"Anybody visiting the beautiful island, whose history covers 5000 years, will hardly be able to understand why crete was the scene of fierce fighting during the Second world War.

War historians believe that the reason was the strategic significance of the location of the island in the Eastern Mediterranean. The following contains some explanations:

The Second World War had embroiled many countries in violence since its start in September 1938, when the Italians, who were allied to the Germans, attacked Greece on 28 October 1940. The Greek army put up unexpectedly strong resistance. At the same time units of the British Commonwealth hurried to help their Greek partners as a result of English security guarantees. Together they forced back the enemy. This development posed a threat to German strategy and its future war plans. On the 6th april 1941 german troops marched through Yugoslavia (the Balkan campaign) to Greece. The Germans managed to occupy the whole of the Pelponnesus. However, Crete remained in British hands and, with its fleet support points and military air fields, remained a barrier in the Eastern Mediterranean. Germany regarded this as a threat to its free access to the important oil fields in Romania and the sea route to North Africa, which were essential for the future of its war effort.

Under the code name "Mercury", an attack was started on 20th May 1941 on the island with the mass landing of German paratroopers and the landing of mountain troops. The resistance was well organised and around 40,000 strong, consisting of Greeks, English, New Zealanders and Australians defended the island. During the first few days of fighting, in particular, losses on the German side were extraordinarily high. In the night from 28th to 29th May, the defenders started their retreat and the evacuation of their troops.

Crete remained in German hands until 1945, but the occupation forces suffered permanent attacks by partisans during this time and these cost hundreds more lives on both sides. The struggle for the island cost a heavey price. There are victims in the British military cemetery in the southern bay, more in the German cemetery and yet more Greek victims in the many local cemeteries. In addition there are many hundreds of victims of the air and sea war who could not be rescued and the soldiers who died in POW camps. They all remind us, the living, to do everything for peace and reconcilliation"

The above is a quote from the information boards found at the German War Cemetery at Maleme in Crete. I visited the island of Crete in September 2001. The German War Cemetery is not an easy place to find, badly sign posted, but it is well worth the visit. Below are some of the photos I took whilst there.


Main gates to the cemetery
View looking up the hill of the gravestones
Example of a gravestone
View looking down from the top of the hill out to sea