The Invasion of Crete, WW2.
This would be the first ever airborne invasion in military history. The Fallschirmjager, supported by the famous Gebirgsjager mountain troops, are up against 40,000 allied soldiers – who will fight to the bitter end to protect Crete.
Before dawn on the 20th May 1941, the JU-52’s, “Tante Ju’s”, warmed up their engines on the Greek airfields of Corinth, Megara and Tanagra ready to undertake the first full scale invasion of a country from the air. They were to attack the 160 mile long Island of Crete.
Loading a weapons canister into a JU-52.
Within minutes of the first few taking off, carrying their loads of paratroopers towards their objectives, a dust storm had been created by the backdraft from the three engined Junkers, playing havoc with the German’s carefully planned schedule. Eventually, waiting for the clouds of dust to settle, all were launched.
Ju-52’s and towed DFS-230 gliders on route to Crete.
On Day 1, the glider companies landed successfully on their targets, capturing the bridge over the Tavronitis and securing an area on the outskirts of Maleme airfield. The 3rd battalion, Luftlande Sturmregiment, started their drop landing directly on top of two New Zealand battalions. The 2nd battalion landed east of Spilia and the 4th battalion west of Travonitis. Once Generalmajor Meindl had secured his HQ, and dug in on the outskirts of the airfield, he sent two companies to take Hill 107, a key position overlooking Maleme airfield. Major Koch, of Eben Emael fame, the commander of the 1st battalion, received a head wound while helping to take Hill 107.
Fallschirmjager, paratroopers, dropping onto Crete.
The second major drop that day was around the town of Chania. A second wave of aircraft dropped more paratroopers in the afternoon, along with further gliders containing heavy assault troops. Rethymnon was attacked at 1615 hours, Heraklion at 1730. The Fallschirmjager suffered heavy casualties that day.
The Fallschirmjager took advantage of the New Zealand forces withdrawing from Hill 107, this eventually giving the Germans control of Maleme airfield, enabling them to land aircraft and reinforce the units on the ground.
Fallschirmjager in Crete, their distinctive helmets and combat smocks clearly visible.
Before midnight, Rear Admiral Glennie’s Force D, three light cruisers and four destroyers, intercepted a water born landing by German reinforcements. Out of the 2,000 strong German force, over 1,000 managed to escape.
Warships berthed close to the Island – Crete 1941
The Germans now had a foothold on Crete and with Maleme airfield in their possession, they flew units of the 5th Gebirgsjager, Mountain, Division in to join in the attack.
A bitter battle was fought – destroyed British light Mark VI, tanks, 1941.
It was an exhaustive battle for the Fallschirmjager
But after 10 days of battle they had their victory march – Crete 1941.
But they suffered heavy casualties and it was the last major jump completed by the Fallschirmjager in WW2
The following are pictures from my visit to Crete while writing Devils with Wings: Silk Drop. The visit helped me with my descriptions of the environment they fought in.
When you read about Max and a certain incident, this is the plant I was describing
This exciting fictionalised retelling of the invasion of Crete is written by an author with extensive experience in army intelligence. It’s the follow up to Devils With Wings, and continues the wartime adventures of Fallschirmjager paratrooper Paul Brand and his Feldwebel Max Grun. On a high after their successful subjugation of Fort Eben Emael, Paul Brand, now in command of his own company, and Feldwebel Max Grun, are parachuted into Greece to help capture the bridge spanning the Corinth Canal. Tough times are ahead when the German High Command decide to invade the Island of Crete. This will be the first ever airborne invasion in military history. The Fallschirmjager, supported by the famous Gebirgsjager mountain troops, are up against 40,000 allied soldiers – who will fight to the bitter end to protect Crete. Operating behind enemy lines, Paul Brand and Max Grun will face challenges that not only tests their fortitude but strains the close bond between them. Silk Drop is a thrilling sequel to Devils With Wings and is based on a factual episode.
Photographs copyrighted to Harvey Black