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To Greece

The Orders for Withdrawal

The Orders for Withdrawal

In the original orders4 of the New Zealand Division on 16 April 21 Battalion and other units in the Pinios Gorge were to disengage and move back by motor transport during the night of 18–19 April. Next day, when Brigadier Allen was instructed to prevent the occupation of Larisa from the east, no definite time seems to have been given for the withdrawal. The movements of Allen Force and the New Zealand Division to Larisa and eastwards through Volos were the responsibility of General Freyberg.

The first instructions from Headquarters New Zealand Division were given in a signal5 timed 12.40 p.m., 18 April. As 6 Brigade in its withdrawal6 from Elasson had to clear Larisa before Allen Force, the Brigadier had to hold, until 3 a.m. on 19 April, a line page 333 running north-west to south-east through the junction of the Tempe- Sikourion roads. His force could thin out earlier, but the roads through Larisa were reserved for 6 Brigade until 1 a.m., 19 April. The New Zealand Divisional Cavalry Regiment was sending ove a squadron from Elasson to assist in the withdrawal; it would remain under the Brigadier's control until it was south of Larisa. Thereafter the movement of Allen Force through Volos to the Thermopylae line would be covered by the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry.

The orders were taken forward to Headquarters Allen Force by a liaison officer who arrived in the mid-afternoon. Lieutenant- Colonel Chilton of 2/2 Battalion had line communication with Brigade Headquarters so he was swiftly given an outline plan of the withdrawal. Movement would not begin until 3 a.m., 19 April, though ‘it was hoped to get the time put forward.’1

Soon afterwards General Freyberg, who had received disturbing reports about the situation, appeared at Brigade Headquarters and spoke over the telephone to Chilton. It was impossible to get a message through to 21 Battalion, which had been forced up the ridge towards Ambelakia. The General then went forward, studied the situation for himself and decided that the proposed line could not be held until midnight. To delay the enemy Allen Force would have to conduct a fighting withdrawal towards Larisa. Sixth New Zealand Brigade and Savige Force, which would be coming south that night, would thus be given time to move through towards Volos and Thermopylae.

The necessary orders were prepared, confirming the general plan of withdrawal but ordering the forward units to break contact at dusk. As line communications had broken down shortly after the General's departure, an officer was sent forward in a Bren carrier to deliver the orders to Chilton and Parkinson. Moving up against the stream of men and vehicles, he reached the forward artillery area only to be told, incorrectly, that Chilton's headquarters had been overrun by the German tanks. He left the orders for Parkinson with Captain Thornton2 of 26 New Zealand Battery and, seeing men on the eastern slopes, went across hoping to find Chilton. In this he was unsuccessful; Battalion Headquarters and B Company 2/2 Battalion were still in action about Evangelismos—and were so until about 6.45 p.m.

page 334

Finally, about 6 p.m. Headquarters 16 Brigade moved back from Makrikhorion to the crossroads where Lieutenant-Colonel Lamb and 2/3 Battalion were endeavouring to build up another line.

4 See p. 228. Macky's copy of this order had an uncorrected error, giving the time of withdrawal for 21 Battalion as the night 17–18 April instead of night 18–19 April.

5 NZ Division to Allen Force, 18 April.

6 See pp. 3038.

1 Report on the operations of 2/2 Australian Infantry Battalion at Pinios Gorge.

2 Brig L. W. Thornton, CBE, m.i.d.; Bangkok; born Christchurch, 15 Oct 1916; Regular soldier; BM 6 Bde Feb–Sep 1942; GSO II 2 NZ Div Oct 1942–Jun 1943; CO 5 Fd Regt Jun–Dec 1943, Apr–Jun 1944; GSO I 2 NZ Div 1944; CRA 2 NZ Div 1945; DCGS Apr 1948–Jan 1949; QMG, Army HQ, 1955–56; Adjutant-General Mar 1956–Jun 1958 Chief of SEATO Military Planning Office.