Enigma decrypts and the Battle of Crete

Spring brought an increasing flow of decrypts about Wehrmacht operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Senior officers strove to streamline the transfer of information from Bletchley to battlefields, so that material reached commanders in real time. One of the most significant intercepts, detailing German plans for the May 1941 invasion of Crete, reported ‘probable date of ending preparations: 17/5. Proposed course of operation … Sharp attacks against enemy air force, military camps and A/A positions … Troops of Fliegerkorps XI: parachute landing to occupy Maleme, Candia and Retiomo; transfer of dive-bombers and fighters to Maleme and Candia; air-landing operations by remainder of Fliegerkorps XI; sea-transport of flak units, further army elements and supplies.’ Churchill personally annotated the flimsy: ‘In view of the gt importance of this I shd like the actual text transmitted by MOST SECRET together with warnings about absolute secrecy.’ This information was passed to Wavell and Freyberg, the relevant commanders, at 2340 on 6 May. The loss of the subsequent Battle of Crete, following the German invasion which began on the morning of the 20th, emphasised a fundamental reality about Enigma decrypts: they could change outcomes only when British commanders and troops on the ground were sufficiently strong, competent and courageous effectively to exploit them. Stuart Milner-Barry of Hut 6 said that he and his colleagues looked back on Crete as ‘the greatest disappointment of the war. It seemed a near certainty that, with … every detail of the operation spelt out for us in advance … the attack would be ignominiously thrown back.’

Hastings, Max. The Secret War: Spies, Codes and Guerrillas 1939–1945. p. 84 (hardcover)

Note: this accords with historian John Keegan’s analysis of the WWII Battle of Crete in Intelligence in War.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

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