The Aegean Sea belonged to the Luftwaffe by day, but the nights to the Royal Navy. Admiral Cunningham had two battleships, and three cruiser squadrons and two independent destroyer squadrons (about 40 warships) prowling the seas around Crete. They were searching for the dreaded German invasion fleet. On the night of 21/22 May 1941, they found it.
Just after midnight, Force D of three light cruisers and four destroyers engaged 23 ships just north of Crete. They were expecting Italian battleships, heavy cruisers, destroyers, and assault landings ships. What they found were 22 Greek caiques, the ubiquitous Aegean fishing trawlers, escorted by a single Italian destroyer. The convoy was packed with two battalions of German mountain troops, six light tanks, some heavy engineering equipment, and ammunition.
13 caiques were sunk, but the rest were saved by one of the unsung heroic naval stories of the war when the escort, the Italian destroyer Lupo, attacked the British force. She didn’t do any damage, but did cause a friendly fire incident and her action (she survived) allowed the rest to escape. One caique actually made it Crete, and landed her troops at Kastelli Kissamos, about ten kms west of Maleme.
Freyberg’s much feared invasion consisted of just 110 German soldiers and three sailors.