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Greek Adventure

Chapter 19

On September 4th Dick, Vincent and I all went off on separate recces to check Hun positions and movements. To my surprise and delight, I found that the Germans had evacuated the chromium mine and the Dhomokos garrison. This would give us an excellent alternative position when things got too hot on our first ambush. Also the Andartes brought in rumours of a huge mule convoy coming from Athens. What a change for the mighty Wehrmacht to be moving on mules!

On the 5th we moved back into our original forward position, and that night dug in on the forward slopes of a hill which we intended holding for as long as possible, once Noah's Ark began. We had a long conference with the Andartes that night, and it was arranged that the Greeks should be responsible for blowing the road at the foot of the pass as near Lamia as possible. They would cover this demoli�tion themselves, while we, with a battalion of Andartes, would be responsible for the northern end of the pass. In this way we hoped to cause the maximum amount of confusion to any German transport which went through.

The wireless news reported that the 2nd Army had swept across Belgium in two days. Great going. We were flooded with messages from Cairo and were busy decoding them until 23.00 hours, when we got to sleep. I was awakened most dramatically about an hour later by a very senior Andarte leader telling Dimitri that the garrison commander at Lamia wished to negotiate surrender terms. Ian Neville, the Mission O.C. in the area, was away conferring with another German commander for the surrender of Khaitsa. As the German commander at Lamia refused to negotiate unless a British officer was present, there was no alternative but for me to accompany the Andarte delegation.

We had a long moonlight ride on mules over the moun�tains, and I must confess that I rather fancied myself as a peace delegate! We arrived at a small village above Lamia at 07.00 hours. Here we hung about most of the day while messengers came and went between the Lamia commander and ourselves, fixing our meeting arrangements. Each side was most suspicious of the other, and neither wanted to walk into a trap.

The nearest telephone was an hour's march away, and twice I went across to ring up Goura to hear if further orders had come from Cairo. But there was no news. Eventually, by 22.00 hours that night, final arrangements for meeting the Hun commander had been made, and we were busy drafting our conditions of surrender. Just as we had finished these, an urgent message came for me to proceed to the telephone. I was not amused, as I was really needing some sleep by now. I was still less amused when I did get to the 'phone. A signal had just been received from Cairo stating that in no circumstances were we to accept the surrender of any forma�tion less than a division. As the Lamia garrison only consisted of between one and two thousand troops, that was that.

Ours was not to reason why, etc., but I must confess to a feeling of sympathy with the Andarte commander when I returned and told him that I had no alternative but to withdraw from the negotiations. He was extremely angry and did not hesitate to say what he thought. He knew perfectly well that the Germans would not negotiate with him without a British officer being present. The Huns were far too scared that the Andartes would slit all their throats once they got them in their power.

Rather drearily Dimitri and I mounted our mules just after midnight and plodded our way home arriving at 06.00 hours. We bedded down for three hours and after hurried conferences with Ian, who had returned disappointed from Khaitsa, Dimitri and I got away at 10.00 hours and moved across to join the machine gun section. Dick had done a first class recce the day and night before. He had spent most of the day within a couple of hundred yards of the German position at the top of the pass. That night he had caused a considerable amount of confusion and disruption to a small German mixed mule and lorry column, by pelting them with hand grenades.

From his report it was quite clear that it was hopeless for us to attempt to attack the German positions without being a hundred per cent. certain of the Andarte support. Our previous experience did not lead us to have any great confidence in that direction.

I must digress here for a moment, to explain the Andarte mentality at this stage of the war. These men were first class guerilla fighters, but it was hardly fair to expect them to measure up to the standard of my men who had been fully trained for the work and who were well fed, clothed, and tremendously keen. The main strength of the Andartes lay in their knowledge of the country and their undoubted skill in knowing just when to nip in, sting the Germans and nip out again, causing the maximum amount of damage at a minimum cost.

Most of the officers, and a good many of the men, had fought that magnificent fight in Albania, at which all the world wondered. But when it came to holding position against heavy enemy fire and superior forces, they were not, at first, all we had hoped for. For three and a half years they had been underfed, badly clothed, and outgunned by the Germans. They had an exaggerated idea of the invincibility of the German army, and looked on all Germans as supermen. It was only when they realised that the Hun could be stood up to, providing there were reasonable weapons available, that they began to improve in this semi-static war.

Most of the officers, N.C.O.s and men who operated with us, with proper training, weapons and food, would have made excellent troops. Unfortunately the Greek officer commanding one of the battalions operating with us, was not up to the standard of his men, and was continually letting us down. Finally it must be remembered that the Germans had been in Greece for three and a half years. Now at last it appeared that they were withdrawing. To the Greek mind, the allied High Command orders that their departure was to be delayed and harried by every means at our disposal, did not make much sense.

"These Germans are going at last, why should we try to stop them." The only reply we could give was that it was the Allied strategy, and that they must try to take the long view. All very well in theory, but not so sound in practice when your wives, brothers, children, and homes are endangered by every day's delay.

Previous Chapter: Chapter 18
Next Chapter: Chapter 20

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