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Documents Relating to New Zealand's Participation in the Second World War 1939–45: Volume II

Withdrawal from Greece

Withdrawal from Greece

The force was finally disengaged on the night of 13 April and the Division withdrew 100 miles to the Thermopylae line. The remarkable success of this withdrawal surprised both the enemy and ourselves. The Division now prepared a line at the historic Thermopylae Pass while the Australians barred the other Athens road. This was destined to be only a temporary position as the collapse of the gallant Greek Army made the continuation of the fight impossible. Brigadier Barrowclough's force, with Divisional Artillery and British batteries, held the Pass. At dusk on Anzac Eve they beat off a strong German attack, 25-pounders destroying a large number of tanks. Disengaging by dark, the 6th Brigade Group withdrew through the 4th Brigade Group and the Australian artillery holding a covering position south of Thebes. That night the 5th Brigade Group successfully embarked for Crete. The Artillery and other Divisional troops, totalling 3600, embarked on the night of 26–27 April. On the 27th the 4th Brigade Group, after being cut off by parachute attacks on the Corinth Canal, fought a determined rearguard action almost on the beach at Porto Rafti, near Marathon, keeping the enemy at bay and embarking safely. page 18 Meanwhile the Divisional Headquarters and the 6th Brigade Group moved to the Peloponnese, crossing the Corinth Canal just ahead of a parachute attack on the morning of the 26th. The 26th Battalion attacked and held the airborne troops, and subsequently, with the remainder of the 6th Brigade Group and the attached British and Australian troops, continued the withdrawal through Tripolis and Sparta to Monemvasia. The final evacuation took place on the night of the 28th.

I very much regret the loss of so many of our first-line reinforcements and details of Headquarters left at Athens. The party reached Kalamata, but owing to the temporary occupation of the town by the Germans and the subsequent loss of contact between ships and the land, it was only possible to embark a small party. All branches of the service reached a high standard. The achievements of the infantry, and of the Artillery under Brigadier Miles, have already been mentioned. The demolition of roads and bridges by the Engineers, by delaying the enemy continually, was a great contribution to successful withdrawal. Signals maintained communications during most difficult operations. The Army Service Corps, including the Reserve Motor Transport Company, played a great part in supplying the forces throughout the whole of the operations and in carrying troops. The Medical Services carried out their duties with great efficiency. Almost all the wounded who could be moved were evacuated. The 6th Brigade Group and the 6th Field Regiment were ordered to Egypt, the remainder disembarking at Crete.