A Commonwealth’s Bren gunner, freshly arrived from Crete, displays his war trophy at Alexandria’s harbor, Egypt, end of May 1941.
Between May 27 and June 1, around 18,000 of the island’s 31,800 defenders were evacuated from Crete by the Royal Navy. The rest were either killed or captured. The evacuation came at a heavy price, the Royal Navy losing 42 ships lost or damaged and 2,000 men during the brief campaign.
On the German side the official figure (still highly debated today) was of 5,699 casualties (1,359 KIA): 1,438 for the Army and 4,261 for the Luftwaffe.
The Allied estimate of German losses is much higher, with Gen. Freyberg himself estimating 17,000 enemy killed or wounded, including 6,000 drowned in the two landing flotillas intercepted by the Royal Navy. These numbers are clearly exaggerated with an estimate of 800 Gebirgsjäger killed en route to Crete being a more acceptable figure.
In a little know episode of the campaign, fearing the Luftwaffe, the British destroyers didn’t stop to collect POWs, choosing instead to machine-gun many of the helpless Gebirgsjäger in the water. It is said that when word of this reached Crete, any captured British sailor thought to belong to a destroyer’s crew was killed on the spot by the German troops seeking payback. Meanwhile, the crews of sunken British ships were themselves machined-gunned in the water by the Luftwaffe.
With the fall of Crete, by June 1 the Balkans Campaign was over, but there would be no respite for these men. A few days earlier Rommel had captured the Halfaya Pass, and the Afrika Korps was at the doors of Egypt.
Original: IWM (E3370)