text in the top right of the plaque refers to the defence of mainland
Greece by the Allies while all the remainder of the plaque's text
relates the story of battle of Crete. The 4 plaques in the Battle of
Crete series are similar and were placed on the 50th Anniversary of the
Battle of Crete. The Australian veterans of the campaign unveiled some
of the plaques. The Australian Government sponsored the veterans and
Senator Bolkus and the Chief of the Defence Force, General Peter Gration,
headed the delegation. Standing by the plaque is Sir Edward 'Weary'
Dunlop a famous Australian and a veteran of the Crete campaign where he
command briefly a field hospital prior to the German invasion. The
plaque seen here was on permanent display in The Mediterranean Gallery
of the AWM and was removed in the construction of the new WW2 Gallery
opened in March 1999.
German paratroopers and glider-borne troops invaded Crete on 20 May
1941. Their objective was to capture the island's airfields thereby
facilitating later reinforcement. These targets were defended
principally by New Zealanders at Maleme, Australians at Rethimno and
British at Iraklio with the Greek military and civilian volunteers
supporting all three areas.
The initial landings resulted in heavy German casualties. Maleme
airfield was only partially captured whilst at Rethimno and Iraklo the
Germans were contained. Over the next 2 days the battle hung in the
balance. After fierce fighting German reinforcements arrived at Maleme
and forced the allies to withdraw east, to a line near Hania. By 26 may
however the line could no longer be held thus necessitating a full
allied withdrawl as the road to Rethimno was blocked the only escape
rout or these forces was along the narrow tortuous track that crossed
the mountainous spine of Crete to Sfakia on the south coast.
Evacuation of Crete
On 27 may 1941 the British high command in Egypt ordered the evacuation
of Crete. Due to well organised rearguard actions, allied forces from
Maleme and Souda were able to be embarked at Sfakia between 28 May and 1
June. At Rethimno Greek and allied troops contained the Germans but
received orders to evacuate too late and with no escape route were
forced to surrender. At Iraklio, the allies although in control were
evacuated by sea on the night of 28 may. The allied navies controlled
the sea but suffered severe losses from the German airforce which
dominated the skies throughout the campaign. .
Allied losses were heavy, the German paratroopers suffered so severely
they were never again used as an airborne assault force, during German
occupation Crete was badly damaged and the population suffered greatly.
The Cretan guerrillas harassed the enemy throughout and on 28 may 1945
the island was liberated.
Battle on Mainland Greece
From 28 October 1940 Greece victoriously defended its northwest border
against superior Italian forces. However on 6 April 1941 Greece was
attacked by Germany. Well equipped German forces with air supremacy
forced the Greeks in eastern Macedonia to capitulate whilst Greek and
supporting British, Australian and New-Zealand forces conducted
organised withdrawals southwards over 480 kilometres in 22 days.
Desperate rearguard actions between 24 and 30 April enabled the allied
navies to evacuate 50,000 troops, transporting 25,000 to Crete and the
remainder to Egypt.
Greek forces suffered 1,351 dead, the allied forces lost 1,000 dead,
1,200 wounded, 10,000 captured and all their equipment. German
casualties were 1,200 dead and 3,800 wounded. The great loss of men and
equipment seriously reduced the allied ability to defend Crete.