History

Second World War

Campaigns

Greece & Crete

On 28 October 1940 the Italians invaded Greece from Albania. The attackers and defenders had even numbers of troops, but by the end of the year the Greeks had pushed out the Italians and had followed them deep into Albania.

A German invasion of Greece was anticipated, and 57,000 Allied troops were moved to Greece from North Africa in March 1941. Within a month the invasion had taken place; by the end of April the Allies were gone from the Greek mainland, after a hurried retreat and chaotic evacuation by the Royal Navy. The Germans had chased and harried them all the way.

Many of these exhausted and demoralised men ended up in the island of Crete to reinforce the 14,000-man garrison there. The Allied commanders believed that any German invasion of Crete would come by sea; but when it came on 20 May it was by paratroopers. Blunders, misunderstandings and slow thinking on the part of the defenders contributed to the Cretan debacle, which saw the Germans capture the island after a 10-day battle. Once again the Allied soldiers had to be evacuated by the Royal Navy during four desperately dangerous consecutive nights between 28 and 31 May. Around 17,000 got away; probably more were killed, captured or went missing.

The Cretans themselves, having resisted the invasion with characteristic all-out bravery, went on to give the occupying Germans hell for the next four years as particularly fierce and effective partisan fighters.

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