Thursday, 25 February 2016

Hill 107-Origins

Thurs 25th February

                           People have been asking me why I have used the name Hill 107 as my blog title.Hill 107 in reality is a peaceful and serene part of Crete situated a couple of kilometers from the hustle and bustle of the main highway that runs between the west and east of the island.I have visited the island on a few occasions and still get entranced by its beauty and even although it is a tourist hotspot it still has an air of serenity especially in the west of the island far away from the young inhabited resorts of the eastern part of the island.
                                  The scene seventy odd years ago was a direct contrast to today's peace and quiet as the German invaders from mainland Greece had decided on a combined air and sea invasion of the island to deny its use as a staging point for bombers to threaten Germany's oil supplies.
                                   The German plan was to capture the airfields with paratroopers so that infantry could be landed by plane instead of parachute.The problem with German paratroopers at the time was that they couldn't jump with their main weapons as the German parachutes in use were not good enough therefore the paras were vulnerable until they could find their weapon canisters which could have landed anywhere.
German weapons container
                                    This combined with good intelligence obtained by the British forces meant they were dropping onto a very hostile area.The defenders held out until some form of Chinese whispers had made them leave their defensive positions on Hill 107 which had kept Maleme airfield in their hands.The Germans were struggling to take the airfield and were just about to attack the airfield when they found that the positions had been vacated.The airfield fell into their hands which meant they could bring in more troops with their equipment meaning the beginning of the end for British and Commonwealth forces in Crete.After a withdrawal to a southern port they were evacuated to Egypt and the Germans embedded themselves for the next four years.
                                      That's the very concentrated history lesson over with.I am sure that there are more intricate versions available in books and on line but if anybody wants to have a chit-chat about the campaign don't be scared to drop me a line.
                                         Nowadays the area is more tranquil and also very easy to get to with an excellent bus service which stops just at the turnoff for the German war cemetry which is now situated on the top of Hill 107.
                                          Bus services in Crete are amazing and very cheap with luxury coaches running up and down the main island highway very frequently.After the bus drops you off you can look forward to a nice stroll up a winding road through olive groves up towards the cemetery stopping to look occasionally over the Sea of Crete and to the start of the Aegean sea.Also the noise of the highway traffic diminishes minute by minute until the only sounds you can hear are the grasshoppers going about their merry way.
                                           Halfway up the path you come across an added bonus with the entrance to the Tholos tomb which is said to date back to the Minoan age.
                                            Before you arrive up to the cemetery you come to the Hill 107 cafe offering drinks and snacks.I had been reliably informed that their apple pie was amazing.It was that amazing that a group of American soldiers had beat me to the draw and finished it all off.So much for the special relationship.I had to content myself with a doughnut.There was also a lot of memorabilia lying about but I would peruse that later.
                                           Heading up to the cemetery there is an exhibition of pictures and maps outlining the battle in English,German and Greek which sets you up nicely to enter the cemetery and appreciate why it was there.
                                          The cemetery was amazing.As well as the stillness and the abundance of red flowers,the actual graves were marked by marble slabs as opposed to the Allied marble crosses that were found in Suda bay.In typical German fashion they were laid in neat rows,which after reading the map before you came in made it easier for families to find their fallen relatives.
                                          I spent a good couple of hours walking round noticing above other things the fact that the vast majority were killed over a two day period which I'm sure must make most people think that the invasion wasn't really worth it in the scheme of things but I suppose that can be said about a lot of military operations.
General Bruno Brauer who in my opinion was wrongly executed for war crimes when more guilty persons were let off.
  There are other memorials to sailors killed in the sea around Crete,soldiers who were killed in an abortive attempt to bring in soldiers from mainland Greece under cover of darkness and also a memorial to a 1975  West German military aircraft crash in the Cretan mountains which caused the deaths of 37 West German soldiers and airmen.
                                              Another positive comparison between the wargrave sites is that as I have said a lot in this piece is that Hill 107 is very quiet with the only noises coming from the local birdlife whereas Suda bay cemetery is stuck beside a ferry port.local docks and a busy highway making all told enough noise to wake the dead.
                                             I took a few pictures to back up my opinion of Hill 107 and after I had finished that task made my way back down to the cafe where there was an exhibition of memorabilia and artefacts which had been left over from the occupation( including a Bofors gun) and also some pieces which had been dug by local farmers.
Didn't defend the Apple pie from the Americans though
Greek helmet
Various German helmets
 I had a great day rounded off with a few bottles of the local amber nectar followed by a cheap and nasty local red firewater.I'll speak to you soon and I'll tell you a little about one of the German paras involved, Major Walter Koch who was one of the inspirations behind the character of Oberst Kurt Steiner from "The Eagle has landed".

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