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Rethymnon map
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Group Centre would operate towards Rethymnon

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I have separated the Galatas front on to a separate page as I felt it was causing confusion having some of the action on Group West page and some here on Group Centre.

While the German Group West was in action around Maleme their Group Centre was to concentrate on the area of Galatas, Canea and Suda Bay.  Group Centre would be delivered in two waves; the first wave would attack the area of Canea and Galatas while the second wave was planned to attack Rethymnon in the afternoon then divert troops west to support the first wave in their attacks.  This page will concentrate on the actions around Rethymnon.

The entrance to Suda Bay.  The picture was taken from an olf fort (Turkish?) on a high point overlooking the Bay.  In the foreground is a Greek military installation.  From Davin's book I believe that in 1941 there were two 4-inch Coastal defence guns in that position.  This is Cape Dhrapanon and Suda Island can be seen in the waterway.  There was a anti-torpedo net between this southern shore and Suda Island.  Machine gun posts were on the island.

A German patrol moves through the typical olive grove terrain that covers much of Crete.  Those who have been there on holiday will know how warm that can be.
Most Secret  Suda Bay  12:00  20/5  (wo106/3241)

Approximately 1500 enemy troops wearing New Zealand battledress landed by parachute and from gliders and troop carriers Cania-Maleme area.

Military report situation in hand.

Suda Bay  15:00  20/5  (wo106/3241)

Capture of Maleme apparently the enemy's objective.  This has failed thus upsetting their plans.  Continuous enemy reconnaissance accompanied by sporadic bombing and machine gunning chiefly against A.A. defences.  Military hospital between CANEA & MALEME  was captured, now recaptured.  Fairly strong enemy party south of CANEA-MALEME road not yet mopped up.  Remaining parties reported accounted for.  HERAKLION bombed but no landing.  RETIMO not yet attacked.

Because of the situation in the centre, Heidrich had requested that the planned afternoon attack on Rethymnon should be abandoned, and the assigned force diverted to the south of Chania.  The request was refused.  German intelligence had reported Rethymnon as weakly defended, in fact it was held by two Australian and two Greek battalions under Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Campbell; 2/1 Australian Battn. on Hill 'A', 2/11 Australian on Hill 'B', four Greek battalions and two 'I' tanks of 7 Royal Tank Regt.  Because they were convinced by their own intelligence reports that resistance would be weak, only 2 battalions of 2 Parachute Regt. were allocated to the landing.

The main area of fighting around Rethymnon was the airfield.  This area can be seen on the large scale map.  On that map Stavromenos (just by the Olive Oil factory) is the second road junction to the right of Rethymnon, where the coast road branches to Perama.

From Heraklion 17:32 hours  (wo106/3241)

Parachute troops landing in this area 

From Heraklion 18:04

Parachute troops landed west of CANDIA and on HERAKLION aerodrome

From Heraklion 18:29

Parachute troops landing in town and on aerodrome.  Situation not clear.

The 1st and 3rd Battalions of the German  2nd Parachute Rifle Regiment, under Colonel Alfred Sturm, would be the attacking force.  The plan was for these to take the airfield by the evening, then move to hit the rear of the defenders at Suda Bay.  The 1st Battalion, commanded by Major Kroh, would land and take the airfield to the east of the town while the 3rd Battalion under Captain Wiedemann would land at the village of Perivolia and take Rethymnon itself.  Crete is a very rugged island, and the terrain here gave the advantage to the defenders on the hills overlooking the area.  To the east was Hill A, or Vineyard Hill, to the west near Platanes was Hill B, while Hill D overlooked the airfield.  Campbell distributed his forces across these hills, and positioned his two old tanks in a gully to the west of the airfield.  The town itself was to be defended by the Cretan Gendarmerie.

The attack started with bombing and strafing raids on the town and airfield, followed later by the low flying Ju-52s, of which many were shot down and their troops killed.  On the airfields in Greece the Germans had great problems 'turning round' their transport and support aircraft because of the dust which also affected the take-off of aircraft.  As a result they were not able to launch in coherent waves and as a result the parachute groups did not arrive on schedule over the drop zones, and did not drop accurately.  Major Kroh's I Battalion was split with some landing on the eastern edge of the airfield and coming under heavy fire, the rest landing a good way east of the airfield.  However, Kroh assembled those of his own force that he could as well as wrongly dropped elements of III Battalion and made a strong assault on 2/1 Australian on Hill 'A'.  They were counter-attacked by the two 'I' tanks, but both failed to be effective.

By the time dusk fell many of the German attackers and the Allied defenders were dead.  Only on Hill A had the Germans been able to advance, and cause the defenders to retreat.  [See article at bottom of page]  Both of the old tanks had been sent to the assistance of the defenders of Vineyard Hill, but both had struck obstacles and were out of action.  In the evening the Australians (I believe this is Lew Lind's formation) drove the Germans back down the slopes of Hill "B" into the vineyards around Perivolia, where many of them had been dropped earlier that day.  Kroh decided to dig in for the night and attack in the morning, with the assistance of the Luftwaffe.   To the west Wiedemann's force had also suffered heavy losses before moving against Rethymnon where they again met stiff resistance.  He decided to withdraw and, like Kroh, wait until the morning to renew his attack.  Campbell had also decided that dawn was the time to take the attack to the Germans.

From Adolf Strauch's diary, quoted in the book 'Storming Eagles'.  He jumped in this area.
"20th May.  Midday and it is boiling hot.  Impenetrable clouds of dust lie above the airfield.  The Ju 52s have come back from the mission; but not all of them.  Our impressions were right.  Before we load the weapons containers we have to remove the first dead from the damaged machines.  The aircraft crew do not say much.  It is 14.00 hrs.  We take off.  At 16.00 hrs we shall jump.  The heat is unbearable.  We do not have tropical uniforms and weigh a ton with all our equipment.  We fly over the sea.  The fighter planes which should be escorting us and which should beat down the enemy opposition when we drop, pass us - flying back from Crete.  Bad organization somewhere.
At about 16.00 hrs, "Get Ready!"  In front of us is the coast of Crete.  "Ready to jump!"  Our height at which we shall drop is 500 feet (150 metres).  The siren sounds.  We jump.  I hang in the air and try to orientate myself.  I make a good landing in a vineyard.  I reach my weapons container.  We assemble and take up formation.  Enemy reaction is weak.  The heat unbearable.
The 1st Regiment flies in in close waves.  They, too, jump at 150 metres at a speed of 75 mph (120 kph).  There are no German fighter aircraft to be seen.  The British anti-aircraft artillery and field guns fire continually.  Burning machines drop out of the sky.  We can see individual Jaeger jumping out of the exits.  The pilots hold their machines on course until they crash.  A whole battalion has been destroyed.  The night is cool.  We have dug in ready to face the enemy who will come from the West."

For Lieutenant Colonel Campbell, the 21st was a successful day.  He recaptured Hill A, together with the guns there, and also the two tanks which had been disabled the night before.  His forces had also captured Colonel, Sturm (who had lead the initial attacking force on the Rethymnon area) as well as a German Operation Order which told him that there were to be no further parachute landings planned for Rethymnon.  The attack had been a very "plucky" one.  The initial assault by Campbell's force met very heavy German resistance, as they were preparing to launch their own dawn raid.  After initial set backs Campbell and his officers rallied their men and attacked Hill "A" in four columns.  The Germans, exhausted from the previous day withdrew to the olive oil factory at Stavromenos.  The forces under Sturm and Kroh were not able to give each other mutual support, so the threat to the airfield had been removed.

From H.Q.  RAF M.E  21/5  (wo106/3241)

.....of 3000 troops in New Zealand uniforms landed CANEA area, over half were killed...

On the 22nd May there were attacks on the two German elements in the olive oil factory and at Perivolia.  Both attacks against these strong points failed, but the Australians did not give up the initiative, and kept trying over the following few days.  On the 26th they captured the olive oil factory, and on the 27th they almost drove the Germans out of Perivolia.  By then however events elsewhere on the island had moved on, and the Allies would be told to withdraw.

The following is from 'Crete Eyewitnessed', it is by Lt. Col. Ian Campbell, and gives some detail of how his force gave medical assistance to the German paratroops.
On May 23rd 1941, I accepted a party of 70 wounded German paratroops from the German force still holding out in the olive-oil factory at Stavromenos.  Very fortunately my battalion medical officer on Crete, Doctor Alan Carter, has given me some facts and detailed information.  He was directly involved in my decision to care for the wounded German paratroops in 1941.
I will try now to explain as briefly as I can at 84 what actually happened at Rethymnon and you will note that our first move to give medical aid was on 21st May 1941.  It was during the morning of the 21st May that we drove the paratroops off and to the east of the vital Hill 'A', which guarded the eastern end of the airstrip.  About midday, when I was at my Headquarters just south of the western end of the airstrip, I received a message from my Medical Officer (Captain Carter) asking permission for him to try to arrange a three-hour truce with the Germans at Stavromenos so that he could organise the collection of our wounded and also the German wounded who were lying in the flattish coastal strip between our right flank on Hill 'A' and the Germans who had retreated from Hill 'A' to the olive-oil factory at Stavromenos.  (I will refer in future to this factory as 'factory').
As soon as we had recaptured Hill 'A' and the country to its west, Captain Carter and his stretcher bearers had moved east of Hill 'A' down into the flat narrow coastal strip 800 yards across which to the east stood the factory!  I agreed Captain Carter should try to arrange a truce with the Germans, so that our own and the paratroop wounded could be cared for.  Captain Carter, under a white flag, then walked east to the factory and arranged a three-hour truce.  He then returned west towards our Hill 'A' and joined up with a paratroop medical post located in an isolated two roomed shack 300 yards east of Hill 'A'.  This German medical post consisted of two German doctors and their staff.  Captain Carter arranged with the German doctors to work together as our prisoners.  They decided to evacuate those well enough to be moved to our Medical Hospital at Adhele, but to keep the remaining wounded at their location.  You will appreciate that during the 3-hour truce all the wounded (theirs and ours) had been collected at this ex-German Aid Post.  Captain Carter remained with the Germans at their Aid Post in the two room shack until 29 May on which day it was closed down and the remaining wounded (theirs and ours) were moved to Adhele.
On the evening of 21st May when the first convoy of German and our wounded were being transported in ambulances to Adhele, the column was attacked by the German Air Force and the German doctor with the column was one of those killed.  This left one German doctor and he remained with Captain Carter until the medical post was closed down on 29th May.
Some of the German medical orderlies, etc. accompanied their wounded to Adhele where they joined in with our Australian Staff at our hospital.  I only had time to visit this combined hospital once during the battle.  The German NCOs and orderlies worked in well with our Australians and the German supply of drugs and medical equipment was much appreciated at Adhele, as we were short of stores etc., as a result of losses during the withdrawal through Greece.  The German and our own staff shared the same rations as our men (Australians).  Everything was shared equally.  Of course our hospital at Adhele also cared for the few-if any- captured paratroops, from the 10 day battles on my western front around Perivolia (western suburb of Rethymnon), but there could not have been many because the paratroop force in that area was never captured or overrun.
On the afternoon of 23rd May, a force of 70 paratroops (wounded) marched out of the factory to surrender to us, as they could not be cared for by the Germans in the factory, apparently.  We (Captain Carter) accepted them and they were sent on from the ex-German Aid Post by Carter to Adhele.  We captured the factory on the morning of 26th May and we found that most of the paratroops had fled during the previous night leaving a small fit guard and about 40 more wounded to surrender to us.
The paratroops were the finest looking group of young men I have ever met.  Hand-picked.  They fought bravely and fairly.  We had 500 of them as prisoners of war, so I saw a lot of them.
As you can see from my above story, there was really no alternative my troops and I could take in caring for the German wounded.  An unsuccessful parachute landing will always end up with the defenders (us) having to care for the wounded paratroops in and curlige (sic) warfare.
The following is an extract from "Crete Eyewitnessed".  It is an Australians view of the events around Rethymnon.
At about 4 p.m. on 20th May the hum of many approaching planes could be heard and preceded by two Dorniers (I think) which dropped smoke flares to indicate landing areas flights of Junker 52 troop carrier planes (about 18 in each group) and say 8-9 flights in all, thee to four minutes apart, came across the sea from Greece 3/4 miles east of our positions and then turned west at coast and dropped parachutists (20 or so per plane) from the olive oil factory (to east at Stavromenos) over air strip and on to Perivolia.  I think 1,600 in all were dropped at 200 feet, and it was rather frightening.
I was in an observation post slit-trench on east side of Hill, known later as Hill 'A' with the telephone linked to Brigade Headquarters and after reporting the sighting of the incoming flights and numbers, I shook hands with my signaler and said: "We may have five or six minutes to live but we will get a few before we die".  We did, at close range, and having captured a few of their light automatic weapons and cleared those in immediate vicinity of guns the real action commenced.  In all 253 parachutists were killed in and around Hill 'A' for 29 of ours.  Apart from Lieutenant Faulkner killed by a sniper on nearby knoll, we lost Sergeant Jack Washer and 11 other men.  Three infantries with us shot ten/eleven Germans as they landed which helped and provided extra weapons.
In the late evening of the 20th May some few hours after the landing and in the darkness the Germans had gathered strength on the East side and North of Hill 'A'.  And when it became apparent the gunners could not hold on without supporting infantry and small arms (a few 1st Battalion were with us) we arranged that firing pins be removed from each 75mm gun and hidden nearby individually but in front of every gun crew member so that enemy could not use guns against us when Hill was evacuated and on recapture in day light at least some of each crew alive would know where pins were buried and guns could quickly be put back into action.
Next morning at dawn Major Ian Campbell (o/c of forces) brought us a company of 1st Battalion plus a company of Greek Infantry on flank and with Don Troop Gunners assisting from the Waddi Trash to west of Hill 'A' .  The Hill was retaken and with guns quickly back into action many Germans retreating towards olive oil factory to east were killed.  The Germans had brought together a circular next of four heavy machine guns facing the attack, but fortunately for us two of their planes that came at dawn from Greece had difficulty in deciding who held which areas as our forces had placed captured swastika flags in and around us and they dropped two bombs direct hit on their men manning the machine guns just as our attack started.  When I reached their guns eight or nine men were really smashed to pieces but one survived and when I got him to stand he was a mess - with shock and calmly walked back down the Hill in direction I pointed.  It is thought the attack would not have succeeded if machine guns had opened up as it was pretty heavy going as it was with a number of ours killed and wounded.........  War is really horrible but once in close combat it is kill or be killed.
On 21st and 22nd May, when we were burying the dead, I looked at a little wallet of the first man I shot, a parachute Hauptmann - (Captain), and in it was a photo of his wife and five year-old daughter.  I thought things could have been in reverse, as I also had a photo of my wife and daughter in my wallet.
The 23rd was again a day where both sides were holding rather than making any advantage against the other.  From mid-day until 13.00 there had been a truce to allow dead and wounded to be brought in, and at one point the Germans called on the defenders to surrender, they didn't.  The Germans were preventing Lt. Col. Campbell's force from reinforcing Canea, whilst holding his position, and so tying up a German force, he was himself isolated from Canea and Heraklion.