By David H. Lippman “Maleme. 20th May, 1941. Usual Mediterranean summer day. Cloudless sky, no wind, extreme visibility; e.g., details on mountains 20 miles to the southeast easily discernible.” So opened the war diary of the 22nd Battalion, 2nd New Zealand Division. The battalion’s official historian, Jim Henderson, would write later, “Of all the days of the war one stands alone in the minds of the battalion. The day is 20 May at Maleme, Crete.” The 22nd Battalion was one of four battalions of the 5th New Zealand Brigade assigned to defend the extreme west of the British and Commonwealth defenses on the island of Crete. Under its tall, austere, professional commander, Colonel Les Andrew, who held a 1918 Victoria Cross, 22nd Battalion held the most important part of the Maleme sector of defense, Maleme Airfield, the key to the rugged island. The airfield would become the epicenter of the battle. Crete: An Opportunity and a Menace In April 1941, Adolf Hitler came to the aid of his beleaguered Italian ally, Benito Mussolini, whose misplanned invasion of Greece had bogged down in that nation’s mountain winter. On April 6, the German panzers plunged into Greece through Yugoslavia, turning the Metaxas Line, crushing the Greek defenders and their British Commonwealth allies, and forcing the British to evacuate. Most of the troops that came stumbling back from the Greek debacle were dumped on the island of Crete to reorganize and regroup. Both sides saw Crete as an


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