Fortress Crete

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Fortress Crete (German: Festung Kreta) was the term used during World War II by the German occupation forces to refer to the garrison and fortification of the Greek island of Crete, which they had captured after a fierce battle at the end of May 1941. The Germans occupied the western three prefectures of the island (the prefectures of Chania, Heraklion and Rethymno) with their headquarters in Chania, whilst the Italians occupied the easternmost prefecture of Lasithi until the Italian capitulation in September 1943. The first German garrison unit was the 164th Infantry Division (a.k.a. Fortress Division Crete, German: Festungs-Division Kreta - FDK). In 1942, FDK was split to form the smaller Fortress Brigade Kreta (German: Festungs-Brigade Kreta - FBK) and the 164th Light Afrika Division which was sent to North Africa. The 164th was succeeded in 1943-1944 by the 22nd Infantry Division. In autumn 1944, after the 22nd Division withdrew from Crete, the remaining German units on the island were consolidated under the 133. Fortress Division.[1] The Italian garrison unit was the 51st Infantry Division "Siena" which surrendered to the Germans after the Italian armistice of 1943.

The garrison's strength rose and fell considerably, depending on the progress of the North African and Russian campaigns, and the perceived threat for invasion. Its peak was 75,000 men in 1943 and its nadir 10,000 at its surrender of 12 May 1945.

After the general retreat from Greece in 1944, the Germans, with some Italian battalion too, remained in Crete and in the Dodecanese Islands. They were cut off, possessed no air power or naval forces, with only some small patrol vessels and landing barges to maintain the links among the islands. The food problem was a serious one both for them and the inhabitants. Links were maintained (mainly mail) with some captured B 24 under Lufwaffe colours which made flights at night from Austria. The eastern part of Crete was evacuated during the winter by the Axis forces and "occupied" by a very weak mixed British and Greek garrison. There was, then, an unofficial truce between the two parties until the final surrender order issued by the OKW in May 1945 after the Reims signature of armistice. The same order of surrender was valid for Rhodes and the other minor islands still in Axis hands.

The list of commanders of the German forces on Crete include Generals Kurt Student, Alexander Andrae, Bruno Bräuer, Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, Ernst Klepp and Hans-Georg Benthack.[2] Until the Italian armistice of 1943, the Italian occupation forces were commanded by General Angelico Carta.

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