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New Zealand Engineers, Middle East

CHAPTER 4 — The Campaign in Greece

page 80

The Campaign in Greece

The experiences of the engineer companies at Amiriya before leaving for Greece were equally boring and varied only in the length of time before embarkation at Alexandria. Where they were going was kept a secret from the sappers but from few others, not surprising when it is remembered that some ships in the convoy were making the voyage for the second or third time.

The official veil was removed when a special order, issued by General Freyberg, was read on each transport:

‘Before leaving Egypt for the battlefront I had planned to say a last word to you. I find that events have moved quickly and I am prevented from doing so. I therefore send this message to you in a sealed envelope to be opened on the transport after you have started on your journey.

‘In the course of the next few days you may be fighting in defence of Greece, the birthplace of culture and learning. We shall be meeting our real enemy, the Germans, who have set out with the avowed object of smashing the British Empire. It is clear therefore that wherever we fight them we shall be fighting not only for Greece but also in defence of our own homes.

‘A word to you about your enemy. The German soldier is a brave fighter so do not underestimate the difficulties that face us. On the other hand, remember that this time he is fighting with difficult communications, in country where he cannot use his strong armoured forces to their full advantage. Further, you should remember that your fathers of the 1st New Zealand Expeditionary Force defeated the Germans during the last war whenever they met them. I am certain that in this campaign in Greece the Germans will be meeting men who are fitter, stronger and better trained than they are…. You can shoot and you can march long distances without fatigue. By your resolute shooting and sniping and by fierce patrolling by night you can tame any enemy you may encounter.

‘A further word to you, many of whom, I realise, will be facing the ordeal of battle for the first time. Do not be caught unprepared. In war, conditions will always be difficult, especially page 81 in the encounter battle; time will always be against you, there will always be noise and confusion, orders may arrive late, nerves will be strained, you will be attacked from the air. All these factors and others must be expected on the field of battle. But you have been trained physically to endure long marches and fatigue and you must steel yourselves to overcome the ordeal of the modern battlefield.

‘One last word. You will be fighting in a foreign land and the eyes of many nations will be upon you. The honour of the New Zealand Division is in your keeping. It could not be in better hands.’

It took nearly a month to shift the Division to Greece. Sixth Field Company (transport HMS Breconshire) arrived at Piraeus on 8 March. Headquarters Divisional Engineers (SS Hellas) arrived on 15 March. Nineteenth Army Troops Company (SS Ionia) ran into a storm and after a most uncomfortable trip arrived at Piraeus late in the night of 15 March. Fifth Field Park Company (HMS Breconshire) arrived on 20 March, and 7 Field Company (MV Cameronia) arrived on 3 April.

Engineer officer appointments on 6 April were:

Headquarters Divisional Engineers
CRE Lt-Col G. H. Clifton, MC
Adjt Capt M. S. Carrie
Lt J. F. B. Peacocke Field Officers
2 Lt H. L. Yorke Field Officers
RMO Capt T. A. Macfarlane, NZMC
RSM WO I L. R. Baigent
5 Field Park Company
OC Capt W. G. Morrison
2 i/c Lt R. C. Pemberton
Lt D. G. Thomson
2 Lt C. F. Skinner
6 Field Company
OC Maj L. F. Rudd
2 i/c Capt H. C. S. Woolcott
Lt D. V. C. Kelsall, No. 1 Sec
2 Lt C. M. Wheeler, No. 2 Sec
Lt St. G. W. Chapman, No. 3 Sec
2 Lt J. O. Wells, HQ Sec
7 Field Company
OC Maj F. M. H. Hanson, MMpage 82
2 i/c Capt J. B. Ferguson
Lt K. Rix-Trott, Attached
Lt G. A. Lindell, No. 1 Sec
Lt G. I. B. Thomas, No. 2 Sec
Lt J. R. M. Hector, No. 3 Sec
2 Lt P. B. Wildey, Attached
Lt N. N. Gard'ner, Attached
19 Army Troops Company
(acting as a Field Company)
OC Maj C. Langbein
2 i/c Capt J. N. Anderson
Lt L. C. Smart, E and M Sec
Lt F. W. O. Jones, No. 1 Sec
2 Lt H. C. Page, No. 2 Sec
2 Lt R. J. Collins, No. 3 Sec
2 Lt D. M. Patterson, No. 4 Sec
Divisional Postal Unit
2 Lt H. S. Harbott

If Amiriya was typical of Egypt—dusty and desiccated—Hymettus transit camp was equally typical of Greece. Captain Carrie wrote in his diary:

Hymettus Camp was a picturesque spot a few miles out of Athens and situated amongst foothills, which, like most Greek hills, were rocky and had no depth of soil. But there were plenty of trees and the place was a very welcome change from Egypt. The local inhabitants seemed to come there for picnics, and on Sunday particularly, the place swarmed with visitors who didn't want backsheesh, who didn't want to sell anything and who didn't want to exploit you in any way at all.’

From the moment the sappers moved off the wharf there was no doubt about their welcome. They were greeted in crowded streets with cheers, the Churchillian thumbs-up, and the graceful Grecian palms-up wave of the hand; flowers were thrown and handkerchiefs fluttered. Clearly they were welcome for their own sakes and not for the cash in their pockets. It was a new experience.

Each company spent a few days at Hymettus—just sufficiently long to see enough of Athens to want to see more.

The Allied force available for Greece was little more than a token and even some of that did not get there in time, but politically and sentimentally the gesture of not abandoning page 83 Greece was justifiable and necessary. There was no underestimating the task by the men who would have to conduct the coming battles. General Freyberg put his reactions on record:

map of Greece

‘When I said goodbye, I said to General Wavell that I had no illusions about how tough the Greek campaign was going to be.’1

General Blamey, commanding the Australians committed to the venture, wrote:

‘I am not criticising the higher policy that has required it, but regret that it must take this dangerous form. However, we will give a very good account of ourselves.’2

Both commanders knew that when the German action to succour her Italian partner commenced, the odds against Greece were likely to be in the order of ten to one.

The diplomatic situation was unusual in that the New Zealand Division was not going to join battle with the Italian invaders—no aid beyond that already being supplied by the RAF was needed there—but was to help defend a country then technically at peace with Germany. The German Embassy was therefore free to note the landing of men and material and to transmit the information to wherever it deemed necessary.

A little Greek politico-military geography is necessary to the better understanding of the campaign. Greece is bounded in the north by the mountain frontiers of Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania; Bulgaria had already acquiesced in German occupation and Albania was an Italian-Greek battlefield. Naturally the bulk of the Greek Army was deployed against the Italians, while the rest was either in the fixed defences on the Bulgarian frontier or covering Salonika, Greece's second largest port. There was only a single-line railway between Athens and Salonika. This branched, beyond the Aliakmon River, with the left fork passing east of the Vermion mountain range, then climbing through the Edhessa Pass and the Florina valley into Yugoslavia via the Monastir Gap, the historic invasion route.

The roads were as few as the railways; the principal one, linking Athens with Belgrade, followed an inland route west of Mt Olympus (the railway ran along the coast on the eastern side of the mountain) through the Servia Pass, over the Aliakmon River, through Kozani, Florina and the Monastir Gap.

The plan was to hold a defensive position on the line of the page 84 Aliakmon River from the coast to the Yugoslav frontier. It was a strong position as long as the Germans did not outflank it by overpowering Yugoslavia and striking down the Monastir Gap. That was precisely what they did do and the threat forced a retirement to a shorter line. But let us return to the engineer companies.

Sixth Field Company, the first arrivals, had only a couple of nights in Athens before moving north. The stone houses and the picturesque villages were vastly different from the mud hovels and flat-topped buildings in the land they had just left. The hilly country, emphasised by Egypt's sandy monotony, drew comparisons with New Zealand, but the likeness ceased with the topography for there was no livestock on the hills and no able-bodied men in the fields where the spring corn was in early growth.

The Company left the main highway at Elasson junction (13 March) and crossed the Olympus Mountains by a secondary road that snaked through a narrow gorge, heavily wooded and with rocky outcrops, on to the northern plains. The description would cover a dozen other defiles in Greece or in New Zealand, but this one had a particular significance to the Division. It had two names, classically and officially Petras Pass, colloquially Katerini Pass, after the town 20 miles or so to the north. The Army gave it a third, Olympus Pass.

Colonel Clifton, who had gone ahead to look the area over, met the convoy near the southern end of the pass and instructed No. 1 Section (Lieutenant Kelsall) to drop out at Ay Dhimitrios, a mountain village where stone houses clung to the sides of the valley before it closed in to the steep and often sunless Olympus Pass. The job was to prepare and improve the road for the very considerable increase in traffic that would be using the pass in the near future. No. 3 Section (Lieutenant Chapman3) was detached near the northern exit about ten miles farther on with the same mission. The remainder of the Company went as far as Katerini, a rail and agricultural centre of some 14,000 inhabitants, one hotel and several cafés which provided toothsome plate-sized omelettes, wholemeal bread and the local red krassi and white retsina. There was also the universal ouzo which the sappers had met before as zibbib, and which was to reappear under the aliases of arak, anisetta and absinthe. Despite the variety of names the effect was page 85 remarkably uniform; mixed with water the stuff looked like milk, tasted like peppermint and acted like dynamite.

They were, however, at Katerini only a couple of days before the Company moved back nearer the mouth of the pass. Bivvies were pitched under the trees on a hillside near the Kalokhori village church and the sappers compared the daffodil studded grass underfoot with the sandy wastes of Egypt.

On the same day (15 March) the Divisional Postal Section established a post office at Hymettus and on the 20th another at Voula. This served the whole Athens area and remained in operation for the duration of the campaign. A few days later another office was opened at Katerini with branches at 4, 5 and 6 Brigades, the supply dump at Keramidhi and Divisional Headquarters.

During this period 6 Brigade (Brigadier Barrowclough4), right, and 4 Brigade (Brigadier Puttick5), left, were taking station along their sectors of the Aliakmon line, and it is hardly necessary to mention that in a mountainous country like Greece roads were of paramount importance. Engineer work therefore fell mainly into two categories—keeping roads open for the passage of transport and, in the event of a withdrawal, making them impassable for as long as possible. There was, at least as far as the troops were concerned, no question of withdrawal, and for the next fortnight the sappers worked on access roads and bridges.

Engineer Headquarters in the Hellas and 19 Army Troops Company in the Ionia had a most unhappy crossing for they ran into a gale that dispersed the convoy. Some of the transports, certainly the Ionia, were ill-found tubs with a habit of rolling alarmingly while every plate groaned under the strain of overloaded equipment and overcrowded men. The Ionia took twice as long as usual on the journey, wallowing, pitching and trying to sink under the stormy waters. Many of the sappers hoped she would succeed and thus end their misery.

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Nineteenth Army Troops Company spent a week at Hymettus sinking tent-pole holes in the rocky ground by day and ‘doing’ Athens by night. After dark their camp held only the guard and the orderly sergeant. The Company, less No. 3 Section (Lieutenant Collins6) sent to Chaoichani7, near Elasson, where it worked on underground shelters for Force Headquarters, was concentrated around Katerini by 23 March.

E and M Section (Lieutenant Smart8) set up workshops in a park and Smart went up to Salonika with a detachment and empty trucks. They returned with very full trucks of much prized equipment obtained from engineer dumps there.

No. 2 Section (Lieutenant Page9) was sent back to Ay Dhimitrios, now vacated by 6 Field Company, and for almost a month worked on the pass road. The men were billeted, some in the local schoolroom and some in the church; ‘Harry’, the village priest, was appointed civil liaison and public relations officer by the non-Greek speaking sappers, for he was a nice chap with a good command of English and an amazing capacity for dealing with the local brew.

No. 1 Section (Lieutenant Jones10) and No. 4 Section (Lieutenant Patterson11) relieved the sections of 6 Field who were doing roadwork behind the brigades, and who then joined the rest of their company helping on an anti-tank ditch being dug by Greek women and men militarily unfit; and in Greece to be unfit you had, it seemed, to be at least half dead or over ninety.

There was practically no mechanical equipment available and the job of paying the civilians who took its place fell to Captain Carrie. He found that army acquittance rolls were a useless formality when the Labour Union officials spoke no English, the paying officer spoke no Greek and the official interpreter could not interpret sufficiently well to make each party's meaning clear to the other. In addition the villagers were illiterate, many had the same name about twenty letters long, which for good measure then ended with ‘opoulos’, and there wasn't page 87 enough room on the roll to get it all on. The only way to balance the account was to resort to artifice, as Captain Carrie admits:

‘By this time we'd realised the sheer impossibility of getting each man personally to sign the payroll, and our consciences had become a bit more elastic. As a matter of fact they had been stretched a little in our first pay out when we had finished with 10/- short.12 We didn't feel like parting out with 10/- out of our own pockets, so we paid up the 10/- to a purely fictitious “Georgius Papadopoulos” and forged his signature. But this paled into insignificance compared with the last pay out. We had a big session at which the Union officials, together with a few helpers signed all the rolls varying the handwriting and putting in an “X his mark” at intervals. The result was a very convincing document which I am sure would never have been detected for the forgery it was. We then handed over the money in bulk which saved us all the bother of change and left the Union officials to pay the men or their representatives…. It's amusing to think now of all those headaches and the trouble those rolls gave us when not one of them got back to the Chief Paymaster. They were all destroyed before the final evacuation and we left Greece without a receipt for a penny of the £15,000 we'd spent.’

Fifth Field Park, the third company to be deployed, was concentrated near Katerini on 25 March with a supply section (Corporal Bob Sweet13) at Larisa and one (Sergeant Len Morris) at Katerini railway station.

Seventh Field Company did not have the opportunity of ‘making an entrance’ on the Field of Mars, for it arrived in Katerini the same day that Germany declared war on Greece and everybody was too excited to take any notice of it. In accordance with a decision already taken to speed up work on the Olympus reserve positions, the 7th sappers were moved the next day back through the Olympus Pass to Kokkinoplos, a mountainous village on a by-road about five miles south-east of Ay Dhimitrios. From there they began to form a road over the shoulder of the mountain and down to the right flank battalion in front of the pass. The sappers were spread along its length in a world of their own high on the shoulder of Olympus—a world of cold winds, driving rain squalls and page 88 sudden snow flurries. They agreed that snow in Greece was no different from snow in England, but wasn't a man ‘stiff’ to leave England in the depth of winter for sunny Egypt and then find himself freezing in the mountains of Greece?

It will not be forgotten that Captain Nevins and his survey section had been in Greece since November; their record of being the first New Zealand troops in Greece was now added to by being among the first under fire. The section was still quartered in the New Phaleron hotel with other RE units when the Germans followed their declaration of war against Greece by raiding the Piraeus harbour.

Wave after wave of bombers came over about midnight (6 April), rocking the city with explosions and setting fire to the harbourside, but the hotel was well away from the danger zone and the sappers finally went to bed. They were wakened by an explosion loud enough to bring them back to the windows, but nothing could be seen through the dense smoke. The noise came from the freighter Clan Fraser which had been hit by a bomb and set on fire; she was loaded with TNT, and an hour later blew up with such force that windows in the hotel were shattered and a cascade of giant sparks was heaved high into the smoky night—sparks that were red-hot sections of steel plate and superstructure.

There was an urgent call for fire fighters; the sappers jumped into their truck and made for the waterfront; on the way they passed a section of the Clan Fraser's steel plating folded up like a piece of paper.

Dawn was near when Captain Nevins reported to the Admiralty building and was taken to a military officer connected with the dock area. He was a brigadier with a patch over one eye and was christened Lord Nelson on the spot. He very soon earned the respect of the sappers, for he did a neat job all by himself: about two hundred yards from the wharf where a minesweeper was tied up, a small vessel was burning and a Greek gun crew was trying to sink it—it was loaded with petrol. The Greeks, either through excitement or ignorance, were missing the target.

‘God's teeth! Give me that gun!’

Lord Nelson pushed the crew aside and, single-handed, holed the ship at the water line. Then he produced a tug and took the sappers over to the Clan Cumming which was also on fire. Her sides towered above the tug, for she had just left the slipway page 89 after being torpedoed, was quite empty and very high out of the water.

There was nobody aboard except the captain and the chief engineer; buckets of salt water were hauled up the steep sides and thrown on the flames while everything that was movable and burning was thrown overboard. All around them drifted burning barges filled with petrol drums exploding like a ragged barrage.

The battle was won by mid-morning and the next job was the Davies some distance away. The section boarded its truck and passed warehouses on fire, cranes lying twisted and forsaken like children's discarded toys and crowds watching their homes burning. They passed an Australian just standing and swearing; for two days he had helped load petrol drums into a rake of box wagons and now they were burning and he could do nothing about it—the points were fouled and the wagons could not be moved.

The fire on the Davies was more readily got under control, and when the last smouldering ember had been put out the section returned to the Admiralty building for further orders. They were thanked and told that that would be all. Besides the destruction of the Clan Fraser another merchant ship and a tug had been sunk, six merchantmen, twenty lighters and a tug burnt out.

The section, prior to returning to its billets, found a two-gallon jar and a five-gallon keg of cognac in the deserted Admiralty café. The jar was consumed easily enough but the keg was a little beyond their capacity and was sold to less fortunate inmates of the billets.14

The Greek garrison on the Bulgarian frontier took the first shock of the invading blitzkrieg and put up a valiant defence, but there was disturbing news of a German column sweeping around the Greek flank, thence down the Axios River towards Salonika.

By the afternoon of 8 April Yugoslavia was in a political turmoil and an uncoordinated resistance was swept aside. The Greek Eastern Macedonian Army was on the point of being isolated and it was possible for enemy troops to be in Monastir by nightfall; the only counter to the threat was an immediate withdrawal.

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Orders were issued forthwith: 4 Brigade was to move post-haste to cover the Servia Pass, where the road from Monastir crosses the Peria Mountains north-west of Olympus and 30 miles south-west of Katerini, while an Australian brigade with some British tanks and artillery, plus half the New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion, was to block the Monastir Gap.

Sixth Brigade was to move back into reserve near Elasson and cover the junction of the roads from Servia and Olympus, while 5 Brigade would stand fast on Olympus Pass and fight where it stood. While the realignment was taking place two squadrons of Divisional Cavalry would ensure that the enemy was not unduly precipitate in crossing the Aliakmon River.

By the night 10–11 April the redeployment was complete and the engineer situation was as follows:

Fifth Field Park Company was spread along a side road between Ay Dhimitrios and Kokkinoplos, whence it charged the demolitions prepared by 6 Field and 19 Army Troops Companies in the pass and on the bridges forward of it. At this point it must be stated that 5 Field Park Company did not for the rest of the campaign in Greece carry out its normal functions as a supply unit for the field companies. On the contrary it was used as a reservoir for parties on work for which it was neither trained nor equipped, but needs must when the devil drives. And the Teutonic devil drove exceedingly hard in the ensuing few weeks. Normally a field park company maintained a bridging section which delivered bridging material where needed and then replenished from Corps dumps, a field stores section which had charge of the divisional dumps, and a workshops section composed of tradesmen who repaired, built, altered, invented, or, that all-embracing word, ‘procured’ anything asked for from a latrine seat to a chronometer. It was in effect a company of storekeepers, drivers and tradesmen. At that stage there were only four officers on the establishment and one, Lieutenant Skinner,15 was attached to 6 Brigade so that practically all the details were commanded by sergeants.

To resume, 7 Field Company, assisted by working parties from 26 Battalion, continued forming the access road. General Freyberg had been informed, wrongly, that it could be built without much trouble, for very deep cuttings through solid marble alternated with retaining walls. The real obstacle, however, was a deep valley, almost a ravine, a major engineering page 91 project, that would have to be crossed before wheeled traffic could make any use of the work.

Most of the Company was camped in the valley, a thousand feet below the job, but Lindell's16 section occupied the Kokkinoplos schoolroom and the school mistress, late of the USA, acted as interpreter for him in organising the man and woman power of the village for work on his section of the project.

Sixth Field Company was widely spread. No. 1 Section (Lieutenant Kelsall) moved with 4 Brigade (8 - 9 April) to the Servia Pass. As at Olympus there was a pass, called variously Portas and Servia, through the dividing range.

No. 2 Section (Lieutenant Wheeler) left with 6 Brigade the following night in rain. It had a very nasty drive, without lights, through a misty darkness back through Olympus Pass to Livadhion, another mountainside village in the south Olympian foothills, and began working on an access road to Ay Dhimitrios.

No. 3 Section (Lieutenant Chapman) remained with a troop of field guns and the two squadrons of Divisional Cavalry on the New Zealand sector of the Aliakmon line, which stretched from the little fishing village with the big name—Neon Elevtherokhorion—about 15 miles westward to the Australian sector. Company Headquarters (Captain Woolcott) moved close to Kokkinoplos but Major Rudd stayed at Kalokhori in touch with Lieutenant Chapman, whose sappers were manning road blocks and mined bridges between the Aliakmon River and Olympus.

Nineteenth Army Troops Company found itself even more spread out than it was before:

No. 1 Section (Lieutenant Jones) left Katerini by a coastal track for Platamon, where 21 Battalion was digging in along a ridge running from Mt Olympus to the sea. The railway from Katerini to Larisa skirted the beach at that point and there was a tunnel through the ridge. The job was to prepare the tunnel for demolition without impeding the traffic. It was thought most unlikely that the enemy would move in any force against Platamon for the road was ill defined and not capable of carrying much heavy traffic.

No. 2 Section remained at Ay Dhimitrios repairing a fast deteriorating road surface.

No. 4 Section left the anti-tank ditches and reinforced No. 2 page 92 on the pass road. Lieutenant Page made his headquarters at the Gibraltar feature near the left flank of 22 Battalion.

No. 3 Section (Lieutenant Collins) stopped digging shelters for Force Headquarters at Tsaritsani (it had already decided to move somewhere else) and a detachment was sent to strengthen bridges west of the New Zealand sector for the passage of Anzac Corps tanks, and at the same time prepare the bridges for demolition. It returned on the 13th to Tsaritsani.

E and M Section went with Company Headquarters to Pithion, near Divisional Headquarters at Dholikhi. Some worked on roads in the vicinity and the rest began to erect its plant.

The New Zealand Division, instead of holding a river line across a plain (or as near to a plain as a country lying along a seismic fault and convulsed by aeons of earthquakes could provide) was holding passes through a tangled mass of mountain ridges that broke down into narrow valleys; communications were foot or bridle tracks, where a mile as the crow flies meant hours of mountaineering.

The reader must now visualise a situation where the enemy held absolute air superiority. Why it was so is not the province of this history to explain in any detail. Shortly, there were few planes for the same reason that there were not enough troops—more were just not available, and those aircraft that were there were overwhelmed by numbers. They put up a gallant fight but did not last long.

The next three days17 were spent in waiting for the oncoming enemy. The weather, up till then generally fine, broke with misty rain and low cloud. Reconnaissance planes daily showed their black crosses over Olympus but they were more objects of interest than alarm to the busy sappers.

The Germans and Italians met at Florina in Albania and the Greek armies, with only horse-transport and no anti-aircraft guns, were disintegrating. Sixteenth Australian Infantry Brigade was marching south across the ranges to fit in between 5 and 4 Brigades.

Out on the left flank the Luftwaffe was more active and Kelsall's section was dive-bombed while it worked. It was an unnerving experience to have planes plummetting out of the sky, screaming like banshees in pain. The noise was supposed page 93 to upset the troops on the ground and was not without its effect; later the German refinement to ground strafing was assessed at its true value—merely to put the wind up raw troops. But there was nothing tranquillising in the sight of bombs, up to a thousand pounds in weight, hurtling through the air and apparently going to drop on the same spot that the viewer stood on.

German advanced elements felt their way up to the Aliakmon River (12 April) and a motor-bike patrol surveyed the blown bridges. Those who were not machine-gunned by cavalry armoured cars hull down behind the south stopbank departed with some expedition and later in the day enemy infantry tried to launch pontoons. Colonel Clifton, who had been ceaselessly traversing the whole area since the withdrawal began, describes what followed:

‘… over the northern stop bank poured hundreds of infantry, carrying folded assault boats. Jammed in the thirty yards flat between stop bank and water, with Vickers guns firing in enfilade up and down the river, they never had Buckley's chance. Three determined attempts failed, leaving bodies and shattered boats along the stained river's edge or floating down to the sea. Very much on the alert, the New Zealanders peered through the night rain, expecting the right answer—a night assault—but nothing happened until further heavy ineffective shelling next morning, to which the four twenty-five-pounders vigorously replied. In the late afternoon, according to plan and under cover of soaking rain, the cavalry pulled back. They were delighted with their first scrap and left the river most reluctantly.’18

But more menacing was the fact that the Monastir Gap was being forced, with the consequent threat to the Anzac Corps left flank.

Easter Sunday, 14 April, opened fine and sunny. At Platamon, 21 Battalion, isolated on its ridge between the mountain and the sea, was working on its positions and enjoying the warmth. No. 1 Section, 19 Army Troops Company, was adding a few finishing touches to the Platamon tunnel by mining the track over the ridge and was making some home-made grenades for the infantry, who had not been supplied with those amenities. Lieutenant Jones, however, was not very happy about the tunnel. He had had only about one-fifth of the explosives necessary for a proper job and no tools for laying the charges; page 94 a compressor is not an Army Troops Company tool, and driving holes in the concreted sides of a tunnel with a pick is not a recognised method of preparing a demolition.

A part of Lieutenant Jones's demolition equipment consisted of a naval depth-charge which had been obtained in an irregular manner by Colonel Clifton. He had been told of the use of such charges on roads and bridges in Norway and had without any authority whatsoever obtained forty from the naval authorities in Alexandria and then talked the captain of his transport into carrying them to Greece. The mines used on the Platamon ridge had a longer history but an equally irregular origin. When the Second Echelon was withdrawn from its anti-invasion role in England, 7 Field Company managed to avoid handing back much of its demolition and anti-tank stores, which were eventually shared among the other engineer units in Greece. Major Hanson confesses:

‘These mines were brought by 7 Field Company from U.K. and closely guarded until arrival in Greece. We had to talk very persuasively to the shipping authorities in England before we were allowed to take the mines with us. This was not to be our greatest obstacle however. The shipment from Egypt to Greece presented many problems, but in this case I don't think the shipping people were notified that so many of our trucks were loaded with mines. My arguments were that a bn of machine gunners or infantry would not embark without taking front line ammunition, and in the same way engineers should not move without at least some supply of mines. Lt Rix-Trott19 was a wizard in achieving what we wanted and he got those mines to Greece. Risks must be taken in war and I consider that our risk was justified.

‘Although the engineers of Rommel's Army in the desert are usually given the credit for being the first to mine the locality of demolitions, this is not so. 7 Field Company made many demolitions more difficult by mining in Greece. The bridge demolished by Lieut Thomas20 just north of Elasson was a good example where all likely by-pass routes were well mined. Demolitions by 7 Field Company on the Lamia-Molos road were also generally mined. Some effective mining was done around the demolition on the direct road route over the hills page 95 from Elasson to Tyrnavos. All this was possible by virtue of bringing mines from the United Kingdom.’

General Freyberg called on 21 Battalion during the afternoon with the news that successful resistance so far north was not now possible and that another withdrawal, this time to the Thermopylae line in southern Greece, was under way. Twenty-first Battalion, which need expect only infantry patrols, was to hold Platamon until instructed to the contrary, and was to blow the tunnel when circumstances required it.

Circumstances required it shortly after the General's departure, when sun glinting off glass windscreens denoted the approach of an enemy force and the tunnel was blown forthwith.

The ridge rocked with the explosion and smoke poured from the tunnel openings, but on inspection it was not a satisfactory job, partly from insufficient charges and partly because cavities behind the concrete lining had absorbed some of the shock. An emergency reserve of 50 lb of gelignite was placed in a breach in the roof and brought down a lot of debris, but even so Jones estimated that the damage could be repaired within six hours. In point of fact the roof was still falling four days later, and 2 Panzer Division's diary states that the German movements were seriously hampered thereby.

No. 1 Section packed up and set out for the Pinios Gorge about six miles to the south, where the railway line crossed the river on a steel arch bridge at the far end and where road and railway track ran on opposite sides of the gorge.

In front of 5 Brigade the enemy, after the withdrawal of the cavalry screen, crossed the Aliakmon River and began making paths over the anti-tank ditches and repairing the cratered roads and blown bridges. A ‘blow and go’ job does not hold up engineers for long, and as it was beyond the capacity of the cavalry to impose further delay they were recalled. Lieutenant Chapman's section and Major Rudd's headquarters retired with the cavalry, the former blowing the prepared demolitions to cover the retreat. They passed through the infantry at the mouth of the pass in the late afternoon and carried on to Dholikhi. There were a few ‘recce’ planes overhead but nothing offensive, and for the sappers in the gorge the position was unchanged. The decision to retire had not yet been announced there.

It was still very lively on the Servia sector, with enemy columns approaching in plain view across the flats below the page 96 infantry positions. The New Zealand guns, plus some British mediums which had arrived the previous day and given the engineers a job of roadmaking, tore holes in the lines of vehicles making for the shelter of villages. By nightfall, the Kiwis were in contact with the enemy from the sea to Servia and were rather looking forward to the prospect of action on the morrow. But at 10 p.m. the brigadiers were told that the Division was not going to fight. On the contrary, 6 Brigade would cover the withdrawal of 5 and 4 Brigades and become the rearguard.

At first light (15th) 21 Battalion was attacked by infantry and later by armour and infantry, but the steepness of the ridge defeated the tanks and the fighting died down.

It is not too much to say that messages from 21 Battalion, at first thought to be bogus, describing the armour arrayed on the plain in front of Platamon ridge gave Corps Headquarters, as Colonel Clifton wrote in his diary, ‘One Hell of a shock’.

There was, however, nothing bogus about the tank, infantry and motor-cycle units which tried to take possession of Platamon ridge and 16 Australian Brigade was sent to reinforce. Clearly the German intention was to push, in spite of its drawbacks, along the shortest route to Larisa and so isolate any force north of that badly battered town. And that force at that time was the main bulk of Anzac Corps.

On the other side of Mt Olympus 5 Brigade spent the day watching the enemy build up, and at Servia, after a cheeky attempt to rush the defences in the early morning, the position was much the same as previously. Behind the fighting troops the sappers began moving again.

Fifth Field Park was instructed to take over an RE dump a few miles south of Larisa.

Seventh Field Company ceased work on the access road; the narrow track from the main pass road to Kokkinoplos had been metalled and widened where necessary and the new road formed and metalled for a distance of approximately five miles. But the gorge still remained to be crossed. The Company went by independent vehicles to Tirnavos, halfway between Elasson and Larisa. Lieutenant Hector's21 section was detached before the move and came under command of 5 Brigade.

Sixth Field remained dispersed; Company Headquarters moved three miles south of Elasson. No. 2 Section reported to page 97 6 Brigade in the Elasson area; No. 1 was at Servia with 4 Brigade. No. 3 was still with the Divisional Cavalry along the Elasson-Dheskati road disposing of a ton and a half of explosives and 200 anti-tank mines in and around four road blocks.

Nineteenth Army Troops Company moved again. Lieutenant Smart repacked his workshop and the section set out for Lamia where, after some vicissitudes, it arrived safely the following day. The rest of the company, less Lieutenant Jones's section at Platamon, concentrated five miles south of Larisa and took possession of a deserted tented area.

The enemy attacked 21 Battalion again at dawn on the 16th and the battalion, attacked frontally by tanks and with its left flank turned, was forced off the ridge. The first Lieutenant Jones knew of the disaster was the arrival of Colonel Macky22 reconnoitring the route out. Two pits had already been sunk in likely places in the road with crowbars and sundry tools borrowed from a Greek roadman, but there were no explosives to charge them. A small quantity found in a railway hut was used to block a tunnel by first hauling a box-car from a siding and then blowing off its undercarriage, blowing the rails at each end of the tunnel and demolishing a culvert.

As soon as Colonel Macky's message concerning the withdrawal had been received at Divisional Headquarters, Colonel Clifton sent 19 Army Troops Company post-haste to blow the bridge at the south end of the gorge, and prepare demolitions on the road back to Larisa and on two bridges on the northern outskirts of the town. Major Langbein sent Lieutenants Page and Collins with 2 and 3 Sections to look after the Larisa bridges while he took the rest of the company to the Gorge. When he found that Jones was out of explosive he sent Sapper Les Condgon23 back to the RE dump for more. Condgon's trip was fairly hair-raising, for with a large quantity of explosive aboard, a drive through a town under heavy bombardment is nothing to look forward to. He was lucky to arrive with his load.

In the meantime parties of 21 Battalion withdrawing from Platamon had concentrated at the mouth of the gorge, but the only way to cross the river there was by a hand-operated barge and it was late in the afternoon before the men were across. page 98 The guns of the supporting section of 25-pounders were also ferried over, but the artillery quads and the battalion carriers had to bump along the railway tracks and cross over the bridge Major Langbein was working on.

map of demolition sites

some of the demolitions done by new zealand engineers, 12–18 april 1941

The pursuing enemy had been expected momentarily, and the reason why contact had been so easily broken was because the tanks had not only run on to the mines Jones had scattered along the track but those that did manage to struggle to the top of the ridge had been marooned there by the steepness of the descent. Third Panzer Division supplies the enemy version:

‘The tanks pressed forward along narrow mule path. Many of them shed their tracks on the boulders or split their assemblies and finally the leading troop ran on to mines. A detour was attempted. Two more tanks stuck in a swamp and another page 99 blew up on a mine and was completely burnt out. After strenuous exertions a track was cleared while the engineers carried out a very successful sweep for mines.’

After the troops had passed through, the barge was sunk and the road blown in two places. They were, Lieutenant Jones wrote, ‘reasonably effective demolitions but presented only temporary obstacles unless covered with fire as they were in such positions that they could be fairly easily bridged.’

When the last of the unit vehicles had crossed the rail bridge it was blown and dropped into the river and both sapper parties returned to Larisa. Meanwhile 2 and 3 Sections, after sharing a bale of contraband tobacco with passers-by and dining off a young porker allegedly killed by bomb blast, had begun their jobs on the Larisa bridges. Sundry German pilots, judging by the attention they were lavishing on the project, were anxious to assist. Jerry, however, wanted the bridges destroyed at once and thus sorely inconvenienced the Anzac Force north of the Pinios River. One great consolation was that the sections had the free run of a deserted canteen, and between dodging streams of machine-gun bullets and whistling bombs secured ample supplies of beer, cigarettes and tinned foods, much of which was handed over to convoys passing through.

Fifth Brigade was to vacate the Olympus Pass that night and Lieutenant Hector, with sappers standing by the prepared demolitions on the pass road, worked on the best remaining site with compressor and explosives to lessen the chances of an early pursuit. The section, working in relays non-stop for twenty-four hours, blasted a fourteen-foot hole through the solid marble and then filled it with two cases of gelignite, half a ton of ammonal and the packing. All this was done to the accompaniment of the echoing roar of guns and the explosions of searching enemy shells, while faintly in the distance crackling noises rose and fell.

The last of the troops coming out by that route passed about midnight and the forward road blocks were fired. It was hoped that the charges would blow the whole road into the gorge below, but the result was only a series of craters of varying depths. Unless covered by fire they would not give the German engineers much trouble to repair.

The Maori Battalion had difficulty in disengaging and had not shown up at 3 a.m., at which time it should have been in a defensive position at the mouth of the gorge. It was to come off the hills into the gorge near Hector's last demolition, where page 100 Brigadier Hargest24 was waiting to see the troops through. He ordered another half hour's wait, after which the charge was to be blown without more ado. Right on 3.30, just as the plunger was about to be pushed down, there was a sound of men moving in the darkness. Germans or Maoris? Maoris! But it was a near thing. Fifth Brigade took up a defensive position from Kokkinoplos to Ay Dhimitrios covering the exit from the Olympus Pass.

Fourth Brigade had a relatively quiet day; perhaps the enemy's success in forcing 21 Battalion off the Platamon ridge had been encouraging enough to leave the unpromising Servia area alone for the time being. The brigade was, however, in a most precarious situation for 16 Australian Brigade on its right had departed to reinforce 21 Battalion and 19 Australian Brigade on its left was also moving back, followed by 26 NZ Battalion which was under its command. Farther to the left Greek divisions were dispersing under the weight of enemy air and ground attacks, so that actually 4 Brigade had both its flanks open. Lieutenant Kelsall's section stopped filling bomb craters and began preparing demolitions instead.

At this stage it should be mentioned that the withdrawal timetable had been altered and 5 Brigade was to move back from Olympus a day earlier, to take advantage of the continued misty weather in the foothills which made it possible to use the roads in daylight. Accordingly 5 Brigade began to move during the afternoon. No. 3 Section, 7 Field Company, went with the brigade. A last-minute change of route from the coastal road, which had been reported as impassable, on to the central route, which was more than full of Australian traffic, resulted in a night of stopping and starting before Lamia was reached.

With the departure of 5 Brigade the enemy was free, if the blocks in the gorge did not prevent it, to get his vehicles as far as the Elevtherokhorion crossroads, five miles north of Elasson.

The Elasson area, where 6 Brigade was preparing a rearguard position, requires some description. The roads from the Olympus and Servia passes, the only practicable routes for wheeled traffic, met at Elevtherokhorion a little to the north, on the edge of the plain that surrounds Larisa. Elasson itself was also page 101 a junction with the road from Dheskati almost due west (some of the Australian troops and 26 Battalion came out that way). From Elasson to Tirnavos, about halfway to Larisa, there were two roads, the direct eastern route winding over hills and through a pass while the longer and easier western road followed the Xerias River for some distance. From Tirnavos the one road led direct to Larisa.

Seventh Field Company, less No. 3 Section, had arrived at Tirnavos before daylight, and Major Hanson was given a number of bridges and road blocks to get ready around Tirnavos and the two roads north to Elasson. Of course, there were insufficient power tools for so many jobs to be done simultaneously. Lieutenant Wildey describes how to demolish a road in constant use by transport and under continual attention by enemy bombers:

‘I prepared a demolition on the hill route and placed it about a quarter of a mile down the road from the crest on the slope facing the enemy approach. I had a sub-section of men from Lindell's section, I think, and Sergt I. Larson.25 We had no rock drills or compressor so that meant very slow hand work. The crust of the road was about 4? thick but beneath that it was solid hard marble. We had no time to attempt tunneling in under the road so I arranged to have some shafts sunk down from the centre of the road and some against the bank so that trucks could straddle our shafts as we worked. I went to the Elasson demolition to try and borrow a compressor from Lt G. Thomas but it was fully engaged and he promised it as soon as they were finished. To get our shafts down we used cold chisels to make small holes—charged these with explosive, shattered the rock and then excavated it. This was repeated until the holes were about six feet deep after working flat out in relays for about 24 hours.

‘We were straffed by fighters while loading these holes and it was very disconcerting having to crouch in a hole with some hundreds of pounds of explosive while the Jerries had their fun. While we were filling in these shafts the withdrawal of vehicles nose to tail was so continuous that we bobbed down while they straddled us and continued the work of tamping as soon as a gap occurred. Lt Wheeler had a demolition on the other side of the hill and it was arranged that he fire both.’

Besides the bridge at Elevtherokhorion where Lieutenant page 102 Thomas was working, other parties were in the Elasson Gorge between the two places, at the Elasson bridge where the track from Dheskati crossed the river, at the Black Bridge where the western fork crossed the Xerias River, and in the Tataritsos Gorge between the bridge and the town.

The 17th was a day of excursions and alarms around Larisa. It was also a slaughterous day in Larisa for the enemy air force expended great energy in trying to block the only exit for the retreating Anzac Corps. By this time, with the rain and the tremendous traffic, the roads were breaking up beyond repair and mud was the prevailing feature.

A big strain was taken by the Postal Section with units drawing rations in advance, and in consequence not being where the Divisional Postal Unit thought they were. The previous day 144 bags of mail had arrived but it had not been possible to deliver 46 bags, which were brought back to Larisa. Those postal sappers, like the field engineers, were fairly versatile types and did not always restrict themselves to delivering mail. The war diary of the Divisional Postal Unit contains the following entry dated 17 April:

Larissa heavily bombed, train abandoned by Greek railway officials. Cpl Sangster,26 Postal Courier, with the assistance of a soldier, brought a train into the station from about 2 miles south of Larissa. One bag of mail delivered to HQ PO at Tyrnavos.’

The first bad news that reached Divisional Headquarters was of the premature blowing of a bridge on the Trikkala-Larisa road. It was to have been destroyed after the Australians had crossed the winding Pinios River, but was accidentally demolished before they arrived. What happened is best told by one of the actors in the drama.

‘While I was there I was in rather a poor show. I went out on a bridge on the Larissa/Trikkala road to prepare it for demolition. It was a fairly big one of about 5 spans each 100 ft about 40 ft above water level and was of steel struss construction—about 16 ft roadway and about 14 or 15 ft high. Well I found a fellow from the 6th Fd Coy. on the job and I was talking about some of the steel I struck on a reinforced concrete bridge I had trouble with the previous day. The result was that he put on a test cut to try the steel on one of the struts. After the explosion you can imagine our consternation when page 103 we found that we had blown up the bridge by accident…. I was extremely upset but nothing could be done except divert the traffic on a 10 mile detour. It caused a devil of a lot of trouble and was made much worse when later in the day the dive bombers blew up another big bridge on the detour and the fresh detour had to be increased to about 30 Miles.’27

What actually happened was that the decking of the bridge was set on rollers on top of the piers, with the usual allowance for expansion and contraction. The shock of the test charge, a mere five plugs of explosive, was sufficient to make the span jump the rollers and drop into the river. The result of this accidental demolition, probably the cheapest on record, was that the Australians had to feel along the Pinios River for fords and crossings with the enemy at no great distance behind them. There was another bridge farther north but an unlucky, or according to the point of view, a well aimed bomb sent it up before their arrival. The troops had to cross by punts and fords while the vehicles continued on to Tirnavos and thence to Larisa.

Fifth Field Park Company had found nobody to take over from at the RE dump, which was being hammered by enemy planes. So in the absence of further orders, Captain Morrison on his own initiative sent the bulk of his company south to Lamia, while he with fifteen sappers returned to Larisa, where he met a very disturbed Australian officer wondering how he was to get his men across the river at the demolished Trikkala bridge. There was a punt nearby but the ropes were wearing, and it was feared that they would part and leave the troops stranded.

The upshot was that Captain Morrison was asked to fill a ninety-foot span in the bridge with no material and no men to do the work. There was a pile of bridging cribs in the engineer dump and he set about improvising a footbridge across the gap with the makeshift materials. For the non-technical reader a bridging crib is a box of steel angles 6 ft by 2 ft by 2 ft which may be fastened together with metal couplings. These were cantilevered out from one side as in the normal method of erecting a Bailey bridge, which at that time had not been invented. The crib was three feet from the far side when a defective coupling broke and the bridge folded up like a jack knife. This was being repaired when the Australians sent a page 104 message that they were all across and thank you very much. Engineers are fairly vocal in such a situation and they departed blasphemously for Lamia.

The enemy did not catch up with 21 Battalion until evening, when the first tanks were stopped by the box-car in the tunnel and the removal of the barge. Sixteenth Australian Brigade had arrived and taken up a position supporting the New Zealanders.

An idea, or perhaps a suggestion, the source of which, in spite of much inquiry, it has not been possible to ascertain, resulted in Sappers Hoot Gibson28 and Frank Lynch29 being asked if they would like to resume their peacetime occupations and drive a train to the Pinios Gorge and, if necessary, bring 21 Battalion out. They accepted and were taken to the Larisa station. They selected an engine, raised steam, coupled up some trucks and set off, passing through the Australians and stopping somewhere near 16 Brigade Headquarters. Nobody seemed in need of rescue but the Aussies said that maybe they had better wait until morning in case some new orders were on the way. In the morning they found that the boiler had leaked away all its water and the banked-up fire was a mass of sodden cinders. The Aussies offered them transport back to Larisa so that they could get another engine. They went, fired another engine and returned, not forgetting to load the cab with cases of beer from the hospitable Aussies. This time they were told that they had passed over country that might be full of Jerries at any time and that the bright thing to do was to return to Larisa forthwith. They saw the point and left the trucks and derelict engine where they stood.

Fifth Brigade was moving south and 4 Brigade in the Servia Pass disengaged that night (17–18 April) and moved through 6 Brigade at Elasson en route for Molos. Two companies of 18 Battalion were the last troops to come off the silent ridges and climb aboard the waiting vehicles. Behind them were Lieutenant Kelsall's sappers, a section of carriers and the CO 20 Battalion, whose job as rearguard commander included ordering the firing of the demolitions.

The brigade was to be well clear of the Servia Pass before dawn but it was broad daylight when the engineers emerged page 105 into the open country. Behind them was a series of blown bridges, cratered roads, mined creeks and delayed action mines in ammunition dumps.

The vehicles were soon spotted from the air and the men were several times forced to halt and shelter from a plane that swooped along the road with blazing machine guns. There were no casualties from this attack but the extra delay was fatal. The blow fell at the moment that safety seemed assured.

‘400 yds from intersection at Elevetherokhorion and a shell landed in front of the truck and SA fire was heard behind us. Jumped out, looked back and saw two tanks on the road in the middle of the convoy; coming over the hills to the NE were 6–7 vehicles bringing motorised infantry. Looking back along the convoy of which only four trucks were visible I suddenly saw away to the right coming over the ridge motorised infantry sitting up in their tracked vehicles in row of forms like toy soldiers. Forward of me at the X roads I saw two Div Cav officers Col Carruth30 and Lt Robinson31 who were beckoning me on. They could not fire while I was in the way I suppose. So went on passing them and round the bend where Div Cav carriers were lying nose to tail in the lee of the hill side. Went on to Elasson and through to Molos.’32

Colonel Kippenberger, describing the catastrophe from the rear of the column, wrote:

‘… we received a particularly determined attack from the plane and we were forced to halt and take cover. I noticed that there seemed to be more fire than one would expect from a single plane attacking and then saw that one truck was ablaze about 500 yards ahead of me, and ahead of it again and about the road junction was a medium tank which I recognised as German, and I also saw another tank shooting in a southerly direction from a point about 500 yards north of the cross roads and quite close to where I stood on the road…. two or three planes were now attacking the road and the sappers both with bombs and machine guns and making it very difficult to get a clear view of what was happening.’

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Sapper Jack Farnham33 was among those who were cut off. ‘I was in Cpl Brian Lockett's34 truck well back in the convoy,’ he says, ‘and when we came under fire Cpl Lockett gave the order to try and get out on foot. Most of us were in a valley at the time and owing to many engineers not having had much infantry training quite a number went up over the hill side which made them a target for the MG's.’

Farnham went in another direction, and tried to capture a tank by climbing on to it and looking for a hole to fire his pistol through. There were no apertures open so he dived into the scrub and later joined Colonel Kippenberger, who with half a dozen others was making for gunfire noises which he thought came from 20 Battalion rearguard in action. In all approximately forty sappers failed to escape from the German ambush, the first severe engineer loss in the war.

The sounds of battle in which Colonel Kippenberger thought his battalion was involved was the defence of the crossroads by a force of Divisional Cavalry and anti-tank guns. Between the contestants Lieutenant Thomas and Sapper O'Malley35 were waiting to put the finishing touches to a bridge just south of the road junction. These finishing touches were a naval depth-charge and thirty anti-tank mines which it was proposed to use as an overloading charge in the centre of the deck. The last vehicle of A Squadron, Divisional Cavalry, crossed under cover of the anti-tank gunners and Lieutenant Robinson gave the order to fire, remarking at the same time ‘The next three are Jerry's'. The pair placed the mines and depth-charge on the bridge; the charges were fired and the bridge disappeared; both abutments vanished and the superstructure was not to be seen.

Their truck was fired on as they dashed towards the safety of the forward two-pounders, but there were no casualties apart from that caused by a missile that went through the truck and wrecked an imperial pint beer mug which Thomas had brought from New Zealand and which he greatly prized.

Their next stop was the gorge half a mile north of Elasson, where five mined charges had been laid on a stretch of road built along a cliff face. As soon as the cavalry and anti-tank outposts were through, a ton of ammonal erased the road. The gap, kept under fire by our artillery, was not repaired and the page 107 enemy had to build another road on the eastern side of the hill. Thomas and his sappers then rejoined their unit at Tirnavos.

It was considered imperative, after the experience of trying to share the inland road with the rest of Anzac Corps, that 6 Brigade retire by the coastal road previously reported unusable for any numbers of vehicles. The part between Larisa and Volos had been under repair for months and some sectors were unmetalled. In one particularly bad piece water had saturated the foundations, but there had been no rain for twenty-four hours and it was hoped that the surface would hold until the trucks were across. Colonel Clifton was told by General Freyberg to get some sappers on to the bad patch. The only sappers available were the two sections with 6 Brigade who were to pass through Larisa that day, so while Colonel Clifton inspected the road Lieutenant Yorke36 was stationed on the main road to turn any engineers back—if he could find any.

Lieutenant Chapman and part of his section were intercepted and directed to the coast road, and later some few of No. 2 Section were likewise turned back. They were all much fatigued, but they constructed a ramp around the wet sector before pushing on to rejoin the company near Lamia. Sixth Brigade and supporting arms were able to use the coast road for their retreat to the Thermopylae position.

There was no intention of trying to use the railway to bring out troops from Larisa, but circumstances beyond the control of those in charge of movement made it imperative that one battalion be so moved. Lieutenant-Colonel Gentry37 explains the circumstances:

‘I am not sure now of the reasons for the shortage of motor transport to move 26 Bn, but I think that it was due to the disappearance of a British MT Coy which I had “acquired” during the move of 5 Bde from the Olympus area. At any rate we knew during the morning that there was not enough MT page 108 to shift the whole of 6 Bde in one lift. Alan Ross,38 the DAQMG, suggested the train and I went in to Larisa from Nikaia about noon to explore the possibility. In the railway station (otherwise deserted) I met two sappers from 19 A Tps, one of whom said he had been an engine driver and gave his opinion that it would not be difficult to organise a train if the dive bombers would allow it. I told him to have a good look at the engines and rolling stock and then went back to Div HQ and got the CRE on the job with verbal instructions to get the train assembled at a suitable siding west of Larisa ready to move as soon as it was dark. There were progress reports during the afternoon and the DAAG (Brooke-White) was at the train before it departed. I saw the CO 26 Bn myself and together we fixed the destination Kephissokhori from my 1/1,000,000 tourist map. None of us appreciated how hazardous the journey would be.’

The sappers referred to by Colonel Gentry were Gibson and Lynch, recently returned from the Pinios Gorge. Nineteenth Army Troops Company was standing by its trucks ready to move south when volunteers with railway experience were called for. Sappers L. L. Smith,39 G. Leuty,40 O. G. Bradley41 and G. L. Hill42 stepped forward and were taken in to Larisa. Bradley was uneasy about his personal gear left behind as it contained, amongst other items, a case of purloined whisky. He had good reason to feel apprehensive for he never saw any of it again.

In the meantime Lieutenant Jones had blown the points in the yard but had left the main line clear, so after picking their third engine the crew went south a few miles to obtain trucks and returned with fifteen to a siding just outside Larisa. Twenty-sixth Battalion arrived about 5 p.m. and was asked to help fill the water tender. One of the trucks contained petrol in four-gallon tins, which the troops opened with bayonets and used to form a bucket brigade. The water system was not functioning but there was a well fifty yards away which supplied page 109 the deficiency, and at 8.30 p.m. the ‘26 Bn Special’ departed. The battalion was taking more risks than it knew for the crew had never been over the line, the track signal system was not working, it was necessary to drive without lights, and the engine brakes were indifferent. The first 40 miles took four hours and involved collisions with jiggers abandoned on up-grades and with a railcar.

The night was pitch black and rain was falling when the ‘26 Bn Special’ clattered into Demerli station and collided with another engine and several trucks. The Larisa engine stood the impact very well, and though it was possible to move the obstruction to a siding, the difficulty was to decide which fork of the junction went to where. The decision was made and the journey continued with a party going forward to examine such culverts and viaducts as the crew managed to see.

A few miles past Demerli junction the track ran by the Larisa-Lamia road, which was a blaze of lights from convoys sacrificing safety for speed. The crew decided that one more light would make no difference and switched on the headlight. No light was forthcoming. The Dermerli collision had wrecked the mechanism but the cab lights functioned, which was some help. Grades became steeper on the climb through the Dhomokos Pass and the overladen engine's speed dropped, until, on a steep pinch just before first light, it crawled to a stop.

All brakes were applied, five trucks uncoupled, and the troops reseated and squeezed up tighter. Stones were placed behind the wheels while a head of steam was built up. There was no braking system through the train and the hand brakes in the trucks were operated on a set of signals from a torch waved from the engine. The technical problem was to get the maximum pressure of steam without blowing the safety valve. Gibson waited to the last possible moment before he opened the regulator, the wheels gripped on the sanded rails, the couplings drew tight and they were away again.

The worst appeared to be over with the coming of day, but the steep gradients on the south side of the pass were too much for the engine's brakes. Gibson tried everything he knew but the speed increased until the train was virtually out of control. The engine screamed and lurched around bends faster and faster until only the hand of Providence could save the situation. At almost the last possible moment they collided with a jigger, sent the top flying in one direction, a wheel off an axle in another, while the axle with its remaining wheel got tangled page 110 in the brake rods and helped to stop the train. While some of the crew extricated the axle the others worked on the brakes and managed to tighten them enough to keep the train under control. The last hazard was the Kalivia junction. Were the points open for Lamia? They were, and the last train from Larisa pulled up outside the Lamia marshalling yards. The sapper story stops here after fourteen hours of by guess or by God driving.

Ironically enough, the men who had brought 26 Battalion through to safety were by mischance left behind when the unit moved on, and they had to find their own way to the reinforcement camp at Voula. From there they were taken to the illfated Kalamata beach, fought as infantry until the beach was surrendered, and only Gibson and Lynch evaded capture.

To return to the battle area. By last light on the 18th 21 Battalion had been bypassed by tanks and forced in to the hills, 16 Australian Brigade had been dispersed, and only the New Zealand Artillery barred the enemy approach to Larisa when darkness fell and immobilised the enemy armour. Sixth Brigade, still in position near Elasson, was to withdraw that night. Seventh Field Company preceded the infantry, but Major Hanson followed behind with a small demolition party firing road blocks and bridges. As they passed through Larisa a few hours before dawn, headlights, flares and tracer were seen in the direction of the Pinios Gorge, but they got through without incident and rejoined the company to find that the main body had sustained its first casualties, two killed and three wounded.

Second Panzer Division was in Larisa at 6 a.m.

By 20 April Anzac Corps had completed its withdrawal to the Thermopylae line. Here the New Zealand Division was on the right from the sea to the mountains, where 6 Australian Division covered the Brallos Pass where the road and railway wound through the Pindus Mountains.

The New Zealanders were holding an immensely strong position, the classic Pass of Thermopylae and the gateway to southern Greece. The pass was not as narrow as it was in 480 BC when the Spartan king Leonidas made his stand against the Persians, nor as it was in 353 BC when Philip of Macedon decided that it was too tough a position to force. Nevertheless it posed some problems even for an army equipped with aircraft and armour.

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All engineer units were dispersed along the road from Thermopylae southwards, with squads responsible for lengths of road that just had to be kept open. The system was to dash out whenever the road was cratered and repair the damage before the return of the planes with another load of bombs.

A party of 7 Field Company (Lieutenants Lindell and Hector) went forward by truck to the fishing village of Stilis, at the head of the bay to the east of Lamia, to destroy a fairly numerous fleet of small craft that the enemy might use for a seaborne landing farther down the coast.

The effect of an anti-tank mine on a launch was quite spectacular for it disintegrated, according to Lieutenant Lindell, with a loud bang and threw debris high in the air. The hulls of dinghies were bashed in with picks and hammers and the sappers returned via a side road, accompanied by two platoons of 20 Battalion which had been sent to act as a covering party. They were lucky to escape without a brush with the enemy, for at midday advanced elements of 5 Panzer Division were in Dhomokos, only 15 miles to the north.

The German 12 Army put a different interpretation on these activities. Its evening report to GHQ included the entry, ‘Greek civilians trying to rescue German airmen forced down into the sea cast of Lamia were fired on by the English and all their boats burnt.’43

Another detachment, this time from 6 Field Company under Major Rudd, went forward after last light and demolished a bridge on the Lamia-Volos road. Lieutenant Wildey fired another bridge on the Lamia-Molos road but the next day Brigadier Hargest ordered further work to be done on the wreck as he feared that it might still be usable by the enemy. Lieutenant Hector went out after dark and laid more charges. It was tricky work as no covering party was provided and Hector had to wade backwards and forwards carrying his explosives through a strongly flowing current. While he was at his work the infantry behind him opened up and the enemy replied, so that he was between two fires, a most difficult and dangerous position, but he carried on and completed the demolition.

The similarity between the positions of Anzac Corps and Philip of Macedon was carried a step further. Philip outflanked the Athenians at the Thermopylae Pass with the aid of Fifth Columnists who led him around the defences by secret paths; page 112 the Anzac Corps was undone by the capitulation of the Greek Army, which presented the Germans with an open left flank.

Before the weighty decisions being taken were implemented, 3 Section, 7 Field Company, was ordered to send a party up to Lamia and drive three trains down the line towards Athens. Two were got safely away but the work of coupling up the third was repeatedly interrupted from the air. Finally some Australian engineers, working independently, blew the railway viaduct, so that when the train was assembled the crew had nowhere to go. They ran their train on to the broken bridge and watched it crash into the river before they set out to walk back to their lines. They were not expected and very unwelcome. It was too dark to establish their identity and they spent a very cold and miserable night waiting for dawn. An English officer who had joined them went forward waving a white handkerchief, introduced himself, and said that there were New Zealand sappers out in front. It was some hours later before his identity was established and a tired, cold and hungry party of sappers was able to report to its unit.

On the afternoon of the 22nd Colonel Clifton brought the news—the Imperial Forces were evacuating Greece and he, to his unconcealed delight, had been given command of the divisional rearguard. Major Rudd became acting CRE and Lieutenant Kelsall, in the absence of Captain Woolcott patrolling the channel between Euboea Island and the mainland in a fishing launch, took temporary command of 6 Field Company.

The plan for the withdrawal from Thermopylae along the road Atalandi-LevadhiaThebes, thence either via Khalkis or Elevsis to Athens, was for 4 Brigade to move to a covering position in the Thebes (Kriekouki) Pass forthwith, while 5 Brigade would concentrate in the area Ay Konstandinos and move on the night 23–24 April to embarkation beaches near Athens. Sixth Brigade would disengage on the night 24–25 April and pass through 4 Brigade en route for its embarkation beaches.

The Movement Order ended: ‘Engineer units will carry tools and working stores including truck compressor equipment but apart from personal gear, fighting equipment and transport, everything else will be destroyed. No attempt will be made to salvage vehicles breaking down en route. They will be put off the road and rendered useless but not burned.’

Clifton Force, including a detachment of 7 Field Company under Lieutenant Wildey, would cover the withdrawal of 6 page 113 Brigade. The engineer duty was to do urgent road repairs and blow demolitions after the brigade group withdrew.

Sixth Field Company packed up and followed the 4 Brigade column that night. Before first light it was dispersed under olive trees a few miles south of Thebes, awaiting instructions and watching enemy fighter planes sweeping up and down the road. Lieutenant Kelsall was called to Brigade Headquarters and told that Australian sappers were taking care of the Kriekouki Pass and that his company was to move down the road towards Athens until it came to Elevsis, where it was to turn right on to the ElevsisMegaraCorinth highway. That, he was instructed, was the route 4 Brigade was to take to the embarkation beaches; also it was infested by dive-bombers, and blocked by refugees and their carts making for the Peloponnese.

Sixth Field was to be responsible for the road from Elevsis to Corinth, prepare the bridge over the Corinth Canal for demolition, repair it if damaged if at all possible, and in any case was to see that 4 Brigade could get across by pontoon. Finally the Company would join Clifton Force, blow the road behind them, then send the bridge up, thus placing a sizable barrier between themselves and the enemy.

The Corinth Canal, a sea-level passage with walls 260 feet high, cuts across a four-mile neck of land between the Gulf of Corinth and the Gulf of Aegina and makes an island of the Peloponnese. Corinth itself is situated some three miles from the site of the ancient city which was the address of St. Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians, and which was destroyed by an earthquake in the middle of last century.

Lieutenant Chapman went ahead to choose a bivouac area, and after dark the thirty-five trucks of the company got on to a road already packed with Australian and 5 Brigade transport making for Athens. Fifth Field Park, 7 Field Company, less Lieutenant Wildey's detachment, 19 Army Troops Company and Engineer Headquarters were in the New Zealand convoy. Nineteenth Army Troops and Headquarters carried on for the 140-mile run to Porto Rafti beach, but 5 Field Park and 7 Field Company, less No. 3 Section still with 5 Brigade, were detached south of Thebes to assist the Australians if needed.

The Company dispersed in the area chosen by Lieutenant Chapman about seven miles from the Elevsis turnoff, but in the morning what appeared to be a very quiet secluded spot was found to be between the edge of the sea, where a still page 114 smoking grounded steamer acted as a magnet for every German plane near Athens, and the road, along which enemy planes made progress in daylight almost impossible.

Lieutenant Wheeler's section (No. 2) was detailed to destroy all pontoons and ferry cables on the enemy side of the canal, to repair the bridge if damaged, and at the same time load it with explosives. He made his headquarters in a gully about a mile and a half west of the canal and moved his vehicles over after dark.

Lieutenant Chapman's section (No. 3) had the 30-mile stretch of road between the bridge and the Elevsis turnoff to keep in order. It worked in two sub-sections with four-hour shifts and, between air raids, manhandled trucks, dead donkeys, dead humans (mostly civilian) out of the long cuttings, as well as sinking demolition holes in suitable places. The survivors of the section caught in the Servia Pass (No. 1) were held in reserve under Lieutenant Wells.44

While 6 Field Company caught up some sleep that night, 19 Army Troops Company and Headquarters embarked for the twelve-hour journey to Crete, where they were to stage while the rest of the Division left Greece; 7 Field and 5 Field Park, not wanted for work at Thebes, went on to Porto Rafti and again hid up. Sixth Brigade, standing between a New Zealand field gun versus German tank battle, held off its opposite numbers and moved out according to its own schedule after dark that night (24–25 April); 72 Infantry Division Advance Guard earned its commander a Knight's Cross by capturing the New Zealand position a couple of hours after the last Kiwi had left; Clifton Force waited around Cape Knimis to take over its rearguard role as soon as 6 Brigade passed; and Wildey's demolition party stood by the sites of two projected road blocks that require further explanation.

The first demolition, contrived by 5 Field Park Company under the direction of Captain Pemberton,45 was at a spot where the road at the bottom of a steep hill was separated from the sea by a narrow strip of sand. Two half-ton charges were so placed that, on firing, the sea would flow in and create a water obstacle. The second demolition prepared by 7 Field page 115 Company under Captain Ferguson46 was about 300 yards farther on at a spot where the road was cut along the cliff face 50 feet above the sea.

map of road demolition

road demolitions, cape knimis, 25 april 1941

page 116

Clifton Force was deployed to cover these points with fire and hoped most earnestly that the German engineers would essay the task of throwing bridges over the gaps which would ensue when the charges were detonated.

Another but more light-hearted obstacle to the forcing of the road blocks was provided by Captain Carrie, who had remained with Colonel Clifton. He had obtained one of the ‘No Entry’ notices strewn around Divisional HQ areas, added his own composition ‘Achtung! Durchang Verboten! Auf Wiedersehen’ and proposed placing it conspicuously.

The first troops were due at midnight, but it was hours after that time before anything approached and the worried rearguard thought that perhaps the brigade had been cut off. Lieutenant Wildey is eloquent:

‘Was it Jerry or our own troops? That was the difficult question. Col Clifton got me to cover him with my tommy gun while we moved quietly forward and challenged the leading vehicle. There was an argument about a pass word and if I remember correctly some strong NZ cusswords provided reasonable proof of our identity, for all safety catches were forward at that moment and trigger fingers itchy. Col Clifton gave the order for full speed ahead with lights on and with the reminder that the column was crossing a large explosive charge, the trucks moved off smartly, headed for Athens.’

When the last vehicles were past, the charges were blown and then, as Wildey says, evil thoughts came into his mind. He took an anti-tank mine and the ‘No Entry’ notice and with the help of Sapper McCutcheon47 did things to primers and wires which would ensure a speedy entry into Valhalla to any warrior who lifted the notice. If some German engineers were rapidly translated from this world to the next they could not say that they were not warned.

The pair rejoined their party and caught up with Colonel Clifton in Thebes, where he directed them to report back to Major Hanson at the embarkation beaches beyond Athens. He himself was going south on a new assignment to arrange final demolitions for the withdrawal into the Peloponnese. They passed through the city at midday and, again quoting Wildey, ‘The streets were crowded with people on either side and as we drove our battered truck along with its begrimed and unshaven party aboard, the people cheered and threw us bunches of flowers, saying in poor English “Come again New Zealand”.’

page break

map of Crete

page 117

The 7 Field and 5 Field Park Companies moved again that night to the Porto Rafti lying-up area and dispersed for another day of inactivity. A detachment of twelve sappers commanded by Lieutenant C. F. Skinner was sent to Markopoulon, about five miles inland, to cover a road block where they were to remain until dusk. Their offensive armament consisted of two anti-tank rifles and two Bren guns, all the company possessed, as well as their own personal arms, and they were to hold up any patrols that might come from Khalkis or Euboea Island. After dark the men drained the oil sumps and ran the engines of their trucks until they seized, then formed up with some artillery and other units which were embarking that night. The sappers were spread over three ships, some on the cruiser Carlisle, some on the destroyer Kandahar and the rest on the transport Salween. Lieutenant Thomas and about thirty of 7 Field Company plus Lieutenant Skinner's party were on the Salween, which sailed direct to Alexandria while the main convoy went to Crete.

Sixth Field Company, which we left on the road to and on the bridge over the Corinth Canal, did not embark as a company. At the time the others were moving to the beaches, the company was wandering in small groups all over southern Greece. That is, those of them who were not already prisoners of war.

This was the way of it—Lieutenant Kelsall decided to move to a quieter area nearer Corinth so, leaving Sergeant Jay and a sub-section guarding mined road blocks, the trucks and crews were moved after dark (25–26 April) into a lemon orchard a couple of miles south of the bridge, where it was possible to get some sleep.

The sleep had a sudden termination at daybreak. Kelsall's diary explains why:

‘0530 hrs: Heard noise of straffing and was told by sentry that paratroops were landing on the undulating ground to the E. Dumfounded. Started to put the orchard in a state of defence: 1 and 3 Secs running N-S and facing E and S. HQ Sec covering the SW. We could not see the bridge for the trees and we were probably not seen ourselves in the orchard. The paratroopers were jumping from about 500' and fighter planes were skimming the tops of tall pines bordering the orchard. It was possible to see inside the planes thro’ the open doors.

page 118

‘As my troops were not trained infantry, told the sec commanders to husband ammunition and not to fire until the enemy were at least 400x away. No. 3 section a bit eager must have fired at 800x and perhaps let the enemy know we were there…. At 0650 hrs a terrific explosion and it seemed to me that the br had gone up…. The show began with fire from automatics and when our resistance stiffened mortars were brought into action….

‘0900 hrs: Decided to make a break, ordered all trucks to be emptied of equipment with the intention of racing trucks out and going south. I climbed a tree … and saw to my horror blazing tanks of 4H—at least three (men had run to them and then been shot at I think), and Bren carriers in an open field. The Messerschmidts were taking to them very successfully and the rd out was dead straight and ideal for straffing. With 6 wheeled 30 cwt Morris trucks decided to stay and fight….

‘1300 hrs: Running very short of ammo—no communication with the bridge. I decided to make a break with the rest of the Coy—140 men. We divided into small groups (NCO and 6 ORs) to fight our way out and make for the coast.

‘1430: Decided to order the move….’

No. 2 Section was wakened by the usual morning hate and was preparing for the day's work when, to their paralytic astonishment, they saw parachutes dropping from the sky. Some stood petrified with amazement, others grabbed their rifles and waited for instructions as to what to do next.

Lieutenant Wheeler ordered them to disperse before they were surrounded by the waves of dropping paratroops and to concentrate again behind Corinth village. Some made it but the majority did not, for there were Germans all over the area. Major Rudd, who as acting CRE had his small headquarters in rear of 6 Field Company, went forward to see what was happening and collected approximately twenty sappers whom he led to eventual embarkation at Monemvasia. Wheeler with another dozen or so embarked after much marching and hiding at Argos. Lieutenants Kelsall and Wells and party were betrayed, one of the few cases on record; Lieutenant Chapman with twenty others, after island hopping in borrowed and stolen boats, evaded capture; another score or so found various embarkation beaches; still others got as far as Kalamata beach, where 5000 waited and only 500 could be taken; some escaped even after that, but approximately seventy more sappers of 6 Field Company joined the forty taken at the Servia Pass.

page 119

It only remains to describe the end of the Corinth bridge, and to do so it is necessary to go back in time a few days.

It was originally intended to embark 4 Brigade from the Athens area, but force of circumstances had compelled a change of plan and 4 Brigade Group was now to follow 6 Brigade down into the Peloponnese, only a few hours' run from Crete. Lieutenant Wheeler's instructions regarding the canal bridge, pontoon bridges, ferries, etc., ended with the intimation that the order to destroy the bridge would be given in writing by an officer from Force Headquarters, and that he (Wheeler) would ensure that the bridge did not fall into enemy hands intact.

Some time during the 25th and unknown to Wheeler, who was working on the pontoon bridge moored to the far bank of the canal, a staff officer whom it has not been possible to identify added a verbal order that on no account was the bridge to be demolished for another twenty-four hours, during which time 4 Brigade Group would pass across. From the section camp a mile and a half away, Lieutenant Wheeler was sure the bridge had been blown.

‘In all the complexity of noise it had been impossible to tell whether the bridge had been fired but I didn't entertain any doubt. The picquet had clear written orders. “Under no conditions will you allow the bridge to fall into enemy hands intact.” But the fate of the boys themselves was more uncertain. Their chances would be pretty lean.

‘It was not given to me to know that a few hours earlier that a Very Senior Officer had stopped to have a word with the sappers. And that he had firmly impressed on them that there was another convoy yet to pass through. He added that “under no conditions was the bridge to be destroyed for at least twenty four hours”. Which put the n.c.o. in charge of the party in rather a spot when the band began to play in the morning. Disobey a written order from a subaltern or a verbal order from a Staff Officer with red braid all around his hat? He did the obvious thing—left the bridge cold, jumped a truck, came out through a hail of lead. Happily ignorant of this development, I watched the fourth or fifth row of parachutes laid neatly across what had been our camp. Not a sign of the lads and another trio of 52's hove in sight. I deemed it high time to head for the horizon.’48

The bridge was thus seized intact, no mean prize to a commander who wanted to push south after the elusive Anzacs. page 120 And no mean embarrassment to a commander who had planned to move the rest of his division into the Peloponnese and embark from beaches there.

The German elation terminated when, with a roar followed by an immense smoke cloud, the structure collapsed into the canal.

A mass of conflicting evidence has been collected regarding the cause of the explosion that wrecked the Corinth bridge, but there is at least one witness who is quite certain that two New Zealand sappers lost their lives in the attempt.

Here is the testimony of Gunner H. E. Smith49 who had been wounded at Tempe, missed embarkation at Megara, and was being taken by truck to another beach:

‘We were hardly across the bridge, travelling south, when the blitz started…. we jumped the transport and I made for a clump of rocks. I was still hugging a bren and some ammo picked up the night before. It was here that I first met the two engineers. One remarked that if Jerry hit the bridge she'd go sky high as it was loaded to the gills with TNT. The longer the raid continued the more they remarked on it not getting hit. They couldn't understand it…. I looked up and saw the Parachutists dropping. We jumped up, and being firmly convinced that the parachutists wouldn't take prisoners we decided to sell out as dear as possible. I made for a mound, followed by the two sappers and it was then we saw the bridge still intact. One sapper said to the other, “They're after that bridge Boss” (It was either Boss or Bossie)…. It was here that the idea came to blow the bridge. There was a hurried huddle to see whether the three of us went or one or two. It was decided on two and I'd cover with the bren as the Huns were well on the ground and making things hot. From where I was I could give complete cover as the bridge was plain ahead. The next second the boys were gone and so long as I could I kept them in my sight, but believe me, trying to keep up with the Huns didn't leave much time.

‘Quite a fair bunch of Huns were coming in from the northern end and soon apparently guessed what was going on and endeavoured to stop them. Just short of the bridge, one of the boys fell. The other made the bridge for sure as he came right in sight. For a moment I thought he'd been hit as he seemed to fall but the next I saw he was coming back. He page 121 looked to have cleared the bridge when it seemed to heave and the next moment she was sky high. Considering the sapper's position it doesn't surprise me to hear there's no trace of his or the other sapper's body as by the blast and the rock that came over they must have been blown to pieces.’

There is an equally convincing account by two British officers who believed that they exploded the charges by rifle fire. But no trace was ever found of Lance-Corporal (‘Bos’) Boswell50 and Sapper Thornton51 of 6 Field Company.

Colonel Clifton with his party, reduced to Captain Carrie, Captain Macfarlane52 and three sappers, crossed the Corinth bridge seven hours before its capture and located Divisional Headquarters late in the afternoon of 26 April. There he was told that it was essential to blow the road behind the brigade group because the enemy held the Corinth Canal. Sixth Field Company had been caught in an airborne attack; there were no anti-aircraft guns, no engineers and no explosives because the Australian sappers with 4 Brigade were north of the canal.

His own resources were not exactly extensive, for besides his manpower of one medical officer, an adjutant and three sappers, all he had in the car were two pounds of gelignite, a few detonators and a small length of fuse. The answer, the only answer, was depth-charges from the Navy. A dash to Miloi produced a depth-charge from a destroyer that came in after dark and three more were taken from a stranded Greek destroyer at Monemvasia the next day (27th). Sixth Brigade was to come into the area that night and lie up until the following night, when it was to be taken off. A suitable length of road and a bridge had been selected for demolition about 16 miles away from the beach, and after the brigade had passed the depth-charges were placed in position and exploded. The road was little damaged but the bridge vanished. For good measure the last charge was placed in a culvert and left to be fired by the Pioneer Officer of 24 Battalion. He set it off at precisely one minute to midnight, 28 April, the last engineer demolition in Greece. Colonel Clifton and party embarked on the destroyer page 122 Hotspur in the early hours, and at Suda Bay transferred to the Comliebank en route for Egypt.

So ended the engineers' first major campaign. In eighteen days they had destroyed almost more roads and bridges than they could build in their collective lifetime. But they had slowed up the enemy advance sufficiently to permit the Division to escape more or less intact from Greece. And this was accomplished in spite of difficulties in securing explosives and a shortage of proper equipment.

Engineer casualties in Greece were:

5 Field Park Company
Wounded 2 PW 3
6 Field Company
Killed 11 Died of wounds 5 Presumed killed 2
Wounded 10 PW 104 Wounded and PW 13
7 Field Company
Killed 2 Wounded 3 Presumed killed 1
Wounded and PW 5 PW 14
19 Army Troops Company
PW 10 Wounded and PW 1
10 Railway Construction Company
PW 1
16 Railway Operating Company
Killed 1
Divisional Postal Unit
Wounded 2

Note: Prisoners of war from all units except 6 Field Company were from the reinforcement camp at Voula and were taken at Kalamata.

1 Report by GOC 2 NZEF, Maj-Gen Freyberg, on ‘The Campaign in Greece’.

3 Capt St.G. W. Chapman, m.i.d.; Christchurch; born Lower Hutt, 23 Apr 1915; engineering student; wounded 26 Apr 1941.

4 Maj-Gen Rt. Hon. Sir Harold Barrowclough, PC, KCMG, CB, DSO and bar, MC, ED, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US), Croix de Guerre (Fr); Wellington; born Masterton, 23 Jun 1894; barrister and solicitor; NZ Rifle Bde 1915–19 (CO 4 Bn); comd 7 NZ Inf Bde in UK, 1940; 6 Bde May 1940-Feb 1942; GOC 2 NZEF in Pacific and GOC 3 NZ Div, Aug 1942-Oct 1944; Chief Justice of New Zealand.

5 Lt-Gen Sir Edward Puttick, KCB, DSO and bar, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Timaru, 26 Jun 1890; Regular soldier; NZ Rifle Bde 1914–19 (CO 3 Bn); comd 4 Bde Jan 1940-Aug 1941; 2 NZ Div (Crete) 29 Apr-27 May 1941; CGS and GOC NZ Military Forces, Aug 1941-Dec 1945.

6 Capt R. J. Collins; born Auckland, 7 Nov 1913; architect; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

7 More usually Tsaritsani, the version used hereafter.

8 Lt L. C. Smart; born Christchurch, 22 Mar 1895; mechanic overseer; wounded and p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

9 Maj H. C. Page, m.i.d.; Auckland; born NZ 26 Jan 1917; civil engineer.

10 Capt F. W. O. Jones; Wellington; born Wellington, 14 Sep 1911; civil engineer; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

11 Capt D. M. Patterson; Waikari; born Christchurch, 24 Oct 1910; civil engineer; wounded 22 May 1941.

12 Workers were paid 70 drachmae a day. A drachma was worth approximately ½d.

13 Cpl R. Sweet; born NZ 10 Sep 1914; timberworker; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

14 This section of 9 Ry Svy Coy was evacuated from Greece on 18 April.

15 Maj C. F. Skinner, MC, m.i.d.; Westport; born Melbourne, 19 Jan 1900; 14P 1938–; OC 7 Fd Coy Sep 1942-Mar 1943; wounded 3 Nov 1942.

16 Maj G. A. Lindell, DSO, OBE, ED; Wellington; born Taihape, 26 Nov 1906; engineer; Adjt, NZ Div Engrs, 1941–42; SSO Engrs, Army HQ, 1943–44.

17 E and M Section shifted its heavy machinery back near Elasson on the 12th.

18 The Happy Hunted, pp. 74 - 5.

19 Maj K. Rix-Trott, ED; Uganda, East Africa; born South Africa, 7 Jun 1901; civil engineer; OC 5 Fd Pk Coy Oct 1942-May 1943.

20 Maj G. I. B. Thomas, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Christchurch, 15 Apr 1899; civil engineer; OC 7 Fd Coy Oct-Nov 1941; p.w. 27 Nov 1941.

21 Lt J. R. M. Hector, m.i.d.; born Wellington, 17 May 1913; civil engineer; killed in action 20 May 1941.

22 Lt-Col N. L. Macky, MC, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 20 Feb 1891; barrister and solicitor; NZ Rifle Bde 1915–19 (Capt, 1918); CO 21 Bn Jan 1940-May 1941.

23 Spr L. A. Condgon; Wellington; born NZ 6 Dec 1906; service-car driver; wounded May 1941.

24 Brig J. Hargest, CBE, DSO and bar, MC, m.i.d.; born Gore, 4 Sep 1891; farmer; MP 1931–44; Otago Mtd Rifles 1914–20 (CO 2 Bn Otago Regt); comd 5 Bde May 1940-Nov 1941; p.w. 27 Nov 1941; escaped, Italy, Mar 1943; killed in action, France, 12 Aug 1944.

25 Sgt I. Larson; born NZ 23 Nov 1901; mechanic; died Dunedin, 11 May 1955.

26 S-Sgt J. A. Sangster; Invercargill; born NZ 10 Aug 1901; postal clerk; p.w. Jun 1941.

28 Spr R. C. Gibson; Wanganui; born England, 16 Mar 1906; locomotive driver.

29 Spr F. J. Lynch; born Queenstown, 22 Apr 1917; NZR employee; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

30 Lt-Col H. G. Carruth, ED, m.i.d.; Whangarei; born Whangarei, 6 Nov 1895; solicitor; CO Div Cav Feb-Jul 1941; Comp Trg Depot Jul 1941-Apr 1942; wounded Apr 1941.

31 Lt-Col H. A. Robinson, DSO, MC, ED, m.i.d.; Waipukurau; born New Plymouth, 29 Sep 1912; farmhand; troop leader, later 2 i/c, Div Cav 1939–44; CO 18 Armd Regt Mar-Jul 1944; 20 Armd Regt Mar-Oct 1945; twice wounded.

32 Report by Lt D. V. C. Kelsall.

33 WO II J. C. Farnham, MM, m.i.d.; Awanui, Northland; born New Plymouth, 21 Apr 1909; farmer; three times wounded.

34 Sgt B. C. B. Lockett; Te Araroa; born Wanganui, 24 Sep 1911; surveyor's assistant; p.w. 26 Apr 1941.

35 Spr W. O'Malley; Ikamatua; born Ikamatua, 5 Mar 1917; sawmiller.

36 Capt H. L. Yorke, m.i.d.; London; born Oxford, 3 Feb 1910; civil engineer.

37 Maj-Gen Sir William Gentry, KBE, CB, DSO and bar, m.i.d., MC (Gk), Bronze Star (US); Lower Hutt; born London, 20 Feb 1899; Regular soldier; served North-West Frontier 1920–22; GSO II NZ Div 1939–40; AA & QMG 1940–41; GSO I May 1941, Oct 1941-Sep 1942; comd 6 Bde Sep 1942-Apr 1943; Deputy Chief of General Staff 1943–44; comd NZ Troops in Egypt Aug 1944-Feb 1945; 9 Bde (Italy) 1945; Deputy Chief of General Staff, 1946–47; Adjutant-General, 1949–52; Chief of General Staff, 1952–55.

38 Lt-Col A. B. Ross, MBE, ED, m.i.d.; born NZ 25 Apr 1899; civil servant; DAQMG NZ Div Mar 1941-Jun 1942; AA & QMG 1–27 Jun 1942; killed in action 27 Jun 1942.

39 Spr L. L. Smith; born NZ 5 Dec 1911; lorry driver; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.

40 Spr G. Leuty; born Liverpool, 12 May 1917; fireman NZR; p.w. Apr 1941.

41 Spr O. G. Bradley; Lower Hutt; born Hamilton, 4 Jul 1916; fitter; p.w. Apr 1941.

42 Spr G. L. Hill; Motueka; born NZ 26 Jun 1901; labourer; p.w. Apr 1941.

43 Several German planes were brought down by RAF and ground fire in this area.

44 Capt J. O. Wells; Horotiu, Waikato; born Wellington, 14 Sep 1909; structural engineer; p.w. 26 Apr 1941.

45 Lt-Col R. C. Pemberton, MC and bar, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Christchurch, 23 Mar 1915; engineer; OC 8 Fd Coy Dec 1942-Oct 1943; acting CRE 2 NZ Div Jul-Aug 1944; wounded 22 Jul 1942.

46 Lt-Col J. B. Ferguson, DSO, MC, ED; Auckland; born Auckland, 27 Apr 1912; warehouseman; OC 7 Fd CoyMay 1941; CO 18 Armd Regt Dec 1943-Jan 1944; 20 Regt Jan-May 1944; 18 Regt Jul 1944-Feb 1945; wounded 6 Dec 1943.

47 Cpl W. McCutcheon; Wellington; born NZ 16 Dec 1906; tunneller.

48 Wheeler, Kalimera Kiwi, p. 188.

49 S-Sgt H. E. Smith, EM; Wellsford; born Petone, 23 Sep 1917; farmer; wounded and p.w. 26 Apr 1941; repatriated to UKSep 1944.

50 L-Cpl C. C. Boswell; born Dunedin, 25 Jan 1915; builder; killed in action 26 Apr 1941.

51 Spr A. G. Thornton; born NZ 25 Jun 1907; surfaceman; killed in action 26 Apr 1941.

52 Maj T. A. Macfarlane, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Scotland, 21 Jan 1911; medical practitioner; DADMS 2 NZ Div Aug 1941-Mar 1943.