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Operation Mercury – The Landings

With only 3 weeks to plan and prepare for the operation there were bound to be problems. This combined with German overconfidence resulted in a plans that lacked detail and failed to address potential obstacles from significant resistance.

German airborne philosophy was to land directly on their objectives, maximising surprise but risking suffering heavy casualties. At 08.00 gliders landed near the airfields and beaches of Canea, closely followed by some 2000 paratroops. These initial landings were hindered by a lack of support weaponry (Fallschirmjager dropped their weapons seperately) and a number of key casualties amongst their leaders, including the loss of the Airborn Division commander.

fall3The Fallschirmjäger managed to capture the bridge over the Tavronitis and knock out the anti-aircraft positions to secure an area on the outskirts of the airfield. Paratroops started dropping at this point and were mauled badly as they landed right on top of New Zealand infantry. Some were shot as they dropped, but many were killed as they searched for weapons containers. Forces landing west of the Tavronitis and east of Spilia landed relatively intact, but were quickly engaged by nearby forces. Elements of the glider units dug in on the airfield’s perimeter while others moved off to take Hill 107 overlooking Máleme airfield.

With casualties mounting things were looking bleak for the Germans. The bridge over the Tavronitis was the only objective that had been secured. Many pockets of Fallschirmjäger were pinned and unable to link up. However none of this was known to Student who ordered the second wave to commence deployment. Had Student known
he may have redirected this wave to support the initial forces.

The 2nd Fallschirmjäger Regiment dropped into a region held by the Australian and Greek troops. A wildly dispersed drop actually aided the Germans, allowing them to form up relatively unmolested before heading towards their objective of Rethymnon. However they ran into fierce resistance from civilians and armed police and so were unable to take the town.

fall2Bad luck continued with the regimental HQ (with Oberst Sturm) landing on top of the Australians and Greeks with many being killed or captured. The 1st Fallschirmjäger Regiment suffered the most of all the formationswhen they dropped into Heráklion. They were caught in a crossfire between a number of Commonwealth units.

At this point a strong local counter-attack could have ended the German assault, but sporadic communication saw Commonwealth forces remaining in the positions.

fall1 By the end of day one the Fallschirmjäger were hanging on by a thread that could be cut easily hadCommonwealth forces launched a counterattack with their superior forces. A failure to address the Germans around Máleme and reinforce the airfield to prevent landings of additional forces would cost them dearly. As far as Student could ascertain, things had gone badly just about everywhere. Heráklion had held, but there was no word from Rethymnon and that could only mean bad news. The Gebirgsjäger had no secure landing point anywhere on the island. However there was hope, many of the Allied AA and field artillery guns had been silenced and those that remained were concentrated in the east and the Luftwaffe were effectively pounding Commonwealth forces by day, disrupting any daylight counterattacks.


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