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.

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