Australia is commemorating 80 years since its forces supported Allied efforts to defend Greece and Crete from German invasion during Second World War.
On 6 April 1941, Hitler’s forces attacked both Greece and Yugoslavia, and followed a month later with an attack on the Greek island of Crete in the Mediterranean.
Australian and New Zealand troops, the Anzac Corps, along with British armoured and artillery units, were sent to assist in the defence of Greece following the collapse of the main Greek defensive line.
But the Allied and Anzac forces were inadequately prepared to resist the German attack which was carried out on the ground by infantry, armoured and specialist mountain divisions. As a result, the Australians suffered many casualties and had thousands of soldiers taken prisoner.
Service and sacrifice will never be forgotten
“The service and sacrifice of these brave men will never be forgotten, and we also pay a special thank you to the locals who helped many of our troops survive,” said the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Darren Chester, in a statement released on Monday.
“On land and in the air, the British Commonwealth force found itself outnumbered and unable to deploy sufficient troops in any single area to halt the German advance.”
According to historians, the decision was then taken to evacuate Allied forces and over five nights in late April 1941 around 50,000 troops were evacuated. However, they left behind some 320 Australians who were killed and a further 2,065 who became prisoners of war.
More than 290 New Zealanders were killed and over 1,600 captured.
Invasion of Crete followed a month later
The following month, an airborne operation codenamed Merkur (Mercury) saw almost 10,000 German paratroopers land on Crete. While initially suffering heavy losses, the Germans managed to gain control of one of the airfields, allowing further troops to be flown in.
Again, the Allied and Anzac forces were outnumbered and ill-equipped to take on the superior enemy force.
Allied evacuations began shortly thereafter, with around 16,500 troops successfully removed from the island. Sadly though, the British Commonwealth losses numbered more than 1,700 killed, over 2,220 wounded and around 11,370 taken as prisoners of war.
“Both campaigns proved costly, with 83% of the Australians taken prisoner by the Germans and Italians coming from the Greek and Crete campaigns,” the website Anzacs of Greece says.