The military situation at Crete after the Italian armistice of September 1943
The island of Crete was divided in two sectors, one German and one Italian. The larger was the German sector with three prefectures (Chania, Rethymnon, Herakleio). while the Italians were in control of the prefecture of Lasithi. The Italian force (aprox. 20.000 men) was the 51 Infantry Division "Sienna", which was mobilized in 1940 for the occupation of Albania. The division fought in the Greco-Italian War, suffering heavy losses. In May 1941 it was sent to Peloponese as an occupation force, before its transfer to Crete in September of the same year.
In 1943 the Commander of the division was General Angelico (Angelo) Carta and the Headquarters (HQ) was located at Neapolis. The units composing the 51 Infranty Division were:
31. Siena Infantry Regiment
32. Siena Infantry Regiment
265. Lecce Infantry Regiment
341. Infantry Regiment
51. Artillery Regiment
141. CCNN Legion [members of the Blackshirts (Camicie Nere), a fascist paramilitary group]
51. Mortar Battalion
312. Tank Battalion
51. Anti-Tank Company
251. Anti-Tank Company
51. Signal Company
160. Signal Company
83. Pioneer Company
The German forces on the island were composed by the 22nd Infantry Division and the Fortress Brigade "Kreta". The German Commander was General Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller (a.k.a. "The Butcher of Crete" for his brutality) based at Chania. The activity of the local resistance groups on the island was coordinated by the British SOE (Special Operations Executive). General Carta did not wish to collaborate with the Germans in case of an Italian surrender and in early 1943 he tried to contact the SOE agents. A member of his staff eventually came in contact with SOE Major Patrick Leigh Fermor and there was an agreement for common action with the Italians who would choose to fight.
After the official announcement of the Armistice between Italy and the Allies (September 8) General Carta ordered his units to stay calm and maintain their positions. However, many units fled to the mountains in order to avoid being captured by the Germans. Most of these men joined the forces of the Cretan partisans, assisted by the SOE agents as agreed. The rest of the "Sienna" Division was disarmed and surrendered to the Germans after an agreement with General Müller. On September 16, Carta fled to the mountains and a few days later he was smuggled to Egypt by Major Leigh Fermor. On September 18, the group of Blackshirts (141. CCNN Legion) attached to the "Sienna" Division joined the German forces after request of its Commander (Major Cassini).
In October, aprox. 7700 Italians were evacuated from Crete (2398 according other sources). From October 1943 to March 1944, aprox. 5600 Italian Military Internees from Crete were involved in shipwrecks during their transfer to the Greek mainland. The ships lost were the Sinfra, the Petrella and the Sifnos. The total loss of life in these maritime disasters was aprox. 4500 men.
Italian Order of Battle: An organizational history of the Italian Army in World War II (Vol.III) - George F. Nafziger
I MILITARI ITALIANI INTERNATI NEI CAMPI DI CONCENTRAMENTO DEL TERZO REICH 1943-1945: TRADITI, DISPREZZATI, DIMENTICATI - Gehrard Schreiber [Uff.Storico SME, Roma, 1992]
AGAIO 1943 - Manos Mastorakos [Doureios Ippos, Athens, 2004, ISBN 960883550]