The British Admiralty stated that survivors of Egyptian liner Zamzam had been
landed at Stnjean de Luz. The British Admiralty also announced that naval auxiliary
Camito had been sunk.
In Africa, Duke of Aosta and staff made personal
surrender. Torrential rains delaying operations in southern Abyssinia.
In Iraq, Rashicl aerodrome heavily raided. German aircraft attacked Habbaniyah.
Operation Mercury begins on the 20th of May 1941 with
, in command of Luftflotte 4, Kurt
, in command of XI Fliegerkorps, and Wolfram
Freiherr von Richthofen
, in command of VIII Fliegerkorps.
There are three
groups, Group West commanded by Eugen
, Group Centre commanded by Wilhelm
, Group East commanded by Julius
, Group Centre objectives were Prison Valley, Chania Souda, Rethymnon
under the codename Mars. Eugen
, Group West objectives was Maleme, under the codename Comet. Julius
, Group East objectives was Heraklion, under the codename Orion.
Advance elements of group West were due to land first
in gliders at 7:15 am The remainder of Eugen
assault Regiment were to capture Maleme airport located near the northwestern
extremity of the island. After making contact with detachments of Wilhelm
Group Centre, dropped at the same time on their left near the naval
base at Suda, the assault Regiment's secondary task was to aid in the capture
of the capital at Chania.
The groups glider borne element comprised of the
1st Battalion Headquarters. Under the command of Walter
, 3rd company, under the command of Wulf von Plessen with 12 gliders and
4th company. Under the command of Kurt
, with 15 gliders. Their objectives were the antiaircraft emplacements
and the camp south of the airfield. A regimental Headquarters battle group in
9 gliders, under the command of Franz
, Would endeavor to assume control of the Tavronitis Bridge close to
the airfield. Wilhelm
, the 7th divisions commander and his staff in 5 gliders were to arrive
with Group Centre, which comprised chiefly of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 3.
Under the command of Richard
. The Fallschirmjäger were to be later reinforced by Julius
, 5th Gebirgs Division the combined objectives being the capture of
Chania the capital, and the towns of Suda and Galatas. Chania is situated 25 miles
east of Maleme. The group secondary undertaking was to capture Retimo, a distance
of about 25 miles more east along the coast and was intrusted to Fallschirmjäger-Regiment
2 and scheduled for the early afternoon. Two glider borne companies, 1st company
under the command of Gustav
, and the 2nd company under the command of Alfred
, detached from the assault Regiment, carried in 30 gliders, were given
the special task of liquidating anti-aircraft emplacements south and west of Chania,
and Suda in a preliminary action 15 minutes before the main regimental landing.
In the afternoon phase of the operation Fallschirmjäger-Regiment
2 with a military group of 1,500 men under the command of Alfred
, would make the airport at Retimo. In the same airborne wave Group East
comprising chiefly of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 1 with 2,600 men under the
command of Bruno
, including a Battalion seconded from Fallschirmjäger-Regiment
2 was to be followed in by Julius
, 5th Gebirgs Division less one Regiment which was to be landed from
the sea. A tank battalion would come after when it could safely make the sea crossing
from Piraeus. The objectives in this area may with the capture of the town and
airfield at Heraklion, which is located centrally on the northern coastline of
the island. Heraklion was also hopefully to be taken prior to nightfall on the
Support weapons, anti-tank and anti-aircraft, machine guns from corps
and divisional specialist units were assigned to each group in accordance with
their anticipated needs. The Fallschirmjäger engineers were signed a special
flak protection task for Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 3 under Group Centre at
Alikianou, a couple of miles south of Maleme.
Seaborne support for the operation
was envisioned in the form of two hurriedly assembled and improvised flotillas
of torpedo boats of the Italian navy. They would endeavor to land two battalions
, 5th Gebirgs Division, with their vehicles and anti-aircraft and support
weapons as well as detachments of Fallschirmjäger, including engineer and
anti-tank units omitted from the airborne stage of the operation. Landings were
to happen on the open coast at two points on the north coast of the island. One
battalion in 25 boats was bound for Maleme in support of Group West on the evening
of the 1st day, and the other Battalion on the 2nd day in a larger flotilla of
38 vessels, was destined for Heraklion in support of Group East.
In the event,
the 1st day didn't go according to plan. The local garrison comprised of 28,000
military personnel was far larger and much more effective than the Germans had
expected. Additionally Greek battalions, and Cretan irregulars were dispersed
among the respective sectors. The total strength was about 42,500 men, none of
the first days of objectives was accomplished, and by evening only Group West
looked able to eventually accomplishing its objective. The battle had unfolded
before the first German Fallschirmjäger landed on the ground. As the gliders
floated loose and massed waves of Fallschirmjäger, appeared in the sky, they
were greeted by deadly ground fire.
Many of Group West had landed westwards
out of view of the defenders at Maleme, but although their primary objectives,
Hill 107 and the airfield had not been taken, the Group's dispositions were still
reasonably well positioned to execute their original plan of attack. But the battalions
of this group, especially the 3rd Battalion of the assault Regiment. Under the
command of Otto
, dropped East of Maleme, were all but completely destroyed before
they touched the ground. Further along the coastline at Retimo, and Heraklion.
The glider borne and Fallschirmjäger company's of Group Centre and Group
East met with such intensive fire from the British and Australian troops during
the day that their military effectiveness was slight, and their loss so great
as to almost put them out of the fight Richard
's force dropped in the centre into what was known by the British
as Prison Valley south of Galatas, prove the exception to the rule in this area.
On the evening of the first day Kurt
, was confronted with a critical situation at its Headquarters in Athens.
All but a small force of his Fallschirmjäger had been in action during the
day, and the first flotilla of the seaborne forces intended for Maleme had been
held up, and was later to be dispersed or sunk on the second day by the Royal
Navy. The second flotilla was to fare little better and put back into Milos.
means of getting the upper hand in the battle for Crete was now obviously limited
, 5th Gebirgs Division reserved for the eastern sector of the island,
was almost intact, but fewer than 600 of its Fallschirmjäger remained available.
Retimo, and Herakleion was still firmly held by the defence. After careful deliberation,
later substantiated by reports collected directly from Maleme by a lone reconnaissance
, chose to redeploy Julius
, 5th Gebirgs Division to give greater weight to the attack on the New
so many problems had hindered there original plan. From the start
transports where on improvised runways in Greece which had thrown up heavy dust
clouds. In the disarray, the pilots had found it extremely hard to coordinate
there approach to their drop zones. Even more pandemonium prevailed as the planes
were turned round for the successive lifts. Many of the Fallschirmjäger didn't
reach their right destinations. Exceptionally heavy losses were suffered by Group
Centre, their objectives in the Canea Suda area being held by a composite force
of 14,800 men. The capture of the town of Canea, and the airfield Retimo, help
of the 19th Australian brigade, by nightfall on the first evening was was clearly
out the question.
The two glider borne companies from the assault Regiment,
Under the command of Gustav
, in some 30 gliders, accomplished a limited degree of success, whilst
many gliders were destroyed by intensive ground fire and others smashed up on
landing. A small detachment under the command of Alfred
, was successful in capturing the antiaircraft guns at Canea, but others
failed in their task of reaching the radio station, and of those attempting a
linkup with Richard
. Fewer than 30 made contact with his force in Prison Valley from
the instant of jumping from their planes men of Group Centre suffered severely.
Nearly all of the men who came down near Gallatas were killed at once. Many were
too widely dispersed to form concentrated battle groups. Some companies were dispersed
over a distance of nearly 3 miles, and by nightfall the survivors of the drop
was still dispersed and ineffective.
Very slight Luftwaffe activity
during day. At night Luftwaffe raiders were reported over South Wales and East
It was announced that Iceland has severed union with Denmark.
Go To: 21st May
Edited by Sir John Hamilton
The War Illustrated.
by Sir John Hamilton
2194 Days Of War.
For a complete list of sources