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20th May 1941

WWII Timeline




Events On This Day

The British Admiralty stated that survivors of Egyptian liner Zamzam had been landed at Stnjean de Luz. The British Admiralty also announced that naval auxiliary Camito had been sunk.

In Africa, Duke of Aosta and staff made personal surrender. Torrential rains delaying operations in southern Abyssinia.

In Iraq, Rashicl aerodrome heavily raided. German aircraft attacked Habbaniyah.

Crete
Operation Mercury begins on the 20th of May 1941 with Alexander Löhr, in command of Luftflotte 4, Kurt Student, in command of XI Fliegerkorps, and Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen, in command of VIII Fliegerkorps.
There are three groups, Group West commanded by Eugen Meindl, Group Centre commanded by Wilhelm Süßmann, Group East commanded by Julius Ringel.
Wilhelm Süßmann, Group Centre objectives were Prison Valley, Chania Souda, Rethymnon under the codename Mars.
Eugen Meindl, Group West objectives was Maleme, under the codename Comet.
Julius Ringel, Group East objectives was Heraklion, under the codename Orion.

Morning

Advance elements of group West were due to land first in gliders at 7:15 am The remainder of Eugen Meindl assault Regiment were to capture Maleme airport located near the northwestern extremity of the island. After making contact with detachments of Wilhelm Süßmann Group Centre, dropped at the same time on their left near the naval base at Suda, the assault Regiment's secondary task was to aid in the capture of the capital at Chania.
The groups glider borne element comprised of the 1st Battalion Headquarters. Under the command of Walter Koch, 3rd company, under the command of Wulf von Plessen with 12 gliders and 4th company. Under the command of Kurt Sarrazin, with 15 gliders. Their objectives were the antiaircraft emplacements and the camp south of the airfield. A regimental Headquarters battle group in 9 gliders, under the command of Franz Braun, Would endeavor to assume control of the Tavronitis Bridge close to the airfield. Wilhelm Süßmann, the 7th divisions commander and his staff in 5 gliders were to arrive with Group Centre, which comprised chiefly of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 3. Under the command of Richard Heidrich. The Fallschirmjäger were to be later reinforced by Julius Ringel, 5th Gebirgs Division the combined objectives being the capture of Chania the capital, and the towns of Suda and Galatas. Chania is situated 25 miles east of Maleme. The group secondary undertaking was to capture Retimo, a distance of about 25 miles more east along the coast and was intrusted to Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 2 and scheduled for the early afternoon. Two glider borne companies, 1st company under the command of Gustav Altmann, and the 2nd company under the command of Alfred Genz, detached from the assault Regiment, carried in 30 gliders, were given the special task of liquidating anti-aircraft emplacements south and west of Chania, and Suda in a preliminary action 15 minutes before the main regimental landing.

Afternoon

In the afternoon phase of the operation Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 2 with a military group of 1,500 men under the command of Alfred Sturm, would make the airport at Retimo. In the same airborne wave Group East comprising chiefly of Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 1 with 2,600 men under the command of Bruno Bräuer, including a Battalion seconded from Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 2 was to be followed in by Julius Ringel, 5th Gebirgs Division less one Regiment which was to be landed from the sea. A tank battalion would come after when it could safely make the sea crossing from Piraeus. The objectives in this area may with the capture of the town and airfield at Heraklion, which is located centrally on the northern coastline of the island. Heraklion was also hopefully to be taken prior to nightfall on the 1st day.
Support weapons, anti-tank and anti-aircraft, machine guns from corps and divisional specialist units were assigned to each group in accordance with their anticipated needs. The Fallschirmjäger engineers were signed a special flak protection task for Fallschirmjäger-Regiment 3 under Group Centre at Alikianou, a couple of miles south of Maleme.
Seaborne support for the operation was envisioned in the form of two hurriedly assembled and improvised flotillas of torpedo boats of the Italian navy. They would endeavor to land two battalions of Julius Ringel, 5th Gebirgs Division, with their vehicles and anti-aircraft and support weapons as well as detachments of Fallschirmjäger, including engineer and anti-tank units omitted from the airborne stage of the operation. Landings were to happen on the open coast at two points on the north coast of the island. One battalion in 25 boats was bound for Maleme in support of Group West on the evening of the 1st day, and the other Battalion on the 2nd day in a larger flotilla of 38 vessels, was destined for Heraklion in support of Group East.
In the event, the 1st day didn't go according to plan. The local garrison comprised of 28,000 military personnel was far larger and much more effective than the Germans had expected. Additionally Greek battalions, and Cretan irregulars were dispersed among the respective sectors. The total strength was about 42,500 men, none of the first days of objectives was accomplished, and by evening only Group West looked able to eventually accomplishing its objective. The battle had unfolded before the first German Fallschirmjäger landed on the ground. As the gliders floated loose and massed waves of Fallschirmjäger, appeared in the sky, they were greeted by deadly ground fire.
Many of Group West had landed westwards out of view of the defenders at Maleme, but although their primary objectives, Hill 107 and the airfield had not been taken, the Group's dispositions were still reasonably well positioned to execute their original plan of attack. But the battalions of this group, especially the 3rd Battalion of the assault Regiment. Under the command of Otto Scherber, dropped East of Maleme, were all but completely destroyed before they touched the ground. Further along the coastline at Retimo, and Heraklion. The glider borne and Fallschirmjäger company's of Group Centre and Group East met with such intensive fire from the British and Australian troops during the day that their military effectiveness was slight, and their loss so great as to almost put them out of the fight Richard Heidrich's force dropped in the centre into what was known by the British as Prison Valley south of Galatas, prove the exception to the rule in this area.
On the evening of the first day Kurt Student, was confronted with a critical situation at its Headquarters in Athens. All but a small force of his Fallschirmjäger had been in action during the day, and the first flotilla of the seaborne forces intended for Maleme had been held up, and was later to be dispersed or sunk on the second day by the Royal Navy. The second flotilla was to fare little better and put back into Milos.
Kurt Student, means of getting the upper hand in the battle for Crete was now obviously limited Julius Ringel, 5th Gebirgs Division reserved for the eastern sector of the island, was almost intact, but fewer than 600 of its Fallschirmjäger remained available. Retimo, and Herakleion was still firmly held by the defence. After careful deliberation, later substantiated by reports collected directly from Maleme by a lone reconnaissance officer, Kurt Student, chose to redeploy Julius Ringel, 5th Gebirgs Division to give greater weight to the attack on the New Zealanders
so many problems had hindered there original plan. From the start transports where on improvised runways in Greece which had thrown up heavy dust clouds. In the disarray, the pilots had found it extremely hard to coordinate there approach to their drop zones. Even more pandemonium prevailed as the planes were turned round for the successive lifts. Many of the Fallschirmjäger didn't reach their right destinations. Exceptionally heavy losses were suffered by Group Centre, their objectives in the Canea Suda area being held by a composite force of 14,800 men. The capture of the town of Canea, and the airfield Retimo, help of the 19th Australian brigade, by nightfall on the first evening was was clearly out the question.
The two glider borne companies from the assault Regiment, Under the command of Gustav Altmann and Alfred Genz, in some 30 gliders, accomplished a limited degree of success, whilst many gliders were destroyed by intensive ground fire and others smashed up on landing. A small detachment under the command of Alfred Genz, was successful in capturing the antiaircraft guns at Canea, but others failed in their task of reaching the radio station, and of those attempting a linkup with Richard Heidrich. Fewer than 30 made contact with his force in Prison Valley from the instant of jumping from their planes men of Group Centre suffered severely. Nearly all of the men who came down near Gallatas were killed at once. Many were too widely dispersed to form concentrated battle groups. Some companies were dispersed over a distance of nearly 3 miles, and by nightfall the survivors of the drop was still dispersed and ineffective.

Very slight Luftwaffe activity during day. At night Luftwaffe raiders were reported over South Wales and East Anglia.

It was announced that Iceland has severed union with Denmark.

Go To: 21st May
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Gallery

Crete Airborne Assault picture 1

Crete Airborne Assault picture 2

Crete Airborne Assault picture 3

Crete Airborne Assault picture 4

Crete Airborne Assault picture 5

Crete Airborne Assault picture 6

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Sources

The Second Great War.
Edited by Sir John Hamilton

The War Illustrated.
Edited by Sir John Hamilton

2194 Days Of War.
ISBN-10: 086136614X

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