Thursday, July 22, 2021

 The German forces facing the British were very strong. "Field Marshall List had three corps, including armored, infantry, and mountain divisions". To the east of the Pindus mountain range, there were six Greek divisions in poor shape. There were also the Australian and New Zealand Divisions in the ANZAC Corps.

By 16 April, the British forces were seen to be vulnerable to attack from the east. They had assumed that they could hold the Olympus Passes long enough to withdraw the ANZAC Corps. It now seemed a possibility that the Germans could move quickly south to Thessaly so fast as to reduce the possibility that the British forces could move to Larisa.The New Zealand 21st Battalion "at the Platamon tunnel" reported seeing 150 German tanks and that they were pressing an attack. 

The Germans sent motorcycle troops against the 21st Battalion, which mauled the motorcyclists. At the evening of 15 April, a unit of German armor came up to the vicinity of the 21st Battalion. 

The battalion was attacked from the direction of the coast and from the inland direction. The battalion was able to hold out against the attacks they had faced so far.

The German attacking force was strengthened during the night of 15 to 16 April. By dawn on 16 April, the leftmost company of the 21st Battalion was attacked by infantry. By 9am, they were attacked by the tanks "along the coast". This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Events in Greece from 15 April 1941

 The German 40 Corps was facing the Greek front. The Greeks had been abandoned by a commander and his staff, but they had not "disintegrated" and were still fighting well.

The German commanders moved up an infantry division to protect the flank of th 40 Corps. The German mountain corps that had been at Salonika was to attack the Edessa Pass as well as the Veria Pass. The British and Greek withdrawal made that unnecessary. Instead, the Germans were "to pursue the enemy south". The German 6th Moutain Division then crossed the Aliakmon River and started up Mount Olympus. This had happened back on 14 April. 

The Germans were following the 16th Australian Brigade and the armoured force. They had moved through the Olympus Pass. This was the route to take to go from Olympus "to the sea". This was on the "weak flank" of the New Zealand Division. 

By now, the Germans were in control of Yugoslavia from a line "north and west" of Zagreb, Belgrade, Nish, and Skoplje by 13 April. We hear that the Italian army had moved to Ljubljana.  The Croatians "welcomed the Germans to Zagreb". They announced that there would not be any resistance "in Croatia Dalmatia, or Bosnia". 

What little effective Yugoslav forces remained had moved into the mountains to the west. By 15 April, the Yugoslav command "had asked for an armistice". 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

General Wilson in Greece from 15 April 1941

 General Papagos had sent a message to General Wilson, asking for a meeting at Lamia at 6am on 16 April. General Wilson had left his headquarters at Soumpasi at about 1am, hoping to arrive at Lamia in time for the meeting. He had about fifty miles to travel. A German air raid made trffic on the roads even worse, so General did not arrive at Lamia until 10am. 

In the meeting, General Papagos outlined the Greek situation. A feature of the situation was that the component divisions of the Western Macedonian Aemy had "taken to the mountains." It might take a couple of days for them to arrive at "Metsovon or Kalabaka". General Papagos approved of the British units with drawing to Thermopylae.

It seemed that General Papagos did not know that the British forces were already "on the move". 

As early as 13 April, the Leibstandart Adolf Hitler had been ordered "to the Klisoura Pass". General Stumme was more interested in the Servia Pass. He hoped to outflank the British. The 9th Armored Division was on the move and passed through Kozani. .By 14 April, the Germans had patrols across the Aliakmon River. By 14 April, the Germans thought that the British were "in full retreat".

The Germans had attacked Servia with an infantry regiment and had taken losses. "The Aolf Hitler Division" had pushed to the "Kastoria-Grevena Road" by 15 April. That cut off the Greeks that were retreating from Albania. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Trouble with the Greek Soldiers from 15 April and later

 Brigadier Savige probably drove to the bridge at the Kalabaka[Pindus road. He was to meet Lt-Col. King at the bridge. King gave Savige a report prior to Savige meeting with the Greek General. There was a problem with the Greek soldiers that were present, to the pont that the Australians fixed bayonets so as to intimidate the Greeks. The Australians wanted to force the Greeks back to the mountains.

The Australians were blocking each end of the bridge. They wanted to clear the Greeks out of the way. While Brigadier Savige was meeiing with Lt-Col. King,  convoy of luxurious Greek vehicles loaded with Greek officers arrived. The convoy was planning on crossing the bridge. The third car carried the Greek general, wwho waved at Savige.

It was about 6pm on 15 April that the Germans reached "the Kastoria-Grevena road". This was at Argos Orestikon. This had the effect of separating "the Greek Cavalry Division, the 9th, 10th, and 13th Divisions. These were the bulk of the Greek Maacedonian army. The army started to move to the west, towards the Pindus mountains. 

The remains of the 12th and 20th Divisions crossed the Aliakmon River. Their were going to Neapolis and Grevena. By the time Brigadier Savige met with the Greek general, the Greek army was left with the remaina of two divisions by Grevena. There was also a mass of inorganized Greek soldiers trying to move through Savige's force.

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria", by Gavin Long.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Problems caused by Greek approach

 General Wilson visited Brigadier Savige and informed him about taking units for the new rear-guard and also told Savige that some 3,000 Greek troops would be dumped into his area. The men were unarmed and unequipped. It became evident that there was nothing that had been done to re-arm the Greeks.

Savige wrote of the Greeks: they "cluttered my forward area and added weight to the stream of refugees." The traffic on the road from Grevena to Trikkala. 

Brigadier Savige met with Lt-Col Barter, who was a liaison team leader with a Greek general with a bad reputation. The General was well-connected and that kept him out of trouble. Lt-Col Barter spoke fluent Greek, which was useful and unusual. He set up  a meeting between Savige and the Greek general.

Brigadier Savige later wrote about his experience. Savige talked about his concerns with the large number of unarmed Greek soldiers in the forward area. It is not surprising, sadly, that the Greek general suggested to Savige that he "machine gun them". Savige instead asked for some Greek officers to be sent to organize the men, 

The Greek general was assembling his army of Macedonia in the Pindus moutains. 

Savige felt that the Greek general was "double-crossing". His real opinion of the Greek general was pretty low. Savige applied pressure to get the general to remove his troops from Savige's "forwared area". This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

In Greece from 14 APRIL 1941

Later in the day on 14 April, the Germans were pushing against the Greeks near the Aliakmon River. The Greeks were holdin the passes, but were under pressure. At one point, the Germans had reached within 200 yards ofr the Grevena Pass. The British armored brigade was situated  in the pass. The commander, Brigadier Charrington, decided to move "back to the Venetikos". The road was jammed with traffic and slowed the move. The vehicles were in both lanes, headed the same direction. They were moving very slowly.

By 7am, the German air force found them. There were Stuka dive bombers and probably fighters straffing the road. Considering the effort, the air attacks achieved surprisingly little results. The British force had reached the river by 5pm.

From the armored brigade, the 3rd RTR had to "abandon 7 tanks". The regiment had started with 52 tanks, but was now left with just six. The brigade still had the 2nd RHA, still in good shape. The 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment was fortunate to have only lost six guns. 

Brigadier Charrington had heard that the Central Macedonian Army was in bad shape. Tht was a worrisome report. Things were not as bad as they seemed. The 4th Hussars had sent out a patrol that found that the Germans had not yet crossed the river. The Germans also had not reached Grevena. General Wilson made a visit to the armored brigade on 14 April and ordered them to drive to Kalabaka.

It was on the night of 14-15 April that Savige Force was getting organized. They were not as strong as had been planned. They had the armored brigade headquarter squadron with 7 cruiser tanks. and a collection of other combat units. General Wilson arrived and informed Savige that he would need to supply units to a new rear-guard. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Friday, July 02, 2021

The surprise withdrawal

 The engineers had been ordered to complete the timber bridge by 9pm, but they were fortunate to finish the bridge by 10pm. The 19th Australian Brigade was to cross by 9pm. The engineers had been helped by men from the 26th New Zealand Battalion. 

As the bridge was being completed, the 19th Brigade were gathering "on the opposite bank". Vasey had only received his orders to withdraw by 5pm. He apparently had a warning at 1pm. The men were forced to abandon their vehicles at the river as there was no way to get them across the river. There was a similar problem with artillery. At least the Australian machine gunners were able to carry their 12 guns across the river.

A side effect of the failed attempt to aid Greece was that vehicles and artillery as well as other equipment was abandoned in Greece. That should not have been a surprise, as it was a forseeable situation. 

Thw 26th New Zealand Battalion acted as the rearguard for the retreating forces. The rearguard stayed in position until the two Australian battalions crossed. They waited for a missing company, but they never arrived. A guide left at the track to the river seems to have left his post. 

The company reached the river and crossed it using a boat they had found They joined some artillerymen, who gave the a ride in their vehicles, so they were able to withdraw. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

There were difficulties during the planned withdrawal to Thermopylae

 At one point, the New Zealanders took German prisoners. They captured some 147 officers and men, as well as thirty to forty wounded Austrian infantrymen. They eventually thought that the Germans had lost some four hundred men. The New Zealand units lost only eight men. 

The Australian historian pointed out that this was an unsupported frontal attack. Still, the Germans continued attacking the New Zealand troops. The enemy forces had the use of Servia, and could assemble their men in buildings. 

The British kept Servia under constant fire "from artillery., mortar and small arms fire." During 13 and 14 April, German aircraft  were divebombing the New Zealanders. The Stukas were equipped with sirens that generated enough noise to upset the men being bombed.

After dark, some of the New Zealanders pulled back from exposed positions. Some men from the 19th Battalion made a counter-attack and pushed back some forty Germans from the vicinity of Prosilion village.

"Early in the afternoon of 15 April, General Blamey ordered Mackay to reposition the 19th Australian Brigade to the other side of the Aliakmon River. There was no bridge in place. Men from the 2/1st Field company were ordered to build a timber trestle bridge. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Events on the mountain on 15 June 1941

 The 2/1st Battalion was in a position that had some two feet of snow on the ground. They could expect to be fighting German mountain troops here. The Australians could not see the New Zealand unit that was closest, as they were actually some "six miles to the northeast". The Australians had spent the time since 12 April, climbing moutains. They had little rest in that time, and had little protection from the cold weather. 

The 2/2nd Battalion had occupied Hill 1628 on the southeast side of Moskhokorri. Their fellow battalion, the 2/3rd, was serving as the reserve. They were "to the south from the village". 

Allen's headquarters now had to find a way to tell the battalions to pull back to Thermopylae. They were not in telephone communication, so the only way was to travel paths along the "slopes of Olympus". 

A staff officer road a pony to deliver the orders to the 2/2nd Battalion. They had an order to turn over their position to the 2/3rd Battalion and then march down to the "southern end of the pass". 

This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syia" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Events involviing the 16th Australian Brigade

 The plan being followed was to have the 16th Australian Brigade "fill the gap between the 5th and 6th New Zealand brigades. It was during the night of 15 to 16 April that the tail end of the 16th Australian Brigade moved across the Aliakmo River. 

The night of 15 to 16 April also saw the front half of the 2/2nd Battalion advanced to Moskhokhori. The next day saw the rest of the battalion joined the front half. After midnght of the next day, the whole battalion had moved to  spot past the village.

By early on 14 April, thet the 2/1st Battalion har advanced to a position past Volvendos and stopped "at the foot of the mountains". The other battalion, the 2/3rd stayed at Volvendos. 

During the night, the moon provided light from 10:15pm. Taking advantage of the moonlight, first the 2/1st Battalion managed to climb up to Moshkokhori followed by the 2/3rd Battalion.

By dawn, officers from Allen's headquarters were able to find the 2/1st Battalion and handed them ther orders where they were to climb between five or six miles into position "on the right of the brigade's front".

Some sappers who were in the village were told by villagers that Germans "behind them" had crossed the river. The sappers ans the one infantryman headed out  During the morning, the 2/3rd Battalion arrived at Moskhokori. The men were now almost out of the food they had brought from the Veria Pass. The food they had left tasted bad, almost like dog food.

The 2/1st Battalion arrived at their planned position by 9am on 15 April. They now were at something like 5,500 feet elevation  This is based on the account given in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Continued action from 14 April 1941 in Greece

 During 14 April 1941, you had the 5th New Zealand Brigade sitting in the Olympus Pass.  The Katerini-Elasson road ran through the Olympus Pass. The brigade was deployed with the 23rd Battalion to the right of the brigade. The 22nd Brigade was sitting in the center of the front. The Maori's of the 28th Battalion were on the left. The 28th Battalion was located at Skoteina. The brigade had some artillery in support. They had the 5th Field Regiment and an anti-tank battery. 

There was a plan to move the 6th Brigade into a spot on the left of where the 5th Brigade was located. They saw some German vehicles "at 5pm on 14 April. By the time the artillery was given permission to fire on the vehicles, they had moved out of sight."

During the night ofo 14 to 15 April, the New Zealand troops could see German vehicles bringing troops forward. Sometime around 11pm, German motorcycles drove up the pass. They drew machine gun fire, and the next morning they found five motorcycles lying next to the road. 

During 15 April, there was more German vehicle traffic. They drew artillery fire, but were not fired upon by British artillery. It was only by 4:30pm that the Germans started to return artillery fire. The Germans did not make any attempt to attack on 1`5 April. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Events in Greece from 13 to 15 April 1941

 We now look at the Greek armies during this period in April 1941. During 13 April, "the Greeks were holding the Pisoderion and Klisooura Passes". You had the Western Macedonian Army moving to the Venetikos Position during 13 April. The Epirus Army move started that night. "At noon on 14 April, the Germans drove the 20th Greek Division from the Klisoura Pass". The remnants of the 20th Division were ordered to "block the Grevena Road father south". 

During the 14th and the night ofo 14 to 15 April, divisions of the Western Macedonian Army were able to withdraw. 

The 11th Division had been sent to the Metsovon Pass and were able to move into their positions. 

It was on 14 April that the Germans "began probing the Anzac Corps positionns oh the Aliakmon line." We note that he New Zealand Division was now holding passes "on either side of Olympus. Some New Zealand engineers were given the task of "demolishing the tunnel and road at Platamon. The demolitions "were blown on 14 April, but were not successful". 

As a last resort, the engineers laid an anti-tank minefield on the "road over the saddle". This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Events proceed in Greece from 16 April 1941

 All British men who were not in mobile units and who otherwise were considered "marching units" were provided with motor transport.

Staff in Athens were doing advanced planning for a withdrawal of all British forces from Greece. As early as 13 General Wilson's staff told the naval staff that the army would soon begin to withdraw their forces from Greece. The naval staff were informed that the withdrawal could begin as soon as 15 April. 

In Egypt, General Wavell's staff did preliminary planning for a withdrawal. Around the time that General Wilson's withdrawal order was sent, the Germans had achieved virtual air control over the forward areas

The Germans made a dawn attack on airfields in the Larisa area and were able to destroy ten British Blenheim bombers on the ground. The British air commander witnessed the artack and ordered the surviving aircraft be flown to Athens  After their success, the Germans bombed the Larisa air field durin the day. 

The Germans also bombed Elasson, site of General Blamey's headquarters. British troopa loar their air support and only saw German aircraft in action. British aircraft had been operating effectively, often wthout their soldiers seeing them in action. 

During this period, Greek unts were able to hold the Germans in the "Pisoderion and Klisoura Passes. The "Western Macedonian Army moved into the Venetikos Position. It had "been about noon on 14 April when the 20th Greek Division had been driven out of the Klisoura Pass". This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

The situation from 16 April 1941

Brigadier Clowes warned Macky that it was critical that they be able to hold the "gorge" until 19 April 1941. He also told Macky that support would eventually arrive. He also ordered Macky to sink the ferry boat once all of his men were across. 

The priority was to hold the western end of the gorge/ Macky was told that it was especially important to defend the high ground in the north. 

The "first moves ordered were intended to put the 6th Australian Division troops behind the passes on 16 April.

General Freyberg was a personal friend of Churchill, and Churchill had complete confidence in Freyberg. It is unclear that he was actually capable of performing the task of commanding the withdrawal. 

The New Zealand 5th Brigade was the initial rearguard force. In additiion to the 5th New Zealand Brigade, you had the 6th New Zealand Brigade group, and the left flank guard of the 6th Australian Brigade Group. 

The British armored brigade "covered the withdrawal across the plains of Thessaly." This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

By 16 to 17 April 1941, the situation is both uncertain and needed to be resolved

 By late afternoon on 16 April 1941, Lt-Col. Macky's men had been transported across the river. The four guns had been taken across with difficulty. Before the ferry was sunk, they transported "a large flock of sheep and goats with their two  shepherdesses" across. 

As we learned, Brigadier Clowes had been sent to take command of the right flank. The Anzac corps staff and commander then had to deal with finding a force to use. 

Brigadier Savige's brigade was already used as a "flank guard at Kalabaka". They also were used as part of Lee's battle group sitting on the road at Domokos. 

Blamey's staff was trying to deal with their situation. Brigadier Rowell issued an order that "the first battalion of the 16th Brigade should be used at Pinios Gorge. 

The 2/2nd Battalion was stopped on the main road at about 10am. The battalion commander was ordered to report to the corps headquarters. He was told at the corps headquarters that "the 21st Battalion might well have been wiped out". 

Brigadier Clowes had been ordered to find out what had happened, but they had not heard from him yet. 

This is  based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

The German superiority from 16 April 1941

 Field Marshal List commanded the German army that the British would face. The Germans had "three corps", three armored divisions, two mountain divisions, and five infantry divisions. He also had two infantry divisions as reserves. There was also another army that lay to the north that included some fourteen divisions. 

The particular situation facing Wilson's army was that when you look at what lay to the east of the "Pindus watershed", there were six Greek divisions in serious trouble. There were also the two ANZAC divisions. There was one Australian division and the New Zealand Division. 

By early 16 April, the commanders of the Anzac corps became aware that the eastern flank was what was most vulnerable. They had assumed that they would be able to hold the Olympus passes as long as was needed. 

They received a report of some 150 German tanks that posed a threat. They were receiving reports from the 21st New Zealand Battalion. By 1am, General Blamey ordered his artillery commander to travel to the 21st Battaliion and do what ever he thought necessary. 

The New Zealand battalion needed to hold until 19 April, and do whatever it took to do that, including with great risk. Brigadier Clowes gave orders to drop back to where the "road and railway crossed", some seven miles away. 

This  all left General Blamey and his staff to find more units to "stop the gap". This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The German effort from 13 April 1941

 On 13 April, the German objective was the Servia Pass. They wanted to cut through Grevena outflank the Aliakmon position "from the west". You had the 9th Armored Division moved through Kozani and patrol-sized units had crossed the Aliakmon river. That had happened as early as 14 April. 

The German assessment was that the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions and the New Zealand Division were "in full retreat", along with the 2nd British Armoured Division. They saw the British movements as being "withdrawal moves". 

The 11th German Infantry Regiment staged an attack at Servia. Their losses were limited to "36 killed, 72 wounded, and 190 missing". It was the Adolf Hitler Division that had arrived at the "Kastoria-Grevena" road. They had blocked the supply line for the Greek army that was pulling out of Albania.

The German 73rd Division was sent to protect the "40 Corps flank". The Germans thought that the Greek army was still fighting well. In fact, though, the Greek army commander had abandoned his troops. 

The German mountain corps that had been at Salonika on 9 April were to attack Edessa Pass, but the situation was fluid and in fact the attack was unnecessary. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Withdrawal under extreme duress

The order to withdraw came by 5pm on 15 April 1941. The engineers had managed to build a timber trestle bridge. One group was also ordered to build a road to the bridge. The bridge was completed by 10pm. By the time the bridge was completed, the men of the 19th Brigade were assembling "on the opposite bank". They found out that the bridge could not support vehicles. 

The men had to make the vehicles unusable and then abandoned them as well as their artillery. The machine gunners were able to carry their guns across the river. The 26th New Zealand Battalion were the rearguard. They held until the Australians were able to cross. 

There was a missing company which seems to have never arrived. The Greeks were being hard-pressed by the Germans. They were in the passes to the north of the river. The supporting anti-tank guns were within some 200 yards of the Germans. The British armored brigade was located in the Grevena Pass. 

The road was packed with Yugoslav and Greek vehicles and men as well as horses and ox transport. They fully expected to be bombed and strafed by German aircraft. 

There was a British liaison team that included an officer who spoke fluent Greek. There seemed to be many unarmed Greek troops loitering in the area.  

By about 6pm on 15 April, the German column had come to the Kastoia-Grevena road. That apparently had cut off the Greek army that was now withdrawing along the tracks to the Pindus mountains. The Greek general approved of the British withdrawal to Thermopylae.The Greek general apparently did not realize that the British were then withdrawing. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The German advance continues

 The German attacks were costly to the Germans. Besides the 147 "unwounded officers and men, some 30 or 40 men from the 9th Armored Division where taken. These were all wounded men. The Germans seem to have had 400 casualties. The cost to the New Zealand Division were only 8 men. The New Zealand men were in good positions, well dug in. The attacks were all frontal assaults. The attackers lacked air or artillery support.

Some of the Germans had passed the forward New Zealand positions prior to being recognized. The Germans continues to push against the New Zealanders. The Germans used Servia as an assembly point. Because of that, Servia was kept under constant fire. A New Zealand  unit ended up being almost surrounded by the Germans. The Germans were using the escarpment as cover.

One New Zealand platoon pulled back, higher up on the slope. Two platoons from the 19th New Zealand Brigade launched an attack and caused a German patrol of some 40 men to withdraw from their position "below Prosillion village". 

During the afternoon of 15 April, General Blamey told General Mackay that he needed to reposition the 19th Australian Brigade on the other side of the Aliakmon River. It was late in the day and there was no bridge in place to cross the river. At this time, communications were proving to be unreliable. 

The 26th New Zealand  Battalion had dealt with the issue of the river using an improvised ferry using folding boats. Engineers were ordered to build a timber bridge. It took a very long time to construct and water was rushing past in the river. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long,.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Germans on the move

 By 2pm on 4 April, the leading German vehicles approached Petrana. That was about six miles north of the Aliakmon. As it was getting dark, the German guns started firing to get the range. 

By about midnight, the German guns were shelliing steadily. They were targetting  the ANZAC positions. 

By 8pm, they could see the headlights of German vehicles moving west towards Gervena. This was an area of hills through which the British armored brigade had moved. 

During the night of 14 April, the New Zealand brigade moved the 20th Battalion on the left to be in touch wsith the Australian 19th Brigade. This was north of the Aliakmon River. Now the three New Zealand battalions were nominally holding 15,700 yards, but that was only an illusion because 9,500 yards were along a steep escarpment that was close to impassible. The New Zealanders only watched the area with patrols.

Early on 15 April, before dawn, forward posts from the New Zealanders saw men "straggling along the road, looking like Greeks, but they were Germans. The Germans were eventually fired upon. By 5:45pm, a German attack was turned back. Some of the Germans waved white handkerchiefs, asking to surrender. The New Zealanders eventually took 147 infantry as prisoners. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Germans on the move to the south on 14 April 1941

 British artillery observers looking down above the Aliakmon River on 14 April 1941 could see German vehicles moving south. The observers were about 2,000 feet above the river. 

During 13 and 14 April, they had seen German fighters and dive bombers flying at low level and attacked the defensive positions in the pass. The only anti-aircraft guns were four Yugoslav Skoda guns and "four Greek guns". The Greek guns were positioned near the main road. 

The New Zealand troops didn't like seeing the German dive bombers diving, dropping their bombs, and climbing back up. The dive bombers attacked the guns and also tried to crater the road. 

They expected that the bombing attack was happening just before the Germans moving south from Kozani staged an attack. A feature of the bombing was that some of the dive bombers were fitted wth a noise-making device that was intended to disturb the men being bombed. 

By 2pm on 14 April, the Germans had passed Petrana. That was about six miles south from the Aliakmon River. 

By the time dark fell, the German guns started firing ranging shots. By about midnight, they started shelling the "ANZAC positions". By 8pm, they could see the headlights of German vehicles on the move. They were moving west into the hills in the direction of Grevena. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, May 10, 2021

An attack on the Servia Pass

 "To the left", the attack on the men defending the Servia Pass had started. The 4th New Zealand Brigade was between Kastania and Prosilion. This was an area with very steep slopes. This lay beyond "a very steep escarpment". Below the escarpment, the land sloped down to the river. The river was probably from two to four miles away. The elevation at the river was about two thousand feet lower. 

The escarpment had a gap in it. The gap was about 500 yards wide. The main road passed through the gap in the escarpment. The New Zealanders "were located on the south side of the gap."

The New Zealand battalions "had been digging in since dawn on 11 April". You would find the 18th New Zealand Battalion was sitting "north of Lava". The 19th New Zealand Battalion was "on a front astride the pass". 

The 19th and 20th New Zealand Battalions each had "two platoons of the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion". One of these was sitting forward with the infantry "in the pass itself". 

By "15 April, there was more artillery available, such as from the 7th Medium Regiment and the 64th Medium Regiment. There was also the 6th New Zealand Field Regiment." This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Sytia" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

The next big move in Greece for the 16th Brigade

 The next move for the 16th Australian Brigade was to move to Thermopylae. They were out of touch by phone with the headquarters. They had to rely on messengers carrying notes along "bridal paths" that were along the slopes of Mount Olympus. A lieutenant from the brigadier's staff road a pony to carry the message to the 2/2nd Battalion. 

The 2/2nd Battalion was to move first in the new plan. They also had a note to pass on to the 2/3rd Battalion. They would travel out to the south end of the pass. With companies spread out, and with the difficult terrain, moving the companies together was a slow and difficult job. 

By 2am on 16 April, the battalion had begun to march out. The officer from headquarters had not been able to even find the 2/1st Battalion. The terrain was difficult and snow-covered. 

By early on  16 April, the 2/1st Battalion commander found out that they should have pulled out the night before. 

Much farther to the left, the Germans had staged an attack on the Servia Pass. The defenders were the 4th New Zealand Brigade. The troops were positioned on a steep slope, which lay below a much steeper escarpment. 

A river was located some two to four miles away and 2,000 feet lower. "At Prosilion" the primary road rose through a gap in the escarpment. The gap was about five hundred yards wide. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

More of the 16th Australian Brigade operations from 15 April 1941

 It was about 9am on 15 April that the Australian 2/1st Battalion at reached Moshkokori. Another battalion, the 2/3rd followed. At dawn on 15 April, officers from Allen's headquarters brought new orders for the 2/1st. They were told to climb up some  five or six miles to the right side of the brigade position. Greek villagers informed Australian sappers that the Germans had crossed the river behind them. 

The current situation had left the Australians very tired and without food. When they had left the Veria Pass on 12 April, they had brought a small amount of that they had. By 7am on 15 April, the men looked at what food they had left, trying to decide what to eat. 

The men made a joke that they were eating a dogs food. They were eating mush and boiled biscuits using snow. 

The 2/1st had arrived at their new position by 9am on 15 April. They were high up, at some 5.500 feet above sea level. The ground was treacherous, as it was lined with ravines. To make things worse, there was now two feet of snow on the ground.

The Australians expected to see German mountain troops. The area was remote and there were only mule paths. They had expected to see New Zealand troops "on the right". In fact, the New Zealanders were six miles away towards the north east. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Events from 14 April onwards

 There was a plan to move the 6th New Zealand Brigade into position on the left of the 5th New Zealand Brigade. During the night, the New Zealanders could hear many German vehicles moving with their lights on, bringing infantry "forward". 

At about 11pm, some German motorcyclists drove up and were fired don by machine guns. The next morning, they found five motorcyclists in the road. 

All day long on 15 April, German tanks and other vehicles were moving towards the front. One thing they were doing was to try and get past the demolitions. 

British artllery fired on the Germans. By 4:30pm, they started to see German artillery returning fire. 

The 16th Australian Brigade was to be in position between the 4th and 6th New Zealand Brigades. Late on 13 April, the brigade rear crossed the Aliakmon River. 

With the moon out, two battalions climbed up the Moshkhokori. Early on April 15, got orders to climb five or six miles to the right side of the brigade front. The next morning, the men heard that the Germans had crossed the river behind them. 

That morning, the 2/3rd Battalion had arrived at Moshkhokori. The men were tired and now were without food. It was by 9am on 15 April that the 2/1st Battalion arrived at their new position. This is base on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The situation in Greece from 13 to 15 April 1941

 Back on 13 April, "the Greek army was holding the Pisoderion and Klisoura Passes".  During the night of 13-14 April, the Western Macedonian Army was able to withdraw "to the Venetikos position". The "Epirus Army" withdrawal started during the night. By noon on 14 April, "the 20th Greek Division was driven from the Klisoura Pass". The remains of the 20th Division was ordered to block "the Grevena Road further south". During the rest of the day and during the night of 14-15 April, "the 9th, 10th, and 13rh Greek Divisions were able to withdraw. 

It seems that on the 15th, "the 11th Greek Division was ordered to the Metsovon Pass and in fact moved into that position".

During 14 April, "the Germans were checking the ANZAC Corps positions on the Aliakmon line". By that time, the New Zealand Division was holding passes on "either side of the Olympus Pass". New Zealand engineers were tasked with destroying the "tunnel and road at Platamon". They made the attempt to demolish on 14 April, but the demolition failed. They attempted another demolition, which although it was better, it still did not complete the demolition. 

The engineers laid an anti-tank minefield "over the saddle". 

The 5th New Zealand Brigade wqs at the Olympus Pass. They had a field regiment and anti-tank guns there to support them. Some Germans had made a reconnaissance, but then left. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Plans for the withdrawal

 One piece was that the troops protecting the coast "east of Olympus" were supposed to withdraw during the night of 18 to 19 April. The 1st Armoured Brigade was going to "cover the final withdrawal across Thessaly". 

The New Zealand Division would get to use the coast road. They would travel from Volos to Lamia. 

The 6th Australian Division and the 1st Armoured Brigade would take the main road via Pharsala. 

The plan was for marching soldiers to be carried on "motor transport". 

The planners in Athens were moving ahead quite quickly. As early as 13 April, they had told Admiral Cunningham that "the evacuation of Greece was imminent". 

The next day, General Wavell's staff had made a plan for "embarking the entire British force".

One factor affecting the withdrawal was that the Germans had now control of the air "in the forward areas". On the 15th, the Germans staged an air raid that destroyed ten Blenheim bombers on the ground. This had happened in the Larisa area. 

The Germans also bombed Blamey's headquarters. The aircraft had been moved after the attack so that they were no longer available to provide support to the ground forces. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The first moves in the withdrawal from Greece

 It turns out that the 19th Australian Brigade would be driven to Domokos. They would then become part of the force commanded by Brigadier Lee. We saw that the 6th New Zealand Brigade was to be the first rearguard. At thsi point, a second rearguard was gathered. They were to cover the withdrawal to the new line.

The 16th Australian Brigade was the left flank guard. They had to walk to the main road, where they would be mounted on vehicles. They were to be driven to Zarkos. 

The aim of the first moves was to bring the 6th Australian Division brigades "behind the passes by 8am on 16 April." The second phase would have General Freyberg command for both the front and withdrawal. 

One component would see a withdrawal through the 5th New Zealand Brigade Group "from the Olympus Pass". There would also be a withdrawal through the 4th New Zealand Brigade "from Servia". This would be during the night of 17th-18th April. The caviat was given: "subject to ability to disengage". The Australians of Savige Force would "withdraw through the left flank guard". The 16th Australian Brigade was the "left flank guard". This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Leading up to the withdrawal from Greece

 With the command of the withdrawal being given to the ANZAC Corps commander, the W Group "Advance Headquarters" would be sent "south of Larisa". Demolitions to slow the German advance were given a priority. 

The four groups that were to "cover the withdrawal" were the 1st Armoured Brigade, now under Blamey's command, Savige Force, the 6th New Zealand Brigade, and the 19th Australian Brigade. The 1st Armoured Brigade would be near Grevena and Kalabaka. Savige Force would also be near Kalabaka. The 6th New Zealand Brigade would be near Tirnavos. The 19th Australian Brigade would be near Pharsala. 

Given his instructions, General Blamey issued orders in great detail for the planned withdrawal. He planned for two phases. The first phase started in the rew hours left of 15 April. 

The 6th New Zealand Brigade would form "the first rearguard:". They had been in the Olympus Pass, They would now move to a "line covering the two roads between Tirnavos and Elasson". They would be supported by the 2/3rd Australian Field Regiment. The 19th Brigade would be sent in vehicles to Domokos, south fo "south of Pharsala". An informal group commanded by Brigadier Lee would form a "second rear guard". They were to provide cover to the move to the new line. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, April 12, 2021

15 April 1941

The British decided to make the withdrawal as quickly as they could, starting at 15 April 1941. The British units were well-equipped with vehicles, so they could move rather quickly. General Wilson told the ANZAC corps to keep the Greeks from traveling routes that would slow the British movement. They could see that the Germans were massing forces "on the lower ground forward of the three main passes". The Greeks were able to still hold two the three passes that were near the Grevena road. 

The Central Macedonia Army was retreating along the Grevena road. The Central Macedonia Army and the Epirus Army were still being allowed to withdraw. The German air force was attacking both the Greek and British formations, though, on the Grevena road. 

 The British were now seriously considering a withdrawal to the coast so that their troops could be picked up by ships and carried to Crete or Egypt. It was unclear just how long the British and ANZAC Corps could have held on the "Aliakmon and Venetikos" lines.

As it was, the British withdrawal started just in time to have a chance of success. The order was given at 9:30am on 15 April 1941. The responsibility for the command was given to General Blamey. That shows just how much confidence that the British had in General Blamey, thanks to how well he had done up that point.  This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Consequences of abandoning the Greek army

 By moving to the new line at Thermopylae, they would be ceding Greece to the north to the Germans. They would still hold a peninsula that was some 35 miles wide. This was between Lamia and Athens. They would lack the ability to cooperate with the main Greek army. The Germans would have the ability to base their fighter aircraft within range of Athens. 

Of course, the British were well-equipped with vehicles, unlike the Greeks. The Greeks would be forced to march for weeks to move so far. 

General Wilson ordered the British to move against the Greeks to keep them from getting in the way of British movement. He was ordering the Anzac Corps to keep the Greeks out of the way. 

When the order was given, the Anzac Corps was not in combat with the Germans. German aircraft were now attacking Greek and British forces along the Grevena road. 

The situation was strange, in that there were secret plans by the British to withdraw from Greece. Wilson's orders were given early on 15 April. The British could not afford to wait to begin withdrawing. 

Demolitions by the British were planned to try and slow the German advance. The British had four forces ready to provide cover for a withdrawal. They were the 1st Armoured Brigade, Savige Force, the 6th New Zealand Brigade, and the 19th Australian Brigade. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Withdrawal to the Thermopylae line on 13 April 1941

 General Wilson decided on 13 April 1941 that the British would not rely upon the Greek army for anything. Wilson checked with General Blamey and then decided to "withdraw to the Thermopylae line". The German air power was now very much in evidence. The Germans bombed a town and that did away with the civilian government along with theh police and telegraph. The railroads were also showing the influence of German bombing. 

The British air power in Greece was now showing the effects of the German attacks. The British air force in Greece was losing its effectiveness. They faced losses in the air and on air fields.

Reports now suggested that the Greeks on the left were losing effectiveness. The British now worried that the Germans might push south along the Pindus towards Grevena and Yannina. 

The British heard that Greeks from Albania did not want to join the line being formed and instead were heading for Athens.The British were thinking of heading for Thermopylae where they could hold a position that didn't need Greek support. Thermopylae was about one hundred miles south. 

The proposed new line would include the Thermopylae, Brallos, and and Delphi passes. The plan had problems. One being that the Germans would be able to position air power within range of Athens. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

The tasking for the 17th Brigade (Australian)

 The 17th Brigade was actually a collection of units and troops. One order said that they would be sitting at the junction where the Pindus and Grevena roads joined. Brigadier Savige committed to holding an area near the road junction. He would also be ready to move north to support the armored brigade. He would have four battalions and some artilley. 

They would eventually receive 7 cruiser tanks from the 3rd RTR (Robert Crisp's unit). They expected to have the 2/5th and 2/11th battalions that were expected to arrive by rail. 

They would expect to have the tanks, some medium artillery,  and some other artillery units. Savige did not finally receive the written order behind all the movements until early on 15 April. 

Savige only got the order when Lt-Col.Garrett arrived from Blamey's headquarters. Wilson got reports early in the day on 14 April. Greek divisions were said to be spotted on the left, including the Cavalry Division. 

They soon learned that the Germans had taken Kilsoura Pass. This was a threat to the Greeks, including the 9th, 10th, and 13th Divisions. These were part of the Western Macedonian Army.

Generals Wilson and Blamey agreed that the Greeks in the north seemed to be disintegrating. One interesting point was that the RAF had been tracking the Germans and hitting them hard. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The 17th (Australian) Brigade

 The 17th Brigade was given orders in writing that would be quite challenging. Brigadier Savige had arrived at General Blamey's headquarters as early as 13 April 1941. The 17th Brigade headquarters had arrived at Larisa on 11 April. We know already that when Savige arrived at Blamey's headquarters, General Wilson was there. He apparently ordered Savige to do some reconnaissance work. He was supposed to take the road from Larisa to Kalabuka. It would be to take the road that lead to the rear of the Epirus Army. He was also to check the Kalabuka-Grevena road. This happened to be the road that the 1st Armoured Brigade was taking while withdrawing. That was also true for the Western Macedonian Army. 

Brigadier Savige set off with his liaison officer. The drove from Larisa to Kalabuka and never saw any Greek troops. From there, they drove to Pindus to a point that was said to be above the snow line. It was said that from there, they could see the Adriatic. By the time they had driven back to Kalabuka, the town was filled with Greek troops. 

By 14 April, General Blamey had asked Brigadier Savige to return to his headquarters. He found Brigadier Galloway there doing Wilson's work by wanting the 17th Brigade to go to Kalabuka. While talking, word arrived that the Germans had broken the line on the left side. Blamey accordingly sent the 17th Brigade to hold a line that included Kalabuka. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The British misperception of the Greeks

 It seems that the British problem originated with General Wilson, Churchill's buddy. Wilson commanded in Greece because he was Churchill's friend, or at least seemed like one. The Greeks gave the impression of being second-class soldiers. They were inherently disorganized, or at least gave that impression to Wilson. The Greeks walked along the sides of roads in small groups. They wore uniforms that were rather "dingy" as the British said. 

The Greeks were not equipped with nice vehicles, but rather used whatever they could find, such as donkeys and farm carts. What vehicles they had were rather unimpressive. 

Wilson was now concerned that the Germans might move quickly south "along the Gravenna road" and "reach Larisa" a "bottleneck" and cut the British off from Athens. Wilson reacted by ordering the newly arrived 17th Brigade to try and protect this area, so that the British were not cut off from Athens. 

Interestingly enough, Brigadier Savige, who commanded the 17th Brigade, reached General Blamey's headquarters. Savige was hoping to receive some orders from Blamey. Savige had a headquarters, as well, and had reached Larisa by 11 April. He had his three battalions along with the extra battalion, the 2/11th, which was still located in Athens. 

It happened that when Savige had arrived at Blamey's headquarters, he ran into Wilson there. Savige was told to do some reconnaissance the road that went from Larisa to Kalabaka. There was a road that went towards that Greek Epirus Army.  This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

What would disturb General Wilson 13 April 1941?

 So what would cause General Wilson to be worried on 13 April 1941? There was a road at Grevena that Wilson wanted to be able to use for the 1st Armoured Brigade to withdraw. Word was, however, that the road was jammed with slow-moving Greek troops. They were described as "plodding south". What they thought that they had heard was that the 12th and 20th Greek divisions "had disintegrated" while trying to move to the Siatista and Klisoura passes. They had heard, though, that the Greek Cavalry Division was "well-established in the Pisoderion pass" in the north. 

General Wilson complained that the "Greek Central Macedonian Army" had failed in the process of executing the withdrawal. He also complained that the Greek 12th and 20th Divisions had never been able regain control over their men after they left the "Vermion positions". The disorganized divisions were now simply intent on reaching Athens.

The Australian historian commented that he expected that the Greek divisions were not really disorganized and that was simply a mistaken impression by the British based on the poor equipment and their appearance on the road. The historian also thought that what they were concerned about were service troops walking alongside the roads and not actually combat units.  This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The new situation and the British responsibilities

 It seemed that the new situation involved a defense on the Aliakmon line that had the Greek forces positioned on the left. They would occupy the passes "west of the Florina Valley and along the Albanian frontier." 

General Papagos issued an order on 12 April and defined the British resposiblities. The 6th Australian Division had lost heavily in anti-tank guns. General Wilson, though, ordered General Mackay to handle the demolitions along the Klisoura Road as well as the Argos Orestikon-Grevena Road. Some guns from the 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment were provided to the 20th Greek Division. 

The 12th and 20th Greek Divisions to march from "the Vermion Passes" to the western passes. That would give the Anzac Corps the best roads. The biggest challenge would be communication between the Greeks and British. 

The poor British command structure only made things worse. 

"On 13 April General Papagos told the armies of Western Macedonia and Epirus that they would withdraw eventually to the coast at Lake Vutrinto. The Greeks were in this deep salient that they would have to leave. 

General Blamey thought that the British position would be in "an immensely strong natural position". "The Greek line would be in extremely rugged country". 

This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, March 15, 2021

14 to 15 April 1941 in Greece

 You have to think that the Australians were too quick to blow bridges over the Aliakmon River. By later on the 13th of April, engineers were ordered to bridge the river next to the 19th Brigade. Just to make things more interesting, the 19th Brigade radios were often out of order. 

That caused some silly things to happen. One of General Mackay's intelligence officers took a message by motor cycle to the river, swam across with help from a Greek to find the headquarters. 

General Blamey was still involved on 15 April. His units were mostly available, except the 16th Brigade was moving into position to the right of the 4th New Zealand Brigade. 

With the British having vacated the Olympus-Aliakmon line, that left the Greeks in a salient The salient being a triangle with about 73 mile sides. They were in a spot where the Germans were about to attack the eastern side. There was also a 6,000 feet mountain range that was not very organized. 

The Greek supply situation was becoming an issue. By then, the Trikkala-Kastoria road had become more important than they would have liked. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Friday, March 12, 2021

13 to 15 April 1941 with Australian and New Zealand soldiers

 On 13 April, the 1st Armoured Brigade was still at the Sotir rearguard position. General Mackay drove south to join the "16th, 4th, and 19th Brigades". The bridge "that carried the main road over the Aliakmon" was still intact. Mackay learned that General Blamey had already ordered a New Zealand battalion to reinforce the 19th Brigade. General Mackay waited at the bridge until 3:20pm. The rearguard at Ptolemais was being attacked at this time. Australian sappers blew the bridge at General Mackay's orders. Even after being blown, infantry could still walk across the bridge wreckage. 

It figures that right after the bridge was blown, six British three-ton trucks drove up. For a little while more, a pontoon bridge was still available for the trucks to use. 

The 4th Brigade was at the Servia pass and had been digging in. Three field regiments, three Australian and one New Zealand were in place. 

There were two battalions from the 19th Brigade in position on 13 April. Stragglers had arrived that increased the 2/8th Battalion to 308 men. During the night of 14 April, you saw the 26th Battalion use a "folding boat and a rope to cross the river". This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The move to the Mount Olympus-Aliakmon River line

 You had General Mackay's group and the Greek Central Macedonian Army pulling back to the Florina-Kozani Valley. "To their right, you had the Australian and New Zealand "moving back to the Aliakmon Line". They were able to withdraw without being so hard-pressed. The New Zealand Division had reached Mount Olympus by 10 April. They had a blocking force consisting of the division cavalry with armored cars and carriers, along with some field artillery. They were providing cover for the positions at Mount Olympus. 

We have already learned of the long column of German vehicles headed south, starting at some ten miles north of the river. This was seen on 12 April 1941. The Germans had motor cycles driving south along the river, approaching the bridge which had been blown. 

"Right before dusk" about thirty vehicles drove into sight loaded with infantry. They drew fire from New Zealand field artillery and pulled back. In the morning, the Germans attempted to cross the river, near the road bridge. They were fired on by armored cars and carriers. Long range artillery fire, from some ten thousand yards, drove back the Germans. 

The next phase involved advancing German tanks. The blocking force drew German artillery fire. By 1:30pm, the blocking force was ordered to withdraw. In a couple more hours, the 1st Armoured Brigade was in action at Ptolemais. 

As the Germans advanced on 14 April, the last rearguard was ordered back to Katerini. By 4pm, they had reached the Olympus position. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria". 

Saturday, March 06, 2021

More rearguard action from 12 to 14 April 1941

 At about 3:30pm, the 1st Armoured Brigade was then at Ptolomais engaged in a last rearguard battle. British carriers and armored cars were firing on advancing Germans. New Zealand artillery, positioned some 10,000 yards back was engaging the advancing German force. 

By early on 14 April, the Germans were starting to move forward. German tanks and infantry were moving towards the defenders. By 10am on 14 April, the rearguard was pulled back to Katerini. By late afternoon, they were within the Olympus defensive perimeter. 

As all this was happening, the 16th Brigade was moving into the Servia position. They had been forced to travel over the mountains using borrowed donkeys. Back on 9 April, "the engineers had cratered the pass". Soon, they were ordered to move on to the Olympus defenses. They destroyed or burnt much gear prior to the withdrawal. Of course, just to make things interesting, they got a day of snow at Veria, before they moved out. 

General Blamey had ordered the 2/3rd Battalion to move into position near the main road and the track they would take on the way to crossing the Aliakmon river. The 2/1st Battalion had reached Leventes by 3am on  13 April. They walked south on foot to Avlianna, where they had to ask directions about how to reach the river by traveling over the mountain.  This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Withdrawing towards the Olympus-Aliakmon line

 We are moving around in time at this point. We are now looking back at the period of 11 to 13 April 1941. You had General Mackay's group and the Central Macedonian Army moving back towards the Florina-Kozani Valley. You had the New Zealand Division and the Australians moving back towards the Aliakmon Line. By 10 April, the New Zealand Division was on Mount Olympus. By the afternoon of 12 April, a long convoy of German vehicles was seen about ten miles north of the Aliakmon river. The New Zealand Division had destroyed the "road bridge". Long range artillery fire was called in from some ten thousand yards away. The force that was blocking the enemy advance was ordered to pull back. During the night of 13 April, the New Zealand cavalry lay behind a tank ditch. Early on 14 April, the Germans started to move forward. At 10am, the rearguard was told to pull back to Katerini. By 4pm, they were back within the defenses at Mount Olympus. 

At the same time, the 16th Brigade was pulling back to Servia. They had obtained donkeys from the Greek villagers. They would be used to cross the mountains. Much equipment was destroyed since it was thought to be too much for the donkeys to carry. They burned tents, buried ammunition. Even some "great coats and blankets were burnt". To increase the difficulty, they got snow at Veria during the day before the withdrawal. 

General Blamey had ordered that one battalion be withdrawn immediately. The 2/3rd Battalion was pulled back to the bottom of the pass on 11 April. They provided cover to the brigade that was to move south and cross the river. By 6am on 13 April, they were able look down on the Aliakmon. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Anzac corps is in action

 On 12 April, General Blamey announced that the 1st Australian Corps was now the Anzac Corps. The German corps had advanced to Axios and had connected with the Italians in Albania. General List had ordered the corps "to wheel south tp Kozani". That would put them into the rear of the Greeks and British on a line at Katerini-Edesssa-Florina. They would ignore the remnants of the Yugoslav army. 

The German force causing trouble for the British and Greeks had the 5th and 9th Armored Divisions and the 73rd Infantry Division. They also had the SS unit, the "Adolph Hitler Division". By 10 April, the "Adolph Hitler" division had moved into Florina. The Germans were forced to drive down poor roads that were muddy and had bomb craters. In addition, they were forced to endure bombing and strafing by British aircraft. 

It seems that German intelligence was misinformed about the British divisions involved in this campaign. They might have learned in Athens what divisions they faced, but they didn't. 

The attack that started on 12 April included three "battle groups". The Germans described being in a "fierce tank battle at Ptolemais. The Germans lost four tanks in this fight. The Germans mentioned taking 480 British (called English) and 40 Greek prisoners. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

 While the British were trying to hold back the German advance, some thirty German tanks "swung over the foothills". The German tanks were advancing towards the site where Brigadier Charrington had located his headquarters. This was some three miles back from the British positions. There was a fierce fight that included German bombers attacking. 

The German advance was stopped by the Rangers and anti-tank gunners. They thought that they had knocked out as many as eight German tanks. British tanks also came into action and thought that they had knocked out five more German tanks. 

The armored brigad headquarters men came into action with their rifles and Bren guns. They were also with the New Zealand machine gunners who came into action. All this action happened at sunset. They had stopped the Germans but Brigadier Charrington decided to withdraw. 

British tanks and armored cars "covered the withdrawal". The tanks and armored cars were able to withdraw behind a smoke screen without a problem. The armored brigade was able to withdraw to Kozani and then drove down the mountain road to Grevena. 

By the time they came to Grevena, the armored brigade was very weak. Much of it was due to tanks breaking down. If you read Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots, he writes about the poor mechanical condition of British tanks used in Greece. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Greek withdrawal and the British

 Despite what the Greek commander thought, the Greeks were able to withdraw. It was on 12 April that Greeks pulled back to passes on the Albanian frontier. "By the morning of 13 April, the British rearguard was on the road at Sotir". Greek forces were in the passes in the mountains "to the west". The British armored brigade force was still covering the pass at Siatista. The British rearguard sat on a ridge that was 600 feet high "that lies across the gap". This was an area "between Lake Vegorritis and a marshy area on the left". 

There was a creek and the marsh which "were both impassable to tanks." General Mackay had given permission to the armored brigade to add the 2/4th Battalion to the force. The only other infantry was "a company of the Rangers". The 2/4th was weak, with only two companies. The Australian infantry was positioned "on a line that was three miles long." To their left was what was left of the Rangers. 

The infantry was to "fight a rearguard action" and had tanks attached. They had most of the 3rd RTR, a Hussars squadron, the 2nd RHA, some New Zealand machine gunners, and a battery from the 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment. The British returned German fire and ended up killing some British prisoners. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

From late on 12 April 1941

 The situation for the Australians was getting very tense. The Germans were advancing on Hill 1001. Communication was now only possible by using runners. The men from Hill 1001 were led out. They kept to the west to stay away from the Germans who were moving south near the road. Lieutenant Copland "marched his men down the hill to Xinon Neron, four miles away". Major Barham waited for New Zealand machine gunners to move out. 

The Australians had not all heard to keep west of the road, so Major Barham's group encountered German motorcyclists. who they fought. Australians walked, unknowing, into a German position and were captured. There were some 70 Australians captured at this spot. 

One good thing was that the Australians had held long enough. During the night, "only 250 men from the 2/8th Battalion had arrived at Rodona. Of these, "many had no weapons". 

One good thing was that the artillery had been able to keep fighting until the enemy had closed. Communications had been an issue that caused trouble. The men had needed to be ordered to withdraw sooner and to stay to the west of the road.

By the time they arrived in the south, there were only some fifty men with "arms". The 2/8th Battalion had arrived in the south having lost all organization. They mentioned that the commanding officer was "completely exhausted". The Australian historian thought that the 2/8th Battalion, given their circumstances, had performed well.

The Australians had been tasked to cover the 20th and 12th Greek divisions while they withdrew. The Greeks did not recognize that in fact they had been covered by the Australians. General Mackay's force "had eld the Vevi Pass until after dark on  12 April. The Australians were supposed to hold Sotir, a rearguard position. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

More about the 2/8th Battalion on 12 April 1941

 The 2/8th Battalion would try to withdraw to the southeast, since the Germans had tanks moving south along the road. There was the additional problem of machine gun fire. Some men were told not to try and take weapons and equipment, because they might get slowed down and captured. The thought was that they needed to move fast over the hills, trying to find whatever cover was available. 

On  the left, one officer was looking to collect men as they came along as stragglers. From the top of a ridge, they could see the battalion moving south. In the dark, men were struggling through mud. The first  men reached Sotir "the reserve position". The men who had reached Sotir had traveled some ten miles from where they had started. In another two hours, they had walked to the road fork at Rodona. They were able to meet the vehicles that were there, waiting for them. 

Gradually during the night, more men arrived. At one point, the numbers had grown to 250 men. They were still missing half of the officers and about two-thirds of the men. In the center, the 2/RHA and "two of the Australian anti-tank guns" were able to block the German advance. That was sufficient to keep the Australians from being overrun. They were able to safely withdraw, as the Germans approached. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

The Australians on 12 April 1941

 After fighting the Germans for some six hours, the 2/8th Battalion was still holding on, although they had been hit hard on the left. They were lucky to still hold the heights after the fighting that had occurred so far As we have seen, the Rangers had pulled back about two miles. They blocked the road at that point. One bad thing was that the 1/2nd Anti-Tank Gun had five of six guns abandoned after losing protection. The 2/8th position had degenerated into a "deep salient". 

The 2nd RHA now only had "a platoon of New Zealand machine gunners" for infantry support. The commander at the Australian brigade headquarters kept insisting that the Rangers had not pulled back. The truth was that they had now pulled back a second time to "the pre-arranged rearguard position at Rodona." 

The last of the Greek Dodecanese had left by 4pm, leaving the 2/8th Battalion in a weaker position. The battalion now was receiving German machine gun fire from higher ground on the right. The left side now was receiving German machine gun fire on the battalion headquarters. They now had lost phone connection to the brigade due to the Rangers pulling out. 

By 5:30pm, some 500 German infantry, some tanks, had run into the 2/8th Battalion position along the entire front. The left company in particular was in trouble. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

The German attack starting on 12 April 1941

 The German attack that had been expected started at 8:30am on 12 April 1941. The Germans attacked east of the road. It was at the place where the Rangers position and the Australian 2/8th Battalion joined. The Germans made no attempt to disperse, and rather, stayed in a close "formation". The Australians were so used to always being dispersed to reduce the casualties from any air attacks, that they were surprised by the German formation. The Germans overran the front Australian platoon. The platoon had six men escape capture. The rest of the company held, but then they observed the Rangers "in the valley" start to withdraw. The Australian historian speculated that the Rangers had thought that the2/8th Battalion had been overrun. After that, "the remaining platoons moved farther up the slopes". 

There was a lot of German activity "with tanks, trucks, and guns" below the 2/8th Battalion. The Germans held back for several more hours. The two 2/8th companies were not attacked and were able to shoot at the Germans. Australians "counter-attacked and retook some ground. So the 2/8th was able to hold their positions, but the Rangers were seen to be gathering some two miles back. One issue was that five anti-tank guns had been left unprotected and were ultimately abandoned. The Australian positions on the ridge were now a "salient". 

The 2nd RHA guns now did not have any infantry in front of them. At 3pm, the reality was that the Rangers were far to the rear, not close by. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

 To some extent, the impression that the Greeks had collapsed was a false impression. The Greeks were poorly equipped and were in poor uniforms and were walking along the side of roads. One feature was that it was services troops that were in retreat, while the fighting men were still in place, holding out. General Wilson was concerned about "his inland flank". One concern was that the Germans might move rapidly along the Grevena road to the "Larisa bottleneck". That would cut the road to Athens for the British forces. Wilson decided to use the Australian 17th Brigade, only just arriving at the Piraeus, as his flank protection. 

It was only on 13 April that the 17th Brigade commander arrived at General Blamey's headquarters. The 17th Brigade had "reached Larisa on 11 April". On 12 April, they were still in Athens. It turns out that General Wilson was at Blamey's headquarters when the 17th Brigade commander, Brigadier Savige had arrived. 

General Mackay gave orders to the 19th Australian Brigade. They were to thin out the infantry and get on vehicles in preparation to withdraw. He wanted them to be on vehicles by "4am on 13 April. A rearguard position was to be held at Rodona and Sotir. This would be some six miles to the south. They would need to "cover the main withdrawal". The German attack that they had expected started at 8:30am on 12 April. The Australians were surprised that the Germans did not disperse to defend against air attack, which the Australians always did. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Friday, January 29, 2021

The Greek withdrawal from the salient

 After the latest moves ordered, the "boundary between the Greek and British forces would be a north-south line that ran through Deskati. One consequence was that the 1st Armoured Brigade would need to move east. The Greeks had the problem that they would need to  march one hundred miles. Someone would need to hold two passes, the Klisoura and the Siatista passes. Someone would also need to hold the Grevena road for several days. That would be necessary to be able to execute the "retirement"

At General Wilson's headquarters, they learned that "the road through Grevena" was blocked by slow-moving Greek troops trying to march to the south. The report said that the Greek 12th and 20th had "disintegrated" on their move towards Athens. The Australian historian was saying that the Greeks were not in such a poor condition, and that their appearance made it look worse than it really was. 

Apparently General Wilson considered that there was a "serious threat to his inland flank". General Wilson ordered the 17th Australian Brigade, then unloading at the Piraeus, "to guard the inland flank". Sometime on 13 April, the 17th Brigade commander arrived at General Blamey's headquarters. At this point, General Wilson was located at Blamey's headquarters. 

Brigadiier Savige, the 17th Brigade commander, "drove from Larisa to Kalabaka". They did not see any Greek troops during their travels. After that, they drove to Pindus, "above the snow line where they could see the Adriatic". They drove back to Kalabaka, which by then was "crowded with Greek troops." By the next morning, Savige was called back to Blamey's headquarters. "While they were talking, word arrived that the Germans had broken through on the left". Blamey then ordered the 17th Brigade to hold a line "covering Kalabaka". This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

A bad situation for the 6th Australian Division

 The German attack had created a major difficulty for the Greeks. There was the Trikkala-Kastoria road, with the piece "leading through the Mersovon Pass to Epirus. This was now a critical route for supplies. By this time, the 6th Australian Division had lost so many anti-tank guns, they were not in a place to support the Greek army. You see, though, that General Wilson had given General Mackay "responsibility for demolitions on the Klisoura road and the Argos Orestikon-Grevena road". You see that the 102nd Anti-tank Regiment had to provide support to the 20th Greek Division. 

To simplify "cooperation" between British and Greek forces, the Greeks were forced to march "from the Vermion passes". The Australian and New Zealand forces were given the best roads. The greatest problem in Greece was the fact that the Greeks spoke only Greek, generally, and the British only spoke English. That and the fact that Wilson's organization with five commands made cooperation especially difficult. 

The next event was that General Papagos ordered the "armies of the Western Macedonia and Epirus to withdraw to the line along the Ventikos River and running through the Pindos. They would have to pull out of the deep salient. It is interesting that General Blamey thought that the "British line was an immensely strong natural position". 

The Greeks were stuck with "extremely ragged country". The 1st Armoured Brigade would have to "side-step" towards the east to enter the British area. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Difficulties in the withdrawal of British and Greek forces

 It seems that the biggest problem with the withdrawal of Greek and British forces included communication between English-speaking and Greek speaking men. There were obstacles created by "the differences in equipment, tactical doctrine, and national temperament. There were issues such as the Australian and New Zealand forces were allowed to use the best roads while the Greeks were given the worst. The Greeks were forced "to march from the Vermion passes across the Florina-Kozani valley to the western passes." The Australian and New Zealand forces needed better roads for their equipment. The Greeks were relegated to the road that could not handle trucks. 

Wilson's organization of his force made communication from five different British commands to the Greeks that much more challenging. The communications problems between Greek-speaking officers and English speaking officers  were a major issue. 

On 13 April 1941, General Papagos ordered the armies of Western Macedonia and Epirus to withdraw. The Greeks were in a deep salient to a new position that continued the British line in a east-west direction.  General Blamey called the British line "an immensely strong natural position". This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Events from 14 April 1941

 The New Zealanders had an improvised ferry in place during the night of  14 April 1941. The ferry consisted of a "folding boat and a rope". The 26th Battalion held a two  mile front, facing north, on the right of the Australians. The boat was small enough that only three  men with equipment could be carried. By morning, there was still one company on the south side of the river, where they were stuck. To the left we saw the 2/4th Battalion. They were facing to the east. One of their companies was on top of a 3,000ft ridge on the right side. They had another company perched on a 4,000ft mountain "on the left, overlooking Kteni". This was allegedly the boundary between Greek and British forces. Of course, the Australians never saw any Greek toops. The remains of the 2/8th Battalion formed the reserve. 

"West of the main road, there was no bridge over the Aliakmon river." The New Zealand ferry was the only way across for now,. As long ago as 13 April, engineers were told to build a bridge over the Aliakmon. This would be built "on the flank of the 19th Brigade". The situation was precarious enough that the 19th Brigade wireless sets were unreliable. In one case, an officer had delivered a message by motorcyle, after he had swum the river. He had to ask a Greek soldier to "guide him to the Australian headquarters. 

By 15 April, General Blamey's corps was positioned "on the Olympus-Aliakmon line" with the exception of the 16th Brigade which was still moving into position to the right of the 4th New Zealand Brigade. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Australian and New Zealand forces on 13 April 1941

 General Mackay had seen the 1st Armoured  Brigade in the Sotir rearguard position. From there, he was "driving south" to see the 16th and 19th Australian Brigades and the 4th New Zealand Brigade. At about 10am, the British were pulling out of Sotir. When General Mackay met with the 19th Brigade commander, he reported that his "brigade was worn out". He heard that General Blamey had already ordered a New Zealand battalion to cross the Aliakmon "to reinforce them". General Mackay had stayed at the "Aliakmon bridge until 3:20pm". The enemy had been attacking the Ptolemais rearguard position.General Mackay ordered Australian engineers to blow the bridge, which they did successfully. Soon, six British 3-ton trucks arrived. They were able to cross a pontoon bridge that was still intact. 

At the Servia pass, the 4th New Zealand Brigade had been "digging in for three days". There were two Australian and one New Zealand field regiments "in position". One New Zealand battalion had "moved to Rymnion on the south side of the river". The battalion commander found that he was to "join the Australians on the north of the river". 

There were two battalions from the 19th Brigade that had arrived on 13 April. They had arrived in trucks at Kerasia. The men were forced to climb the hills "while the trucks returned to Kozani". Men from the 2/8th Battalion had gradually arrived as stragglers. This brought the battalion strength up to 308 men. There were another fifty men who ended up taking a "wrong turn" and being left at Kozani and were on the "south side of the river". This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The armored brigade was holding the German advance as the rearguard

 General  wilson had ordered the armored brigade to "hold the German advance as long as they could". The armored brigade would try to hold at "the second rear-guard position." There were the Hussars (light tanks), one squadron of the 3rd RTR, some of the Rangers, "a battery of anti-tank guns" along with "two platoons of New Zealand anti-tank gunners". The place was where the road "ran through a gorge with 1200 feet hills on either side". The British could see the "German tanks and troop carriers". At 2:30pm, the British and Germans were firing at each other. By 3pm. the German guns were hitting the Rangers in their posts. The Rangers and anti-tank guns held until the Germans "sent thirty tanks around the left flank". by 7pm, they were moving towards the armored brigade headquarters, about three miles further on. there was a "stiff fight" where the anti-tank gunners thought that they had knocked out eight German tanks. British tanks were in action and knocked out perhaps five more German tanks. It was a "pretty scene" at dusk with tanks and trucks on fire "with the mountain in the background". The German attack had been stopped, but the armored brigade was to withdraw. The withdrawal happened under the "the cover of tanks and armored cars". "The armored brigade was reduced, mainly by breakdowns". There were less than a squadron of running tanks. They had lost half of their infantry and six anti-tank guns. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

The Greeks in fact did well in their withdrawal in April 1941

 While the British army was a "highly mobile and expertly staffed army". The Greeks were "foot soldiers using "pack animals". They necessarily moved slowly. It was thought that many Greeks who had withdrawn "from the Vermion mountains" did not arrive at their destinations by the third night. Both the Australians and the Germans all said that the "20th and 12th Greek divisions all fought well in their new positions". They were "likely to arrive at their destination and make a good stand there." 

General Papagos had ordered the Greek armies to the west to withdraw. Two armies, the Western Macedonian and the Epirus Armies pulled back to positions that "covered" the passes "on each side of the" Albanian border. 

By early on 13 April, the British rearguard blocked the road at Sotir. The Greek rearguards were in the passes "to the mountains to the west". The British armored brigade had been augmented by the 2/4th Battalion. Before, they had only a small contingent from the Rangers. Of course, teh 2/4th Battalion only had two companies of infantry. The Australians were on the right with the Rangers on the left. There were also some tanks from the 3rd RTR (Robert Crisps' unit). They also had a squadron from the Hussars, the 2/RHA, some New Zealand machine gunners, and one battery from the 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment. There were some Australian prisoners caught in fire from the Germans. As many as thirty were wounded from a group of 123 men. 

General Wilson had ordered the British armored brigade to block the German advance as long as possible. A mixed group of tanks and infantry had begun to make a defensive position. The road lay in a gorge with "hills rising 1,200 feet on either side". The men were able to see the Germans advancing. The men could see the Germans repairing the road as they moved forward. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, January 04, 2021

German infantry is approaching and the Australians are ordered to withdraw

 Captain McCarty received orders to withdraw immediately in the face of the German attack. Captain McCarty had already ordered moves. There were German infantry in the process of scaling the slopes of Hill 1001. Lieutenant Copeland had seen orders from a runner. Orders were being distributed rather haphazardly, due to the poor communications and the weather. Some Australian anti-tank guns were destroyed by the crews and the men walked out with the infantry. The New Zealand machine gunners left in their vehicles following their carrying their equipment to the foot of the hill. 

Some of the men had not received the orders to stay west of the main road. The retreating Australians encountered German motorcyclists and exchanged shots. A bit later, some 70 Australians walked into a German position and were made prisoners. The position at Vevi was not held until 9pm, but it was held late enough to enable the battalions on the flanks to move out in the dark. It was suggested that Vasey was "cool and calm" because he did not know how badly the fight was going. 

The 2/8th  Battalion withdrawal was disorganized due to the weather conditions and the poor communications. A more positive statement was that this new, untrained battalion had arrived from North Africa, without food or rest, had moved into position and had beaten back the German patrolling for two days. They were under machine gun fire and faced roaming tanks. 

Mackay's units were to provide cover for Greeks to withdraw. The Australians were concerned with providing that cover, although Greeks later felt like they had not been supported. The Greeks thought "GroupW' had withdrawn without consulting the Greeks. The Greeks were thought to have been given too hard operations to conduct and coordination between the British and Greeks was poor. The Australian historian thought that the Greeks did better than the Greek staff thought that they did. This is based on the account in "Greece Crete and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Friday, January 01, 2021

German tanks "deep into Australian positions"

 The Australian 2/8th Battalion was coming under German machine gun fire "from the heights". The Germans were now coming into the Australian positions. There were German tanks and some 500 infantry. There was a desire to organize a retreat, but the German tanks had broken up the Australian units into small pieces.Then the Australians had descended into the valley floor, they found themselves under fire from German machine guns. By this time, the men were in bad shape, due to being tired. That meant that weapons were left behind, because of "weariness". As the night became dark, the effort to withdraw was effected. 

On the left side, the 2/8th Battalion intelligence officer stayed in position to try and gather men together. They could see German tanks and men moving "across the Australian line of withdrawal". When the Australian officers had climbed to the top of the ridge, they could look down and saw the "main body of the battalion" moving to the south "in open order". In the dark, the men moved through heavy mud. By about 9pm, the companies in the lead had reached the "reserve position at Sotir". By then, they had traveled some ten miles. In another two hours, they had reached "the forked roads at Rodona". The vehicles were gathered at Rodona, waiting for the men to arrive. More small groups of men arrived during the night to join the battalion. They eventually had some 250 men, "about half of the officers and two-thirds of  the men were missing". 

The guns of the 2/RHA and "two Australian anti-tank guns" were able to keep the German tanks and infantry from advancing. They fired over open sights at the Germans. They were eventually able to withdraw, but their bravery and success were what kept the 2/8th Battalion in the battle. Vasey had called General Mackay to tell him that things were in bad shape. Vasey warned ther unit on the left that the front was collapsing. He ordered him to move to Rodona where the vehicles were waiting Dougherty was already thinking along these lines. By now, the only communications were by runner, because of the lack of phone wire. This is based on the account in "Grece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long. 

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