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To Greece

General Wilson's Defence Plans on 6 April

page 160

General Wilson's Defence Plans on 6 April

The rapidity of the German advance gave General Wilson only four days, 6–9 April, to adjust his defences. Moreover, it was difficult for him to make the swift decisions which the situation demanded. He had always to consider the wishes of General Papagos and, until the worst was known, to allow for the stubborn resistance which the Yugoslavs were confidently expected to provide. Consequently, when General Blamey sent his senior staff officer to press for ‘an immediate withdrawal of the New Zealand division to the passes’ in accordance with the agreement1 reached in Athens twelve days before, Wilson was not prepared, at least on the first day, to make such an important decision. Until more was known of the fighting along the border, W Force would work according to the original plans.

In the Veroia Pass sector the replacement of 12 Greek Division by 16 Australian Brigade would probably take place on the night of 7–8 April. The New Zealanders would complete their defences along the anti-tank ditch to the north of Katerini, but they were warned that their withdrawal to Mount Olympus would begin as soon as 1 Australian Corps could maintain troops in the sector to the north. They could, however, detach units to prepare the defences about the pass. Orders were therefore issued for the withdrawal of 22 Battalion2 from the Katerini to the Mount Olympus area and for the transfer of 21 Battalion3 from Athens to the southern extremity above the Platamon tunnel.

The records of the conference also suggest that the chances of a forced withdrawal were already beginning to worry General Wilson. He spoke of orders for the withdrawal of Greek troops from eastern Macedonia to the Mount Olympus area, and mentioned a Greek division in reserve which could be used in the Servia-Yerania- Elasson area as the basis of a second line which would run from the Mount Olympus line northwards to the Pieria River and the sector held by the Greeks.

The discussion ended with General Wilson obviously and naturally waiting for more detailed intelligence reports. Late that night he learnt that the Greeks still held the Rupel Pass in the Metaxas line, that German columns were rushing westwards across Yugoslavia to the Vardar valley, and that another was approaching the Strumica Pass, from which it could enter the lower Vardar (Axios) valley and edge round the Metaxas line towards Salonika.

To complete the disturbing survey, news had just been received that 7 Australian Division and the Polish Brigade would not be page 161 sent over to Greece. On 31 March Rommel had counter-attacked in Cyrenaica, recovering Benghazi and surrounding Tobruk. General Wavell had thereupon ordered 18 Brigade of 7 Division to be embarked and sent round to strengthen the defence of that port. The Polish Brigade and the remainder of 7 Division would remain in Egypt in readiness for service in North Africa.

1 See pp. 1356.

2 See p. 254.

3 See pp. 1737.