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Crete’s greatest difference, to the horror of the Germans, was the part played by ‘unrecruited civilians.’
The Cretan resistance, unlike those underground movements in the rest of Europe which did not start to develop until a year or so after the German occupation, began literally in the first hour of the invasion.
Boys, old men and also women displayed a breath-taking bravery in defence of their island. German soldiers were doubly scandalized at the idea of women fighting them. They would rip the dress from the shoulder of a suspect. If she had a bruise from the recoil of a rifle, or was caught knife in hand, she would be shot along with the men.
Scattered paratroopers landing near Perivolia were, in the words of the New Zealand official history, ‘despatched by civilians with axes and spades.’ One of the first examples of spontaneous mobilization was an attack on the rear of the Parachute Engineer Battalion which had landed round Lake Ayia by Cretan irregulars advancing from the large village of Alikianou… . Although the Cretans had their own proud traditions of resistance to the Turk, their ferocity and reckless bravery in 1941 were more reminiscent of the Second of May rising against Napoleon’s forces in Madrid, of a guerra al cuchillo: war to the knife.
Some priests led their parishioners into battle. Father Stylianos Frantzeskakis, hearing of the airborne invasion, rushed to the church to sound the bell. Taking a rifle, he marched his volunteers north from Paleokhara and later fought German motor-cycle detachments when they reached Kandanos.
An intelligence officer from the 1rth Infantry Brigade’s headquarters rembebered several priests, kenn duck-shooter and therefore ‘pretty good shots’, who almost certainly took part in the fighting. At the time of the battle, one went around with a rifle down his trousers waiting for the chance of a pot-shot at German paratroopers And at Rethymo, Ray Sandover, one of the Australian battalion commanders, saw a monk on the second day of the battle armed with a rifle and an axe in his belt. On the third day the monk appeared accompanied by a little boy acting as gun-bearer with a Schmeisser sub-machine gun and other trophies he had won in the battle against the paratroopers.
… One of the companies of II Battalion of the Storm Regiment, which landed several kilometres south-west of Maleme, was surprised by Cretan irregulars when sent on to secure the pass near Koukouli. But the most contentious episode concerned Lieutnant Murbe’s detachment. This group, seventy-two strong, which dropped on the edge of Kastelli Kissamou to capture the port, was ferociously engaged by the 1st Greek Regiment and Cretan irregulars. Murbe and fifty-three of his men were killed, the rest became prisoners.
The Germans, lulled by the intelligence prediction that the Cretans would welcome them, were taken by surprise. And the scale of their losses enraged them. On the first day alone 1,856 paratroopers had been killed. That figure must have swelled to over 2,000 as the mortally wounded died. To assess how many the Cretans had killed is impossible, but the shock to the Germans was unmistakable. They had come to expect their chosen enemy to cave in at the approach of what they liked to call der Furor Teutonicus in imitation of the Spanish infantry’s Furia Española in the fifteenth century. Civilian resistance, while an ancient tradition in Crete, so deeply offended the Prussian sense of military order that brutal reprisals were taken against the local population.
—  Crete, by Antony Beevor