Maleme, 11 miles (ca. 18 km) west of Chania, the second-largest German military cemetery in Greece.
Simple grave complex at the place where in May 1941 after the German airborne invasion of Crete the heavily battled Hill 107 was.
2021 was the 80th anniversary of the heavy fighting for the island following the airborne invasion of Crete on May 20, 1941, and the allied evacuation until June 1, 1941.
The German military cemetery at Maleme
The pretty, simple grave complex is situated on a gentle slope terrain with views over the bay to the peninsula Rodopou, approximately at the place where in 1941 the heavily battled Hill 107 was. From there you have a good overview of the still existing and military cordoned airfield Maleme and the old battlefield.
The cemetery is open daily and is served daily from several tourist buses. Not only members of the lying German soldiers come to here, but also British, Americans, Australians and Greeks to enroll in the guest books with their names, in the hope that this place may be a memorial to peace.
Originally in 1941 there were military cemeteries created by the occupying German forces at Maleme, Rethymno, Heraklion, Galatas and other places. However, these were demolished after WW2, and the bones of the dead were provisionally transferred to the monastery Gonais on the Rodoupou Peninsula.
In October 1974, the dead were reburied by the German Association for War Graves in these newly established cemetery. Here are lying 4,465 German soldiers, most of them were not older than 21 years old.
Of these, about 1,991 were killed during the actual fighting around the island, and the other 1,995 who were there reported missing and also must be considered dead. Up to 600, which were lost on or over the sea, the majority of them was obviously found thereafter. Nevertheless, more than 1,100 members of the Wehrmacht were killed in the actual occupation times from 1941 to 1945.
This resulted mainly from raids by Cretan partisans, which were not covered and protected by martial law. Moreover, such incidents in turn led to German reprisals, including against the civilian population of Crete (Explanations/Sources).
The largest German military cemetery on Greek soil with more than 10,000 graves is located near Athens. Again, the mismatch of about 1,518 killed German soldiers during the Balkans campaign in Greece between April 6 and April 30, 1941; but later 8,500 killed German soldiers during the actual occupation times 1941-1944.
Battle of Crete 1941
After the conquest of Yugoslavia and the mainland of Greece in the Balkan campaign the Axis powers could secure the Aegean as well as the access to both the Dodecanese as for their merchant ships to the Dardanelles and their Allies on the Black Sea through the conquest of Crete.
The Operation ‘Merkur’ (Mercury) was built on air superiority and surprise. But this failed because the British Intelligence Service had made with the help of ‘Ultra’ a good picture of the multiple times delayed operation.
During the airborne assault on May 20, 1941, the paratroopers could not take even one of the three airports of the island located at Maleme, Rethymno and Heraklion. They and the subsequent airborne troops suffered heavy losses, until in tough fighting the airfield of Maleme was assured.
Two convoys of small steamers and sailing ships were caught at night on the way to the island by British naval forces. Two Italian torpedo boats campaigned with great bravery and such skill that the losses were tolerable.
In daylight, the British fleet suffered heavy losses by dive bombers and was forced to retreat.
Finally, in seven days of hard fighting the Germans managed to win so tight on the island, which was defended by 42,640 Allied soldiers, that the British retreated by sea. 12,000 British were captured and by air raids they lost 3 cruisers and 6 destroyers. The only aircraft carrier, three of four battleships and numerous smaller vessels were damaged.
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Pictures of Chania in WW2
Pictures from Chania and environment during and shortly after the fighting in Crete in May and June 1941.
Pictures of Heraklion in WW2
Pictures from Heraklion and environment during and shortly after the fighting in Crete in May and June 1941.
Directions to the German military cemetery at Maleme
Link to map with directions:
Click here: Directions Maleme German military cemetery.
References and literature
Der Kampf um Kreta – Die Geschichte einer Invasion aus der Luft (Franz Kurowski)
Fallschirmjäger auf Kreta (Jean-Yves Nasse)
The Grainville Raid, Invasion of Crete 1941 (After the Battle No. 47, Winston G. Ramsey)
The Fall of Crete (Alan Clark)
Crete – The Battle and the Resistance (Anthony Beevor)
Crete 1941 – Germany’s lightning airborne assault (Osprey/ Peter D. Antill)
Battle of Crete (George Forty)
Explanations and Sources
Andartis (Greek Αντάρτης) is the Greek term for a partisan. In the Nuremberg Trials it was stated that ‘irregulars’ (whether they call themselves partisans, bandits, Andartis, irregulars or Freikorps is irrelevant) must consistently comply with all the terms of Hague Law of War, which was obviously not the case.
Responsible British and New Zealand officers (among others Major Bedding, 20 May 1941 at Kastelli) report already during the battles around Kastelli Hill and Paleochora that they had difficulties to stop massacres of the ‘armed Greek mob’. Also, the mutilation of enemy soldiers – whether they were prisoners, wounded or already dead is irrelevant – and the like were hardly part of the ‘laws and customs of war’: already the mistreatment of enemy war dead is a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1929, which stated: ‘After every engagement the belligerent who remains in possession of the field shall take steps to search for the wounded and dead and to protect them from robbery and ill-treatment’. These practices were also a violation of the unwritten customary rules of land warfare and could result in the death penalty
Retaliatory actions (see also War Reprisals) were still considered permissible under customary law at that time, taking into account international law of war, even with a ‘reprisal ratio’ of ten to one (BGH, judgment of April 28, 1955 – 3 StR 603/54).