Rethymnon plaque was finally unveiled in 1998 outside the City Hall of
Rethymnon by MARKOS POLIOUDAKIS OAM, a prominent local military
historian. The Australians' fought their most significant battles in
Crete near this site in 1941.
Battle of Crete
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.