On April 6, we commemorate 80 years since Australian forces supported Allied efforts to defend Greece and Crete during the Second World War.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester said on 6 April 1941, German forces attacked both Greece and Yugoslavia, and followed a month later with an attack on Crete.
“In 1941, Australian and New Zealand troops, the ANZAC Corps, along with British armored and artillery units, were sent to assist in the defense of Greece following the collapse of the main Greek defensive line,” Mr Chester said.
“The Allies were inadequately prepared to resist the German attack which was carried out on the ground by infantry, armored and specialist mountain divisions.
“On land and in the air, the British Commonwealth force found itself outnumbered and unable to deploy sufficient troops in any single area to halt the German advance.
“By 20 April, it became clear that all they could do was disrupt and slow the German advance, and the Greek Government agreed for the force to be evacuated.
“Over the following five nights, more than 50,000 troops were evacuated from Greece. They left behind some 320 Australians who were killed and some 2,065 who became prisoners of war.”
Tragically the fall of Crete saw much of the same story, with the Allies being overrun by the formidable German force.
“The island of Crete was a key strategic asset for both Allied and Axis forces, and with the fall of Greece, both sides turned their efforts to securing Crete,” Mr Chester said.
“In May 1941, an airborne operation code-named Merkur (Mercury) saw some 9,500 German paratroopers land on Crete. While initially suffering heavy losses, the Germans managed to gain control of one of the airfields allowing further German troops to be flown in.
“Allied evacuations began shortly after, with around 16,500 troops successfully removed from the island. Sadly though, the British Commonwealth losses numbered more than 1,700 killed, over 2,220 wounded, and around 11,370 taken as prisoners of war.
“The service and sacrifice of these brave men will never be forgotten, and we also pay a special thank you to the locals who helped many of our troops survive.”