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To Greece

25 April: The Second Revision of the Evacuation Plans

25 April: The Second Revision of the Evacuation Plans

On the morning of 25 April General Freyberg, with Lieutenant- Colonel Gentry, his AA & QMG, had set out to find Headquarters Anzac Corps, which had been in the vicinity of Elevsis. Actually it had closed down and departed on the previous day, but the General was able to telephone W Force Headquarters in Athens and then set out to visit General Wilson.

He afterwards wrote:

What I saw on the comparatively short drive through to Athens filled me with concern; all the dumps of military stores, petrol, food and trucks that are part of the Base organisation of an Expeditionary Force were left completely unattended. There were numbers of Greeks looting everything that had been left. This disorganisation and appearance of almost desperation had not been evident in the forward areas. We moved through streets page 406 crowded with bewildered people. There were reports that the Germans were coming along the Yanina [Ioannina] road from the Albanian front, having completely broken through and barred the withdrawal of the force which had carried the war against Italy into Albania. It was with rather an uneasy feeling that I went into Athens wondering what attitude the Greeks would adopt towards the British troops and whether German Fifth Column would have an effect upon them. As a matter of fact, the attitude of the Greek population, both military and civil, was perfect. They were most courteous and eager to help us in any way and they appeared heartbroken that our efforts to help them had brought disaster upon our forces.1

In Athens Freyberg found Wilson in conference with Rear- Admiral Baillie-Grohman and the Joint Planning Staff. He was able to describe the situation in the north and to help in the adjustment of the embarkation plans. The position was serious. The panzer divisions were approaching from the north and the Luftwaffe was continuing to exploit its mastery of the air. Drastic changes had therefore to be made.

At Kriekouki 4 New Zealand Brigade had to hold its rearguard positions for another twenty-four hours. On the eastern flank near Tatoi units from 1 Armoured Brigade would cover the approaches to Rafina and Porto Rafti. Sixth New Zealand Brigade which was to have had this task would then move to the Peloponnese. As the Athens area was now in close range of fighters and dive-bombers, only one more evacuation would take place from Rafina and Porto Rafti. The balance of the troops would be evacuated from the beaches west of Athens and the harbours in the Peloponnese. This meant that the timetable which was to have ended with the evacuation of five brigades and thousands of attached troops on the night of 26–27 April had now to be extended for three more nights.

On the night of 25–26 April 19 Australian Brigade would embark from Megara and not from the beaches east of Athens. No other units could be evacuated but there would be many adjustments of position. The New Zealand artillery and the forces already in the collecting areas would move to the lying-up areas for Rafina and Porto Rafti. Sixth New Zealand Brigade would cross the Corinth Canal and continue south towards Tripolis. Detachments from the New Zealand Division would move east to support the rearguard north of Tatoi and Isthmus Force at the Corinth Canal would come under the command of General Freyberg.

On the night of 26–27 April, after the departure of Wilson for Crete, Freyberg would command the forces in the Peloponnese. The artillery group and the eastern rearguard would embark from Rafina and Porto Rafti. Fourth New Zealand Brigade Group would withdraw to become the rearguard immediately south of the Corinth Canal. Base Details, 4 Hussars and 3 Royal Tank Regiment would page 407 embark from the Navplion beaches; 16–17 Australian Brigade Group would embark from Kalamata in the extreme south of the Peloponnese.

The subsequent withdrawal of the New Zealand troops and those under command would be directed ‘with all possible speed’ and in ‘approximately equal proportions’ to the beaches at Monemvasia, Plitra, Yithion and Kalamata. From there they would embark on the nights 28–29 and 29–30 April. Any other troops in the Peloponnese and those not evacuated from the Navplion beaches on the night of 26–27 April were to proceed ‘as quickly as possible’ to Monemvasia, Plitra and Kalamata for embarkation on the night of 28–29 April.

1 GOC's report on the New Zealand Division in Greece, p. 27.