Operation Mercury, Crete - What If...

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by JoeCivvie, Aug 2, 2011.

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  1. Just reading about the fall of Crete again, and, as usual, I hope that THIS time we win. Of course we never do but it made me wonder, so here's a 'what if' for the more learned History Arrses.

    We know that Crete was a near thing which, given the superiority of numbers of the defenders and the advance warning which ULTRA gave to Gen Freyberg the Allies should have won. What would have been the ramifications to the course of the war if we had indeed won the Battle for Crete?
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  2. Schaden

    Schaden LE Book Reviewer

    No difference - North Africa would still have been short allowing Rommel to run around, Russia would still have been invaded too late in the year and what good did it do Jerry by having Crete - absolutely nothing as far as I can tell.
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  3. The Germans would have been better off using their airborne forces to invade Malta. They might have taken even more casualties, but in conjunction with Italian airborne and amphibious forces they could possibly have taken the island. Now that would have made a real difference to the outcome of the war in North Africa. Without British air and naval forces based on Malta interdicting his supply lines Rommel would have been much stronger.
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  4. As Schaden said, the damage had already been done tbh, by even having to invade as far as Grecce, Germany was waay behind schedule as far as Russia was concerned, as spring offensive for Barbarossa would have had greater ramifications.
    That said Crete nearly falling on it's arse did stop the Fallschrimjager getting used en-masse again (as an Airborne force).
  5. Probably a much quicker victory for UK in the Med and North Africa, with the RAF and RN covering all the Axis supply lines in the east Med, and with Allied convoys to Alexandria consequently getting a clear run through the eastern Med. To counter this, the Germans would have had to have another air fleet in Greece attempting to suppress Crete, the same as with their Italian air fleet holding down Malta - thus reducing even further their resources for Barbarossa. The German would have had the further problem of hugely enhanced partisan activity in Yugoslavia and Greece, with UK SF running amok through the archipelago of Greek islands from secure bases in Crete. Lacking significant naval assets, the Germans would have been powerless to prevent the British from occupying everything apart from the mainland.
  6. In a nutshell, and that seems to be agreed by most historians and by Mr A Hitler as well...

    ..... although its not clear that Hitler actually had a global plan much beyond the launch of Barbarossa.
  7. Schaden

    Schaden LE Book Reviewer

    Well there was that German General who said after being captured "Next time it's your turn to have the Italians as allies"
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  8. I have seen this quoted as one of Churchill's bon mots.

    Here is another scenario.

    The successful defence of Crete serves as a magnet for Churchill's interest in the Balkans, which becomes an obsession. In Summer 1942at the urging of the Soviets he launches an ill fated invasion of the Dodecanese in an attempt to bring Turkey into the War on the Allied Side. As the German Summer offensive takes hold, more and more troops are sucked into the Greek Islands. These is no Dieppe as the Combined Operations team has responsiblity for the Greek adventure. There is , however, the ill fated landings at Thessalonika under the command of Lord Louis Mountbatten by XIII Corps which are met by a German armoured force and leads to the resignation of AlanBrooke as CIGS..

    The ill fated secodn Greek Campaign sours the early Anglo American planning for military co-operation as the US military are deeply suspicious of Churchill's obsession with the Balkans. The western Allies cannot agree on a Germany First strategy and US focus switches to the pacific. As a consequence when Rommel launches his offensive in July 1942 the defences of Egypt are weak and the US is not ready to step forward with hundreds fo tanks and aircraft. Rommel spectacularly sweeps through Egypt leaving the Afrika Korps on the shoires of the Persian Gulf and posing a threat to the oilfields of Iraq.

    Thus relative success in 1941 encourages Churchill to repeat the errors of spring 1941. The invasion of the Dodecanese in 1943 was a shambolic defeat for the UK.

    Seriously, Crete was a disaster for the German airborne forces. Posessing it did nothing for the Axuis cause other than tie up a motirised infantry division better emploued elsewhere.
  9. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    One ramification would have been on naval strategy. The Royal Navy took a pounding evacuating the army from Crete - it cost three cruisers and six destroyers sunk, together with damage to a number of other ships including the carrier Formidable. This essentially forced the RN onto the defensive in the eastern Mediterranean - in the absence of the carrier, Admiral Cunningham was reluctant to venture too far off the coast unless there was shore based air to cover him and to fly reconnaissance.

    As the war in the Mediterranean was critically dependent on supply lines, this gave the Axis greater freedom to move material from Italy to North Africa. As Rommel managed a lot of his victories by stretching his logistics to (and sometimes beyond) breaking point, I wonder if he would have been held in check further from Egypt had Cunningham's fleet not taken a hammering off of Crete.

  10. I thought it was Churchill, too.

    Foreign Minister Ribbentrop said to Eden and Churchill that if there was another war, the Italians would be on Germany's side.
    To which Churchill supposedly replied: "That seems only fair, we had them last time!"

    The troops on Crete hadn't been alerted to the imminent attack for fear of letting the GErmans know that the Enigma codes were being broken. I don't know how far up the CoC was kept in the dark.
  11. i think you are all missing the main point,if the airfields had been held and the attack beat off,the reason to form the raf regt would not have come about!

    runs off to avoid the good kicking he deserves.
  12. Freyberg and his senior staff were certainly aware of it, though not necessarily the source. It was fairly obvious the Germans were going to go there next. It was the tactical mistakes that the Brit/Commonwealth forces made, their lack of heavy weapons and almost total absence of air support that lost the battle.
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  13. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    Freyberg was given sanitised Ultra decrypts, but not told the exact source - just that they were very reliable. He was also told not to discuss the material with his staff. As Freyberg's usual way of working was to discuss his plans with his subordinates, this caused two problems. (1) he had to operate in a different way to which he was accustomed to. (2) His staff were unaware of the quality of intelligence Freyberg had.

    After Crete, the way that Ultra was handled was changed.

    There is a good discussion of the influence of the Ultra material on the Crete invasion in: John Keegan - Intelligence in War.

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  14. With due regard to the other replies to this, I believe Freyberg was given the substance of the ULTRA decrypts, but drew the erroneous conclusion that the main attack would be seaborne (pardon the pun) rather than airborne.
  15. Agree with the comment about Enigma and the bigger picture.

    About 12 'all ranks' from my unit went there as a battlefield tour many years ago, Ex Green Crete, 1997 - Visited the battlefields and retraced the allied forces withdrawal route by foot and bus from Maleme, to where they got picked up from the beach at Hora Sphakia, via the White Mountains.

    Spent about 8 days covering the route and bashering up along the way...although we were often invited to sleep in the local town halls/schools/etc as the hospitality was second to none once they knew that we were British soldiers.

    As part of the prep, I contacted the gloriously named 'Tactical Doctrine Retrieval Cell' at Trenchard Lines for any info re previous visits and I must admit that they were excellent and very helpful providing all the briefing notes from prior tours such as Ex Cretan Gamble by 5AB Bde of 1995 and the 1996 tour, Ex Heraklion Highlander.

    Also read a good many book on the subject, and it may seem that they battle was only lost due to a severe breakdown in comms at all levels leading to Allied units pulling back due to believing that they were surrounded when in fact they were often in commanding positions, and it was in fact the the Germans who were expecting to surrender after achieving very little in the first few days. IIRC, one Fallschirmjager Regiment alone had 4000 KIA out of 5000!

    There was a shortage of weapons/rations/vehicles and equipment for the Allies due to the leaving much behind during the withdrawal from Greece, which did lead to a large amount of ill equipped/ineffective units on the Island.

    The impression I got was that the battle of Crete did not delay the German invasion of the Soviet Union by any noticeable amount. I believe that after the war, one of the German planners stated that any delay to that operation was caused by heavier than usual summer rain, nothing to do with Crete ...bad loser?

    Crete was an enjoyable and worthwhile battlefield tour. Thoroughly recommended it
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