Souda Bay Commonwealth War Graves

I went to Crete two weeks back, and spent an hour at the Souda (Suda) Bay cemetary, on our trip to Chania.

The pictures are here.

It is beautifully located, and very well cared for. The cemetary holds the graves of all Commonwealth personnel buried in known graves on the island, a total of over 1,500, almost one/third of them New Zealanders, who bore the brunt of the fighting on Crete, and only about half of them identified. There are also some graves from the Balkan wars, a memorial to the British soldiers killed in the Battle of Heraklion in 1898, the graves of some sailors who died in Souda of illness, and even the graves of some civilians from the period before WW1, including two or three German citizens. One of the last casualties to be interred there is a Captain from the Cretan resistance liaison mission, killed by Communist ELAS fighters in Heraklion in early 1945.

You can find the Commonwealth War Graves Commission page on the cemetery at this link.

The Mediterranean Fleet – Greece to Tripoli

This is another of the official books published by the Ministry of Information, this time in 1944. The same caveats apply as in “The Tiger Kills”, but so do the same reasons for recommending it. There are very good accounts of naval operations off Crete during the evacuation, of the Tobruk Run, the effort to keep the garrison of besieged Tobruk supplied in 1941, and of the Malta convoys.

Recommended reading.

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.