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To Greece

The Withdrawal through Volos

The Withdrawal through Volos

Meanwhile at Nikaia, a village just south of Larisa, Headquarters New Zealand Division had been deciding the route of withdrawal for 6 Brigade. The main highway through Pharsala was still clogged with traffic but the DAAG, Major Peart,1 had been able to use the road from Larisa to Volos and the Australians had reported that repairs to some 200 yards would make it passable for heavy traffic. The CRE, Lieutenant-Colonel Clifton, had therefore been ordered to arrange for its immediate improvement.

‘It consisted of a dead straight earth embankment, flanked by deep ditches, in process of being metalled … with care and in daylight it was passable ….’ Beyond it there was a washed-out stretch ‘where the muddy ruts seemed bottomless.’ The rest of the road was reasonably good.

1 Lt-Col J. N. Peart, DSO, m.i.d.; born Collingwood, 12 Feb 1900; schoolmaster; CO 18 Bn Nov 1941–Mar 1942; 26 Bn 1 May–20 Jun 1942, 29 Jun–4 Sep 1942; died of wounds 4 Sep 1942.

page 311

All available engineers were sent over and under the direction of Lieutenant Chapman,1 3 Section 6 Field Company, a deviation was prepared and marked before nightfall.

At 6 p.m. Headquarters New Zealand Division attempted to move north to Larisa in order to turn south-east by this route, but it was almost impossible to advance against the stream of traffic. To complicate matters the leading vehicles, when attempting to make such a move, caused a congestion of traffic which attracted the attention of the Stukas. The rear of the headquarters column suffered some damage, but after the raid it struggled forward again, until an officer appeared with the alarming story2 that the Germans were in Larisa. The convoy was then turned about and directed south by the normal route. Movement was slow that night and next day there were delays because of air attacks about Dhomokos, so it was not until the night of 19–20 April that all the vehicles had reported at Divisional Headquarters on the coast road east of Molos.

The few vehicles which did get north from Nikaia on the night of 18–19 April took the GOC, his GSO I, and several other officers to the Larisa crossroads. Here the General met 6 Brigade and bustled it south-east3 along the newly repaired road towards Volos and the east coast, where it was to be the rearguard covering the withdrawal of Allen Force.

Behind 6 Brigade was Major Williams with the rearguard, which went through Larisa about 1.30 a.m. when the town was almost empty of Allied troops and the sound of fighting could be heard along the road to Tempe. The column turned off along the narrow swamp road towards Volos and about dawn caught up with the last vehicles of 6 Brigade. Williams was then ordered by General Freyberg to take up a defensive position astride the road leading into the town. Any stragglers from Allen Force were to be assisted and all information collected about the action at Tempe and the fate of 21 Battalion.

Still near Larisa were the Divisional Cavalry Regiment, less B Squadron, and the engineers who had blown the bridge over the Pinios River to the north of Larisa. Once through the town the regiment had been halted and several attempts made to get into touch with B Squadron, which was acting as rearguard for Allen Force. This squadron was expected to withdraw about 3.30 a.m. but there were no signs of it, nor of Allen Force. Finally, about 5 a.m., when Very lights were glowing in the distance and the

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

2 See pp. 340 and 342.

3 See p. 306.

page 312 rattle of heavy vehicles came over from the north-west, Lieutenant- Colonel Carruth decided that the Germans must be approaching. The regiment moved off and about ten miles along the road to Volos found the remnants of B Squadron and scattered groups from Allen Force.1 The whole group continued south and by midday had withdrawn behind the rearguard organised by Major Williams.