“I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”
King George V, Flanders, 1922
The War Cemeteries in Souda Bay and Maleme – Historical Information
In May 1941, the Commonwealth force in Crete was organised in five widely separated defense areas along the north coast – around the three airfields at Heraklion, Rethymnon and Maleme, and at Souda Bay and the port of Chania. The Germans launched their attack on 20 May with airborne troops. The airfield at Maleme was quickly captured and used for landing German reinforcements. On 23 May, the remainder of the Maleme position had to be given up and its defenders fell back to Chania. On 26 May, the Allied line west of Chania was broken. Souda Bay became indefensible and the troops from these two positions, with the remainder of the Maleme garrison, withdrew across the island to Sfakion, where many of them were evacuated by sea on the nights of the 28 – 31 May. The airborne attacks on the Heraklion and Rethymnon positions on 20 May were repulsed. Heraklion was successfully defended until the night of 29/29 May when the garrison was evacuated by sea. Orders for the Rethymnon garrison to fight its way southward for evacuation did not arrive, and it was overwhelmed on 31 May. Of the total Commonwealth land force of 32,000 men, 18,000 were evacuated, 12,000 were taken prisoner and 2,000 were killed.
Souda Bay War Cemetery
The site of Souda Bay War Cemetery was chosen after the war and graves were moved there by 21st and 22nd Australian War Graves Units from the four burial grounds that had been established by the German occupying forces at Chania, Heraklion, Rethymnon and Galata, and from isolated sites and civilian cemeteries.
There are now 1,500 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in the Souda Bay War Cemetery. 776 of the burials are unidentified but special memorials commemorate a number of casualties believed to be buried among them. The cemetery also contains 19 First World War burials brought in from Souda Bay Consular Cemetery, 1 being unidentified. There are also 7 burials of other nationalities and 37 non-war burials.
(source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission)
German War Cemetery Maleme
More than 15,000 German soldiers lost their lives on Greek Territory during the second World War. Their tombs were scattered in 437 villages and on numerous islands in the Aegean Sea. Thanks to the cooperation of the Greek Government, the salvage and moving of the fallen soldiers to the German War Cemetery Maleme took place as soon as April 1959, by the German War Graves Commission. By the end of November 1960, the salvage work was completed.
The coffins with the remains of the soldiers from the mainland and the Greek islands – except Crete – for the graves site Dionysus-Rapendoza were first brought next to the monastery of Xenia, the coffins with the German fallen in Crete were collected on the island of Crete in the Gonia monastery.
Here they remained until 1965, when due to the War Graves Agreement between Greece and the Federal Republic of Germany , the expansion of cemetery courtyards in Maleme Crete and in Dionysus-Rapendoza Athens began and the dead were laid to rest here.
German War Cemetery Maleme
War dead of World War II: 4465
On the north coast of Crete, 20 kilometers west of the city of Chania, one kilometer from the village of Maleme, is the German War Cemetery Maleme. Beyond, in the distance, is the Gonia Monastery. To the south, the “White Mountains” (Lefka Ori) rise to 2 450 meters. The design of the cemetery was based on the four main battle fields Chania, Maleme, Rethymnon and Heraklion.
Following the stairs the visitor enters the enclosed courtyard, though on one side the entrance building is limited. Benches in the shade of the old olive tree invite you to contemplation and rest. The multilingual exhibition in an open space informs about the names of the fallen soldiers and on the emergence of the cemetery and the work of the Germany Association. The path leads to the cemetery, lying granite slabs identify by name and dates the dead. On the metal panels of the Memorial are immortalized the names of 360 soldiers fallen on the Island, but could not be salvaged.
Numerous former Comrades of the fallen have helped building this cemetery.