Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Plan for the day on 17 April 1941

 The Australian priority was to stop German tanks from exiting "the defile". He ordered a crater be made in the road. He also had the New Zealand battalion positioned east of Tempe. They would cover the exit from "the defile". The Australian battalion was put in position to "protect the left flank". They would be watching for an infantry attack across the river. 

The truth was that if the New Zealand battalion were bypassed, the German tanks would "fan out", causing the 2/2nd Battalion to be in trouble. To prepare for such an event, the New Zealand 21st Battalion was spread out so that they had a platoon "at the road block". One company would be sitting a mile "to the west" with an anti-tank gun. One company would be sitting high up to be able to see, while two companies with anti-tank guns would be "en echelon" "at the road to Tempe". A flank group would be on the slope. 

Companies belonging to Chiltion were put "at the western exit" were spread out. They would be watching the river flats, the road, and the railway. The right-most company had an anti-tank gun and was sitting on the road. They also were on the "river flats". Another company was at Evangelismos. A third company was put at the "southern edge of the village". One company supplied a platoon was put on the hill "above Ambelakia". It was able to look down on the Pinios. 

Brigadier Allen arrived at about 1pm. He suggested that Chilton stretch out and put a rifle company high up to be able to look down on the river. Carriers were set to "a 3,000 yard gap. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Monday, August 30, 2021

A controlled retirement from 17 April 1941

 A couple battalions from the 17th Australian Brigade were being moved by train on the way from Athens to Thessaly. The train crew that were carrying the 2/6th Battalion had stopped because the crew were afraid of air attack. The train had stopped for some nine hours in the night during 14 and 15 April. The 2/7th had their train attacked and the crew left them stranded. Fortunately, there were Australians with rail experience along. The men set up one engine as a decoy. They took another engine and made a train to carry the 2/7th Battalion to Domokos.

The men actually holding the defensive line on 17 April were able to execute a withdrawal by stages. They occupied carefully chosen postions. As they moved, they blew bridges and cratered the roads. There was artillery holding the Servia and Katerini Passes. As we had mentioned, the men climbed from the foot  of the road to the top at the passes and put craters in the road to slow the German advance. 

The Germans were forced to cautiously advance, stopping to repair the road as they went forward. The Germans were not able to use their tanks so they had to rely upon their artillery. 

There was action at the Pinios Gorge on 17 April. The three colonels there were busy preparing defenses. Colonel Chilton, a relatively young Colonel, had deployed their force in the defenses. Macky had agreed to Chilton's plan for the New Zealand force. The Pinios Gorge extended for some five miles. The gorge was quite narrow and had steep walls. The river in the gorge was narrow and the railroad ran along the north side. 

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

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Continued developments on 17 April 1941

 By 16 April, General Wavell mentioned a "further withdrawal", which was thought to mean evacuating from Greece. As we had mentioned, there was rain for much of 17 April. As vehicles moved along the road to withdraw, there were vehicles with supplies trying to move the other direction on the road.

There were a very few Greek vehicles carrying refugees, moving with the dominant traffic flow. At the northern end of Larisa, there was a bridge that crossed the Pinios. The bridge was the center for a circle of bomb craters, although the bridge had so far escapes damage.

There had been a British canteen at Larisa, although it had been abandoned. Retreating British and ANZAC soldiers had taken cases of beer from the canteen. Many beer-drinkers had fallen asleep down the road. 

One thing that happened was that the defenders of the Servia and Katerini passes had moved up to the top of the passes, making the road impassable with craters along the way. 

The three colonels in the Pinios Gorge were able to prepare defences. Chilton had put the force in place. Macky agreed with the arrangements and the plan for siting the one New Zealand battalion. 

The Pinios Gorge had a length of five miles. The gorge sides were very steep. The Pinios River lay in the gorge and flowed fast. 

A railway lay on the north side of the river. The rail line crossed the river at the west end, where it turned towards Larisa. 

The Australian officer was concerned about German tanks so he had a crater blown in the road. He had the New Zealand battalion positioned to cover the crater. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The situation as of 17 April 1941

 Brigadier Savige finally received Blamey's written order by 12:30pm on 17 April. Somewhat later, Savige told Blamey that the armored brigade was already moving out. 

The armored brigade had serious problems with worn-out tanks and "defective tracks". The brigade had heavy losses due to being ordered to withdraw "over a rough mountain road rather than the main road. That was "Group W's" fault. It had been on 16 April that Wilson had told General Papagos that they would withdraw by way of Thermopylae.

The Greeks were in fact ready to give up the fight. The only viable British option was to withdraw from Greece. 

Most of Thessaly had rain on 17 April, as there had been on 16 April. 

The vehicles on the road were somewhat protected by the low clouds. At times the sky cleared and that allowed German aircraft to attack the vehicles on the roads.

Increasingly, Greek soldiers wandered along the roads. There was some signs of Greek refugees traveling in vehicles often towed by tractors. By now, Larisa lay in ruins. The damage was apparently the result of earthquakes and German air attacks.

Traffic on the roads was now bogged down. By now, the railroads were now disorganized at least partly the result of a fear of air attacks. 

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

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

New instructions for Savige

 Savige got new orders from General Blamey by way of Colonel Wells from Blamey's headquarters. Savige was to hold his position until "midnight on 18-19 April". He was told that the 1st Armoured Brigade "would cover his withdrawal'. However, the 1st Armoured Brigade had received conflicting orders from General Wilson. Wilson wanted the armored brigade to go into reserve "behind the Thermopylae line".  

It turns out that the bulk of the armored brigade had arrived at Velemistion by the evening. They had driven some 20 miles with very difficult road conditions, Because of the "rain and mist, they had been protected from air attack. 

Several parts of the road were considered "impassable". The armored brigade was forced to detour several times. By April 17 in the morning, the armored brigade was driving through Kalabaka. By early on the 17th, the conflicting orders became an issue. The 1st Armoured Brigade brigade major was ordered to remain at Kalabaka until his brigade had reached Kalabaka. He had received those orders on 16 April. 

The major was asked about the possibility of covering Savige force's withdrawal. He replied that his orders from General Wilson seemed to preclude that possibility. After more discussion, he agreed to sed a small group to guard the bridge to help Savige. Brigadier Charrington arrived and agreed to the small group to guard the bridge. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

A review of the situation, particularly that of Brigadier Savige

 AS we remember, Brigadier Savige and his force were sitting at Kalabaka. He disliked the position that his force was in because he thought that it gave too many opportunities to the Germans. He decided to hold a line that was some 2-1/2 miles long with its "left on a wide stream, the upper Pinios river". 

You may also remember that General Wilson had visited Savige on 15 April. General Wilson had warned Savige that he might need to hastily abandon his position near Kalabaka. 

Kalabaka was interesting, because it had a superficial resemblence to Gibraltar. British medium artillery had been positioned east of Kalabaka, "at the foot of the Gibraltar-like cliff. At night, there were lights on the cliff that were turned on and off. The gunners began to suspect some sort of "fifth column".

It seemed that Greek troops were robbing the civilians while the civilians were stealing guns to protect themselves. 

The 1st Armoured Brigade was located to the north, and so far, Savige had no communication with the brigade A liaison officer associated with General Wilson told Savige that a 1st Armoured Brigade column would drive past Kalabaka on 16 April. They were bound for Larisa. 

Savige started to worry that someone would blow up the bridge over the Venetikos. Actually, Savige wanted to be sure that the bridge would be blown. He sent a group commanded by an British engineer officer to check the bridge and blow it if it had not already been blown. They found that the bridge was still standing and so they destroyed it. This is based on the  account in "Greece, Crete, and Sytia" by Gavin Long.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Further movements from 15 to 17 April 1941

 The 2/2 Field Regiment was ordered to move to the flank guard at Zarkos. They were supposed to go by way of the Servia Pass, but that did not happen. A New Zealand officer warned that vehicles moving along the road by Prosilion were being shelled by German artillery. The 2/2 took a long way around to get to Zarkos. General Mackay was unhappy about the detour. Still, the 2/2arrived at Zarkos during the early afternoon, so the effect was minimal. Later, after dark, the 2/3rd was sent to Elasson. They were sent there to support the 6th New Zealand Brigade. During the night drive, the 2/3rd lost a gun that fell over a cliff. That was the third gun gthat the 2/3rd had lost. 

The New Zealand 20th Battalion was sent off during the night of 16 to 17 April. They were sent to Lava to be ready to support the brigade movement on the next night.. The 19th Battalion then swung "its left flank south of Prosilion". 

Savige's men were spotted high in the mountains. They were on the "left flank". Savige disliked the area where he had been told to deploy. He decided to do something else, to hold a 2-1/2 mile long line to the west of Kalabaka. His new position had his left against the Pinios River. His right in this position was "tender" but could be "defended in depth".

General Wilson warned Savige that he might need to move quickly, and would need to have vehicles for all his men. Wilson recommended that Savige keep in touch with the convoy that was carrying Greek soldiers into his area. Savige did that and made a deal to get about 80 vehicles from the convoy. 

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

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Weather continues to be a factor on 16 April 1941

 What you had were German mountain troops against Maoris. They were now in twilight. The Germans had overlapped the New Zealand line. The ravine feature was still influencing the action. Germans were on the far side of the ravine. The Germans now had access to the road and were moving along it. German mountain troops hit the most "forward Maori section" and started to overrun them, but at heavy cost. The few German survivors were "pushed back into the Ravine". 

"British reinforcements" arrived in time to provide stability ro the situation". The night was now "pitch dark" and "the battalion was over an hour and a half late in starting to withdraw". The New Zealand troops were beginning to move out. They were stuck in trying to move through very high elevations. Nine 2pdr anti-tank guns could not be saved and the men had to push them "over the cliffs". The men were forced to abandon ten carriers and 20 trucks as well.

The cratered the road to make it less usable to the Germans. They constructed a new position at the top of the pass, some seven miles towards the south-west.

The brigade would attempt to hold the position through the next night, prior to moving to Thermopylae. General Freyberg had gathered a force tasked with covering the "withdrawal from the Servia and Olympus Passes".

They would be in position "north of Elasson". The Germans had enough trouble that they would not try and infantry attack. You still had artillery duelling and the ever-present air attacks. 

By dark on 16 April, an Australian field regiment arrived at Elasson. They were there to support the 6th New Zealand Brigade. This is based on the account in "Greece, Crete, and Syria" by Gavin Long.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

The situation from 15 to 16 April 1941

 There were some dangerous possibilities available for German advances,  At Platamon, the New Zealand 21st Battalion was under attack. As for the 22nd Battalion, there had been Germans "calling in English". The New Zealand trrops ignored the German voicees. The Germans had been "lifting mines and cutting wire". 

By dawn on 16 April, the Germans made a "light attack". The attack drew artillery and mortar fire. Behind them were  tanks and "waggons". The 22nd Battalion was in the center of Hargest's brigade. During the attack, the Germans used this as cover to move mortars and infantry guns forward. These weapons made things difficult for the New Zealand troopps.

The commander of a field regiment came up and directed fire that took out a troublesome mortar.There were Maoris "on the left" could see for 14 miles and could see German vehicles as far as Katerini. The front of the column for three mile consisted of "tanks, TRcar troop carriers, and motor cycles". 

By 8:30am, the lead vehicles were moving quickly forward. A New Zealand artillery observer called in fire that stopped the German attack. The artillery destroyed 14 German vehicles, including two tanks.

Rain and mist from 11am until 3pm reduced visibility to something like "a few hundred yards". Once the percipitation stopped, the Maori troops were able to see German forces "streaming into a deep ravine at Mavroneri. This was on the left flank and was out of range.

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

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Planning to withdraw the Anzac Corps

 Generals Mackay and Freyberg would be involved with the move back to Thermopylae. Mackay would be responsible for protecting the New Zealand Division flanks as far as the line through  Larisa. He would also be in command of the move of Savige Force, Zarkos Force, and Lee Force. 

The 1st Armoured Brigade would protect Savige Force at Larisa as well as the 6th Australian Division. The armored brigade would be under the command of the 6th Australian Division.

General Freyberg would command Allen Foree, which would be following the route of the New Zealand Division. General Blamey took command of all of the engineers.  

He planned to have a meeting at the junction of the roads to Katerini and Servia. The meeting would include Brigadier Steele, Colonel Lucas, and Colonel Clifton. Blamey's plan was based on the expectation that they would be able to slow the enemy enough to allow the 4th New Zealand Brigade to leave the Servia Pass, the 5th New Zealand Brigade to leave the Olympus Pass, and the 6th New Zealand Brigade would then leave Elasson on the night of 18 and 19 April. Savige Force and Allen Force moves would be coordinated with Generals Freyberg and Mackay.

You had the snow-covered peak of Mount Olympus lying between Allen's force "on the south bank of the Pinios". and the 5th Brigade, some 20 miles distant in the Olympus Pass. The 5th Brigade was sitting "on the north slope". There was a fighting force at Tempe that was "in the gorge".

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

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