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To Greece

Plans for the Withdrawal of the Allied Forces

Plans for the Withdrawal of the Allied Forces

This pause in the German advance gave the Allied Command the necessary time to organise the controlled withdrawal of the Greek and Australian divisions from the north-eastern flank. Otherwise there could easily have been that confusion which so often develops during the strain of a retreat. In the morning General Papagos made a definite statement about his future policy. He confirmed in general the instructions1 already issued by General Wilson, but he also made some important variations for the safe

1 See pp. 1679.

page 197 withdrawal of his armies from Albania. The new line would certainly extend westwards from Servia Pass but it would not, as Wilson suggested, continue westwards to Grevena. Once it reached the central range it would switch north-westwards along the hills from the Siatista area to Lake Kastoria. In the Siatista Pass would be 12 Greek Division; in the Vlasti and Klisoura area 20 Greek Division; in the Nimfaion area 21 Greek Brigade; and still farther north protecting the Pisodherion Pass there would be the Cavalry Division.

The movement to the Olympus-Servia-Kastoria positions was to be complete by 14 April, and the move of 12 and 20 Greek Divisions across the valley from the mountains on the right flank to the passes in the central range would be covered with ‘a vigorous defence by the (British) forces in the Kleidi position.’

The western sector of the line might be held either permanently or as a covering position which could at some later date be swung back to Mount Grammos. Papagos's ultimate intention was to withdraw the Greek armies to a line running westwards from the Aliakmon River across the Pindhos Range to the Adriatic Sea near Santa Quaranta.

That afternoon Wilson. Mackay and General Karassos met at Perdikha and drew up the necessary timetable.

As the Greeks were short of motor transport the move would occupy three nights. That night, 10–11 April, three battalions would move out, on 11–12 April three more, and on 12–13 April the rearguard, including the Dodecanese Regiment from the right flank of Mackay Force, would begin its withdrawal to the Servia area.

Sixteenth Australian Brigade in the Veroia Pass area to the south of the Greeks would march to the mountain sector on the right flank of 4 New Zealand Brigade at Servia. This meant that the infantry, instead of being transported across the Aliakmon River and left to climb a mere five to six miles, would have to trudge some 30 miles through the hills and then form a line 3000 feet above sea level. The move would be exhausting, but it meant that if the Germans broke through Mackay Force at Amindaion the brigade would not be caught strung out along the main highway. Nevertheless, it was a lot to ask of troops unaccustomed to mountain warfare.

No time was lost in beginning these withdrawals. Two battalions from 20 Greek Division left shortly after the conference on a 25-mile march from positions south of Lake Vegorritis to the Klisoura and Vlasti areas. The same afternoon and night 2/3 Australian Battalion marched to the south end of the Veroia Pass page 198 and formed a line to cover the junction of the main road and the track by which 16 Brigade was to cross the mountains.

A serious difficulty was the fact that the main highway had to be used by both mechanised forces and ‘Greek divisions with bullocks.’ To simplify matters it was agreed, next day, that the Dodecanese Regiment which was to protect the right flank of Mackay Force should, temporarily, come under the command of 6 Australian Division. To speed up the withdrawal about 500 of the 3000 Greeks were to be carried to the Klisoura area in British transport vehicles during the night of 11–12 April.

The overall situation was most disturbing. During the day the Germans had occupied Florina and moved south towards the Klidhi Pass; they had approached the Pisodherion Pass and had been halted by the Greek Cavalry Division; and away to the north they had joined forces with the Italians in the Lake Ochrida area. As the safe withdrawal of the Greek armies from Albania was now threatened, General Papagos instructed 11 Greek Division, which was in reserve, to safeguard the passes in the Metsovon area of the Pindhos Range. British transport, including a few vehicles of 4 RMT Company, was provided to assist in the move.1

Shortly after midnight Papagos met Wilson and discussed the situation which would develop after the cessation of his campaign in Albania. The chances were that the left flank of W Force would have to be strengthened.

1 See p. 231.