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To Greece

The Germans enter the Pinios Gorge, Afternoon 17 April

The Germans enter the Pinios Gorge, Afternoon 17 April

On 15 April when Battle Group 2 of XVIII Corps was approaching the Platamon tunnel, 6 Mountain Division which had been preparing4 to attack in the Veroia area was diverted south to give

4 See p. 245.

page 321 its support. Next day its commander, General F. Schoerner, was warned that he must be prepared to make an encircling movement across the southern slopes of Mount Olympus to the village of Gonnos, close by the western entrance to the Pinios Gorge. Without waiting for any further orders, he had sent his advanced guard over the ridges above the Platamon tunnel and to the rear of 21 Battalion. Thus on the afternoon of 17 April, when Allen Force was preparing to defend the western entrance to the gorge, Battle Group 2 was already in the gorge and 6 Mountain Division was descending the mountain tracks towards Gonnos.

In the gorge the enemy was approaching by way of the railway line on the north bank. The cycle squadron of 112 Reconnaissance Unit—on foot—led the way, but about 5 p.m. it was halted at the second tunnel—‘even the engineers could do no good, so thoroughly had the English carried out their demolitions.’ Thereafter the men attempted to clamber round the steep, exposed hillsides. That was not without its dangers for 10 Platoon B Company at the forward road block immediately opened fire. The Germans set up a mortar and a machine gun, but after Privates McCabe1 and Clark2 had climbed to higher ground and directed the counter fire they were forced to take shelter in the tunnel.

At this stage the leading tank of 1/3 Panzer Regiment appeared and the battalion commander ‘took this squadron under his command’ because of the ‘determined resistance in the gorge.’3 The fire from the tank eventually forced 10 Platoon to find better cover some 200 yards up the ridges. The New Zealand artillery had been asked to give its support and an armoured car had been sent to observe, but the depth of the gorge and the succession of ridges had made it impossible to use the wireless sets. The telephone at the observation post in the A Company area was eventually used, but it was then 7.30 p.m. and the engagement had become more complicated.

The reports are confused, but the Germans seem to have opened fire not only on the New Zealanders but upon the platoon from 2/2 Battalion which was moving in to report upon German movements through the gorge. Unaware of the enemy about the tunnel, the Australians suffered severe casualties before they could take cover and conduct, simultaneously with 10 Platoon, a small-arms engagement which lasted until they withdrew after dusk.

Shortly afterwards 10 Platoon was recalled by Lieutenant-Colonel

1 Sgt C. A. McCabe, m.i.d.; Auckland; born NZ 31 Jan 1908; clerk; twice wounded; p.w. Nov 1941.

2 L-Cpl C. W. Clark, m.i.d.; Edgecombe, Bay of Plenty; born Timaru, 18 Jan 1915; blacksmith; p.w. 1Jul 1941; escaped 10 Jul 1941; recaptured 26 Oct 1941.

3 Battle report by 1/3 Panzer Regiment, 15–19 April 1941.

page 322 Macky, the men having been three days without rest and the other demolition having been blown outside Tempe. With two Australian wounded whom they had recovered the men returned, some to Battalion Headquarters, others to the B Company area. By then the artillery had opened fire and checked any other efforts to infiltrate beyond the tunnel.

The important point, however, is whether a stronger force should not have been sent to cover the road block. The gorge was narrow, cliffs overlooked the road and any additional troops in the area would have been just as vulnerable as the two platoons. Even so, the road opposite 10 Platoon was the best position for an effective road block and determined soldiers in prepared positions and supported by artillery fire might have delayed the clearing of the track and the dramatic approach next morning of the German tanks.

But farther back in the gorge the Germans had been incredibly successful. Unobserved by any New Zealanders, they had discovered a ford by which tanks could cross to the south bank. ‘A Mk II tank drove determinedly down the high steep embankment into the water. It struggled through the river like a walrus, with nothing showing except its turret; it appeared to be swimming. But the driver carried on calmly, although he was sitting up to his middle in water and the waves completely prevented him from seeing anything. Finally the tank climbed out on the other side amid loud cheers from the spectators and pushed on forward.’ Other tanks followed, two missing the exact crossing and sinking helplessly with no possibility of salvage. But five1 in all crossed and moved forward to the demolition, where ‘3 tanks stuck in a bog trying to bypass this in the water.’2 Night had then fallen so the tanks, screened by the mountain troops, laagered for the night.

1 Battle report of I/3 Panzer Regiment says 1 Company had ‘about 4 tanks across’.

2 Battle report by I/3 Panzer Regiment, 15–19 April 1941.