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To Greece

Mackay Force bolds up the German Advance

Mackay Force bolds up the German Advance

The first engagement with the enemy in this sector and the first involving the New Zealand Division in Greece took place on the morning of 10 April. As part of a motorised patrol commanded page 195 by Captain P. G. Page of 1 Armoured Brigade, Lieutenant D. A. Cole's troop of Divisional Cavalry armoured cars went up the main highway to discover how close the Germans were and to delay them by wrecking several bridges just across the border of Yugoslavia. At one such bridge, the patrol stopped and the engineers, with the armoured cars screening the approaches, set about preparing their demolitions.

Shortly afterwards a German motor-cycle patrol came down the north road followed by a column of ‘limousines, motor-cycles and side cars, light trucks and armoured cars.’ Corporal King1 opened up with Bren fire, the German troop-carriers moved up and their mortars and heavy machine guns came into action. Captain Page still had hopes of finishing the demolition, but the volume of fire eventually forced him to abandon the solid stone bridge. King, who had aggressively maintained his forward position, thereupon withdrew under covering fire from Sergeant Sutherland2 and the whole patrol turned back for Amindaion. A W Force reconnaissance car and the engineers' truck went on ahead, leaving Captain Page with Cole's troop to make the final demolitions.3

The next bridge, a wooden one, was wrecked, soaked in petrol and set on fire. Another one beyond it was similarly dealt with and the detachment raced off towards the lines of W Force. But from the crest of the slope above the bridge near the junction with the Florina road the party was astonished to see a staff car on the bridge itself and a line of men and vehicles along the roadside. Lieutenant Cole immediately withdrew his cars behind cover. When the patrol opened fire the astonished Germans withdrew up the road to Florina. The armoured cars were then rushed across the bridge and south to the defences in Klidhi Pass.

Thereafter the front was relatively quiet, the Germans waiting for their artillery to come up and the British busily digging in. Their artillery, both field and medium, relentlessly shelled any visible concentrations of enemy troops and vehicles. A German bomber came over in the evening and a reconnaissance aircraft was driven away by anti-aircraft fire shortly afterwards, but the sky for the greater part of the day belonged to the Royal Air Force. The early morning reconnaissance flights had shown the Prilep-Monastir road to be jammed with vehicles waiting for demolitions to be repaired, so Blenheim bombers were attacking the assembling columns.

page 196

The infantry had still to complete their defences. The 2/8 Battalion, after its unpleasant night in the snow to the west of the pass, spent the day moving east across the pass and over the wet ridges to the right flank of 1 Rangers. On the left flank there had been a gap between 2/4 Battalion and the Greeks, but late in the afternoon Lieutenant Newland of 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion, with a section of 5 Platoon and a section of 4 Platoon, was taken over in Australian trucks ‘to close gap on left.’ Once there the party worked with D Company 2/4 Battalion and some Australian anti-tank gunners. When contact was eventually made with 21 Greek Brigade, the left company of 2/4 Battalion went into position on the western slopes of Point 1001.

That night, 10–11 April, was more restless. The Germans were now edging forward behind a screen of infantry patrols and 2/4 Battalion reported that at least one battalion was closing up on the left flank. Several tanks were disabled on the minefields but the majority of the Germans had no great trouble assembling about Vevi.

While this move was taking place the battalions of Mackay Force south and east of the village were constantly under pressure. Heavy mortar fire had to be endured and probing infantry had to be checked, but all went well until about midnight when the Germans made a successful raid near the junction of 2/8 Battalion and 1 Rangers. They captured some men from each of these units and all, except one man, of 2 Section 6 Platoon 27 MG Battalion.

This irritating pressure from German patrols continued throughout the night until at 3 a.m. the Rangers withdrew for some distance the company on the extreme right flank. No. 1 Section 6 MG Platoon, having been left in an exposed position, was then withdrawn behind the Rangers to positions on the eastern side of the pass, and 2/8 Australian Battalion, already tired after its exhausting march from the western side of the pass, had to adjust its left flank to conform with that of the Rangers.

1 Cpl J. J. W. King, MM; born Oamaru, 6 May 1917; lorry driver; died of wounds 17 Apr 1941.

2 Capt W. C. Sutherland; Howick; born NZ 20 Mar 1909; bank officer.

3 A troop from 4 Hussars was out on a similar demolition mission but it was cut off and lost four men through enemy action.