The Battle for Crete: Perfect Intelligence and Imperfect Understanding

On 12 May 1941, Group Captain Beamish walked into LieutGen Freyberg’s “office” in the quarry on the neck of Crete’s Akrotiri peninsula, ostensibly to get his ass chewed for the Luftwaffe’s “Daily Hate”, and the RAF’s lack of response, but actually to give the commander his brief on the latest Ultra intercept. Of the 35,000 Allied troops on the island, only Beamish and Freyberg knew of the source, and even existence, of the “Most Reliable Sources” or “Orange Leonard” communiques.

OL-2168, dated 12 May 41 was the analysis of a Luftwaffe order delaying the invasion of Crete from 17 May to 20 May due to the need for an Italian tanker filled with aviation fuel to make its way down the Adriatic. The Luftwaffe order also detailed a change in the invasion’s task organization: the initial landing would still be made by the 7th Fallschirmjaeger Division, but the follow on troops would not be made by the 22nd Air Landing Division, which would stay in Romania, but by the 5th Mountain Division, which was badly mauled in the Greek campaign but reorganized and reinforced for Crete. After the parachutists seized an airfield, the 5th Mountain would be air bridged to Crete from Greece just as the Luftwaffe gad done for Franco’s army from Morocco to Spain five years before.

But the Bletchley Park analyst that composed OL-2168 either misread the order, or more likely, presented the worst case scenario to cover his ass. OL-2168 stated that the invasion of Crete would be made by not two, but three divisions, the 7th FJ, 22nd AL, and 5th Mtn with airborne and air landing components, and a supporting sea borne landing. Freyberg assumed the 5th Mtn was going to make an amphibious assault, as opposed to a landing on a stretch of beach already secured by the parachutists. Despite all of the other evidence to the contrary: a Luftwaffe commander, airfield objectives, lack of German or Italian landing craft, British naval dominance around Crete at night etc. (including future OL comms that clarified the situation) Freyberg was convinced the amphibious invasion was the main effort and altered his orders and disposition accordingly. Nearly half his troops, and almost all of his artillery, now guarded beaches against a non-existent threat.

Churchill’s “fine opportunity for killing parachutists” was slowly turning into a fine opportunity for killing and capturing British, Commonwealth, and Greek troops.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s