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To Greece

The Assembly of Mackay Force: 8–9 April

page 189

The Assembly of Mackay Force: 8–9 April

IN the extreme north about Amindaion there was even more activity than at Servia Pass. On 8 April 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion had been about to move back1 from the forward slopes of the Klidhi Pass to positions at Sotir behind Headquarters Amindaion Detachment. In the afternoon the order was countermanded, probably because of the decision that Mackay Force in its effort to stop a blitzkrieg must defend the Klidhi Pass between Monastir and Ptolemais. The new gun positions had to be north of the 60 grid line, so Brigadier Lee and Lieutenant-Colonel Gwilliam together decided that they would be on the lower slopes of the high ridge to the east of Klidhi and thence south-westwards to the pass and across it to include the Mala Reka ridge.

The pass itself was not steep, but it was narrow and, except for the cultivated patches in a few re-entrants, was covered with thick scrub. The ridges on either side were nearly 3000 feet high, with a most extensive view across the bare, windswept plain. The road from Edhessa and Salonika came in from the east; another lined with poplars ran north-west towards the border and beyond it to Monastir, less than 20 miles away; and the railway line after coming through the pass swung away still farther west towards Florina. Away to the north were high mountains crested with snow and obscured by mists.

The machine-gun companies moved into position that night, 8–9 April. No. 2 Company (Captain Robbie2) had 6 Platoon (Lieutenant Liley3) about Vevi, 5 Platoon (Lieutenant Newland4) and 4 Platoon (Second-Lieutenant Hatton5) in the stretch from Klidhi across the hills to Point 1001 and beyond it to the

1 See pp. 1301.

2 Lt-Col J. K. Robbie, ED; Nelson; born Christchurch, 5 Sep 1909; shipping and cargo clerk; CO 27 (MG) Bn Jul–Oct 1942, Apr–Sep 1943.

3 Capt W. F. Liley, MC; New Plymouth; born NZ 14 Mar 1915; cashier; GSO III (Int) 2 NZ Div 1942–43.

4 Maj C. A. Newland, m.i.d.; Masterton; born NZ 4 Jan 1913; meat grader.

5 Capt O. J. Hatton; Pahiatua; born NZ 29 Oct 1915; salesman.

page 190 track between Flambouron and Xynon Neron. No. 1 Company (Captain Grant1) had its three platoons on features 807 and 852.

The British units adjusted their positions according to the new orders. A Squadron 3 Royal Tank Regiment moved to the Sotir area from which it could cover the southern approaches to the pass; the other squadrons remained to the south of Amindaion. Sixty-fourth Medium Regiment (less one troop) took up positions covering the whole front, with 211 Medium Battery south of Vevi and one troop of 234 Medium Battery in Klidhi.

Just before midnight General Mackay came up to the pass and immediately took over the organisation of its defence. The reinforcements which were moving into the area would be under the command of Brigadier G. A. Vasey of 19 Australian Infantry Brigade, two2 of whose battalions, 2/4 and 2/8, were now coming up from Piraeus. In the early morning, when the Armoured Brigade came through3 from the Macedonian Plain, 1 Rangers would come under Vasey's command; the other units of the brigade would carry on to Perdikha as Force Reserve.

The same night General Mackay had a conference with General Karassos4 but because of language difficulties little was accomplished. Arrangements were made for the headquarters of Mackay Force and the Central Macedonian Army to be in the same village, Perdikha, and every effort was made to support 20 Division, whose new position would be in the mountains on the right flank. A reconnaissance was ordered to see if the Germans could use the road to the east of Lake Vegorritis; a battery of 64 Medium Regiment was offered5 to strengthen the Kedhronas area in the extreme east of the front; and later General Wilson ordered that the detachment of 102 Anti-Tank Regiment already with 20 Greek Division should be increased immediately to one battery. So on 9 April D Battery 102 Anti-Tank Regiment sent one troop east of Lake Vegorritis to join the troop already with 20 Greek Division, the other going to the west of Lake Petersko.

At first light next morning, 9 April, the units of Mackay Force were hastening into position. First Rangers left 1 Armoured Brigade when it came through the mountains from Edhessa; motor transport and carriers were sent to the rear and the companies, dropping the role of motorised infantry, took over the line across the pass from Vevi to the western slopes. In front of them 2/1 Australian Anti-Tank Regiment was about Vevi covered by the

1 Lt-Col J. L. Grant, ED; Christchurch; born Timaru, 19 Mar 1908; master butcher; CO 2 Bn NZ Scottish Regt 1943; comd Trg Unit, Burnham, Oct 1943–Nov 1945.

2 2/11 Battalion did not land in Greece until 12 April.

3 See pp. 16971.

4 He had that night taken over the Central Macedonian Army from General Kotulas.

5 Whether any such move was made is now uncertain.

page 191
mackay force rearguards, 10–13 april 1941

mackay force rearguards, 10–13 april 1941

page 192 New Zealand machine-gunners and to the rear there was a battery from 2/3 Australian Field Regiment.

The 2/4 Australian Battalion (less one company),1 after a long night journey in trucks, had arrived at dawn and moved into the hills to the west of the pass. Here it eventually built up a front which covered the four miles between the left flank of 1 Rangers and the right flank of 21 Greek Infantry Brigade on the western side of Hill 1001.

The 2/8 Australian Battalion after two equally tiring days of travel arrived later in the morning and temporarily took up positions in the Xynon Neron area to the west of the pass. From here, after an unpleasant night in the snow, it moved across the pass to the right of the Rangers to hold the sector from the west of Vevi to the north of Lake Petersko. There was a small gap to the left between it and the Rangers, but on the right flank it was able to link up with the Dodecanese Regiment, which was to be on the left flank of 20 Greek Division in the hill country about Lakes Petersko-Vegorritis.

The Allied front was then complete but no one could confidently say that it was strong. There were Greek units on either flank but little was known of their fighting strength. The ridges were high and the field of fire, except for an area behind the ridge near Lofoi, was excellent. But the three battalions were strung out across a front of over ten miles, a distance far too great for any defence in depth.

The only arm in any strength was the artillery. The 2/3 Australian Field Regiment had come into position to support 2/8 Battalion and 1 Rangers; 2 Royal Horse Artillery would support 2/4 Battalion; and 64 Medium Regiment would cover the whole front.

In an anti-tank role and mostly on the forward slopes were a troop from 2 Royal Horse Artillery and many of the guns of 2/1 Australian Anti-Tank Battery.

The forces in reserve were, for the most part, along the highway to the south. On the Sotir ridge covering the exit to the pass were A Squadron 3 Royal Tank Regiment, whose parent unit was at Amindaion, and A Squadron 4 Hussars detached from the unit now stationed at Kozani. The two troops of New Zealand Divisional Cavalry were with Headquarters 1 Armoured Brigade at Perdikha, the headquarters for 6 Australian Division.

1 On duty at the port of Volos.