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Our Committee is raising funds to create a lasting legacy telling the story of Lemnos' link to Gallipoli and Australia's Anzac story. Our projects include the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial in Albert Park, the publication of a major new historical and pictorial publication and more. To make a donation you can also deposit directly by direct debit into the Committee's bank account: Account Name: Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee Inc; Bank: Delphi Bank; Account No: 204299-020 BSB No: 941300; Include your surname in the reference section. For further information on our legacy projects or to make a donation please contact either Lee Tarlamis 0411553009 or Jim Claven 0409402388M

Saturday, 9 April 2016

10 April - Florina falls and defence of Vevi begins

Lieutenant Colonel Dougherty (right) with flanking commander of the neighboring Greek Battalion. Vevi, April 1941. AWM

On this day 75 years ago, the norhern Greek city of Florina was captured by the Germans.
At the same time, the Allied defence force defending the Monastir Gap, at the Kleide Valley has moved into place from the previous day. Many were tired and cold, having marched 25-30 km's and then having to dig in at Vevi. The Allied force had been ordered to defend their position for three days - until the 12th April - to allow the planned and secure withdrawal of other Allied units from their Vermion-Veria positions to the new deence line along the Aliakmon River further south.
The Australian units at Vevi were following in the footsteps of the Australian soldiers and nurses who had come to northern Greece in WW1 to defend the Salonika Front. One of the senior Australian commanders in this area in April 1941 was, Edmund "Ned" Herring, who had fought here in WW1.
The battle of Vevi would be the first time that Australian soldiers had fought the German Army in Europe since 1918 - and the first and only time they would face Hitler's dreaded SS. 
The Allied Defenders - The 2/8th and 2/4th AIF Battalions on the front line
This forces comprised Australians, New Zealanders, British and Greek forces. It stretched in a defence line across the hills surrounding this valley in northern Greece. Before them lay a plain and the small village of Vevi - which will give its name to the ensuing three day battle.

On the right was the 4,500 strong Greek Dodecanese Regiment in the area of Lakes Vegorritis and Petron. The Australian 2/8th Battalion was next to the left, then the British 1st Rangers, astride the road that led through the Kleidi valley, and the Australian 2/4th Battalion on an over six kilometre front on the hills to the left of the road. The 2/4th Battalion made contact with the 21st Greek Brigade (part of the Cavalry Division) to its left, Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Dougherty’s left company establishing a jointly held post about five miles west of the road on the western slopes of Hill 1001. At the centre of the position, strong contingents of medium, field and anti-tank artillery and machine gunners offset the thinness of the infantry line. One platoon of the New Zealand machine gunners was with the left company of the 2/8th Battalion, two companies left of the road supporting the Rangers and the 2/4th Battalion. Forward of the Rangers the 2/1st Australian Field Company had been busy laying a minefield.
The German Forces
On this day, the German Army made its first attacks on the Allied defenders at Vevi.

The enemy comprised the elite SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, a brigade sized unit, commanded by Josef “Sepp” Dietrich and accompanied by the 9th Panzer Division. To the west, the German 73rd Infantry Division had already been repulsed by the Greek Cavalry Division. Along with batteries of powerful German 88-mm anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, the German advance included a number of armoured vehicles and was supported by over 1,000 aircraft – compared to the less than 130 British aircraft available to the defenders. 
As they crossed slowly through the muddy, cratered road of the Florina Valley to take cover behind the low Lofoi ridge, they were attacked by the few British aircraft available to the defenders.
The fluidity of the front was still evident in that despite the closeness of some German forward patrols at Vevi, a New Zealand armoured car patrol could still advance on demolition work far into Yugoslavia on the 10th April to a position north of Bitolj. The ensuing action delayed the Germans and won the New Zealander Lofty King the Military Medal. 
10am - The German attack at Vevi begins
At about 10 am, with German trucks near Vevi and further north near Itia, the 1st Rangers blew up the road ahead of the minefield in front of their position. The first German advance units began probing the Allied lines. According to Captain DA Crawford of the 2/1 Anti-Tank Regiment, the first German column looked “like a dark grey caterpillar on a green lawn”. The first salvo of the 64th Medium Regiment scored a hit on a German truck. General Mackay declared “our first ball!” The 5th Battery did even better hitting five vehicles before the Germans pulled back. A Forward Observation Officer, Captain Gordon Laybourne Smith wrote:
“In all its insolence he drove his trucks down the main road ... to within 3,000 yards of our infantry. At first I could not believe it was an enemy, all had been so still and quiet. Then came some sense. My orders flew over the wire and the first rounds screamed through the air ... A few furious moments and back went the Hun, but five trucks stayed on the road as silent witness that my Troop can really shoot.”
At 4.50pm five companies of German troops were driven off by small arms fire as they attempted an attack on the 2/4th Battalions position. As they made off towards the railway line to the west, seeking shelter behind a coal dump, the 2nd Royal Horse Artillery “blew the tripe” out of them. Another fresh attack on the 2/4th was repulsed by heavy fire. And throughout the day, Captain Laybourne Smith successfully directed the fire of his 2/3rd Field Artillery on to the Germans de-bussing on the plain before Vevi. And the defenders were happy to see the RAF in the air attacking the German column heading south in the face of sustained German anti-aircraft fire from the 37mm cannons of the SS brigade. One Hurricane pilot – Lieutenant “Timber” Woods - crashed landed in no-man’s lands and was brought back to friendly lines by a patrol of the 2/4th battalion.
The Germans began to probe the stretched Allied lines during the night of the 10th. Australian units reported German soldiers trying to confuse the defenders by called to them in English – “Stand up Steve” and “Friendly patrol here”. Five Australians, a section of New Zealander machine-gunners and 6 of the Rangers were duped and captured in this way. Fire fights with the enemy continued all night, allowing no time for rest or sleep.
The fight at Vevi would continue over the next two days.

Jim Claven
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee
& Member, the Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign Commemorative Council

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