Battlefield Archaeology: The abandoned WW2 German gun emplacements of Kolymbari, Crete

Interviews, WW2, WW2 in Greece, WW2 Wrecks

By Pierre Kosmidis

Photos: Manolis Spanoudakis

Following the Battle of Crete in May 1941, the Germans occupied Crete, with the exception of the eastern part of the island, which was occupied by their Italian allies.

A similar gun used by the Germans for the coastal defenses in Norway
A similar gun used by the Germans for the coastal defenses in Norway

The Germans initiated a large fortification project, in order to turn the island of Crete into a “fortress”, due to its strategic location and importance, especially during the North Africa campaign.

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The occupation forces used forced labour to build a series of bunkers, underground ammunition dumps and surface fortifications, command and observation posts and went to such lengths as to even dig deep inside mountains in order to construct concealed gun emplacements.

Mr. Manolis Spanoudakis
Mr. Manolis Spanoudakis

Mr. Manolis Spanoudakis from Crete recently documented the gun emplacements in Kolymbari, in an area which overlooks the Maleme airfield, which was highly contested during the Battle of Crete.

Kolymbari, at the western side of Maleme airfield, overlooking the strategically important area
Kolymbari, at the western side of Maleme airfield, overlooking the strategically important area

The German Coastal Artillery Unit 834, equipped with 4 guns of 10.5 cm (105 mm), with a range of 12,000 metres, secured the area from Allied shipping and controlled the Maleme airfield.

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Officially designated as Canon de 105 mle 1913 Schneider, the German conquests of Poland, Belgium, France, and Yugoslavia during World War II gave them large numbers of captured 105 mm Schneider guns.

One of the gun emplacements dug out in the limestone
One of the gun emplacements dug out in the limestone

854 L 13 S’s were in service in France and a large number were captured. Many of these were installed in the Atlantic Wall system of coastal defenses.

Entrance to one of the gun emplacements
Entrance to one of the gun emplacements

German designations for these guns were as follows:

10.5 cm K 331(f) for guns captured from France
10.5 cm K 333(b) for guns captured from Belgium
10.5 cm K 338(i) for guns captured from Italy
10.5 cm K 338(j) for guns captured from Yugoslavia
10.5 cm K 13(p) and 10.5 cm K 29(p) for guns captured from Poland.

The WW2 concrete machine gun post in Gribiliana, close to Kolymbari
The WW2 concrete machine gun post in Gribiliana, close to Kolymbari

It is not clear whether the guns at Kolymbari were transported from France or from Yugoslavia, thus their designation would be K331 or K 338 respectively.

Inside view of a gun emplacement
Inside view of a gun emplacement

Mr. Manolis Spanoudakis shared his photos with www.ww2wrecks.com and noted the following:

Covered by vegetation, this is the entrance to another gun emplacement
Covered by vegetation, this is the entrance to another gun emplacement or ammunition dump

“The purpose of the Kolymbari gun emplacements was to control the Maleme airfield, since it was the most suitable position in the area, overlooking Maleme airfield, the villages of the plain with an unobstructed view to the sea. Built by the Germans after the capture of Crete in May 1941, these gun emplacements were manned until August 1944, when the German forces retreated to the city of Chania.”

Location of Kolymbari. The strategic importance of Crete, on the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia is evident.
Location of Kolymbari. The strategic importance of Crete, on the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia is evident.

Mr. Spanoudakis added:

These caves were dug in the limestone rock that by forced labour, but unfortunately all have now passed away and we cannot get any first-hand account of the construction.

The position of the observation and command post, overlooking Maleme airfield, with an unobstructed view to the sea.
The position of the observation and command post, overlooking Maleme airfield, with an unobstructed view to the sea.

In my opinion, the local municipality should have turned the site into a monument of our local history. The path leading to the gun emplacements should have been opened,cleared and connected to the main road of the village.

The Germans used forced labour to dig deep inside the rocky mountain.
The Germans used forced labour to dig deep inside the rocky mountain.

The gun emplacements, offering a spectacular view to the surrounding area, could  become an attraction for local and international tourists, but unfortunately nothing has been done to date and the local authorities are indifferent.