The War Shelter of Platanias

    The War Shelter of Platanias

    The war shelter was constructed by the German troops in 1942 on Platanias hill, below the Church of St Dimitrios. It consists of an underground complex of booths and tunnels that was used to store ammunition and military materiel during the World War II.In recent years the Shelter is preserved as a monument in memory of the Cretan Resistance the Nazi Occupation.

    The Battle of Crete began on the 20 th May 1942 when Nazi Germany launched an airborne invasion under the codename Operation Mercury. Greek and allied forces, along with Cretan civilians, defended the island. The Battle was unprecedented in combat history as it was the first time that the German paratroops were deployed on a massive scale and the first time that German troops encountered heavy resistance from a civilian population. The operation resulted in heavy casualties for the German paratrooper, and subsequently Hitler did not approve any other large-scale airborne operations. For historians around the world, the Battle of Crete is considered as one of the most heroic actions of the World War II in Greece.

    Once the entire island of Crete came under the control of the occupying forces, part of the German forces moved into the village of  Platanias. The typical village’s hill was chosen in the first place as the strategic location for controlling both land and sea. Despite other military constructions, like trenches and machine guns sites, the Germans also decided to build the war shelter. The exact spot, below the village’s main church, was chosen because the temple itself provided a natural protection to air bombings and as the rare soft rock was easy to dig. Within six months period, local forced workers managed to dig a 120m long underground tunnel.

    The booths, a main shelter entrance and two exist were also constructed. Sixty years later, the Platanias Church Committee and citizens of the village decided to reconstruct the war shelter and utilize it as a small World War II museum in memory of the Battle of Crete.

    The secret that saved Platanias from massacre

    The construction of the shelter itself is related to an interesting local story. During the Battle of Crete a heavily wounded German pilot died in Platanias after he was nursed by locals for several days. The strong fear for Nazi reprisals and executions of innocent civilians forced the villagers to bury the German soldier in a secret grave near the church. Unfortunately, some days later this exact spot was chosen by the German officer in order to begin the excavations for the shelter construction.

    Mihalis Stamatakis, a smart church commissioner, persuaded the Nazis to move the tunnel entrance thus not revealing the secret soldiers grave and consequently saving the village from certain massacre. He invoked the holiness of an olive tree that stands in the same place at the main entrance of the war shelter to this day.

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