Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Confusion over the Rangers

 On 12 April 1941, Brigadier Vasey insisted that the 1/Rangers were still in position when they had infact withdrawn. The Australian battalion 2/8th were in position, holding "the heights". They had been attacked on their left, however. The 1/Rangers were as far back as two miles, sitting on the road. The dangerous situation was that five of six anti-tank guns were left without protection. The 2/8th Battalion's position was in fact a "salient". Without the Rangers in front of the 2/RHA, there was only a platoon of New Zealand machine gunners. For whatever reason, the 19th Brigade headquarters kept saying that the Rangers were still in position when they were not. "It was at 3pm that Vasey told the Rangers to hold until dark. That was then the Rangers were far to the rear" from the 2/9th Battalion. "It was soon after this that the Rangers withdrew to the position at Rodona." Somewhere about this time, the Germans attacked. By then, the Dodecanese Regiment had left the area. By then, the 2/8th Battalion was taking heavy machine gun fire. "This was coming from the heights on the right". The battalion headquarters, "ammunition dump and aid post were taking German machine gun fire. It was coming from the left side." It was by about 4:30pm that the telephone to the brigade headquarters stopped working. Without the Rangers being in position, that the "main road was cut". The 2/8th was now planning on withdrawing if possible. They would "withdraw to the southeast since the German tanks were in motion on the road". Things had deteriorated to the point that all the Australians could do was to move fast and keep to the hills. This si based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The withdrawal from Vevi in the face of the German attack

 General Mackay was working the withdrawal from the Vevi position. He found out from the "last Greek staff officer" that the Dodecanese regiment had more men than he expected. General Mackay learned that the Greek regiment had about 4,500 men, not 3,000. "He ordered the Greeks to start withdrawing at 3pm". He gave the Greeks some 30 3-ton vehicles to use to move their "sick and wounded". They thought that they had some 1,200 sick and wounded men. General Mackay issued orders to ther Australian 19th Brigade. The 2/4th and 2/8th Battalions were ordered to be picked up by vehicles "behind the Vevi position". The plan was for the Australian battalions to "start thinning out at 7:30pm on 12 April". They would load on vehicles at 8pm. The Rangers were sitting across the road. They would block the road to protect the withdrawing men. All the men were to be on vehicles by 4am on 13 April. Part of the armored brigade and "a company of the Rangers" would move to a place at Radona and Sotir. The aim was to be on the road to the south to protect "the main withdrawal". "The rest of the armored brigade was to a spot about three miles south of Ptolemais."  "The force at Sotir then would withdraw through Ptolemais. "The plan was that command of the 1/Rangers, the 2nd RHA, and the New Zealand machine gunners" would be commanded by Brigadier Charrington, the armored brigade commander. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The withdrawal starting on 12 April 1941

 General Wilson issued "an instruction" about withdrawing to the Olympus-Aliakmon line. He thought it should be "as soon as possible". The Greek 20th Division was supposed to be to the west of the road "by 2pm on 12 April". Wilson placed the Dodecanese Regiment under General Mackay's command. He wanted the Australian 19th Brigade to move to the Kerasia area. They would be north of the Aliakmon river. He wanted the British artillery to move south across the Aliakmon river. The armored brigade would move to Grevena. The plan was for the armored brigade "to be south of the new line by 8pm on 13 April". By this time, the New Zealand infantry brigades had traveled to the Olympus passes. Back on 11 April, General Blamey had ordered that one battalion from the Australian 16th Brigade should start withdrawing from Veria. 

By early on 12 April, the Australians under General Mackay's command had been able to hold without being "seriously attacked". By this time, however, they began to expect a strong German attack. It was also a fact that the men were having a lot of trouble with fatigue and the cold weather. Me were being withdrawn due to "fatigue and frost-bite". 

By late on 11 April, General Mackay that "the commander and staff from the Central Macedonian Army had left Perdika for Vateron without having warned the Australians". This is  based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Overlapping the rearguard at Vevi post

 We may have already mentioned that two battalions of German infantry attacked along the road, late in the afternoon. British artillery fire stopped the German advance. The Germans had gotten within a half mile of the defending posts. The 2/4th Battalion at this point lacked a proper artillery observer, so an Australian captain had to fill the role using a telephone. From about 5pm until about 9pm, the Germans still tried to move forward against the Australians. Guns from the Royal Horse Artillery that were dug in delivered well-aimed fire against the Germans. The guns were dug in, in front of the Australian line. 

At this point, the snow was getting deeper. On Hill 1001 there was now six inches to a foot of snow. This was the hill where the 2/4th Battalion was located. From 10pm, the Germans attacked the 2/8th Battalion, but the Australians were the ones taking prisoners. 

After one fight, two wounded German prisoners were found to be from the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler SS motorized division. Fighting in night in the "intense cold" pushed the men of the 2/8th Battalion to the limits of what they could handle. No one had any blankets and the men were not able to heat their food. 

The Germans to the northwest were pressing against the Greek Cavalry Division, The Greeks were able to hold their position. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Rearguard action at Vevi

 German tanks were seen approaching during the morning of 11 April 1941. Several were seen to rurn onto mines in the field in front of the Rangers. British field artillery started firing at German infantry that was unloading from vehicles. This was happening near Vevi. They could also see German infantry digging in along the road to Kelli. This also drew British artillery fire, "By late morning and early afternoon, German artillery arrived". They also started to take machine gun and heavy mortar fire from weapons sited along the Lofoi ridge. While the infantry were considering their options, they heard of German tanks that were threatening the 20th Greek Division. There was enough concern that tanks from the 3rd RTR and guns from the 102nd Anti-Tank were moved towards the Pandeleimon. While trying to travel over plowed vineyards, six tanks broke their tracks. In the event, the Germans didn't continue their flanking movement. The British tanks and anti-tank guns were pulled back. 

At close to 5pm, about two battalions of German infantry attacked along the road. They were stopped by fire from British artillery. The 2/4th Battalion had to rely on improvised artillery observation. The Germans continued to press the Australians. They were fired on by well-aimed fire from the Royal Horse Artillery. They had dug in front of the infantry. Hill 1001 now had six inches to a foot of snow. This was where the 2/4th Battlion was sited. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

In the Florina Valley on 11 April 1941

 On 11 April 1941, in the Florina Valley, the weather was fine, but the weather "on the heights" was not so fine. The men "on the heights" were getting snow on them. With the mist, the men were wet and cold. The snow and mist greatly reduced visibility. The men of the 2/8th Battalion were in bad shape. They had been made to march all day and only reached their position "at dusk". The men were "asked to link up with the Rangers". That left them in "exposed positions on the forward slopes". When they had tried to dig in, they found that the ground was too rocky to dig. They "could only dig shallow trenches". soon, they heard German patrols calling, trying to get men to show themselves. Before they realized who was calling, some Australians, New Zealand machine gunners, and Rangers were captured. They had encounters with the German patrols all night and that interrupted their sleep. At dawn, there was no sign of the Germans. At 3pm, one Ranger company had been pulled back on the right of the Rangers. 

After a awhile in the morning, they saw German tanks. Another German tank was mined in front of the Rangers. British field artillery opened up on German infantry that were unloaded near Vevi. They could also see German infantry "digging in along the road to Kelli". This si based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Friday, December 04, 2020

The rearguard action at Vevi

 There had been an effort to work with Greek troops, but roads and bridges were blown "in front of the British line". That meant that "some Greek troops were cut off". They could see "Greek troops and refugees passing through the British lines all  day". There was concern that the Germans might employ paratroops in Greece the way that they had in Holland. There was also nervousness about troops disguised as refugees. 

On 11 April 1941, the weather was fine in the Florina Valley. They could see, though, that "there was snow on the heights". The men were in the middle of snow and mist. That meant that they were wet all the way through their clothes. Not only were the men wet but they were cold. The snow and mist also reduced visibility to some "50 to 100 yards". The plans as executed were very hard on the men. The 2/8th Battalion had been forced to march all day on the 10th. They "had only reached their positions at dusk". They were supposed to meet up with the men of the Rangers. That put then "in exposed positions on the forward slopes". 

To make matters worse, they found that the ground was rocky so that they were not able to do a good job of digging in. After a while, they could hear men speaking in English, trying to get the men to answer and let the enemy know their positions. A variety of men were taken prisoner, including New Zealanders, Rangers, and Australians. By daylight, they could not see the enemy troops. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Bad stuff ordered by General Wilson in Greece

 General Wilson told General Blamey that the 12th Greek Division would be on the north side of the Aliakmon River, not the south side as General Blamey had wanted. General Blamey's staff protested that it would be very difficult to have the Greek division on the north side of the river. They only way to cross would be over improvised foot bridges. The 16th Australian Brigade was negatively affected by the change in plans. The brigade was to have sent their vehicles across the river. That left the men to have to march "across mountains". They would be "to the right of the New Zealanders in the Servia Pass." Since the men did not have their vehicles, they were put into a bad position having to climb up and then back down mountains in a march that would be very difficult for the men involved. The brigade commander, Brigadier Allen, didn't think that the move was a good idea. If the men had been allowed to use their vehicles, what was being asked of them would be very doable. Brigadier Allen thought that the plan was meant to "reduce traffic congestion". I was done at the expense of hardship for the men involved. The Australian historian says that the real explanation was that General Blamey was afraid that Mackay's force at Vevi "could not withstand a powerful blow". He was concerned that an enemy breakthrough at Vevi would hit the 16th Brigade while they were trying to withdraw "along the main road". He believed that they were safer "marching over hills" despite being hard on the men. When planned, they were trying to mount a defense on the "Olympus-Aliakmon line". The planners assumed that the men would be able to rest before they had to fight. 

While the other events happened, the New Zealand Division successfully moved to the Olympus passes. They carried their supplies with them. The only forces left on the Aliakmon line were the Greek cavalry. The 5th New Zealand Brigade was now at the main Olympus pass. To their rear was the New Zealand 6th Brigade. Meanwhle, the 21st Battalion was ready to "demolish the Plantamon tunnel". That was located "in the pass between Olympus and the sea". This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

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