20th May 1941. Fall of Crete.

In World War II 62,000 British troops were sent from North Africa to Greece in an attempt to break the stale-mate in Europe by a push from the south.

However as well as seriously weakening the 8th Army, we were defeated after the Germans having occupied Yugoslavia had turned their attention to Greece in early April.

British and Greek forces were thus forced to evacuate to Crete three weeks before the German invasion of the island by paratroopers Today in 1941.

The Germans took only thirteen days to capture the Island, the first time that a country had been captured by airborne troops alone, which were ferried from Greece in a stream of transport planes and gliders.

Some 12,000 allied troops were captured along with their equipment, including a rearguard told to surrender, the rest scrambled aboard ships bound for Egypt, in an operation commanded by Admiral Andrew Browne Cunningham, (known as ABC), a veteran of World War I.

In an attempt to stop the overthrow of Greece, Cunningham in late March had defeated the Italian Fleet at the Battle of Matapan, after it had attacked British troop convoys from Alexandria to Piraeus.(1)

The Battle was the first victory achieved thanks to our breaking of the German Air Force, Enigma Code by Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park.

Thus General Freyberg VC the Crete allied commander having foreknowledge of the raid, through this intelligence, on being told by Colonel Woodhouse, (later Lord Terrington), that the sky was full of German aircraft, nonchalantly replied, ‘They’re dead on time’. Woodhouse later recalled, he then returned to his toast.

The disaster of Crete constituted such a set-back that Churchill was to say later, it was only one of two times that he had a sleepless night.(2)

The novelist Evelyn Waugh who served in Crete at the time used the experience in his Sword of Honour trilogy.

 

(1) The Battle of Matapan took place on 28th/29th March.

Cunningham went on to become First Sea Lord and was the last admiral to command a major theatre of war from a flagship whilst exercising tactical control of the Fleet.

(2) The other was the loss of the ships Repulse and the Prince of Wales off Singapore.

References:

wikipedia.org/matapan and invasion of Crete.

alamy.com/Pics

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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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