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George Mavro
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War and Destiny

Melame Airfield Crete, Greece
19 May 1941, 1500hrs
Markos Androlakis, a Greek American from New York City, a handsome young man with a thick brown mustache, a tanned face and a pair of dark intelligent eyes, watched in dismay as the last RAF Hurricane fighter took off and headed south, bound for Egypt. The island was now totally devoid of any RAF air cover to face the impending German onslaught that was sure to come; not that the dozen or so RAF planes would make any difference against the hundreds of fighters and bombers that the Luftwaffe had available to unleash against them. It had been the allied commander, General Freyberg’s decision, to send the few remaining planes back to the Middle East where they would be needed to defend the vital Suez Canal and Egypt from Rommel and his Afrika Korp.

Markos thought back on his decision to remain on Crete after hostilities had broken out between Greece and Italy. He Wondered if it had been a mistake. A Greek American from New York City and a student of history and archeology, he had decided in the summer of 1940 to take a sabbatical from NYU to study the ancient Minoan civilization that had once flourished on the island his parents had emigrated from. Even though war had broken out in Europe, both Greece and America had remained neutral. He figured that there was no way that a small nation like Greece would become embroiled in the war since Greece had very good relations with Germany and furthermore, its leader, General Metaxas, was a dictator himself.
Markos took passage from New York to Chania, Crete, on the Flora, an old Greek tramp freighter that had seen better days during the Great War. The weather was nice and the seas calm during the long voyage. They crossed the Atlantic without incident; the Captain making sure the Greek flag was prominently displayed during the day and lit up brightly at night to avoid any German U-boat attacks. One night during the crossing, they had heard explosions and seen a ship burning in the distance, a victim of one of the numerous German subs that were prowling the Atlantic. The captain went looking for survivors the next morning, but except for some wreckage, and a couple of bodies, none were to be found.
Markos finally arrived on the island in early July of 1940 and moved in with his grandparents, who lived on the western end of the island, in a small town halfway between the City of Chania and Maleme. It had taken him some time to get used to the inconvenience of having no electricity or running water and the daily summer temperature of 95 degrees or more. But he eventually adapted and quickly settled into his studies, even participating in an archeological dig. Unfortunately, this all came to an abrupt end when Greece was suddenly pushed into the abyss of war.
Benito Mussolini, the Italian Fascist dictator, not wanting to be a side show in the stream of German successes in the summer of 1940, needed a resounding victory for Italian arms. Characteristically, he turned his attention to the Balkans, toward Greece, where the prospects of adding to the new Roman Empire seemed more promising. Throughout the 20th century, Italy had been coveting Greek territory, especially the Island of Corfu and the Epirus region bordering the Adriatic which he considered an Italian lake. Thus, at 3 am, 28th October 1940, Greece’s dictator, General Ioannis Metaxas, was awakened and presented with an ultimatum by the Italian ambassador. The ultimatum, which was to expire in three hours, demanded that Italian troops occupy unspecified strategic points in Greece. His reply was OHI, NO! Greece suddenly found itself at war with the 2nd strongest axis power, Italy.
What was supposed to have been an easy victory for Italian arms, quickly turned into a humiliating disaster of epic proportions! The tiny nation of only 6 million people astonished the world. Not only did the Greeks manage to hold the Italians in the Pindus Mountains, but they rapidly launched an offensive that had the Italian army reeling back into Albania. The Greeks captured thousands of prisoners and tons of badly needed military supplies and heavy equipment that was quickly turned against the invader. To a world that had witnessed a string of axis victories on the European continent, the Greek achievements carried with them the hope that victory may still be possible to a war weary British public that was experiencing the height of the German Blitz. In a speech to the House of Commons that fall, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, honored the Greeks by stating that “heroes fight like Greeks.”
Unfortunately, this euphoria was not going to last. It was unthinkable to Adolf Hitler to allow his Axis partner to be humiliated and defeated and as such Germany would come to Mussolini’s aid. In December 1940, Hitler issued the orders for Operation Marita, the invasion of Greece via Bulgaria. With all indications that Germany was going to intervene in the Balkans, the Greeks had no illusion they could stop the German Wehrmacht alone. They reluctantly accepted British aid in men and material.
As a citizen of a neutral country, Markos could have still returned to the US, but he quickly got caught up in the euphoria and decided to stay on Crete to assist in the Greek war effort. He took a job as an interpreter with the British military liaison office that was set up in Chania in late November. Several weeks later, Markos was approached by the Hellenic army garrison commander and offered a Brevet commission to 2nd lieutenant in the Hellenic army. As a civilian, he was not privy to secret defense plans, as a Greek officer, he was. Besides his services were desperately needed by the Hellenic army, since there was no one else that had the mastery of Greek and English as he did. Markos accepted the offer and after two weeks of rudimentary firearms and other military training he was assigned as the Hellenic Army liaison to the allied headquarters staff.
The weeks managed to pass by quickly as Markos settled into his new role. Not that there was really much for him to do except translate the daily orders and attend boring staff meetings. The promised military aid and troop reinforcements for the island had not materialized. They were all diverted to the mainland in hopes of stopping the Nazi Blitzkrieg, which from all indications, was sure to come. Unfortunately, it was too little too late.
At 0515 hrs., April 6th, 1941, Field Marshall List’s 12th Army launched Operation Marita, the invasion of Greece. In their typical Blitzkrieg fashion, the Germans unleashed over 1000 aircraft and hundreds of Panzers against the allied forces. Both the British and Greeks fought like lions, but there was no way they could stop the Nazi onslaught. On the Bulgarian border, the Rupel fortresses of the Greek Metaxas defense line held the Germans up for three days, even though they were bombed by dozens of Stuka dive bombers from dawn to dusk. It was only when the defenders ran low on ammunition and the Germans brought in tear-gas dispensers that the fort’s commander contemplated capitulation. Upon surrendering the fortresses, as an honor to his adversary, the German commander took no one prisoner and allowed the fort’s defenders to march out with their regimental colors. On the same day, April 9th, Greece’s second largest City, Thessaloniki, fell to the Germans.
From Thessaloniki, the victorious German Wehrmacht swept slowly southward, meeting heavy allied resistance, but quickly smashing through it. By the 20th of April, the Greek Army in Albania was outflanked by the Germans and was forced to surrender. General Papagos, the Greek commander, told the allies on the 21st of April, that all was lost on the mainland and advised them to evacuate. With a series of successful rear guard actions, the allies had managed to hold the Germans back long enough for the Royal Navy to evacuate 80% of the expeditionary force, but at the loss of all their heavy weapons and equipment. By the 28th, the evacuation was over, Athens having fallen to the Germans the day before. Of the more than 50,000 soldiers evacuated from the mainland, 20,000 found themselves on the island of Crete with nothing but their personal weapons. On the 30th of April, Churchill decided that Crete must be held at all costs and appointed General Bernard Freyberg as the supreme allied commander of the island.
“Sir, you are wanted immediately at headquarters for an urgent meeting.” Markos was suddenly awakened from his day dream.
“Thank you, Corporal,” he replied to the military policeman who had been sent to find him.
Markos walked the short distance to the headquarters building. On the way he noticed a couple of new fighting positions being built amongst the palm trees by the small two story stone structure that served as allied headquarters. The front entrance was sand bagged and defended by a two man Bren gun crew. About a hundred meters behind the building was a Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft gun emplacement covered with camouflage netting. Not much to stop a determined assault but they were short of heavy weapons, most being abandoned on the mainland. Markos was recognized by the sentry and let through the entrance. He walked into the commanding General’s office and was met by Colonel Smith, General Freyberg’s adjutant. In the office were also three senior Hellenic army officers. One of them he knew, Colonel Pantelakis, Chief of Hellenic Military Intelligence on the island, the other two, both Generals, he did not recognize.
“Gentlemen, the commander will see you now in the briefing room,” said the General’s adjutant.
Markos and the three other officers entered the briefing room which had a large map of the island hung on the far wall, marked with troop dispositions. They were greeted by General Freyberg, the allied commander, and several other senior officers. The two Hellenic army officers introduced themselves as General Zannakis, the Greek Minister of War and General Skoulas, commander of Greek Forces on Crete. Both had been recently appointed to their positions by King George of Greece who had also evacuated to the island. Not that it meant anything, since all Greek troops had been placed under General Freyberg’s command anyway. The General shook the hand of the three Greek officers and gave Markos a nod. Freyberg motioned for everyone to take a seat.
“Gentlemen, now that we are finished with the pleasantries let’s get down to business,” said General Freyberg. “Our intelligence sources on the mainland are reporting that a German airborne and seaborne invasion of the island is imminent and will probably occur within the next 24 hours. For the past week, the Luftwaffe has launched scores of raids against us to soften up our defenses. I suspect the German attack will begin early tomorrow morning. They will hit us with everything they have, gentlemen, and that is considerable. They have hundreds of fighters and bombers at their disposal. What we are lacking in heavy weapons and aircraft we will make up with our knowledge of the terrain and our will and determination to stop the enemy. At 1800hrs, I am placing the island’s garrisons on full alert and that includes all Greek forces.”
The General hesitated for a moment as Markos translated into Greek for the other three Hellenic Army officers what he had said. “Therefore gentlemen I am ordering that his Royal Hellenic Majesty, King George, and his party be moved to safer quarters near the village of Perivolia. I have given orders to 12th Platoon of B Company 18th Battalion to accomplish this and guard the King. The King’s safety is of paramount importance.”
As Markos translated what the General had said, all three Greek officers nodded their heads in agreement. “Sir, both Generals Skoulas and Zannakis agree with your decision,” said Markos.
“Excellent,” replied Freyberg. Not that he really cared if the two charlatans wearing General’s uniforms agreed or not. As if he didn’t already have enough on his plate, London had also dumped the security of the Greek King into his lap.
“Sir, General Skoulas has offered a squad of Cretan Gendarmes to be assigned as your personal body guards,” Markos said.
General Freyberg hesitated for a moment before replying. “Thank the General and tell him that I’m placing them under your command, Lieutenant. You could use some command experience.”
Markos was flabbergasted. “Ah, thank you, sir,” was all he could say.
General Freyberg stood up indicating the meeting was over. “Lieutenant, please stay for a moment.”
“Yes, sir,” said Markos wondering what was up.
After everyone had left the room, General Freyberg turned to Markos. “Markos you have proven very valuable to this headquarters and god knows we can use your language skills, but you are still a Yank and America is still neutral in this war. By tomorrow this time, we will be knee deep in Germans. This is not your war yet. I am giving you an opportunity to get out of here on a Royal Navy destroyer to Alexandria leaving tonight. Go home and if you want to fight in this war, join the US army and get some real training. Sooner or later, America will be in the war.”
Markos thought of what the General had said about going home and getting out of the firing line. But he knew deep down that he could not abandon Crete in her hour of need.
“Sir thanks, but I can’t do that. I am also a Greek and my ancestral motherland is being invaded. I just can’t run away without a fight.”
“I thought you would say that. You remind me of myself in my younger days and another war. Okay, Lieutenant. If you insist on staying, you will remain assigned to this headquarters. You will assume command of the Cretan Gendarmes squad and assist with the defense of this headquarters. You will not wander off, unless I tell you to. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir.”
“I hear you have family that live close by.”
“Yes, sir, my grandparents. They live in a small town about 10 miles from here.”
“Well, take my car and driver and go visit them. It may be a long time before you see them again. Report back here by 0500hrs.”
Berlin Reich’s Chancellery
19 May 1941, 1600 hrs.
Obersturmbanfuhrer (Lt. Colonel) Georg Mueller could have been the poster boy for an SS recruitment campaign. The tall, stocky blond and blue eyed 33 year old, dressed in a black SS uniform, had just finished his third cigarette as he waited in the stuffy foyer of the Reichsfuhrer’s office. He had received orders summoning him to Berlin for a meeting with the Reichsfuhrer, the second most powerful man in Nazi Germany. He wondered what was desired of him. He had been sent to Paris by “special request”, from the Reichsfuhrer himself, to head the Gestapo’s anti-partisan detail. Mueller, a former Berlin detective, had developed quite a reputation in the SS for his ruthless methods and success in tracking down and arresting terrorists. He had joined the SS just after Germany marched into the Rhineland in 1936, but showed much promise especially, after the outbreak of war. His exploits in rooting out Jews and other enemies of the Reich in Poland got the attention of Himmler and earned him a promotion to Sturmbanfuhrer (major). After the fall of France in June 1940, he was sent to Paris to deal with the French resistance. His success there quickly earned him a promotion to Obersturmbanfuhrer.
“Herr Mueller, the Reichsfuhrer will see you now,” said the Reichsfuhrer’s secretary.
“Thank you, Maria.”
Mueller marched into the ornate wood paneled office decorated with numerous works of art whose former Jewish owners were either dead or in concentration camps.
“Heil Hitler.”
Heinrich Himmler returned the Nazi salute from behind his large wooden desk and motioned for Mueller to have a seat. “Welcome to Berlin, Mueller.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said, as he handed Himmler a package containing a bottle of expensive French cognac, knowing that Himmler had a fondness for the drink.
“Oh, thanks for the gift, Mueller,” he said, as he opened his bottom desk drawer and pulled out two glasses and a bottle opener. Opening the bottle he sniffed the contents, “Mm mm.”
“It’s nothing special, Herr Reichsfuhrer.”
“Oh, you are too modest, Mueller. This smells wonderful,” he said, as he poured both of them a drink.
“And how is Paris these days?”
“Paris is a decadent and morally corrupt city, sir. It’s no wonder the French collapsed so easily when they were faced with German superiority. Although, there still are some elements that do not want to accept the “New Order” and the enemies of the Reich are being dealt with swiftly and harshly!”
“I have read the report of your exploits in dealing with the French terrorist scum, Mueller.”
“I was just doing my job, Herr Reichsfuhrer.”
“I would expect no less from an officer of the SS. Now I have another important task for you.”
“How can I be of further service to our glorious Deutsches Reich, Herr Reichsfuhrer?”
“I am sure you have been monitoring our successful Greek campaign?”
“Yes, sir. It was another glorious success of German arms and a humiliation and loss to the corrupt and decadent British Empire and their allies.
“That is correct, Mueller. Only the island of Crete remains under British control and that will very soon change. We cannot let them establish heavy bomber bases on the island that could threaten our oil supplies in Romania. In less than 24 hours, “Operation Merkur” (Mercury) will commence. It will be the largest airborne operation in history. Thousands of Luftwaffe paratroopers and glider troops will assault and seize the strategic island.”
“That is a very bold plan, her Reichsfuhrer. Lightly armed airborne troops assaulting an enemy fortified stronghold and holding long enough for reinforcements to arrive.”