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To Greece

The Rearguard Along the Sotir Ridge, Morning 13 April

The Rearguard Along the Sotir Ridge, Morning 13 April

The enemy had approached the ridge the previous evening but had been content to send out patrols and to harass the front with page 211 light tracer fire. The British had therefore been free to organise their defence system. The main road bridge to the west of the line had been demolished and 2/4 Australian Battalion, now only two companies strong, had dug itself in along the eastern section of the ridge.

The position was well suited for a delaying action. To the south-west were miles of swamp and lake from which the ridge rose abruptly and extended north-eastwards towards Lake Vegorritis. The road which squeezed its way through between swamp and ridge bridged the stream below the ridge and ran northwards across the plain to the Klidhi Pass. In the distance were the poplar trees about Amindaion, the hill country which had just been defended and the white road below it which ran westwards towards Kastoria.

The Australian companies held the three miles to the east overlooking the stream and the approach from Amindaion, leaving the Rangers on their left to watch the road and the demolished bridge. C Battery 102 Anti-Tank Regiment (less one troop) covered the road and the western end of the ridge and 2 Royal Horse Artillery the whole front. The New Zealand machine-gun platoon had two guns covering the road and two sited for enfilading fire to the east and west. In reserve were two squadrons from 3 Royal Tank Regiment.

At dawn the men, if they had binoculars, could see the enemy moving about their lorries and half-tracked vehicles and unconcernedly preparing for another day's work. The whole front opened up and the Germans were ordered to take cover, having as yet no support other than 37-millimetre anti-tank guns. Very soon, however, the infantry, supported by machine-gun fire and then by artillery, crossed the stream below the Rangers and crept forward until they were halted by B Squadron 3 Royal Tank Regiment, which had moved up to hull-down positions along the ridge.

The withdrawal then began. The 2/4 Australian Battalion was away by 9 a.m., travelling by truck through Kozani to Kerasia and thence to the sector west of Servia. The forward battery of 2 Royal Horse Artillery and C Battery 102 Anti-Tank Regiment pulled out, the latter coming up under the covering fire of the New Zealand machine-gun platoon. Finally, B Squadron 3 Royal Tank Regiment moved forward towards the enemy, covering the front while the Rangers and machine-gunners withdrew to the waiting transport.

Lieutenant MacDonald1 with his machine-gunners came out without any casualties. They had fired the last of their 10,000 page 212 rounds, dismounted the guns and carried them back to the trucks in which they travelled to the rearguard position, then just south of Proastion.

The operation was over by 10 a.m., by which time the Germans were preparing an attack from the Xynon Neron area and shelling the ridge with 88-millimetre anti-aircraft guns. The casualties had been very light but 3 Royal Tank Regiment had lost five more tanks, four from mechanical defects and one from enemy action.

1 Capt H. J. MacDonald; Whangaruru South, North Auckland; born Napier, 9 Aug 1908; sheep-farmer; p.w. 1 Jun 1941.