Military History Tours On Tour - Greece and Crete Tour 5 May 2014
Following our discussion yesterday of the fabulous holding defence of the 21st NZ Bn of the 5th Brigade at Platamon, where the 700 men of the unit which included a troop of artillery fought and held the 3rd Panzer, Motor Cycle Battalion 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 Battalion, we headed off to see the next phase of the battle. These uniits between them organised a defence of the Gorge that was to defer the German advance until the 18th April.
After proceeding through the Gorge, we went to Gonnas and discussed the advance of the Germans and their crossing of the river. But before that, we stood on the high ground north of the river and laid out the ANZAC position. The presentation was given in a detailed manner and all seemed to appreciate having such a presentation giving on the ground where the action had occurred.
We then proceeded further into the area where the 2/2 Battalion were located. There is a bridge here but in 1941 there was a punt that was disabled by the engineers. The punt is still there beside the river and has been suspended on a foundation to protect it. From this close to the river we could see the excellent placing of the 2/2 Battalion by its CO, Lt Col Chilton. When the German 143 Mountain Regiment tried to force a crossing, they were so cut up that the Germans called this river, the River of Blood.
The fight between the tanks of the German 2nd Armoured Division as they tried to force through Tempi Gorge and overrun the ANZACs started at 7 am and continued until dark where the last main casualty was a tank Commander who was shot while standing in the turret of his tank. Many men of the 21st Battalion and the 2/2nd Battalion were cut off but over the next days some re-joined their units further south or in the case Major Cullen of the 2/2nd Battalion with 12 officers and 140 men of the Battalion and some from the 21st Battalion, made his way to the coast and after an adventurous journey reached Heraklion on Crete. Many such escapades delivered the ANZACs back to their units.
After leaving the site of this battle, we returned into the Gorge and stopped at an area that allowed us to cross the pedestrian bridge over a fast flowing Pinios River to reach the fountain of Saint Lucia. There is also a nice café where after ordering coffee, we sat and consumed an anniversary tin of ANZAC biscuits.
Following a very successful morning on the battlefields we headed to lunch in the ravine close to the castle at Platamon. We had an excellent lunch and then headed into the mountains to Pantelemonas, a old traditional village where cars have limited access. We were met there by the local historian in company with 2 old gents, Nestor Kommatas and Michael Katsambekis, who were here in the village in 1941 and could take us, 1st hand, through the activities of the time. We had that meeting in the old school house and where Nester and Michael had gone to school.
Michael was 17 in 1941 and is lucky to be alive as the Germans surrounded his village at 1130pm one night and collected 4 young men, Michael amongst them, to execute as a reprisal for something or other. This was a regular thing in Greece. When they were lined up, Michael saw them cock their weapons, said I am off to his friends and threw himself at the Germans. The Germans fired, hitting the other boys but missing Michael who rolled over the embankment and made his escape.
The Germans put word out that they wanted to speak to him, but he stayed away from them for the rest of the War. A very interesting afternoon and their memories filled in many of the spaces in our knowledge of this part of the campaign.
Tomorrow we head back to Athens for our Ferry to Crete.