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Duncan honours heroes of Crete at poignant ceremony

13 September 2017
At one of the most tranquil sites on the planet, sailors and Royal Marines bowed their heads in honour of men who gave their live trying to defend this island 76 years ago.

This is Souda Bay in Crete, last resting place of at least 27 sailors and marines - and probably scores more, for fewer than half the 1,500-men buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery are identified.

Thirty crew of HMS Duncan made the short trip around the bay from their berth at the island's NATO base to the idyllic graveyard on the bay's western shore to remember the fallen of the Battle of Crete.

The Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet took a terrible mauling in the battle, spread over a fortnight in late May and early June 1941, as Hitler sought to add the Greek island to his long list of conquests.

Overwhelming German air power ensured that the swastika was raised in the face of stiff opposition from Allied forces, including the Royal Navy, dispatched to prevent German reinforcements arriving by sea.

In that mission, it largely succeeded - but it also brought the British ships within striking distance of the Luftwaffe. What followed was an object lesson in the need for air cover to protect ships in the face of enemy bombers.

More than 2,300 British and Commonwealth sailors were killed or reported missing (probably dead or captured), while 450 sailors and marines were wounded.

Half a dozen destroyers and four cruisers ended up at the bottom of the Mediterranean, while an aircraft carrier, two battleships and seven other British vessels were badly damaged.

Surrounded by those who will forever be a part of Crete's story immortalised in the hundreds of white headstones and crosses, we fell silent, felt the chill as the sound of the bugle echoed out into the mountainside

Chaplain Denz Dempsey

More than 75 years later and Crete is a key NATO base in the eastern Mediterranean - perfect for the Portsmouth-based destroyer which is coming to the end of her stint in charge of the alliance's Med task force, Standing Naval Group 2.

Led by task force commander, Commodore James Morley, and Duncan's Commanding Officer Eleanor Stack, wreaths were laid on behalf of NATO, the destroyer and the RN Surface Fleet, the Fleet Air Arm, and the Royal Marine Commandos.

"Surrounded by those who will forever be a part of Crete's story immortalised in the hundreds of white headstones and crosses, we fell silent, felt the chill as the sound of the bugle echoed out into the mountainside," said Denz Dempsey, Duncan's chaplain, who led the remembrance service.

"These short but poignant services never fail to humble, inspire, and make us stand tall in our uniforms.

"We left our comrades in their peace, and returned to the ship reflective and refocused on the operational tasks set before us."

Duncan is due to hand over her task group duties in the next few days when the staff transfer to the destroyer's older sister HMS Diamond.

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