With the help of documentary footage from the day, CGI, expert contributors, and survivors re visit the island of Crete and its battlefields to tell the story of this unique and bloody battle and its aftermath.
Episode 1: Invasion
In May 1941, 14,000 German paratroopers supported by nearly a thousand aircraft were dropped on the island in a unique blitzkrieg operation. An airborne invasion of this scale would never be repeated. Several thousand elite paratroopers, the pride of the Nazi Luftwaffe strikeforce, were killed and hundreds of planes lost in 10 days of fierce fighting. Despite the huge cost, the Germans defeated 30,000 British, Australian and New Zealand troops supported by Greek partisans. The Allies had few heavy weapons and no air cover. The loss of the island was controversial. We examine claims that the New Zealand commanders made tactical blunders that lost control of a key airport in the second day of the battle, allowing the German forces to gain a crucial foothold on the island.
Episode 2: Evacuation
Allied forces were evacuated off Crete’s south coast in a dangerous operation that cost the lives of almost 1000 British seamen and Allied soldiers. Protected by a series of bloody and heroic rear-guard actions to slow down the German advance , thousands of soldiers embarked on a forced march over the mountains of central Crete to meet Royal Navy ships which would take them 400 miles across the Mediterranean to Alexandria in Egypt .This was a mini Dunkirk but many didn’t make it. Thousands were left on the beaches as the last ship left. Hundreds made their own way to Africa by whatever means including small boats or else headed for the hills where they hid out for months even years living in caves or protected by Cretan families. More than 10,000 Allied soldiers were taken Prisoners of War.
Episode 3: Occupation
The resulting German and Italian occupation of Crete was marred by massacres on both sides: of both German soldiers and Greek partisans and civilians. More than 8,000 Cretans lost their lives in the resistance. When 20,000 Italians surrendered in 1943 they were made POW’s too but almost a third drowned at sea after German merchant ships carrying them to the mainland were torpedoed by British submarines. These forgotten tragedies constituted one of the world’s biggest maritime disasters. In all more than 20,000 people from all sides lost their lives in the Cretan conflict. The British intelligence service, known as the SOE, assisted what became one of the most successful resistance movements of the war .It helped rescue Allied soldiers who had been abandoned on the island and involved agents such as archaeologist John Pendulbury, known as “the Cretan Lawrence” and writer and adventurer Patrick Leigh Fermor who staged the famous kidnap of the German commander of Crete with William Moss. Crete was one of the last places surrendered by the Nazis right at the end of the war. German soldiers had to be escorted off the island by the British for fear of reprisals. Two German commanders on the island were executed by firing squad for war crimes. It took more than 30 years before the 4,000 German dead were properly buried on the island. They were stored in a monastery as claims for reparations dragged on. They have still not been settled today.