Tuesday, January 31, 2012

General Mackay on 19 April 1941

General Mackay wanted to see what Brigadier Lee's force was enduring, so he spent time with the rearguard at Domokos from about 7:30am until 4pm on 19 April 1941. General Mackay understood what Rommel also understood: the importance of leading from the front lines. On 18 April, Brigadier Lee had four infantry battalions, engineers, and additional troops. At that point, he thought that there was little danger of being pressed by the Germans until after the Australian and New Zealand divisions had passed through Lamia. Because of that, he had sent one brigade of two battalions back to Thermopylae. General Mackay had approved the move early on 19 April. That was when the men discovered a train of valuable fuel and explosives two miles away. The Victorian railway men were determined to take the train to Athens. However, they were bombed by German aircraft and caused and explosion that destroyed the train. Miraculously, the Australian railwaymen survived. This is based on the account in Vol.II of hte Australian Official History.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On 20 April 1941, the last 15 Hurricanes in Greece took off and intercepted a German attacking force consisting of 100 divebombers and fighters. The British had 22 certain kills and 8 more probables. The British losses were five Hurricanes. During the night, General Wavell visited General Blamey's ANZAC Corps headquarters and ordered him to withdraw as soon as possible. The troops needed to reach the embarkation beaches on 24 April to be evacuated that night. The ANZAC Corps were mostly on the road with rearguard detachments protecting the retreat. The column on the road from Larisa to Lamia was attacked from the air in the morning. The senior officers were involved in the retreat and made sure that the men saw them along the roads. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 23, 2012

19 April 1941

The commanders in London had decided to withdraw the force in Greece. The Greek government actually agreed that would be the best thing to do. The only dissenters were the commander in Greece. General Wavell had arrived in Athens on 19 April 1941 to meet with General Wilson and other commanders. General Wilson was overoptimistic in thinking that the troops could hold the Thermopylae line for an extended period. They met with the Greek king and General Papagos, and General Papagos suggested that the Greek army was in dire straights. They had a message from Churchill that he did not want the force to withdraw without Greek concurrence. Independently, the rogue Greek army commander met with the Germans to surrender. The die was cast and the British would have done best by heading for a withdrawal. This is based on Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The retreat on 18 April 1941

A retreating column of vehicles stretched some seventy miles during the day on 18 April 1941. This was happening on a day when the Germans dominated the air and were frequently present dropping bombs. The surprising thing was that the German bombing was not very effective. There were a few successes, such as the exploding ammunition truck that destroyed a bridge. The Generals Freyberg and Mackay were present, setting an example for the troops, ignoring the German air attacks. Both men had been inspiring leaders in the Great War and were demonstrating those same qualities in the second war. The results of 18 April lifted the mens' spirits and gave them a new resolve to continue the withdrawal from Greece in the face of German air superiority, which for their sakes, was largely and inexplicably ineffective. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The 21st New Zealand Battalion at the Pinios Gorge

There is a good article about the 21st New Zealand Battalion in Greece in the Sunday Star Times newspaper (online). 21 Battalion had arrived in Greece in late March 1941. They arrived under German air attack that had set a nearby ammunition ship afire. The New Zealanders had put the fire out and saved the ship and themselves. From there, they were sent forward to Platamon. They were attacked by two German armoured divisions on 15 April 1941. The Germans attacked and broke the New Zealand line on 16 April, causing them to retreat after a desperate battle that lasted for some 36 hours. From there, they pulled back to the Pinios Gorge, where they defended the western end of the gorge. They were supported first by the 2/2 Australian Battalion and subsequently, by the 2/3 Battalion. They had destroyed the railroad bridge and blocked the tunnel. The New Zealanders had four anti-tank guns (2pdr) and two mortars that were inoperable by the time of the action at the Pinios Gorge. The Germans attacked starting at 5pm on 17 April and then by the morning of 18 April mounted a larger attack. They had gotten tanks across the river, by fording almost turret high water. The 21st Battalion was supported by Australian artillery, and together they stopped the initial attack. The Germans, with tanks, finally broke A company at about 4:30pm on 18 April. They were forced to retreat at that point. The commander, Colonel Macky, was treated shabbily, as he was relieved of his command and sent home after the fight. General Freyberg tried to apologize, much later, but Macky would not see him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

18 April 1941 involving Larisa

The British commanders spent the day of 18 April 1941 in a state of anxiety. They feared that one or both of the rearguards might be pushed past Larisa before the retreating columns could safely pass. The other concern was that German bombers might inflict heavy casualties on the forces on the roads. At 9:30am, a truck laden with explosives was hit by a bomb and exploded. The explosion blew a large crater in the road. Brigadier Steele, himself, the ANZAC Corps Chief Engineer was on the spot to personally supervise the repairs. A knocked out bulldozer made matters worse. They not only had to repair the crater but to create a detour. At 2pm, Brigadier Rowell had gone to see Mackay and Freiberg to see if they might postpone the withdrawal. The situation was so tenuous that it was not possible, but by then, the columns were able to continue on the detour and traffic moved forward. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 09, 2012

More on German movements 18/19 April 1941

A German mountain company cut the road between Allen's force and Larisa. They were fighting Australians who were attempting to move down the road to Larisa. The Australians were in trucks and carriers, without supporting arms. Late in the evening on 18 April 1941, the Germans captured a convoy of trucks and knocked out a carrier. Units of the 2nd Panzer Division joined the company and moved into Larisa on the morning of 19 April. At the same time, there was a battle at the Pinios Gorge while several armoured groups moved on Larisa. On the morning of 18 April, there was a large convoy of trucks moving south from Larisa. These seem to have been mainly Australians. The sky was clear and they fully expected to be bombed from the air. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Friday, January 06, 2012

German movements from the 16th to 17th April 1941

When the attack on Servia failed, Stumme's corps was sent west towards Grevena while Boehme's corps moved around the east side of Mount Olympus. They left a weak force facing Servia. Stumme's corps consisted of the 5th and 9th Panzer Division, the Leibstandarte Adolph Hitler, at this stage of the war, a regiment-sized unit, and the73rd Division. Boehme's corps apparently consisted of the 5th and 6th Mountain Divisions, the 2nd Panzer Division, and the 72nd Division. The 2nd Panzer Division divided into two battle groups. One went towards the Olympus Pass while the other attacked the 21st New Zealand Battalion at Platamon. The group advancing on the Pinios Gorge was augmented to include 150 tanks and more infantry and artillery. They reached the Pinios Gorge on 17 April, early in the day. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Savige's force on 18 April 1941

Brigadier Savige had put Lt-Colonel King in charge of a rear-guard located about five miles east of Kalabaka King commanded a small combined arms force, equipped with tanks, artillery, machine guns, and infantry. This was an Australian force. The 2/11th Battalion were moving towards Zarkos at dawn and arrived at 10am. By 11am, the engineers were blowing up sections of the road. Part of Savige's men crossed the Pinios by bridge, but the bridge was bombed. The bombs detonated the prepared explosives and destroyed the bridge. Vehicles were forced to detour a long ways to Tirnavos to cross the river. One bridge had not been prepared for demolition and still stood. An elite demolition party, led by Warrent-Officer went back and blew the bridge. By midnight, they had crossed the river and rejoined the rear guard. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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