Bunker Archaeology: The German WW2 fortifications of Agii Apostoli in Crete

Interviews, Then and Now, WW2 in Greece, WW2 Wrecks

By Pierre Kosmidis

Info and photos submitted by Emmanouil Tzilivakis, used by permission

Nowadays, tourists and locals alike are flooding the wonderful beaches of Agii Apostoli, located within walking distance from Chania, most of them unaware of the fact that the area was heavily fortified by the Germans during WW2.

Agii Apotoli today, a popular beach for both locals and tourists, because of its sandy beaches and clear, shallow and warm water.
Agii Apostoli today, popular beaches for both locals and tourists, because of its sandy beaches and clear, shallow and warm water. The bunkers are on the peninsula.

The same area was used as a POW Camp during and immediately after the Battle of Crete in 1941 and several such prisoners, British, Australians and Greeks died of exposure, malnutrition and lack of medical attention, hastily buried in unnamed shallow graves, only for their remains to be found post-war during the development of the area.

νουμερο 1 το μικρο πολυβολειο,νουμερο δυο η προκεχωρημενη σκοπια με τη σκουριασμενη μπρόκα και νουμερα 3 το μεγαλο πολυβολεια με τη στοα απο κατω
The same area on Google Maps: Number one is the “Tobruk” machine gun post, number two is the observation position and number three is the big bunker with the underground corridors.

Mr. Emmanouil Tzilivakis, a teacher who is interested in local history, recently visited the area and documented the remains of this WW2 bunker complex, highlighting the importance of it, as well as the plight and suffering of the Allied POW’s who were ill treated by the Germans.

An undated -possibly early post-war- photo of the area
An undated -possibly early post-war- photo of the area

Agii Apostoli is an area of three wonderful natural coves with a small peninsula, where the church of Agii Apostoli (Holy Apostles) is located. Mr. Tzilivakis says, adding:

An 37mm round found in the area
An 37mm shell case round found in the area

During WW2 the Germans had emptied the church and used it as an observation post. Close to the church, there are natural caves, used by the British for food storage and the locals were hiding into them during the Battle of Crete, to take cover from the Luftwaffe aerial bombardments of the area.

The strategic importance of Agii Apostoli was immediately evident to the Germans and this is why they fortified the area
The strategic importance of Agii Apostoli was immediately evident to the Germans and this is why they fortified the area

“After the end of the Battle of Crete, the Germans constructed a series of fortifications, underground tunnels and positioned a large searchlight to cover any possible Allied landing in the area.”

View of the 37mm round
View of the 37mm shell case 

“It is also worth noting that thousands of Prisoners of War, British, Australians, New Zealanders and Greeks were kept in a camp in the area, under harsh conditions, scorching sun, with minimal medical attention and little food, mainly surviving on food smuggled inside the camp by locals who wanted to help the Allies.”

Allied POWs exposed to the scorching sun with scarce medical attention and little food
Allied POWs exposed to the scorching sun with scarce medical attention and little food

“Several of those poor men never made it out alive from there. They just died there, were buried within the camp and human remains were found in the 1950s and 1960s, during the development of the area, according to locals’ accounts.”

Another view of the POW camp in Agii Apostoli, from Manolis Manousakas' book
Another view of the POW camp in Agii Apostoli, from Manolis Manousakas’ book, with the church on the peninsula in the background.

“The Germans in Crete were among the last to formally surrender to the Allies in 1945, with the Chania garrison laying their arms in May 1945. Right before the Germans surrendered though, they destroyed all fortifications and ammunition dumps, blowing them up, some say under direct orders by the British.” 

The bunkers are hidden in bushes today.

“Today, the bunkers, blown up but still visible, remind us of the German occupation, the slave labour used to build them and the atrocities they conducted against the local population.”

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A combination of reinforced concrete and stones was used to build the bunkers.
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Unfortunately, little respect to these WW2 relics is shown by locals and tourists.
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Blown up from the inside, the roof of the bunker looks like an overturned saucepan
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The Tobruk machine gun post
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The entrance is covered by overgrowth
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The bunker with its entrance in the foreground
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View of the sea from the fortifications position
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A nail close to the observation post
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The area offers 360 degrees view of the sea
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Remains of a reinforced concrete construction
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Blown up piece of the fortification complex
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Items recovered at the area