Sunset Mercury

At 5:50 am May 20, 1941 Crete shaken by bombs gaps that became a harbinger launched "Operation Mercury" — the largest airborne operation of Germans during the second World War. Despite the fact that the operation completed the capture of the island and the victory of the Germans suffered during her loss very scared of Hitler, and in the upcoming Germany has not used during the war large amphibious units, resorting to their services only when solving small tactical tasks. So Makarov, the Germans had virtually changing the island on a branch. The strategic importance of Crete until now in doubt, not a gift until the end of the war the Allies had not taken any tests, to return control of the peninsula.

Almost all heavy losses were caused by the underestimation of the advancing enemy. In the Abwehr believed that all of the English expeditionary force (BEC) was evacuated from Greece to Africa, in fact, more than half of it is left in Crete. Exploration of the island garrison evaluated in 15,000 people, but in reality it was almost three times as great. Under the supervision of the commander of the defense of the island of General Bernard Freiberg was 31 thousand fighter (BEC), 12 thousand Greeks and part mobilized civilian population of Crete.

By the beginning of the operation the British intelligence had on hand the German cipher machine "Enigma", revealed codes and hidden messages could read the Wehrmacht. But even this information is not facilitated the British defense of the island, because the German language "landing" unprincipled sea or air denoted by one word — «Landung». Military Administration "great maritime nation" very underestimated the ability of Airborne, because means carrying the main assault from the sea.

Having the information about the places landing troops, the defenders were preparing for a hot meeting. All three are available on the peninsula of the airfield, which was the main purpose of the invaders were strengthened, created camouflaged gun emplacements. All air defenses — 50 anti-aircraft guns and 24 searchlights were distributed between airfields, and has not been opened German intelligence. Ack received strict orders not to open fire on the bomber, wait for landing. Freiberg even offered to bring all three airfields in disrepair, but the proposal was rejected by a higher command, which finds that the force is quite enough to reflect the assault and damage to airfields would interfere with the use of its aircraft. Specifically, refusal to bring the airports into disrepair became the basis of the German victory.

The plan assault

According to the plan developed by the German assault on the island assumed the capture of 3 airfields forces of the 7th Air Division and a separate air assault regiment (about 15 thousand) with the following redeployment to the peninsula 22th airmobile division, which it proved in the Netherlands. But the last was a delay, throw it in Greece did not have time. Instead she invasion force commander General Shtudentu transferred all that was at hand — 3 Regiment of the 5th Mountain Division, 1 reinforced regiment 6th Mountain Division, about 700 motorcyclists from the 5th Armored Division and various small pieces of about 14 000 people. Their combined with languid arms were supposed to deliver to the peninsula by sea and aircraft, after the capture of airfields paratroopers.

To ensure the operation involved three regiments of military transport aircraft, but even this number of aircraft was not enough, because planting was carried out in several steps — 3 waves of invasion.

The first wave are planted on the peninsula at 7:00 am on May 20, and included a grouping of "the West": a separate air assault regiment of General Meindl (goal — the capture of Maleme airfield) and 3 Parachute Regiment, Colonel Heydrich (goal — to capture the Souda bay and the city Kania , where he was placed British headquarters and the residence of the Greek king).

Second wave were planted in 13 hours on May 20 and included the group "Center" and "East" 1 and 2 Parachute colonels Breuer (target — Heraklion airport) and Sturm (goal — Rethymnon airfield).

After the capture of the first objectives of the attack was to begin the third wave of the invasion — landing mountain rangers and languid arms. From the air operation "Mercury" was protected by the 8th Air Corps, General von Richthofen have 716 combat aircraft: 205 attack aircraft, 228 bombers, 119 single-and 114 twin-engined fighters, reconnaissance planes 50 and 62 of the Italian Air Force aircraft.


Cases from the Marines went wrong in the morning. At 5:50 aircraft launched an airstrike on the peninsula of strongest, but most of the camouflaged enemy positions survived. Well, with the yield on the position of the Germans came out lining, first Junkers-52 and gliders appeared over the battlefield only half an hour after the bombing, when the enemy was completely recovered and met fully armed paratroopers.

Dense fire from the ground turned gliders with paratroopers into a sieve, many of them trying to get out of the fire, broke on the mountain or falling into the sea. Problems paratroopers and has added that they were jumping without weapons that were dropped separately in containers. Many Marines were under the gun for himself only, knife, digging tools, and 4 grenades and killed while trying to get close to the containers with weapons. Even in such criteria dismounted troopers stormed the enemy, but to seize the move airfield Maleme failed.

Germans suffered tangible losses, in the company of the captain landed the first Altman after hours of fighting left 28 108 people. The same languid loss suffered one company that landed on the artillery positions near the airport and was able to grab them at the cost of 60 lives. 4th company and battalion headquarters were almost completely destroyed, because planted on the position of the New Zealand infantry. 3rd company of the first wave of the invasion from the air assault regiment was able to kill the battery in the terminal area air defense, reducing the loss of aircraft specifically at planting to a minimum. In the upcoming anti-aircraft guns occupied by the Germans used to attack convoys hurrying to the airfield with reinforcements and took radial defense.

When planting the regimental commander was wounded, General Meindl and 3rd Battalion was one hundred percent destroyed during the landing. And yet the Marines were able to cling to the northern edge of the airfield, the fighting in the area does not stop all day.

Poorly developed business and 3 Parachute Regiment 7th Air Division, which was to capture the Souda bay and the city of Kania. Even before landing died regimental headquarters and the commander of 7th Air Division General Zyussman (glider with them because of pilot error fell into the sea in the sea). Several units of paratroopers were mistakenly dropped over the mountains and the men with fractures were disabled before the battle with the enemy, the 13th mortar company was thrown out of the reservoir and drowned in full force.

Shtudenta headquarters, seeing that out of 500 participants in the delivery of the first wave of assault Junkers did not come back, only 7 gave decision to land the second wave. Once again, history has repeated morning and shelves, dropped over the airport of Heraklion and Rethymnon, was saved from complete destruction only night fell. So 2 Parachute Regiment, Colonel Sturm lost in the evening 400 people were killed, and the assault was captured. But e
ven looking at these challenges, the role of these landings was critical, failing to capture the airfields of the "Center" and "East" tie around about 15 thousand British fighter.

By the evening of the first day or the position of the paratroopers in Crete was bloody from 10,000 paratroopers landed in the ranks left about 6 thousand, none of the targets have not been performed. Specifically, in this critical situation, when the final had physical strength and ammunition, many commanders were killed and wounded, and there was no relationship with Athens, affected the specificity of preparation "green devils Goering," especially the younger officers and middle managers. Devoted to the general plan of operations, commanders paratroopers independently made a huge amount of active scattered pockets of resistance, forcing the fight many times outnumbering enemy, preventing maneuver, hoping that someone from the neighbors will take the applicable grounds for receiving aid.

Already on May 21 Germans suffered vector operations only to the site of the "West", using everything available reserves paratroopers. And the paratroopers still managed to fight off the runway at Maleme Britons, although the latter is free to sweep the entire airfield nearby heights. After the capture of the strip, the general Shtudent decided to planting 3 waves landing — mountain rangers, not even looking at the fact that the aircraft will have to sit down under heavy enemy fire. During the 2-days on the runway length of 600 meters was destroyed 150 aircraft. But the gateway to the peninsula parted, all arriving and arriving on the peninsula rangers and heavy weapons tipped the scales in favor of the German. And so begins a catastrophic operation ended in victory, June 1 peninsula Crete was one hundred percent captured by troops of the Axis.


The British were evacuated from the island is only about 14 thousand of their own fighter, patron of Crete lost almost 4 thousand dead, three thousand injured, 17 thousand people were taken prisoner. German aircraft shot down 33 aircraft and sank four cruisers, six destroyers, one minesweeper, and about 11 different small vessels.

The Germans themselves assessed the loss of 3.7 million dead and the wounded of about 2.5 million. After the war, these numbers have been revised to the upside. Thus, according to the views of a number of professionals, the Wehrmacht lost in this operation until only 7-8 thousand people killed. Luftwaffe lost in the sky over the peninsula — 271 plane.

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