I Was There! - How We German Parachutists Captured Maleme
Here is a German eye-witness story, issued by the German propaganda, of the capture of Maleme aerodrome in Crete. Told by Lieut. Ernst Kleinlein of the First Division of Parachute Troops, it is published here by arrangement with "Life".
Lieutenant Kleinlein's story begins when he is flying out from Greece in a Junkers transport plane. He says:
The hand on my small silver watch stands close to 4 a.m. We still have 15 minutes more flying. I look out of the plane window. The other planes in the squadron have closed up. Behind us flies the second company, behind it the third. I count to see whether a plane has been left behind – 12, 15, 23, 30, 52 – as I come to 60 I give it up. From the cobalt-blue vapour between sky and water the planes rise behind us like an army of scaled dragons. The lance-sergeant taps my shoulder. He points through the opposite window. There it is: the small narrow beach, the first ridges in the foreground and behind the second terrace the white rocky peaks of the mountains of Crete.
The lance-sergeant again taps my shoulder. "Herr Oberleutnant." Yes, I know. Again there is that pressing feeling in my stomach which comes to me when the plane descends.
"Door open." The sergeant stands at the door. He gives the signal to leap with a rap of his left hand on the back of every man who quickly appears in front of the plane door. Schroeder, Grammelsberg, Hansen, Berg, Wenstaedt, now the lance-sergeant, now me.
I have four-and-a-half seconds from the time the parachute opens until landing. The wind carries us directly to the hill. Our bombers hurtle against the airport batteries from above like catapulted knives. Now I notice the whining whistle of the plane swooshing down only 50 metres from us – there is a dry rattle of its cannons. There comes the next one. In the distance hollow bomb detonations thud. Over there, our first machine-gun begins. Lieutenant W. is attacking already. Then I myself am down.
Will the English Fighters Come?
The lance-sergeant stands in the bomb crater next to the machine-gun; next to him, Schroeder; next, the sergeant. The bombers have withdrawn and circle about like swallows in the air. Will the English fighters come?
None come. From our hill we can look down on the field (Maleme aerodrome). To the right, the hangar, made of old clay, wooden pillars and planks. Now and again a small gun crackles from the shadowy depth. Four khaki figures advance and fall together. From here they look like freed marionettes. We did not see the gunfire.
I nod to the lance-sergeant. He goes with three men towards the clay building from the rear. It is 4.25 a.m. We have been on the ground for ten minutes. The bombers are no longer to be seen. In their place new transport planes soar in the sky. They are to land at 4.30 a.m. The sergeant has taken up the machine-gun of the lance-sergeant. A flare goes up from the other side of the field. It is 4.26 a.m. and the edge of the field is filled with a flock of men. The British khaki is intermingled with the grey cloth of our men. A British tank clatters over the airport. It is only of medium size. We must hurry.
Now everything goes according to manoeuvres. "Fire." The sergeant shoots as it prompted by a stop-watch. The western edge of the field lights up. Hand grenades tear out the side of the clay hangar. It is 4.30 a.m. We have it. Eighty prisoners, one gun, some munitions.
Junkers transports sink low and descend with their load. There are still two Bedford trucks with broken axles lying on the runway. We should have removed them, but now there is no time. They explode into the air from our hand grenades. Immediately the first Junkers rolls into the midst of the splintered ruins. Now everything comes: radio apparatus, munitions, one sack of Wittler bread from Berlin, packages of bandages, trench mortars, lemons, our new rapid-firing cannon of manganese alloy, the folding gun carriage. The propellers of the Junkers do not stop. It blows as if God and the general wanted to give us special ventilation for the hot battle. The Junkers climbs. The next comes down. The bicycle detachment steps out. The third, the fourth. Down, up, down, up.
"Lance-Sergeant, what has become of that British tank?" He doesn't know. We find that a bomber took care of it for us. Since Greece our bombers have received small but effective cannon and are as useful to us as though we had the anti-tank guns.
Land, take off, land, take off, land, and take off again and again. The sun already is high and hot. My ears have become deaf from the roar of motors. After 60 transports have landed and taken off again, the advance to the sea begins. But we are to remain at the field. Towards noon we are supposed to be picked up and then go on again – to Heraklion. But I don't tell my men.
We look around the vicinity. Burned-out Mausers, tent sections which were drenched with lime and now break like paper, rifles, munition cases. In the disintegrated shed the lance-sergeant has discovered a supply of corned beef. "May we breakfast?" he asks. "Permitted", I say. They make themselves a stove from a petrol tank which withstood the blowing up of the truck barricades, and start a fire. The sergeant is wounded. Lieutenant W. has lost two men.
Meanwhile I look over the prisoners. They are almost all New Zealanders, "We had no idea of this kind of war", says one fellow, tall as a tree. We captured the majority in shirts and shorts. They were more surprised than outfought – the affair went that fast. "We expected you ever since Saturday", the tall one says. "So we were on guard for three nights and got no sleep. Today you surprised us."
"Impolite of us", I say, and the entire group laughs.
I permit my men to gather up and fold the parachutes and the order quiet. At 10 o'clock the prisoners are transported away in empty Junkers. At 11 a.m. the last Junkers brings new sealed orders.
I stroll about the country a bit. Spread out detachments have pushed up to the tank nest. The air battle apparently has moved out to sea and to the west. The sun burns on bare stones. A large lizard in strange colours shoots along between the cliffs. Now we lie here between Europe and Africa and wait...
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