ON the morning of 20 May 1941 the British forces in Crete and their Greek allies stood by their arms to meet the German invasion, expected since the fall of Greece and now at length about to begin. Thirteen days later, on 1 June, the evacuation of these forces was as complete as the heroism of rearguards and of the Royal Navy could make it; while the capitulation or dispersal of those who had had to be left behind ended organised resistance. Between the two dates took place one of the bitterest battles of the war, one notable on many counts and not least because it marked the first and, for good reasons, the last time that the enemy used parachute and airborne troops on the largest scale. It was a battle in which the New Zealand Division played a conspicuous part; and of that part this book attempts the history.
To make such a history intelligible the historian must do more than merely relate the course of the fighting. For, just as a move in chess is conditioned by what has gone before and is seen in its full implications only through its consequences, so this battle arose out of and was largely determined by circumstances that long preceded it; and its outcome involved far more than local success or failure.
But the task of tracing causes backwards is as infinite as that of tracing their consequences; and, unless limits are accepted, both are ultimately vain. In both the historian must address his judgment to the problem of what is immediately relevant. The preliminaries of this history will therefore be confined to a summary account of Crete's strategic situation in the Mediterranean, the increasing importance of this during the early stages of the war, the political and strategic decisions which led to our occupation of it, the topographical features of the island itself which determined the dispositions of the defence and helped to determine the outcome of the battle, and the state which defensive preparations had reached when the first of the troops evacuated from Greece began to arrive.