The Germans developed an innovative and audacious airborne operational capability, which they employed at the Battle of Crete, but ignored key principles of the offense in order to validate this new concept. By their inability to achieve surprise, concentrate their forces to realize a single purpose, and control the tempo of the attack to retain the initiative, the Germans paratroops were decimated, and only through air superiority and poor Allied leadership were they able to defeat the Allies.
On 21 May, 1941 German paratroopers conducted an airborne invasion of the battle of Crete. Rather than being a part of a coherent strategy to defeat the Allies in the Mediterranean, this attack was merely an attempt for Hitler to shore up his southern flank before invading Russia. The author of the airborne plan, General Kurt Student, wanted to prove that airborne troops could be used operationally and drew up the plan to attack Crete with paratroopers and air landed elite mountain troops supported by seaborne reinforcements. Lacking proper resources to conduct the attack and with only three weeks to plan, Student developed a plan to attack the island at four widespread locations. He envisioned complete surprise and failed to make any contingency plans. The Allies defending Crete, having the benefit of intercepted German communications, were prepared for the attack, but lacked the necessary weapons and supplies to properly defend the island. Ten days later the Germans had captured the island, but at a cost of over 6,000 German troops and over 170 transport aircraft.
In Student's rush to prove to the Fuhrer the operational benefit of an airborne force, he ignored key principles of the offense and thus destroyed the very force he advocated. In the end, it was the individual paratrooper that brought Student his victory, but at a terrible cost. Although this Promethean event was an operational and tactical victory for the Germans, it was a Pyrrhic one at best, and Crete would forever be known as the "graveyard of the Fallschirmjager.