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.

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