CDG 31 German Glider Assault Crete, 1941 – Outcome and AnalysisBy Armchair General
Web Extra! Until recently, ACG readers had to wait two issues to find out the solution to our popular You Command Combat Decision Games. Now we are posting the historical outcome and analysis at armchairgeneral.com shortly after the respective due date for submissions of Reader Solutions. Here is the outcome for You Command CDG #31, “German Glider Assault, Crete, 1941,” March 2009 issue.
GERMAN GLIDER ASSAULT
The March 2009 issue of Armchair General® presented the Combat Decision Game “German Glider Assault on Crete, 1941.” This CDG placed readers in the role of Major Walter Koch, commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st Stürm Regiment, XI Flieger Korps. Koch’s mission was to lead his glider-borne troops in “an assault from the sky” to capture a vital airfield at Maleme on the British-occupied island of Crete.
The German high command’s plan was to use 14,000 parachute and glider troops supported by an air armada of nearly 500 planes in the initial attack to secure key points along the northern half of the island. The most important of these were Crete’s three airfields, which the Germans needed so they could land heavily armed follow-on ground forces to reinforce the lightly armed airborne troops. If the airfields, particularly the main one at Maleme, were not captured early on, the airborne operation – World War II’s largest to date – risked becoming a costly failure.
The German invasion of Crete, known as Operation Mercury, began at 8 a.m. on May 20, 1941, when thousands of German fallschirmjaegers, supported by the “flying artillery” of Luftwaffe fighters, bombers and dive-bombers, descended by parachute and glider. Although the commander of the British and Commonwealth forces on Crete, General Bernard Freyberg of New Zealand, had been warned of the impending attack through information gleaned from ULTRA code intercepts, Freyberg’s approximately 40,000 British, Commonwealth and Greek army defenders operated under severe handicaps. The majority of them recently had been evacuated from Greece in a “mini-Dunkirk,” but they left behind most of their heavy weapons and transport.
Thousands of Freyberg’s men were support troops ill trained for combat operations, while thousands more possessed no weapons at all. Yet the defenders’ 85 artillery pieces, numerous mortars, 20 mm anti-aircraft battery and about two dozen tanks posed formidable challenges to the German airborne attackers who were equipped almost exclusively with small arms and light machine guns.
Realizing that the airfields would be the Germans’ prime objectives, Freyberg concentrated his defenders there. Thus the battle for Crete essentially became a fight for control of these key locations.
Koch determined that his men could not gain control of the Maleme airfield without first overtaking the three defensive positions surrounding it. Therefore he decided to land each of the three companies in his battalion near one of these objectives (CDG Course of Action Two).
Lieutenant von Plessen’s 13 gliders landed in the northern portion of the Tavronitis riverbed, near the enemy anti-aircraft guns. Although his men sustained some casualties due to glider crashes, they were still able to employ surprise and speed to launch an immediate assault against the gun positions. As the Luftwaffe’s suppressive attacks lifted, the anti-aircraft gunners attempted to bring their weapons to bear against the advancing Germans, but before the New Zealanders could wreak havoc, the attackers made it to the gun pits and began fighting hand to hand with the gun crews. Plessen’s troops captured the anti-aircraft guns one by one and soon secured their objective, although Plessen himself fell during the fighting. A determined counterattack by the New Zealanders then prevented Plessen’s men from assisting the battalion’s other assaults.
About the time Plessen’s gliders were touching down, Major Braun’s nine gliders landed in the Tavronitis riverbed just south of the bridge. Miraculously no one was lost during the landing, despite the less than favorable terrain. Again, surprise and speed carried the day as Braun’s men quickly exited their gliders, rushed the bridge, and overcame the startled guard force stationed there. Thanks to Plessen’s successful attack, the New Zealanders were unable to turn the anti-aircraft guns against Braun’s force. Once the bridge was secured, Braun wasted no time reorganizing his men to continue their attack toward Hill 107. This final objective, however, proved a tougher nut to crack.
As Major Koch’s 15 gliders approached Hill 107, heavy ground fire from its New Zealand defenders immediately took a toll on the attackers. Several gliders were hit while others had to take evasive action that steered them away from their planned landing zones. The surviving gliders were scattered along the base and slopes of Hill 107, and Koch himself suffered a head wound that kept him out of combat for several days. Even with the support of Braun’s men and some additional elements of other German units, Koch’s company was unable to launch a concentrated attack to dislodge the hill’s defenders. Hill 107 remained firmly in enemy hands until late that night when the New Zealanders withdrew. Even then, the defenders kept the Maleme airfield under artillery fire, causing German reinforcements either to dodge the artillery rounds or to delay their landing altogether.
Late on May 21 the Germans were at last able to land substantial reinforcements at the Maleme airfield. The 15,000 gebirgsjaegers (mountain troops) and heavy weapons that they brought into the battle over the next several days allowed them to capture Crete’s three airfields and steadily push back Freyberg’s defenders to the island’s southern coast.
On May 27 officials in London finally agreed to Freyberg’s call for the Royal Navy to evacuate Crete’s remaining defenders. Thus another “mini-Dunkirk” ensued from May 28-31. Fewer than half of the defending troops were evacuated to Egypt while 17,000 were captured on Crete.
The invasion of Crete was successful, but at an appalling cost of nearly 400 planes and 7,000 German casualties – over 4,000 of those dead. Hitler never again attempted a large-scale airborne assault, although fallschirmjaegers fought throughout the rest of the war as elite ground combat units.
Ironically, the Crete invasion did produce at least one benefit for the British: The glider attack on Tavronitis Bridge was the inspiration behind the June 5-6, 1944, British glider assault on Pegasus Bridge (Caen Canal Bridge), a key action in support of the Normandy invasion.
AFTER ACTION REPORT
KEY POINTS FOR A GLIDER ASSAULT
- Collect and analyze all available intelligence about the enemy and terrain.
- Conduct realistic rehearsals so everyone understands his role and mission.
- Remember that glider landings are “controlled crashes”; account for inevitable casualties by cross-training all participants.
- Plan primary and alternate landing zones so adjustments can be made to fit the actual combat situation.
- Fly routes that avoid enemy anti-aircraft, as gliders are extremely vulnerable to ground fire.
- Use “flying artillery” – bombers and fighters – for close fire support.
- Capitalize on surprise, speed and violent execution to overcome any firepower disadvantage.
- Prepare the way for more heavily armed reinforcements to help consolidate the objective.
Historically, the Italian villanella was a rustic dance, or the music for such a dance. Sometimes it was a rustic Italian part song (round song) that was popular in the sixteenth century.
In a traditional Villanelle:
- The lines are grouped into five tercets and a concluding quatrain. Thus a Villanelle has 19 lines.
- Lines may be of any length.
- The Villanelle has two rhymes. The rhyme scheme is aba, with the same end-rhyme for every first and last line of each tercet and the final two lines of the quatrain.
- Two of the lines are repeated:
- The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the second and the fourth stanzas, and as the second-to-last line in the concluding quatrain.
- The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third and the fifth stanzas, and as the last line in the concluding quatrain.
- Thus the pattern of line-repetition is as follows:
In the above,
A1 b A2 - Lines in first tercet. a b A1 - Lines in second tercet. a b A2 - Lines in third tercet. a b A1 - Lines in fourth tercet. a b A2 - Lines in fifth tercet. a b A1 A2 - Lines in final quatrain.
- The lines of the first tercet are represented by "A1 b A2", because the first and third lines rhyme and will be repeated later in the poem.
- The first line of each subsequent stanzas is shown as "a" because it rhymes with those two lines.
- Meanwhile the second line ("b") is not repeated but the second line of each subsequent stanzas rhymes with that line.
The repetition in a Villanelle made this form popular with audiences. The repetition allowed the listener to catch the poem more clearly at first hearing or first reading.
A writer of a Villanelle can use the repetition to delve more deeply into her material. Each stanza can revise, amplify, and show more facets of what the poet feels.
Here are some steps to take in creating your Villanelle:
- Draft a rhyming couplet with images that express your feeling or idea.
- Draft a dozen or more rhyming couplets that each help you express the heart of your concern.
- Pick the couplet that combines originality and expressiveness with some flexibility in the way those lines could be used in combination with others, and can be modified slightly upon repetition. Whether you work by hand or on your computer, place a copy of each line at every place that it (or its variant) will appear in your Villanelle. Be sure to follow the above guidelines for form. You will then have written 8 lines - almost half of the whole poem!
- Now work on the rest of the Villanelle.
- Use enjambment sometimes, so that your repeated lines are less obvious. Make the repeated lines an organic part of your poem, not just something pasted in.
- Feel free to modify the lines that you set up for your original couplet. Then, repeat this modification throughout the poem (if you are following the form of strict repetition), or use the modifications to reflect something (such as a progression of internal emotions).
- As with all formal poems nowadays, it is vital that the form does not "drive" your poem. If the rhyme scheme and form begin to feel forced, then the poem's content must be asserted.
Just because you start with the intention of writing a Villanelle, you do not have to keep your poem in that form if it does not work for you. Your attempt to write a formal poem may help you find words that you would not have found otherwise. And you may decide that you choose to end up with a poem in a different form, perhaps even a prose poem.
The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, Edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland
Other Books of Poetry Form.