Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Servia Pass from 14 April 1941

The 4th New Zealand Brigade had been holding the Servia Pass. From 14 April 1941, they came under increasing air attack from German divebombers. The brigade was positioned high above the river, looking down steep mountain slopes and then down an escarpment. During the afternoon, the men could see the advancing German troops headed their direction. The Ju-87's were equipped with the noisemaker that was intended to shake the morale of their victims. They proved to be disquieting to the New Zealanders who were having their first taste of this sort of attack. As the sun set on 14 April, the German artillery started firing ranging rounds towards the New Zealanders. By early on 15 April is when they noticed the Germans pretending to be retreating Greek troops and who were trying to infiltrate the New Zealand lines. That was when they had opened up with machine gun fire and had decimated the Germans. They killed, wounded, or captured some 400 men in the process. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The situation deteriorates further in Greece

As events progressed on 14, 15, and 16 April 1941, the Germans were pressing forward. The mountainous terrain had made even communication difficult. One battalion of the 16th Australian Brigade found on 16 April 1941, that they should have withdrawn the night before. No one had been able to find them earlier, so that was not possible. By 14 April, General Wilson had ordered a withdrawal from the Aliakmon line. The Germans were using infiltration tactics to penetrate the New Zealand and Australian lines. They pretended to be retreating Greek troops to gain entrance to the positions. The New Zealanders recognized what was happening and opened fire with machine guns, doing dreadful execution on the Germans. They then rounded up many prisoners, some of them being Austrians. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

New Zealanders in action

The situation on the night of 13-15 April 1941 was that the New Zealand troops on the left could hear the Germans advancing towards them. The next day saw the Germans moving past the demolitions and probing the New Zealand positions. The Germans only started replying to artillery in the late afternoon on 15 April. The 16th Australian Brigade, which was to position themselves between two New Zealand brigades only crossed the Aliakmon on the night of 13 April. The Australian battalions became separated and were faced with mountainous terrain. On the morning of 15 April, the troops of the 2/3rd Battalion that they had been cut off by German troops during the night. They eventually all got themselves into what they believed were their intended positions. When the decision was made to withdraw to Thermopylae, the commanders wondered how they could let the 16th Australian Brigade know. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Greek army 13 and 14 April 1941

On 13 April 1941, the Greeks were hold several passes and were staging an orderly withdrawal. At noon on 14 April, the 20th Division was pushed out of the Klisoura Pass. The remnants of the 20th Division were ordered south to the Grevena road. Other Greek divisions were able able to stage an orderly withdrawal into other positions to the south. By 14 April, German units had reached the Aliakmon line where the ANZAC Corps was deployed. Demolitions were started, but the troops in Greece lacked the equipment necessary for adequate demolition in mountainous terrain. The New Zealand brigades had seen German units approaching by late afternoon on 14 April. During the night, the New Zealanders could see the Germans bringing troops forward for use in the morning. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The move back to Thermopylae

The plan for the retreat was to put the New Zealand Division on the east of Thermopylae and the 6th Australian Division to the southwest. They would occupy the Bralios Pass. The move would be made by vehicle, so that the men would not have to march the whole way. As long ago as 13 April 1941, Admiral Cunningham was told of the intent to evacuate Greece. General Wavell's staff was planning for the embarkation of the forces. At this point, the Germans caught the small British air contingent on the ground and destroyed ten Blenheims. What was left of the RAF in Greece was withdrawn to Athens, too far away to support the troops. The Germans mounted air attacks in increasing intensity from this time onward. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The next phase of withdrawal: from 16 April 1941

General Freyberg, the commander of the New Zealand Division, would command the next phase of withdrawal in Greece starting on 16 April 1941. The 5th NZ Brigade Group would be the first, withdrawing from the Olympus Pass. The 4th NZ Brigade would move out of Servia at the same time, starting overnight on 17 to 18 April 1941. Brigadier Savige's force was exposed, far out on the left. He would also withdraw his troops on that same night. The rearguard would also withdraw on the following night. That would leave the 1st Armoured Brigade to move across the plain during the day on 19 April. The New Zealand Division would move south along the coast road, while the armoured brigade and 6th Australian Division would move on the main highway through Pharsala. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

General Blamey's withdrawal plan: 15 April 1941

The first move in the withdrawal of General Blamey's corps would be made by the 6th NZ Brigade. They would from the Olympus Pass to a position astride two roads between Tirnavos and Elasson. They would be supported by an Australian field regiment. The 19th Australian Brigade would withdraw from north of the Aliakmon River to a Damakos, where they would come under the command of Brigadier Lee. The 16th Australian Brigade would move to a road at Zarkos. They would be supported by a field regiment. General Blamey hoped to have all the 6th Australian Division "behind the passes" by the morning of 16 April 1941. By then, a second withdrawal would begin, commanded by General Freyberg. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The withdrawal to Thermopylae

After the events of 13 April 1941, General Wilson and General Blamey were in agreement to withdraw to Thermopylae. A new feature of the campaign were the frequent German air attacks. They entailed dive bombing and strafing. The British had relied upon their small air strength for reconnaissance up to then. The Australians and New Zealanders would keep the roads for themselves to the exclusion of Greek forces. This was a drastic measure for them to take with their allies, the Greeks. The actual orders for withdrawal were only issued early on 15 April 1941. General Blamey issued detailed orders for the withdrawal early in the evening of that day. He planned a quick move and to have the men start before the end of the day. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Brigadier Savige's orders on 14 April 1941

Brigadier Savige was ordered to hold the road junction of the Pindus and Grevena roads. He only received the signed orders very late on 14 April 1941. He was also to support the British armoured brigade. To accomplish his mission, he was given what we now call a combined arms force consisting of four infantry battalions, seven tanks from Robert Crisp's unit, the 3rd RTR, two troops of medium guns, one NZ field artillery battery, one Australian anti-tank battery, one MG company, a field company, and an ambulance unit. Brigadier Savige did not actually see his orders until early the next morning. When General Blamey heard that the Greeks had lost Klisoura pass, Generals Wilson and Blamey had the sense that the Greek army was at the point of collapse. This is baed on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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