Parachutes over Crete:
Scenario Preview, Part Two
For a Panzer Grenadier game without panzers, Parachutes Over Crete still manages to pack in a surprising amount of action. On designer Mike Perryman’s recommendation, the last change I made to the game was to shorten the chapters and add more battle games. That allows players to fight out the action over five or six scenarios rather than nine or ten, which might be asking a little too much.
Parachutes Over Crete is based on the May 1941 German airborne invasion of Crete, so as you’d expect there are a lot of parachute landings (on Crete). The second chapter is all about the landings in Prison Valley, opposed by Greeks, Cretans and New Zealanders. Let’s have a look at the scenarios.
20 May 1941
Maj. Helmut Derpa’s 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Parachute Regiment was to land on the northern edge of Prison Valley and join with their regiment’s 1st Battalion to drive on the anchorage at Suda Bay. Regimental commander Col. Richard Heidrich tasked Derpa with securing the village of Agia, the planned site of 3rd Regiment’s headquarters, before joining 1st Battalion around the prison. Derpa and his surviving paratroopers headed south-west to capture Agia in the face of strong Greek resistance.
“The moment we left the plane we were met with extremely heavy small arms fire,” Sgt.-Major Karl Neuhoff recalled. “Nearer to Galatas, (our men) were practically all killed, either in the air or shortly thereafter.” About 350 men of the 2nd Battalion formed up. After taking Agia to set up the regimental command post they headed back north to establish defensive positions behind the eastward-advancing 1st Battalion. The Greek 8th Regiment's command structure was devastated in the fighting, losing their commander, two majors and most of the staff.
The Germans jump out of their airplanes with a slight edge in numbers and a large one in firepower and morale, over the Greeks milling around below waiting for them to land. The Germans also drop a company of heavy weapons; if they don’t break upon impact and land somewhere useful (they have no prime movers; those cute little motorcycle-halftracks couldn’t drop from airplanes and had to be unloaded at an airfield) those will give them a serious edge over the badly-armed Greeks.
20 May 1941
Instead of dropping with the rest of the battalion as planned, 7th Company ended up north-east of the prison by Pink Hill. Landing relatively unscathed they gathered their weapon containers and formed up to attack. A large number of men from Company 9 were also active in the area; whether they joined 7th Comoany or simply attacked on their own is difficult to determine. Defending Pink Hill were 200 displaced truck drivers who had little infantry training but many had been farmers in civilian life and were handy with a rifle.
The New Zealanders claimed they were forced off the hill but the Germans say the defenders held (usually it is the other way around). What is known is that both the Petrol Company was mauled and Company 7 was disbanded after this action due to excessive casualties. Pink Hill was the best vantage point in the Prison Valley area and both sides would continue to contest it.
Even if the Germans manage to bring down their parachutes drops in reasonably compact fashion, there aren’t very may of them. There aren’t many Kiwis, either, which is going to make this game a race for the high ground. The Kiwis are all poorly-armed REMFs, but never count out the New Zealanders.
20 May 1941
After the failure of Company 7 to hold Pink Hill, Col. Richard Heidrich scraped together enough men for a stronger effort. The initial plan had called for 2nd Battalion to follow 1st toward Canea, but clearly the high ground dominating his positions had to be taken before that could occur. Heidrich placed 2nd Battalion’s Company 5 under the command of Maj. Ludwig Heilmann’s badly-depleted 3rd Battalion. Heilmann added his surviving Companies 9 and 12 and sent them up the seemingly lightly-defended hill.
“We proceeded, without opposition, about half way up the hill,” one German participant recalled. “Suddenly we ran into heavy and very accurate rifle and machine gun fire. The enemy had held their fire with great discipline and had allowed us to approach well within effective range before opening up. Our casualties were extremely heavy and we were forced to retire leaving many dead behind us.” Even with Company 6 added in a later attack the New Zealanders held their ground. The fourth attack, launched after dark, found the hill vacant because of a “temporary withdrawal” by the New Zealanders.
Those New Zealand truck drivers are back, and ready for a fight. This is a relatively small scenario, and once again it’s going to be won by maneuver. The Kiwis need to hold the high ground, but they also really need to charge the Germans at the moment they land and shoot them up before they get their bearings (and their weapons, most of which were dropped in separate canisters).
20 May 1941
Dominating the north-eastern end of the Ayia Valley, Ayia Prison became the first objective of the 3rd Parachute Regiment’s 1st Battalion. Both sides would refer to the area as “Prison Valley” due to the large white-washed buildings visible from miles away. The prison would be the German rally point before pressing on to Canea and Suda Bay, and after landing the paratroopers formed up to seize the formidable structure.
Heidrich and his regimental staff had expected to land on a plateau rather than a broad, shallow valley. Despite the surprise, Capt. Friedrich von der Heydte - a Catholic scholar known as the “Rosary Paratrooper” - gathered his battalion and quickly seized the prison against weak opposition. His men next took the village of Perivolia with little trouble, unaware that this would mark the limit of their advance for many days.
The Germans are drifting down atop a defending force of Greeks with some Kiwi REMFs helping out. That first moment when the Germans land, while they’re still scrambling around for their weapons, is when the Greek player has to strike. All the Germans can do is stand there at take it (in game terms); once that initial landing shock is over, the Germans get much tougher.
20 May 1941
After linking up with a lost company from 3rd Battalion, von der Heydte led his battalion out of Perivolia to the east, toward the village of Mournies. There another Greek regiment awaited, reinforced by local Cretans eager to get at the invaders. The paratroopers lacked heavy weapons and artillery support, but then, so did the Greeks.
Rather than await the German advance, the Greeks attacked the paratroopers as soon as they spotted them. The Germans had no heavy weapons and their air support had been shifted to a different sector. Not hindered by marauding aircraft, the Greeks took the fight to the enemy well before they reached Mournies. The Germans suffered heavy casualties and pulled back to Perivolia, claiming to have taken 200 prisoners.
A battalion of paratroopers against about two battalions of Greeks (counting their Cretan civilian allies) in what the victory conditions are going to turn into a meeting engagement. With no air or much artillery (just one weak battery) this one will come down to numbers against morale.
20 May 1941
With the three battalions of 3rd Parachute Regiment advanced on Canea and Suda Bay, the 7th Airborne Division’s engineer battalion would secure their rear flank by taking the power station at Agia and the bridge over the Kervis River. Heidrich had expanded the scope of the engineers’ mission, but had not increased their force beyond the three companies that would eventually land by parachute, reinforced with machine-gunners.
With only two companies in action, the engineer battalion failed to take its objectives thanks to stout Greek resistance (aided, here as elsewhere, by fanatic Cretan civilians). None of Heidrich’s other battalions had achieved much, either, and one of them had essentially been destroyed. Having secured their landing zone and avoided annihilation, the engineers had one of the better first days for German units on Crete.
Two reinforced engineer companies make separate parachute landings, with a whole mob of Greeks waiting to welcome them to Crete. The bar for German victory isn’t quite as stiff as that set by Heidrich for the actual landings - that was never really possible - but it’s still going to be pretty tough to come away with a win.
You can order Parachutes over Crete right here.
Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.
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.