The following account of the parachutist attack on Crete is based on a report of a
British junior officer who commanded a light antiaircraft unit during the attack
on that island. The ideas expressed are those of the officer concerned, based on his
own experience, and are not to be taken as official. Moreover, since this
operation, certain developments have taken place in the tactics used by parachute troops.
The attack on Candia started on May 20 with a heavy air bombardment which lasted
for 2 hours. At the end of this time the Ju-52's carrying parachutists arrived on the
scene and proceeded to drop their cargo. The procession came in three waves, one to the
east of this sector, another to the west, and the third one over the center.
The reporting officer stated that "those dropped on the central sector dropped right on
top of my gun position, with the result that my small party of 25 men had to
deal with vastly superior numbers of parachutists.
"We did more than deal with them, however. We almost completely destroyed them, for if an
immediate attack can be made on parachutists the second they leave the plane and touch
the ground, they are almost powerless to resist. By capturing and destroying their
containers, which carry all their weapons, and by pulling down the distinctively
colored parachutes marking the containers and rallying points, we managed to
prevent them from getting any weapons and assembling.
"In my experience, the lessons that we learned were the following:
"Speed of action--you must attack them with all your available forces, however
small, at the earliest possible moment, i.e., as soon as they leave the plane.
"Destruction or capture of containers and rallying points.
"By either confining them to the smallest possible area, or by widely dispersing
them into small pockets, prevent them from getting supplies.
"By strict and careful camouflage, try to make them land on top of you, for the
closer to a defended locality they descend, the less of a menace they become."
The mission of parachutists may be the creation of diversions, harrassment, occupation
of key points, or the destruction of certain definite objectives such as factories, radio
stations, antiaircraft batteries, fire-control stations, and the like.
There is always a preliminary aerial bombardment. During this bombardment the
carriers approach in formation. The bombardment ceases, and the parachutists
jump at heights between 300 and 500 feet. The individual parachutists land with
quite a bump. Some of them are badly winded. Some have difficulty in
managing their parachutes. Others may even be dragged by their parachutes. It
takes an appreciable length of time to get clear of their parachute
harness; then a dash is made for the arms containers which have also been
dropped in parachutes, usually of a distinctive color. After the containers are
opened and the arms obtained, some little time is required to rally and assemble
The parachutists have a definite objective, and everything else is disregarded. In
cases where a definite objective may not have been set, or where possibly a
drop was not made in the right place, harrassing positions are quickly found, such as
houses, trees, shrubbery, corn-fields, ditches, and sunken roads.
Intercommunication and communication between air and ground was amazingly
good. After landing, contact was continuously maintained with reconnaissance
aircraft by the use of Very lights, flags, and radios.
Once on the ground and collected into units, the parachutists became rather
immobile, light infantry with a very high fire-power. However, as the
descent is made with only limited supplies, there is a time limit to the
firepower if supplementary ammunition supplies are not received.
Parachutists land with food and supplies for 48 hours. Fresh supplies
are dropped in the same manner as were the parachutists. The same type of
aircraft is used, and they approach in the same formation as in the actual parachute
attack, dropping supplies in the occupied areas daily. Reinforcements are
dropped by parachute to assist units in difficulty.
Antiaircraft artillery and pursuit-aircraft assistance is of course invaluable
for the defending forces, but, as in Crete, may not always be available.
Camouflage of ground positions is most important. Troop positions, particularly
antiaircraft or field artillery positions which can be identified from the
air, will be subjected to merciless air bombardment.
Troop positions should be provided with slit trenches. These should be
inconspicuous, and loose soil should be disposed of so as not to attract attention.
Strong points should be selected and organized for all-round fire; if possible, they
should be so situated as to give mutually supporting fire.
Strong points and other positions should be wired in, but a small gap
should be left to enable the garrisons to make rapid sorties to attack the
parachutists promptly during the first vulnerable minutes. Such gaps should be
closed with trip wires provided with bells, or tin cans that rattle, in order to
provide a warning to the garrison.
When the troop carriers arrive and are dropping or about to drop parachutists, effective
results can be obtained with light automatic weapons by firing at the doors of the
aircraft. In general, rifle fire should be held until the parachutists hit the
ground, when they become sitting targets. This is especially so with troops who are
not specialists in the use of the rifle. However, particular men known to be first
class shots may be given permission to "pot" the parachutists during their descent.
It is essential to attack the parachutists with all automatic arms, rifles, and
bayonets immediately upon landing. Pistols did not prove particularly
effective in Crete.
The time factor is of the greatest importance:
For 30 seconds after landing parachutists are incapable of action.
For 2 minutes they are more or less helpless.
From 3 to 5 minutes before they can get organized, they are very vulnerable.
Certain men must be detailed whose sole job is to collect or destroy arms
containers and their contents.
(Note: Although not mentioned by this officer, other officers who served
in Crete have stated that British troops, particularly service units, who were not
well armed with automatic weapons, were able to do very well with the German
submachine guns which they took away from parachutists or got out of captured
Another squad should be detailed to recover and hide (or destroy) the colored
parachutes which are used to mark arms containers, rallying points, officers, etc. Colors
vary with each attack. In this officer's opinion, submachine guns, rifles, or bayonets
are the best weapons with which to attack parachutists. Revolvers were not of much
use (the soldier who is a well-trained pistol shot is a rarity).
A supply of hand grenades is very useful for dislodging parachutists from houses and strong points.
Each defensive strongpoint should be self-contained, with plenty of ammunition and
food and water for several days--7 to 10 days emergency rations.
Every unit and subunit from base workshops to front-line troops, every man--infantry,
artillery, cook, or clerk--must have a job to do and know it perfectly. There must be
no spectators--no neutrals.
The time factor cannot be overemphasized.
Each unit must be drilled and officers must have in mind several tentative plans. It is
most difficult to guess beforehand exactly where the parachutists are going to land, so
probably a very simple plan in the nature of a rough outline is best. But in his
mind's eye, the commander must visualize every possible form of attack so that in
the 30 seconds after the drop begins, he knows exactly what he is going to do.
Dispose of the first batch of parachutists as quickly as possible, as they
are nearly always followed by a second batch who come down in greater force in
the same area, probably about an hour later.
As soon as they land, kill everybody possible. Confine the remainder in the
smallest possible area. Confuse the enemy aircraft as much as possible by
firing captured Very pistols and laying out captured signal flags. (After a
little experimenting with captured Very pistols isolated British units in
Crete discovered the signals that brought food. As the German air transport
system was quite efficient these units did not go hungry.)
When the enemy are dropping supplies, send out patrols to capture or
destroy these supplies. Or, if this is not possible, cover the areas where
supplies have been dropped by machine-gun or artillery fire.
Tanks are invaluable for mopping up.
Don't waste men.
Isolate them, starve and smoke them out.