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4.2 out of 5 stars70
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 12 December 2001
This is a splendidly-written account of the British Campaign in Greece and Crete in 1941, and to a lesser extent, of the resistance to the Germans during the occupation. The account of the defence against the German airborne invasion is masterly, and though many units are involved, the writer has the knack of keeping them distinct in the reader's mind such that there is no difficulty in following the actions at four separate but simultaneous landing points. Stories of heroism and of initiative, and also sadly of failure of will, abound on all sides. The aspect of the knife-edge that separated success and failure is very well conveyed. Bernard Freyberg emerges as a tragic figure, a man of magnificent personal courage and a Homeric hero of an earlier war, and in the same general theatre, but sadly out of his depth in the Cretan operation. One is reminded poignantly of the merciless revelation of John Bell Hood's weakness as a commander during his invasion of Tennessee in late 1864. The only fault I found with the Resistance part of the book was that it was too short, and I would have enjoyed a more extended account of individual actions. Inspired by this, I am now keen to locate "The Cretan Runner", so favourably mentioned by the author. Given the prominent role played in the Resistance story by Patrick Leigh-Fermor, those who enjoy this book will be entranced by his two books detailing a foot journey he made as a youth from Hook of Holland to Istanbul in 1934. In Crete, he and small band of heroes, British, Commonwealth and Greek, faced terrifying consequences for any failure when they faced a ruthless and merciless foe. This book underlines how high was the price paid for freedom in the 1940's, and how dreadful were the consequences of disarmament and pacifism in the democracies in the two previous decades - a lesson we forget at our peril.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 July 2015
I read this book whilst in Crete, and with a fair amount of prior knowledge.

I'd previously read Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper, The Cretan Runner: His Story of the German Occupation by George Psychoundakis, and Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete by Patrick Leigh Fermor

I knew, from George Psychoundakis, that Crete has a long history of occupation and counter-resistance. The conflict in Crete between the Cretan guerrillas, supported by a handful of British soldiers, and the Nazi occupiers was extreme. The hated Germans behaved barbarically to the Cretans and punished acts of insurrection by torturing and destroying entire communities.

What I didn't know much about, was the lead up to the Battle of Crete, how the conflict played out, and a more detached perspective on the occupation. I'm a confirmed Antony Beevor fan so, reading this book, whilst visiting Crete, seemed like a logical next step.

The battle is brought vividly to life. Numerous errors of judgement meant the Germans prevailed when the Allied forces could and should have repelled the invasion. Bernard Freyberg emerges as a flawed commander whose failure to understand intelligence reports and inability to push home his advantage at key moments resulted in the avoidable defeat.

The latter part of the book describes the resistance and covers a lot of ground quickly. I was glad I had read more about this aspect of the conflict however I still gained helpful insights into Cretan politics and the broader Greek context.

This book is not in the same league as Beevor's Berlin: The Downfall, 1945 or Stalingrad, but then what is? That said it is a great read - compelling, and imbued with Antony Beevor's customary rigour and readability.
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on 2 September 2009
Sometime between writing this and writing his later, excellent 'Stalingrad' and highly regarded 'Berlin', Beevor seems to have changed his style, improved his research and 'blossomed' as a popular historian - perhaps this accounts for the rework of his (previously) disappointing book on the Spanish Civil War. As one of the few books on the war on Crete this is a disappointment. the narrative fails to 'flow', and there are too many asides, unimportant comments that detract from the main subject. When giving his account of the Battle, well before we get on to the resistance phase after the German victory, there is far too much about the undoubtably brave, obvioulsy colourful, but questionably relevant 'characters' from SOE - at the expense of information and details about the fighting by more conventional Forces. Too much 'gossip' and not enough fact and evaluation, and the maps are woefully inadequate in helping explain the story. He does give a very sympathetic but nonetheless crtical view of General Freyburg. Worth reading because there is little else on the subject available, but nowhere near the standard of his later, deservedly more popular books
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on 30 August 2006
I am a big fan of Antony Beevor, enjoying every book that I have read by him. However, this account of the invasion and resistance on Crete during WW2 falls a bit short compared to his epic works on Berlin and the Spanish Civil War.

The best thing about this work is that it does flow well and is written in a very readable style, so you don't get bogged down and I believe it gives a good overview with what was going on from beginning to end.

There are quite a few things which would improve it though. There are not enough maps for a start and the work is so skewed towards a British viewpoint that I would have loved to have found out a bit more about the Cretans and the Germans. The Italians hardly get a mention so I really have no idea what they did on the island ( maybe nothing?! ). Whilst I think the story of the invasion is covered pretty well, covering parallel actions in different areas the occupation/resistance seems a bit bitty. We hear too much about some SOE agents, but only tantalising titbits about others, or about other soldiers left behind after Crete fell, for instance the handy trio of Australians that crop up every now and again...I am assuming they must have had a good story to tell but they are not even named!

One other item that I feel would be really interesting is covering what happened to some of the characters after their involvement in Crete came to an end...what happened to Captain Forrester after he led that amazing charge of Cretan men, women and children!

Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this book but feel it could have been a lot better.
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on 27 March 2012
Much like Maj Gen Freyberg's performance commanding the allied forces during the German airborne invasion of Crete I would say that overall this book was somehow a defeat where victory should have been assured. Reading some of the reviews above I was relieved to see that I was not alone in finding that the book's narrative did not always flow due to an obsession for peripheral detail as individuals' entered or departed the scene or re-entered or re-departed...or re-re-entered.....with a dog. At times I found his attention to detail for the, shall we say, 'members of the establishment' quite cringe-worthy at times. I don't really care that Nancy Double-Barrell, sister of Nigel Double-Barrell who went on to captain Oxford's lacrosse team, was one time lady in waiting to Princess This-or-that! Give that rubbish an asterisk and let those that care read it in the appendices. I agree too that the lack of maps was frustrating. I gave it 3 stars though as when it was good it was very good. The final chapters were especially very hard work as he seems to have attempted to ensure everyone who needed a mention got one? I do like accuracy and detail but ultimately save a lot of it for the appendices as who can remember all that (now pointless) detail two pages later? No one, but we do try to remember the flow of narrative. I would recommend this book when all is said and done especially as there is a dearth of such topics appearing on the shelves (or web pages) nowadays.
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on 16 August 2013
It is best to review this book in two sections (in the same way it has been written);-
The first part of the book which deals with the fall of Greece and the subsequent Battle for Crete has some superb writing - at times it is as gripping as any thriller (I expected nothing less from the author of the brilliant Stalingrad). Beevor captures the blase arrogance of the British top brass, fully aware of the invasion plans due to the cracking of the German codes (his depiction of Freyberg blithely eating his breakfast while German paratroopers landed all around him is priceless) but entirely lacking the strategic or tactical nous to be able to do anything with that information.
However, it suffers from the pitfalls of many works of military history in that it assumes the general reader has a good working knowledge of the command structure of an army - how large is a division compared to a regiment? or a regiment to a company? Without understanding the amount of men involved its difficult to get a grasp of what was at stake when the two sides were pitted against each other. It also lacks any decent maps (a more criminal omission in a work of military history) so the disposition of forces becomes confusing and the course of the subsequent fighting hard to follow.
The second section of the book which follows the German occupation of the island and the Cretans' dogged resistance is well enough done - its a good introduction to a subject which was unfamiliar to me. But despite Beevor's flair for writing, I found it difficult to distinguish between the innumerable British intelligence officers who came and went from the island and the Cretans' themselves just become an endless list of Greek names. He makes a good defence of the controversial mission to abduct General Kreipe from the island (he claims that the atrocities which have been held up as reprisals for the kidnapping had nothing to do with the kidnapping itself). However, it still seems hard to believe that the Allies would have risked the possibility of such devastating reprisals when Crete had been bypassed in strategic importance by the landings in Sicily.
This is a good overview of an important episode of the war. But the two parts of this story (the battle and the resistance) are really too big and complex to be contained in a single book. The battle section is adequate but the heroism of the resistance needs more room to breathe.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 October 2015
I enjoyed the first third of this book which covers the errors made in the decision to put up an inadequate defence of Crete. I enjoyed the second part, which examined the German invasion and its outcome, highlighting the many opportunities that were missed to prevent the invasion succeeding.

I gave up on the last third. It is headed "The Resistance", and I expected a similar detailed, anecdote filled analysis to the first two parts. Instead all I got - or all I got for the first half of it before I gave up - was a boring recital of the innumerable political factions involved and their manoeuvres.

For the first two parts of the book, the writing is good, the considerations of the history detailed and the descriptions of the conflict involving and clearly set out. I would recommend the book for the first to thirds at two thirds of the price.
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on 29 September 2015
Accurate depiction of the chaotic command structure and consequent disastrous decision errors which resulted in the loss of the battle, despite heroic efforts by the troops on the ground with the magnificent Cretans.
The book would have been improved with some local maps.
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on 18 February 2009
According to the Observer on the cover "The best book we have on Crete". Unfortunately, this statement says more about the other books the Observer has on this topic than about the quality of this tedious story.

Beevor's book claims to be about the German invasion and occupation of Crete in the Second World War and the resistance from its inhabitants. In reality it describes the defense of the island by Common Wealth troops and sabotage actions of British SOE-agents during the occupation.

Partly due to the sole usage of English sources, the story is disappointingly one sided. One of the results is that participants have become caricatures: the Germans are faceless, merciless machines, the Cretans primitive mountain people with a bloodlust and the British romantic, middle-class gentleman looking for an adventure. Another result is that relationships between obscure British agents in the Middle East are described in detail, but the world famous German boxer Max Schmeling who jumped over Crete (and got wounded) is nowhere mentioned in this book.
Finally, based on the descriptions of the many small "victories" of the British during the battle it is unbelievable that the Germans won the battle at all.

It is clear that this is one of Beevor's first books. If you already have "Stalingrad" or "Berlin" on the shelf, do not buy this book unless you want to complete your Beevor collection. Otherwise you will be disappointed.
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on 22 May 2012
Very well written in the usual excellent style of the author. I would recommend this to any one who is a fan of history.

Book arrived before the stated time.
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