June 1

This Day in History

General Interest

Jun 1, 1941:

Crete falls to German forces

During World War II, Crete, the last Allied stronghold in Greece, is captured by German forces at high cost to both sides.

In late 1940, the Greek army, reinforced by the British air force, decisively repulsed an Italian invasion of their nation. In April 1941, these triumphs turned to defeat when Nazi leader Adolf Hitler turned his undefeated German Wehrmacht against the country. The German army advanced so quickly in Greece that the British were forced to cancel plans to send reinforcements to the country. On April 23, the Greek king and his government evacuated to Crete, an island south of the Greek mainland, and on April 24 a general Allied evacuation to the island began. For the next six days, the Germans bombarded the Allied ships streaming to Crete, killing some 15,000 Allied sailors and troops. By April 29, however, almost 50,000 British, Greek, Australian, and New Zealand troops had reached the safety of the heavily fortified island.

Three weeks later, the German invasion of Crete began, and more than 20,000 German parachute troops landed on the island within a few days. Under heavy resistance from the Allies, the Germans succeeded in gaining control of an airfield and were thus able to fly in a steady number of reinforcements. On May 26, the Allies began to move to the southern coast of Crete, where an evacuation to British-controlled Egypt began. By June 1, the last of some 20,000 surviving Allied troops had escaped, and Crete fell to the Axis.

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