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To Greece

The Greek and Australian Divisions

The Greek and Australian Divisions

The Allies were also adjusting their positions. In the Greek- British Agreement2 signed on 4 March the Central Macedonian Army was to consist of three divisions and, if they could be withdrawn from the Turkish frontier, some seven unattached battalions. Until replaced by British units, the force would be responsible for the Aliakmon line. Twentieth Greek Division, which was made up of hastily instructed troops from the Dodecanese, had been destined for the Albanian front. Instead it had to march from Florina and take over the northern sector of the Aliakmon line. Twelfth Greek Division in western Thrace had, long before this, been drained of its best men and reinforced by older men with less modern equipment. The regiments were now shifted back by rail to occupy the central sector of the line between 20 Greek Division and the mountains south-east of Veroia. Nineteenth Greek Motorised Division, in the southern sector between the coast and Mount Olympus, was not impressive. ‘It consists of just over 2000 quite untrained, recently enlisted garage hands. It has no prospect of fighting usefully as a mobile force, with its few bren carriers, motor cycles, and small cars, even if its commander knew how to employ them.’3

page 150

Behind this light screen the British forces had moved up from Piræus, the New Zealanders to the Aliakmon line, 1 Armoured Brigade to the Edhessa area. The latter—4 Queen's Own Hussars with light tanks (Mark VIBs), 3 Battalion Royal Tank Regiment with cruiser tanks (Mark A10s) and part of the Support Group of the parent unit, 2 Armoured Division—had crossed with the first and second flights and was now dispersed about the Macedonian Plain. Fourth Hussars, with one battery 2 Royal Horse Artillery, was well forward near the Axios River with instructions to cover the demolitions and to fight a delaying action if the Germans advanced south-west across the plain. First Rangers, a motorised battalion, was near the entrance to the pass behind Edhessa with a battery of 2 Royal Horse Artillery and 102 Anti-Tank Regiment, Northumberland Hussars, in support. The 155th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery was about the plain from Edhessa eastwards to the Axios River. On the western side of the mountains 3 Royal Tank Regiment had been retained at Amindaion to check any advance from Yugoslavia by way of the Monastir Gap. It was supported1 by 27 New Zealand Machine Gun Battalion (less two companies) and 64 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, all under the command of Brigadier Lee.

The Australians were the last to arrive. In Wavell's original plan 7 Division was to have been the first to move but Blamey, on the grounds of insufficient training and equipment, had insisted that 6 Division should be sent over from Cyrenaica. This demanded a swift withdrawal from the desert for on 7 March, when the first flight of British and New Zealand troops were disembarking at Piræus, 16 Brigade was still in Tobruk, 19 Brigade was near Tocra and 17 Brigade still farther west on the border of Tripolitania. Even so, Corps Headquarters and 16 Brigade crossed with the fourth flight, the others with the sixth and seventh flights; and by 6 April when the Germans invaded Greece 16 Brigade was taking over the pass at Veroia from the Greeks, 19 Brigade was moving up from Piræus and 17 Brigade was about to leave Alexandria.

The movement, however, was not complete. The cavalry regiment had not embarked, no Corps Engineers had arrived and 64 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, at Amindaion was the only medium artillery unit.

W Force had similar problems. The anti-aircraft allotment had always been small but on 6 April, apart from three batteries with Barbarity Force and one with the Armoured Brigade, only Headquarters 2 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery, 16 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery and 155 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery had arrived. Head- page 151 quarters Signals was in Greece but there was a shortage of transport, engineer and maintenance units. The four mechanical transport companies available for base and line-of-communication duties were able to handle the situation, but there were few vehicles available for Force Headquarters. The Australian and New Zealand divisions had their companies of engineers, a British field company was in the Athens area, another was detailed for Amindaion, and another was with Barbarity Force. But only one other unit, 111 Workshop and Park Company of the Royal Engineers, was available for the preparation of the positions behind which W Force was to face the German Army.

2 See p. 106.

3 Charrington to Wilson, 18 March.

1 See p. 129.