Overlord'S Blog: Come and Take!
Germanies Blitzkrieg had taken the unprepared allies off guard in 1940. In April 1941 Greece was to experience the same. Honouring her treaty obligations Great Britain deployed a force to Greece to help protect her independence. Today we shall take a look at an action of that campaign.
On the 2nd of March 1941 Commonwealth troops of began landing in Greece. This allied expeditionary force was code named "W Force". Just over a month later, on April the 6th, the Germans attacked. The German Panzer's blitzed through the countryside supported by massive numbers of air craft that overwhelmed the few RAF planes dispatched to the country. Despite stiff resistance the Commonwealth forces were pushed back, and by the 19th The leaders of W Force started contingency planning for evacuation.
The allied forces made one last ditch attempt to hold the Germans. At a place called Thermopylae. Where, 24 centuries earlier, 300 Spartans had stood before a massive army of invading Persians. On the morning of the 21st a New Zealand soldier by the name of Driver James Macdonald was to display bravery that would lead to a military medal. Dvr Macdonald had been dispatched to find fuel supplies. After searching around the chaos of the rear areas he ended up at Levadhia rail yards. Where three trains of ammunition and fuel were located. As his truck was being loaded with the desperately needed supplies the soldiers heard the unmissable scream of Jericho sirens. German Stuka's screeched down onto the yard. The first bombs hit at least one fuel truck setting it ablaze. The spreading pool of fire reached an ammunition pallet and began to cook off the ammunition. The danger of the shells and flames causing the loss of the entire depot in massive explosion was very real. Dvr Macdonald and an Australian Sargent called Killalea both raced towards a one of the trains, which was still loaded with ammunition and fuel. Neither had any clue how to operate the train though. After some quick puzzling over the controls they managed to get the train moving, and drove it through the flames and devastation to safety. Their actions saved 28 wagons of supplies.
The day before the 2/2 Field artillery was travelling over the Brallos Pass, to the west of Thermopylae. they where in a position to ensure the Germans didn't repeat King Xerxes' manoeuvre of outflanking the Spartans at the Hot Gates. As the column of towed guns climbed up the path a section of two 25 Pounders, under the command of Lieutenant Anderson, was ordered to split off and dig in on a tiny ledge located a third of the way down the side of the mountain. Their task was to cover the bridge over the Sperkhios River, and the ground between it and the town of Lamia. The Gun pits were dug a mere 15 feet apart as no other space was available. They were accompanied by Some Infantry and a 2cm Breda AA gun with a British crew.
Their first action, at about 1800 on the 21st, was to fire on some German transports moving towards the river. Opening fire at 10,900 yards they hit and destroyed the first truck, driving the Germans back. At the same time two German reconnaissance Motorcycles approached the Bridge. Unluckily for them the Bridge was being covered by a Carrier platoon, one of the Germans was captured, the other killed. Over night the 8th Potsdam Reconnaissance unit or the 5th Panzer Division filtered into the town of Lamia. At night the gun crews could see the headlights of hundreds of vehicles all filling into the town.
The next morning the Germans attacked. Each time the Germans tried to advance the two 25 Pounders fired. After each salvo of rounds from the Australians, the Germans fired their artillery from beyond a rage that the 25 Pounders could reach. Then the Germans would try to advance again and the situation would repeat itself. After a while the German guns were registered in on the Australian positions. In one of the exchanges of fire a German shell hit an ammo truck causing the rounds inside to cook off. Luckily these were all smoke shells, and a thick cloud blanked the ridge. For 30 minutes the Australians were blinded. As it cleared the Germans began firing again. First a limber was hit and exploded, then a dump of bag charges. These explosions set fire to the undergrowth and soon a the tiny escarpment was ablaze.
The Germans brought up some field pieces and began to fire at the Australian guns, who quickly responded. The guns were in constant action for the entirety of the morning, until about 1300 when one gun sprung a leak in its recoil cylinder due to the number of rounds fired. By this point the German trucks had reached the base of the ridge and were unloading infantry. The crew of the last remaining gun pushed their piece out of its pit to the edge of the escarpment, but the gun wouldn't depress enough. So the Crew lifted the gun by the tail, and while bracing it in their hands began to fire shells at the Germans. Even using the smallest propellant charge the gun was in danger of tearing out of their arms and flipping over. After about 50 shells the Germans began to retreat.
The German response was to use their artillery again. A savage bombardment hit the Australian position,causing the crew to duck. By 4 PM the bombardment lifted and the Gunners found that their 25 Pounder had been knocked out of action. The guns had been in constant action for eight hours, and over 160 German shells had hit the tiny ledge where they had their position. Yet not one casualty had been sustained. Stripping the damaged gun of sights and breech block Lt Anderson sent half his men to safety with the critical parts of the gun. He remained to try and get the first piece working again.
The Germans landed a furious barrage of shells on the hillside, killing one and wounding one from the first party to retreat. The Gun position was also hit by this whirlwind, killing six and wounding three. As dusk had fallen, the first artillery piece was out of action and couldn't be repaired, Lt Anderson ordered the evacuation of the wounded. Once he had seen them to safety he and Gunner returned, on their own, to the gun position. They put the 25 Pounder beyond use, and collected the discs of the wounded before finally retreating.