The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS [9.50 p.m.]: I speak on the occasion of the recent celebrations to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Battle of Crete. Coming early in the Second World War, this battle, which lasted 10 days, had a significant impact on the progress and outcome of the war. Although the result was that Crete was lost to the Germans, the Battle of Crete still proved of great importance to the Allied cause. It forced the Germans to slow their progress, delaying their campaign into Russia, and it resulted in the loss of many German aircraft. Their casualties were so severe that Germany did not again mount a major airborne operation against enemy-occupied territory.
Many Australian, British and New Zealand troops fought valiantly with their Cretan allies during the battle, forging a bond between the Anzacs and the island people that exists to this day. Last week the anniversary was marked in Crete at a ceremony attended by hundreds of veterans from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Greece. Sixty years ago Crete was the site of an invasion by thousands of German paratroopers. After Greece fell to the Germans, Crete became very important. It became Britain's last foothold in Europe, an important bastion of the Allied forces. For the Germans, the capture of Crete was essential to protect their shipping in the Aegean, and to prevent British bombers using the island as a base.
The invasion of Crete was not unexpected. By the beginning of May the Allies knew the Germans were planning an invasion. Reconnaissance reported large numbers of troop-carriers and aircraft in southern Greece. Acting on this intelligence, the Allies planned their defence of the island. On 20 May 1941 the sky over Crete was filled with German paratroopers. Thousands of troops were dropped in the air raid. The Allies had limited weapons and manpower, but undeterred Allied troops mounted a defence of the island. Australian forces, and their Ally counterparts, fought against the odds, undermanned and underequipped. Not only were they low in weapons and ammunition, the Allies lacked even a single aircraft with which to combat the Nazis' airborne assault of the island. Eventually, the Allies were obliged to retreat and to evacuate the island.
By 1 June the Battle of Crete was over. The Nazis had gained control of the island. However, it was a pyrrhic victory. The Germans had lost 7,000 troops. They were never again to attempt an airborne attack over occupied territory. Similarly, the immense cost to the Nazis of this 10-day battle forced them to delay by months their invasion of Russia, and this delay eventually cost them the war. The battle also came at great cost to the Allies: 781 Australians and New Zealanders were killed, and more than 3,000 were captured. As the Anzacs evacuated the island, they were assisted by Cretan villagers, who at great personal risk provided them with food and shelter. I had the pleasure of attending a number of events here in Sydney in commemoration of the Battle of Crete. I congratulate the Cretan Federation of New South Wales and Sydney for their organisation of those commemorative events.