On the occasion that today is the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Crete, we would like to remind you of the history of those events that began on May 20, 1941. This operation was codenamed Merkury (German: Unternehmen Merkur) and its purpose was to capture Crete by German airborne troops. From the very first moments, civilians who supported the Allied forces actively participated in the defense activities. Unfortunately, after eleven days of heavy fighting, the whole island came under the control of German troops and the Cretans experienced terrible repression.
This quick defeat of the Allied forces seemed almost unbelievable, because initially the victory in this war chess party seemed to be on the British side. They started the game with a few more pieces on the board, and even more importantly knowing the exact intentions of the opponent. Despite all these advantages, the battle for Crete was lost by them.
General Bernard Freyberg commanding the Allied forces, thanks to the news transmitted by British intelligence, had knowledge to predict the exact location of the German forces landing. Maleme airport was the key that opened the gate to Crete. German generals were aware that mastering this piece of the island in the first hours of the attack would determine the success or failure of this battle.
General Bernard Freyberg (on the right)
(photo source wikipedia.org)
Despite the fact that the British general knew the exact plans and intentions of the opponent, however, the incomprehensible tactical game he took seemed to contradict this. Knowing that the main landing of German troops would be aimed at Maleme airport, the rearrangement ordered by General Bernard Freyberg led to the diversion of part of the Allied forces to defend the coast. With this strange and incomprehensible behavior he lost the greatest asset of surprise, which would allow to keep Crete in the hands of the Allies.
However, even these inept tactical moves made by the British staff did not equalize the chances of both sides. The landing of German parachutists was still burdened with a very large risk margin. Without heavy support, light infantry forces could be an easy target for Allied defense.
The chaos in the first hours of Operation Mercury seemed to confirm this entirely. The landing of German troops began with real slaughter, under many falling parachutes the inert bodies of German soldiers swayed, who died without even touching the Cretan soil. Even worse, even those who managed to land successfully were hard to call full-fledged armed forces. A significant part of the soldiers had only light small arms or personal equipment, which in practice meant that their only weapon was a bayonet.
A wartime British documentary about the Battle of Crete
The decision by the German command proved that the armament of paratroopers would be dropped in separate containers. In practice, it turned out that finding them in hostile territory, where almost all civilians were actively resisting, was a very difficult task. The specter of the defeat of the German landing seemed to hang in the air.
This was the beginning of the Battle of Crete, whose 78th anniversary falls on May 20. If you are interested in this story, we highly recommend you to read the publication of Antony Beevor " Crete: Conquest and Resistance " available by the publishing house of Znak publishing house, where you will find a description of the entire Operation Mercury and the war history of Crete.