Preparations for Defence
Preparations for Defence
TO defend the Corinth Canal area, and more particularly the bridge, a miscellaneous collection of units had been assembled, haphazardly and with no unity of command. In the earlier stages of the campaign eight 3·7-inch anti-aircraft guns, eight 3-inch and sixteen Bofors guns had moved into position. Some of the last named were in the immediate vicinity of the canal; others were to the south along the road to Argos. On 23 April, when it was feared that the enemy advancing from Ioannina would reach the Gulf of Corinth, the Greeks had sent a small force to Navpaktos and their Reserve Officers Battalion to Patrai. Having similar worries, General Wilson had sent 4 Hussars to protect the south bank of the canal and patrol the nearby shores of the gulf. With only twelve tanks, six carriers and one armoured car, the regiment, most of whose personnel were now riflemen, was responsible for a front of 70 miles. Consequently only four tanks were in the immediate vicinity of Corinth.
1 Sapper L. D. Mumford, 6 Field Company.
The Brigadier hastened to the canal area. That night (24–25 April) when Allen Group was crossing the bridge he asked the Australians for a battalion ‘to help guard the area against possible attack by German armour from the north or against paratroops.’1 Three companies and two platoons from 2/6 Battalion were then detached, one being placed on the north side of the bridge, another with the two platoons going to the airfields near Argos and the third to the Corinth area to join 4 Hussars.
On the same night Major Rattray had brought up to Brigadier Puttick from Headquarters W Force, now in Athens, the instructions about Isthmus Force. It would consist of a company of infantry, 6 Field Company already in the area, one section of 122 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery and one troop of 7 Armoured Division Field Squadron, Royal Engineers.2 If 4 Brigade, as was then planned, was evacuated from Megara on the night of 26–27 April, the force would blow both the road and the bridge and then hasten to embark from Navplion. Should the Navy fail to appear the brigade would withdraw across the canal, the force then coming under the command of Brigadier Puttick.
At 4 a.m. on 25 April Major R. K. Gordon was ordered to take B Company 19 Battalion to the canal area. There he would command Isthmus Force, carrying out the orders from W Force and an instruction from Brigadier Puttick that the road from the north-west through Loutraki must be held in strength. Leaving Lieutenant Heiford3 to take the company to a defensive position north of that village, Gordon went ahead to the canal area, where he expected to meet representatives from the other units of Isthmus Force. Apparently their orders did not arrive until the afternoon for no one appeared at the meeting place. However, the anti-aircraft guns were in position; the engineers were completing their work about the bridge; and, to his surprise, Gordon found the company of Australian infantry on the north side of the canal in defence of the bridge and under the command of Colonel E. G. G. Lillingston of 4 Hussars.
1 Long, p. 161.
The platoons were on high ground about three miles north of the village and Gordon was satisfied with their positions until he was on his way back to establish headquarters near the canal. The country on either side of it was so suitable for parachute landings that he returned to his company and, in spite of the late hour, transferred two platoons to an area some 700–800 yards north of the canal.
That night, 25–26 April, several other units entered the canal area. The Australian company which had been detached to join 4 Hussars had finally been ordered by General Freyberg to clear a detour through the bomb-damaged streets of Corinth. That task complete, it had been sent to defend the ridge overlooking the road to the south of the canal.
Sixth Field Company, whose bivouac area east of Megara had become untenable because of strafing, moved across the canal to an area about two miles south of Corinth. Major Rudd, who had been acting CRE, rejoined Headquarters, which was in an olive grove with No. 1 Section (Lieutenant J. O. Wells); farther along the road was No. 3 Section (Lieutenant St. G. W. Chapman).
Finally, about 2.30 a.m. on 26 April, C Squadron New Zealand Divisional Cavalry Regiment (Major Harford1) came through from the Mazi area with the carrier platoons of 22 and 28 (Maori) Battalions. The journey had been delayed by petrol shortages and engine trouble and the 22 Battalion carriers, by missing the turn-off, had gone south of Corinth and out of the area in which the paratroops were soon to land. The cavalrymen and the Maoris, however, had halted in the olive groves on the terraces between Corinth and the canal bridge. Once it was daylight Harford proposed to carry out the orders given to him at Divisional Headquarters at Mazi: to report to the ‘OC Isthmus Force’ and, on the withdrawal of 4 Brigade across the canal, to move his detachment westwards to Patrai and then southwards to Kalamata.