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Operation Albumen was the name given to British Commando raids in June 1942 on German airfields in the Axis-occupied Greek island of Crete, to prevent them from being used in support of the Afrika Korps in the Western Desert Campaign in World War II. These operations were carried out in tandem with similar raids against Axis airfields at Benghazi, Derna and Barce in Libya and were among the very first planned sabotage acts in occupied Europe.
During the late spring of 1942, the airfields of Crete gained increased strategic importance by becoming the main transit base for Luftwaffe to supply logistic support to Rommel's Afrika Korps in their advance on the Nile Delta. Furthermore, Luftwaffe aircraft based on Crete operated photo-reconnaissance, bombing and convoy attack missions covering the south-east Mediterranean region. Aiming to disrupt these operations, British generals in Cairo sent three groups from the Special Boat Squadron (SBS) and one from Stirling's Special Air Service (SAS) to Crete to sabotage the airfields of Heraklion, Kastelli Pediados, Tympaki and Maleme.
Heraklion airfield was allocated to the SAS group and the SBS groups were assigned to the other three airfields. The SBS groups were met by Tom Dunbabin, the British liaison officer with the Cretan resistance, who provided them with local guides. The date for all sabotage attacks was scheduled for the night of 7/8 June 1942.
The squad to attack Kastelli consisted of the Irish Captain G.I.A. Duncan of the Black Watch, two British NCOs of the SBS and the Greek gendarme Vassilis Dramoundanis. The operation unfolded according to plan and on June 7, the saboteurs, assisted by the locals Giorgos Psarakis, Kimonas Zografakis (nicknamed Blacκman) and Kostas Mavrantonakis, managed to destroy 5 aircraft, damage 29 other and set fire to several vehicles and considerable quantities of supplies (including about 200 tons of aviation fuel) using delayed action bombs.
The June 1942 operation is often referred to as the first raid on Kastelli to differentiate it from a similar operation that took place a year later. One of the objectives of this second operation was to lead the Germans into believing that an Allied landing on Crete (rather than their true target Sicily) was imminent. Thus, on the night of July 4/5, 1943, two commando groups under the Danish major Anders Lassen and the Greek Kimonas Zografakis, simultaneously attacked the airfield of Kastelli from two different locations. Despite the strong security, they succeeded in deceiving the garrison and destroyed most of the parked aircraft and fuel dumps.
The Heraklion operation was commanded by George Jellicoe and included four members of the Free French Forces under Georges Bergé (the other three being Jacques Mouhot, Pierre Léostic and Jack Sibard) and lieutenant Kostis Petrakis of the Hellenic Army. Things went out of plan for the party of six saboteurs which were transferred to Crete on board the Greek submarine Triton: rowing in three inflatable boats, they set ashore in the Gulf of Malia on the dawn of June 10, further east from the intended Karteros beach and behind schedule. Spending the days hiding and the nights marching, they reached Heraklion airfield on the night of 12 to 13 of June. However, they were unable to mount an assault due to the increased traffic caused by a succession of night sorties that was in progress. Eventually, the attack took place on the night of June 13, when the group managed to enter the area of the airfield while it was being bombed by the RAF. In total, about 20 aircraft (Ju 88) were destroyed using Lewes bombs. While all six saboteurs managed to escape from the airfield, their retreat was betrayed resulting in 17-yr old Pierre Léostic being killed and the other three French being arrested. Jellicoe and Petrakis managed to escape to Egypt.
The Tympaki team (led by David Sutherland of the Black Watch) discovered that due to air raids from Egypt, the airfield had been temporarily abandoned and the aircraft based there had been relocated.
The Maleme team was also unsuccessful. They found out that the airfield was strongly guarded and was recently equipped with electrified fences, making it impossible to penetrate its perimeter.
As a result of the raids, over 25 aircraft were completely destroyed and 12 German soldiers died. In reprisal for the sabotage in Heraklion, the occupation forces executed 50 inhabitants of the greater Heraklion area on the next day, June 14. A few days earlier (June 3), the Germans had executed another 12 Heraklion citizens. The Avenue of the 62 Martyrs (Greek: Λεωφόρος 62 Μαρτύρων) in modern Heraklion is named in remembrance of the victims.
On June 23, Jellicoe, Petrakis and the participants of the Kastelli and Tympaki operations were evacuated to Mersa Matruh, Egypt on a caique from Trypiti beach near the village of Krotos in south Crete. They reached Mersa Matruh shortly before it fell to Rommel's advancing forces. Jellicoe was later awarded the DSO. After several days of interrogations under the threat of execution, Bergé, Mouhot and Sibard who were captured after the Heraklion sabotage, were transferred to the Oflag X-C war prisoner camp in Germany. Eventually, Bergé ended up in Colditz castle in Saxony where prisoners who had repeatedly attempted to escape were held. There, Bergé joined SAS commander David Stirling who had been captured in the meantime. To honor the memory of Pierre Léostic, Kostis Petrakis christened his son after him.
- S.A.S. Raids in North Africa 1941 - 1942
- Beevor, Antony. Crete: The Battle and the Resistance, John Murray Ltd, 1991. Penguin Books, 1992.
- Ο Γερμανός επιλοχίας θυμάται, Πατρίς onLine, 27 Μαρτίου 2003.
- Β' σαμποτάζ Αεροδρομίου Καστελίου: 4-5 Ιουλίου 1943, Πατρίς onLine, 1 Ιουλίου 2003.
- Thompson, Leroy. SAS: Great Britain's Elite Special Air Service, Zenith Press, ISBN 978-0-87938-940-6, 1994.
- Το Σαμποτάζ στο αεροδρόμιο Ηρακλείου, Πατρίς onLine, 21 Ιουνίου 2005.
- Sibard, Jack L. Mission En Crete, Société des Etudes Historiques Crétoises, ISBN 978-960-87170-5-3, 2006.
- Σανουδάκης, Αντώνης. Ιππότες του ονείρου. Αφήγηση Κωστή Πετράκη, εκδόσεις Κνωσός, ISBN 978-960-207-009-3, 1989.
- Earl Jellicoe interviewed, also describes Heraklion operation
- Heraklion operation from France Libre (in French -- translate)
- Obituary: General Georges Berge
- Sabotage /62: Historical Museum of Crete (in Greek -- translate)