The Germans count the cost of Crete

The German parachute troop losses during the invasion of Crete were high.

The Germans ultimately prevailed on Crete but at great cost. Estimates of the exact losses vary greatly – there were around 4,000 German graves on Crete. But British naval commanders believed they had accounted for thousands more when they sunk troop transports bringing men across by sea at the height of the battle. Only a few hundred bodies were washed up. Churchill estimated total losses at around 15,000, some put it even higher.

Hitler lost all enthusiasm for large scale parachute operations after the battle, in the future parachute troops would be used as elite infantry. Possible future operations against Malta and Cyprus were discarded.

Baron von der Heydte considered it a pyrrhic victory. He had fought with the 3rd Parachute Regiment at Crete. He was to recall his meeting with General Kurt Student, the German parachute commander, on 28th May 1941:

General Student visited us almost immediately after the fall of Canea. Had fourteen days really elapsed since I had last seen him issuing orders in Athens?

He had visibly altered. He seemed much graver, more reserved, and older. There was no evidence in his features that he was joyful over the victory — his victory — and proud at the success of his daring scheme. The cost of victory had evidently proved too much for him. Some of the battalions had lost all their officers, and in several companies there were only a few men left alive.

. . . The battle for Crete was to prove the overture to the great tragedy which reached its climax at El Alamein and Stalingrad. For the first time there had stood against us a brave and relentless opponent on a battleground which favoured him.

On this occasion things had gone well with us, but it seemed almost a miracle that our great and hazardous enterprise had succeeded. How it did, I cannot say to this day. Success had suddenly come to us at a moment when, as so often happens in war, we had ceased to believe in the possibility of success.

My interview with General Student was brief and to the point. In answer to his questions I concisely reported our experiences in the attack and told him of our losses. When I had finished he grasped me firmly by the hand and held it for a long time. “I thank you,” was all he said; but the grasp of his hand and those three short words were quite sufficient for me.

See Baron von der Heydte: Daedalus Returned: Crete 1941

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