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To Greece

The Germans approach Brallos Pass

The Germans approach Brallos Pass

ON 21 April the forward elements of 5 Mountain Division had approached the Australian positions about Brallos Pass. Next day 55 Motor Cycle Battalion, crossing the Sperkhios River well up-stream from the Allied positions, had begun an arduous march round the left flank of the Australian lines to Kato Dhio Vouna and Dhelfinon. No. 3 Company 8 Panzer Reconnaissance Unit, which moved from Vardnatais to the foot of Brallos Pass to hold the attention of the British, had been ‘halted by very heavy artillery, mortar and HMG fire which caused its first casualties before it found cover on the hillsides.’1

The situation for the enemy was no better on 23 April. Sixth Mountain Division was now coming in from the east through Volos but 5 Panzer Division had not been able to advance beyond Brallos Pass. Fifty-fifth Motor Cycle Battalion just east of Dhelfinon was attempting to build up its strength, but it was almost impossible for supplies or any heavy weapons to be brought through that wild country. The approaches to the pass were covered by the British artillery which, from the action the previous day, seemed to be of considerable strength. Moreover, there was still congestion along the highway between Larisa and Lamia: demolitions had only just been repaired and both the panzer and mountain divisions were striving to get south. As the former had the priority the mountain troops had, very often, to ‘stand uselessly round’ while a bakery company or the postal services of the panzer division went through to Lamia. Such indeed was the congestion and consequent confusion that about Lamia groups were incomplete and little effective reconnaissance was made of the Allied line.

The change came on the morning of 23 April when General Stumme reached Lamia and put into operation the now definite plans of XXXX Corps. The British were ‘holding the Thermopylae

1 See pp. 3756.

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brallos pass and thermopylae, 24 april 1941

brallos pass and thermopylae, 24 april 1941

Pass1 and the Molos area’ so next morning, after a softening-up by Stukas, an armoured force from 5 Panzer Division would attack astride the Lamia-Thermopylae road with the crest of Brallos Pass as its first objective. That accomplished, a fast-moving force, Baacke Group, was to advance through Molos between the hills and the sea. Meanwhile XVIII Corps would send Jais Group from 6 Mountain Division to outflank the pass from the west and cut the Allied line of withdrawal. Eighth Air Corps would support by attacking Allied gun positions and troop concentrations, particularly those in the Skamnos area south of the pass.

The attack began about 7.30 a.m. on 24 April. The Luftwaffe came over searching for gun positions and the main points of resistance; the volume of shellfire increased and the infantry began to move forward.

1 To the Germans Brallos Pass was the new Thermopylae; the Thermopylae of ancient Greece was west of Molos.

page 386

Nineteenth Australian Brigade had, fortunately, improved its position during the night. The 2/11 Battalion, with a small detach- ment from 2/8 Battalion under command, covered the highway immediately north of Skamnos. On its eastern flank 2/1 Battalion (less two companies) covered the track through Kalothronion; to the south there was a company in the defile at Gravia through which a road came up from Amfissa. And astride the road beyond Brallos was 2/4 Battalion. The 2/2 Field Regiment, having been severely attacked from the air the previous day, had left its pits camouflaged with nets and moved back about 1500 yards to an area about three miles north-east of Brallos.

To the immediate west of the pass the Germans were unsuccessful. Fifty-fifth Motor Cycle Battalion moved from the Dhelfinon area across the Asopos River, but with almost no artillery support could do little; the companies were pinned down in a ravine west of Kalivia by 2/11 Battalion and the attached machine-gunners. It took the Germans several hours to reach the north slope of the heights to the west of Skamnos.

Still farther west, Jais Group had been assembling in the Kato Dhio Vouna area, but about 10.20 a.m. Colonel Jais was informed of the Allied withdrawals the previous night. No time was wasted. II/141 Regiment altered its thrustline, swinging in closer to Brallos but sending two companies to carry out the original plan of cutting the main highway five miles to the south of that town. By midday 7/141 Regiment, with 1/141 following, had reached the right flank of 55 Motor Cycle Battalion and was under Australian machine-gun and artillery fire.

In the Brallos (‘new Thermopylae’) Pass the attack was made by 1/31 Panzer Regiment, reinforced with four Mark IV tanks from 3 Company, the 88-millimetre guns from 1/61 Anti-Aircraft Regiment, engineers, motor-cyclists and assault guns. The greater part of the force was to attack the prepared positions commanding the tortuous highway; one platoon would ‘turn off from the pass road … push through alone to Molos’ but it was ‘not expected that the enemy will defend this road strongly.’1

After a preliminary attack by Stukas the tanks set off along the straight road from Lamia. The Sperkhios River was crossed by a temporary bridge and they were soon approaching the demolitions at the foot of the pass. The first crater was passed but a wrecked bridge and a still bigger crater stopped any further advance. The XXXX Corps commander, General Stumme, then came forward to study the situation. In the meantime the selected platoon from 1/31 Panzer Regiment turned off at the foot of the pass and

1 Appendix to report by I/31 Panzer Regiment.

page 387 approached the New Zealand lines in the gap between the mountains and the sea.