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The Cretan resistance (Greek: Κρητική Αντίσταση) was a resistance movement against the occupying forces of Nazi Germany and Italy by the residents of the Greek island of Crete during World War II. Part of the larger Greek Resistance, it lasted from May 20, 1941, when the German Wehrmacht invaded the island in the Battle of Crete, until the fall of 1945 when they surrendered to the British. For the first time during World War II, attacking German forces faced in Crete a valiant resistance from the local population. Cretan civilians picked off paratroopers or attacked them with knives, axes, scythes or even bare hands. As a result, great casualties were inflicted upon the invaders, which made Crete the swansong of German paratroopers.
The Cretan resistance movement was formed very quickly after the Battle of Crete, with an initial planning meeting on 31 May 1941. It brought together a number of different groups and leaders and was initially termed the PMK (Πατριωτικó Μέτωπο Κρήτης – Patriotic Front of Crete), but later changed the name to EAM (Εθνικó Απελευθερωτικó Μέτωπο – National Liberation Front) like the principal communist led resistance movement on the mainland. The primary objective of the movement on the one hand was to support the Cretan people under occupation by boosting morale, providing information, and distributing of food at a time of great deprivation (due to confiscations by the Germans and Italians), and on the other hand to undertake certain operations against the Germans, including a number of sabotage operations. A notable success was the battle to prevent the destruction of Kastelli airport by the Germans as they were leaving eastern Crete.
The non communist pole was formed under the name National Organization of Crete (EOK) (with Andreas Papadakis as leader). Other resistance figures included Georgios Petrakis who had close ties with EOK and SOE.
Three Ierapetra villages – the testimony of Vangelis Grassos
“Pano Chorio, Kato Chorio and Episkopi […] formed a small community of 3000 people, positioned 7 km from Ierapetra, in the middle of the plain in a prominent position connecting the Ierapetra area with the Sitia mountain range. They were the strongest and most important base of EAM groups in Yerapetra-Siteia and were also the base for Italo-Germanic operations during the time of the German-Italian occupation.
“Vassilis Grassos writes:
“[Our area] was the bastion of the Italians and the Germans and for this reason the occupiers put pressure on the local inhabitants through forced labour and beatings, purely to crush their spirit. They had taken the houses, the livestock and the livelihoods of everyone. Many left to live in makeshift huts in the surrounding mountain villages, in Thrifi etc. “So it was essential for everyone to organise themselves, in order to be able to confront the occupation. This was not an easy task, right in the lion’s den. And yet the first cell began to be organised up in Pano Chorio […] and in the other villages around. All these cells began to work feverishly to communicate with each other. So began the first sabotage against the occupation, despite the forced labour.
“We organised the wonderful EPON [EAM youth movement] [….]. Slowly the national liberation movement began to grow - EAM which embraced everyone. With the help of Major Ioannis Frantzeskaki and other key figures we managed to find a radio and to hear the political news, especially what was happening on the Russian front. The news bulletin, which was written by Vangelis Grassos, was taken by the EPONites and distributed to personnel in the surrounding villages, who read it to the members and so fired up their enthusiasm and their self-confidence for the final battle. We founded a branch of National Solidarity [EAM social welfare organisation] […].
“In 1944 the groups of andartes were increasing in the mountains of Malon-Selakano. […] At the time of the liberation there were two camps of andartes from ELAS Yerapetra-Siteia, with Vardakis Filoktitis as captain. The andartes captured Dr. Lavetzis, collaborator with the Germans, who had become the tormentor and the terror of the villages. It was he who organised the forced labour gangs and also dealt in foodstuffs on the black market. Some of the councillors who opposed his actions were denounced by him to the Italians, who arrested them and sent them to the prison camp of Moni Kroustallenia in Lasithi. [Two of these] were sent to Germany and died in the terrible German concentration camps. This traitor was tried by the andartes court and executed. […]
“Our group took part in all the missions of ELAS in eastern Crete up to the liberation of Heraklion and the establishment of normality. […] It reached a strength of 150 men, until it was dissolved after the Varkiza agreement.”
Leading figures in the EAM resistance movement included Yiannis Podias, Miltiades Porfirogenis, Manolis Pitikakis, Nikos Samaritis, Nikos Raiinos, Emmanuel Manousakis, Rousos Koundouros and Mitsos Pappas.
The British involvement
Cretans and the Cretan resistance worked closely with the British, firstly when they aided the allied forces firstly in escaping from Crete and secondly when they worked together on acts of sabotage while Crete was a launching pad for German operations in Africa. This involved the British agents who remained on Crete, such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, Tom Dunbabin, Sandy Rendel, John Houseman, Xan Fielding, Dennis Ciclitira, Ralph Stockbridge and W. Stanley Moss. The New Zealander Dudley "Kiwi" Perkins became a legend for his courage, and after he was killed the Cretans kept his grave covered with flowers. The British formed a large number of isolated cells scattered throughout the mountains, with good communications between them. Attached to these cells were Greeks who otherwise tended to have no involvement with the main Cretan resistance movement, but worked very closely with the British agents, such as Leigh Fermor’s runner George Psychoundakis and Kimonas Zografakis, who was a member of the British Force 133 and involved in several operations. The British agents were responsible for some famous moments included the abduction of General Heinrich Kreipe led by Leigh Fermor and Moss, the battle of Trahili, the sabotage of Damasta led by Moss and the airfield sabotages of Heraklion and Kastelli.
Anti-British opinions by EAM
The Cretan resistance movement had the support of the British while Crete had strategic importance for the North Africa campaign. However once that campaign had been successful, British activity in Crete focused on the second plank of its policy in Greece, i.e. to undermine the left-wing resistance movement. The British agent Patrick Leigh Fermor, for example, was instrumental in splitting Cretan resistance by setting up an alternative movement in 1943, funded and supplied by the British, to which they attracted figures such as Manolis Bandouvas. As on the mainland, the British launched an aggressive campaign of anti-EAM and anti-communist propaganda. Cretan writers such as Manolis Kokolakis have suggested that Bandouvas’ murder of two German soldiers in EAM territory was on the suggestion of British agents, who may have hoped that the ensuing bloodbath of German reprisals (the Holocaust of Viannos) would deal a blow to the left-wing movement. It is, furthermore, the view of Kimonas Zografakis, who took part in the abduction of Kreipe, that the kidnapping of the General was carried out for the same reason.
Sanoudakis argues in his article "Leigh Fermor was a classic agent" that "Patrick Leigh Fermor was neither a great philhellene, nor a new Lord Byron for Greece who fought and loved at the same time. Fundamentally he was a classic agent who served faithfully the interests of Britain and as a cultivated gentleman wrote good travel books. Anything else that the people of Greece attribute to him derives from either ignorance or innocence or anglophilia, ignoring the terrible sufferings he caused our country at that time".
The Cretan population paid a high price for its involvement and support of the resistance. In reprisal, the German occupation forces proceeded to numerous brutal attacks against local civilians. Standing out among the list of atrocities, are the holocausts of Viannos and Kedros in Amari, the destruction of Anogia and Kandanos, and the massacre of Kondomari. In several documented reprisal executions carried out during the occupation, 3,471 Cretans lost their lives.
Even crueller was the growing sense of betrayal on the part of their presumed allies, the British. The British were reluctant to arm the left-wing resistance movement, even confiscating ammunition intended to go to resistance groups under siege. Perhaps most incredible was the British decision, after the Germans surrendered to the British in May 1945, that the Germans be permitted to keep their arms and given the task of ‘keeping order’ in the city of Hania. As a consequence of the authority given to the Germans Cretans continued to die even after German capitulation. Hagen Fleischer terms this period the joint Anglo-German rule, while Stavros Blontakis speaks of the Anglo-German occupation.
According to the Cretan resistance fighter Michalis Kokolakis: “Crete saw with her own eyes and through her own bloody experience the meaning of British suzerainty. The English overlords prevented her from organising and arming herself for the battle of Crete. At the critical hour of the Battle of Crete they betrayed her and left. As long as Crete was of vital strategic importance for the campaigns in Africa in 1941-42, she saw all her resistance organisations without distinction working together on sabotage missions. And when after 1942 Crete lost her strategic value, she saw the British working to split the resistance movement, issuing anti-EAM propaganda and, with Glücksberg [the king], preparing fascist solutions for our country.
“She saw the British openly collaborating with the Germans when they had concentrated in Hania, and, after their capitulation, giving them the responsibility for keeping order in Hania.
“She saw their recommendations, when the Italians capitulated, not to give their weapons to the Greek people, to the resistance, but to the Germans, even though the Germans were their common enemy.
“She saw the British allies take as spoils of war the 10,000 vehicles which the Germans had amassed in Hania and throw them into the sea, even though Crete was lacking in transport.
“She also saw them claim as spoils of war the 5 million litres of oil that the Germans had requisitioned from the people of Crete. And saw the rule of law they imposed after the Treaty of Varkiza [i.e. the White Terror], and the civil war.”
Because of their collusion with communist forces in trying to detach Macedonia Greece, no members of ELAS/EAM were accepted for the new Greek army. While it was a condition of the Varkiza agreement that collaborators would be brought to justice, in practice it was far more likely for communist sympathizing resistance members to be persecuted, imprisoned or executed.
Vangelis Grassos continues:
"The Kazantzakis and Grassos families suffered the greatest oppression and had the greatest number of victims of the post-December regime (see The Dekemvrianá). At the demonstration in Yerapetra of 23/3/1944 [sic - actually 1945] were killed Xenoula Grassos, 19 years old, Efthymia Kazantakis, aged 65, and Yiannis Grassos, aged 30. Among the injured were Michalis Grassos and Nikos Dermitzakis, along with many others.
"In 1947 the Kazantzakis and Grassos families and Georgia Frantzeskaki were exiled to Krousta. They were imprisoned and tortured in order to force their brother Dimitris Kazantzakis to give himself up after the defeat of the Podias company in Psiloritis. "They burnt the house and business of Vangelis Grassos and took his car and driver’s license. This is the way our country rewarded us for what we did for her freedom."
In 2005, a documentary was released titled The 11th Day: Crete 1941, which relates events of the Cretan resistance through various eyewitnesses.
- Described in detail in Michalis Kokolakis, Ανατολική Κρήτη. Κατοχή, αντίσταση, εμφύλιος (Athens, Alfeios, 1990).
- Grassos, Kokolakis, Michalis, ed., Ανατολική Κρήτη, pp. 147–44.
- Captain John Stanley (Royal Signals), who was also in Crete on special service, tells of the admiration the Cretans had for Perkins: ‘No other member of an Allied Mission was loved, respected and admired as was Kiwi (Perkins)’, from D. M. Davin, Crete (part of The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945) (Wellington, Historical Publications Branch, 1953), p. 497. Accessed online at http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Cret.html (accessed 21/01/2012).
- These two conflicting planks of British policy in Greece have been spelled out very clearly by British agents, amongst many others. J. M. Stevens, for example who was sent to Greece in 1943 by the SOE in Cairo to make a report on the situation there, writes ‘As I understand it, the aims of the British Government in Greece are two-fold: First to obtain the greatest military effort in the fight against the Axis, and, second, to have in post-war Greece a stable government friendly to Great Britain, if possible a Constitutional Monarchy’, British Reports on Greece (ed. Lars Baerentzen) (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 1982), p.41.
- Antonis Sanoudakis details some of the evidence for Leigh Fermor’s involvement in his article Ο Λι Φéρμορ υπήρξε ένας κλασικός πράκτορας ["Leigh Fermor was a classic agent"], Κριτιλογιο, 14 July 2011, http://kritologio.blogspot.com/2011/07/blog-post_6782.html (accessed 21/01/2012). Among other sources, Sanoudakis refers to Jack Smith Hughes’ secret report on the actions of the SOE in Crete, 1941-45, in which Smith Hughes reveals that Leigh Fermor was present at EOK’s first meeting in February 1943 (Sanoudakis’ reference is Τζακ Σμιθ Χιουζ, Απόρρητη αναφορά της δράσεως της S.O.E. στην Κρήτη 1941-45, μετάφρ. Ελευθερίου Παπαγιαννάκη, έκδοση «Ελεύθερη Σκέψη», Αθήνα 1991).
- ”Οι Αγγλοι [...] εχαπελυσαν μια βιαιη ανιτικομμουνιστικη και αντιΕΑΜικη προπαγανδα”, Michalis Kokolakis, p. 66.
- “What purpose had the sudden destruction of a German look-out post, resulting two Germans dead and one prisoner, the night of 12–13 October 1943 by armed followers of Bandouva, without any warning to the local resistance organisation, without any thought for the likely consequences? Viannos however was an EAM area. Its beaches (Arvi –Tsoutsouros – Keratokampos) provided a secure refuge for British submarines, while its mountains, the Dikti, had always been EAM. The area then was the goal of the conquerors from the beginning. The British, once again, despite the fact that they had been helped by the local inhabitants in their escape and continued to be helped by them, did not view kindly the universal involvement or support of the local people for EAM”, Kokolakis, p. 87 (translated by contributor).
- Zografakis maintains that the reason for the abduction was the ‘burnings, the deaths, the executions towards the west. Many houses burnt down and around 400 executions, in order to allow the Germans, in September 1944, to depart unmolested for Hania. To stop anyone obstructing them. This was the plan of the British”, Kimonas Zografakis, Το αγγλικό προσωπείο και ο "Black Μan”, Heraklion 2005, p. 121 (translated by contributor).
- Sanoudakis, Antonis. "Ο Πάτρικ Λη Φέρμορ, λοιπόν, ούτε μέγας Φιλλέλην υπήρξε ούτε ένας νέος λόρδος Μπάιρον για την Ελλάδα και μάλιστα μέγας εραστής που πολεμούσε και αγαπούσε ταυτοχρόνως. Υπήρξε κατά βάση ένας κλασικός πράκτορας που εξυπηρετούσε πιστά τα συμφέροντα της Αγγλίας και ως καλλιεργημένος gentleman έγραψε καλά ταξιδιωτικά–βιβλία. Όλα τα άλλα που οι εγχώριοι του αποδίδουν είναι είτε από άγνοια είτε από αφέλεια είτε από αγγλοφιλία, παραθεωρώντας τα δεινά που επέφερε στη χώρα μας, διαχρονικά, ως σήμερα, με τους ομοίους του.ας κλασικός πράκτορας", Κριτιλογιο, 14 July 2011, p. 3, http://kritologio.blogspot.com/2011/07/blog-post_6782.html (accessed 21 January 2012).
- “αγγλογερμανικής συγκυριαρχίας”, Hagen Fleisher, Κρήτη, vol. 2 (Ηράκλειο: Β.Δ.Β. Ηρακλείου, 1988) p. 519.
- Stavros L. Blontakis, Η οχυρά θέσις Κρήτη: χρονικό της γερμανικής κατοχής στα Χανία απ' τον Οχτώβρη του 1944 ως τον Μάη του 1945 και της αγγλογερμανικής απ' το Μάη ως τον Ιούλη του 1945 (= Fortress Crete: chronicle of the German occupation in Hania from October 1944 to May 1945 and the Anglo-German occupation from May to July of 1945), Athens 1975.
- Kokolakis, pp. 278-9.
- Max Mazower comments: “Purges now took place in the civil service, and later in the new gendarmerie, but these purges were not, as in the rest of Europe, of suspected collaborators, but rather of suspected leftists and ‘resistants’”, Max Mazower (ed.), After the War Was Over (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).
- On 23/3/45 an unarmed demonstration in Ierapetra, organised to protest the harassment of resistance members and property, was fired on by police. Seven people died, a dozen were seriously wounded and countless others had lighter injuries. The event was reported in the newspaper Εθνικο Εγερτηριο on the evening of the same day, and that article is reproduced in Kokolakis, pp. 223-226.
- The Battle of Lochria of Psiloritis was a major battle in Crete during the Civil War, with the Democratic Army led by Yiannis Podias - see “H μάχη στην Λοχριά του Ψηλορείτη”, Κokkinoς Φακελος, 5 July 2011, http://kokkinosfakelos.blogspot.com/2011/07/h.html (accessed 22/01/2012).
- German occupation of Crete (in German -- translate)
- German war crimes in Crete (in German -- translate)