Withdrawals and Adjustments during 9–10 April
Withdrawals and Adjustments during 9–10 April
The refugees were just another proof of the collapse of the Allied defences along the border of Greece and Bulgaria. According to the latest reports the Germans now controlled the greater part of eastern Macedonia. Their forward screen was moving from Khilkis towards Yiannitsa; the Greeks were certainly holding some of the forts of the Metaxas line but German motorised columns were now through the Rupel Pass; Salonika had been occupied and the attack switched westwards towards the Axios River. Sixteenth Australian Brigade had therefore destroyed the bridge at Veroia and all bridges between Yiannitsa and Edhessa.
In the north towards the border of Yugoslavia a stream of equally pathetic refugees was moving through the lines of the Amindaion detachment in Klidhi Pass, for the unexpected collapse of Yugoslavia had left the way clear for a German advance southwards to the Monastir Gap. It is surprising that they were not already beyond that town and across the border towards Florina. Apparently they had been held up by the wretched roads of southern Yugoslavia, by the problems of an extended supply line and the adjustments necessary now that the attack was being directed southwards into Greece as well as westwards towards Albania.
The next two days, 9–10 April, were therefore free for the withdrawal and adjustment of those units of W Force which were still on the plain of Macedonia. South of the Aliakmon River the forward New Zealand unit was the Divisional Cavalry Regiment. In the original orders the squadrons were to have fought a series of delaying actions, but the latest instructions from General Freyberg were that the regiment was to make contact with the enemy along the line of the river and then retire to Olympus Pass without becoming seriously involved. The elaborate plans for a fighting withdrawal were therefore shelved.
To the rear of the Divisional Cavalry the withdrawal which had begun on the night of 8–9 April was now at its peak. On 9 April Headquarters New Zealand Division, leaving an advanced headquarters at Sfendhami, retired over the pass to Dholikhi, where page 178 within the next twenty-four hours it was joined by the headquarters of the Artillery, Engineers and Army Service Corps.
To prepare the way for 4 and 5 Field Regiments the Survey Troop had left that morning, 9 April, to establish bearing pickets in the Olympus Pass sector. The troop arrived in the Ay Dhimitrios area to find that the only existing survey data consisted of the co-ordinates of three trig points so high up the mountainsides that it took two and a half hours to reach one of them. Rain that day and snow on 10 April prevented further high-level observations, but trig stations were erected at lower levels and calculations made from them.
The reconnaissances for gun positions in the pass had already been made. Fifth Field Regiment to cover the right flank and centre had to place one battery on the west side of the pass opposite Headquarters 5 Brigade and the other on the same side of the road but farther up the pass. Fourth Field Regiment, covering the left flank, had to place one battery beyond that again and the other still higher up the pass, almost at the village of Ay Dhimitrios. The guns were to be thinned out gradually from the plain so that there would be some cover along the front for 6 Brigade when it withdrew from the coastal sector. The ammunition left by 6 Field Regiment after its move to Servia Pass was taken back to the foot of Olympus Pass for the use of the other two regiments; the ammunition from these two units was collected and taken to the railhead at Katerini.
Movement began during the late afternoon of 6 April when RHQ 4 Field Regiment with 25 Battery and RHQ 5 Field Regiment with 28 Battery (less E Troop with the Divisional Cavalry) withdrew into the pass, moving slowly because of wet roads and heavy streams of traffic. In the evening Headquarters New Zealand Artillery moved back to Dholikhi, Brigadier Miles and two officers remaining at Sfendhami as advanced headquarters. Twenty-sixth Battery 4 Field Regiment withdrew before midnight and 27 Battery 5 Field Regiment (less A Troop with 21 Battalion) left at 2.15 p.m. on 10 April, some time after the withdrawal1 of 6 Brigade had begun. Miles was then free to retire to Dholikhi.
Thirty-second Anti-Tank Battery and 4 Company 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion also withdrew to the pass on 10 April, both units coming under command of 5 Brigade.
The orders for the evacuation of the depot were received on 9 April, so once the normal issue for the day was sent out Lieutenant McIndoe2 and his Supply Details3 set about the movement of some 1000 tons of stores—96,000 gallons of petrol and 300,000 rations. Supplies for ten days were dumped for 5 Brigade at the foot of the pass and thirteen days' rations were railed to 21 Battalion at the Platamon tunnel, but the major task was the transfer of the rest of the stores from the depot to the railhead at Katerini for transportation to the Larisa area. Some twenty-four load-carriers from No. 1 Echelon which had not been wanted for the movement of 4 Brigade were available during the day, but thereafter No. 2 Echelon laboured alone.
The work continued that night and throughout 10 April until 4 p.m., when heavy rain made it impossible to use the sidings. By that time the hands of many men were skinned or blistered, but when the rain ceased during the night work recommenced and continued until midday on 11 April. Then, after dealing with such minor problems as the despatch of four lorries to collect tents left in the lines of 4 Brigade and to provide stores for the Divisional Cavalry on the Aliakmon River, Headquarters No. 2 Echelon withdrew over Olympus Pass to join No. 1 Echelon which, except for the Supply Details who had remained with Captain Jacobs4 at No. 1 Field Supply Depot, had been transferred from Larisa to an area just south of Elasson. The maintenance of the New Zealand units holding Olympus Pass was now a task of No. 1 Field Supply Depot. To simplify the problem Lieutenant McIndoe, with a detachment from No. 2 Echelon, established a Detail Issue Depot, the stores of which were to be invaluable during the final withdrawal.
Next day, 12 April, the company had still another urgent task in the withdrawal. The lorries were sent from the base at Dholikhi to the forward area at Amindaion3 just before the Germans broke through the Klidhi Pass. The petrol dump the company was to lift was six miles south of Amindaion, but the convoy by some error went into and out of the village just as the shelling began. Then, when the dump was found and the petrol lifted, spare rations were added to the loads and the crews were given a free hand with any luxuries. So far as can be ascertained this was the first of many occasions during the withdrawal from Greece that the ration dumps were more or less given to the ranks. That concession enjoyed, the company moved south with the retreating transport of Mackay Force and dumped the petrol at the southern side of Servia Pass for 6 Australian Division and 4 New Zealand Brigade.
With all this movement on the roads the Divisional Engineers had still more work to do. Headquarters, after checking the demolitions and arranging for the withdrawal of supplies, withdrew during the night, 9–10 April, to Dholikhi. The same night 5 Field Park Company moved back over the pass to a site near Kokkinoplos, from which it issued and transported RE supplies and provided detachments to help in the preparation of demolitions on the forward approaches to the pass.
The removal of any vehicles that were likely to hold up the endless stream of traffic was the responsibility of the recovery team from the Divisional Workshops. The main body of that unit, after closing on 8 April and sending any vehicles that could not be immediately repaired to the railhead at Katerini, pulled back over the pass during the night of 9–10 April to an area near Kato Filippaioi.
The servicing arrangements for the Division were then reorganised. In addition to a British ordnance field park which had been attached at Katerini, two independent brigade workshops were now working with the Division. Each of the three workshops was then allocated a section of the Ordnance Field Park and units of the Division were grouped2 for servicing under the direction of ADOS, Major Andrews, and DADOS (E), Captain Kelsey.3
The medical units also moved during the night of 9–10 April, 4 Field Ambulance withdrawing from the plain and taking over next morning from 5 Field Ambulance, which moved forward to support4 4 Brigade in the Servia area. Thereafter 4 Field Ambulance had A Company near the crest of Olympus Pass at Ay Dhimitrios; Headquarters and B Company were at Dholikhi in charge of the Main Dressing Station vacated by the other company. With them there was 4 Field Hygiene Section, still supervising sanitation and enforcing precautions against malaria throughout the divisional area.
2 Br Ind Bde Wkshops, with C Sec Br Ord Fd Pk attached, served 5 Inf Bde Gp, HQ NZA, 1 Svy Tp, 4 and 5 Fd Regts, 7 A-Tk Regt, and coys of 27 MG Bn.
5 Br Ind Bde Wkshops, with A Sec Br Ord Fd Pk attached in Servia Pass, served 4 Inf Bde Gp.