11 April: Fighting in the Klidhi Pass Area
11 April: Fighting in the Klidhi Pass Area
The following day, 11 April and Good Friday, was bitterly cold with intermittent snowfalls making life wretched for the defenders, the majority of whom had just come over from the Western Desert. Visibility was very limited so there were no nuisance raids by the Luftwaffe, but when the sky did, on occasions, become clear the defenders could see German reinforcements2 debussing on the right flank near Vevi and Kelli. The Witt Battle Group was preparing ‘to thrust through with all possible speed to Kozani in order to cut off the retreat of the English from the Katerini-Veria-Edessa line.’3 A reconnaissance unit was moving eastwards through Kelli and into the mountains in order to link up with those units of XVIII Corps which were coming through the pass from Edhessa.
The mortars with the Group had been brought up during the night and were harassing the anti-tank units on the forward slopes; artillery was getting into position and bringing the whole front under steadily increasing shellfire but there were, as yet; no serious page 199 moves by the German armoured units. In the morning at least two tanks were disabled on mines outside the Klidhi Pass and in the afternoon there was a suggestion that a tank attack was developing in the Greek sector between Lakes Vegorritis and Petersko. A Squadron 3 Royal Tank Regiment was then sent from the Sotir ridge to the north of the pass to halt any advance along the northern edge of Lake Petersko. C Squadron and C Battery 102 Anti-Tank Regiment were despatched to Pandeleimon through a snowstorm and across eight miles of soft vineyard country. But no attack developed, so the only result of the counter-move was the loss of seven cruiser tanks because of engine trouble and broken tracks.
The more serious threats were from the infantry who, in spite of harassing fire from the artillery and the machine-gun companies, were probing forward across the whole front. Late in the afternoon Point 852 was attacked; in the evening it was the high ground east of Vevi at the junction of the Dodecanese Regiment and 2/8 Australian Battalion. Both attacks were repelled, but it was clear that the Germans were taking advantage of the snowstorms and moving up to force a passage through the pass itself.
They had actually hoped to get through that day, but Major Witt had postponed the assault because some of his heavy weapons had been held up by the demolitions on the road. Besides this, the snowstorms which had lasted until 6 p.m. had made it impossible for the artillery to give effective support.
The threats of an attack wide out on either flank seemed, for the moment, to be less serious. In the mountains to the east 20 Greek Division had settled into position; 21 Greek Division was coming into line to the west; and west again in the Pisodherion Pass behind Florina another German advance had been halted by the Cavalry Division.
At the same time the opening moves of the withdrawal were under way. Units of 12 Greek Division had begun a long march to Kteni, where the new Greek line was to link up with the left flank of 1 Australian Corps. Twentieth Division was thinning out its forward battalions in the Lake Vegorritis area and the two troops from 102 Anti-Tank Regiment in that area were to move out during the night to positions near Komanos from which they could help to cover the withdrawal of Mackay Force.
In the rear 1 Armoured Brigade had sent its B Echelon and other non-essential transport to Trikkala; senior officers were studying the Sotir ridge from which a rearguard would eventually have to cover the withdrawal of Mackay Force; and General Mackay moved his headquarters from Sotir to Perdikha to have page 200 closer liaison with Headquarters Western Macedonian Army. But the Greeks, without any reference to the Australians, shifted that night to Vateron. The move was certainly not far but this lack of liaison indicates one of the difficulties under which the campaign in Greece was conducted.
At a still higher level General Papagos had been preparing to withdraw his armies from Albania. He had advised General Wilson that he would ‘instruct right corps on Albanian front to withdraw provided he was assured that 1 Armd Bde would operate against enemy in Florina should the latter attempt to interfere with the above withdrawal.’1 The British Military Mission in Athens assured the General that the brigade would make such an attack to prevent the Germans moving through the Pisodherion Pass to cut the line of retreat. But Headquarters W Force telephoned to Athens bluntly stating that 1 Armoured Brigade could give ‘no such assistance as they can't get out to do it, the gap being closed by mines.’2
2 7 Coy, 8 Coy less one platoon, tp 9 heavy howitzers, tp of tanks, coy of 47-mm a-tk guns.
3 Battle report of Leibstandarte SS ‘Adolf Hitler’.
2 Typed note added to the above message.