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Attack on 7th General Hospital in Crete


Giant Red Cross at the 7th (British) General Hospital on Crete, May 1941.

Attack on 7th General Hospital, 20 May 1941

The 7th (British) General Hospital, west of Canea, was bombed and machine-gunned from the air on 20 May 1941 and then overrun by German paratroops of III Battalion, 3rd Parachute Regiment. They drove out patients able to walk, herded them and hospital staff into the nearby area of 6th (NZ) Field Ambulance, and later marched their captives towards Galatas.

Since the hospital area was well marked with red crosses, these attacks were regarded as intentional breaches of the Geneva Convention – the International Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armies in the Field – that had been signed in 1929 and ratified by Germany in 1934.

The hospital consisted of a few buildings, a number of marquees, and an assortment of smaller tents covering a large area of open ground. Red crosses were painted on the roofs of three of the buildings, and a large one was marked out on the ground near the sea. Most of the marquees used as hospital wards were grouped together, with a large cloth red cross laid out on the ground among them. All the crosses were large enough to be seen from a considerable altitude.

We had a huge red cross down on the ground. Didn’t make any difference. Because everything was so close to each other, they couldn’t tell the difference if it was an armed arsenal or what. They bombed it. That’s one of the things I was caught up in.

Private Denis Sampson, 6th Field Ambulance, interviewed by Megan Hutching, 1 November 2000

While it is difficult to see how the Germans could have mistaken the area for a military camp when it was so obviously marked with red crosses, their forces did struggle to obtain accurate intelligence reports during the Crete campaign. Having grossly underestimated the number of Allied troops on the island, they may have not have thought that there was any need for Creforce to have two tented hospitals and a dressing station in the Canea sector. It seems likely that German intelligence, poor in its estimate of Allied strength on Crete, was again wrong in failing to realise that the whole area claimed Red Cross protection.

German paratroops occupied the hospital but sniper fire from the New Zealanders and small counter-thrusts into the area made their position precarious. They decided to push south and chose to take their prisoners – about 500 men – with them. The party moved off with guards to the front and rear and on the flanks. This formation led some prisoners to feel that they were being used as human shields.


Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: DA-11712
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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Attack on 7th General Hospital in Crete, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated