Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The withdrawal in Greece from 17 April 1941

 By 6pm on 17 April, the withdrawal "was well underway". There was a rearguard in place consisting of two infantry companies along with a troop og guns. The New Zealand 5th Brigade were on the main road, just to Pharsala. At Pharsala, they moved to the eastern road. 

The Servia Pass had no infantry fighting on 17 April. The only fighting was artillery firing periodically. The New Zealand guns were pulled out "later in the afternoon". The New Zealand infantry were loaded into trucks after 8pm. 

A famous New Zealand officer, Howard Kippenberger, was put in charge of demolition. He was to leave the pass by "3am on 18 April". The 19th New Zealand Battalion was out of there "before midnight". Their vehicles were traveling dispersed and were moving quite fast to the south. The New Zealand 18th Battalion was having problems. By 3am, two of their companies had not yet reached where Kippenberger was waiting to start demolition. One of the two only arrived right before 4am while the second company arrived soon afterward. At that point, Lt-Col. Kippenberger ordered the senior engineer to "demolish the road". Once the demolition had started, there were "cries" from New Zealand troops "on the other side". The engineers waited for the stragglers to arrive. Kippenberger only ordered the "final  demolition" at 6am. 

After the demolitions, the 6th Brigade Group now covered the road from Elasson. You now had Savige Force near Kalabaka. Savige Force was visited by Liaison officers four times. As the historia said, the bridge had been destroyed twice and repaired twice. After the Greek commander, General Papagosk thought the British should leave. When Churchill heard that, he thought that they had to leave. 

General Wavell agreed that an evacuation was inevitable, but thought that Wilson should not rush the withdrawal. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria", by Gavin Long.

 Men from the 2/2nd Battalion moved along the earth road to travel through the Gorge. They moved past the New Zealand posts. They expected that they would not see any Germans in their travels. They believed that the Germans were still "far away". When the Australians had reached a railroad tunnel, they drew fire from some 150 yards from "either side of the tunnel". Some men were wounded by the firing. The Australians found cover and returned fire. A New Zealand platoon also opened fire on the Germans. 

The firefight continued for some two hours. At dusk, the Australian leaders brought their men out. Men from the New Zealand battalion brought their men out and carried out two wounded Australians. Blamey had issued orders to the New Zealanders to withdraw following the "Larisa-Volos road". The main road between Larisa and Lamia was left for Mackay to use.  It turns out that the road "to Volos" was just a "dirt track". The road led over flat county. There had been enough rain that road was muddy. 

Sometime on 17 April, General Freyberg wrote to General Blamey, informing Blamey of an arrangement Freyberg had made with General Mckay to let the New Zealanders make use of the road that had been allocated to the Australians. The letter was slow to reach Blamey. 

Freyberg had ordered the 5th New Zealand Brigade to mount their vehicles. That put two battalions on the "top of the pass" some three miles south of "Ayios Dimitrios". A third battalion was sitting at Kokkinoplos. 

It turned out that by blowing craters in the road, the Germans were so delayed that they were not seen until 6pm. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Germans in sight from the afternoon of 17 April 1941

 Men and pack animals were seen up high "above Gonnos". They observed the Germans firing Very lights when German aircraft flew over the area. New Zealand troops were able to see that the Very lights were fired from "high ground to the east". Later, the men could see men leading mules "entering Gonnos".

When it was dark, one platoon with a punt set across to check out Gonnos and to the east "at Tempe". They could see Germans in Gonnos while there were men with animals moving "west to Elia". At about 11pm, Germans attacked men watching the ferry. In the fight, a German was killed and one Australian was wounded.

On the right, one Australian platoon moved along the earth road on their way through the Gorge. They passed the New Zealand positions. They believed that the Germans were not yet close. When they were near the railroad tunnel, they drew fire from Germans. It turned out to be German infantry with a tank. They had reached the tunnel, which had been blocked. The men fought for about two hours. At dusk, the Australians moved out. Soldiers from the 21st New Zealand Battalion were able to bring out two "wounded Australians". 

General Blamey had ordered the New Zealand Division to "withdraw along the Larisa-Volos" road. General Mackay was given the "main road between Larisa and Lamia". It was seen that the road to Volos was poor, just a "dirt track". This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

From the afternoon of 17 April 1941

 Brigadier Allen had just arrived at 1pm at the critical area. The 2/2nd Battalion had been without their digging tools until sometime in the morning. The tools allowed the men to dig "weapon pits". They found that there were stone walls that were low, but were suitable for use in the defences. The battalion had brought Italian "signal wire" with them from Libya. The wire allowed communications to be established. 

The battalion did not have any barbed wire or anti-tank mines. The mines would have been especially useful. The men of the 2nd Field Company set up naval depth charges in the pass, in culverts, ready to  be blown once the men had moved out. 

Brigadier Allen had three battalions. The 2/3rd Battalion reached the road just to the south of the "Servia Pass". This had been at around midnight on 16-17 April. The men were marched for two more hours before they reached the vehicles that were waiting for them. They drove to Pinios by way of Larisa. 

One of the companies was used to patrol roads that the enemy might use. They were particularly worried about the Germans making a flanking move. They expected that the enemy might come from the "east and north east". The battalion had some under strength companies due to truck drivers making wrong turns while driving towards Larisa. 

Brigadier Allen was concerned about the left. He had the 2/3rd Battalion extend the left even further. One company was put on high ground do that they could see across the river. Allen had already had Chilton put a company on high ground to the west of the road. 

The other two companies from the 2/3rd were being held as a reserve. "They were about four miles to the south of the 2/2nd Battalion position."

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Plan for the day on 17 April 1941

 The Australian priority was to stop German tanks from exiting "the defile". He ordered a crater be made in the road. He also had the New Zealand battalion positioned east of Tempe. They would cover the exit from "the defile". The Australian battalion was put in position to "protect the left flank". They would be watching for an infantry attack across the river. 

The truth was that if the New Zealand battalion were bypassed, the German tanks would "fan out", causing the 2/2nd Battalion to be in trouble. To prepare for such an event, the New Zealand 21st Battalion was spread out so that they had a platoon "at the road block". One company would be sitting a mile "to the west" with an anti-tank gun. One company would be sitting high up to be able to see, while two companies with anti-tank guns would be "en echelon" "at the road to Tempe". A flank group would be on the slope. 

Companies belonging to Chiltion were put "at the western exit" were spread out. They would be watching the river flats, the road, and the railway. The right-most company had an anti-tank gun and was sitting on the road. They also were on the "river flats". Another company was at Evangelismos. A third company was put at the "southern edge of the village". One company supplied a platoon was put on the hill "above Ambelakia". It was able to look down on the Pinios. 

Brigadier Allen arrived at about 1pm. He suggested that Chilton stretch out and put a rifle company high up to be able to look down on the river. Carriers were set to "a 3,000 yard gap. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, August 30, 2021

A controlled retirement from 17 April 1941

 A couple battalions from the 17th Australian Brigade were being moved by train on the way from Athens to Thessaly. The train crew that were carrying the 2/6th Battalion had stopped because the crew were afraid of air attack. The train had stopped for some nine hours in the night during 14 and 15 April. The 2/7th had their train attacked and the crew left them stranded. Fortunately, there were Australians with rail experience along. The men set up one engine as a decoy. They took another engine and made a train to carry the 2/7th Battalion to Domokos.

The men actually holding the defensive line on 17 April were able to execute a withdrawal by stages. They occupied carefully chosen postions. As they moved, they blew bridges and cratered the roads. There was artillery holding the Servia and Katerini Passes. As we had mentioned, the men climbed from the foot  of the road to the top at the passes and put craters in the road to slow the German advance. 

The Germans were forced to cautiously advance, stopping to repair the road as they went forward. The Germans were not able to use their tanks so they had to rely upon their artillery. 

There was action at the Pinios Gorge on 17 April. The three colonels there were busy preparing defenses. Colonel Chilton, a relatively young Colonel, had deployed their force in the defenses. Macky had agreed to Chilton's plan for the New Zealand force. The Pinios Gorge extended for some five miles. The gorge was quite narrow and had steep walls. The river in the gorge was narrow and the railroad ran along the north side. 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Continued developments on 17 April 1941

 By 16 April, General Wavell mentioned a "further withdrawal", which was thought to mean evacuating from Greece. As we had mentioned, there was rain for much of 17 April. As vehicles moved along the road to withdraw, there were vehicles with supplies trying to move the other direction on the road.

There were a very few Greek vehicles carrying refugees, moving with the dominant traffic flow. At the northern end of Larisa, there was a bridge that crossed the Pinios. The bridge was the center for a circle of bomb craters, although the bridge had so far escapes damage.

There had been a British canteen at Larisa, although it had been abandoned. Retreating British and ANZAC soldiers had taken cases of beer from the canteen. Many beer-drinkers had fallen asleep down the road. 

One thing that happened was that the defenders of the Servia and Katerini passes had moved up to the top of the passes, making the road impassable with craters along the way. 

The three colonels in the Pinios Gorge were able to prepare defences. Chilton had put the force in place. Macky agreed with the arrangements and the plan for siting the one New Zealand battalion. 

The Pinios Gorge had a length of five miles. The gorge sides were very steep. The Pinios River lay in the gorge and flowed fast. 

A railway lay on the north side of the river. The rail line crossed the river at the west end, where it turned towards Larisa. 

The Australian officer was concerned about German tanks so he had a crater blown in the road. He had the New Zealand battalion positioned to cover the crater. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The situation as of 17 April 1941

 Brigadier Savige finally received Blamey's written order by 12:30pm on 17 April. Somewhat later, Savige told Blamey that the armored brigade was already moving out. 

The armored brigade had serious problems with worn-out tanks and "defective tracks". The brigade had heavy losses due to being ordered to withdraw "over a rough mountain road rather than the main road. That was "Group W's" fault. It had been on 16 April that Wilson had told General Papagos that they would withdraw by way of Thermopylae.

The Greeks were in fact ready to give up the fight. The only viable British option was to withdraw from Greece. 

Most of Thessaly had rain on 17 April, as there had been on 16 April. 

The vehicles on the road were somewhat protected by the low clouds. At times the sky cleared and that allowed German aircraft to attack the vehicles on the roads.

Increasingly, Greek soldiers wandered along the roads. There was some signs of Greek refugees traveling in vehicles often towed by tractors. By now, Larisa lay in ruins. The damage was apparently the result of earthquakes and German air attacks.

Traffic on the roads was now bogged down. By now, the railroads were now disorganized at least partly the result of a fear of air attacks. 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

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