Parachutes over Crete:
Scenario Preview, Part Five
While the German air assault on Crete set elite parachute and mountain divisions against the stubborn resistance of New Zealand, Australian and British brigades, Greek troops greatly augmented those brigades and Cretan civilians poured out of their mountains to fight the invaders.
Panzer Grenadier: Parachutes Over Crete gives the Greeks and Cretans their due. Without the ad hoc Greek regiments attached to the defending forces, resistance would have collapsed rather quickly - as it did once the Greeks wore down and ran out of ammunition.
Let’s have a look at the scenarios from the game’s Chapter Four, which covers the German breakout from Prison Valley:
24 May 1941
At the south-western end of Prison Valley, the German lines included an old fortification dubbed the “Turkish Fort” by the New Zealanders. As the German forces advanced from Maleme toward the 3rd Parachute Regiment encircled in Prison Valley, the Allied worked to adjust their lines, including an attack on the Turkish Fort by the 2nd Greek Regiment.
As always, the Greeks surged forward with more enthusiasm than skill, and gained a lodgment on the heights through simple raw courage. But the Germans could not be forced out of the crumbling fort, and held the hilltops. The Australians and Greeks both pulled back.
There’s just one board in play, with a Greek infantry assault on a small German defending force. The Greeks enjoy a serious edge in numbers, and a reinforced company of tough Australians to help them out, but the Germans have advantages in morale and support weapons and they hold the high ground. This won’t be easy for the Allies.
All There Is
24 May 1941
The 8th Greek Infantry Regiment had held the south-western shoulder of the Allied positions around Prison Valley since the initial German landings. With German mountain troops advancing through the hills from Maleme, the Greeks now stood between them and the trapped 3rd Parachute Regiment. A link-up of the German forces would threaten to unhinge the entire Allied position.
Thanks to the determined Greek stand against the mountain regiment, the Allied command managed to extricate the 5th New Zealand Brigade from potential encirclement. Once again, a Greek sacrifice became necessary to balance the mis-steps of the New Zealand Division’s timid leadership.
The Germans have a long way to go, fighting their way past Greek defenders and advancing deep into the Allied rear. They have an enormous edge in morale, and though slightly outnumbered they wield much greater firepower than the Greeks. The Greeks and their Cretan allies do have the ochi spirit, though.
24 May 1941
Maj. Gen. Julius Ringel of 5th Mountain Division had energetically asserted his command over the German troops on Crete, and then acted rather passively in ordering a slow-paced offensive from Maleme to link up with the paratroopers in Prison Valley. In the afternoon the Germans launched what had been authorized as a “reconnaissance in force,” with Col. Willibald Utz of 100th Mountain Regiment liberally interpreting his orders.
When 18th Infantry Battalion assumed responsibilities for this sector they had been ordered to hold Ruin Hill (the big hill on Board 97) but the battalion commander felt he lacked the troops to do so. He had weak artillery support (a troop of captured Italian 75mm guns) and the machine-gunners assigned to support him had lost their weapons though new ones were promised to arrive the next day. The gap thus created allowed the Germans to advanced unopposed to a position that overlooked most of the New Zealand positions, which allowed them to interdict communications between the New Zealand companies and their headquarters. The initial fury of the attack drove in 18th Battalion's forward outpost. A counter-attack soon restored the situation. The Germans again forced the outpost back but another counter-attack restored the original lines.
This is a large scenario, with the New Zealanders widely dispersed and the Germans tasked with seizing a lot of ground. The Germans are pretty enthusiastic about that, while the Kiwis are still willing to fight but their weaponry is wearing down.
Gardens of Alikianos
25 May 1941
The 8th Greek Regiment lost communications with Creforce headquarters on the first day of the invasion. The New Zealand commanders had expected little of them, describing the troops as conscripts with three weeks of training, but they had managed to hold their position for five days. Ringel ordered two battalions of mountain troops to drive them from Alikianos and the high ground to the east.
Col. August Krakau of 85th Mountain Regiment had just arrived on Crete, and he immediately took over his regiment and led it into this attack. Ringel would complain that the “drive on this occasion was below the standards later associated with good German regimental commanders” but the Army command apparently disagreed; Krakau was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his leadership on Crete and promoted to command 7th Mountain Division one year later. Alikianos fell on the following morning and the regiment began a rapid march through the hill country south of the New Zealand defenses.
The Germans have a lot to accomplish, but they have huge advantages in morale, numbers and firepower. They also have artillery (a couple of batteries of 75mm popguns) while the Greeks have none. This is a pretty challenging scenario of mountain maneuvering.
Stand for New Zealand
25 May 1941
With his units finally in place, Ringel ordered the largest coordinated attack on an Allied position on Crete yet. The remains of Assault Regiment attacked up the coast road with the 100th Mountain Regiment on their right flank. The 3rd Parachute Regiment was to advance eastward while all this is going on.
The German onslaught quickly drove back the company on the New Zealand right flank, bring the center company under fire from all sides. Lt. Col. John Gray of 18th Battalion grabbed a rifle and led his headquarters company forward yelling “No surrender!” Despite his gallantry, they were unable to restore the situation. Two companies of the 20th Infantry Battalion moved forward and managed to plug the gap in the line. Kippenberger, the brigade commander, walked the front line shouting “Stand for New Zealand!” but positions were abandoned without orders. Sometime before dusk the Germans finally entered Galatas.
This is a big scenario, with elite German infantry - both airborne and mountain - on the attack against determined but scattered Kiwi defenders. The Germans have air support, better infantry and fine leadership. But they’re fighting against New Zealanders.
Saxophones of Fury
25 May 1941
Since the initial airborne landings, the New Zealand higher leadership had shown little urgency in reacting to German moves. Now that the forces from Maleme had been reinforced and begun their march across the island, they showed the initiative that had been missing so far. Less than an hour after the Germans took the key village of Galatas, Kippenberger of 10th Brigade had brought together reinforcements from across the front to strike back at the advancing enemy.
Lt. Col. John Gray of 18th Battalion once again led the attack, with the remnants of his own command plus troops from 23rd Battalion, stragglers from the Composite Battalion and Capt. Forrester and his fanatical Greeks and Cretans. The Kiwi Concert Party, a big band also trained as infantrymen and sent to Crete to entertain the troops, joined the attack as well as the 4th Brigade’s band. It was the second bayonet charge Gray had led that day, and the Kiwis followed him screaming Maori war cries. The mountain troops met them in the town square of Galatas, where fighting raged with knives and bayonets. The Germans managed to hold a few buildings along the south and south-west fringes of the town, but the newly-won positions were untenable and the New Zealanders withdrew during the night.
I deeply regret failing to add a special piece for the Kiwi Concert Party: they played swing tunes, they told jokes, and they fought the Germans with bayonets. The New Zealand Official History describes their action in a flat, matter-of-fact tone, since of course the saxophonists joined the attack, as one does.
26 May 1941
On the left flank of the German advance, Ringel had placed the battered remnants of the Assault Regiment. The paratroopers drove up the coast road from Maleme toward Canea with little opposition until they reached the re-formed New Zealand line at the coastal village of Efthymi.
The paratroopers’ initial assault drove the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry out of their positions and looked to be the start of a substantial advance. But the Kiwi senior leadership, now seeming to recover their competence, organized a prompt counter-attack that restored the original positions. The Germans continued to probe the defenses, but did not make another major attack. Had the New Zealand commanders acted in this fashion on 20 May, the defenders might have repelled the invasion.
This is a pretty dense scenario, with a lot of high-quality troops (paratroopers and Kiwis) brawling over a fairly small area. The German player has the burden of the attack, but the New Zealand side has a substantial reserve ready to strike back.
26 May 1941
Ringel allowed the 3rd Parachute Regiment two days to re-organize and re-supply itself after his spearheads reached Heidrich’s isolated unit. With his units from Maleme now opening a general offensive, he directed the 3rd Parachute Regiment to march on Perivolia, where a small group still stubbornly defended the fortified church at the village’s center.
The initial German attack proved very successful, splitting the Australian and Greek defenders and forcing them to fall back. The Australians quickly counter-attacked, driving the Germans back to their starting point where inconclusive fighting continued until dusk. Neither side could claim any gains from the fighting, but both suffered heavy casualties. The Greek regiment, already badly worn down and dispirited as the Germans gained a solid foothold on Crete, did not participate in the counter-attack at all, and would be disbanded on the following day.
This time the Germans have to face Australians, who are also pretty tough but their Greek allies are flagging badly. The Men of Oz have good numbers and are going to be a difficult opponent, even for airborne morale.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold is not parachute-capable.