Military History Tours On Tour - Greece and Crete Tour 4 May 2014
Following that wonderful uplifting night with the people of Ano Komi we boarded our coach after breakfast as we again set off further south towards Larissa. We left our hotel proceeded towards the Servia Pass that we encountered after we crossed the Aliakman River on the longest bridge in Greece. The position was high up on the mountain and was very hazardous for tired troops who had been on the move for over 24 Hours travelling up to 56 kilometres from their previous positions in the Veria Area and further north.
This defensive position was over 32 kilometres across and had the 2/4 Bn in the mountains, 1300 metres high and higher, with 2/1 Bn on the eastern flank near Pteri, also in the mountains. Between these units was the, 26 NZ Bn,20 NZ Bn, 19 NZ Bn, 18NZ Bn, 2/2 Bn, 2/3 Bn and the depleted 2/8 Bn was in reserve further back in the pass. The NZ 6th Field Regt, 2/2 Field Regt and the 2/3 Field Regt were in support and played an important role in the actions that followed.
After we discussed the many issues confronting the commanders at all levels we continued on our way and our route took us to Elasson where there was a medical installation that sent the Field Ambulance forward from here. The hills surrounding the town and some parts of the town were bombed but the Germans put smoke on the site of the hospital to ensure it wasn’t bombed in error. This was a refreshment stop in this town for we were about to head through the pass towards the Aegean Sea. Relaxing under the large tree watching the locals proceed about their Sunday morning was quite a good way to spend some time.
As we proceeded on our way to the coast, through the pass, we discussed the disposition of the 5th NZ Bde as it had the responsibility of blocking movement towards Larissa from that approach. This force did its job well and held back the Germans until the appointed withdrawal timing.
We arrived at Katerini a relative new town from the Greek perspective as it started in 1922 following the expulsion of Greeks from the areas won by Atatürk, the Turkish Commander in Ismir, Turkey. The Greeks who were expelled from Asian Minor selected the site for their settlement. Once on the coast we headed to Leptopkaria for lunch in a Taverna right on the shores of the Aegean Sea. The Taverna is run by a man who was in Melbourne from the 1960's until returning to Greece in 1972. We will return here in 2016.
Following lunch we moved to Platamon to view the castle that guarded the main pass through the Pinios Gorge and on to southern Greece. It was built by the Franks in the 12th Century when they controlled a vast majority of Greece. However, they only held it for 15 years until the Greeks conquered the area back. 70 years later the Ottomans conquered the area and did not demolish the castle walls as was the norm, but reinforced and repaired many times to provide defence against raiders, mostly sea pirates.
The castle is being slowly restored. It was the area of the battle on 14-16 April 1941, during which it was damaged; but as the 21 NZ Bn did not put troops in it or use it for observation it was only lightly shelled and spared destruction. We left the castle and moved outside where we could see to the north and see the tunnel that went under the main feature. At that stage we discussed the fabulous holding defence of the 21st NZ Bn of the 5th Brigade. The 700 men of the unit which included a troop of artillery fought and held the 3rd Panzer, Motor Cycle Bn and a Division of Mountain troops from 14th till they withdrew on the 16th into new positions in the Gorge where they met the 2/2 Bn and between them organised a defence of the Gorge that was to deter the German advance until the 18 April 1941.
Tomorrow we will visit the area of the action at the Pinios Gorge.