20.05.

1941: Operation Mercury – Hitler’s Airborne Invasion of Crete

1941: Operation Mercury – Hitler’s Airborne Invasion of Crete
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 20 May 1941
  • It was the first mass airborne invasion in the history of warfare. The Germans used the elite paratroopers units, the so-called "Fallschirmjäger" units. At the time of the invasion of Crete, the Greek king George II was also there, but he managed to escape, and wasn't captured.

This day in 1941 marked the German invasion of the island of Crete during World War II, when the so-called “Fallschirmjäger” units were used.  (“Fallschirm” means parachute  in German, and a “Jäger”, in terms of German military terminology, was a specialist, for example a commando).

Why did the Germans use planes for the invasion, and not ships? Namely, the Allies had control over the maritime area. On the other hand, the Germans had a great air superiority because they had conquered the neighbouring Greece.

The massive German air invasion of Crete. Began on this day, and there were about 15,000 paratroopers. That was absolutely an unprecedented venture in the history of warfare.

Even light recoilless guns (for example “7.5 cm Leichtgeschütz 40”) were lowered by parachutes, so the  German troops could have artillery force after the landing. These guns were lowered using three connected parachutes, because weight of the guns was greater than the weight of a person.

The paratroopers didn’t have rifles and machine guns, which were in special containers, and  lowered by separate parachutes. That was a big mistake.

Namely, when they landed, the “Fallschirmjägers” found themselves on the battlefield, armed only with a knife, pistol, and hand grenades. Many of them were killed while they were trying to reach the mentioned containers.

The fourth Luftwaffe aircraft fleet, under the command of Colonel General Alexander Lohr, provided the air support of the entire operation, which was named “Operation Mercury” (German: Unternehmen Merkur).

The commanders of the “Fallschirmjäger” units were generals Kurt Student and Wolfram von Richthofen (the cousin of the famous “Red Baron”).

There very many casualties in the German operation, and Hitler banned similar invasions. At the time of the invasion of Crete, the Greek king George II was also there, but he managed to escape, and wasn’t captured (he was the great-grandson of Queen Victoria).

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