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.

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