Brave Cretan Women Spring 1940. Because the initial failed invasion of Greece by the Axis forces was a costly liability, Hitler was forced to commit his elite forces to the task. Thus began the second invasion of Greece. By may 1941 Crete was the only Greek territory of Greece that remained free. To conquer it Hitler approved ‘operation mercury’. With Operation Mercury Hitler believed that his conquest of Crete would be complete…but history would record a different story.
George Tzitzikas: “There was fear. No question about that. But the fear brought anger. And when they came down on May 20th, 1941 the Cretan people were ready for them.”
On May 20, 1941 thousands of Hitler’s paratroopers descended on the island of Crete. This marked the beginning of the Battle of Crete, the largest airborne operation in World War II. With many of the islands military forces in mainland Greece only a few troops remained and Hitler expected the island to quickly fall. Hitler grossly underestimated the strong will of the Cretan people. The civilian counterattack was overwhelming.
Manolis Paterakis: “We didn’t have many guns. Metaxas had gathered them together. But still everyone, men and women, children and young men fought back with whatever they had.”
Kaliopi Kapetanakis: “You felt compelled to help your father, brothers, uncles. We wanted to fight for our country.”
Of the 8,100 paratroopers that landed on Crete, 2,764 were killed and 1,600 wounded in the next 3 days. The Germans were never expecting that kind of resistance and it was because everyone and whoever could fought back. Many Cretan women found back with whatever weapons they could find. Hitler’s troops suffered more casualties in the first day of conflict then they had suffered in any single day since the beginning of the war. Despite being grossly outmatched the Cretan people held the Germans back for 10 full days.
An interesting note is that our Gold Coast property is very near to the famous Hill 107 and shares a similar view which many historians think was a key failure in the defense of the island that could have kept off the German attack even longer. Hill 107 overlooked the airfield at Meleme, and it is believed the resistance withdrew these positions allowing the Germans to fly in more troops to early. You can read more about it here.
The Cretan people continued to operate a guerilla campaign against the occupying Nazi forces. Many Cretan woman aided this effort by serving as spies and messengers and smuggling weapons and food to resistance fighters and by sheltering American and British special operatives who later parachuted in to help resistance. Being discovered for such brave acts meant certain death. Nearly 1,000 Cretan women were killed and an additional 500 women were deported to Germany.
The actions of these brave Cretan women and the extraordinary courage shown have been an inspiration for women around the world. The wound inflicted on Hitler by the Cretan resistance severely weakened Hitler’s forces heading into the Russian winter and was a turning point in the war. I think this quote summarizes the effort and Cretan spirit perfectly:
George Tzitzikas: “They aimed to destroy the spirit of the Cretan people. And have the Cretans submit them but they failed. And failed miserably. Crete fell, but they never surrendered.”
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