Parachute assault on Crete

The airborne invasion of Crete started very badly for the Germans with very heavy casualties amongst the parachute troops and those attempting to land by transport plane.

Howard Kippenburger was in temporary command of the New Zealand 10th Brigade on Crete, having recently been evacuated from Greece:

The morning of 20 May was calm and cloudless, as was every day during the battle. Before the sunlight had reached the valleys the German reconnaissance plane appeared.

Shortly afterwards a fighter arrived and started to roar up and down the main street of Galatos firing bursts at anything it could see. This struck me as a bit unusual so I hurriedly finished shaving and looked with some caution out of my first-floor window. Other fighters were swooping over the Canea road and there was a great deal of noise from aeroplane engines.

Nothing appeared imminent, however, so I finished dressing and went down for breakfast under the trees outside. The plane was still tearing up and down the street and maybe the cooks were bustled, for the porridge was mere oatmeal and water. I was grumbling about this when someone gave an exclamation that might have been an oath or a prayer or both. Almost over our heads were four gliders, the first we had ever seen, in their silence inexpressibly menacing and frightening. Northwards was a growing thunder.

I shouted: ‘Stand to your arms!’, and ran upstairs for my rifle and binoculars. I noticed my diary lying open on the table. Four years later it was returned to me, having meanwhile been concealed by a Cretan girl.

When I reached the courtyard again the thunder had become deafening, the troop-carriers were passing low overhead in every direction one looked, not more than 400 feet up, in scores. As I ran down the Prison road to my battle headquarters the parachutists were dropping out over the valley, hundreds of them, and floating quietly down. Some were spilling out over our positions and there was a growing crackle of rifle fire. I pelted down the road, outpacing the two signallers who had started with me, and scrambled up the steep track to the battle post, a pink house on a little knoll east of the road.

As I panted through the gap in the cactus hedge there was a startling burst of fire fairly in my face, cutting the cactus on either side of me. I jumped sideways, twisted my ankle, and rolled down the bank. After whimpering a little, I crawled up the track and into the house, and saw my man through the window.

Then I hopped out again, hopped around the back and, in what seemed to me a nice bit of minor tactics, stalked him round the side of the house and shot him cleanly through the head at ten yards. The silly fellow was still watching the gap in the hedge and evidently had not noticed me crawl into the house.

See Kippenberger: Infantry Brigadier

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