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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