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To Greece

Fourth Brigade Group

Fourth Brigade Group

In the Servia Pass area 10 April had been the day for deployment, not for withdrawals. The weather had cleared and the battalions could see the country which they were to hold. Hills some 4000–5000 feet high were immediately above them to the east and others equally high were away to the west. The five-mile front between the ranges sloped gradually across some two miles of very rough country and then ended in a precipitous escarpment with jagged arêtes and isolated pinnacles. At the base of this rock wall, unseen as yet, nestled the pretty market town of Servia, with plane trees in the square, vineyards on the terraces, and gardens flushed with blossoming plum and almond trees. Beyond it was the Aliakmon River and the long gradual incline up to the town of Kozani.

The crest of the escarpment was to be held with 18 Battalion on the right flank above Servia; 19 Battalion would be responsible for the country to the left on either side of the cutting through which the main highway went down the escarpment to the river valley. In reserve on either side of the highway to the south-west of Lava was 20 Battalion.

At 8.30 a.m. 18 Battalion picked up some of its equipment from the vehicles in Lava and began the first of several weary climbs up rain-soaked gullies and round steep rock faces to the company positions. The troops' one relief was the low mist that hung heavily about the hillsides and kept away the flights of German bombers. D Company (Captain Sinclair1) went to the extreme right, south-east of Kastania, with one platoon well above the snow line. A Company (Captain Kelleway2) kept below the village in an area of rocky outcrops and thick undergrowth. The long ridge to the west and above Servia was left for B Company (Major Evans3) and C Company (Major Lynch4). To it there came up

1 Capt R. S. Sinclair; Te Awamutu; born Bellshill, Scotland, 22 Apr 1911; accountant; wounded and p.w. 1 Jun 1941.

2 Capt C. T. Kelleway, ED; Hamilton; born Geelong, Aust., 15 May 1905; accountant; wounded May 1941.

3 Maj W. H. Evans, ED; born NZ 7 Mar 1899; schoolmaster; killed in action 24 May 1941.

4 Lt-Col R. J. Lynch, MC; born Waihi, 24 Oct 1909; sales manager; CO 18 Bn 29 Jun–15 Jul 1942; wounded and p.w. 15 Jul 1942; died of wounds while p.w. 26 Sep 1942.

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4 brigade positions at the servia pass, 10–17 april1941

4 brigade positions at the servia pass, 10–17 april1941

from Servia a winding track that followed the eastern side of the narrow gorge which was one of the few faults in the long escarpment. Westwards again, the left flank extended up to and including the hilltop of Point 852.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gray left a rear headquarters in Lava and had his main headquarters in Kastania, a village on the right flank some 3000 feet above sea level and surrounded by oaks and pines. The view north-west across the river was a gunner's dream, for the main north road was clear almost all the way from Servia to the bridge and for miles beyond that as it gradually ascended to Kozani.

There was, however, one serious disadvantage. The country between rear headquarters at Lava and the FDLs along the crest of the escarpment was incredibly eroded, with winding gullies and yellow-brown ridges, patches of scrub or, in the direction of Lava, groves of oak and pine. In New Zealand it would have been an area of abandoned sluicing claims. To reach their respective areas the companies had therefore to spend many hours following long circuitous tracks; and in the withdrawal which page 186 was eventually to take place this was to mean a most serious loss of time.

The escarpment to the left up to and beyond the main highway through Servia Pass was held by 19 Battalion. Some slight changes1 were afterwards made on 14–15 April but the positions taken over on 10 April were, in the main, those held by the battalion when the Germans attacked. B Company (Major Gordon2) was in reserve well back from the pass and high enough for one platoon to be on the escarpment to prevent infiltration and to link up with 18 Battalion. A Company (Captain Pleasants3) was at the foot of the gap and astride the road where it swung eastwards to round the base of the escarpment. This company was between the more forward of the three anti-tank ditches which the Greeks had constructed, with the precipitous escarpment on the right and a sharp dip into the gully on the left.

On the western side of the road the ridge continued with steep cliffs to the north and the village of Prosilion on the reverse slope. C Company (Captain Bedding4) was to the north-west across the pass from A Company; D Company (Captain Webster5) was to the south and south-west of the village.

In the open country between the foot of the escarpment and the Aliakmon River the carrier platoons of 18 and 19 Battalions patrolled to the villages of Kranidhia and Goules. Parachute attacks were possible, but it was more likely that the Germans would ford the Aliakmon River and approach the pass under cover of the plane trees in the several gullies that ran down from the escarpment.

Twentieth Battalion was to the rear, in reserve and actually quite close to the crest of the pass, with D Company (Major Paterson6) to the right in Lava, A Company (Captain Washbourn7) astride the road, and B Company (Captain Rice8) on the bald ridge

1 See p. 272.

2 Maj R. K. Gordon, ED; Wanganui; born Bulls, 19 Feb 1899; school-teacher; wounded and p.w. 26 Apr 1941.

3 Brig C. L. Pleasants, CBE, DSO, MC, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Halcombe, 26 Jul 1910; schoolmaster; CO 18 Bn and Armd Regt Jul 1942–Mar 1944; comd 4 Armd Bde Sep–Nov 1944; 5 Bde Aug 1944, Nov 1944–Jan 1945, May 1945–Jan 1946; twice wounded; Commander, Fiji Military Forces, 1949–53; Commander, Northern Military District, 1953–57; Central Military District, 1957–.

4 Maj T. G. Bedding, ED, m.i.d., MC (Gk); Pauatahanui; born Eketahuna, 18 Nov 1909; school physical instructor; p.w. 24 May 1941.

5 Maj C. E. Webster; born London, 19 Mar 1906; bank officer; killed in action 20 May 1941.

6 Maj R. D. B. Paterson, ED; Dunedin; born Dunedin, 20 Aug 1908; stock agent; 2 i/c 20 BnMay 1941, Sep 1941–Apr 1942; Commandant, Southern District School of Instruction, Burnham, Jun 1942–Dec 1944.

7 Maj G. W. Washbourn; Wellington; born Timaru, 13 Jul 1916; bank clerk; p.w. 15 Jul 1942; now Regular Force.

8 Capt M. C. Rice, MBE; born Invercargill, 8 Jul 1904; company secretary; killed in action 22 May 1941.

page 187 across the road to the west. C Company (Major Wilson1) was in reserve between Lava and the road.

To the rear again, on the southern side of the watershed, Brigade Headquarters was established. J Section Divisional Signals (Captain Borman2) had no serious difficulty laying the telephone cable from there to 19 and 20 Battalions, even though it meant skirting the weathered hillsides and keeping clear of the road, which was certain to be bombed. The great problem was laying line across the gullies and up the heights to 18 Battalion, but it was complete by the night of 10–11 April and afterwards extended another five miles to bring 64 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, into the brigade system.

In support of the brigade were several units of artillery under the overall command of Lieutenant-Colonel C. E. Weir. The anti-tank defence about the pass was the responsibility of 31 Anti-Tank Battery (Major Blake3), two of whose troops came under the command of 19 Battalion and one under the command of 20 Battalion.

Sixth Field Regiment, with lines laid out across most difficult country, was in position by the night of 10–11 April in the valley south and west of Lava. Twenty-ninth Battery on the right was to support 18 Battalion; 30 Battery, less B Troop, to support 19 Battalion. B Troop had been placed farther forward, just south of the Borsana ridge to the east of the pass, to cover the bridge across the Aliakmon River. The observation points along the edge of the escarpment had ‘a wonderful field of view of a most extensive zone’; they were used by the Survey Troop after it was hurriedly brought over from Olympus Pass on 11–12 April.

Next day, 11 April, a battery of 7 Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, came under command to provide counter-battery fire and to cover the Aliakmon bridge. Both troops were placed well back at the southern end of the pass, the engineers plotting a 400-yard branch road and a Palestinian Labour Company, fresh from Tobruk, completing the work.

The section of 6 Field Company (Lieutenant Kelsall4) had fortunately come north with more than the normal demolition equipment. Weeks before it had taken over from the Naval Ordnance Stores at Piræus some twenty-three depth-charges, each containing 360 pounds of TNT. It had taken these treasures over the moun-

1 Maj C. Wilson, m.i.d., MC (Gk); born England, 25 Aug 1907; insurance clerk; killed in action 21 May 1941.

2 Maj C. A. Borman, MBE, ED, m.i.d.; Upper Hutt; born Rangiora, 25 Jun 1906; public servant; coy comd Div Sigs Jul 1942–Dec 1943; G2 Sigs, Army HQ, May 1944–Jul 1945; OC Army Sigs Jul–Oct 1945.

3 Lt-Col H. W. D. Blake, m.i.d.; Invercargill; born Christchurch, 23 Jun 1903; schoolteacher; CO 17 Fd Regt, 3 NZ Div.

4 Capt D. V. C. Kelsall, m.i.d.; London; born Taihape, 13 Dec 1913; civil engineering student; p.w. 9 May 1941.

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to Katerini, back again to the main highway and north to the Servia area, where they were to be the most effective road demolitions in the whole campaign. The destruction of the bridge over the Aliakmon River was a task for 580 Army Troops Company, Royal Engineers, but all demolitions from Servia to the pass and southwards towards Elasson were the responsibility of the New Zealanders. So next day, in spite of strafing and dive-bombing, the work began on the concrete bridge outside Servia and on the three anti-tank ditches along the road to the crest of the escarpment. Westwards from there along the road to Prosilion was another anti-tank ditch; southwards there was the highway to Elevtherokhorion, where the road came in from Mount Olympus and 5 Brigade. In all these places demolitions had to be prepared.

The medical unit with 4 Brigade Group was 5 Field Ambulance (Lieutenant-Colonel Twhigg1), which had moved into position on 10 April and now had its Main Dressing Station some eight miles north of Elevtherokhorion on the lee side of a prominent hill. Three miles forward A Company (Major Fisher2) established an Advanced Dressing Station and was immediately accepting patients, in spite of rain during the day and a snowfall during the night.

1 Brig J. M. Twhigg, DSO, ED, m.i.d.; Wellington; born Dunedin, 13 Sep 1900; physician; CO 5 Fd Amb Jul 1940–Nov 1941; p.w. Nov 1941; repatriated Apr 1942; ADMS 3 NZ Div Aug 1942–Apr 1943; DDMS 2 NZEF (IP) Apr 1943–Aug 1944; ADMS 2 NZEF (UK) Oct 1944–Feb 1946.

2 Col W. B. Fisher, OBE, ED, m.i.d.; born New Plymouth, 21 Jan 1898; Superintendent, Waipukurau Hospital; RMO 28 (Maori) Battalion Dec 1939–Aug 1940; 2 i/c 5 Fd Amb Aug 1940–May 1941; actg CO 6 Fd Amb May 1941; CO 21 Lt Fd Amb (NZ) Nov 1941–Dec 1942; 6 Fd Amb Feb 1943–Aug 1944; CO 1 Gen Hosp Aug 1944–Feb 1945; died 17 Jan 1956.