Crete cemeteriesCrete cemeteriesCrete cemeteries
Greek Island Holidays

The war cemeteries of Crete

crete british war cemetery

Lines of headstones make a sobering sight.

Crete may be a favourite holiday hotspot today but the island was once the scene of a ferocious battle between Allied troops and German paratroopers.

The Battle of Crete was one of the biggest and most important episodes of World War II and this was the first attempted invasion by parachute which cost the lives of thousands of German parachutists.

What should have been a disaster for the Germans turned into one of their major successes as they gained a foothold in the former airport on what is now Maleme beach and eventually drove the Allied troops over the mountains to evacuation points on the south coast.

There is little left to tell of the German occupation of the island or of the battles fought to secure the strategic Mediterranean outpost.

But those holiday visitors that take trips to the two wartime cemeteries in Western Crete will be aware of the terrible price paid in the battle for the island of Crete.

The British and Commonwealth War Cemetery is located along the northern shore at Souda Bay, near Chania.

The deep water bay at Souda was a haven for British warships and became a major target for German bombers.

Suda may be a busy port today but it is a relative haven of peace with the hills of the Akrotiri peninsula reflected in the calm waters.

Holiday visitors to Crete and find the cemetery on the road to Akrotiri, nestled in a secluded spot in surrounded by olive groves and right by the seashore.

Many of the graves here are dedicated to unknown soldiers because German occupying forces moved many of the remains and their identities were lost.

Like all cemeteries maintained by the War Graves Commission, it is beautifully kept. Lines of white headstones make for a sobering sight.

There are now 1,500 Commonwealth servicemen commemorated in the cemetery with more than half, 776 unidentified.

The cemetery also contains 19 First World War burials brought in from Suda Bay Consular Cemetery and 37 of the graves are not connected with the war.

Among the British and Commonwealth soldier that lie here are the bodies of three Germans — two civilians and a German corporal.

The soldier's remains were found near Maleme in 1956 but his identity tag had been removed. As an English-made watch was found on the body it was assumed he was British and he was taken to Suda.

The two civilian Germans were also buried here following a mix-up over identities. It was decided to leave the remains at Suda Bay and so there is now a single headstone to the German soldier in the British War Cemetery.

The German cemetery is found further along the coast at Maleme, once the scene of fierce fighting and where the Germans eventually gained a foothold on Crete and were able to fly in troops and supplies.

The cemetery dedicated to the German paratroopers sits on the hillside overlooking Maleme beach.

Many of the paratroopers were killed as they dropped from the skies in the Battle of Crete and many that landed suffered at the hands of the civilian Cretan population.

The cemetery overlooks the shore and the former airfield below. Simple stones are laid flat in the heather with just a few vertical headstones here and there and a large cross overlooking the sea.

A simple plaque reads: "In this place rest 4465 German fallen from the war years 1941-1945, of which 3352 died in the battle of Crete from the 20th May to the 1st June 1941, as soldiers of the paratroopers, the mountain troops, the navy and the air force, who gave their lives for their homeland ".

The capture of the vital airfield on the plain eventually led to the loss of Crete for the Allies. But, with the casualty rate so high and 370 aircraft destroyed or damaged, there were to be no more German airborne invasions in the war.

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