30 August 2011
Crete 70th anniversary commemorations ...
Raymond Watson attends the ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the battle of Crete
Seventy years ago, on the morning of the 20th May 1941 the skies above the island of Crete were filled with the roar of an armada of planes coming in from the west. Each spewed out a shower of parachutes bearing a warden of death: his own or that of someone else. These were the fearsome Fallschirmjäger, the élite of the German forces, each believing he would be welcomed as a liberator, freeing the population of the occupied island from the clutches of the colonial allies.
This proved to be a huge miscalculation and had terrible consequences. Far from being welcome, the invaders suffered heavy casualties not only at the hands of the Allied forces waiting below, but by the Cretans themselves, who joined in the battle, attacking the foe with whatever they could lay their hands on.
The Allies lost the battle, the Cretan population was left at the mercy of the latest occupier and what followed was a frenzy of revenge. Today there are few villages in Western Crete that do not have a memorial to those taken out, lined up and shot by firing squad. The German commander, Leutnant-General Kurt Student, issued a directive that
for every German killed 10 hostages were to be shot. Many villages were simply bombed or razed to the ground and the population was ruled by fear. Even the suspicion of giving aid to those left behind led to whole families being shot. No trial, no mercy.
So it was that 70 years on, a week of ceremonies was held, not to celebrate a victory, but to pay tribute to those who paid the ultimate price to remain free from the tyranny of a brutal enemy.
The full text of his article appears in the Sept/Oct edition of the Armourer magazine with further pictures.
Painting at Tharisso depicting Cretan resistance
The memorial at Maleme Airfield
Guard at Maleme
Military vehicles at Alikianos