The Role of Crete in the North African War

While Crete is best known for Operation Merkur, the airborne assault that took the island from the Commonwealth forces defending it at the end of May 1941, it also played a considerable role in the war in the Mediterranean, and was of great importance to the Axis effort in North Africa.

  • Suda Bay, on the north-western tip of Crete, became an Italian naval and submarine base. Submarines and destroyers were based here, and would be used to bring supplies to North Africa from Suda (see also the Italian reports I posted here).
  • Airfields around Crete were used as bases or to stage both combat and supply missions towards North Africa. Missions against Commonwealth supply shipping in the Suez Canal zone were flown from here. I believe support missions for Iraq and Syria also originated from here, but it is also possible that these came out of the Doedecanese islands then occupied by Italy.
  • During the siege of Bardia/Halfaya from December 41 to January 42, some supply and combat missions were flown from Crete, but impeded by bad weather in Crete.
  • Air cover and aerial reconnaissance were provided from Crete to protect convoys running on the eastern leg from Greece to North Africa. Not always successful as the loss of the tankers Maritza and Procida showed (again, see the report by escort commander Mimbelli here).
  • During the build-up for the battle of El Alamein, Crete became a source for reinforcements to Panzerarmee Afrika. 164. Leichte Infanteriedivision was previously an occupation force in Crete, called Festungs-Division Kreta.

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