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To Greece

Action is taken to prevent the Parachute Troops moving South

Action is taken to prevent the Parachute Troops moving South

The security of 4 Brigade and the successful embarkation that night of the units assembled about Navplion were the major problems for General Freyberg, who was now at Miloi, a fishing port and the headquarters of both W Force and New Zealand Division. The first warnings which were received about 9 a.m. suggested that only a hundred paratroopers had landed. But when Lieutenant-Colonel Lillingston of 4 Hussars, who was also present, stated that he had only thirty men in the area, Freyberg gave verbal orders to Brigadier Barrowclough for 6 Brigade to give some support. Lieutenant-Colonel Page of 26 Battalion was thereupon instructed to prevent the parachute force blocking the withdrawal that night of 4 Brigade across the canal. Two rifle companies and the carrier platoon would assist troops in the area; the rest of the battalion would remain in reserve some three or four miles north of Argos. The move was urgent and ‘relatively high density’ on the highway had to be risked; ‘the utmost speed was essential.’3

Soon afterwards the first stragglers came through from Corinth with exaggerated accounts of the attack and the suggestion that the Germans were already striking south towards Argos and Navplion.

3 6 Brigade to Lt-Col Page, 26 April.

page 423 Later there was a telephone message from a detachment of 4 Hussars west of Corinth stating that the Germans were crossing in small boats in the vicinity of Patrai. The General consequently made every effort to cover the embarkation which was to take place that night from Navplion. In the Argos area Brigadier Lee was put in charge of one and a half companies of 2/6 Australian Battalion, the troops from 2 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, remnants of 3 Royal Tank Regiment who had been Force Headquarters guard, two ‘Bofors A Tk guns’ and about two platoons of stragglers. There they would remain until nightfall, when they would move south to prepare a defensive position outside Monemvasia. In the Miloi area 25 Battalion remained in reserve. The original task for 6 Brigade, the holding of the road junction at Tripolis, was therefore delegated to 24 Battalion, which moved south soon after midday.

A and D Companies 26 Battalion had already moved off to assist the troops in the canal area ‘to retain possession of the bridge’.1 The sky was clear and enemy aircraft were about, but the orders were to push forward, stopping only if there were direct attacks. D Company was halted by punctures and minor damage due to machine-gunning but A Company (Captain Milliken2) carried on, one lorry eventually being hit before the troops could take cover. The majority of those on board were wounded and the vehicle was soon blazing fiercely, but in spite of more machine-gunning at least twelve men were saved by Privates Struthers,3 Morrison4 and Delaney,5 who dragged them into a nearby culvert.

The troops were eventually forced by enemy aircraft to take cover just north of Golomos, a village five miles south of Corinth. Shortly afterwards in the narrow gorge ahead of them they saw the helmets of a German advance party. The enemy were neatly rounded up and ten Allied soldiers set free. Lieutenant-Colonel Page arrived shortly afterwards, D Company followed and the two companies deployed along the ridge on either side of the gorge. As they were doing so a lorry with 28 (Maori) Battalion markings appeared. The German driver was killed and the German recognition flag confiscated. The companies then completed their move to the crest of the ridge, from which they engaged the approaching paratroopers. Shortly afterwards the air attacks were renewed, it was difficult to move forward, and there seemed little chance of the companies ever reaching Corinth.

1 6 Brigade to Lt-Col Page, 26 April.

2 Maj T. Milliken, m.i.d.; born NZ 3 Jul 1896; solicitor; killed in action 26 Nov 1941.

3 Pte H. E. Struthers, MM, m.i.d.; born NZ 19 Oct 1917; musterer; twice wounded; killed in action 2 Nov 1942.

4 L-Cpl A. R. Morrison, MM, m.i.d.; Timaru; born Gisborne, 12 Aug 1916; shop assistant; wounded and p.w. 30 Nov 1941.

5 Sgt F. O. Delaney, m.i.d.; Blenheim; born Nelson, 29 Aug 1917; farmer; wounded Nov 1942.

page 424

The problem was solved for them by the appearance of Lieutenant Beale,1 Intelligence Officer 4 Brigade, from the direction of Corinth. As he reported that the bridge had been blown that morning, there was no need for the companies to remain in their isolated position. Orders had therefore been issued for the move back to the vehicles, but Major J. I. Brooke, from Headquarters 6 Brigade, appeared with fresh instructions: General Freyberg, now that more information had been received, did not think that the two companies were strong enough for the task assigned to them so they were to withdraw and cover the approach to Navplion from the high ground north of Argos.

After further delays due to air attacks and damaged transport the companies moved south, assisting wherever possible the British and Australian stragglers2—some one to two hundred—who were trudging back on foot. When in position astride the road near the village of Nemea, they remained until midnight. In all there had been twenty-one casualties, including four killed and two who later died of wounds.

The rest of the battalion had moved forward during the afternoon to Ano Fikhtia, a village about 20 miles north of Miloi, where they had settled in with orders to remain until midnight covering the approaches to Navplion; after that they would withdraw, even if the forward companies had not yet come through.

1 Maj J. H. Beale, m.i.d.; Christchurch; born England, 3 Apr 1912; salesman.

2 See pp. 41920.