The Battle of Crete (German: Luftlandeschlacht um Kreta; Greek: ???? ??? ??????) was a battle during World War II on the Greek island of Crete. It began on the morning of 20 May 1941, when Nazi Germany launched an airborne invasion of Crete under the code-name Unternehmen Merkur ("Operation Mercury"). Greek and Allied forces, along with Cretan civilians, defended the island.
After one day of fighting, the Germans had suffered very heavy casualties and none of their objectives had been achieved. The next day, through miscommunication and the failure of Allied commanders to grasp the situation, Maleme airfield in western Crete fell to the Germans, enabling them to fly in reinforcements and overwhelm the defenders. The battle lasted about 10 days.
The Battle of Crete was unprecedented in three respects:
- it was not only the first battle where the Fallschirmjäger ("parachute rangers") were used on a massive scale, but also the first mainly airborne invasion in military history;
- the first time the Allies made significant use of intelligence from the deciphered German Enigma code;
- and the first time invading German troops encountered mass resistance from a civilian population.
Because of the heavy casualties suffered by the paratroopers, Adolf Hitler forbade further large scale airborne operations. However, the Allies were impressed by the potential of paratroopers and started to build their own airborne divisions.