Crete 1941: The Battle and the Resistance

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9780143126423: Crete 1941: The Battle and the Resistance

The bestselling author of Stalingrad and D-Day vividly reconstructs the epic WWII struggle for Crete – reissued with a new introduction

Beevor's Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge is now available from Viking Books 

Nazi Germany expected its airborne attack on Crete in 1941 to be a textbook victory based on tactical surprise. Little did they know that the British, using Ultra intercepts, had already laid a careful trap. It should have been the first German defeat of the war when a fatal misunderstanding turned the battle around.

Prize-winning historian and bestselling author Antony Beevor lends his gift for storytelling to this important conflict, showing not only how the situation turned bad for Allied forces, but also how ferocious Cretan freedom fighters mounted a heroic resistance. Originally published in 1991, Crete 1941 is a breathtaking account of a momentous battle of World War II.

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About the Author:

Antony Beevor is the bestselling author of D-Day: The Battle for Normandy,which received the Royal United Services’ Institute Westminster Medal; The Battle for Spain, which received the La Vanguardia Prize; Paris After the Liberation 1944–1949; Stalingrad, winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Wolfson Prize for History, and the Hawthornden Prize for Literature; and The Fall of Berlin 1945, which received the first Longman-History Today Trustees’ Award. He is the recipient of the 2014 Pritzker Military Museum & Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. Beevor lives in England.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PART ONE
THE FALL OF GREECE
1
Military Missions

On the night after the last British troops left the beaches of Dunkirk, a tall man with a glass eye said goodbye to his wife on the steps of the Oxford and Cambridge Club. It was the eve of his departure by flying-boat for Greece. They never saw each other again. A year later, badly wounded in the battle for Crete, he was shot by German paratroopers.

Although an archaeologist, and an Old Wykehamist of conventional background, John Pendlebury was a vigorous romantic. He carried a swordstick which he claimed was the perfect weapon against parachutists. In Crete it became an even more famous trademark than the glass eye which he used to leave on his desk to indicate his absence from Heraklion whenever he left for the mountains to confer with guerrilla kapitans.

Like many dons and archaeologists, he had been canvassed in 1938 by a special department in the War Office known as MI(R) – Military Intelligence (Research) – a forerunner of Special Operations Executive. With an intimate knowledge of Crete from his time as curator at Knossos in the mid-1930s, Pendlebury was an obvious candidate for special operations. Yet no summons had arrived on the outbreak of war, and he had returned to England for a commission in a cavalry regiment.

The call had finally come in May 1940 as the German attack on the Low Countries and France began. The increasing possibility of Italy’s entry into the war, and German interest in the Balkans, particularly the oilfields of Roumania, suggested that the eastern Mediterranean would be the next region of operations. Another Greek-speaking archaeologist called to the camouflaged colours of MI(R) in May 1940 was Nicholas Hammond, a don from Cambridge. He and Pendlebury were sent off on a rushed course in explosives, which became Hammond’s speciality: an unlikely qualification for a future headmaster of Clifton and professor of Greek. Hammond was an expert on Epirus and Albania. In London, before their departure, Pendlebury insisted – more in playfulness than paranoia – that as a security measure they should always converse on the telephone in Greek: Hammond in Epirotic dialect and Pendlebury in Cretan.

Although older than the majority of those volunteering for sabotage and stay-behind groups, Pendlebury was one of the fittest. A well-known athlete from Cambridge, both as a runner and a high-jumper, and a member of the Achilles Club, he had been a friend of Harold Abrahams and Lord Burghley. In one pre-war season based at Knossos, he had walked over a thousand miles across Crete’s mountainous terrain.

At little more than a day’s notice, the four members of MI(R) destined for Greece and Albania were summoned to the War Office. They numbered Pendlebury, Hammond, a businessman from Zagreb, and another archaeologist, David Hunt, a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, who became a diplomat after the war. On 4 June, they were escorted to Victoria Station by an officer of Foot Guards in full service dress, riding breeches, gleaming boots and No.1 Dress cap. In the midst of the stream of exhausted Dunkirk evacuees his immaculate presence provided one of those surreal touches at which the British establishment inadvertently excels.

They boarded a flying-boat in Poole harbour and took off uncertain of their route. The German columns advancing deep into France forced the pilot to take a circuitous line, landing to refuel at Arcachon just south of Bordeaux, Sète, Bizerta, Malta and Corfu. At Athens, all except Pendlebury were refused entry because their covers of ‘businessman’ and ‘civil servant’ were thought suspicious. During that period preceding the Italian invasion, the Greek government was on guard against any British action which might compromise its neutrality.

Pendlebury, as a former curator at Knossos, was allowed to enter the country. He soon crossed over to Crete where he began to contact friends made during his immense marches and prepare groups to resist the invasion of such a strategically important island.

Hammond and Hunt, barred from entering Greece, had no option but to carry on to Egypt. There, they were attached to the 1st Battalion of the Welch Regiment in Alexandria. This regular battalion later demonstrated its military mettle in Crete, but for someone who had volunteered as an irregular the peacetime routine was suffocating. ‘Every Sunday the officers gave a cocktail party lasting from 12 to 3 (champagne cocktails only) to the youth and beauty of Alexandria. At 3 o’clock, we all sat down to roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, although the temperature was fairly steady in the 90s.’ Since Italy declared war on 10 June, two days after Hammond and Hunt reached Alexandria, this curious existence did not go on for very long.

That summer, while Britain prepared for invasion, and the first skirmishes took place in the Western Desert, the regime of the Greek dictator, General Ioannis Metaxas, acutely aware of the threat from the Italian army which had occupied Albania in April 1939, made every effort to avoid confrontation.

The government in Athens even overlooked the sinking by an Italian submarine of their cruiser Helle which was acting as ceremonial guardship during religious celebrations on the island of Tinos. Such exceptional moderation did them little good.

• • •

Few military campaigns have been undertaken so carelessly as the Italian invasion of Greece, launched on 28 October 1940. Mussolini originally wanted to invade Yugoslavia, but Hitler vetoed the proposal firmly. Yugoslav raw materials were almost as important to Germany’s war effort as Roumania’s oil. In some ways it is surprising that Hitler did not also veto the invasion of Greece. He had plenty of warning of what the Italians were up to, and Mussolini almost certainly cleared it with him during a private moment at the Brenner meeting of 4 October.

The Duce presented his prospective campaign as part of a double attack on Britain’s position in the eastern Mediterranean – supposedly the capture of Mersa Matruh followed by Italian domination of the Aegean. At the time, this accorded with Germany’s ‘peripheral strategy’ of attacking Britain other than by a direct assault across the Channel, but Hitler had not fully appreciated the Italian regime’s talent for disaster.

Emanuele Grazzi, the Italian minister in Athens, woke General Metaxas at 3 a.m. to deliver an ultimatum, without even knowing the details of its conditions. The diplomatic charade added insult to injury since Italian troops had already crossed the Albanian frontier. General Papagos, the Greek Chief of Staff, rang Colonel Jasper Blunt, the British Military Attaché, less than half an hour later. Blunt went straight to the offices of the General Staff where he found a sang-froid that was most impressive in the circumstances.

The popular demonstrations next day showed that the country had united instinctively. Metaxas’s ‘No!’ to Grazzi is still commemorated each year on 28 October with the national holiday known as ‘Ohi Day’. In the patriotic emotion, both Venizelist anti-monarchist liberals and the left temporarily forgot that Metaxas’s royalist dictatorship had violated the constitution and suppressed all opposition.

Metaxas, with the authority of the recently restored King George II, had put an end to party politics with his decree of 4 August 1936. His rule was enforced by the police and secret police of his loyal supporter, Constantinos Maniadakis, Minister of National Security.

The endless preoccupation of Greek royalists and liberals with the constitution had long been little more than a surrogate battle enabling them to ignore the real problem of the country – the division between a self-absorbed capital and the woefully neglected countryside and islands. This failure of the two main parties, followed by the Metaxist dictatorship, which was known as the ‘Fourth of August Regime’, later gave the Communists their opportunity on the mainland.

Parallels with Spain were striking. The difference in the pattern of events leading to their respective civil wars lay mainly in timing. In Spain, Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship in the 1920s bottled up the explosion for the late 1930s. In Greece, Metaxas’s similar attempt to impose military order on civilian chaos was followed by the Albanian campaign and German occupation. This meant that the explosion was delayed until the end of the Second World War, soon after British troops arrived in Athens.

On 28 October 1940, Sir Michael Palairet, the British Minister, was cheered on the balcony of the British Legation by opponents and supporters of the regime alike. The Legation, a large pink and white mansion on Kifissia Avenue, had belonged to Eleutherios Venizelos, the great liberal statesman of the First World War, whose pro-Allied stance had helped depose the pro-German King Constantine, the father of George II. In Venizelos’s native Crete, the outburst of patriotism nearly led to the destruction of the early seventeenth-century Morosini fountain in Heraklion because it was Venetian and therefore ‘enemy’.

Reservists did not wait for call-up papers, they reported immediately. Wildly enthusiastic soldiery piling into troop trains fired an estimated million rounds into the air. Many units set out for the front on foot, since motor transport barely existed in the Greek army. In the Pindus mountains, men, women and children offered themselves and their pack animals to carry ammunition and supplies across the wild and roadless terrain. Within a few days the Italian advance came to a halt.

In the belief that the campaign would be little short of a triumphal march, the Italian army in Albania had not been provided with engineer units. The lack of strategy – a futile push into the mountain mass of Epirus instead of cutting across towards the key port of Salonika – exasperated Hitler as much as the incompetence with which the campaign was executed. He pretended to have had no prior knowledge of the whole venture.

Instead of a short sharp campaign which would have barred the enemy from the continent of Europe, Hitler found that Mussolini’s action had triggered the British guarantee of Greek independence given in April 1939 after the Italian invasion of Albania. In Salzburg on 18 November the Führer made the Italian Foreign Minister, Count Ciano, understand that the arrival of Royal Air Force bombers in the region of his main fuel supply, the oilfields of Ploesti, was Mussolini’s fault.

Hitler’s concern for the oilfields increased further when it became clear that his attempts to lull Soviet suspicions aroused by German troops in Roumania had failed. On 5 December 1940, he finally decided on the invasion of Russia. The threat now of a second front on his right rear became a major preoccupation.

The original staff plan to invade Greece (Operation Marita) and Gibraltar (Operation Felix) as part of the ‘peripheral strategy’ against Britain’s Mediterranean and imperial power had to be revised. General Franco’s bland intransigence made ‘Felix’ impossible, and in any case Hitler, with his ambition fixed on Russia, had lost interest in the Mediterranean. ‘Marita’, on the other hand, had become more important than ever. He had to secure his flank for the coming advance eastwards.

Hitler’s fears were exaggerated. The RAF’s presence in Greece was much less of a threat than he imagined because Metaxas’s government refused to allow the British to threaten the Roumanian oilfields. An improvised collection of squadrons under Air Vice Marshal D’Albiac – at first mostly Blenheims and Gladiators – was sent from Egypt to support the Greek army on the Albanian front. To avoid provoking the Germans, the bombers could not be stationed any further forward than Eleusis and Tatoi, both close to Athens.

For the advance party – who had been casually told in their mess tent in the desert, ‘You’re off to Greece tomorrow’ – touching down in a Sunderland flying-boat at the naval air station of Phaleron near Athens was a moving moment. They were the first British forces openly back on European territory since the fall of France.

The young pilots who followed had the happy-go-lucky attitude of the time. In 211 Squadron, a number were motor-racing enthusiasts who had known each other from the paddock at Brooklands. Nicknames were compulsively applied to everything and everyone, with ‘kites’ called ‘Bloody Mary’ and ‘Caminix’, and pilots known as ‘the Bish’ Gordon-Finlayson, ‘Twinkle’ Pearson and ‘Shaky Do’ Dawson.

They soon settled into their new life. By day they carried out bombing raids on the Albanian ports of Durazzo and Valona – a dangerously repetitive pattern known as ‘same time, same place’ jobs. And by night they enjoyed themselves in Athens, starting at Zonar’s, then going on to Maxim’s or the Argentina night-club, where they rubbed shoulders, and occasionally came to blows, with unconvincing German ‘holiday-makers’. At the Argentina, they used to chat up a blonde singer and dancer called Nicki after the show, unaware that she was the girlfriend of a member of Section D (another forerunner of Special Operations Executive) working under cover in the Legation.

• • •

As a further gesture of support, and to provide ‘close-up information about the relative merits of the two armies’, Churchill had demanded the dispatch of a British Military Mission to the Greek army. GHQ Middle East received this instruction within a few days of the Italian invasion, and at the end of the second week of November, Major General Gambier-Parry was sent from Egypt, followed by a skeleton staff.

Although the Military Attaché, Colonel Blunt, was put in a difficult position, he and Gambier-Parry got on well. But Gambier-Parry was recalled towards the end of the year for a short-lived appointment as commander of British forces on Crete. His replacement was Major General T.G. Heywood.

Heywood had been Military Attaché in Paris prior to the fall of France. His refusal to acknowledge defects in the French army was an inauspicious qualification. Harold Caccia, the First Secretary at the Legation, considered him ‘intelligent, but not very wise.’ Heywood was a fastidious man. He had a muscular military face, with moustache, hard, narrowed eyes and a monocle. Ambitious and ‘politically minded’, he increased the size of the British Military Mission from little more than half a dozen officers to over seventy at one point, a growth which convinced many in the Greek army that his organisation was destined to form the nucleus of an expeditionary force.

Heywood also put his fellow gunner, Jasper Blunt, in an intolerable position. Blunt, a perceptive man, had accumulated an excellent knowledge of the Greek army. He was also the only British officer in Athens who had managed to reconnoitre the threatened north-east before the Greek General Staff vetoed further visits. Colonel Blunt, with his superior local knowledge, should have joined the mission as the senior intelligence officer, but Heywood had brought in his own man, Stanley Casson – Reader in Classical Archaeology at New College, Oxford – who although brilliant and a veteran of the Salonika front in the First World War, was rather out of touch. Perhaps the most eccentric addition was Colonel Rankin of the Indian Army in a curiously cut pair of jodhpurs and a long cavalry tunic which stuck out so much at the sides that he was known as ‘the Indian evzone’.

Most members of the British Military Mission were either picked regular officers, or wartime volunteers with knowledge of the region. The chief staff officer for operations was a well-kn...

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Descrizione libro Penguin Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. The bestselling author of Stalingrad and D-Day vividly reconstructs the epic WWII struggle for Crete reissued with a new introduction Beevor sArdennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulgeis now available from Viking Books Nazi Germany expected its airborne attack on Crete in 1941 to be a textbook victory based on tactical surprise. Little did they know that the British, using Ultra intercepts, had already laid a careful trap. It should have been the first German defeat of the war when a fatal misunderstanding turned the battle around. Prize-winning historian and bestselling author Antony Beevor lends his gift for storytelling to this important conflict, showing not only how the situation turned bad for Allied forces, but also how ferocious Cretan freedom fighters mounted a heroic resistance. Originally published in 1991, Crete 1941 is a breathtaking account of a momentous battle of World War II. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780143126423

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Descrizione libro Penguin Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. The bestselling author of Stalingrad and D-Day vividly reconstructs the epic WWII struggle for Crete reissued with a new introduction Beevor sArdennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulgeis now available from Viking Books Nazi Germany expected its airborne attack on Crete in 1941 to be a textbook victory based on tactical surprise. Little did they know that the British, using Ultra intercepts, had already laid a careful trap. It should have been the first German defeat of the war when a fatal misunderstanding turned the battle around. Prize-winning historian and bestselling author Antony Beevor lends his gift for storytelling to this important conflict, showing not only how the situation turned bad for Allied forces, but also how ferocious Cretan freedom fighters mounted a heroic resistance. Originally published in 1991, Crete 1941 is a breathtaking account of a momentous battle of World War II. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780143126423

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Descrizione libro Penguin Books, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. The bestselling author of Stalingrad and D-Day vividly reconstructs the epic WWII struggle for Crete reissued with a new introduction Beevor sArdennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulgeis now available from Viking Books Nazi Germany expected its airborne attack on Crete in 1941 to be a textbook victory based on tactical surprise. Little did they know that the British, using Ultra intercepts, had already laid a careful trap. It should have been the first German defeat of the war when a fatal misunderstanding turned the battle around. Prize-winning historian and bestselling author Antony Beevor lends his gift for storytelling to this important conflict, showing not only how the situation turned bad for Allied forces, but also how ferocious Cretan freedom fighters mounted a heroic resistance. Originally published in 1991, Crete 1941 is a breathtaking account of a momentous battle of World War II. Codice libro della libreria BTE9780143126423

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