The capture of Crete, Hitler: how the most successful airborne operation in history

History 30/12/19 Capture of Crete, Hitler: how the most successful airborne operation in history

you Can find lots of other examples of successful military operations of world war II history and wars of the later time, when we used a greater number of airborne troops. But in all of them the only parachute assisted landings sea or the advancing ground forces. The landing of the Germans in Crete (20-31 may, 1941) still remains the largest operation, in which a crucial role was played by the paratroopers.

the Death of Marines

Most interesting is that almost exclusively the airborne operation to seize Crete was purely by chance. May 22, from the island of Milos came out and took a course on Crete, a detachment of German transport vessels. He was supposed to deliver tanks and other heavy weapons that could be deployed on aircraft. The sea was dominated by the British fleet and the German high command for some reason was so carefree that it didn’t cover the convoy from the air. The convoy tried to reach Crete under cover of night, but was discovered and attacked by British sailors.

“Most of the ships sank along with her cargo of 300 members of their teams lost. Only a few managed to get to Crete and to survive,” he wrote in “the history of the Second world war, the German General Kurt Tippelskirch.

Therefore, almost the whole brunt of the battle for Crete fell on the shoulders of German paratroopers and Marines, taken by gliders and transport aircraft. However, Crete was able to land the aircraft, with the parachutists was to capture the airfields, and they succeeded not once. In General, the Germans in the course of this operation made a lot of mistakes. The British, if they wanted to keep the island, they could easily do. But they made even more absurdities than their opponents.

competition in the error

the German command, after the capture of the mainland Greece, considered it necessary to occupy Crete to prevent the British using it as a base for Navy and air force in the Eastern Mediterranean. British Prime Minister Churchill, in turn, stated on 17 may that England will battle for Crete, to the last man. But after two weeks the island was entirely in the hands of the Germans.

For landing, the Nazis singled out the 7th parachute and 5th mountain division and airborne assault regiment. Why at the last moment the part of the airborne divisions, the Germans decided to replace the mountain by arrows, lacked the experience of landing from the air, will forever remain a mystery.

it is inexplicable why the commander of British forces on Crete, the new Zealand General Bernard Freyberg, on the eve of the already known dates of the German disembarkation was ordered to overtake based on the island of British fighters in Egypt than completely deprived its troops and ships in the fleet air cover.

Crete was defended by 2nd new Zealand division, the 19th Australian brigade, the 14th brigade of English infantry, the number of parts of the British and Greek armies. Their total number was 40 thousand people. Power allocated by the Germans in the capture of Crete, consisted of a total of 22.5 thousand people. In addition, they could engage only in parts, which increased the chance of their defeat by the British at the beginning of the battle.

Landing operation began before dawn on 20 may. The majority of German paratroopers were dropped far from the intended targets – airfields. Some where the raiders were right in the enemy force. Dropping them from planes in containers of weapons and equipment for the most part, too, was in British hands or far away from the places where the paratroopers jumped.

on the first day the Germans were unable to capture any of the airfield to put them on transport aircraft with mountain arrows and light (Dynamo-jet) artillery. The fighting dragged on, split up into a number of hot-spot’V. the Germans could barely keep her counterattack came, the surprise of the British, Australians and new Zealanders.

the Surrender of Crete by the British

British soldiers fought skillfully, bravely and recklessly, what can be said about their command. General Freyberg during the day 20 may not make any transfer of additional forces in areas of landing of German paratroopers. As later explained his behavior, he was afraid of German troops from the sea. This allowed the Germans the next day landed another squad of paratroopers and capture the first airfield at Maleme, where until the evening of may 21, managed to land transport aircraft with mountain arrows.

Fierce fighting continued for a few more days. New Zealanders around Maleme repeatedly passed in counterattack, but the Germans in the air continued to arrive for reinforcements. Freiberg’s not moved to support his infantry a single battalion from other parts of the island. On may 24, he began to pull its troops to the ports, preparing for evacuation, permission for which was received on may 27. On 30 may, he left Crete by seaplane. On 1 June the remnants of the British and Greek troops failed to evacuate, laid down their arms.

About 4 thousand allies were killed, 17 thousand captured, the others managed to swim away. The Germans lost, and missing almost as much as the enemy – 3627 people. Hitler considered such losses in elite units is unacceptably high and continue to decided not to conduct airborne operations.

Unnecessary victory

Despite the fact that the tactical tasks of the Cretan operations the Germans had achieved its strategic outcomes are equal to zero or even negative. German bombers from Crete still could not act against the British troops in Egypt. Fleet large enough to threaten from Crete, and British sea communications in this part of the Mediterranean, the Germans and Italians were not. Crete became a trap for German troops stationed there. When the allies went on the offensive, they did not wasting time on the capture of Crete. The German garrison on the island surrendered on 10 may 1945.

the biggest drawback for the Wehrmacht from the Cretan operations, in addition to unacceptably high losses was the fact that a significant part of the German military transport aircraft – more than 500 aircraft have been excluded from the preparations for operation “Barbarossa”, in which the account was, as is now clear, for days. The most brilliant airborne operation was completely useless.

Yaroslav Butakov

© Russian Seven

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