Monday, February 27, 2012

The gunners on 21-22 April 1941

At the Brallos pass on 21 April 1941, Brigadier Herring, the 6th Australian Division artillery commander was on the scene and directing the placement of field guns. They also had an Italian Breda 20mm AA gun with the field guns to provide cover. By 6pm, they could see the first Germans leaving Lamia, heading south towards the guns. At 10,900 yards, the guns opened fire and hit the leading vehicle. The rest of the Germans turned around and drove back into Lamia. From the heights, the gunners could see a large number of vehicles descending and driving into Lamia in the dark. Early on 22 April, four large German guns, probably medium guns, opened fire on the Australians from beyond the range that they could reach. More German vehicles headed south on the road, and were fired upon by the field guns. As the field guns fired, the medium guns returned fire,, becoming increasingly accurate. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

After Wavell's visit

General Wavell's visit where he ordered a withdrawal from Greece greatly shook up the command. The commanders had been thinking in terms of a last ditch defence and then surrender. Wavell told them that the men should not surrender, but if they were cut off, they should try and reach the islands, where they would be rescued later. Embarkations would take place at designated beaches. They would try and bring out guns, if possible. If they had to be abandoned, they would be stripped of breach blocks and sights. The men would travel light, with no packs. They would be taken off the beaches on three nights: 24/25, 25/26, and 26/27 April. They would be taken off in lighters, early landing craft, as we would call them now. As the preliminary moves took place, the artillery fire between British and Germans along the whole front became much more intense. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Decision to Withdraw from Greece

General Mackay has said later that he expected to stand in position for another two weeks and then be beaten by greater force. That is what he was apparently thinking late on 20 April 1941. Brigadier Vasey, commanding the 19th Brigade, thought the same thing at the time. Out of the blue, General Wavell arrived at the headquarters and ordered the force to withdraw from Greece, contrary to what everyone expected. What had happened was the surrender by General Tsolakoglou. That changed the picture completely, at least from General Wavell's perspective. Wavell was ready to take sympathetic Greeks with them, if they wanted to leave before the German occupation. General Wilson's plan for withdrawal was only issued on 23 April. He had already given verbal instructions, however, to Generals Blamey and Freyberg. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The situation deteriorates: 21 April 1941

The positions that the British and Commonwealth troops were occupying on 21 April 1941 were becoming increasingly untenable. There was concern about German airborne troops landing behind the British lines on the plain of Thebes, news had been received of the Greek Army of Epirus surrender, and it looked like the Germans would be able to flank the position on the left. The British lacked a sufficient force to block the roads from German attack, as the Australians were decimated in part. The Leibstandarte Adolph Hitler Division was was to the west at Yannina, and posed a threat to the British position. The main delay to the German advance was crated roads. The Germans had strong forces, but the state of the roads were keeping them from pressing the British as hard as might be expected. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thermopylae from 19 to 22 April 1941

British troops waited at Thermopylae for the expected German attack. The army commander's headquarters was now at Thebes. ANZAC Corps headquarters would be at Levadia. General Freyberg was to have his headquarters near Longos. General Mackay was ordered to move his headquarters to a position near Ayla Marina. He was unhappy with such a move, as the forward troops defending Brallos would be 20 miles distant. 16th Brigade, now reduced to two "weak battalions" would hold the west side. At sunset on 21 April 1941, the 2/7th Battalion was about four miles forward of Brallos. The 2/6th Battalion was to the west. The 2/5th Battalion returned and was in reserve. The new positions were very weak and really needed divisions, not brigades. Although the New Zealand Division was still relatively intact, the 6th Australian Division had three battalions that greatly reduced in strength. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

A messy withdrawal: 20 April 1941

Allen's force straggled back towards the bulk of the division. The rearguard had finally pulled back after 5pm on 20 April 1941. Colonel Lamb had reached the division headquarters and realized that he had not seen Brigadier Allen since the morning. Men from the 2/2 and 2/3 battalions were straggling back towards the rear in small groups. By later in the day, there were seven officers and 297 men from the 2/2 Battalion near General Blamey's headquarters. Many of the men from the 2/3 Battalion were on trucks that were still on the road. By later on 20 April there were as many as 500 men from the 2/3 Battalion assembled. Some New Zealanders and more men from the 2/2 and 2/3 battalions arrived after having to abandon their vehicles and march towards the division headquarters. We find that Brigadier Allen had driven down a dead-end road, found some sixty men, assigned an officer to command them, and then instructed them to keep marching south. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

20 April 1941, more from the rearguard

In the afternoon of 20 April 1941, the rearguard at the Lamia Pass was being tested by the Germans. There was a rainstorm that enabled the Germans to bring mortars forward and they started firing on the Australians. As the Germans advanced across ground at the foot of the pass, they received accurate fire. Major Guinn decided that they would withdraw when they started to receive artillery fire. He gave the order to withdraw when the Germans opened fire with four light guns. One British tank was hit and had to be left behind. There were two cruiser tanks holding the road while the Australian infantry started to withdraw. One gun covered the engineers while they set off charges to damage the road. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

20 April 1941 the second rearguard

Late on 19 April 1941, the decision had been made to withdraw Brigadier Lee's brigade. Some troubling aspects were that there was a New Zealand brigade that no one knew where it was, not even the brigade commander. Another issue was that Some mistakes were made in the process of doing demolitions. Several anti-tank guns were lost as a result. They saw a vehicle arrive and start repairing demolitions and opened fire on them, not realizing that they were "British" (meaning British, Australian, or New Zealand).

A second rearguard was designated, this time a small detachment. Major Guinn was to command the rearguard and hold the road until the last Australian and New Zealand troops had gone past Lamia. This was on 20 April, and the men became aware of advancing German forces. The rearguard was well-concealed, so they surprised a team of German motorcyclists who were approaching. A small contingent of British tanks were concealed, ready to engage any approaching German tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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