Battle on 42nd Street
War in Crete and the Anzacs’ Bloody Last Stand
By Peter Monteath
Published by New South
RRP $34.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781742236032
The battle of Crete was unique in that for the first time in history German forces carried out an invasion entirely from the air.
But prior to the aerial invasion, the Luftwaffe had been bombing selected sites along the northern coast of the island.
On 20 May 1941 the German airforce launched a sustained attack on the Allies’ defensive positions, via their fearsome Stuka dive-bombers. Their aim was to capture the airfields at Maleme, Retimo in the central north and Heraklion to the east.
Defending these airfields were British, Australian, New Zealand and some local Cretans.
The battle of Crete was bloody and bitter and no more so than at the infamous 42ndStreet, fought over by a battalion of German mountain troops and opposed by some very determined Australian and New Zealand troops.
What made this particular battle different was the extensive use of the old-fashioned bayonet (cold steel as Corporal Jones (Dad’s Army fame) would say).
Monteath has strayed into controversial territory by publicizing what his extensive research revealed about the 42nd Street battle. He writes that in the heat of the battle, the Allied troops counter-attacked with fixed bayonets and by the end many mutilated German bodies lay strewn across the battlefield.
He poses the question: “at what point does the will to survive on the battlefield give way to bloodlust? What turns men into killers?”
Through his research, Monteath may have revealed an uncomfortable truth about this battle in particular, and dare I say it, war in general.