Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Molos bottleneck defense

Three battalions were positioned to defend the Molos bottleneck. The 24th Battalion was positioned on the right. The left was defended by the 25th Battalion, with the 26th Battalion being held in reserve. The three battalions were well-supported by artillery. The most obvious place for a tank attack would be across the dried marshes. These were covered by field guns. The road would be easy to cover. The artillery included one medium regiment, four field regiments, two anti-tank regiments, and a light AA battery. The battle started in the afternoon on 24 April 1941. Some German tanks started across the marsh. They were quickly knocked out by field guns and for now, no more tanks attempted the crossing. At 3pm, the main attack up the road began with tanks and infantry. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The situation in Greece deteriorates from 24 April 1941

The lack of experience of General Wilson's staff continued to play a factor. They were going to send commanders from Greece before their units, as an example of what they were doing wrong. Fortunately, the Australians were able to improvise, as they were forced to do, so that the situation didn't immediately descend into chaos and disaster. Brigadier Allen was essentially functioning as divisional commander for seven battalions of infantry. Fortunately, the able Brigadier Savige was also present, along with a small core of Australian staff officers. They were able to rely upon a cadre of Lt-Colonels to help organize the withdrawal to the beaches and especially the defensive arrangements to keep the German from overrunning the withdrawing troops. By 24 April 1941, the Greek army had surrendered and King George were flown to Crete in a flying boat. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

24 April 1941

On 24 April 1941, General Wilson's staff tried to order General Freyberg to withdraw. You have to think that the staff, and possibly General Wilson, were living in some fantasy world. For one thing, it would have made sense to leave the ANZAC Corps in command of operations and let them control the withdrawal to the beaches. Instead, they sent General Blamey off to Egypt where he was out of the picture. General Freyberg let the staff know that he was involved in a battle with German tanks and he intended to stay and command the New Zealand Division. After that, General Freyberg was free to control the New Zealand Division operations. On 24 April,, the plan was to embark as follows:

Date Athens Megara Navplion Tolos Kalamata
4/24-4/25 5th NZ Br. Corps troops
RAF personnel
4/25-4/26 19th Brigade
Part 1st Ar.Br.

4/26-4/27 6th NZ Br. 4th NZ Br. Base details Base details 16th Br.
Part 1st Ar.Br. 3rd RTR 17th Br.
4th Hussars 4000 Base

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History. We can see that General Wilson and his staff were not really up to the task that they had to perform, as it this stage they were making greater mistakes.

Monday, March 19, 2012

General Blamey was appointed deputy Commander in Chief in the Middle East when he arrived from Greece. The Official History rehashes the situation in early 1941 when General Blamey thought that he should command in Greece, since the force was largely Australian. This was relevant due to the fact that Blamey had been suggested as commander of what became the Eight Army, but was still called the Western Desert force. The Australian Prime Minister had consulted with the CIGS, General Dill, who concurred that General Blamey should become Wavell's deputy. That put General Blamey over General Wilson in the new setup. After shutting down ANZAC Corps, General Wilson had assumed direct control of the withdrawal from Greece. Only on 24 April 1941 did Generals Freyberg and Mackey hear that their troops would embark that night. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Planning for withdrawal from Greece from 23 April 1941

Members of General Blamey's staff arrived in Athens early on 23 April 1941. They searched for a contact with General Wilson's staff to make arrangements for the withdrawal from Greece. The Australians were to provide beach parties at three beaches. Arrangements were made to establish communications with the units involved. During the night of 23/24 April, the 16th and 17th Brigades were able to move to Megara in preparation for the move to the beaches. After issuing orders for the withdrawal in the evening on 23 April, the ANZAC corps was dissolved. General Blamey reported to General Wilson informed them that withdrawal from beaches near Athens could not be done and that the plans had changed. General Blamey was to be flown to Alexandria to meet with Admiral Cunningham on the 24th. General Blamey returned to Mandra before his withdrawal and informed the officers of the changed situation. From the Australian staff, they could not understand why ANZAC corps had been disbanded, because they could have provided more control over the withdrawal. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 12, 2012

April 22 to 24 1941 in Greece

German air attacks on 22 and 23 April 1941 forced the remaining Hurricanes to withdraw to the island of Crete. The attacks on 22 April in the Athens area caused the Hurricanes to fly to Argos. More attacks on 23 April caught 13 Hurricanes on the ground and destroyed them. It was after this incident that Air Vice-Marshal d'Albiac ordered the withdrawal to Crete. It was about this time that Lt-Colonel King, the 2/5 Battalion commander, was ordered by General Mackay to take a column of all arms through the night to Levadia to provide cover for the ongoing demolitions. The men drove all night with their lights on, knowing that the German aircraft were not likely to be operating at night. At this point, the King of Greece announced that he would move to Crete with his government to continue the fight against the German attackers. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

From 23 April to 25 April 1941

They heard that the Germans were now on Euboea on 23 April 1941. They sent reconnaissance aircraft to verify the story, but they did not see anyone. There were concerns about the 1/Rangers guarding the crossing at Khalkis. They needed to hold the crossing until the 6th Brigade could be south of there by the evening of the 25th. The 6th Brigade would leave a rearguard at Tatoi until they saw the Rangers withdraw through there.

Meanwhile, at Thermopylae, the British medium guns dueled with the German artillery. The troops were gradually withdrawing towards the beaches where they would withdraw. Some of the troops headed for the beaches at Marathon. An effort was made to post rearguards along the way that would move back in stages. There was some concern that the Germans might take the Delphi Pass, and cut off the line of retreat. The general state is reflected by the condition of the 4th Husssars, reduced to 12 light tanks, 6 carriers, and one armoured car by 23 April. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Defending Thermopylae

Once the order had been given to withdraw from Greece, the 6th New Zealand Brigade was left to defend Thermopylae Pass. Altogether, they had men from five battalions: the 25th on the heights above the road and river, the 24th holding the road at Ayia Trias, and the 26th behind them on the road to Molos. The brigade had strong artillery support in the form of one medium, four field, and two anti-tank regiments. Carriers from the 5th Brigade were patrolling to the north during the night. The other two brigades moved at night on 22 April 1941. The 5th Brigade had destroyed its heavy gear before withdrawing to Ayia Konstantinos. The 4th Brigade pulled back to Erithrai. As this was happening, the Australians were being pressed by the Germans. 21 and 22 April saw heavy German air attacks on the defenders at Thermopylae. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Australian guns finally silenced: 22 April 1941

The two Australian guns on the side of the mountain, in an exposed position, had dueled with the German artillery for eight hours. The guns were 25 pounders. One gun finally had a recuperator oil leak and had to stop firing. The officer in charge, a young lieutenant, noticed that there were German infantrymen unloading from trucks that were too close to fire upon. The gun was sited in a pit, so they lifted the trail onto the back edge. That allowed them to fire on the infantry with reduced charges. They could have easily flipped the gun with full charges. That fire brought down medium artillery fire that disabled the remaining gun. The artillery duel had lasted eight hours by the time, at 4pm, when the gun was disabled. The men exposed on the hillside were finally hit by German fire and there were men killed and wounded. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

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