The Battle for Heraklion. Crete 1941. The Campaign Revealed through Allied and Axis Accounts.

By Yannis Prekatsounakis

It is now almost three years since the first publication of my book and I’m really happy to see that a second paperback reprint. Heraklion is my birth place and my hometown and since my childhood, the memories from celebrations, ceremonies and accounts about the battle of Crete had a strong influence on me and made me wonder what it all about and what was the real story behind the battle. Quite soon I realised that the battle of Crete is very well documented regarding the events that took place around Chania and Maleme (the west sector of the battle) while this was not the case for Heraklion. The battle for Heraklion was unique since it involved fighting in both a rural and urban environment. While some paratroops units found themselves fighting in the rocky harsh terrain around the airfield, others had to fight their way through ancient fortifications and survive the bitter street fighting in an unknown and hostile environment where each street, each building and each window could hide an ambush and a lethal trap.

            After years of research I decided to write down the story of the battle in order to have for the first time an as much as possible completed narrative viewed from the perspective of all three sides, the Greeks, the British (Commonwealth) and the Germans. My military education and background and my preoccupation with the tactical analysis of exercises directed me towards a thorough study of the battle on the actual battlefield, based on official documents such as after action reports and war diaries as well as firsthand accounts.  The book is a unique source of firsthand accounts describing vividly the tension of the battle. A very characteristic phrase in a reader’s review was “…you can even taste the dust in your mouth during the fighting in the fields around the airfield..”  

            This book highlights personal stories and accounts – and my access to records from all three sides allowed accounts to be placed in their correct place and time. Finally, the history of the battle is written with the added perspective of extensive Greek accounts and sources. In contrast, earlier books were based solely on British and German sources – totally ignoring the Greek side. Many of these accounts are from people who were fighting directly against each other – and some reveal what the enemies were discussing and thinking while they were shooting at or attacking each other. Some accounts are so accurate and detailed that we can even identify who killed whom. In addition, long-lost stories behind both well known and previously unpublished pictures are revealed.

            Apart from the personal accounts, the book focuses on the tactical level, featuring detailed maps of the battlefield and the order of battle, providing valuable material for those who are interested in studying the battle from the tactical military perspective. Moreover, the extensive research on the battlefield provides the visitor and military history enthusiast with an detailed guide book. A characteristic example of this research is the following story of German NCO Wilhelm Eiting, initially quoted by an eyewitness and later investigated on the battlefield.

Paratrooper Gerhard Broder recalled the duel:

            The noise of a tank again: a tank is approaching through the ravine and continues on a rough track. It is firing and stops at a distance of about 20 meters from our position. The vineyard is hiding us from sight but the shallow hole does not protect us physically. I am lying on my back-side and have pulled all my belongings which might attract attention into my shallow hole. From time to time Jacobs looks for the tank to see in which direction its gun-barrel is pointing. Feldwebel Eiting, a reservist, married and the father of children, loses his nerve. He leaves his cover and rushes towards a brickwork well, in order to find cover behind it. A shell tears off his head.

The brickwork well next to the road, where Eiting tried to take cover but finally killed by the Matilda tank which was advancing along the road. (Yannis Prekatsounakis)

            This small extract gives an example of the research and information included within the book, but of course there are many more and I have tried to present the most relevant ones. The research still continues and despite the geographically limited battle for Heraklion, the number of incidents and isolated fights provide a very rich field of study. I hope that the reader will be more than satisfied by reading this book and will also gain a better understanding of the dramatic events which took place in Heraklion in May 1941.

Buy the paperback reprint of ‘The Battle for Heraklion. Crete 1941. The Campaign Revealed Through Allied and Axis Accounts’ here: https://www.helion.co.uk/military-history-books/the-battle-for-heraklion-crete-1941-the-campaign-revealed-through-allied-and-axis-accounts-2.php

Fallschirmjäger! A collection of first-hand accounts and diaries by German Paratrooper veterans from the Second World War

By Greg Way

I have been interested in the Second World War from an early age. I grew up surrounded by people who experienced the war, family members, family friends and neighbours. My child play involved toy soldiers, military vehicles and planes. My books were amongst others, Action Annual and Commando comic books. Wartime films and documentaries were regularly on the TV. In my picture books Germans were often portrayed as faceless enemies. At an early age I wondered why I never heard or read war stories from the German point of view.

Oberfeldwebel Redhammer from Fallschirmjäger Regiment.2 was a well decorated Senior NCO and a veteran of the Crete campaign. This Regiment features heavily in the book.

I was a child when I first heard the words ‘German Paratrooper’ in ‘Dad’s Army’, a 1970s British TV sitcom about a Home Guard unit defending a coastal town in southern England against a possible German invasion during WW2. I thought nothing more about them!

I first read the words ‘German Paratrooper’ as a youngster in a 1970s Commando comic book story but thought nothing more about them. I first saw a ‘German Paratrooper’ as a child but he was 5cm tall, made of plastic and part of my toy soldier collection. I never knew what he was and thought nothing more about it. These and many other insignificant references to ‘German Paratroopers during my childhood probably influenced my interest in the future.

Fast forward to the 1990s and I chanced upon a twenty-year-old modelling magazine featuring a long article about ‘German Paratroopers’ and for the first time I read about their exploits at places such as Eben Emael in 1940, Crete in 1941 and Monte Cassino in 1944. This was the first time I read the word ‘Fallschirmjäger’! I was thoroughly intrigued by these airborne operations and ground campaigns, the courageous offensive feats and tenacious defensive actions, some of which have gone down in the annals of military history. I wanted to learn more about the men of this elite formation!

Volker Stutzer with his copy of the book. He was a late war conscript who fought in Pomerania in February 1945

The internet at that time was in its embryonic stage with only a handful of military forums and web pages but it allowed like-minded enthusiasts from all over the world to communicate their interests. One fellow enthusiast asked if I would like to write to a German Paratrooper veteran. He provided me with an address in Germany and I wrote a letter asking if he would share his experiences during the war. Not only did the veteran send me reports from his wartime service but he also put me in touch with other veterans, who were willing to share their experiences of training, combat, capture and captivity. Within a few months I had collated quite a few personal reports, with a personal perspective of many battles and campaigns.

With this growing collection of first-hand accounts, I toyed with the idea of a book as a permanent record of these personal wartime experiences, an idea welcomed by the veterans. I hoped this book would appeal to the professional historian, military enthusiast and the casual reader alike.

Erich Beine, Fallschirmjäger officer and recipient of the Knights Cross from the Luftlande-Sturmregiment, a formation that features in the book.

Fast forward to 2018 and after almost twenty years the book was accepted by Helion and Company who were excited about its historical value and potential appeal to the military history community.

The book does not cover the tactical level or military leadership but the written experiences of 19 Fallschirmjäger veterans from their perspective and in their own words. They are first-hand accounts of bravery, determination and adversity and describe the horror and inhumanity of war but also moments of humanity and the light-hearted moments experienced by soldiers the world over in times of war.

Oral histories like these now belong to an ever-decreasing number of elderly veterans but they create an important historical record of their military service during the Second World War.

You can buy the book now here.