Chania in World War II

The area of Chania was the center of much activity during World War II. Due to its strategic location in the eastern Mediterranean, Crete was of great importance for the implementation of the Germans’ plans to move against the Near East and northern Africa.

On April 23rd, the Axis forces began battering the island with bombs; at the same time, they planned Operation Mercury for the occupation of Crete by airborne units. The primary aim was to occupy the ports and airports of Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion, making extensive use of parachutists. The attack began on May 20, 1941, initiating the famous Battle of Crete. Apart from the Allied forces who resisted the invasion, the entire people of Crete faced the Nazi troops. What makes the Battle of Crete stand out is that men, women and even children fought with any means they had, including knives, axes, mattocks and stones, decimating the corps of parachutists. Though the outcome of the battle was far from certain, the Allied forces eventually decided to withdraw and abandon the island.

The people of Crete paid a heavy price, as a great part of the population was mercilessly executed, and many of those who escaped were imprisoned, largely due to the fact that they had resisted the German invasion. In Kandanos, for instance, more than 300 residents were put to death, and the town was razed to the ground; nevertheless, this did not put an end to the people’s resistance.

The town of Chania was extensively bombed during World War II and one can still see the remnants of the demolished edifices that stand as a mute testimony to the Second World War. Most essential services were paralyzed and city life came to a standstill.

In those days, Chania had a flourishing Jewish community that was, unfortunately, totally eliminated by the Germans during the war. Most Jews were ferried off the island by the Germans in 1944. A group of Jews that were on one of the ferries tragically perished when a British torpedo sank the vessel Tanais, thereby killing all of them in the open sea.

There are still various traces from the period of the German Occupation, such as refuges, pillboxes and other military installations. Moreover, visitors can visit the Allied Cemetery, in honor of the British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fell during the Battle of Crete, as well as the German War Cemetery.