On April6, 2021, we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Allied campaigns in Greece and Crete, when German forces attacked both within a short time in 1941.
The Greek campaign, in which Australian, British and New Zealand troops supported Greek forces against a German invasion, was one of the toughest of the Second World War.
The Allies were unprepared for the German attack and the British Commonwealth force found itself outnumbered and unable to deploy sufficient troops to halt the German advance.
Instead, they conducted a series of withdrawals which slowed the Germans, offering brave and sometimes successful delaying actions.
The fall of Crete followed a similar story.
The Germans wanted Crete as a base for operations against North Africa, and while Britain had already established a garrison on the island, after the fall of Greece it was clear that Crete’s garrison would need to be strengthened.
Reinforcements arrived but only in the shape of some 26,000 troops weary from the withdrawal from Greece.
In May 1941, an operation codenamed Merkur (Mercury) saw some 9500 German paratroopers land on Crete.
While initially suffering heavy losses, the Germans managed to secure one of the airfields, allowing further German troops to be flown in, which eventually led to them gaining control and forcing the Allies to evacuate.
Sadly in Crete, the British Commonwealth losses numbered more than 1700 killed, over 2220 wounded, and around 11,370 taken as prisoners of war.
In Greece, around 320 Australians were killed and some further 2065 became prisoners of war.
Today we remember the service and sacrifice of the ANZAC Corps and the Greek servicemen and civilians who assisted our troops in the defence of Greece and Crete.
Lest we forget.
Darren Chester, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel.