Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The 17th Australian Brigade arrives

Brigadier Savige, brigade commander of the 17th Australian Brigade, arrived at General Blamey's headquarters on 13 April 1941. His three battalions and the third battalion of the 19th Brigade, were still in Athens. For better or worse, General Wilson was at Blamey's headquarters when Brigadier Savige arrived. He was immediately sent off to scout the road from Larisa and the road from Kalabaka and Grevena. That latter road was the route for the 1st Armoured Brigade and the Western Macedonian Army to use for their withdrawal. They called Brigadier Savige back to Blamey's headquarters the next day and wanted him to take the newly arrived 17th Brigade to Kalabaka. While they talked, they found out that the Germans had broken through and so they wanted the 17th Brigade to position themselves to defend the road to Grevena and the road to Pindus. We can guess at this point that the situation near the breaking point. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 29, 2011

More about the situation on 13 April 1941

The Australian Official History argues that General Wilson misunderstood enough about the Greek army that he assumed that the Central Macedonian Army failed in its role during the withdrawal. They admit that the Greek 12th and 20th Divisions were disorganized and had become incapable of further fighting. They argue, however, that Wilson ignored the potential of ragged Greek troops marching on roads with donkeys and farm carts. Wilson became increasingly concerned about being attacked on his right flank, the side away from the sea. Even though the 17th Australian Brigade was just arriving at the Piraeus, General Wilson ordered them to move to his right flank and provide protection. Some of the 17th Brigade had only arrived on 12 April 1941 and were still in Athens. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Greek situation

The Greek armies of the Western Macedonia and Epirus were ordered on 13 April 1941 to withdraw to the line of the Venetikos River. This runs along the western part of the Albanian border to the coast. At the time of the order, they were located in a "deep salient" back to a line that continued the British line. The orders to the Greeks would force them to cross difficult and mountainous terrain so that the Australians could use the roads. Some Greek units were expected to have to march as much as a 100 miles. At the same time, the 1st Armoured Brigade was to move to the east. The roads turned out to be jammed with Greek unit moving south. Already, the Greek units were no longer capable of organized action and were useless, as they were only intent on reaching Athens. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The defenders at Aliakmon, circa 15 Apil 1941

The force defending the Aliakmon River position was mostly comprised of battalions with Australian a few Australian battalions in a aadly depleted state. They belonged to the 19th Australian Brigade. The 4th NZ Brigade headquarters was south of Servia. Further to the southeast were the 6th Australian Division and New Zealand Division headquarters. Communication was complicated by the fact that the Australian radios did not work reliably. Still, General Blamey's corps was largely in place by 15 April 1941 at the Aliakmon line and the Olympus passes. The initial plan was to fight on the Aliakmon line for an extended period of time. That relied on their ability to stop the Germans, which was not a given. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

13 April 1941

While they had left the 1st Armoured Brigade as a rearguard at Sotir on 13 April 1941, the Australians and New Zealanders were securing the south side of the Aliakmon River defences. There was the 4th NZ Brigade and the 16th and 19th Australian Brigades on the river. By 10am, the 1st Armoured Brigade was withdrawing from their positions. The truss bridge across the river was blown by sappers, just before six British 3 ton trucks arrived. They had left a pontoon bridge intact, so the trucks were able to cross the river. The 4th NZ Brigade was positioned in the Servia pass and had been preparing defensive positions. They were supported by three field regiments positioned in the heights. This is based on the account in VOl.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The 16th Brigade's epic retreat

While the New Zealand Division withdrew to the Olympus defences, the 16th Australian Brigade staged an epic retreat over mountainous terrain. They obtained donkeys from tɨg Greek villagers to act as pack animals. After they left their positions at Veria, the engineers set off explosives in the pass to impede the German advance. Since they had too much equipment for the donkeys and themselves to carry, they were forced to destroy much of what they had accumulated. Tents were burned and ammunition was buried. They broke tools and spare gun barrels as best as they could. They burnt things like great coats and blankets and only kept one each per man. Right before they left Veria, there was fresh snow. The 2/3 Battalion moved back to the pass and took position to cover the track. The other battalions started to move back on 11 April 1941 and the rest by 12 April. One battalion, the 2/1 reached Leventes early in the morning on 13 April. From there, they marched to Lavianna and woke a villager to show them how to find the pass to the river. They marched in deep mud for four miles. The men were so tired that they had to stop. Men who were struggling were unloaded with their comrades carrying their possessions. They arrived at the top of the pass at 6am. They could see the Aliakmon River below them. They were met by sappers at the river who ferried them across. They then had to climb up to Velvendos, a village. On their arrival, they estimated that they had traveled 34 miles under difficult conditions. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Withdrawal to the Olympus-Aliakmon line

As General Mackay and the Greeks fought a rearguard action, the Australians and New Zealand Division withdrew on the Aliakmon-Olympus line. The New Zealand Division had made the move as early as 10 April 1941. They left the divisional cavalry forward, with armoured cars and bren carriers and supported by field artillery. They made a fighting withdrawal as they were pressed. They pulled back about ten miles behind an anti-tank ditch. As the Germans brought forward infantry and tanks, the cavalry regiment withdrew to Olympus. As all this occurred, the 16th Australian Brigade had been withdrawing towards Servia. As the terrain was mountainous, they were reduced to using donkeys and had to discard, burn, or otherwise destroy equipment and supplies. They marched towards the Aliakmon under very difficult conditions, with snow and mud. By 6am on 13 April, they were four miles from the Aliakmon. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The attack on Yugoslavia: 12 April 1941

As early as 6 April 1941, the 14th Panzer Division had captured bridges on the way to Belgrade. They were only utilized by the Second Army, starting on 9 April 1941. The ambiguous political situation in Yugoslavia can be gauged by the fact that Zagreb was captured by the Germans, late on 10 April, they were cheered by the populace. The 8th and 14th Panzer Divisions then drove towards Belgrade. Three groups of German units moved into Belgrade from different directions on 12 April. Their main difficulties had been caused by bad roads and blown bridges. They had generally suffered very few casualties, as Yugoslav resistance had collapsed. This points out that British hopes of Yugoslavia as a serious ally were fantasies, only, in Anthony Eden's mind. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The German forces on 12 April 1941 in the Balkans

General Stumme's 40 Corps had two panzer divisions, an infantry division, and one SS motorized division. They had connected with the Italians in Albania and then were ordered to swing south to hit the British forces in the rear. While this operation was in motion, Field Marshal Kleist's panzergruppe was rolling over the remnants of the Yugoslav army in the south. The Germans expected to find the Australians and New Zealanders aligned east-west between Kaerini and Kozani. They thought that the corps headquarters would be at Kozani and made plans accordingly. The Germans had attacked on 11 April at Vevi with units from the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler division. They were supported by armour from the 9th Panzer Division. They planned a further attack on the 12th with three kampfgruppes. There was heavy fighting where the Germans took "English" (presumably Australian) and some Greek prisoners. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The declaration of the ANZAC Corps

Generals Blamey, Mackay, and Freyberg had all fought in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915. Early on 12 April 1941, remembering those days in 1915 when the Australians and New Zealanders had fought together, he declared that from henceforth, the 1st Australian Corps would be known as the ANZAC Corps. This was to celebrate the reunion betweem the Australians and New Zealanders.

At this time, the German plan was to turn the British flank and catch them in the rear with armoured divisions. They had intelligence from Egypt that there were four divisions opposing them. They included the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions and the New Zealand Division, with part of the 2nd Armoured Division. This was certainly the plan, but did not accurately reflect the troops on the ground. The Germans had roared through Yugoslavia, almost unopposed, and then swept towards the British troops. They arrived on 12 April. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

British armour on 13 April 1941 in the rearguard

The Rangers, of the armoured brigade, and the 4th Hussars and 3rd RTR were involved in the rearguard on the morning of 13 April 1941. The 27th NZ MG battalion was on their left. The Germans had pushed into the Rangers, although the Rangers were supported by tanks and artillery fire. They hoped to hold the Germans long enough for the Greek 12th Division to withdraw. The Rangers were still holding in the afternoon and were backed by anti-tank guns. Some thirty German tanks turned the British left flank and were driving towards the armoured brigade headquarters. As night drew on, the remnants of the armoured brigade were forced to withdraw on Grevena. The 1st Armoured Brigade had ceased to exist as a fighting force, although they had inflicted losses on the advancing German armour. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The western Greek armies withdraw: 12 April 1941

General Papagos ordered the two western Greek armies to withdraw on about 12 April 1941. These were the Western Macedonian and the Epirus Armies. They had held an extended salient. By early on 13 April, the Greeks held the three passes to the west and the British rearguard was at Sotir, blocking the road. The 2/4 Australian Battalion was added to the infantry with the armoured brigade. By this time, they only had two companies. They were deployed next to the Rangers. They had most of the 3rd RTR and one squadron of the Hussars. They had the 2nd RHA, an anti-tank battery, and some New Zealand machine gunners. In the morning, the men could see the enemy troops and opened fire. They inadvertently killed some of their own men who had been taken prisoner during the night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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