As May 20th approaches, I thought it would be timely to post a blog focusing on the most significant event on Crete in modern history – the WW II Battle of Crete – Operation Mercury. Although this battle only technically lasted for 10 days, the losses were extraordinary on both sides. Because of its strategic position in the Mediterranean, Allied forces (mostly Brits and Aussies) held military strongholds to defend the island during the early days of the War. But on May 20 th , the Germans launched an airborne invasion (the first in history) to occupy the island. The German invaders suffered unprecedented losses but over the next few days, gained the upper hand and moved through western Crete forcing the evacuation of many Allied troops. There are countless stories of bravery and resolve as hundreds of Allied soldiers painstakingly made their way through rocky, precipice gorges toward the south coast where they hoped for evacuation to Egypt. Many never made it – dying of hunger and exposure. But the ones that did were safe largely due to the fierce fighting of the Cretan soldiers and civilians that held off the German pursuit. It is said that the Germans were not prepared for the fight put up by the Cretans. The resolute and unexpected resistance of the defenders infuriated the Germans who resorted to brutal reprisals: mass executions, arson, and complete annihilation of entire villages who had given refuge to many of the fleeing soldiers. Almost every mountain village in the province of Chania has a story and a monument of rememberance. The bravery of the Cretan soldiers and civilians was forever etched in history.
These photos are taken at a private museum in the Askifou Plateau. This fascinating jumble of weapons, helmets, photos, letters, and other personal items were collected mostly in the immediate area over the years by Yiorgos Hatzidakis who witnessed the German invasion as a child. The museum housed in his private home is now painstakingly cared for by his family and has grown due to many items that have been donated over the years. It is an extraordinary tribute to the sacrifices of the soldiers on both sides.
After visiting the museum we made our way down through the Imbros Gorge to the south coast. This route has been used by shepherds over the centuries to move their flocks. Some things never change – and they STILL have the right of way!
Accompanying us were our first visitors from the States, Eric and Nick. They actually were studying abroad in England and used some of their spring break to come explore Crete. We enjoyed spending time with these two fine young men.
At the end of the Imbros gorge is the seaside village of Hora Sfakia.