On this day, 20 May in 1941, Australian troops served in the World War II battle of Crete, an island in the eastern Mediterranean.
The battle of Crete turned on the first large-scale deployment of paratroopers in a field of war/conflict – by Nazi Germany against the Allies (Australian, NZ, British and Greek soldiers, as well as Cretan farmers, police and townsfolk).
German airborne troops descended *en masse* from fly-over aircraft to secure Cretan airfields and strips so supplies and reinforcements could be flown in to escalate the German ground offensive.
The foreign sight was described by Australian later Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Honner as:
“a spectacle that might have belonged to a war between the planets. Out of the unswerving flying fleet came tumbling lines of little dolls, sprouting silken mushrooms that stayed and steadied them, and lowered them in ordered ranks into our consuming fire. And still they came, till all the fantastic sky before us was filled with futuristic snowflakes floating beneath the low black thundercloud of the processional planes – occasionally flashing into fire as if struck by lightning from the earth.”
German paratroopers’ success meant that, by the end of that May, Crete had effectively fallen with the defending Allied forces in retreat and evacuating the island (or surrendering).
This failed Allied defence of Crete saw about 3,000 Aussie soldiers – from several Australian infantry battalions, including the entire 2/7th Infantry Battalion – unable to be evacuated. There was insufficient room on the last of the ships sent, so stranded soldiers either:
- were captured and taken prisoner by the German occupiers, or
- fled and lived in the mountains, assisted by the locals, until they could escape the island.
Commemorate this day in WWII history that marked the beginning of a difficult retreat and abandonment for Australian troops, and where paratroopers were first mass-deployed by:
- if you’re near Canberra, visiting the Australian War Memorial and checking out the displays on the Battle of Crete and other WWII conflicts
- if you’re near Darwin, visiting the aircraft museum there
- having a drink and/or a meal at your local RSL Club
- taking some time to look at the latest developments at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) who develop the modern-day equivalent innovation to WWI paratroopers at www.dst.defence.gov.au, and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, veterans and fellow Aussie patriots.