When we travelled to Crete I did not pick the right books to bring. I always get in trouble for filling the suitcase with 5 or 6 books with the excuse of ‘I don’t know what I will feel like reading’. This was the case in Crete and found myself browsing through various Crete centric books and landed on the book ‘Crete, The Battle and the Resistance’ by Anthony Beevor.
I found the author long winded and a little too detail orientated, but the anecdotes and stories of the British characters who participated in the events in Crete were fascinating. For those who do not know the Battle of Crete:
The Battle of Crete was unprecedented in three respects: it was the first-ever mainly airborne invasion; it was the first time the Allies made significant use of intelligence from the deciphered German Enigma code; and it was the first time invading German troops encountered mass resistance from a civilian population. In light of the heavy casualties suffered by the parachutists, Adolf Hitler forbade further large scale airborne operations. However, the Allies were impressed by the potential of paratroopers, and started to build their own airborne divisions.
The lesson comes in the form of a quote. As the German’s invaded via air, the commanders were convinced that a seaborne invasion was imminent at another point and held back 6,000 troops to deal with it. Had those reserve troops been committed to the fight, the German paratroopers would have been quickly eliminated (the drop did not go smooth) and the airfield, which was vital to landing more troops, would have remained in Allied hands. But the commanders did not see it for a simple reason:
Colonel Stewart also pointed out after the war that ‘A striking feature of the battle was the tendency for senior officers to stay in the headquarters. In subsequent campaigns it was the accepted practice in the Division for commanders to be well forward …. In Crete where communications were always bad and often non-existent, it was more important than ever that commanders should have gone more forward.’
The lesson of ‘Lead from the front’ is never clearer than in this story.
One last note, the resistance that the Cretan people put up was monumental but not without a price. The German’s were ruthless, burning villages to the ground and mounting mass executions:
A large number of civilians were killed in the crossfire or died fighting as partisans. Many Cretans were shot by the Germans in reprisals, both during the battle and in the occupation that followed. The Germans claimed widespread mutilation of corpses by Cretan partisans but MacDonald (1995) suggests this was down to the breakdown of dead bodies in the very high temperatures as well as carrion birds. One Cretan source puts the number of Cretans killed by German action during the war at 6,593 men, 1,113 women and 869 children.. German records put the number of Cretans executed by firing squad as 3,474, and at least a further 1,000 civilians were killed in massacres late in 1944.
Glad I read the book. Great people with a rich history.