Falling back in Greece

British forces in Libya had been weakened because so many troops had been diverted to support the Greeks. The German invasion of Greece, also to support their Italian allies, was progressing quickly. The simultaneous invasion of Yugoslavia enabled them to outflank the Greek and British forces. Captain K.M. Oliphant was with the 2/3 Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery high in the Greek mountains, which he described as ‘making the highlands of Scotland look like a plain’. His personal diary did not manage to keep track of individual days during this period:

News comes that the position on our flanks is not good – we are to withdraw to a stronger line – we are still confident. The withdrawal takes place under cover of the darkness, and we take up our new positions.

It is still snowing. The Germans move down and attack again – here they employ the full weight of their Air Force against us – we suffer their dive bombing and machine gunning and await the arrival of the R.A.F. – we are still confident. Day after day the German Air force bomb and machine gun us – a terrible experience – where is the R.A.F? surely there has been no mismanagement – our confidence is shaken – as we suffer every morning and every evening these terrifying raids – we reach the stage where we long for night and quietness – all day is a nightmare, and the hours of daylight are so long.

No British are in the sky – what has gone wrong?. Men begin to ask ‘Are we to be sacrificed to the German Air Force?’

On land we hurl their attacks back in spite of their overwhelming numbers – but we can’t hold on against their Air Force. One morning three bombs landed not twenty yards from the hole we were crouching in, covering us with filth, my tent was torn in three places by jagged pieces of bomb splinters. Forty yards from my tent a huge bomb tore a hole in the ground twenty feet deep and seventy feet wide. After dropping their bombs they fly low and machine-gun us because we have no planes to chase them-off – the sky is THEIRS.

News comes of a further withdrawal – we ask what has happened – surely not another Dunkirk; – our Unit is allotted the rearguard role – we stand and fight to cover the withdrawal of the rest of the force.

SOURCE: ww2today.com


The last defence line in Greece

The Germans had established air superiority early in the short Greek campaign, as Captain Oliphant had experienced. As they consolidated their positions German fighters and dive bombers dominated even more.

Percy Parrymore was with the 122/13th Light Anti Aircraft unit in Greece. As the British made their withdrawal from Greece his troop was selected to remain as a rearguard on the last bridge over the Corinth canal. The eight men on his gun were reduced down to six and they were told to watch out for parachutists:

Came the dawn on Saturday, 26th April, along with scores of German fighters with machine guns blazing. The man taking cover alongside me was killed outright and I was wounded in the right hand and arm.

Then the Germans started dropping the parachutists, and it was quite evident that nothing was going to stop them. Eventually there were left only the Sergeant, Alan Ponsford, and myself (bombardier), and deciding the only course of action was to spike the gun, we threw the breech block as far as we could into a corn field.

My right arm was useless, so I told Alan I would crawl through the adjacent corn field to see if I could see any other British troops. On my return after only a few minutes Alan was dead. I had not, of course, seen any British, but found four Germans advancing towards us, at whom Alan had apparently been firing with a Greek rifle; he was just keeled over in a kneeling position. I took his rifle with my remaining hand and took one shot at the advancing Germans. This stopped them, but they started throwing grenades.

Then a very Lancashire accent voice called out ‘Nah then, daft bugger, gie thissen up’. I thought this must be a German who had lived in England, so still dodged a few more grenades. Finally, deciding ‘This is the end’, I stood up, still holding the rifle, and the Germans and I simply stared at each other. They indicated strongly that I should drop the rifle, which I did, and then walked over towards them.

They could not have been kinder, and used their own field dressings to mop up my hand and arm, and I was taken to a field dressing station, which had been dropped by parachute, and where a German doctor showed no discrimintion between German and British wounded.


Last ditch stand at Kalamata

British and New Zealand troops in Greece were now making their way to the coast to seek evacuation by the Royal Navy. Many men were got away but when the Germans caught up with them a fierce fight ensued.

It was during this action that New Zealander Jack Hinton won the VC:

On the night of 28/29 April 1941 during fighting in Greece a column of German armoured forces entered Kalamata. This column, which contained several armoured cars, some 2-inch guns and 3-inch mortars and two 6-inch guns, rapidly converged on a large force of British and New Zealand troops awaiting embarkation on the beach.

When an order to retreat to cover was given Sergeant Hinton shouted, ‘To Hell with this, who will come with me’, and ran to within several yards of the nearest guns. The guns fired, missing him, and he hurled two grenades which completely wiped out the crews. He then came on with bayonet followed by a crowd of New Zealanders. German troops abandoned the first 6-inch gun and retreated into two houses. Sergeant Hinton smashed the window and then the door of the first house and dealt with the garrison with bayonet. He repeated the performance in the second house and, as a result until overwhelming German forces arrived, the New Zealander held the guns. Sergeant Hinton then fell with a bullet wound through the lower abdomen and was taken prisoner.

Bill Flint, who was with the 18th Battalion of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, was involved with this fighting. He describes how the final surrender came about the following morning:

They were a sandbag sort of wall – a low wall, and they were sheltering behind them, but they were made of filled sandbags. I saw one bloke – I think he was ASC [Army Service Corps] or something-he’d had no training in bayonet, and he stuck his bayonet at a- obviously German who was behind a sanger – but he didn’t know how to pull it out. There’s a knack in it – you’ve got to jerk it and put your foot in. It was desperate. We realised we had to beat these Germans before we could get away. It ended up we all sorted – we had about 70 German prisoners right at the wharf edge, and we fully expected to still go – get out – and then a destroyer just zoomed past. It sort of semi-circled and turned and went away and loud-hailed us: ‘Sorry boys, it’s late. We’ve got to go.’

Not long after that we got – word circulated- word of mouth – that the brigadier, whoever he was, a Pommie, I think, had unconditionally surrendered to the Germans, who had offered him annihilation bombing if he didn’t – didn’t surrender immediately and that was something like 7:30 in the morning. We were to consider ourselves prisoners at 7:30 and in no time flat, the German tanks came in and went right round us in a circle and put swastika flags on top of their tanks and their bombers flew in at just that time and when they saw the flags, they veered off and went away but they were just going to start bombing.

Clash of Armor, The Road to Kozani, 13 April, 1941

In the early afternoon of 13 April, 1941, the main body of the 9th Panzerdivision – the 33rd Panzer Regiment – entered Ptolmais, a town between the villages of Vivi and Kozani. As the Germans began to push south out of Ptolmais, they encountered blown bridges, water-filled anti-tank ditches, swamps, and other rough terrain. German patrols scouted the vicinity of the main road and discovered a way around these obstacles. The German forces were able to swing several miles west around the flank of the Commonwealth forces through a swampy area, but passable enough for vehicles. While under constant artillery, anti-tank and tank fire, 9th Panzer moved slowly through the swampy area. As the Germans moved closer into range, they began returning fire and reportedly knocked out several vehicles. Συνέχεια