Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

To Greece

Anzac Corps delays the German Advance; Withdrawal Orders are Prepared

Anzac Corps delays the German Advance; Withdrawal Orders are Prepared

In the eastern sector on 15 April the British units had been in close contact with the enemy. Above the Platamon tunnel 21 New Zealand Battalion5 had to check the advanced guard of the unexpectedly large force moving down from Salonika; from Olympus Pass the guns with 5 New Zealand Brigade6 had opened fire on a column of tanks and vehicles. In the wild country some six miles south-east of Servia, 16 Australian Brigade7 was moving into positions after its long march from Veroia Pass. West again in the Servia sector 4 New Zealand Brigade8 had surprised and captured a confident advanced guard; and still farther west across the river and adjoining the Greek right flank, 19 Australian Brigade and 26 New Zealand Battalion,9 as yet undisturbed by the enemy, were hastening to establish defences.

At the different headquarters there was a corresponding sense of urgency that was intensified after 9.5 a.m. when Headquarters W Force issued its orders for the withdrawal to Thermopylae. To

5 See pp. 2448.

6 See pp. 2612.

7 See p. 227.

8 See pp. 2736.

9 See pp. 23741.

page 227 cover the withdrawal of the deployed brigades, four forces were already being organised to hold the successive rearguard positions: 1 Armoured Brigade, operating directly under Anzac Corps, in the Grevena sector; Savige Force in the Kalabaka area; 6 New Zealand Brigade south of Elasson about Tirnavos; and the not yet formed Lee Force at Dhomokos to cover the road and rail routes south of Larisa. The engineers would carry out maximum demolitions in depth along the roads and in the defiles. As for the Greeks, Anzac Corps would make every effort ‘to ensure that GK forces do not withdraw on routes available to Imperial Forces, and that they do not in any way whatsoever hinder the withdrawal.’ These arrangements were the responsibility of General Blamey, the inevitable political problems1 making it necessary for General Wilson to be in Athens.

Accordingly, at 6 p.m. that same day, 15 April, Headquarters Anzac Corps issued detailed orders.2 There would be two phases. In the first the rearguards would be established and the preliminary withdrawals undertaken. Sixth New Zealand Brigade, instead of linking 5 and 16 Brigades, would move to positions ‘astride the circle of roads from Elasson to Tyrnavos’ where, supported by 2/3 Australian Field Regiment, it would be the rearguard through which 5 New Zealand Brigade would withdraw from Olympus Pass and 4 New Zealand Brigade from Servia Pass.

Nineteenth Australian Brigade and 26 New Zealand Battalion would withdraw from the Servia Pass area, where they were to have linked Anzac Corps and the Greek right flank. Twenty-sixth Battalion would rejoin 6 Brigade; the Australians would be transported through Larisa and Pharsala to Dhomokos where, with 2/6 and 2/7 Battalions, a company of 2/5 Battalion and 2/1 Field Regiment (less a battery), all hitherto detailed to join Savige Force, they would form Lee Force.

Sixteenth Australian Brigade, which had been moving3 through the mountains ever since 12 April and was now in position between 5 New Zealand Brigade in Olympus Pass and 4 New Zealand Brigade in Servia Pass, would march out that night to the south side of Servia Pass, and from there be transported to Zarkos. There, with the support of one field regiment, it would be astride the Trikkala-Larisa road covering the withdrawal of 1 Armoured Brigade from Grevena and Savige Force from Kalabaka.

1 See pp. 3627.

2 The orders as outlined here include the operation instructions issued on 16 April. The decision to withdraw had been made on 13 April (see pp. 21617). In some cases, e.g., the movement of 6 NZ Brigade to Elasson, the Corps orders were the formal expression of verbal orders which had already been given.

3 See pp. 1978.

page 228

If these moves were complete by 8 a.m. on 16 April the second phase of the withdrawal could begin, with General Freyberg responsible for the front. On the night of 17–18 April, ‘subject to ability to disengage’, 5 Brigade at Olympus Pass, 4 Brigade at Servia Pass and Savige Force in the Kalabaka area would be withdrawn through the rearguards to the Thermopylae line, 100 miles to the south.

The following night, 18–19 April, 6 New Zealand Brigade from the Elasson area, 16 Australian Brigade from Zarkos and 21 New Zealand Battalion from the Platamon tunnel on the coast would withdraw, ‘1st Armoured Brigade covering the final withdrawal across the flat featureless plain of Thessaly on 19th April.’1 In turn its withdrawal would be covered by Lee Force astride the road at Dhomokos in the hills to the north of Lamia.

All marching personnel would be carried in motor transport, the New Zealand Division following the road to Volos and thence along the coast to Lamia and through the pass at Thermopylae. The Australian Division, continuing south along the main highway, would use the main road through Pharsala and Dhomokos to Lamia and thence to Brallos Pass in the mountains to the west of Thermopylae. The actual transportation of the brigades from the forward areas was a task for the reserve motor companies, of which 1 RMT Company, RASC, and 4 (New Zealand) RMT Company, less the vehicles attached to assist the Greeks, were with Anzac Corps; 2 and 308 RMT Companies, RASC, were retained by Headquarters W Force.

The Deputy Director of Supplies and Transport, Brigadier Collings, had already been warned that 81 Base Sub-area was to move from Larisa to the Thebes area. So during the night of 14–15 April all the workshop sections with their heavy equipment had been on the road, and trainloads of base troops, ammunition and essential stores had left by rail from Larisa.

1 ‘Report on Operations Anzac Corps during Campaign in Greece, 1941.’ In Anzac Corps Operation Order No. 1, 15 Apr 1941, however, 21 NZ Battalion is not mentioned.