By Pierre Kosmidis
Photos, research and documentation by Andreas Sfakianakis
The German airborne invasion of Crete, codenamed “Operation Merkur”, led to the conquest of the Greek island, after ferocious battles, which led to thousands of men killed in action or wounded.
Out of an assault force of just over 22,000 men, the Germans suffered some 5,500 casualties, of which 3,600 were killed or missing in action.
Almost a third of the Ju52 transport aircraft used in the operation were damaged or destroyed.
The Allies suffered almost 3,500 casualties (of which just over 1,700 were killed) and almost 12,000 were taken prisoner.
The Royal Navy suffered 1 aircraft carrier, two battleships, six cruisers and seven destroyers badly damaged and another three cruisers and six destroyers sunk with the loss of over 2,000 men. The RAF lost some forty-seven aircraft in the battle.
Exactly how many Greek soldiers and Cretan civilians died during the fighting will never be known.
The Battle of Crete meant the end of large-scale airborne operations for the Germans, shocked by the high number of casualties, but on the other hand, gave the Allies a clear image on the importance of airborne attacks, thus speeding up the creation of their own paratroop forces.
Mr. Andreas Sfakianakis, a researcher from Crete, has identified the exact positions of the bitter fighting that took place around the church of Agios Georgios (St. George), located on a hill, overlooking the area around the town of Rethymno.
“The church of Agios Georgios was actually a point of fierce fighting for the conquest of Rethymno. Located on a cliff, Agios Georgios church offered a vantage point and was hotly contested for days.
On May 22nd, 1941, a group of fallschirmjager after securing the villages of Perivolia and Kastelakia, moved towards Rethymno town, only to be repelled by the Greek gendarmerie, with many casualties sustained from both sides. The Germans took refuge at the church of Agios Georgios, which is overlooking Perivolia village.”
“After regrouping, the Germans launched a new offensive on May 24th, 1941, only to be thrown back to Agios Georgios church. On May 27th, a new German attack, supported by the Luftwaffe was initiated, which resulted once again in their defeat.”
“The Germans managed to keep their position and on May 29th, as their advancing forces moved eastwards towards Perivolia, after the fall of Hania and of Maleme airfield, the turning point of the Battle of Crete, they were relieved.”