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Greek Adventure

Chapter 23

I was not quite certain in my own mind whether all these Andarte reports were true. Accordingly while the men were resting, I went off to have a look for myself on the 2nd October. After three days' recce I realised that the Andarte reports were substantially correct. I decided that there was only one other possible place where we could stage an ambush. This was a spot on the road about two miles north of the position where we had had our original action with the Andartes long before. I therefore sent a runner back to Vincent to bring forward the M.G. sections to meet me on the 5th October. It was no good dragging the mortars down as we would only be able to carry out a hit-and-run raid.

Strangely enough there was not very much traffic on the road during this tune. The balance of the enemy troops still in the country were marching slowly from Athens with horse and mule-drawn transport. Vehicles had been in very short supply, and most of the available transport had been used to get through the 22nd Division from Crete together with the other units which had passed. We estimated that there were still about 50,000 Germans to come. We had also learned from Cairo that after the air raid on Athens and the delay along the road and railway, that the Germans had diverted consider´┐Żable numbers of troops and sent them in small caiques up the east coast to Volos and Salonika, thus by-passing our area.

The Andartes were extremely loath, at this stage, to engage in any further action. Their main reason was that they had run out of ammunition. They used this excuse, which we knew to be untrue, as a bribe before agreeing to any more plans which we proposed. A favourite argument with the ELAS political leaders was always: "Well, if you will give us so many rounds of ammunition and so many guns, we are prepared to play." The members of the British mission had heard this story so often during the past year that it had no affect on them, although they did occasionally produce a little more ammunition when they particularly wanted Andarte support.

In all my criticism of the Andartes in this book I want to make it clear that it is not the ordinary Andarte soldier or the Greek villager who qualifies for these remarks. Our chief obstacle throughout these operations was the EAM political agents behind the ELAS officers and men. I repeat that were these troops properly trained and armed, and had their officers not been under the influence of a powerful political organisation, they would have been first class troops. As it was, the Mission, particularly, fully realised that these political leaders were preparing to seize power in Greece when the time of liberation came. They were secretly hoarding ammunition, and refused to allow the officers to expend anything like the amount allotted to them for various jobs.

Fortunately we of the R.S.R. had our own supplies of ammunition and always kept these under our own direct control. During our three weeks' action on the pass we expended something in the vicinity of 160,000 rounds, while the Andartes during the same period, at an outside estimate, fired no more than 120,000 rounds amongst at least 12 machine guns and 400 troops.

The mortar position was very much the same. Here we expended over 800 rounds while the Andartes fired 200 to 300 rounds amongst three times the number of weapons. The Andarte soldiers were just as annoyed as we were at this refusal by their political leaders to allow them to fire such a totally inadequate amount in these actions. Their mortar gun teams were first class, and were always willing and eager to learn anything new about their weapons. Their machine gun´┐Żners too, while knowing little about indirect fire methods, were excellent marksmen and keen on their job.

When the risings eventually took place in Athens in December, these men were to a large extent the dupes of their political controllers. These ambitious politicians used the ignorant and rather ill-disciplined troops at their disposal in a most unscrupulous way. Ninety per cent. of the Greeks were tremendously pro-British, and appreciated that Britain had done all in her power to help them during the war. But I digress.

Ian Neville joined me on the 5th October with another large batch of mines, dummy pebbles and cow dung which we planned to lay on the road, prior to the arrival of the troops. We found on arrival at our intended positions at midday that a small Andarte band had already mined the road, and had a mortar and two machine guns in position. As we could see the road clearly for about two miles to the south, Ian and I decided to place our pebbles and cow dung down on the road. The view to the north was more limited, so before taking our mule load down to the road, we decided that I should go ahead to the next corner to see that all was clear.

This I proceeded to do. There was little danger of being surprised, as the block across the road would stop any Germans from surprising me from the south, while the chances of anything coming from the north were extremely remote. Twenty minutes' fast walking took me to a small hill just above the corner. There was nothing in view, and as the lie of the country roundabout looked rather favourable for an ambush, I continued for about half a mile along the road.

It was now about 16.00 hours, and I decided to turn back and see what was happening on the road. I was approaching the original corner when I was rather worried to see a German convoy nearing the mine block. Fearing that Ian might be on the road with his mule, I doubled round the corner to give him warning. He was nowhere in sight, so I presumed he too had seen the convoy and had got his mule safely away.

As it turned out later, they had never reached the road, but had seen the convoy before starting. I was in what I thought to be a safe position, so waited to see the first truck going up on the mine. But I should have known better, the convoy sailed gaily past the spot where we had been told the mines were laid!

I wonder how often mines were laid by the Andartes which never went off! The chief trouble was the fact that many of the mines which had been captured from the enemy, were old and needed very delicate adjustment. The Andarte engineers did their best but did not fully understand the mechanisms of these various types of mine. At all events my situation had rapidly deteriorated and I made for the hills with all possible speed. I was relieved when I heard the Andarte machine guns and mortars open up. The convoy halted, and a brisk action began. Unfortunately for me, however, the leading scout car of the convoy kept straight on, and was making for the corner where I was legging it as hard as I could go up the hill.

There was no cover whatsoever, and I had a most unpleasant half hour's run, dodging about the hillside with four Germans, who debussed from the scout car, with their tommy guns, after me. I was in an unpleasant position with the battle in front of me and the Germans behind. A Greek shepherd wearing a white shirt was on the same hill, and made matters worse by doing his best to attach himself to me. I kept on shouting at him to go in a different direction, but he seemed to think that I might help to protect him. This was a very false impression on his part! I was doing my best to take advantage of what little cover there was higher up the hill, to get away, and his white shirt was a continual guide to the Germans. Eventually we reached a large gulley, where we dodged up and down and threw off our pursuers.

By 18.00 hours the convoy battle was over, and the convoy on its way once more. I couldn't make out why my troops had not arrived in time to give a hand, but I learned later that their guide had lost his way and that they only heard the firing from three or four miles away. By the time they got anywhere near the Andarte position it was dark, and the Andartes themselves had withdrawn. I was still in a nasty predicament, I was on my own (Dimitri was back in Goura, ill), and the Greek villagers were in a highly nervous state after the action. More than once I was held up as a suspected German. My Greek was not very fluent, but each time I managed to convince them that I was not a German spy, but one of their allies.

It was midnight before I at last joined up with Vincent and Ian. They had given me up and thought that I had either been shot or captured. It was my narrowest escape in Greece. I had thought I was far too tired to run half a mile, but I must have covered at least two or three miles in pretty good time that afternoon, carrying my tommy gun and general equipment.

The following morning we were informed by the Greeks that the Germans had burned down a small village near the previous day's ambush, had shot 15 villagers as a reprisal, and were holding 20 more as hostages who would be shot immediately there was any further action on our part in that particular area.

Previous Chapter: Chapter 22
Next Chapter: Chapter 24

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