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Invasion of Crete Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 1/2/2015

With the Greek mainland now under Axis control, Hitler now set his sights on the nearby - strategically-important - Mediterranean island of Crete.

With most of Western and Eastern Europe until Axis control, the German/Italian war machine once again jumped into action - literally - as a combined force of German and Italian paratroopers took part in landings on the strategically important island of Crete. Allied air defenses proved deadly at first where some 50% of Axis transports were destroyed while still in the air though any presumed Allied victory was short-lived as the enemy force quickly engaged strategic points. The Germans committed 14,000 paratroopers and were further backed by 15,000 mountain troops as well as air support through bombers, dive bombers, and fighters. For their part, the Italians used 2,700 men. All this was against an Allied force made up of 15,000 British, 11,451 Greek, 7,100 Australian, and 6,700 New Zealanders in defense of the island. The invasion began on May 20th, 1941.


The valiant Allied troops battled it out with modest success until eventually being forced on the run. By the end of May, the Allies were forced to evacuate and relinquish control of the island to the invaders. Additionally, several important Royal Navy ships were also lost in the fighting. The war dead included 4,123 Allied personnel with 2,750 wounded and 17,090 captured. The enemy lost 370 aircraft in the fighting - which ended on June 1st, 1941 - just eleven days after the initial assault wave.


The Invasion of Crete marked the first large scale use of paratroopers in an attempt to overtake an enemy-held territory. German airborne troops made up most of the ground fighting force which forced the Allies to take a closer look into developing their own respective airborne elements. The battle also marked the first useful application of intelligence garnered from German Enigma code machines. Despite the success of the German airborne force, the losses were such that Adolf Hitler limited their large-scale use in operations going forward.


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There are a total of 25 Invasion of Crete Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1941
Friday
April 25th

Fuhrer Directive No.28 is issued by Adolf Hitler, calling for the invasion of the island of Crete through Operation Mercury led by General Kurt Student.

1941
Saturday
April 26th

Allied codebreakers intercept word of the impending German invasion of Crete.

1941
Wednesday
April 30th

Allied forces based on Crete receive a new leader in the form of Major-General Bernard Freyberg.

1941
Monday
May 19th

In advance of the Crete invasion, RAF fighters are relocated to Egypt for safe-keeping.

1941
Monday
May 19th

Allied codebreakers intercept word that Operation Mercury will commence the very next day. The Allies begin preparations.

1941
Tuesday
May 20th

Allied flak teams destroy as many as 50% of the invading German transport planes in the first few hours of the operation.

1941
Tuesday
May 20th

Operation Mercury is officially launched.

1941
Tuesday
May 20th

At approximately 7:00 AM, the first German airborne troops land at locations near Maleme and Khania.

1941
Tuesday
May 20th

At least 500 Junkers Ju 52 transport aircraft are utilized in the first wave of airdrops over Crete.

1941
Tuesday
May 20th

Between 1:30 and 2:00 PM, the second wave of German airborne troops take off from Greece towards drop zones in Crete.

1941
Tuesday
May 20th

In-air losses for the second wave of German paratroopers is nearly equal to the first thanks to the stellar Allied flak defenses on Crete.

1941
Tuesday
May 20th

At about 2:00 PM, the second wave of German paratroops land around Heraklion and Rethymnon.

1941
Tuesday
May 20th

The first day of the German invasion of Crete sees little progress as many strategic positions are not under German control yet.

1941
Wednesday
May 21st

A German offensive against Heraklion is pushed away by at least 8,000 dug-in Allied soldiers.

1941
Wednesday
May 21st

German Army troops making their way to Crete via the sea are intercepted and pummeled by elements of the Royal Navy. Just 60 of these German soldiers live to see another day.

1941
Thursday
May 22nd

The HMS Greyhound, a British destroyer, is downed by German bombers.

1941
Thursday
May 22nd

New Zealand troops are repelled from an attempt to retake the airfield at Maleme from the Germans.

1941
Friday
May 23rd

German dive bombers destroy the HMS Kelly and HMS Kashmir, two Royal Navy destroyers.

1941
Friday
May 23rd

German dive bombers destroy the HMS Gloucester and the HMS Fiji, two Royal Navy cruisers.

1941
Tuesday
May 27th

The German Army takes Heraklion and her all-important airfield.

1941
Tuesday
May 27th

Allied forces retreat to defensive positions at Galatas.

1941
Friday
May 30th

The brave defense of Rethymnon by Australian soldiers finally falters under intense pressure from the German Army.

1941
Saturday
May 31st

By this date, Crete is firmly entrenched under German rule.

1941
Wednesday
May 28th

Heraklion in the north and Sphakia in the south of Crete will serve as major evacuation junctions for the Allies.

1941
Wednesday
May 28th

The evacuation order is given by Major-General Freyberg for the gradual withdrawel of Allied troops from the island of Crete.