Sunday, May 06, 2007

Hitler, Churchill and the Paratroopers

In this gripping documentary, we revisit the costly yet successful German operation to capture the island of Crete from the Allies in May 1941. Crete was the site of the first entirely airborne invasion in history. We place the fiercely fought struggle in its wider historical and military context, revealing the radically different conclusions that Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill drew from the event.
After the evacuation of Greece, the island held around 32,000 British and Commonwealth troops and about 10,000 Greek infantry. The German forces, who enjoyed complete air superiority, were able to bomb the island at will as a prelude to an airborne attack. On 20th May, German paratroops landed in several areas and severe fighting ensued; an attempt at landing seaborne reinforcements was thwarted by the Royal Navy. The Germans managed to capture Maleme airfield and were then able to reinforce by air. On 28th May, it was decided that the island could no longer be held and evacuation of Allied troops began.
The battle inflicted massive casualties upon both sides. Around 3,600 British and Commonwealth troops were killed and about 12,000 were taken prisoner. Roughly 6,000 Germans were killed or wounded, while 220 aircraft were lost. The German airborne forces were pulverized most severely; they sustained a casualty rate of over fifty percent.
Although the battle was seen as a resounding victory for the Germans, Hitler was so appalled by the astronomical losses sustained that he forbade any further major airborne operations. Churchill, however, became convinced of the potential of airborne tactics. British and American paratroop armies were quickly formed.
Using spectacular archive film – including an astonishing Germans propaganda film which was made to celebrate the victory - this film recaptures the brutality of the conflict and examines the role of paratroopers in modern warfare. Moving testimony from German and British veterans of the battle completes our look at this decisive event in world history.


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