Operation Mercury, Crete - What If...

#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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Deleted 20555

Guest
#2
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.
 
#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.
 
#4
As Deleted 20555 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
Given that it ws the Italians who got a beating by the Greeks, Germans had to step in to subdue, does the blame fall on Italy for screwing up the whole German global plan then?
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.
 
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Deleted 20555

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#7
Given that it ws the Italians who got a beating by the Greeks, Germans had to step in to subdue, does the blame fall on Italy for screwing up the whole German global plan then?
Well there was that German General who said after being captured "Next time it's your turn to have the Italians as allies"
 
#8
Well there was that German General who said after being captured "Next time it's your turn to have the Italians as allies"
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.
 

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
#9
What would have been the ramifications to the course of the war if we had indeed won the Battle for Crete?
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.

Wordsmith
 
#10
I have seen this quoted as one of Churchill's bon mots.
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
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.
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.
 

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
#13
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.

Wordsmith
 
#14
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.
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
 
#16
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?
It wasn't just Crete - it was the whole Greek and Yugoslav operation. When you consider that the Germans probably missed out on storming into Moscow by only about ten days (weather, and the resulting last-minute decision by the soviets to throw their reserves into the Moscow battle), it really was a decisive delay.
 
#17
It wasn't just Crete - it was the whole Greek and Yugoslav operation. When you consider that the Germans probably missed out on storming into Moscow by only about ten days (weather, and the resulting last-minute decision by the soviets to throw their reserves into the Moscow battle), it really was a decisive delay.
Have to admit my knowledge of the whole Greek/Yugo campaign is sketchy ....read a little bit about the Corinth canal/etc before my Crete trip...think that the Italians invaded then got their arrse kicked and ended up way behind their original start line? which meant that Uncle Adolf had to step in, so you're probably right, but the German Staff officer definitely indicated that this had nothing to do with the failure to take Moscow and that it was the heavier than expected summer rain that was decisive combined with the early Russian Winter.

I'll try to dig out who the officer was, but like I said, it may have been sour grapes on his part....a bit like them whinging about the allied ground attack aircraft restricting them during Normandy...conveniently forgetting that they had the same advantage during the battle of France in 1940.

May also have been bumped up by Churchill trying to convince Stalin that the battle of Crete saved his Vodka ration?
 
#18
i'm allways out of my depth when listening to the big kids talk about the points and analysis of history but if.........

Churchill wanted to invade Europe from 'the soft underbelly' mainly to limit Soviet control of eastern europe and the US forced him to go for the Channel route, now if Crete was in Allied hands could this have not help to tip it in WC's favor of invading Europe via the south-east?
and what effects whould it have had on europe post ww2?
 
#19
i'm allways out of my depth when listening to the big kids talk about the points and analysis of history but if.........

Churchill wanted to invade Europe from 'the soft underbelly' mainly to limit Soviet control of eastern europe and the US forced him to go for the Channel route, now if Crete was in Allied hands could this have not help to tip it in WC's favor of invading Europe via the south-east?
and what effects whould it have had on europe post ww2?

Can of worms Doc!....we're going to get a right seeing to now.

If you use Crete as a jump off point the troops would have to come via where?....Libya/Malta/Gib/all the way from UK? Logistical nightmare? Then once we've landed in Greece we do what? turn left or right?, recapture previous territory?

I think that the whole plan from the early days of '43 was for Europe/Eastern Europe to end up how it did, after losing the far East, and with India playing up, Teddy and Joe knew that they would be pulling the strings post war .....we did well to get a bit of Berlin and for the Allies to hold on to Italy and Austria, tragic about Poland though, especially for my Polish Grandfather.

Anyways, you've given me a headache now, why couldn't you have kept it simple like 'What's the weight of a pull through?'
 
#20
It did result in British holidaymakers getting much cheaper deals and not getting awful things done to their food in the restaurent kitchens, as was par for the course with boxhead tourists. A native of Crete told me this.

Its an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
 

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