The Battle for Crete, which occurred from May 20 to June 1, 1941, was a significant event in World War II. It is remembered for the unprecedented large-scale airborne invasion that had not been seen before, as well as the resolute defence of an island crucial for controlling the Eastern part of the Mediterranean. That is how Merkur was born –  a truly collective effort by Battlefront Malta members.


Given our team’s extensive experience portraying Fallschirmjager and British forces in the Mediterranean, and our collection of early war equipment, we felt that creating a movie about the Battle for Crete was a natural choice for our latest short film project.


A short history of Operation Mercury


In October of 1940, the British moved to Crete to assist the Greek government and allow most of the 5th Infantry Division to move to the mainland. After the fall of Greece in April 1941, Commonwealth forces aimed to prevent the island from falling into Axis hands. Both sides viewed Crete as crucial for controlling the Eastern Mediterranean and safeguarding Mediterranean sea routes. Recognizing the threat, the Germans planned “Operation Merkur” (Operation Mercury), the first large-scale airborne invasion in military history. Led by General Kurt Student, the German forces prepared to capture Crete using paratroopers, glider-borne infantry, and air support, demonstrating the capabilities and risks of airborne warfare.


The defence of Crete involved a diverse and multinational effort. The Allied forces consisted of British, Australian, New Zealand, and Greek troops, supported by Cretan partisans. Intelligence provided by Ultra, which had decrypted German communications, alerted the Allies to the impending invasion. However, the rapid German advance through Greece and the total air superiority of the Luftwaffe, meant that the Allied forces on Crete couldn’t get adequate reinforcements and replacements of heavy equipment which had to be left on the mainland. The Allied air support at the time was a few sorties operated from Egypt 500km away.


The Battle for Crete began on May 20, 1941, with a massive aerial bombardment followed by the landing of German paratroopers at key locations, including Maleme, Heraklion, and Rethymno. The initial German assault faced strong resistance, with high casualties inflicted on the paratroopers. However, a critical turning point occurred at Maleme airfield, where the Germans were able to secure the airfield and land reinforcements. This foothold enabled the Germans to steadily overwhelm Allied positions, despite continued fierce resistance. By June 1, the island was under German control, but the victory came at a substantial cost. The German paratroopers suffered heavy casualties, with approximately 4,000 dead or wounded, leading the Wehrmacht high command to reconsider the use of large-scale airborne operations. The Allies also endured significant losses, with about 3,500 killed and many more captured.


The aftermath of the Battle for Crete had profound implications. For the Germans, the high cost of lives and resources marked the end of ambitious airborne assaults, influencing future military strategy. For the Allies, the loss of Crete was a strategic setback, but the spirited defence and subsequent guerrilla warfare by Cretan partisans tied down German resources and personnel. Additionally, the battle underscored the importance of air superiority, a lesson that would shape subsequent Allied strategies in the Mediterranean and beyond.

Behind the Scenes: Preparation for “Merkur”

During the latter part of the year 2020, amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, a project was envisaged to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Operation Mercury coming up the following year. Several ideas of different project types were thought up; however, owing to the circumstances of everyone being in a state of lockdown, “Merkur,” a short film production, was the more possible and meaningful choice. “Merkur” sought to portray some of the defining aspects of the battle of Crete during the Second World War.

In the following weeks and months after the film’s conception, several club members took to researching the Battle for Crete, from the environment to firearms to the uniforms used. The first versions of the plot and the script followed, along with several meetings, often online, with group members and external helpers to map out preparations for the production. Initially, filming was set to take place in March of 2021; unfortunately, Malta was still in a state of partial lockdown, making filming impractical which meant that this project would not be ready in time for the 80th year commemoration.

Battlefront Malta members were not, however, idle during this period. Building and maintaining props such as the crosses in the final scene, sewing on insignia and painting helmets, a full reconstruction of an original disassembled PAK 36, development of special effects, and regular training sessions kept the production’s momentum going.

In September 2021, several lockdown measures were lifted, making filming finally feasible. Work immediately began on preparing the shooting locations, including digging trenches, clearing rubbish, and adapting the surroundings to match the visual depictions of the Cretan landscape. Testing of special effects and transportation of props to the locations closely followed, and filming was finally carried out over three exhausting days.

The first phase of this project was finally completed. The second phase focusing on the editing soon initiated and through perseverance after several delays and unforeseen circumstances, the short film was completed at the latter end of 2023. The first showing of Merkur was to a small crowd of friends and reenactors on the island of Leros, Greece, whilst the first public screening was carried out at MCAST in conjunction with the screening of SABATON’s movie called The War To End All Wars

Though only an amateur short film, this project required dedication and a lot of effort, and thanks to our members and supporters Merkur, was completed with a satisfactory result.