|Crete Campaign Pt. 1 - Maleme Airfield|
|by Ian Darley|
Lieutenant-Colonel L.W. Andrew VC, the commander of 22 Battalion deployed in the crucial positions dominating the airfield, especially Hill 107. Andrew's decision to pull back off the hill during the night of 20–21 May opened the way for the Germans to occupy it without opposition on the morning of the 21st. Assuming incorrectly that two of his companies on the edge of the airfield had been overrun, he determined to pull back to occupy defensive positions before daylight, when the Luftwaffe would make such a maneuver too dangerous.
- Crete 1941
Scenario Contest Winner
This scenario was written by our first Axis and Allies Miniatures Scenario Contest winner Ian Darley. Once again, congratulations to Ian and all our participants. In the upcoming weeks we will be providing the scenarios for the three honorable mentions as well.
Operation Mercury, codename for the German invasion of Crete in May 1941 demonstrated to the world the value and effectiveness of airborne forces. After the fall of Crete every major power either began or renewed, in the case of the USSR, the development of their own airborne forces. Ironically, the dreadful cost in aircraft and highly trained soldiers resulted in Hitler’s order to never attempt another such operation. Of an assault force of 22,000 men the Germans suffered 6,500 (30%) casualties, of which 3,352 (15%) were killed.
The defenses were manned by forces from the British, Australian, New Zealand and Greek armed forces withdrawing from Greece enroute to Egypt. These forces were augmented by the local Cretan population who, despite many invasions over the centuries, were once more ready to defend their homes. This was to come as a nasty surprise to the German invader for they were not expecting the Cretan people to remain loyal to the Greek King George II.
The initial German attack came on May 20th, with the 7th Airborne Division parachuting in to capture the airfields of Maleme and Hania in the morning with a 2nd air drop in the afternoon at the airfields of Heraklion and Rethymnon. The lack of Ju52 aircraft forced the break up of a concentrated attack. Once the airfields were captured, gliders would then bring in the remainder of the initial airborne forces. Further reinforcements would be brought over by ship from Greece. This seaborne force was intercepted by a Royal Navy force of 4 cruisers and 3 destroyers. Despite the gallantry of a lone Italian destroyer most of this convoy was destroyed. A 2nd convoy returned to port in Greece before the RN could intercept.
The initial parachute landings met with fierce resistance and despite heavy casualties the German paratroopers failed to take any of the airfields. Most of the heavier arms including rifles were dropped separately from the men in canisters. This left the German soldier with a pistol, a knife and 4 grenades. Many of the canisters fell into the hands of the islands defenders and the Germans frequently found themselves taking fire from their own equipment. In addition, the Cretan population rose up and began killing the German paratroopers as the opportunity arose.
By nightfall on the 20th May, the Germans had failed to take any of their objectives, were running low on ammunition and were scattered all over the island. The assault commander, General Suessman, had been killed when his glider crashed. His deputy commander for Maleme, General Meindel was critically wounded during the landing, leaving the German command on the island decapitated. Only at Maleme had the Germans made it to the airfield and were pressing hard against Hill 107, the main defense point of the airfield. Here at Maleme was where things went wrong for the Allies.
Acting on incorrect information that led him to believe that several of his units had been overrun, the commander of 22 battalion decided to pull back his remaining units under the cover of darkness and free from the danger of the Luftwaffe.
The Germans took the airfield and began bring in troops of the 5th Gebirgs Division and much needed supplies and ammunition. If the defenders were unable to retake the airfield defeat was inevitable.
Scenario: Crete Campaign Pt. 1 - Maleme Airfield & Hill 107
The commander of 22 Bn, Ltc L.W. Andrew’s decision to pull back off Hill 107 during the night of 20–21 May opened the way for the Germans to occupy Hill 107 and Maleme airfield without opposition on the morning of the 21st. Recognizing the threat posed by a reinforced and resupplied enemy, the Allied HQ quickly organized a desperate counterattack to retake Maleme airfield and Hill 107.
The counterattack took place on the 21st of May consisting of two Matilda II tanks and elements of the New Zealand 20th Battalion. Initially the 2 tanks caused some panic in the German ranks but they were soon overrun and destroyed as the main guns were supplied with anti-tank rounds in one case and in the other with 15mm rounds for the 40mm guns. The counterattack was driven off and the German positions around Maleme secured.
With the counterattack by NZ forces driven back German reinforcements began to flow into Crete and the allied retreat to Spakion and evacuation began. More than 12,000 men were evacuated before the remaining garrison of 12,000 men surrendered to the Germans on June 1. An indicator of the ferocity of the Cretan resistance can be seen in the graveyards scattered across Crete. Germany acknowledged 3,352 KIA during the invasion of Crete. During the ceremonies on Crete in 1945 commemorating the resistance to German occupation, the German cemetery at Maleme alone had 4,465 graves. Crete is remembered as the “Graveyard of the Fallschirmjagers.”
Sources and Links
Crete 1941, Osprey, Peter D Antill
Australian War Memorial