The Battle of Crete, the subject of this volume, is the final act of the war drama that resulted in the occupation of Greece by the German and Italian forces.
The loss of the Battle of Crete by the British forces which were assembled in the island in a disorganized condition and, in some cases, without weapons after their struggle in mainland Greece, was largely due to total lack of air support and poor means of antiaircraft defense. Lack of coordination in the defense efforts of the British forces, the result of the destruction of the communication means of the British command with its subordinated forces from the very first hours, also contributed greatly to the unfortunate outcome of the battle.
The Greek units, hastily organized, with only very limited arms and equipment, as well as the voluntary participation of the local populace of Crete in the struggle, could not prevent the inevitable, despite their acts of heroism. Συνέχεια
The German Preparatory Bombardments and the Results
- 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’.
- 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. Συνέχεια
The Strategic Importance of the Island of Crete
- 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. Συνέχεια
Final Gleams of the Epirus Epopee
(Sketch-map no. 20)
- The Greek Army, in the Albanian Theatre of Operations, after its victorious struggles and its advance deep into the northern Epirus territory, was confined, during the months of January and February 1941, to static fighting, mainly due to the extreme severity of the winter. From March 9 to 26, it had confronted the ‘Spring’ attack of the Italians with success and retained the occupied territory.
Despite the fatigue and the hardships of war, the Greek Army preserved its high morale and aimed at new successes.
Since March 27 and until the German attack of April 6, the situation in the Theatre of Operations did not present any significant changes. The war activity was mainly confined to artillery and patrol action, in order to maintain contact. The conduct of a few local operations in the sector of the Western Macedonia Field Army Section (WMFAS) was an exception aiming mainly at the improvement of the occupied positions. Συνέχεια
The German Threat
- Once Hitler decided to turn against Russia, in the summer of 1940, the Balkan Peninsula became of special strategic importance for the Germans. The occupation of the Balkan peninsula constituted a necessary condition for the assumption of this campaign, in order to safeguard the German Armies that would be operating eastwards, from the south.
The occupation of the Balkan Peninsula was also supported by the argument that, the presence of strong German forces would force Turkey to join the Axis or at least to reinforce its neutrality. Furthermore, it would secure the oil-wells of Romania, which were very important for the conduct and spreading of the war, from possible British air raids which would make use of the airfields in Greece for that purpose. What is more, the descent of the Germans to the Balkan peninsula was bound to prevent the unfortunate consequences of a possible failure of the Italian attack against Greece, according to the estimate of the German General Staff. Συνέχεια
The General Military Situation in the beginning of 1941 ( Sketch-map no. 13 )
- As previously mentioned in the development of operations until this point, on November l4, the Greek forces undertook to launch a general counter-attack throughout the entire Albanian Theatre of Operations. After a two-month hard struggle under extremely adverse weather conditions and despite the stubborn resistance and the continual reinforcement of the enemy with new units, they managed to repulse the Italians far beyond the Greek-Albanian borders, from 30 to 50 kilometres inland, and were able to reach the general line of Himara-Boliena-Tserevonda-Soukagora mountain-Kamia mountain-Pogradetz.
The general disposition of the Greek forces on the evening of January 6, 1941, was the following:
-In the Southern Sector, the A’ Army Corps, with its HQ at Dervitsani, had been set up defensively in the zone from Himara to mount Debelit and had the III, VIII and II Divisions at its disposal in the direction west to east.
-In the Central Sector, the B’ Army Corps, with its HQ at Premeti, continuing its offensive operations, occupied the zone from the valley of Aoos river (included) to Tomoros mountain and had the I, XV and XI Divisions at its disposal in the direction south to north. Συνέχεια
Intentions of the General Headquarters regarding Future Operations
(Sketch-map no. 8)
- During the first period of war and after the containment of the Italian offensive and the favourable outcome of the operations conducted by the Greek Army, the General Headquarters began to examine the question of the line which would have to be occupied and secured before the advent of winter, whereupon serious resupply difficulties were bound to occur. Various solutions were considered to that effect. In the end, the decision taken was to move all Greek forces west of the Pindos mountain bulk and to secure their resupply by using the carriage road of Koritsa-Erseka-Mertzani-Ioannina.
This solution was selected, because it would greatly facilitate the resupply of the forces allocated to the mountainous areas. Moreover, it presented an additional advantage, i.e. the capacity to transport troops from one part of the Theatre of Operations to the other rapidly, as compared to the long stretch of road, used up until then, that travelled through Koritsa-Kastoria-Grevena-Kalambaka-Metsovo-Ioannina-Elea. Συνέχεια
Political and Military Situation on the Eve of the Italian Attack
- By October l940, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Poland, had already been occupied by the Powers of the Axis.
Britain, which had managed to salvage, after the disaster of Dunkirk, only the manpower of its expeditionary force in France, had been left to fend for itself and the threat of an invasion on its home territory had not been fully averted, despite the resistance and victories of the British Airforce.
In Africa, the Italians were pressing the British. British Somalia had been taken, while, along the borders of Abyssinia and English-Egyptian Sudan, the Italians had recorded important successes.
Furthermore, the entrance of Italy in the war, on the side of Germany, and the capitulation of France, had rendered the Allied transport network towards the Mediterranean both unsafe and awkward.
Neither Russia, nor America had yet got involved in the conflict. On October 12, 1940, President Roosevelt had defined the two fundamental principles of the United States foreign policy. Namely, the protection of the entire Western Hemisphere by American forces and the continuation of all types of aid towards Britain, except for the dispatch of troops. Συνέχεια
The Military and Political Situation in the Balkan Peninsula in the Beginning of 1939 and the Expansionist Aspirations of Italy
- In July, l923, after the Treaty of Lausanne, Greece strove to organise the country and restore it from the ruins of the First World War and the Asia Minor Expedition. The enormous problem of the reception, relief and rehabilitation of approximately one and a half million expatriate refugees from Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor demanded an immediate solution. Furthermore, other vital issues that needed to be dealt with, were the reorganisation of the army, the economic recovery and the restoration of order in internal political affairs.
The primary concern of the foreign policy was to secure the territorial integrity and to safeguard the national independence. Initially, Greece sought to fulfil this aim within the bounds of the general guarantees, offered by the charter of the League of Nations (LoN). However, when the collective security system and the LoN mechanisms proved powerless to guarantee the right of national inviolability, the rendering of justice and peace to the smaller countries, Greece was forced to resort to the old-fashioned practice of balance of forces and to the direct communication among the countries. Thus, after a five-year diplomatic isolation, Greece began to exercise a policy that sought to broaden the co-operation with its neighbours, in order to solve existing differences and pending issues. These acts led to the reinforcement of the bipartite ties between states and a series of friendship pacts were signed with Balkan and non Balkan states, as follows: Συνέχεια