assigned to occupy the latter. By 2130 hrs, this Battalion had been annihilated by troops from the 2/4 Australian Battalion, the 7th Medium Artillery Regiment and the Blackguard Battalion. Its casualties amounted to 12 officers and 300 soldiers dead and 8 officers and 100 soldiers wounded. Approximately 70 paratroopers, who had survived, concentrated at night on height 182 (Kopraina), south-east of the airfield, where they established their defence.

    The III/1 Paratrooper battalion landed in the areas of Therissos, Mastabas, Giofyros, as well as close to the city walls, assigned to occupy the town of Irakleio. During its dropping it suffered many casualties, but was finally able to concentrate its forces 500 meters west of the city walls.

    The II/2 Battalion (minus two companies) landed at Gazi, assigned to support the attack of the III/I Battalion upon the town. However, having been hit a number of times by daring armed civilians, it was forced to engage in defence.

    The I/1 Paratrooper Battalion, minus one company,  landed in the area of Gournes. Its mission was to cover from the east the troops acting against the airfield and the town of Irakleio. However, it was repeatedly attacked by groups of armed civilians and gendarmes, both upon concentrating at Gournes as well as during its movement towards the airfield. The Battalion suffered serious casualties and its movement was slowed down considerably.

        1. Colonel Breuer Commander of the lst Paratrooper Regiment, believed that the airfield would have been taken in the meantime by the II/1 Paratrooper Battalion, as planned. He was, therefore, taken by surprise when, upon his arrival near the eastern fringes of the airfield, his Battalion was fired upon by the Blackguard Battalion.

    Subsequently and despite the enormous losses suffered by his strength, he decided to launch an attack during the night of May 20 to 2l, upon the airfield and the town of Irakleio, with the II/1 and III/1 Battalions respectively. The attack upon the airfield failed, whereas the attack upon Irakleio was not carried out, because the order had failed to reach the III/1 Battalion.

    Thus, the attack of the ‘ORION’ Team upon the town of Irakleio failed, with gravest losses on the German side, amounting to approx. 1,000 parachutists.

        1. In the evening of May 20 (the first day of the German invasion of Crete), the situation, in general, appeared to be the following for each adversary.

    The Commander of the British-Greek Forces on Crete, Major General Freiberg, considered himself to be in possession of all airfields and harbours in Crete and was unaware, on account of his untimely information, of the critical situation that had arisen at Maleme airfield, so that he might intervene at once, in order to regain control of the locality. Instead, deeming the situation at the zone of the l0th New Zealander Brigade (area of Agyia) critical, as of 1100 hrs, on May 20, he placed his reserve (4th New Zealander Brigade) at the disposal of the 2nd New Zealander Division, keeping only the lst Welsh Battalion as a reserve. Moreover,  he transferred the 2/8 Australian Battalion of the 18th Australian Brigade to the area of Hania and orientated it towards the Mournies area,  although no serious threat was discernible coming from that direction.

    On his part, the Commander of the XI German Airforce Corps, Air Marshal Student, deemed that no objective had been attained and that the only point at which some success had been recorded, was the Maleme airfield, where the Assault Regiment troops had created a bridgehead on the east of the Tavronitis bridge. Student was unaware of the fact that the Maleme airfield had essentially been abandoned by the 5th New Zealander Brigade troops, and that he was only being hit by mortars and artillery fire. Subsequently, he ordered the entire paratrooper reserve to reinforce the Assault Regiment,  so as to be able to seize and hold the airfield. Furthermore,  he ordered the 5th Mountain Division to move at once, in order to occupy Hania and Souda. The forces acting in the remaining sectors, would continue their fight without any reinforcement, seeking to immobilise and damage the adversary forces as much as possible. The VIII Airforce Corps would support these actions.

    Thus, whereas Major General Freiberg was unable to make the right decisions concerning the continuation of the struggle, due to inadequate information, the German Command, by assessing the situation with accuracy, made the right decisions and issued the appropriate orders.

    During the trial of the war criminals, Student reported the following regarding the night of May 20/21:

    ‘The night was crucial for me. If the enemy had attempted an all-embracing endeavour during the night of the 20th to the 2lst, or on the morning of the 2lst, then the worn out remains of the Regiment might have been swept away.

    The Second Day of the German Attack

    ( May 21, 1941 )

    The  A’  Sectors  of  Maleme – Agyia  and  Hania – Souda

    (Chart no. 29)

        1. At approx. 0200 hrs on May 2l, the Commander of the 5th New Zealander Brigade was informed that the 22nd Battalion had finally withdrawn from its positions. Subsequently, he ordered the Commanders of the 2lst and 23rd Battalions as well as the 27th Artillery Battalion, to co-operate accordingly and to report their views to him. They proposed that, the battalions should be kept at their positions, and the 27th Artillery Battalion should fire against the airfields so as to impede its use by the Germans. The Brigade Commander approved of the above proposals. In regard to this decision, the official history of New Zealand relates:

    ‘… This decision was too fatal to remain without comment. For it was the last chance to counter-attack and regain the lost positions, before the enemy was able to be reinforced and re-organised. There was no enemy within the area of the 23rd Battalion, as an organised force. The 2lst New Zealander Battalion had not been subjected to serious pressure and only the 22nd New Zealander Battalion was in worse condition, owing to the struggle of the previous day. There was no question that the bitter experience that Andrew (Commander of the 22nd New Zealander Battalion) had gained during the last twenty-four hours, would have made him doubt the success of a counter-attack. However, one would have expected that, the Commanders of the 2lst and 23rd New Zealander Battalions would have themselves seen the danger of the airfield open to the enemy by then, and that, if a counter-attack was to be conducted, this would have to be launched at once.

    There was still time to prepare the two relatively unfatigued Battalions (21st, 23rd) so as to attack during the day, if not sooner. The combined attack of those Battalions would have been sufficiently strong, so that by attacking, under the worst (for them) circumstances, they would inflict a powerful blow against the enemy, and, under the best, they could recapture height 107, with the 22nd New Zealander Battalion undertaking to cover the rear of those Battalions.

    Here, it must be noted that it is unfortunate that Harguest (Commander of the 5th New Zealander Brigade) had not established his forward Headquarters at the 23rd battalion on the previous day or earlier. As the situation had turned out, this decision, which was of vital importance, should have been taken by his subordinates…’

    At approx. 0400 hrs, the Commander of the 5th Brigade notified the 2nd New Zealander Division about the situation and proposed the conduct of a counter-attack by the 28th New Zealander Battalion and by one battalion which had to be provided by the Division. The Division Commander agreed on the Brigade proposal and reported accordingly to the Commander of the Cretan Forces at approx. 1130 hrs. In parallel, he proposed the conduct of a counter-attack, during the night of May 21 to 22, by the 20th and the 28th New Zealander Battalions, which was approved.

        1. At 0800 hrs, transport aircraft flights dropped a paratrooper company and one and a half company of the Anti-tank Battalion of the 7th Paratrooper Division west of Tavronitis river. Colonel Ramke, the replacement of Major General Meidl who had been wounded, also landed with the said companies. At the same time, both companies from the II Battalion of the 2nd Paratrooper Regiment landed near the positions of the 28th New Zealander Battalion. Both companies had been intended for the Sector of Irakleio and had remained in Athens, due to inability to transport them during the first day of the attack.

    Colonel Ramke set as first objectives, the completion of the occupation of height 107 and the neutralisation of the guns that were firing against the airfield. To that end, he ordered the troops on the west of Tavronitis river, to act towards height 107 and the villages Maleme and Pyrgos. The troops moved slowly and carefully towards their objectives, which they managed to occupy by midday, except for Maleme village which was defended by its population and some New Zealanders until 1600 hrs.

    The paratroopers that landed at the positions of the 28th New Zealander Battalion, suffered grave casualties and only 80 of them managed to escape towards Pyrgos village.

        1. As of 1600 hrs, the 5th Mountain Division troops began to land in the area of the airfield. By 1700 hrs, despite the sustained fire of the British artillery, the landing of the II/100 Mountain Hunters Battalion had been completed. The Commander of the l00th Mountain Hunters Regiment, Colonel Udge along with his Staff disembarked together with the last sections of the Battalion. He orientated the II/100 Battalion eastwards, where he deemed the greatest danger lay.
        1. At 2330 hrs, the division of the British Fleet, that was patrolling the sea west of Crete, sunk a large number of German vessels, which had left from Halkis and Piraeus, carrying the III/100 and II/85 Battalions of the 5th Mountain Division. Many of the III/100 men were drowned and a number of heavy armament perished. The vessels which were not sunk, sailed to Milos, where the convoy carrying the II/85 Battalion had also taken shelter.

    In the Sector of Hania – Souda, no important conflicts took place on May 21, apart from the intense action of the German Air Force.

    The  B’  Sector  of  Rethymno – Georgioupolis

    (Chart no. 30)

        1. On the morning of May 2l, the allied forces situated in the area of the Pigi airfield, launched two counter-attacks, which had been ordered by Lieutenant Colonel Campbell on the previous day. One was conducted by the 2/11 Australian Battalion in order to mop up the field zone north and east of its positions, as far as the sea, with a simultaneous action of a 5th Greek Regiment section towards the village of Platanes. The other was conducted by the 2/1 Australian Battalion so as to recapture the ‘A’ hill and employed a 5th Greek regiment section aiming to recapture Stavromenos village, where the Germans had managed to become established.

    The counter-attack of the 2/11 Australian Battalion recorded total success. Those Germans who were not killed, were taken prisoners, including the Commander of the B’ Echelon of the ‘ARIS’ Team, Colonel Sturme. The latter had the plans and orders of action on him, which revealed that the airfield and Rethymno were supposed to have been taken by the Germans as of the previous day. The 5th Greek Regiment section seized the village of Platanes and advanced as far as the eastern fringes of Perivolia village.

    The 2/1 Australian Battalion recaptured the ‘A’ hill by midday on May 2l, the guns were re-positioned and approximately 60 men were taken prisoners. The Germans that survived,  took refuge in the village of Stavromenos and barricaded themselves inside the olive oil refinery there, which constituted a stronghold, owing to the sturdy construction and the walled enclosure that surrounded it.

    The 5th Greek Regiment section overthrew the enemy resistance it encountered on the way, and arrived by daybreak before the village of Stavromenos, where it was immobilised. The Commander of the section requested artillery support and one tank to be provided, in order to attempt to seize that village. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell did not, however, approve of this proposal and ordered that one company should remain at the disposal of the 2/1 Australian Battalion and that the remainder strength should retire to its original positions.

        1. The Germans, who had seized the village Perivolia, launched an attacked in the morning upon the town of Rethymno, but were repulsed by the Greek troops and the armed population of the town. At 1715 hrs, following a counter-attack of the II Gendarmerie Company, Kastelakia was recaptured, while the Germans confined themselves to Agios Georgios of Perivolia (cemetery).

    The total number of German casualties, by the end of May 2l, amounted to 70 dead, 300 wounded and approx. 200 prisoners.

    Thus, by the end of May 2l, the Germans had occupied two defensive strongholds, which were the villages Perivolia and Stavromenos. Lieutenant Colonel Campbell decided to launch an attack, on the following day, upon these two principal German strongholds,.

    The  C’  Sector  of  Irakleio.

    (Chart no. 31)

        1. As of 0900 hrs, the German Airforce began a severe bombing of the town of Irakleio and the positions of the Greek units. The walls of the town of Irakleio and the area of the harbour suffered many damages, while the small Greek strength that occupied the walls suffered many casualties. At approx. 1000 hrs, the Germans attacked the town of Irakleio from the west, taking advantage of the results of the bombings, and they managed to enter. Heavy road-fights occurred and carried on until nightfall, with grave casualties on both sides. In the end, the Germans were forced to withdraw outside the town, to the areas Tsalikaki and Estavromenos, east of Gazi village.

    It is worth noting that the reconnaissance, droppings and bombings of the German Airforce were hindered by the Greek – British troops that used flares and signalling panels with the appropriate panel codes, which had been provided by the German prisoners. There was a particular case in which by request of the British to the Germans, the latter dropped machine-guns, radio transmitters, mortars, food, ammunitions and other supplies onto the British positions.

    The  Third  Day  of  the  German  Attack 

    (May 22, 1941)

    The  A’  Sectors  of  Maleme – Agyia  and  Hania – Souda

    (Chart no. 29)

        1. In the Sector Maleme-Agyia the counter-attack of the British, that was to be conducted by the 20th and 28th New Zealander Battalions so as to recapture Maleme airfield and height 107 respectively, was launched at approx. 0330 hrs, on May 22, 1941. In order to support the counter-attack, three light tanks and one battery had been provided, in addition to the guns deployed in the zone of the 5th New Zealander Brigade. .

    The 20th New Zealander Battalion moved towards the north of the national road Maleme-Hania and the 28th New Zealander Battalion towards its south. At the beginning of their advance, both battalions encountered some degree of enemy resistance, which they either by-passed or neutralised with few losses. However, upon approaching the village of Pyrgos, they began to encounter much stronger resistance and suffered serious losses. When the first troops came to approx. 1,000 meters east of Pyrgos, daylight had already shone. The enemy airforce had recommenced its activity. Under these circumstances it became difficult for the battalions to advance and they were finally forced to withdraw, with grave losses, to the positions of the 23rd New Zealander Battalion. As of that same morning, the 2lst New Zealander Battalion also moved westwards and managed to arrive as far as the village of Vlacheronitissa. There, however, it was informed that the attack to recapture Maleme airfield had failed and thus it returned to its original positions.

        1. The Commander of the Cretan Forces, deeming that the occupation of the airfield area by the enemy posed a serious threat, decided at midday, on May 22, to conduct a nocturnal counter-attack with the 4th and 5th Brigades, in order to recapture it. However, the counter-attack was not carried out, because there were reports to the effect that German troops from the prison of Agyia were advancing northwards, clearly aiming to cut off the 5th New Zealander Brigade troops from the east, and that the German forces at Maleme had been reinforced considerably. Furthermore, it was deemed that the 5th New Zealander Brigade troops were unable to conduct offensive action. Thus, instead of the counterattack, the Commander of the New Zealander Division proposed to Major General Freiberg to withdraw the 5th New Zealander Brigade eastwards, so as to avoid its being cut off.

    Subsequently, the Major General Freiberg decided to postpone the counter-attack and to withdraw the 5th New Zealander Brigade on a new eastern line, with the 28th Battalion west of Platania village and the rest of the battalions further to the east. With this new disposition the airfield of Maleme would be at a distance of six kilometres from the British Defence line and only the British Airforce would be able to attack it. There was no such possibility, however, although the Major General Freiberg informed Wavell of the gravity of the situation and requested the provision of a strong pursuit and bombardment Air Force which would be the only means to reverse the German actions.

        1. Thus, the initiative was up to the Germans. The sections of the 5th Mountain Division began to come in at a rate of approximately twelve landings per hour. On the very evening of March 22, more than fifty aircraft landed. By 2000hrs, the I/100, II/100 and I/85 Mountain Hunters Battalions, one light battery (6 guns), the 95th Engineers Battalion and sections of the 55th Motorcyclists Battalion had landed. The Commander of the 3rd Mountain Division, Major General Riegel also arrived.

    The Major General Riegel was entrusted with the command of the German Forces on Crete, assigned to secure the occupation of the Maleme airfield, to mop up the bay of Souda, to replace the parachutists in Rethymno and to complete the occupation of the island.

    With view to the implementation of his mission, Maj. Gen. Riegel organised his forces in three Groups.

    The first Group, which comprised the 95th Engineers Battalion under the command of Major Sette was assigned to secure the airfield of Maleme from the west and the south, by mopping up the areas of Kasteli and Palaeochora.

    The second Group which comprised the Assault Regiment parachutist forces (two battalions), under the command of the Major General Ramke, assigned to secure the airfield from the east and, in co-operation with the third group, to launch an attack upon Hania.

    The third Group which comprised the three battalions of the 5th Mountain Division (the I/100, II/100 and I/85), answerable to the Commander of the 100th Regiment, Colonel Udge, assigned to continue the action towards the height Monodendri, with view to the neutralisation of the New Zealander artillery which was firing against the airfield, the establishment of a liaison with the 3rd Parachutists Regiment and the cutting off of the coastal road to Agia Marina.

        1. In the Sector of Hania-Souda, at 1800hrs on May 22, the Commander of the British-Greek Forces of Crete organised a group which comprised the 2nd Greek Infantry Regiment and the 2/7 and 2/8 Australian Battalions (of the Georgioupolis group), answerable to the Commander of the 19th Australian Brigade, Brigadier Vasey, who had remained, after his transfer to the area of Hania, without sections. This Group, as the 19th Australian Brigade, would secure the occupation of the area of Perivolia-Mournies.

    The Military Academy was transferred on that day from the village of Deliana in the direction of the village Hosti, attempting to join the British-Greek forces in the area of Hania.

    The  B’  Sector  of  Rethymno – Georgioupolis

    (Chart no. 30)

        1. As of the morning of May 22, the German Airforce began new heavy bombardments throughout the entire zone of the Rethymno Group, so as to relieve the defending paratroopers in that area. As a result, many buildings collapsed in Rethymno, including the building of the National Bank, inside which the Prefect of Rethymno, G. Tsagris, the Head of Gendarmerie, Lieutenant Colonel Stylianos Minoudakis, who had been working together at that time and several civilians were killed. No other important action was recorded in the Rethymno Group.

    In the Pigi Airfield Group, the 2/11 Australian Battalion conducted a counter-attack to recapture Perivolia village. Although the German positions were bombed by German aircraft, due to their deception by virtue of the panel codes which had come into the possession of the Australians, the Battalion was held in position, within a distance of approximately one kilometre from Agios Georgios of Perivolia, where the main German defence had been organised.

    Further to the east, the 2/1 Australian Battalion counter-attacked to recapture the olive oil refinery of Stavromenos village, but failed, owing to the lack of co-ordination between the actions of the Greeks and the Australians. After this, the troops withdrew during the night to their original positions.

    The  C’  Sector  of  Irakleio

    (Chart no. 31)

        1. In the area of the Irakleio Group, the mopping up of the area continued with patrols, mainly from the 3rd Greek Infantry Regiment and from groups of armed civilians, extending as far as the stream of Giofyros to the west and the village of Arhanes to the south. This operation was terminated before nightfall with total success, so that no German parachutist remained inside the Greek area. The most important German units (III/l, II/2 Battalions) which had a total strength of 500 paratroopers, were forced to adopt their disposition to defence in the area of Tsalikaki-Estavromenos.

    In the area of the Airfield Group Blackguard troops mopped up and repulsed the isolated paratrooper centres which had been established on the eastern fringes of the airfield.

    On the same day, Greek and British teams dealt with collection and burial of the dead Germans, that amounted to approx. 1,250.

    The  Fourth  and  the  Fifth  Day  of  the  German  Attack

    (May 23 and 24, 1941)

    The  A’  Sectors  of  Maleme – Agyia  and  Hania – Souda

    (Chart no. 29)

        1. The withdrawal of the 5th New Zealander Brigade units began at approx. 0630 hrs, on May 23, 1941, and ended at 1000 hrs on the same day. It did not become possible to withdraw the artillery of the Brigade (27th Battalion), since the withdrawal order came to the hands of the Battalion Commander at 0400 hrs, on May 23, with the coming of daylight which led to the abandonment of all guns, after these had been made non-serviceable first, except for two guns belonging to the C’ Battery. The Battalion men formed an infantry section, which was incorporated into the zone of the 28th New Zealander Battalion.

    At approx. 1000 hrs, on May 23, the 5th New Zealander Brigade adopted a new defensive disposition, that was the following: The 28th Battalion around Platanias village. On its east, the 23rd Battalion and on its south the 2lst Battalion. To the south and west of Agia Marina, the 22nd New Zealander battalion had been established and was in the process of reorganisation.

    In the meantime, the German troops, continuing their offensive effort, arrived after a tough struggle, at the level of the line of villages Modio and Patelari, while a detachment from the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment occupied Stalos village.

    The presence of German troops in the area of Stalos village and in particular, the German threat appearing from the south created a new unfavourable situation for the 5th New Zealander Brigade. The strength of the Brigade during the four-day fight had been reduced to approx. 600 men, in contrast with the 2,810 it had at its disposal on May 20.

        1. The Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division, taking under consideration the development of the situation in the zone of the 5th New Zealander Brigade as well as the report of the Commander of the l0th New Zealander Brigade that he was not in a position to confront a powerful enemy attack, decided the following:
    • The 5th New Zealander Brigade was to withdraw eastwards, to the area of Daratsos village, as a reserve.
  • The 4th New Zealander Brigade was to take over the zone of the l0th New Zealander Brigade, the troops of which had been placed under the orders of the 4th Brigade.

  • The l9th New Zealander Battalion and the Land Detachment of the Divisional Cavalry (Russell Detachment) were to remain at their positions.

  • The l9th Australian Brigade, which had been placed under the command of the 2nd New Zealander Division in the meantime, was to extend its line of defence southwards and eastwards.

  • All the above movements were carried out during the night of May 23 to 24.

        1. The 24th May was devoted to the establishment and re-organisation of the units, the improvement of positions and the re-supply in ammunition and other supplies.

    The Military Academy arrived at the village of Hosti after intensive night marches and established its defence there.

    The 2nd Greek Infantry Regiment launched an assault at approx. 0530 hrs, on May 24, upon the German positions in Animbali Tower. The attack lasted until 1700 hrs and then degenerated, owing to the lack of real support and the exhaustion of ammunition of the attacking troops.

    Further to the west, the Germans seized the village of Kastelli after a fight, as well as the surrounding area. The lst Greek Infantry Regiment in the area, after having exhausted its very last ammunition disbanded and its men dispersed in the surrounding villages. Approximately 140 officers and soldiers gradually escaped to the Middle East while those who remained were taken prisoners.

    On the night of May 24, the defence line of the New Zealander Division formed an arc, with its right (northern) end based on the coast and the left at the level of Perivolia village and westwards. Further to the south (the sector of Souda Hania) the line continued by the 2nd Greek Infantry Regiment.

    The disposition of the units was the following: The 4th New Zealander Brigade to the north of Daratsos village. The Russell Detachment around Dapia. The l9th Australian Brigade south of the Agyia-Hania road. The 5th New Zealander Brigade, as a reserve, at the triangle formed by Kladissos river and the roads Agyia-Hania and Platanias-Hania.

    The casualties of the Division exceeded 20% of its original strength. Its subsequent strength amounted to approx. 5,500 men only.

        1. The Germans were reinforced, on May 24, with new forces, which were transferred by air to the area of Maleme. These were. the III/85 Battalion, the Staff of the 85th Mountain Regiment, the 95th Mountain Reconnaissance Battalion, the I, II Battalions of the 95th Pack Artillery Regiment, the 95th Antitank Artillery Battalion, an Antiaircraft Machine-gun company, a Signals unit and a Motorcyclist company.

    The Commander of the 85th Mountain Regiment, Colonel Cracow, and the III/85 Battalion were directed towards the area of Episcopi Alikyanou, where the I/85 Battalion was also situated.

    After these new German reinforcements, the Commander of the German Forces, Major General Riegel, assigned the missions listed below for the following day, May 25.

    • The 85th Mountain Regiment would seize Alikyanos village and the area to the east. Afterwards, it would advance towards Souda and cut off the road Hania-Rethymno.
  • The l00th Mountain Regiment and the Assault Regiment would seize Galatas village and the heights to its north.

  • The 3rd Paratroopers Regiment would move south of the road Agyia-Hania, closely connected with the l00th Regiment towards the north and the 85th Regiment towards the south.

  • The 95th Engineer Battalion and the 55th Motorcyclist Battalion (Sette Detachment) would continue the mopping-up actions in the areas Kolymbari, Kasteli of Kissamos, Kandanos and Palaeochora.

  • As a reserve, there would be the 93rd Reconnaissance Group and the 95th Antitank Battalion. The attack had been scheduled to occur at 0800 hrs, on May 25, upon Alikyanos and at 1320 hrs, of the same day, upon Galatas.

  • The  B’  Sector  of  Rethymno – Georgioupolis

    (Chart no. 30)

        1. From 1300 hrs until 2000 hrs, on May 23, Rethymno was subjected to heavy bombardment. During this bombardment, among others, the barracks and town hospitals were destroyed. The latter were bombed, although they had Red Cross signs on visible areas of its facades.

    An attack, launched by the Rethymno Group against the fortified German forces at Agios Georgios, ended in failure.

    In the Airfield Group, there was a three-hour cease-fire between the Germans and the Australians, in order to bury the dead. During this interval, the Commander of the German troops at the village of Stavromenos, asked for the surrender of the Australians, employing the argument that, the German successes at Maleme and Agyia had rendered their position hopeless. Colonel Campbell rejected the proposal.

    On the morning of May 24, a Scout company, supported by an Artillery platoon and which came from Hania, failed to break through the German positions in the area of Perivolia village and returned to Hania.

    At 0800 hrs, on May 24, the German forces in the area of Agios Georgios, attacked the Rethymno Group. This German action, that lasted until 1400 hrs, was finally repulsed with success by the defending Greek troops of that area and the Germans were forced to return to their line of departure.

    The  C’  Sector  of  Irakleio

    (Chart no. 31 )

        1. On the morning of May 23, inhabitants of Irakleio town reported to the Military Commander, Major General Mikhail Linardakis that relatives of theirs (mostly women and children) had been taken prisoners by the Germans, who used them as a screen during their offensive operations for the occupation of Irakleio.

    After this, the Garrison Commander of Irakleio, Major Emmanuel Tsangarakis, was ordered to meet with the Commander of the local German forces, of whom he was to request that, the women and children should be released, or else counter-measures would be applied against the German prisoners.

    The German Commander accepted the Greek proposal, but demanded the surrender of the town within two hours. The Military Commander of Irakleio rejected the proposal without further discussion and ordered the continuation of defence ‘to the last’.

    On May 23 and 24, the town of Irakleio suffered a severe bombardment which caused entire town-blocks to be completely destroyed. The troops re-supply in bread, food and water became problematic, on account of the destruction of the furnaces and the water network. The little ammunition was exhausted, while the troops were considerably worn down by the incessant fighting.

    Subsequently, the replacement of the Greek troops with British ones was decided on. Thus, the Greek troops retired to the area Knossos-Spilia for re-organisation, which was carried out during the night of May 24 to 25.

    The  Continuation  of  the  German  Attack

    (May 25 to 27, 1941)

    The  A’  Sectors  of  Maleme – Agyia  and  Hania – Souda

    (Chart no. 29)

        1. At 1400 hrs, on May 25, after a severe air bombardment, the 100th German Mountain Regiment attacked the village of Galatas and seized it.

    During that night, troops from the 23rd New Zealander Battalion, the 6th Greek Infantry Regiment along with armed civilians, managed to recapture Galatas village at the end of a hard fight. However, this success was merely of local importance. It simply provided the defenders with a small time gain and nothing more, since the heights to the west and south of the village were still firmly held by the Germans.

    The 8th Greek Infantry Regiment and the groups of armed villagers that were fighting on the line Alykianos-Vatolakos, confronted the 85th German Mountain Regiment with success for the entree duration of May 25. However, lacking further ammunition and food, they withdrew towards the south-east. Upon arriving at the village of Drakones, after two days, they were informed of the collapse of the Hania-Souda Sector and the withdrawal of those forces towards Sfakia, whereupon, being deprived of any escape route, many men were forced to take refuge in the surrounding mountains, while the Regiment Commander moved to Hania, accompanied by approx. 20 officers and 80 soldiers, and surrendered there to the German authorities on May 29.

    The total casualties of the Regiment were: Dead: 2 officers (one of which was the New Zealander liaison), 2 platoon cadets and 60 soldiers. Wounded: 4 officers and approx. 20 soldiers.

        1. Meanwhile, on May 25, the II/85 Battalion also disembarked at Maleme airfield, and was united with its regiment.

    At 2100 hrs, on the same day, the Commander of the German Forces, General Riegel, issued his orders for the next day, which, in general, dictated the continuation of the attack eastwards with the Assault Regiment on the north, the l00th Regiment in the centre and the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment to the south of Galatas.

        1. The Commander of the British-Greek forces, Major General Freiberg, being unaware, due to lack of communications, of the precise development of the situation, remained under the impression that on the night of May 25, the locality was still being held. Nevertheless, he deemed that, in the event of a break through, the question would no longer be how to hold on to Crete, but, rather, how his troops would survive disaster and captivity.

    At midnight on May 25 to 26, he received a report of the Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division, briefing him on the critical nature of the situation at the Galatas area,  as well as about. the decision of the Division Commander to withdraw his troops to a new locality west of Kladissos river. Major General Freiberg approved of the withdrawal of the Division troops, which was carried out during that same night. At the same time, he ordered the unification of the 2nd New Zealander Division Sector with the Sector of Souda, assigning responsibility to the Commander of the MNBDO Group, Major General Weston, as well as the reinforcement of the new line with forces from the Souda Sector. To that end, a new Brigade was organised, the Joint Brigade, from the lst Welsh Battalion and the Akrotiri Group (lst Scout Battalion and Northumberland Hussars), under the orders of the 4th New Zealander Brigade Commander. The command of the 4th New Zealander Brigade was assigned to the Commander of the l0th New Zealander Brigade, Colonel Kippenberger, who had been left without troops. The above Joint Brigade would replace the 5th  New Zealander Brigade on the evening of May 26. The personnel of the Souda Services, that was not part of the combat strength, was ordered to move towards Sfakia.

    In the end, however, these command replacements were not carried out. Thus, the Commander of the 4th New Zealander Brigade remained at his position, while Colonel Kippenberger assumed command of the 20th New Zealander Battalion (4th New Zealander Brigade), which he had also been in command of during the struggles in mainland Greece.

    At 0200 hrs on May 26, Major General Freiberg reported to the Middle East Headquarters that, he had serious doubts as to the ability of containing the Germans on the new line of defence, and at 0930 hrs of the same day, with a new report (message) he requested permission to evacuate Crete.

        1. The German attacks against the positions of the 2nd New Zealander Division began on the morning of May 26. After a hard fight, the Germans managed to occupy Efthimi village with the Assault Regiment, Daratso village with the l00th Mountain Regiment and villages Perivolia and Galaria with the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment.

    During the early night hours, the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment arrived at the village of Mournies, thus threatening to envelop the positions of the 2nd New Zealander Division from the south.

    Faced with this new situation, the Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division requested that the 5th New Zealander and the l9th Australian Brigades be placed in a new locality, east of the Hania-Nerokouros road. The Commander of the Cretan Forces did not approve of that proposal of the Division Head and ordered that the 5th New Zealander Brigade be replaced by the Joint Brigade, and that the area of Mournies should be secured by the l9th Australian Brigade. The Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division was not notified of the above decision and being unable to re-establish the liaison which had been cut off, decided to withdraw to the new position. There, the Division became established, between 0300 hrs and 0400 hrs on May 27.

    The right (north) of the new defensive line was occupied by the l9th Australian Brigade and the left (south) by the 5th New Zealander Brigade.

    The Headquarters of the 2nd New Zealander Division and the 4th New Zealander Brigade were established at Stylos village.

    The Joint Brigade, under the orders of the Commander of the lst Welsh Battalion was established at the previous positions of the 5th New Zealander Brigade, with its flanks left completely without cover.

    The Depot Battalion of Hania was ordered to move from the town of Hania to the area of Katsifariana, in order to cover the Hania-Souda road from the west

    This was carried out as planned.

        1. During the course of the same day, the 141st German Mountain Regiment (minus battalion), the remaining troops of the 95th Reconnaissance Group, the heavy weapons of the l00th Mountain Regiment and the remainder of the 95th Artillery Regiment landed in the area of Maleme,.

    The disposition of the German forces, on the night of May 26, was the following, from north to south: The Assault Regiment, from the coast to the northern fringes of Daratsos village. The l00th Mountain Regiment, from the northern fringes of Daratsos to the Alikyanos-Hania road. The 3rd Paratroopers Regiment astride the Alikyanos-Hania road. The 141st Mountain Regiment in the area of the villages Galaria and Perivolia and lastly, the 85th Mountain Regiment from the village of Perivolia to the Ravine of Mourianos river.

    On May 27, the German plan dictated an attack against Hania with the Assault Regiment, the l00th Mountain Regiment, the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment and the 141st Mountain Regiment, aiming at the immobilisation of the British forces. To the south of the 141st Mountain Regiment, there would be action by the 85th Mountain Regiment towards Stylos and Megala, seeking to cut off the retreat routes of the British forces. The 95th Reconnaissance Group would be acting towards Neo Horio, covering the right flank of the whole disposition.

        1. At approx. 0100 hrs, on May 27 British warships sailed into Souda harbour and the A’ and D’ Raiding Battalions (750 men approx.) disembarked. The ships sailed, after boarding approx. 930 men, incapable of fighting.

    Major General Weston, Commander of the Hania-Souda Sector, established a force of 200 men from the A’ Raiding Battalion in Souda, in order to protect the town and docks, the remainder of the A’ Raiding battalion (company strength) in the area of Beritiana so as to cover the road to Sfakia and the entire D’ Raiding Battalion in the area Hani Babali, so as to contain the Germans in case the defence at Beritiana collapsed.

        1. On the morning of May 27, the Germans began their attack a against the positions of the Joint Brigade, using troops from the Assault Regiment and the l00th Mountain Regiment. By that afternoon, the Joint Brigade had disbanded. Of its 1,300 men, 350 fled towards Sfakia, while the rest were either killed or taken prisoners along with their Commander.

    Subsequently, the German troops entered Hania and at 1800 hrs, the Mayor surrendered the town to the Commander of the l00th Mountain Regiment.

    Further to the south, the 141st Mountain Regiment arrived at the level of the road Hania-Nerokouros, having been delayed for over an hour by the Depot Battalion of Hania. There, it was severely counter-attacked by the 5th and l9th Brigades and was forced to withdraw approx. two kilometres back, having lost approx. 300 men.

        1. Meanwhile, the Commanders of the above Brigades, having realised that German troops had infiltrated their uncovered southern flank, and that they were running the risk of getting cut off, they withdrew their troops, on the night of May 27 to 28, to the areas Stylos and Neo Horio respectively.

    The 4th New Zealander Brigade, that had already withdrawn to the area of Stylos village, was ordered at 1000 hrs, on May 27, to move to the valley of Askyfos, in order to repulse possible parachute drops in that area and to cover the road from Vrysses village to Georgioupolis.

    The Commander of the German forces, believing that the British were withdrawing towards Rethymno, oriented the bulk of his forces in that direction. Thus, while the Germans were moving towards Rethymno, the British forces of Western Crete, along with the representatives of the Greek Government[1] were directed towards Sfakia.

    At 1550 hrs, on May 27, the order of the Commander in chief of the Middle East was received, whereby the evacuation of Crete was approved of. Major General Freiberg tried at once to notify the Rethymno Garrison accordingly, but having been unable to communicate with it, requested that the latter be briefed directly by the Middle East Headquarters, but that failed to occur.

    The Garrison of Irakleio had been directly notified by the Middle East Headquarters.

    The  B’  Sector  Rethymno – Georgioupolis

    (Chart no. 30)

        1. The Commander of the Airfield Group, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, decided to launch a final attack on May 26, in order to recapture the village of Stavromenos. The attack was conducted by the 5th Greek Infantry Regiment and Australian troops and recorded total success. There were 100 Germans taken prisoners, including 42 wounded, and considerable quantities of armament, clothing items and communications equipment were seized.

    The Rethymno Group, on both May 25 and May 26, continued to occupy its positions west and south of Perivolia village and to harass the Germans with patrols.

    On May 27, the Germans attacked the Gendarmerie company that was in the area of Kastelakia, but to no avail.

    The  C’  Sector  of  Irakleio.

    (Chart no. 31)

        1. On the morning of May 25, the German airforce resumed the bombings and afterwards, the German forces that were on the west of the town, attacked Irakleio. The attack mainly sought to engage as many British units as possible, so as to weaken the Airfield Group, which constituted the main objective. The attack was repulsed by the defending British forces in the area. In the evening on the same day, the German troops moved eastwards, so as to join forces with the troops situated on the east of the airfield.

    Meanwhile, a British battalion that arrived from Tymbaki, entered the defensive area at the end of a fight and occupied the positions of the 2nd Leicester Battalion, which became a reserve of the Commander of the l4th British Brigade.

    On the same day, the Command Station of the 2nd Military Command of Crete was re-stationed from Spilia to Arhanes, where there was a telephone centre. On the night of May 25 to 26, the 3rd Greek Regiment arrived for reorganisation and re-supply. The entire strength was reorganised into two regiments, of one thousand men each, under the orders of the Commander of the III Military Department, Colonel Papathanassopoulos.

        1. The German troops that moved eastwards, after bypassing the weak Greek resistance south of Irakleio, attacked, at 0700 hrs on May 26, and seized the hill of Prophitis Elias that a platoon of the 2/4 Australian Battalion had been defending. A counter-attack to recapture the hill, that was launched by forces of the 7th Greek Regiment, ended in failure.

    Thus, the German forces in the Sector of Irakleio, joined in the area east of the airfield and began to prepare for attack, which was decided to be launched in the evening of May 29. On the following day, May 27, the Guns were reinforced with one additional battalion, which had disembarked at Gournes of Irakleio, and continued the preparations for the attack upon the airfield.

    Furthermore, the Commander of the Irakleio Sector did not notify his troops of the evacuation order. Instead, he ordered the conduct of offensive action, where it was deemed necessary, in order to improve the unit positions.

    The  Collapse  of  the  Defensive  and  the  Evacuation  of  the  Island

    (May 28 until June 1, 1941)

    The  A’  Sectors  of  Maleme – Agyia  and  Hania – Souda

    (Chart no. 28)

        1. During the early morning hours of May 28, the Commander of the Cretan Forces, Major General Freiberg, in accordance with the evacuation instructions he had received from the Middle East Headquarters, issued an order to Major General Weston, whereby all details concerning the evacuation were being dealt with.

    The evacuation would be carried out from the shores of Sfakia and Loutron at the following pace.

    • On the night of May 28/29                1,000 men
  • On the night of May 29/30                6,000 men

  • On the night of May 30/31                3,000 men

  • On the night of May 31/June 1          3,000 men

  • The post of commander in charge for the evacuation of all troops from the former Sectors of Maleme-Agyia and Hania-Souda, was assigned to General Weston, who also issued the necessary orders on the afternoon of May 28.

    On the basis of these orders, the 4th New Zealander Brigade would have to retain its positions at the southern entrance of the Askyfos valley until May 29, whereupon it would withdraw to the embarkation coast. The l9th Australian Brigade on the morning of May 29, would have to occupy defence positions on Vitalokoumos height (2 kms north-east of Sfakia). The Raiding units (A’ and D’ Battalions) would have to be defensively established in order to cover the road, east of the ravine, at Komitades village. The 5th New Zealander Brigade would have to move to the embarkation areas, except for the 23rd Battalion, which would remain under the command of the 4th Brigade at the positions it already held.

    At 2200 hrs, on May 28, four warships sailed into the harbour of Sfakia and approx. 1100 men embarked, including 230 wounded.

        1. In the meantime, the Commander of the German Forces in Crete, Major General Riegel, being still unaware of the withdrawal of the British forces southwards, continued to move the bulk of his forces towards Rethymno and only part of the l00th Mountain Regiment advanced southwards, in order to mop up the road to Sfakia.

    The 5th New Zealander Brigade continued to move towards the coast, where it concentrated its forces on the morning of May 30. The 4th New Zealander Brigade began to withdraw concurrently with the withdrawal of the 23rd Battalion, thus revealing the defence locality of the l9th Australian Brigade as well as of one motorised section, that were situated on the north of Imvros village.

    At 2230 hrs on May 29, eight warships sailed into Sfakia and approx. 6,000 men embarked, including 550 wounded. This convoy, that sailed away at 0320 hrs, on May 30, included the Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division and his Headquarters.

        1. At 0500 hrs n May 30, German troops from the l00th Mountain Regiment attacked the motorised section north of Imvros village. This section, after delaying the Germans until that afternoon, moved behind the positions of the l9th Australian Brigade. The German troops continued their attack against the l9th Australian Brigade, but to no avail. After this, the Commander of the l00th Mountain Regiment ordered enveloping movements from the mountains and abandoned the frontal attack.

    On the night of May 30 to 3l, only 2 destroyers sailed into Sfakia, out of the 4 which had set off for the same purpose. These sailed away at 0300 hrs on May 3l, with approx. 1,500 men from the 4th and 5th New Zealander Brigades. On two hydroplanes, the representatives of the Greek Government and the Commander of the Cretan Forces, Major General Freiberg, also departed for Egypt. The latter, before leaving, had assigned the command of the entire Cretan Strength to Major General Weston.

        1. During the course of the day, on May 3l, the Germans did not attempt a new attack, but merely harassed with their fire the positions of the l9th Australian Brigade and the A’ and D’ Raiding Battalions.

    At approx. 2320 hrs, 4 warships sailed into Sfakia carrying the remaining sections of the 5th New Zealander Brigade, the 2/8 Australian Battalion, the Commander of the l9th Australian Brigade with his Staff and some Greek and British men from other units, the total strength amounting to approx. 4,050 men.

    Meanwhile, Major General Weston gave a written order to Lieutenant Colonel Colvin, whereby, the troops that were unable to leave, were being permitted to capitulate with the Germans. During the same night, Major General Weston and the Commander of the 5th New Zealander Brigade abandoned Crete by hydroplane.

        1. The troops of the l00th Mountain Regiment became aware, for the first time, that the bulk of the British forces was situated opposite them, on the coast of Sfakia, on the morning of June 1.

    Subsequently, two battalions of the l00th Mountain Regiment advanced towards the coast, supported by the airforce and one gun. However, this action of the Germans was by then pointless, since white flags had been raised and the allied forces that were isolated on the coast, surrendered, except for a few hundreds that fled to the mountains and were hospitably received by the villagers. Of those men as well as out of the entire strength of the British Forces in Crete, approx. 600 fled to the Middle East by September 1941. The prisoners were driven to prisoner camps, which were organised in the area of Maleme and in the children summer camps of Hania.

    The  B’  Sector  of  Rethymno – Georgioupolis

    (Chart no. 30)

        1. On May 28, the command of the Rethymno Group was informed of the collapse of the defence in the Sector of Hania, the withdrawal of the British forces to Sfakia and the departure of the King and the Government from Crete.

    This information naturally caused a great decline in the morale of the fighting troops and the population, since new German forces could arrive at the area from the direction of Hania. Subsequently, the view that capitulation was necessary began to prevail, in order to avoid futile loss and destruction.

    On the night of May 29 to 30, a German motorised detachment, under the command of Major Witman (Witman Detachment), entered and seized Rethymno without encountering any resistance. Gendarmerie Troops, armed civilian groups and certain soldiers groups from the Depot Battalion awaited the Germans east of Rethymno for a final confrontation, but were forced to surrender after a brief resistance.

        1. The Commanders of the 4th and 5th Greek Regiments of the Airfield Group were informed on the evening of May 29, of the collapse of the defence in Western Crete and of the approach of German forces to Rethymno from the direction of Hania, as well as of the Rethymno Group Commander’s decision to capitulate. Thus, lacking food and ammunition, they deemed that any further fighting would be pointless and the sacrifices futile. Therefore, at 2200 hrs, on May 29, they decided to withdraw to Adele village and Arkadi, respectively. There, the 5th Greek regiment disbanded, the men who were natives of Crete returned to their villages and the rest were allocated to various communities. The men of the 4th Greek Regiment surrendered to the Germans, in accordance with the decision of the Regiment Commander.

    The Commander of the Pigi Airfield, Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, being unaware of the order to evacuate the island, issued orders for the continuation of the fight. At midday, on May 30, he finally realised that he was encircled from all directions and that any defence attempt would be futile. Thus, he decided to surrender along with his units. The Commander of the 2/11 Battalion left his officers and soldiers free and some surrendered while others followed him to the mountains where they took refuge. The remainder of the Australian Force surrendered to the Germans along with the Group Commander.

    The  C’  Sector  of  Irakleio

    (Chart no. 31)

        1. On the morning of May 28, Brigadier Chapel communicated the order for the evacuation from the harbour of Irakleio, during a meeting with the commanders of the British units (the Greeks were not invited to join them and remained uninformed until the end). By night, the British troops began to move towards the harbour, as planned. At 2330 hrs, 2 cruisers and 6 destroyers sailed in and the British embarked. The ships sailed to Egypt at approx. 0330 hrs, on May 29, without attracting the attention of the Germans.

    The Greek troops remained at their positions on May 28, without attempting any action. On the night of May 28 to 29, they were informed of the occupation of Hania and Souda by the Germans and of the flight of the British to Sfakia, while on the morning of May 29, the discovered that the British troops of the Irakleio Sector had also evacuated the area. Subsequently, they decided to call a truce.

    On the morning of May 29, German reconnaissance patrols that moved towards the British perimeter encountered no resistance in the town area nor at the airfield. Thus, the German forces moved and seized the airfield and the town of Irakleio, while the German command was established at the barracks of the 43rd Infantry Regiment.

    On May 30, Major General Linardakis met, at the camp of the 43rd Infantry Regiment, with the German Commander, Colonel Breuer, in order to sign the truce. At approx. 2215 hrs, he issued orders concerning the deposition and concentration of weapons, except for those troops guarding the Italian prisoners until the latter were delivered to the hands of the Germans. These orders were addressed to the army troops and Police Authorities of the Prefecture of Irakleio and Lasithi.

    436    In the meantime, in the afternoon of that same day,  the Witman Detachment also arrived at Irakleio. This Detachment, after encountering the troops of Colonel Breuer in that area, continued its movement and reached Ierapetra by the same evening, where it met with an Italian regiment which had landed there on May 28, from the Dodecanese, by approval of the Commander of the IV Air Force, Air Marshal Lore.

    On May 3l, the Greek troops were re-stationed at Peza village. As of June l, by order of the German Command, two companies were re-stationed at Irakleio, while the remainder strength moved to the plain of Messaria, accompanied by a few officers. The other officers remained at Peza and Arhanes and as of June 9 they were transported by motor vehicle to the prisoners of Maleme and the children’s summer camps in Hania,  where prisoners from the Cretan forces had been concentrated. From June 20 until the end of November, the Greek prisoners were gradually released. The officers, soldiers and armed civilians, that fled to the mountains, later formed resistance forces throughout Crete, helping the allied struggle with their own struggles and sacrifices.

        1. Thus, after a ten day fight, the battle of Crete ended with the German forces prevailing. The losses were extremely grave on both sides and were the following[2] :
    • Greeks: Dead: (verified) 336 and a large number of wounded and prisoners.
  • British: Dead: 1,742, wounded: 1,737 and prisoners: 11,835. Furthermore, 2 cruisers and 6 destroyers were sunk and more than 2,000 officers and sailors were recorded missing.

  • Germans: Dead: 1,990, missing: 1,955 and a large number of wounded. In total, the casualties of the elite corps of German paratroopers exceeded 8,000 men. The aircraft losses amounted to 220 completely destroyed and approx. 150 with serious damages. This discouraged the Germans from daring to attempt another operation of this kind until the end of the war.

  • A  General  Review  of  the  Battle  of  Crete

    1. The events related in the two previous chapters (VII and VIII), cover the period from May 20 to June 1, 1941, which is known as the BATTLE OF  CRETE. The following constitutes a summary of the above described events.

    With the beginning of the Greek – Italian War, the responsibility for the security of Crete was assumed by Britain, by agreement with the Greek Government, owing to the geo-political position and the strategic importance of the island for the British interests in the Middle East. The V Division, which had been stationed at Crete until then, was mobilised and transferred to mainland Greece, where it was employed in the Albanian Theatre of Operations.

        1. At the end of April 1941, the Command of the British Greek Forces in Crete was assigned to the Commander of the 2nd New Zealander Division, Major General Freiberg. Until then, no final plans had been drawn for the defence of the island and the preparations for the confrontation of a serious enemy invasion had made very little progress, although the German attack was considered to be imminent. The entire military strength of Crete, after being reinforced with forces that were transferred from mainland Greece, amounted to approx. 11,500 Greeks and 31,500 British, but was seriously lacking in the area of armament, since the weapons, ammunitions and other supplies were significantly below the acceptable rates. Furthermore, there was no airforce on the island, while the available guns and tanks were deemed totally inadequate.

    Upon assuming command of the Cretan Forces, Major General Freiberg examined the situation and requested from the Middle East Commander in chief that, guns, ammunition, and other supplies and equipment be immediately sent, and that air and naval support be provided. Unfortunately, less than half of the supplies sent to the island arrived there, owing to the action of the enemy airforce.

    The forces of Crete were allocated to the Sectors of Maleme, Hania, Rethymno and Irakleio, on the basis of the importance and vulnerability of the strategic points of the island, their mission being the defence of the island prohibiting the enemy to use its airfields and harbours.

        1. Hitler had focused his attention on the island of Crete long before Germany manifested its intentions to act against Greece. He believed that by occupying Crete he would secure a rapid success in the Eastern Mediterranean, and that the attack upon the island ought to be conducted by airborne action.

    Thus, on April 25, 1941, the no. 28 order of general directions was issued, under the code name ‘HERMES’, regarding the operation to occupy Crete.

    The entire German strength engaged in the attack upon Crete amounted to 22,750 men, 1,370 aircraft and 70 ships. The operation was also supported by a small number of Italian destroyers and torpedo boats, while a reinforced Italian regiment, by request of Mussolini, was to land on the coast of the island from the Dodecanese. This action was eventually carried out in the end of May, when the fate of the island had already been decided.

    1. The German attack from air upon Crete began on the morning of May 20. After a heavy bombardment, numerous flights of transport aircraft began to drop parachutists in the area Hania-Maleme. Simultaneously, gliders began to land, carrying airborne troops. A tough struggle ensued, during the course of which the Germans managed to create a small bridgehead east of Tavronitis river and to place the Maleme airfield and height 107 under the control of their fire, that being the vital area of 2nd New Zealander Division. After this, the British forces abandoned height 107 on the night of May 20 to 21 and withdrew further to the south-east.

    In the areas of Rethymno and Irakleio the German attack broke out on the afternoon of the same day. The paratroopers in these areas suffered extremely grave casualties and were unable to record any success.

        1. Major General Freiberg, unaware, due to untimely briefing by the Commander of the 5th New Zealander Brigade, of the critical situation which had arisen in the Maleme Sector, was late in his intervention to regain control of the locality. Thus, the counter-attack, that was launched at 0330 hrs on May 22 in order to recapture Maleme airfield ended in failure.

    After the failure of the above counter-attack and the advance of the German forces, that were constantly reinforced in the north-east, the British-Greek forces in the area withdrew to a new locality further east, on the night of May 23 to 24.

    As of that day, the initiative for the operations had been shifted to the Germans, while the fate of the island had by then been decided. Nevertheless, hard fighting continued, with the active participation of the islanders, until May 29, whereupon the British forces began to evacuate Crete. The retirement of the greatest part of the British forces was terminated at 2320 hrs, on May 31. Those British who remained on the island, as well as the Greek troops there, capitulated with the Germans or sought refuge in mountainous areas, from which they later fled to the Middle East.

    Thus, after a ten day fight, the Battle of Crete ended with the German forces prevailing, despite the bravery displayed by the British-Greek forces and the stubborn resistance of the Cretan people, whose courage, valour and spirit of self-sacrifice were unsurpassable and attracted the admiration of both the Greeks and all their Allies.

    The cost of this victory, however, was so high that, the Germans did not dare  another such action until the end of the war. Crete, as the Commander of the XI German Corps, Air Vice Marshal Student was forced to admit, became ‘the Tomb of the German Parachutists’.


    [1] King George and Prime Minister Emm. Tsouderos had already departed for Alexandria in Egypt on the night of May 23 to 24, from the bay of Agia Roumeli, with the British destroyer ‘DECOY’.

    [2] Brigadier Stylianos Kallonas,  ‘The Battle of Crete’ p. 72.

    Publishing Dpt/AGS, ‘Military History Topics’ p. 361.

      1. MCD. G. Stewart, ‘The Battle of Crete’ Part B’, p. 372

    Source: stratistoria.wordpress.com