I’m reading John Keegan’s The Second World War right now. Pretty good book, not too dense, just about right for an overview, even has some good photos interspersed with the text and maps. One line really cracked me up.

Keegan was talking about the invasion of Crete in May of 1941. Before Crete, the Germans were basically kicking everyone’s ass. Crete was their first big screw-up. Unless you want to count the failure to crush the Allies at Dunkirk. Or the Battle of Britain. Put it this way, it was the first time their army looked less than invincible, at least initially. It started as a disastrous airborne expedition, in large part because the Allies knew it was coming and the key to airborne operations is surprise. The Germans eventually won in Crete but at the high cost of a large number of their best airborne troops. It was a serious lesson in the limitations of airborne operations that the Allies chose to ignore when they launched 1944’s Operation Market Garden, the infamous bridge too far.

Anyway, at one point the last two companies of German paratroopers floated down on top of an infantry battalion of New Zealand troops, Maoris. A bit earlier, Keegan mentions that no less a personage than Rommel declared New Zealand troops the best soldiers he faced in World War II. According to Keegan, Rommel called them resilient, hardy and self-confident to the point that “they had little opinion of any soldiers other than themselves.” I imagine these Maoris were all that and then some. So these German paratroopers picked the wrong place to land. The Maoris slaughtered them.

Granted, none of that sounds very funny. But the funny part is what one of the New Zealand battalion’s officers said afterward. He said of the slaughter of the Germans as they were falling into their lines, “Not cricket, I know. But there it is.”