The Battle of Crete was fought during the Second World War on the Greek island of Crete. It began on the morning of 20 May 1941, when Nazi Germany began an airborne invasion of Crete. Greek and other Allied forces, along with Cretan civilians, defended the island. After one day of fighting, the Germans had suffered heavy casualties and the Allied troops were confident that they would defeat the invasion. The next day, through communication failures, Allied tactical hesitation, and German offensive operations, Maleme Airfield in western Crete fell, enabling the Germans to land reinforcements and overwhelm the defensive positions on the north of the island. Allied forces withdrew to the south coast. More than half were evacuated by the British Royal Navy and the remainder surrendered or joined the Cretan resistance. The defence of Crete evolved into a costly naval engagement; by the end of the campaign the Royal Navy's eastern Mediterranean strength had been reduced to only two battleships and three cruisers. Read through the resources below to learn more about this battle.
Historical map of Crete, 1941. Use this to see the strategic importance of Crete.
This commemorative publication is a part of the series; Australians in World War II. It contains a selection of images and a brief history of the Greece and Crete campaign. During World War II Greece independence was threatened. Australian and British Troops gave support to Greece against German occupation.
The Battle for Crete was one of the most dramatic battles of the Second World War. Over 12 days in May 1941 a mixed force of New Zealanders, British, Australian and Greek troops desperately tried to fight off a huge German airborne assault. Despite suffering appalling casualties, the parachutists and glider-borne troops who led the invasion managed to secure a foothold on the island and eventually gained the upper hand. The battle ended with the evacuation to Egypt of the bulk of the Allied force. Read through this website to learn more.
After their successful conquest of Greece in April 1941, the Germans turned their attention to the island of Crete. Its capture would give them a useful base in the eastern Mediterranean and deny its use to the British. Read through this website to learn more.
The Crete campaign, code named ‘Operation Mercury’ or ‘Merkur’ by the Germans, was ferocious and lasted ten days, from 20th to 30th May 1941. Read through this website to learn more.
Crete, the largest and southernmost Greek island was strategically located in the eastern Mediterranean. Many British, Australian and New Zealand troops evacuated from Greece in April 1941 were landed at Crete while others were sent to Egypt. By mid May the 30,000 strong British garrison on Crete included 6,500 Australians. In addition, there were 10,000 mainly untrained and poorly armed Greek troops on the island. Read through this website to learn more.
The battles for the island of Crete were fought from the second week of May 1941 when the island’s British, Commonwealth, and Greek garrison was attacked by German airbourne troops. The defender’s numerical superiority was eventually overwhelmed by the attacker’s massive advantage in logistic and air support. By the end May, organised resistance had broken down. Germans hunted small groups of Allied soldiers abandoned by inadequate evacuation facilities and desperately trying to evade capture. Read through this website to learn more.
From 20 May to 1 June 1941, Australian, British, New Zealand, Greek and German soldiers fought a savage battle for possession of the island of Crete. At first victory was uncertain, and could have gone either way. German reinforcements tipped the scale, however, and the campaign swung against the British. The result was another evacuation by sea of defeated British soldiers, and the falling of yet another part of Europe to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Read through this article to learn more.
In 1941, German and Italian forces drove the Allies off the Greek mainland. Some Allied troops – British, Australian, New Zealand soldiers and Greek civil milita – retreated to the nearby island of Crete and took up a defensive position there. The German high command were determined to drive them off Crete, but Hitler was preparing to invade Russia and did not want to divert his resources. The German commanders in Greece were given a strict deadline for the Crete campaign. Read through this website to learn more.
World War 2 ANZAC veteran Alf Carpenter recalls the dramatic and devastating battle on the Greek Island.
The Cretan Resistance caused significant damage to German morale and is likely one of the reasons why Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union was unsuccessful. Read through this article to learn more.
The Battle of Crete was fought from May 20 to June 1, 1941, during World War II (1939 to 1945). It saw the Germans make large-scale use of paratroopers during the invasion. Though a victory, the Battle of Crete saw these forces sustain such high losses that they were not used again by the Germans. Read through this article to learn more.