Heraklion

A town on the northern coast of central Crete, Heraklion was the site of one of three key airfields on the island in 1941. As such, it was also one of three major defended areas on Crete when it was invaded by German airborne troops on 20th May. The defending force at Heraklion was based around the British 14th Brigade, to which the 2/4th Australian Battalion and troops from the 2/3rd Australian Light Anti-Aircraft (LAA) Regiment were attached. The first German paratroops began landing around Heraklion about 5 pm on 20 May. Those that landed within the defended area were quickly dealt with - almost half the attacking force was destroyed - and the airfield was thus secured. Those that landed outside of the defended area, however, were able to establish footholds both to the east and west, which were progressively reinforced from the air in ensuing days. Initially, weak and uncoordinated thrusts were made from both these footholds towards the harbour at Heraklion and the airfield, but these were beaten off by the defenders. On 24 March, the German forces began to concentrate on a high ridge to the east of the airfield with the aim of establishing a strongpoint from which to fire on the airfield, thus preventing its use. This process of concentration was still going on when, due to defeats elsewhere on the island, the British Commonwealth troops were withdrawn by sea on the night of 28 May. As at Retimo, the defenders of Heraklion had succeeded in their main aim of denying the Germans the use of the airfield but had their efforts had eventually proved futile due to the enemy's success in the Canea-Suda Bay area. Approximately 20 Australians were killed in defending Heraklion, and a further 43 - 34 from 2/3rd LAA Regiment and 9 from 2/4th Battalion - were killed when the ships carrying them to Egypt were heavily bombed on 29 May.