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.

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