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Greek Adventure

Chapter 22

I decided not to move Vincent forward again, as a telephone message came from Dick in the afternoon to say that he had at last managed to carry out his daylight demolition in the pass, under the noses of the German garrison. I learned later that he had taken down a small party, blown two culverts, chopped down a number of trees, and put down several booby traps, all under considerable enemy fire. Fortunately the enemy could not see the actual strip of road on which Dick's party was working, and could only hear the explosions. By the time the Germans had sent down a patrol Dick had got his party away.

Dick's success on his demolition job made me decide to send the mortars across to join him, as I felt we ought to be able to delay repairs on this bit of road for a couple of days. By now we had eight men back at Goura on the sick list, with various ailments. The continual action, poor food and exposure were beginning to tell on the troops. We could not complain, however, as we had still suffered no casualties except for our two prisoners captured earlier.

Just before leaving Vincent's area on the morning of the 24th, we had the pleasure of seeing an R.A.F. plane flying over Petramagoula, and hitting two railway engines with rockets. This was a pleasant sight to us.

Vincent sent me a message later to say that the Germans had taken up their old garrison positions at Dhomokos once more. This was annoying from one point of view as it meant we could not have further ambushes in that area, as Dhomokos overlooked all our old gun pits, but it was gratifying to realise that we had caused the Hun to delay a whole battalion in order to take up once more a position which he had considered it safe to relinquish ten days earlier.

Dick was doing a grand job with his machine guns preventing the enemy from repairing his demolitions. Ossie's mortars also joined in here and for two days the Germans made little or no progress. On the 26th I ordered Vincent to report at Dick's position. I had decided to try a hit-and-run attack on any convoy that came out of Lamia, by placing the machine guns within a couple of miles of the town. There was an excellent covered approach down the mountain, which would give us good time to get the guns into position during the night.

The following morning, the 27th, the Germans began moving quite their biggest convoy to date up the mountain. At first light Vincent realised that the Hun had picketed all the high points covering the road, and that his two guns, once they opened fire, would be in full view of the enemy pickets. He decided, however, that after his long march down to the position, it was worth while getting in at least a few bursts. This he did, killing off a few Germans in a huge lorry that was loaded to capacity. He got away with it alright, and late in the afternoon reported back to the hill-top. This minor diversion had caused the entire convoy to halt for a couple of hours, while the Germans, suspecting a bigger ambush, had cautiously plastered the whole area with fire, and then sent out patrols.

We realised that our time on the hilltop was drawing to an end. During the whole of the 27th, troops came pouring up from Lamia. By the evening of that day the road from Lamia to the top of the pass was just one mass of vehicles. How we prayed for the R.A.F., but despite all our signals not an aero�plane arrived. The Andartes were beginning to get a bit fidgety at this show of force, especially as the Germans were now shelling our positions steadily all day.

They had succeeded in repairing the demolitions which Dick had carried out four days before by digging in machine guns and an 88 mm. gun almost on our target area. One direct hit from the 88 mm. gun had landed right in front of the parapet round one of the machine guns. The gun team, apart from a shaking and a few bruises from flying stones, were miraculously unhurt.

The Germans were also becoming more aggressive on the hill between our positions and theirs. We had been forced to fire on them there at last, as their observation post was sending back too much information to their howitzers, judging by the improving accuracy of their fire. The shelling was becoming so regular round Dick's positions that I didn't want to crowd the place too much so decided to move Vincent's section down to its original spot on the plain, just to the north.

Trucks were in the habit of reassembling here, after passing Dick's target area before moving on to the mine. I thought Vincent might be able to have a crack at them. On the night of the 27th Dick again managed to blow a small crater down on the road despite the German patrols. It took the Germans the whole of the 28th to repair this, which they were forced to do under our fire.

The 29th September was our final day on the pass. I had continually warned the Andarte commander that our southern flank facing Lamia was the weak spot in our defence, but he consistently refused to place more troops in that area, and I had no men with which to assist him. After a heavy bombardment early in the morning, it was clear that the Germans were determined to clear this pass once and for all. Large numbers of troops were deploying up the mountain from Lamia. Unfortunately the Andartes on that flank did not inform me that they could not hold their positions, and were withdrawing. As it was, we very nearly lost the whole of Dick's section, and it was only through a magnificent rearguard action by Sergeant Lusted, for which he was later awarded the M.M., and his gun team, which allowed the mortars and the rest of the machine gun section to get away in daylight.

Lusted himself disengaged when the enemy were less than 300 yards from his gun. Luck was with him at this point, as a mist suddenly came down and he got away suffering only one casualty, Private Wood, who received a severe head wound, and was later evacuated by plane. Eventually they all got back to Heliado by 20.00 hours that night.

I had given Dick his orders to withdraw at 13.00 hours, and as I could not get in touch with Vincent by any other means I went forward to put him in the picture. We remained on the plain until 16.00 hours by which time no trucks had appeared from the pass. It was clear that our positions above were being so heavily engaged that there was no point in one section staying out in the plain under the noses of the Germans, so I sent Vincent back to Heliado, much against his will. Dimitri and I waited under a tree until dark to see when the convoy would appear, but nothing had come through by the time darkness fell. We got back to Heliado after losing our way a couple of times at 23.00 hours.

It was sad to see Hun Very lights going up from our old positions, where we had lived for three weeks. We later heard that the final action had held up a full division, the 22nd Division from Crete, for five days. The troops had been in almost daily action for three weeks, during most of which time the weather had been miserable, food had been very precarious, and shelter had been almost non-existent. I never heard a word of complaint. The men had been wonderful, but I felt they had reached the end of their tether for the moment. Since their arrival in Greece, on the 17th July, they had not had a single day's rest.

After a conference with Ian we decided that they must be given a three days' pause before we undertook anything further. Accordingly we got them all back to Goura where they had their first change of clothing for over a month. An entry in my diary reads: "On working out my hours of walking this month I appear to have covered 516 miles, and my third pair of boots are completely worn out."

Reports from the Andartes coming in during the next two days showed that the Germans had occupied all our old positions. We had been forced to abandon a few items of personal kit and a small amount of food. Fortunately our ammunition dump was placed further back, and this was not affected. While we were gratified that the Germans were thus forced to hold back a second battalion from proceeding north with the rest of their withdrawing troops, we were greatly handicapped in our efforts to get at the road, which was now being strongly patrolled from Lamia to Dhomokos, a distance of ten miles.

Previous Chapter: Chapter 21
Next Chapter: Chapter 23

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