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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

German Invasion Begins

German Invasion Begins

On 6 April the German drive into both Greece and Yugoslavia began, and by the 9th, in spite of heroic Greek resistance, the whole of Thrace was in enemy hands and Salonika occupied. At the same time an armoured spearhead forced its way into Yugoslavia, and when Yugoslav resistance in the south collapsed, the road through the Monastir Gap was open to the Germans. The main arterial highway from Yugoslavia passed through the Monastir Gap in the Macedonian mountains to Florina and Kozani. The Central Greek Macedonian Army and the British forces (W Force) lay to the east of the gap on a front 70 to 80 miles long, and to the west the main body of the Greek Army was coping with the Italians. By 9 April German columns had reached Monastir; they were in a position to threaten the rear of the Greek forces in Albania and the rear of our own forces on the Aliakmon line and to drive an armoured wedge between the two.

The New Zealand Division was ordered on 9 April to withdraw from the Aliakmon line and the Katerini area and occupy its freshly prepared positions in the Olympus Pass and at the Platamon tunnel between the mountains and the sea. The withdrawal through the Olympus Pass defence line was completed on 14 April and demolitions closed the entrance to the pass. From Servia to the sea on the east the New Zealand and Australian positions on the Olympus-Aliakmon River line now barred the enemy's further progress into southern Greece, and fighting flared up as armoured columns thrusting along the roads came up against our defended positions.

Fourth Brigade had been ordered to Servia to strengthen the left flank, 6 Brigade had been brought back to Dholikhi to act as Anzac Corps reserve, and 5 Brigade undertook the defence of the Olympus Pass. The plan of defence was recast in the light of the collapse of Yugoslav resistance. The small force covering the Monastir Gap was reinforced, and the left flank was withdrawn in three stages back to the Aliakmon River. The Greeks in Albania withdrew to conform with the new lines, the western end of which changed to Nimfaion, Kastoria, and then the Venetikos River. Anzac Corps was finally responsible for the sector from the east coast to the Aliakmon River west of Servia.

The enemy struck down the valley from Monastir to Servia, at the Olympus Pass, and at Platamon in that order, the New Zealand Division being involved in these three passes from the 14th.

page 112
map showing location of New Zealand medical units in Greece

Dispositions of New Zealand Medical Units in Greece, 8 April 1941

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The withdrawal from the Katerini sector back over the Olympus Pass was begun by 4 Field Ambulance at 7 p.m. on 9 April, 4 Field Hygiene Section also being with this unit. Heavy rain was falling and it was very cold as the unit's vehicles joined the mass of transport then moving back over the wet, greasy, and dangerous road through the pass. At the summit of the pass, approximately 4000 feet above sea level, one company disengaged from the main body of the convoy and proceeded 1 ½ miles west of the village of Ay Dhimitrios to take over the ADS site previously prepared, but since vacated, by 5 Field Ambulance which had gone with 4 Brigade to Servia. The rest of the unit, after eight hours on the road involving difficult manoeuvring of the heavy vehicles, reached the site previously occupied by the MDS of 5 Field Ambulance at Dholikhi, established an MDS, and by 9 a.m. on 10 April had begun to take in patients.

The site of the MDS on the rising slope of the south-western aspect of the foot of Mount Olympus was in no way a good one. There was no natural cover and the ground was exceedingly hard and stony. There was, however, no alternative but to dig in where possible, disperse, and camouflage. (Red Cross protection was not utilised at that time.) During 11 April the first battle casualties from 5 Brigade were received through 4 ADS. A reconnaissance of the forward area, held by the battalions of 5 Infantry Brigade, 28 (Maori) Battalion, 27 (MG) Battalion, and 4 and 5 Field Regiments, revealed extremely difficult routes of evacuation from some positions. Over one particular sector the bad tracks and steep ravines rendered impossible the passage of even Neil Robertson stretchers.

Sixth Field Ambulance cleared its dressing stations of patients when the Division began to withdraw and the two ADSs closed on 6 MDS on 10 April. All troops except the Divisional Cavalry had gone over the pass when the unit moved out that night. Near the town of Elevtherokhorion and about half a mile above the bridge at the junction of the roads leading from the Olympus and Servia passes, the unit stopped and held itself in reserve along with 6 Brigade.

When 5 Field Ambulance moved from Dholikhi on 10 April to serve 4 Brigade at Servia, it erected its MDS some 7 ½ miles north of Elevtherokhorion under a high hill at the entrance to Servia Pass. The weather was cold with heavy rain and hail in the afternoon, and rain and snow fell on the two following days.