Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

On Tour - Greece and Crete Tour 18 April 2023


We arrived into Souda Bay, Crete at 0530 and departed the ferry at 0630 for breakfast in Chania. Maneos, our driver was waiting for us and after arriving at the hotel for breakfast, he joined us. It was also good to see Lesley and David again after their flight last night. We all enjoyed our breakfast together and an excellent breakfast it was in a very nice hotel right in the centre of Chania.

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 later on, 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? .

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, supported by the RAN 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. A major attack to retake Galatas pushed the Germans back with huge casualties and Wilson's father was in the thick of the fighting here as he was also at the charge at 42nd Street. Today we met a few people from New Zealand who were following their families exploits during the campaign, all were related to the Māori Battalion, the famous 28 Bn.

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 42nd Street that caused the Germans many more casualties. We walked down 42nd Street to the location where Wilson’s Bn 23 Bn was located. We then moved into the Olive Grove where the charge had taken his father. Even though those 2 actions were a success with countless German casualties, 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. Following lunch, 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 a visit to the action here at Rethymon and free time in the quaint old Pirate Town.

Graham Fleeton.


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