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To Greece

1 Armoured Brigade Group, including New Zealand units, withdraws from Grevena, night 14–15 April

1 Armoured Brigade Group, including New Zealand units, withdraws from Grevena, night 14–15 April

In the Grevena area the situation had naturally become more tense. On 14 April, after their withdrawal from Vevi and Ptolemais, D Company 1 Rangers and 3 Royal Tank Regiment, now only one squadron strong, were screening the approaches from the north; B Company 1 Rangers and B Battery 102 Anti-Tank Regiment were supporting the Greeks to the east in Siatista Pass; the rest of the brigade group, including 27 New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion (less two companies) and the two troops from New Zealand Divisional Cavalry Regiment, were immediately south of Grevena.

The day will always be remembered by those who were there for the many devastating attacks delivered by the Luftwaffe. Near Grevena three raids took place within an hour and a half: ‘The road was littered with vehicles … three English boys killed at the same AA gun (155 Lt AA Battery) no sooner was one gunner killed than another rushed to take his place ….’1 The New Zealand page 220
dispersion of greek forces and withdrawal of 1 armoured brigade, 14–17 april 1941

dispersion of greek forces and withdrawal of 1 armoured brigade, 14–17 april 1941

page 221 machine-gunners who were farther south sheltering under the olive trees were also bombed and strafed but they suffered no casualties. The two troops from the Divisional Cavalry were equally fortunate when they were sent north of Grevena to cover the demolition of bridges, the move beginning during a raid and continuing with the attached engineers racing their truckload of explosives past the blazing vehicles along the highway.

The brigade had been led to expect another stubborn rearguard action, but as the hours passed Brigadier Charrington decided that the retreat of the Greeks from the passes to the north and the German attack upon Servia Pass1 forced him to order an early withdrawal. The detachments supporting the Greeks in Siatista Pass were therefore withdrawn and that night the units, when ready, joined the line of traffic slowly moving south. Thus, when the Divisional Cavalry troops returned about midnight, the brigade was on its way to positions south of the Venetikos River.

The defence plans of W Force had in their turn to be adjusted to meet this threat from the west. An early air report that morning, 14 April, had certainly mentioned enemy vehicles moving westwards from Klisoura, but the strength of the supporting columns had not suggested that the main thrust was to be made in that direction. With the heaviest volume of traffic on the road from Kozani towards Servia Pass, there had been more reason to think that there would be a drive directly southwards rather than an encirclement of the western flank.

Nevertheless, General Wilson had always expected Marshal List to order an encircling movement through Grevena or, if his column advanced still deeper into the Epirus, a still wider move from Ioannina through Metsovon and across the Pindhos Mountains to Kalabaka. To meet this threat, a brief survey of the eastern approaches had already been made by Brigadier S. Savige of 17 Australian Brigade,2 who had arrived in Greece some days ahead of his battalions and had been sent to reconnoitre these possible lines of advance. On his return to Headquarters Anzac Corps on 14 April the question of a defence line was then discussed, Brigadier A. Galloway, General Wilson's BGS, pressing for the despatch of 17 Brigade to Kalabaka. The decision was made for them when it was reported that the Germans, having driven 20 Greek Division from the Klisoura Pass, were moving to cut the line of withdrawal of the Western Macedonian Army.

The orders for the assembly of Savige Force were hastily prepared. When they arrived at Larisa at 7 p.m., 2/11 Australian

2 2/5, 2/6, 2/7 Battalions; 2/11 Battalion of 19 Australian Brigade.

page 222 Battalion and 2/5 Battalion (less one company) were immediately sent on to Kalabaka. The seven cruiser tanks1 of Headquarters Squadron 1 Armoured Brigade, which had been exchanged for the two troops from C Squadron New Zealand Divisional Cavalry Regiment, came up that afternoon. Twenty-fifth Battery 4 New Zealand Field Regiment had already been established in Olympus Pass, but at 5.35 p.m. it received its movement orders and within two and a half hours was making an exciting night drive without headlights to Elasson, Larisa and Kalabaka. Next day it came under the command of 64 Medium Regiment, which had arrived with one composite battery. In support there were also a battery from 2/1 Australian Anti-Tank Regiment, a company from 2/1 Australian Machine Gun Battalion and 2/2 Australian Field Company.

1 See pp. 1701. On 9 April they had left 1 Armoured Brigade, crossed the Aliakmon River, joined 2 NZ Divisional Cavalry and eventually were sent back to Larisa.