The Germans called it “Operation Mercury”. We know it as the Battle of Crete. Of all the military campaigns fought in Greece during the Second World War, the Battle of Crete will be remembered as one of the strongest acts of defiance against the Nazi aggressors.
Although German troops eventually overran Greece’s largest island, it showed for the first time in the war that the Nazi’s were not infallible. Many Australian, British and New Zealand troops fought valiantly with their Cretan allies in the great battle, forging a special bond between the island’s people and the ANZAC troops.
The strategic position of Crete was of paramount importance for Hitler to gain a strong foothold in South Eastern Europe and allow his troops to continue their campaign in the middle East and prepare for new attacks on the Russian front. On May 20 1941, the sky over Crete was filled with German paratroopers. Thousands of troops from various parachute and mountain divisions were dropped in the air raid. Most of the allied anti-craft were destroyed. Undeterred, allied troops delayed their fire and began shooting at paratroopers as they descended. Many Cretans using older, self – loading guns, aimed and attacked the enemy. With limited ammunition and manpower, Cretan villagers and ANZA Ctroops fought gallantly together, eventually containing the German paratroopers to three main areas of the island.
Despite the heavy toll, after seven days of continuous fighting, the Germans deployed more air power and managed to override the island, capturing strategic military positions near Hania, and Rethimno in the west and Iraklio on the eastern flank of the island. Many ANZAC troops and Cretans continued fighting even though defeat was inevitable.
By June the 1st 1941, the Battle of Crete was over. However, its eventual occupation came at a heavy price for both sides. During the ten days of fighting, 781 Australians and New Zealanders were killed and more than 3000 captured. During the evacuation Cretan villagers risked their own lives providing food and shelter for many ANZAC troops who remained on the island, hiding them from Nazi forces.
The courageous efforts of ANZAC troops together with the brave Greek and particularly Cretan people, dealt a severe blow to the Nazi’s.
For more information, please refer to www.anzacsingreece.com.au or facebook at anzacs in crete – 1941.