Saturday, October 29, 2011

The dispositions late on 16 April 1941

On the left, the 5th Panzer Division, with a detachment from the 9th Panzer Division were pushing down towards the Aliakmon River and then south towards the Pinios. The 1st Armoured Brigade was withdrawing ahead of them, and was not south of the Aliakmon River. To their right, the main body of the 9th Panzer Division was attacking the 4th New Zealand Brigade at Servia. Near the coast, to their right, the 2nd Panzer Division was attacking the 5th New Zealand Brigade. Further south, right on the coast, the 6th Mountain Division, with a portion of the 2nd Panzer Division, was attacking the 21st Battalion near Rapsani. The NZ Division HQ and the ANZAC Corps HQ were still at Elasson,. Far to the southwest, Savige Force was still holding Kalabaka. The 6th Australian Division HQ was far to the southeast, at Larisa. This was to be a difficult period in the face of attack by armoured forces and experienced mountain troops. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Elaborate plans were made to withdraw to Thermopylae

Generals Mackay and Freyberg were to closely coordinate the withdrawal from the north to Thermopylae. At the beginning, the 5th NZ Brigade was on the north slope of Mount Olympus. This was some twenty miles from where "Allen Force" was to move toT the south bank of the Pinios. The 4th NZ Brigade was to leave the Servia Pass the same night (17/18 April 1941) that the 5th NZ Brigade was to leave Olympus. The 6th NZ Brfgade was to leave Elasson in the night of 18/19 April. Savige and Allen, and the 1st Armoured Brigade all had to be moved south in the process of withdrawing. One concern was that some of the trails might provide a route to German mountain troops to outflank them. As early as the night of 15/16 April, the New Zealanders broke up a German attack and destroyed two tanks and 14 other vehicles. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 24, 2011

17 April 1941: a scratch brigade is formed

Brigadier Allen was put in charge of a scratch brigade formed of two of his battalions (the 2/2nd and 2/3rd) and the 21st New Zealand Battalion. They were to move to the Pinios Gorge in an attempt to block the advancing Germans. He had a mixed force of infantry, along with most of a field artillery regiment, some anti-tank guns, and carriers. He was to defend Larisa from the east. Allen's 2/1st Battalion was put under the command of the division commander at Olympus. The plan was still to withdraw to Thermopylae, the site of the famous battle in antiquity. General Mackay would have responsibility for protecting the flanks of Freyberg's NZ division. The commanders could only hope that the Germans could be delayed long enough for their withdrawal plans to be executed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The situation turns increasingly desperate

Anthony Eden had a lot to answer for over the Greek debacle. Serious military men, such as General Blamey, could see before the commitment was made that going into Greece with a threat of an impending German intervention would be a serious mistake. At least Anthony Eden was a politician. Winston Churchill had aspirations to military expertise, so he had no excuse for being a part to what would be an obvious opportunity for a military disaster.

Anthony Eden had portrayed the British operation to be in g force than was available in order to gain the acquiescence. The Greeks, on the other hand, were in a much worse condition than was understood. Not only were their troops poorly equipped, but their leadership was suspect. In particular, General Tsolakoglou was not only incompetent, he proved to be a traitor, as well. He abandoned his troops in the Western Macedonia Army, and then signed an armistice with the Germans when given the opportunity. The situation became so intense, than when confronted with a possible British withdrawal, the Greek prime minister committed suicide on 18 April 1941.

Diggers and Greeks

We cannot leave Greece in the lurch

Monday, October 17, 2011

A critical situation from 16 April 1941 in Greece

The ANZAC corps had expected to be able to hold the Olympus passes against the German advance, but by 16 April 1941, they realized that the Germans were a threat to the right flank. Lt-Colonel Macky, commander of the 21st NZ Battalion reported an attack being pressed by 150 German tanks at the Platamon tunnel. On the 15th, they had fought off an attack by motorcycle troops. Late in the day on 15 April, a German armoured regiment had moved into position. The Germans actually had assembled an all-arms force and planned to attack the New Zealanders in the morning on 16 April. By 9am, Col. Macky ordered a withdrawal. General Blamey had sent his artillery commander, Brigadier Clowes, forward to the 21st NZ Battalion with authority to order whatever he thought necessary. When they had retreated to the gorge mouth, they had to cross by ferry. They had brought across a large flock of sheep and two shepherdesses before sinking the ferry. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The British are treated to a view of the worst of the Greek army

By late on 15 April 1941, the Greek general Tsolakoglou's army was disintegrating. The remnants were reduced to two divisions near Grevena. The other units had disintegrated and the men from the units were scattered along the roads in Brigadier Savige's force. Tsolakoglou had owed his appointment to his family connections, and he was both incompetent and had the aura of corruption. During the period of 13 to 15 April, the German staff had believed that the three ANZAC divisions and the 2nd Armoured Division units were in retreat. That was not actually true at the beginning of the period. During 15 and 16 April, the British forces were greatly outnumbered and were going to be outflanked unless some move was made. They were still holding, though. During 16 and 17 April, the situation was rapidly deteriorating. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Savige Force and the 1st Armoured Brigade

On 14 April 1941, General Wilson ordered the 1st Armoured Brigade to move to Kalabaka and to join Savige Force. There was concern that the Germans might be close by, but a 4th Hussars patrol found that the Germans were on the other side of the Aliakmon River at this point. On 15 April, General Wilson informed Brigadier Savige that some 3000 Greek troops would be arriving in his area. All they did was to clutter the roads and make life more difficult for the Australians and 1st Armoured Brigade. The British liaison officer, Lt-Colonel Barter informed Brigadier Savige that the Greek commander was politically well-connected and they just couldn't move his troops out of the area. Brigadier Savige bitterly remembered the events that followed. By this time, the Greeks were living in a fantasy world where they considered that they were stubbornly resisting, not disintegrating, which was the reality. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The 19th Brigade's withdrawal went poorly

Again, there was difficulty in communicating with all the companies in the 19th Australian Brigade to inform them of the order to withdraw on 14 April 1941. They had assumed that they would be able to take their Bren carriers with them. They found to their dismay that the bridge could not hold them and the one raft they had was unequal to the task and overturned. They were forced to destroy the carriers as best as they could. One company became separated, but they were reduced to sixty men, so they were able to transport them across the river using a small boat. While all this was happening, the Germans were pressing the Greeks defending the mountain passes to the north. The armoured brigade was caught in the mess. They attempted to withdraw along congested roads. In the process, the 3rd RTR had seven tanks break down. This was Robert Crisp's unit and he was present. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Germans press forward against the 19th New Zealand Battalion

The Germans continued to press forward late on 14 April 1941. During the night of 14/15 April, Major Sampson, commander of the 19th NZ Battalion, realized that his unit was almost surrounded by the advancing Germans. In the dark, he had his men pull back, further up the slope. He had two platoons stage an attack that drove back some Germans that had advanced near to Prosilion. Early on 15 April, General Blamey ordered General Mackay to pull the 19th Australian Brigade across the Aliakmon. The day was already late, with little light left. Communications were poor and there was no bridge across the river. The engineers made an amazing achievement, in that in a few hours they had built a wooden bridge over the Aliakmon, so that the 19th Brigade could cross at 9pm. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History,

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