The Battle of Floria, Crete, 23 May 1941, the German atrocities and the monuments

WW2, WW2 in Greece

By Pierre Kosmidis

On the morning of May 23, 1941, the Battle of Crete is raging. The Germans have put a firm foothold on the island, securing the vital airport at Maleme, after the New Zealanders who defended it withdrew, following the chaotic hours after the start of the invasion.

This proved to be the turning point of the Battle, as the Germans managed to fly in reinforcements and material that helped them wipe out the Allied forces.

A small motorized German detachment (riding motorcycles with MG 34 machine guns on their sidecars) attempted to move through Floria village on 23 May 1941, aiming to reach and secure Paleochora is on its way to the southern coast of Crete, from where the Allied troops hoped to be evacuated to Egypt, on their long retreat through the mountains of Crete.

When the Germans enter the village of Floria, they are met with fierce resistance by the local inhabitants. Some of them are armed with obsolete muskets, others with scythes, most of them with sticks and stones.
Albeit untrained and insufficiently armed, local civilians spontaneously confronted and fought the German force in Floria.
On the following day, the locals gathered in larger numbers and set an ambush for the advancing German troops of the 5th Gebirgs Division (elements of the 55 motorcycle Battalion and the 95 anti-tank Battalion), at Kandanos’ gorge.
Despite their strong resistance on 24 and 25 May and their limited casualties, the locals were vastly outnumbered and were thus eventually forced to retreat in the mountains, letting the Germans advance towards Paleochora.
The repercussions of his largely forgotten incident are soon to be seen:
While the Battle of Crete was still being fought, the Germans murdered unarmed civilians and when the Battle was over, by June 1st, they started murdering civilians and burning down villages on a large scale, with one of this mass murders immortalised through the photos of a German war correspondent who shot all the sequence of the mass execution at Kondomari village.
Soon after the Battle was over, the Germans erected a monument in Floria village, which remains as it nearly was in 1941 to this day.
Right opposite this German monument, another one can be seen:
A monument in honour of the villagers of Floria who were murdered by the Germans during the nazi occupation of Crete, which proved to be as brutal and inhumane, as in almost every spot the Germans et their foot upon in Greece, an endless list of atrocities, mass killings, burnings of villages and other heinous acts, that went largely unpunished after the war was over.
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During the Battle of Crete, the invading German forces had suffered heavy losses. Furthermore, the unprecedented resistance from the local population exasperated their Prussian sense of military order according to which no one but professional warriors should be allowed to fight.
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Even before the end of the Battle, exaggerated stories had started to circulate, attributing the excessively high casualties to torture and mutilation of paratroopers by the Cretans.
Such stories proved to be false later on, as more careful investigations could identify only a few cases of mutilation all over Crete, most of which had been inflicted after death.
Nevertheless, as a result of the above allegations and seeking to set an example, right after the surrender of Crete on 31 May, temporary commander General Kurt Student issued an order for launching a wave of brutal reprisals against the local population.
The reprisals were to be carried out rapidly by the same units who had been confronted by the locals, omitting formalities.