The campaigns in the Low Countries and France were triumphs for the Germans and the elite air-assault troops. France was beaten and the British had been driven from the continent. Germany was the colossus that stood aside Europe. Hitler now turned his thoughts to the attack on the Soviet Union: Operation Barbarossa.
First though, strategic war materials from Southern Europe need to be secured, either through treaties or conquest. Originally, Hitler thought to limit military action to no more than securing basing rights for the Luftwaffe to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean and most importantly to protect Romania’s Ploiesti oil fields as well as vital shipments of bauxite, tin and lead. But when Mussolini’s invasion of Greece was defeated by the Greeks with British aid and the Yugoslav military pulled off a coup, repudiating the recently signed treaty; Hitler determined to occupy both Yugoslavia and Greece.
In a campaign lasting less than a month the Germans overran both Yugoslavia and Greece. The German airborne conducted only one operation during the course of the Battle for Greece. The operation was a glider and parachute assault to capture the Corinth Canal Bridge from both ends at once. The operation was tactical success with the Germans capturing over two thousand Allied prisoners for less than 250 casualties on their side. But it was an operational and strategic failure; launched too late to cut off the retreat of most of the British forces and the bridge was also accidently destroyed by a stray shell during the fighting.
Now the Germans had once again run into their nemesis: the sea controlled by the Royal Navy. But this time they had a force capable of literally going over this obstacle; Kurt Student’s airborne forces. OKW thought Malta was the best goal for an airborne assault. The island fortress’ capture would secure the sea lanes to North Africa. Student, fearing an attack on so well defended a target, offered Crete as an alternate.
Crete was the ideal objective for his paratroopers; with only one main road, within easy reach of the Luftwaffe bombers and fighters and thought to be weakly defended. Also it offered two strategic advantages; Crete’s occupation would secure the recently conquered Balkans and Greece, especially the Ploesti oil fields in Romania and also the southern flank of Operation Barbarossa.
Further, once captured the island could be used as a springboard to Malta, Cyrus and maybe even Egypt. Through Goering, Student overcame Hitler’s initial reservations and on 25 April 1941 Student received Fuehrer Directive Number 28 authorizing Operation; Mercury the invasion of Crete.