While the German Group West was in action around Maleme their Group
Centre was to concentrate on the area of Galatas, Canea and Suda
Bay. Group Centre would be delivered in two waves; the first wave
would attack the area of Canea and Galatas while the second wave was
planned to attack Rethymnon in the afternoon then divert troops west to
support the first wave in their attacks. This page will concentrate
on the actions around Rethymnon.
||The entrance to Suda Bay. The picture was taken from
an olf fort (Turkish?) on a high point overlooking the Bay. In the
foreground is a Greek military installation. From Davin's book I
believe that in 1941 there were two 4-inch Coastal defence guns in that
position. This is Cape Dhrapanon and Suda Island can be seen in the
waterway. There was a anti-torpedo net between this southern shore
and Suda Island. Machine gun posts were on the island.
||A German patrol moves
through the typical olive grove terrain that covers much of
Crete. Those who have been there on holiday will know how
warm that can be.
Secret Suda Bay 12:00 20/5 (wo106/3241)
enemy troops wearing New Zealand battledress landed by parachute
and from gliders and troop carriers Cania-Maleme area.
situation in hand.
|Suda Bay 15:00
Capture of Maleme apparently
the enemy's objective. This has failed thus upsetting their
plans. Continuous enemy reconnaissance accompanied by sporadic
bombing and machine gunning chiefly against A.A. defences. Military
hospital between CANEA & MALEME was captured, now
recaptured. Fairly strong enemy party south of CANEA-MALEME road not
yet mopped up. Remaining parties reported accounted for.
HERAKLION bombed but no landing. RETIMO not yet attacked.
Because of the situation in the centre, Heidrich had requested that the planned
afternoon attack on Rethymnon should be abandoned, and the assigned force diverted to the
south of Chania. The request was refused. German intelligence had reported
Rethymnon as weakly defended, in fact it was held by two Australian and two Greek
battalions under Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Campbell; 2/1 Australian Battn. on Hill
'A', 2/11 Australian on Hill 'B', four Greek battalions and two 'I' tanks of 7
Royal Tank Regt. Because they were convinced by their own intelligence
reports that resistance would be weak, only 2 battalions of 2 Parachute Regt.
were allocated to the landing.
The main area of
fighting around Rethymnon was the airfield. This area can be
seen on the large scale map. On
that map Stavromenos (just by the Olive Oil factory) is the second
road junction to the right of Rethymnon, where the coast road
branches to Perama.
Heraklion 17:32 hours (wo106/3241)
landing in this area
landed west of CANDIA and on HERAKLION aerodrome
landing in town and on aerodrome. Situation not clear.
The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the German 2nd Parachute Rifle Regiment, under
Colonel Alfred Sturm, would be the attacking force. The plan was for these
to take the airfield by the evening, then move to hit the rear of the defenders
at Suda Bay. The 1st Battalion, commanded by
Major Kroh, would land and take the airfield to the east of the town while the 3rd
Battalion under Captain Wiedemann would land at the village of Perivolia and take Rethymnon itself. Crete is a very
rugged island, and the terrain here gave the advantage to the defenders on the hills
overlooking the area. To the east was Hill A, or Vineyard Hill, to the west near
Platanes was Hill B, while Hill D overlooked the airfield. Campbell distributed his
forces across these hills, and positioned his two old tanks in a gully to the west of the
airfield. The town itself was to be defended by the Cretan Gendarmerie.
The attack started with bombing and strafing raids on the town and airfield, followed
later by the low flying Ju-52s, of which many were shot down and their troops killed.
On the airfields in Greece the Germans had great problems 'turning round'
their transport and support aircraft because of the dust which also
affected the take-off of aircraft. As a result they were not able to
launch in coherent waves and as a result the parachute groups did not
arrive on schedule over the drop zones, and did not drop accurately.
Major Kroh's I Battalion was split with some landing on the eastern edge
of the airfield and coming under heavy fire, the rest landing a good way
east of the airfield. However, Kroh assembled those of his own force
that he could as well as wrongly dropped elements of III Battalion and
made a strong assault on 2/1 Australian on Hill 'A'. They were
counter-attacked by the two 'I' tanks, but both failed to be effective.
By the time dusk fell many of the German attackers and the Allied defenders were
dead. Only on Hill A had the Germans been able to advance, and cause the defenders
to retreat. [See article at bottom of page]
Both of the old tanks had been sent to the assistance of the defenders
of Vineyard Hill, but both had struck obstacles and were out of action. In
the evening the Australians (I believe this is Lew Lind's formation) drove the Germans back down the slopes of Hill
"B" into the vineyards around Perivolia, where many of them had been
dropped earlier that day. Kroh decided
to dig in for the night and attack in the morning, with the assistance of the Luftwaffe.
To the west Wiedemann's force had also suffered heavy losses before moving against
Rethymnon where they again met stiff resistance. He decided to withdraw and, like
Kroh, wait until the morning to renew his attack. Campbell had also
decided that dawn was the time to take the attack to the Germans.
|From Adolf Strauch's
diary, quoted in the book 'Storming Eagles'.
He jumped in this area.
|"20th May. Midday and it is
boiling hot. Impenetrable clouds of dust lie above the
airfield. The Ju 52s have come back from the mission; but not all of
them. Our impressions were right. Before we load the weapons
containers we have to remove the first dead from the damaged
machines. The aircraft crew do not say much. It is 14.00
hrs. We take off. At 16.00 hrs we shall jump. The heat
is unbearable. We do not have tropical uniforms and weigh a ton with
all our equipment. We fly over the sea. The fighter planes
which should be escorting us and which should beat down the enemy
opposition when we drop, pass us - flying back from Crete. Bad
|At about 16.00 hrs, "Get
Ready!" In front of us is the coast of Crete. "Ready
to jump!" Our height at which we shall drop is 500 feet (150
metres). The siren sounds. We jump. I hang in the air
and try to orientate myself. I make a good landing in a
vineyard. I reach my weapons container. We assemble and take
up formation. Enemy reaction is weak. The heat unbearable.
|The 1st Regiment flies in in close
waves. They, too, jump at 150 metres at a speed of 75 mph (120 kph).
There are no German fighter aircraft to be seen. The British
anti-aircraft artillery and field guns fire continually. Burning
machines drop out of the sky. We can see individual Jaeger jumping
out of the exits. The pilots hold their machines on course until
they crash. A whole battalion has been destroyed. The night is
cool. We have dug in ready to face the enemy who will come from the
For Lieutenant Colonel
Campbell, the 21st was a successful day. He recaptured Hill A, together
with the guns there, and also the two tanks which had been disabled the night
before. His forces had also captured Colonel, Sturm
(who had lead the initial attacking force on the Rethymnon area) as well as a
German Operation Order which told him that there
were to be no further parachute landings planned for Rethymnon. The attack
had been a very "plucky" one. The initial assault by Campbell's
force met very heavy German resistance, as they were preparing to launch their
own dawn raid. After initial set backs Campbell and his officers rallied
their men and attacked Hill "A" in four columns. The Germans,
exhausted from the previous day withdrew to the olive oil factory at
Stavromenos. The forces under Sturm and Kroh were not able to give each
other mutual support, so the threat to the airfield had been removed.
|From H.Q. RAF M.E
.....of 3000 troops in New
Zealand uniforms landed CANEA area, over half were killed...
22nd May there were attacks on the two German elements in the olive oil factory
and at Perivolia. Both attacks against these strong points failed, but the
Australians did not give up the initiative, and kept trying over the following
few days. On the 26th they captured the olive oil factory, and on the 27th
they almost drove the Germans out of Perivolia. By then however events
elsewhere on the island had moved on, and the Allies would be told to withdraw.
|The following is from 'Crete
Eyewitnessed', it is by Lt. Col. Ian Campbell, and gives some detail of
how his force gave medical assistance to the German paratroops.
|On May 23rd 1941, I accepted a party of 70 wounded
German paratroops from the German force still holding out in the olive-oil
factory at Stavromenos. Very fortunately my battalion medical
officer on Crete, Doctor Alan Carter, has given me some facts and detailed
information. He was directly involved in my decision to care for the
wounded German paratroops in 1941.
|I will try now to explain as briefly as I can at 84
what actually happened at Rethymnon and you will note that our first move
to give medical aid was on 21st May 1941. It was during the morning
of the 21st May that we drove the paratroops off and to the east of the
vital Hill 'A', which guarded the eastern end of the airstrip. About
midday, when I was at my Headquarters just south of the western end of the
airstrip, I received a message from my Medical Officer (Captain Carter)
asking permission for him to try to arrange a three-hour truce with the
Germans at Stavromenos so that he could organise the collection of our
wounded and also the German wounded who were lying in the flattish coastal
strip between our right flank on Hill 'A' and the Germans who had
retreated from Hill 'A' to the olive-oil factory at Stavromenos. (I
will refer in future to this factory as 'factory').
|As soon as we had recaptured Hill 'A' and the
country to its west, Captain Carter and his stretcher bearers had moved
east of Hill 'A' down into the flat narrow coastal strip 800 yards across
which to the east stood the factory! I agreed Captain Carter should
try to arrange a truce with the Germans, so that our own and the paratroop
wounded could be cared for. Captain Carter, under a white flag, then
walked east to the factory and arranged a three-hour truce. He then
returned west towards our Hill 'A' and joined up with a paratroop medical
post located in an isolated two roomed shack 300 yards east of Hill
'A'. This German medical post consisted of two German doctors and
their staff. Captain Carter arranged with the German doctors to work
together as our prisoners. They decided to evacuate those well
enough to be moved to our Medical Hospital at Adhele, but to keep the
remaining wounded at their location. You will appreciate that during
the 3-hour truce all the wounded (theirs and ours) had been collected at
this ex-German Aid Post. Captain Carter remained with the Germans at
their Aid Post in the two room shack until 29 May on which day it was
closed down and the remaining wounded (theirs and ours) were moved to
|On the evening of 21st May when the first convoy of
German and our wounded were being transported in ambulances to Adhele, the
column was attacked by the German Air Force and the German doctor with the
column was one of those killed. This left one German doctor and he
remained with Captain Carter until the medical post was closed down on
|Some of the German medical orderlies, etc.
accompanied their wounded to Adhele where they joined in with our
Australian Staff at our hospital. I only had time to visit this
combined hospital once during the battle. The German NCOs and
orderlies worked in well with our Australians and the German supply of
drugs and medical equipment was much appreciated at Adhele, as we were
short of stores etc., as a result of losses during the withdrawal through
Greece. The German and our own staff shared the same rations as our
men (Australians). Everything was shared equally. Of course
our hospital at Adhele also cared for the few-if any- captured paratroops,
from the 10 day battles on my western front around Perivolia (western
suburb of Rethymnon), but there could not have been many because the
paratroop force in that area was never captured or overrun.
|On the afternoon of 23rd May, a force of 70
paratroops (wounded) marched out of the factory to surrender to us, as
they could not be cared for by the Germans in the factory,
apparently. We (Captain Carter) accepted them and they were sent on
from the ex-German Aid Post by Carter to Adhele. We captured the
factory on the morning of 26th May and we found that most of the
paratroops had fled during the previous night leaving a small fit guard
and about 40 more wounded to surrender to us.
|The paratroops were the finest looking group of
young men I have ever met. Hand-picked. They fought bravely
and fairly. We had 500 of them as prisoners of war, so I saw a lot
|As you can see from my above story, there was
really no alternative my troops and I could take in caring for the German
wounded. An unsuccessful parachute landing will always end up with
the defenders (us) having to care for the wounded paratroops in and
curlige (sic) warfare.
|The following is an extract from
"Crete Eyewitnessed". It is an Australians view of the
events around Rethymnon.
|At about 4 p.m. on 20th May the hum of many approaching planes could be
heard and preceded by two Dorniers (I think) which dropped smoke flares to
indicate landing areas flights of Junker 52 troop carrier planes (about 18
in each group) and say 8-9 flights in all, thee to four minutes apart,
came across the sea from Greece 3/4 miles east of our positions and then
turned west at coast and dropped parachutists (20 or so per plane) from
the olive oil factory (to east at Stavromenos) over air strip and on to
Perivolia. I think 1,600 in all were dropped at 200 feet, and it was
|I was in an observation post slit-trench on east side of Hill, known
later as Hill 'A' with the telephone linked to Brigade Headquarters and
after reporting the sighting of the incoming flights and numbers, I shook
hands with my signaler and said: "We may have five or six minutes to
live but we will get a few before we die". We did, at close
range, and having captured a few of their light automatic weapons and
cleared those in immediate vicinity of guns the real action
commenced. In all 253 parachutists were killed in and around Hill
'A' for 29 of ours. Apart from Lieutenant Faulkner killed by a
sniper on nearby knoll, we lost Sergeant Jack Washer and 11 other
men. Three infantries with us shot ten/eleven Germans as they landed
which helped and provided extra weapons.
|In the late evening of the 20th May some few hours after the landing and
in the darkness the Germans had gathered strength on the East side and
North of Hill 'A'. And when it became apparent the gunners could not
hold on without supporting infantry and small arms (a few 1st Battalion
were with us) we arranged that firing pins be removed from each 75mm gun
and hidden nearby individually but in front of every gun crew member so
that enemy could not use guns against us when Hill was evacuated and on
recapture in day light at least some of each crew alive would know where
pins were buried and guns could quickly be put back into action.
|Next morning at dawn Major Ian Campbell (o/c of forces) brought us a
company of 1st Battalion plus a company of Greek Infantry on flank and
with Don Troop Gunners assisting from the Waddi Trash to west of Hill 'A'
. The Hill was retaken and with guns quickly back into action many
Germans retreating towards olive oil factory to east were killed.
The Germans had brought together a circular next of four heavy machine
guns facing the attack, but fortunately for us two of their planes that
came at dawn from Greece had difficulty in deciding who held which areas
as our forces had placed captured swastika flags in and around us and they
dropped two bombs direct hit on their men manning the machine guns just as
our attack started. When I reached their guns eight or nine men were
really smashed to pieces but one survived and when I got him to stand he
was a mess - with shock and calmly walked back down the Hill in direction
I pointed. It is thought the attack would not have succeeded if
machine guns had opened up as it was pretty heavy going as it was with a
number of ours killed and wounded......... War is really horrible
but once in close combat it is kill or be killed.
|On 21st and 22nd May, when we were burying the dead, I looked at a
little wallet of the first man I shot, a parachute Hauptmann - (Captain),
and in it was a photo of his wife and five year-old daughter. I
thought things could have been in reverse, as I also had a photo of my
wife and daughter in my wallet.
|The 23rd was again
a day where both sides were holding rather than making any advantage
against the other. From mid-day until 13.00 there had been a truce
to allow dead and wounded to be brought in, and at one point the Germans
called on the defenders to surrender, they didn't. The Germans were
preventing Lt. Col. Campbell's force from reinforcing Canea, whilst
holding his position, and so tying up a German force, he was himself
isolated from Canea and Heraklion.