Battle for Crete is a fine account of the political and military prelude to the evacuation of British, Australian and New Zealand forces from Greece to Crete in April 1941, and of the subsequent German offensive against Crete, the first airborne assault in history on a defended island. During two year's research the author visited the battlefields, had access to previously unpublished Admiralty files, and talked to and corresponded with many of the combatants, from Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham and Colonel- General Student, the German commander, to scores of private soldiers in Australia and New Zealand.
He tells of confused negotiations between Anthony Eden and the Greek Government and of the even great confusion between the British War Cabinet and their commanders in the field about the decision to defend Crete; of the arrival in Greece of General Wilson disguised as 'Mr Watt'; of the lack of preparation in Crete and the suppression of a critical report at the request of General Wavell; and of the perilous last-minute escape of the King of Greece.
Of the fighting itself on the vital Maleme airfield, the author records alternate German and New Zealand experience at the level of the ordinary fighting soldier. There are also chapters on the Royal Navy's operations under dawn-to-dusk attack from Stuka divebombers; and the book closes with an account of the terrible retreat over the 8,000-foot White Mountains to the tiny evacuation beach on the desolate southern coast.
John Hall Spencer has used his very varied sources to build up an exciting picture of one of the most important and bitterly contested campaigns of the Second World War. Battle for Crete shows clearly why Hitler's paratroopers were almost repulsed by an ill-equipped and tired Allied army and why a British general came close to apologising to his troops for the ordeal which they had endured.
John Hall Spencer was educated at Bedford School and the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. He had a regular commission in the Royal Marines before joining Beaverbrook Newspapers in Fleet Street, then J Walter Thompson in Berkeley Square for twenty-one years. He then set up his own international marketing business in 1982. In 2011 he was awarded an OBE for services to Business, Charity and work with Young People in London.