By Pierre Kosmidis
It goes without saying that “a good nazi is a dead nazi” and Crete, the place of fierce fighting between the Allies and the Germans in May 1941, clearly shocked the nazis, as far as the result of their Pyrrhic victory is concerned. Scores of dead Germans littered the island for days and thousands are still buried in Crete.
German casualties in British reports are in almost all cases exaggerated and are not accepted against the official contemporary German returns, prepared for normal purposes and not for propaganda.
In his report to the Minister of Defence of 12 September 1941, General Freyberg estimated the German losses at 4000 killed, 2000 drowned and 11,000 wounded—total 17,000.
The estimate of killed was very close. He halved the current estimate of the number drowned and made the assumption that the number wounded bore the usual relation to the number killed (e.g., the NZ figures for Crete were approximately 3 killed to 7 wounded).
On the first day when paratroops were dropped in occupied areas the proportion of killed to wounded was undoubtedly abnormally high, and the number drowned was much lower even than General Freyberg’s apparently conservative estimate.
After the war the Australian Graves Commission counted 4000 German graves in the Maleme-Suda Bay area and another 1000 at Retimo and Heraklion.
Admiral Cunningham had reported that there were 4000 troops on the intercepted flotillas. Mr Churchill (Vol. III, p. 268) estimates that the German losses must have been well over 15,000.
The number drowned appears to have been 324. The Germans maintained PAGE 487 a garrison of 20,000 to 30,000 in Crete for the next four years, of whom several hundred would die of sickness or in accidents in the ordinary course, and there were substantial losses in guerrilla fighting.
These would mostly be buried in the German cemeteries and might reasonably be expected to account for a thousand of the graves there. The Cretans have ploughed in the cemeteries, leaving intact the monuments at the entrance to each cemetery.
In a report to the War Office dated 15 March 1945, HQ Land Forces, Greece, CMF said, ‘German killed in Crete during 1941 campaign for certain 4000 as counted from graves.
In addition approx. 400 washed up after battle either crashed in sea from gliders or sunk by Navy. In addition 450 wounded flown to mainland died.
These figures still incomplete and also inaccurate. Many graves still scattered round island and not included and in many big graves impossible to estimate true figure buried. Consider fair overall figure 5000….’
Following are extracts from the daily reports of 12th Army to GHQ (Greece and Crete) referring to the losses at sea:
22 May (morning): Light Convoy ‘Maleme Gp’ (III Bn 100 Mtn Regt) was attacked 8 km north of Cape Spata at 2230 hrs on 21 May by English naval units (cruisers and destroyers). The loss of about 50% of the convoy must be accepted.
22 May (evening): So far 770 men out of a total of 2331 have been rescued from I Light Convoy (Maleme Gp).
23 May (evening): Number of men rescued from I Light Convoy has increased to about 1400.
28 May (morning): The number saved from I Light Convoy has increased to 1665 including 21 Italians. It is expected that this number will be still increased slightly as not all the islands have been searched yet.
The 12th Army QMG Report, dated 4 June 1941, says that the casualties from I Light Convoy were 309 killed.
12th Army’s Campaign in the Balkans—A Strategic Survey (written later) says that 13 officers and 311 other ranks were lost at sea.
The Report of 4 Air Fleet, dated 28 November 1941, gives the losses in dead and missing:
(a) Of the troops employed in Crete
From Air Corps VIII and XI flying personnel
The Report of 11 Air Corps dated 11 June 1941, which omits the 8 Air Corps losses of flying personnel (20 dead, 107 missing), gives the following figures:
7 Air Div and Corps Troops, 11 Air Corps Killed 1653
5 Mountain Division Killed 262
Air Command, 11 Air Corps Killed 56
Add 8 Air Corps Killed 20
If the 2594 wounded are subtracted the total becomes 3986, identical with 4 Air Fleet’s total of killed and missing.
This suggests that both 4 Air Fleet and 11 Air Corps were working from the same returns, compiling the subdivisions of the total in different format, which is some indication of the care taken by the compilers.
Seventeen officers were the only German prisoners evacuated to Egypt. The remainder of the missing were killed.
The total German landed strength, assuming that units were up to establishment, was 23,120, of whom several thousand were not severely engaged.
After most careful examination of the details of the fighting, it is estimated that the casualties occurred roughly as follows:
Killed (incl missing) Wounded
In the initial landings 2500 500
Flying and sea casualties 600 …
In the balance of the fighting (a more normal ratio) 900 2100
Total 4000 2600
There are numerous corroborative items in the German unit and formation reports, e.g.: On 4 June 1941 German Army Graves Officer on Crete reported 98 officers, 1402 other ranks killed, 1204 all ranks missing, of whom he estimated 50 per cent were killed.
The War Diary of 5 Mountain Division in an entry of 2 June 1941 gives the division’s casualties as 267 killed, 460 wounded, 320 missing. Slight corrections appear in 11 Air Corps’ report of 11 June, quoted above.
A 5 Mountain Division battle report, circulated throughout 5 Mountain Division on 7 March 1942 for historical and instructional purposes, gives its casualties as 395 killed, 257 missing, and 504 wounded, a total of 1156—118 more than in 11 Air Corps’ report.
In the absence of any evidence, or any likelihood, that the German figures are falsified, the figure of 6698 seems to be acceptable, with the proviso that the lightly wounded may not be included.
They were not shown in German casualty returns in the First World War, and if the same practice was followed in the Second World War the total might have to be increased by another six or seven hundred.