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To Greece

New Plans and Further Withdrawals, 26 April

New Plans and Further Withdrawals, 26 April

The day had also been very tense and exciting for the Divisional Headquarters staff at Miloi. Once the news had been received of the probable capture of the canal area fresh plans had been hastily prepared, particularly for the 4 Brigade Group in the Kriekouki area whose position was even more perilous than that of 6 Brigade in the Peloponnese. Using the Middle East and naval wireless links, General Freyberg had attempted to warn Brigadier Puttick but for several hours there was no response to any signals. Efforts were therefore made to get in touch with Brigadier Charrington of 1 Armoured Brigade, who was known to have a No. 9 wireless set at his headquarters north of Rafina. As all codes had been destroyed the message was sent in clear:

Operation Priority. Send LO and tell Puttick that Corinth Canal has been captured by German parachute troops. Instead of withdrawing as ordered he is to move and withdraw from the beaches Hargest used. From N.Z. Division.

page 425

To the intense relief of General Freyberg a message came back from 1 Armoured Brigade asking for the date of evacuation. This was, as yet, undecided but the reply was that shipping would probably be available that night or the next.

Wilson and Freyberg had also arranged for the evacuations south of the canal. From Monemvasia the Navy would take off 6 New Zealand Brigade and all troops not directed to Kalamata. At the same time it was decided that Wilson and W Force Headquarters should be responsible for the evacuation of non-fighting troops.1 This left Freyberg responsible for Lee Force in the Argos area, for 4 Hussars now hastening south from Patrai and for 6 Brigade assembling about Tripolis. No reference was made to the troops assembling still farther south at Kalamata; in fact the only reference to them by General Freyberg is his statement that he had not been informed of the large group to be evacuated from that port.

The withdrawal of 4 Hussars was the most difficult to direct. In the morning when news was received of the parachute landings, Colonel Lillingston at Divisional Headquarters had asked Freyberg to extricate his three squadrons from the Patrai area. One of their officers was immediately sent to get in touch with them and towards evening two others, with petrol and Greek money, were sent with orders for the squadron to withdraw through Tripolis. To prevent any diversion Greek guides had been stationed along the route to direct the approaching columns. The advanced guard joined 6 Brigade at Tripolis, linked up with the survivors from the Corinth area and with them was evacuated with 6 Brigade from Monemvasia. But the main body—some 300 strong—seems to have mistrusted the Greeks for it continued south to become involved in the disaster at Kalamata.

Other units were more fortunate. After suffering some casualties from air attacks 24 Battalion had moved south that afternoon, 26 April, to the Tripolis area. Beyond Miloi there was the endless series of hairpin bends to the crest of the Ktenas Range, a wild and rugged country looking more charming than it really is because of its softness of tone and harmony of colours. Thence the road swung down to Tripolis at the crossroads of the Peloponnese. To the west dark hills overlooked the town, but elsewhere there were fertile fields of corn, grapes and tobacco, groves of oak trees and avenues of cypress trees.

There had been more strafing en route but the widely dispersed trucks and efficient lookouts had prevented any serious damage. The only mishap was the loss of one and a half platoons from page 426 A Company and one platoon and a small group from B Company. The military police outside the town had been instructed to divert all 24 Battalion transport into Tripolis, but these platoons had been left to continue along the road to Kalamata with the reinforcement troops, the Palestinian labour units and the Australian detachments hurrying to join their units. The depleted battalion had meanwhile taken control of the roads leading into Patrai, C Company that from Kalamata and D Company the highway along which it travelled from Miloi.

At nightfall, 26–27 April, the main withdrawal began, General Freyberg and his staff leaving Miloi to set up headquarters some ten miles south of Tripolis and Lee Force moving from the Argos area through Tripolis to Sparta and the approaches to Monemvasia.

Headquarters 6 Brigade followed about midnight to the high country east of Tripolis; with it were the detachments from 22 and 23 Battalions which had, as Hart Force, masked the approaches to the Thermopylae line. About the same time 26 Battalion pulled out from Ano Fikhtia, leaving a small party to link up with A and D Companies when they came through from their rearguard position north of Argos. Next morning the battalion was off the road and under cover east of Tripolis. Twenty-fifth Battalion had followed up to a position astride the road at Akhladhokambos, a village in the hills to the north of Tripolis. The three battalions now controlled the approaches to the town and there they were to remain until after dark on the night of 27–28 April, when they would withdraw to Monemvasia for embarkation the following night.

1 The source of this statement is the Division's ‘G’ Branch war diary; it probably refers to the troops to be evacuated that night from Navplion, many of them being Base Details.