21.5.41

All eyes on Crete. Everyone saying the same thing – that this will demonstrate one way or the other the possibility of invading England. This might be so if we were told the one relevant fact, i.e., how many men we have there, and how equipped. If we have only 10-20,000 men, [1] and those infantry, the Germans may overwhelm them with mere numbers, even if unable to land tanks, etc. On balance, the circumstances in Crete are much more favourable to the Germans than they could be in England. In so far as the attack on Crete is a try-out, it is much more likely to be a try-out for the attack on Gibraltar.

[1] There were in all some 42,500 troops in Crete; 17,960 British; 10,300 Greek; 7,700 New Zealanders; 6,540 Australians. (Liddell Hart gives 28,600 British, Australian and New Zealand troops and ‘almost as many Greeks.’) Only recently escaped from Greece, they were ill-organised and had little air protection. They had only sixty-eight anti-aircraft guns to cover an island nearly 160 miles in length. The German air force attacked early in the morning of 20 May with great effect, and troops were then dropped by parachute and flown in by plane. The officer commanding, General Freyburg, had told Churchill on 5 May that he was ‘not in the least anxious about airborne attack…can cope adequately with the troops at my disposal’ (The Second World War, III, p. 246). Despite the success of the German paratroopers, Hitler was disinclined to attempt another attack by his airborne forces. Peter Davison

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5 Responses to 21.5.41

  1. Barry Larking says:

    Crete was dubbed ‘a blood bath’ for the attacking paratroops. Orwell overlooked Malta (possibly because of his obsession with Spain). Malta should have been an easy target for invasion following Crete. It was severely bombed but no attempt was made to invade. This is usually attributed to the closeness of the result on Crete.

  2. SM says:

    Still, it was very embarrassing that the British lost Crete. For whatever reason, the German army of 1940-41 was more effective than its Commonwealth counterparts, and they didn’t get better fast enough.

  3. Barry Larking says:

    In my experience it is futile to reason with such as SM above, but here goes. Some see this conflict purely as a football match; (“embarrassing”) is typical. The defenders of Crete gave up their lives, not a sense of social ease. Many were murdered after surrendering because of the great number of casualties they inflicted on the best German units with the limited means at their disposal. The British did not ‘lose’ Crete since it was and remains part of Greece. The Greeks of Crete remember with a grave affection to this day the Allies (sans the neutral and secure United States) who, in a desperate hour came to their aid and left their bones on Cretian soil.

    Many see the events of the Second World War from the perspective of Hollywood screenwriters and the post 1945 world. Here the complexities are not simplified; they are ignored. The one reason that the Axis did so well early on was because war was the complete expression of their world view, a fact so monsterous it dawned only slowly on people with a pre-totalitarian mentality. Germany and Italy especially prepared their entire societies for war in ways that the democracies could not. Welding the Allies into a fighting machine took time against a catalogue of disadvantages that would daunt us today. Given what was done and done well, particularly at sea, the outcomes were not as depressing as SM believes. These did not instantly improve after 1942 or very much by 43.

  4. SM says:

    Barry, I’ll respond to that blast of rhetoric by saying this. Of course its easy to criticize from a soft chair somewhere safe, and after the declaration of war (for the dominions) or the conquest of France (for the British) the allies were in a very difficult situation. The dominions had no army to speak of, and the British had an army but no heavy weapons, but they had to fight with what they did have. But the problem with the “yes they lost, but they bloodied the enemy” argument is that it often leads to making disasters look like a good thing (the “major improvements in maritime safety were made after the [i]Titanic[/i] sank” argument) and to misquote Churchill wars are not won by defeats. While they fought hard and bravely, the weaknesses of the non-fascist armies in the early part of the war meant that they couldn’t protect a lot of people from being enslaved and murdered.

  5. Barry Larking says:

    The first part of my opening sentence was correct. The use of the term “embarrassing” tells one much. Incidentally, I have nowhere written the inelegant “yes they lost, but they bloodied the enemy”. Otherwise you make my point for better than I do myself.

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