The if's and but's surrounding the fall of Crete 1941.

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by pattle, Jun 1, 2013.

  1. pattle

    pattle Member

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    If Commonwealth forces had been successful in repelling the German airborne invasion of Crete in 1941 how if at all would this have altered the shape of the war?
    Historian's tend to doubt whether the Allies could have supplied this island and also cast doubt over it's usefulness if successfully defended. There is however an opinion that Cretan airfields could have been used to destroy the Romanian oilfields which were crucial to the German war effort. Should the Germans have not been successful in conquering Crete then how would this have effected German plans for the invasion of the USSR?
    It is the commonly held belief that's Crete's greatest contributions to the Allied war effort include that it's occupation absorbed a large number of German troops, destroyed Hitler's faith in the use of Paratroops and delayed Barbarossa, while on the other hand it's biggest contribution towards the Axis war effort was as a supply depot for the Axis forces in North Africa, should Crete not have been available as a supply depot to Rommel would his defeat have been any sooner or would the precious resources sent by the Allies from North Africa to defend Crete have weakened them enough to allow Rommel to achieve victory?
     
  2. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Germany wouldn't go away. They would have piled on forces (especially air power from nearby Greece) until British defenses on Crete were crushed.
     
  3. pattle

    pattle Member

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    German forces couldn't stay because of Barbarossa and yet for the same reason they couldn't leave either. Airpower alone would not have defeated Crete only an invasion which following the earlier loss of the German paras would of had to of come from the sea, and this could only really of been done with major involvement from the Italian fleet. The Allies would by this time have been more if not well prepared for an invasion which would have cost the Germans dearly with no guarantee of victory.
     
  4. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    They wouldn't need to stay long. German airpower would drive RN from the region and this would be followed by sea transport of an infantry corps to Crete.
     
  5. OldSkeptic

    OldSkeptic Active Member

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    It was a complete waste of time (another Churchillian 'adventure', shades of Gallipolli).

    It severally damaged the British strategic effort, since it stopped them completely winning in North Africa before the Germans could get there.
    It created great tactical damage, not the least the wasting of many very fine troops (like the New Zealanders).
    It was totally pointless from any strategic, political or tactical reason.

    Usual British disaster pre Montgomery and Allan Brooke getting on top of controlling Churchill (oh could that man create disasters).

    The British, to survive and keep fighting (and the Americans when they came along) HAD to control the Med. The saving in shipping by being able to route through the Suez Canal and run through the Med was in the millions of tons (both ways, since Lend Lease material to the USSR mostly went though Iran).
    But to do that they needed to control North Africa and they needed Malta, everything else was a waste of resources until they were secure.

    Sicily was a 'second order priority', in that it was very useful to control it because it might have absorbed huge amounts of airpower neutralising German airpower attacking convoys from there.
    Italy was a waste of time, in that the Italian Navy was dead and the Allied air forces were now strong enough (and the Luftwaffe weak enough) to ensure convoy safety through the Med (especially if Sicily was gone).
    All it did was waste a lot of Allied forces, especially the Commonwealth ones who could not afford it.
     
  6. vinnye

    vinnye Member

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    #6 vinnye, Jun 2, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2013
    I agree to some extent with OldSkeptic, diverting troops to the Greece and Crete was not Churchill's finest hour. The loss of men and materials was unjustifiable, then add in the horrendous losses that the RN suffered trying to evacuate those men - seems like a big mistake. Better to drive the Italian tropps right out of North Africa before the Afrika Korps exist!
    I disagree about Sicily and the invasion of Italy, the second front was not going to succeed in France, so some way to blood the American troops was needed - abd Sicily was a good place to start - if North Africa had already been cleared out.
     
  7. pattle

    pattle Member

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    Yes the defence of mainland Greece did damage the Allied war effort and the Germans couldn't have failed in capturing mainland Greece but Crete was a very different prospect. Hitler in the same way as he hadn't really thought that far ahead about what to do with Britain once France had fallen also hadn't really considered about what to do with Crete once mainland Greece was successfully invaded. The Luftwaffe was only a real threat to Allied shipping by day, the Royal Navy controlled the sea between Greece and Crete by night and had already sunk the seaborne invasion force sent to reinforce the airborne landings at huge cost of life to the Germans. The only way the Germans could have invaded by sea was by day and this could only have been done with the Italian fleet as the German's had neither the warships or troop transports. The invasion of Crete was going to have to take place quickly if at all in 1941 because Hitler was not going to be distracted from his invasion of Russia which if was delayed any further would have been postponed until 1942.
    I think Hitler would have put the failed use of paratroopers down to experience and gone ahead and attacked Russia as planned. If Hitler was prepared to attack Russia with Britain still in the war then he couldn't have been very worried about Crete and must have been thinking that once Russia had fallen then Britain would follow. The Balkan campaign although at the time a success for the Germans later cost them dearly as it meant that large numbers of German troops were tied up in both Yugoslavia and Greece. Added to this the delay in Barbarossa meant that the Germans didn't reach the outskirts of Moscow until the winter was setting in, had the Germans been able to invade earlier they may have captured Moscow before winter.
     
  8. vinnye

    vinnye Member

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    I think Crete was maybe too large an Island for the British to defend successfully. There were mistakes made in its defence from German paratroopers which maybe could and should have been avoided, but ultimately too few men spread out too far!
    Had resources been available to base several squadrons of Spitfires on the Island with radar equipment - maybe a different result?
    I do not think that the Italian Navy would have relished the thought of carrying out a large sea bourne invasion of Crete unless the RN had been neutralised in both Malta and Alexandria!
     
  9. jim

    jim Banned

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    The battle of Crete has been obviously, has been analyzed in its smallest detail in my country (Greece)

    1) Its extremely arrogant by the anglosaxon posters in this thread , to wonder if the BRITISH forces could hold the island
    . There were more greek troops on the island and the local population , men and women, fought as well the paratroopers . Unfortunately , Crete s children , the greek 5th Infantry division , did not manage to return from the albanian front
    2) The victories of the Greek army in Albania was a great surprise to everyone. However the british knew that could not use this victory. They knew they could not face the Germans on equal terms . This created them two problems 1) it would be bad public relations to left the victorious greek army helpless 2) more importantly , THEY WANTED ,AT ALL COSTS ,TO PREVENT A PEACE AGREEMENT , BETWEEN GREECE AND ITALY. They knew that some initial contacts had taken place.
    So they offered greece some redecilous "forces" . Prime minister Metaxas rejected the offer. He did not want to provoke Germany ,unless serious forces were sent by the british. Then ,very conviniently, in January 1941 , Metaxas got sick and deid . Today is common secret in Greece, that Metaxas was murdered.. So the British sent some symbolic forces. And did not join the Greek army of Macedonia , in Metaxas line , but kept them much behind
    After some symbolic resistance, the British evacuated Greece ,their purpose achieved.
    3) The british forces on Crete had the same orders. Give some resistance and then flee.
    4) The Germans had ABSOLUTELY, no other way to capture the island but the aerial assault. Their sea effort ended with huge looses of life. Even today ,very old habitants of crete , remember the beaches " with countless bodies of young boys with blond hair"
    5)During the the first day, the brave simple New Zelanders soldiers, the Greek troops , the old men and the women of Crete defeated the paratroopers. Around Rethymno the German units were destroyed , around Iraklio were bogged down with heavy losse. Only around Chania had made some gains but were generally in a very dificult situation.
    6) Then the crime was commited. The New Zelander BASTARD , whose name i dont want to spell, not only did not ordered the night attack that would have brought total victory . He also ordered the greek units not to attack. And their commanders obeyed him , betraying 5000 years of history . ( The New Zelander was just following ordres, and in its country is considered a war hero)
    7) Next day the resistance of New Zelanders around the airport of Maleme (an airport constructed by the british6 months before!!!) inexplicably colapsed . German were able to land Ju52s with mountain troops and it was all over . But the british forces had quick legs and escaped (obviusly following a well prepared plan) leaving the population at the mercy of the germans

    CONCLUSION
    1)Crete fall because that was the plan of the british, prevent Greek italian peace agreement, keep Greece it the war, with the lowest possible british losses
    2) Militarily, the alleid forces at Crete could and should defeat the aerial assault
    3) Germans would never have again a chance to capture Crete. Within weeks Cretes sons would be back, escaping from mainland Greece
    4) Crete ,then ,would have a useful but not decisive role in defeating Germany
    5) Most Greeks believe today, that the German invation of Greece, caused by the greek victories over the italians , cost Germany the loss of the entire war because it delayed Barbarossa. I disagree. Germany would lose the war anyway . Even if they had manage to capture Moscow in late autumn 1941 . There are many scenarios. None can answer how to defeat the production of the american factories.
     
  10. pattle

    pattle Member

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    Jim sorry if you find the lack of any mention of Greek forces on Crete to be offensive that was my mistake as I should have said Allied. If the Germans had of defeated Russia before the winter of 1941 then this would have been before the Americans had entered the war, which means that Germany would have only the British to worry about. Hitler was very annoyed with Mussolini over the Italian attack on Greece as he was able to see the outcome of it and knew that it would mean German forces having to move south to attack Greece which was something he had no interest in doing as it would upset his plans in the east. The battle for Crete hinged on three locations all which were Airfields and the Germans only had to capture one of these to win which they did. Yes mistakes were made at Maleme but not deliberate mistakes, and I have never heard any suggestion of this before. The Greek forces on Crete while being large in number were extremely poorly armed and the Cretan division was never able to evacuate enough of its troops to help the situation back in Crete because they were completely cut off, and I believe it was in actual fact a Greek General that was responsible for the Cretan division being cut off due to his premature surrender against orders.
     
  11. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #11 stona, Jun 2, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2013
    Read "Crete-The Battle and the Resistance" by Antony Beevor.

    It is, as MRD Foot noted "the best book we have got on Crete".

    There are shades of Poland in the lead up to the Cretan campaign. It was Mussolini's disastrous campaign (mentioned by someone above) that triggered the British guarantee of Greek independence, given in April 1939 after the Italian invasion of Albania. By this time Britain was honouring its guarantees and treaties.

    In Salzburg on 8th November 1940 Hitler made it clear to Ciano that the arrival of RAF bombers in the region of one of his main sources of oil (the Ploesti fields in Romania) was Mussolini's fault. It was this that changed German strategy. The original plans to invade Greece (Operation Marita) and Gibraltar (Operation Felix) were part of a "peripheral strategy" against British power in the Mediterranean. Operation Felix was scuppered by what Hitler saw as Franco's intransigence. Operation Marita became far more important as Hitler, with his eyes fixed on Russia, looked to secure his southern flank for the advance eastwards.
    It is only in this context that the Battle of Crete can be understood.

    The idea that Crete fell because that was part of some convoluted plan is ridiculous and offensive to the memory of those of all nations who fell in the defence.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  12. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    I disagree.

    British military units in Greece and Crete forced Germany to divert an entire field army and air fleet to the Balkans. Bulgarian military forces were diverted too. Destroying two U.K. infantry divisions (6th Australian, 2nd New Zealand) was poor compensation for what these military forces might have accomplished if available for Operation Barbarossa.
     
  13. pattle

    pattle Member

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    I am grateful for the replies but was really hoping for a few more views on what may have taken place if Crete was successfully defended. I am not sure if the geography of the island would have allowed for the building of airfields capable of handling enough four engine heavy bombers to make a bomber offensive against the Romanian oilfields a viable proposition, Crete would certainly have been suitable as a base for bomber escorts and other aircraft though. Arthur Bomber Harris was famously not a believer in what he called panaceas or the theory that Germany had an Achillies heal, but he did say that oil was the one possible exception to this rule and later events in the war proved that lack of oil crippled Germany's ability to wage war.
     
  14. RCAFson

    RCAFson Well-Known Member

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    If Freyburg had taken the RN at it's word, that they could defeat a seaborne invasion, and transferred a few battalions off the beaches and onto Maleme airfield, the Germans would almost certainly have been defeated.

    I don't think that Crete would have made a good bomber base, but it would have taken a lot of the heat off Malta, and allowed Malta to be resupplied with fewer merchant and RN ship losses. In turn Malta would have made life a lot harder for Rommel's supply ships and the net effect would have been to hasten the Axis collapse in North Africa. Churchill's foray into Greece did force Hitler to widen the war, which in turn tied down many divisions that could have been used against the Soviets, and in the end, a tactical defeat for Commonwealth forces led to a strategic disaster for the Axis.
     
  15. OldSkeptic

    OldSkeptic Active Member

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    #15 OldSkeptic, Jun 3, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2013
    They didn't need Crete to 'take the heat of Malta', they just needed Spitfires, but Fighter Command, now in the 'capable' hands of Douglas and Mallory fought bitterly to the end to keep the lot in Britain (so they could waste them in pointless attacks in France).

    In reality "a tactical defeat for Commonwealth forces led to a strategic disaster" for the Allies.
    It extended the North African war for at least 18 months, and hence wiped out 2+ million tons of shipping for that time that could not use the Suez Canal and had to take the long route.
    That was for Britain and the USSR (since the majority of Lend Lease to them went through Iran).

    It nearly was a total strategic disaster for the Allies, another division or 2 and Rommel would have captured the Gulf.... apart from all the lovely oil for the Reich it would have largely cut off the USSR from US shipments.

    Yet another total Churchillan C.F (in a very, very long list).
     
  16. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #16 stona, Jun 3, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2013
    Quoting figures to suit yourself just won't do!

    The majority of lend lease material did not go through Iran, actually about 27% did. Far more, twice as much (over eight million tons) went by the Far Eastern route which was also operating months before the Persian route. We tend to forget the Soviets' own massive effort to deliver this materiel.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  17. pattle

    pattle Member

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    Crete was very useful to the Germans as a staging post for resupplying the Afrika Corps until the war swung west again at which point it became useless. I am not sure if Crete's usefulness to the Germans as a supply depot was vital but without it all supplies would of had to pass by road through Libya. Should the Allies had of held Crete I am not sure how much use it would have been to Malta in it's darkest hour as it is rather a long way from it, but perhaps it could of at least helped enough to take the edge off things assuming that the Allies had of been able to keep Crete itself supplied.
     
  18. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    I also think we need to get the losses on Crete into proportion.

    There were 42,460 allied troops on Crete of whom less than half were properly formed infantrymen. 9,000 were Greeks but many of these were unarmed. The Suda sector had the lowest proportion of armed servicemen, only 3,000 out of a total of 15,000. There were also about 3,000 Cretan irregulars.

    Losses were 1,751 killed and missing, 1,738 wounded, 12,254 PoW.

    Compare that with the 1,828 Royal Navy personnel killed in the evacuation, not to forget the loss of three cruisers (Gloucester, Fiji, Calcutta) and six destroyers (Juno, Greyhound, Kelly, Kashmir, Imperial and Hereward). Add in damage to another four capital ships (Warspite, Barham, Valiant and Formidable) six cruisers and seven destroyers. Naval losses were far greater.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  19. Gixxerman

    Gixxerman Member

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    For me the greatest 'what if...?' about Crete is the claim that had the Germans thoroughly investigated the captured material at the end of it all once they had won there then they would have realised their Enigma security had been thoroughly compromised.
    The fact that they could not believe such a thing was even possible undoubtedly helped the allies immensely, so they never really looked properly.
    Or so I have read.

    A clever use of Enigma (in the knowledge that the allies thought you didn't know of their advantage) would have been potentially disastrous.
    Mind you, I suspect the effect would have been short-lived as I suspect the allies would catch on fairly quickly...and the nutters running the show in Germany can almost always be guaranteed to overplay their hand in the quest for instant 'spectaculars'.

    But from then on - unless another breakthrough occurs - it's a war without the vital intel Ultra gave us.
    A war dragging out 2yrs longer?
    The USSR ending up at the Atlantic when it's all over?
    D-day failing?
    The possibilities are many, and all ghastly - for Germany as well as the rest of us.
     
  20. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    It's an interesting and valid point. With hindsight we can see that it was one of several opportunities that the Germans had to appreciate that Enigma was compromised, if not broken.

    Of course as part of such a "what if" scenario we would have to consider the reaction of the code breakers. They would surely have endeavoured to get in to any new code developed by the Germans.

    Cheers
    Steve
     
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