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To Greece

The Allied Line is Changed

The Allied Line is Changed

The following day, 7 April, was wet, with difficult flying conditions which prevented systematic reconnaissance by the Royal Air Force. The reports from the fighting line could have been more detailed, but as the hours passed it became clear that the Germans were about to stage another dramatic success. In the extreme east they were forcing their way to the Aegean Sea; the Greek troops in the Rupel Pass were still fighting back but the regiments in the Beles area were giving way; and, most serious of all, the Yugoslavs still farther west were withdrawing up the Strumica valley.

In Albania the Greeks had certainly struck out towards Durazzo but the Yugoslavs, who were to launch a supporting offensive from the north, were at first weak and, in the end, quite ineffective. This failure, together with the succession of disasters in Yugoslavia itself, was a warning that the Allies would probably have to create defences between W Force about Amindaion and the Greek armies in Albania.

In the eastern sector the Allied commanders were now convinced that a shorter front must be prepared. During the morning Generals Blamey and Mackay visited General Freyberg and were shown the defences which had been prepared by 4 and 6 NZ Brigade Groups. Blamey was impressed by the strength of the position along the anti-tank ditch, but he still held to his original opinion5 that the brigades should be withdrawn to the passes about Mount page 163 Olympus. The decision was made that afternoon when General Wilson came up to discuss the problem. ‘It was decided that we should go back as quickly as possible and hold the line of the passes.’1 In other words, all British troops would be withdrawn from the plain of Macedonia: the New Zealand brigades from the Katerini area and 1 Armoured Brigade from the Edhessa sector.

No other decision was possible but it was going to be a costly withdrawal. The New Zealanders, after wasting a month preparing the line, would have to leave a large proportion of their wire and mines alongside the anti-tank ditch. By evacuating Katerini, Veroia and Edhessa the Allied armies were creating most serious problems of communication. W Force, without the railhead at Katerini, would have to be supplied by motor transport from Larisa. The Western Macedonian Army, whose supply line had been the railway from Salonika to Edhessa and to Florina would, in future, have its supplies brought up the long, narrow valley from Larisa to Grevena and Kastoria. That in turn would make it essential for the Amindaion detachment to halt any German advance from the direction of Monastir and Florina. Otherwise it would be possible for the enemy not only to thrust south towards Larisa but also to break through the Western passes and cut the supply line to the Western Macedonian Army.

5 See p. 135.

1 NZ Division ‘G’ diary.