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To Greece

The Withdrawal of 6 Brigade

The Withdrawal of 6 Brigade

The withdrawal of 4 Brigade had taken place during the night of 8–9 April, but the movement orders for 6 Brigade were not issued by Divisional Headquarters until after midnight and, to complicate matters, the greater part of the next day had passed before Brigadier Barrowclough received his copy of them. The page 182 brigade had therefore continued to prepare its section of the line, but once it was learnt that 4 Brigade had already withdrawn, plans were prepared for 6 Brigade (less 26 Battalion) to move over Olympus Pass, ‘Date and time of the move … uncertain.’1 Until they were decided the position astride the highway would be held. As much surplus stores and motor transport as possible would be sent over the pass to Dholikhi and after the Divisional Cavalry had withdrawn the crossings over the anti-tank ditch would be blown. If the German armoured units did break through along the road the position would still have to be held until it was possible to arrange a night withdrawal. The tanks would then be less mobile, and if the flanks and rearguard provided adequate defence the infantry and transport could be withdrawn.

In the late afternoon, however, Brigadier Barrowclough was at last given a definite date for the withdrawal of his brigade group. That evening or the following day his units would withdraw to Olympus Pass. Well aware of the danger from air attacks during any daylight movement, the Brigadier immediately obtained permission to move his battalions to the embussing point that same night, 9–10 April.

The withdrawal of the 6 Brigade Group, instead of being a separate movement, thus became part of the general withdrawal which had been going on for the last forty-eight hours. The guns of 4 and 5 Field Regiments2 which had been supporting the brigade had already been moving out that afternoon, but it was now decided that some from each unit would be left in position to cover a wide front until the infantry had withdrawn. The platoons from 24 and 25 Battalions attached to George Force in the gap left by 26 Battalion were ordered to rejoin their units; 4 Machine Gun Company, which had been part of this composite force, reverted to the command of Headquarters New Zealand Division. Once in the pass it would, with 32 Anti-Tank Battery, come under the command of 5 Brigade. The new rearguard under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Duff was formed from the carrier platoons of the 24, 25 and 26 Battalions, supported by 3 Machine Gun Company and 34 Anti-Tank Battery.

So by 1 a.m. on 10 April the battalions were coming out along the tracks with orders to reach the area about Gannokhora before daylight and there lie up until the afternoon, when they would embus in the trucks of 4 RMT Company. Time being the essential factor, the 17-mile march had been undertaken at very short notice; in fact there was no meal before starting and nothing to eat during the night. ‘That march would be remembered by most,

1 6 Brigade Group Instruction No. 1, 11.45 a.m., 9 April.

2 NZ Divisional Artillery Operation Order No. 3, 8 April.

page 183 a few had.had a couple of hours' sleep, no officers had slept at all and we plodded steadily along, stopping only 10 minutes in the hour.’1

Notwithstanding these disadvantages the march was performed in magnificent style, fully justifying the attention the Brigadier had given to long route marches during the training period in Egypt. The following afternoon the vehicles of 4 RMT Company appeared and the battalions were conveyed across the plain and into the pass, where the road twisted and turned, covering some ten miles and climbing over 3000 feet before it reached the crest and the village of Ay Dhimitrios.

Twenty-fifth Battalion and 33 Anti-Tank Battery were then taken across the pass to the divisional area at Dholikhi, but Brigade Headquarters and 24 Battalion encamped on the southern slopes about two miles beyond the village. Here they were joined by 26 Battalion, which had that morning been ordered to leave the 5 Brigade area in which it had been working ever since its withdrawal2 on 8 April. The unit transport having been sent ahead, the men had walked to the crest of the pass—‘the most gruelling march to date’, 11 miles with a climb of 3000 feet. They arrived at dusk just when rain was about to fall. The B Echelon transport for the whole brigade was over the pass in the Dholikhi area with the greatcoats of some soldiers and the blankets of still more, so the two battalions in their tents among the shrubs shivered through the night of rain and snow.

The last unit of the brigade group to come over the pass was 6 Field Ambulance. A and B Companies, leaving an ambulance car with Duff Force, withdrew during the day to headquarters at Kato Melia, near the foot of the pass, and at 8 p.m. moved off again, ascending the pass and encamping just north of Ay Dhimitrios.

The screen along the anti-tank ditch had been provided by Duff Force. Headquarters, which had been organised just after midnight on 9–10 April, was formed from members of Headquarters 7 Anti-Tank Regiment and set up at Pal Elevtherokhorion with the unit wireless vehicles; 34 Anti-Tank Battery, less O Troop as yet with the Divisional Cavalry Regiment, was at the rendezvous; the carrier platoons from the battalions of 6 Brigade were patrolling across the front once held by the brigade; and 3 Machine Gun Company was in its original position. In the afternoon orders came through for the force to withdraw over the pass. Headquarters 7 Anti-Tank Regiment, with 34 Battery3 now complete, went to the

1 Report by Capt D. G. Morrison.

2 See p. 171.

3 O Troup 34 Battery withdrew that day from its position with the Divisional Cavalry along the Aliakmon River.

page 184 Ay Dhimitrios area at the crest of the pass; 3 Machine Gun Company went through to the Dholikhi area, and the carrier platoons rejoined their respective battalions.

Thus by 4 p.m. the only New Zealand unit left on the plain was the Divisional Cavalry Regiment, with E Troop 5 Field Regiment, along the south bank of the Aliakmon River. General Freyberg thereupon closed his advanced headquarters at Sfendhami and moved back to Dholikhi.