We arrived into Souda Bay, Crete at 0530 and departed the ferry at 0630 for breakfast in Chania. Nick, our driver was waiting for us and after arriving at the hotel for breakfast, he joined us. It was an excellent breakfast and Meaghan, after having a lesson on how to make Greek coffee, presents us with a fresh Greek Coffee, medium with sugar. It was as good as any that we had experienced during the tour.
Following breakfast we headed our to Maleme where the only sealed airstrip was located during the war. It is still there and now used again by military aircraft. But in 1941, the defence of the airstrip was vital to the success of the defence of Crete. Prior to climbing to the German Cemetery that has been established on the hill overlooking the airfield, we were able to circle the hill to take in the ground surrounding the hill and airfield to obtain an appreciation of the area. It was here that the vital ground had to be held for the success of the campaign. It wasn't, so the successes at Rethymon and Heraklion didn't matter. The loss of the vital ground occurred because the airfield was not cratered to restrict the use of it. By not cratering the airfield, the work done in destroying the paratrooper invasion was lost as the Mountain Division was landed on the airstrip and overwhelmed the defenders.
A very poor assessment of the overall strategy and then tactics and placement of troops to task was a failure. Much of the resources available to the Commander, Freyberg were placed on or near the shore where he expected a sea invasion. As the Germans were not in position in Athens or close by to possess the landing craft/ships other than ferries and caciques, the defences around the airstrip should have been strengthened. Therefore, if you knew the enemy had limited resources to put in a beach invasion but had major resources for an airborne invasion and needed an all weather airfield to bring in a follow up force, where would you put your biggest defensive effort? Not guarding the beaches that could have been .
The fight itself was a bitter affair and the paratroopers were defeated and would have had to surrender if not for the follow up force that was able to land unimpeded on the Maleme airfield. In fact many Germans were killed at sea when they tried to send a force by ferries and caciques etc. They were intercepted by the Royal Navy and all destroyed, not one soldier made it to shore. The casualties among the German paratroopers was extensive and after the vital ground was taken there were 450 dead Germans in the area. However, it was only a matter of time before the evacuation option had to be taken and it was from the 26 May that the order to evacuate was given. But there was still much fighting as the force started to move to Sfakia and among the actions was the charge at 42 Street that caused the Germans many more casualties. Nicci’s grandfather was in the 2/17 Battalion and was in that famous charge. We walked down 42nd Street to the location where 2/17 Battalion would have left from. There was a similar charge at Galatas and again there were countless Germans killed but both actions only delayed the inevitable once the airfield had been taken.
We came down out of the mountains around Galatas and headed to Souda Bay for lunch by the sea. An excellent location, right on the shore of Souda Bay with a beautiful breeze blowing in from the Bay. Following lunch, where Gavin had the biggest ever plate of spaghetti served to him, we proceeded to the CWGC Cemetery at Souda Bay where we paid our respects for those lost in the campaign by conducting a small Service and laying a wreath. We then headed to our hotel in Rethymon along the main highway that skirts the sea in many places, a very relaxing ride through that beautiful scenery following a day full of battle information. Tomorrow we follow the retreat across the mountains to Sfakia and then Preveli Monastery.