Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

On Tour - Greece and Crete Tour 18 April 2019


After a somewhat rocky journey, we arrived into Souda Bay, Crete at 0530. Our driver was waiting for us and after arriving at the hotel for breakfast, he joined us. It was an excellent breakfast in the hotel on the shore of the inner harbour at Chania. An interesting aside, one of our travellers was concerned that he becomes seasick, he was OK on this journey but when travelling from Napoli to Palamo recently, he accepted a couple of seasick tablets from a Doctor who was on his tour. Took the tablets and went to bed. Arising next morning he told his wife he had had a great night's sleep with no seasickness, his wife replied, that is good but due to a storm we didn't sail last night.

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. 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.

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. We walked down 42nd Street to the location where The NZ Maori 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.

In fact, in a report by Major-General Ringel, Commander of the German 5th Mountain Division wrote: "The enemy's stubborn defence could have led to the defeat of our attack if he had grasped the situation at the very first and made use of all his available troops and resources." This says it all.

We came down out of the mountains around Galatas and headed to Souda Bay where we proceeded to the CWGC Cemetery to pay our respects for those lost in the campaign by conducting a small Service. 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.

Graham Fleeton.


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