Layforce and the Evacuation of Crete

In the face of inevitable German victory on the island of Crete following the capture of Maleme Airfield, Lieutenant General Freyburg requested that Admiral Cunningham, Commander of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, begin the evacuation of the island. Ironically, the first action of the evacuation was the landing of “Layforce” at Suda to help cover the withdrawal to Sphakia on the south coast of the island. Layforce was an ad hoc collection of various commando battalions (and included the writer Evelyn Waugh, its intelligence officer) in the eastern Mediterranean commanded by the eccentric and colorful Colonel Robert Laycock.

In response to his staff’s prediction of heavy losses to the Luftwaffe, Admiral Cunningham said, “It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition”.

16,500 Commonwealth soldiers were saved over the next few days.

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