Tag Archives: operation mercury

Second Hand MP38

Maori troops line up on the quayside at Alexandria in Egypt following their evacuation from Crete, 3 June 1941.

Photograph taken by Lieutenant L.B. Davis. IWM E 3373

The men above, of the New Zealand Army 28th (Māori) Battalion, were among the 18,000 Australian, New Zealand, and British troops transported by the Royal Navy across the Med between 28 May and 1 June 1941, following a week of bitter fighting against German airborne forces. As witnessed by the German MP38 carried by the fourth man in line, the Maori gave the Fallschirmjäger a tough time.

The 28th is recognized today as the most decorated Kiwi battalion during WWII, receiving battle honors: Olympus Pass, Crete, El Alamein, Tebega Gap, Takrouna, North Africa 1942–43, Orsogna, Cassino 1, The Senio, Italy 1943–45, Mount Olympus, Greece 1941, Maleme, Canea, 42nd Street, Withdrawal to Sphakia, Middle East 1941–44, Tobruk 1941, Sidi Azeiz, Zemla, Alem Hamza, Mersa Matruh, Minqar Qaim, Defence of Alamein Line, El Mreir, Alam el Halfa, Nofilia, Medinine, El Hamma, Enfidaville, Djebibina, The Sangro, Castel Frentano, Monastery Hill, Advance to Florence, San Michele, Paula Line, Celle, Saint Angelo in Salute, Santerno Crossing, Bologna and Idice Bridgehead, as a unit.

Its men would receive no less than 7 DSOs, 1 OBE, 21 MCs, 13 DCMs, and 55 MMs in addition to a U.S. Silver Star and at least one was recommended, but ultimately did not receive, a VC.

Unternehmen Merkur

Bundesarchiv Bild 141-0864, Kreta, Landung von Fallschirmjägern

Bundesarchiv Bild 141-0864, Kreta, Landung von Fallschirmjägern

German Fallschirmjägers gained an almost mythical standing in the first couple years of WWII.

Sky soldiers of the 7th Flieger-Division cut off the evacuation of Polish officers in the invasion of that country in September 1939.

They made the the first airborne invasion when invading Denmark on the 9 April 1940, taking control of Aalborg Airport and other key strategic locations well behind the front lines by complete surprise. A sequel to this came the near simultaneous Norwegian campaign where German paratroopers captured the defended air base of Sola and leapfrogged around tough defensive obstacles to capture the rail junction at Dombas five days later (but was later taken prisoner by the Norwegians when they ran out of ammo– an important lesson that few airborne pundits kept in mind).

Then came Operation Fall Gelb during which Kurt Student’s Fallschirmjägers fell in little groups all over Belgium and the Netherlands capturing the bridges at Veldwezelt and Vroenhoeven along with the huge fort at Eben Emael. While most of these came out OK, (although Student caught a round from a Dutch infantryman’s Hemburg rifle), a larger effort to capture The Hague and the bridges around Rotterdam failed miserably as the paras went “a bridge to far” so to speak.

Nevertheless, Student’s paratroops were expanded into the 14,000-strong XI. Fliegerkorps, and, used in conjunction with follow-on airlifted troops, conducted the first mainly airborne invasion in military history in Operation Mercury when they dropped into Crete on May 20. While they won the 13-day battle, they faced a some 40,000~ Greek and Commonwealth troops who were ready for them– definitely not the ideal for a mass airborne jump.

Click to big up

Click to big up

On the first day, Student landed 750 glider troops and 7,200 paratroops– of which 80 percent wound up as casualties.

Here is a great older documentary about the battle that proved the end of large-scale German parachute operations just months after they were heralded as a strategic wonder weapon.