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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

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

13 April 1941 - The Battles of Sotir, Ptolemais, Servia and Kleisoura Passes, Servia bombed, Kozani threatened

 2/4th Battalion Colours, with Battles of Vevi and Sotir listed as battle honours. AWM
On this day, with the retreat from the nearby battle of Vevi underway and the Allies attempted to defend the new Aliakmon River defence line, the battle for Greece came to Sotir, Ptolemais and the Servia and Kleisoura Passes in northern Greece.
After the battle of Vevi, the Germans were again attacked in a courageous Allied rearguard action throughout this day.
The 2/4thBattalion, along with British Army units and the tanks of the British 1st Armoured Brigade fought a fierce rearguard action at Sotir to cover the retreat to the Aliakmon River. Here the Allies defendec a defile, between a low ridge and a swamp, through which the main road south ran. 
One Anzac, Private Dick Parry, wrote of the German machine gun fire at Sotir as being like “one whining, hissing mass of lead”. Above the defenders German Messerschmitt 109’s flew up and down the road firing incendiary bullets at the retreating troops.
The 2/4th Battalion would be awarded a battle honour for its service at Sotir. You can see it listed on the battalions honor flag reproduced above.
German prisoners captured by Australian forces, Servia Pass, April 1941. AWM
Servia and its Pass
The pass is defended by Australian, New Zealand, British and some Yugoslav soldiers.
On 13 April, Easter Sunday, enemy dive-bombers and fighters opened an offensive with attacks on 4th Brigade's dug-in positions on the slopes overlooking Servia. With nothing to oppose them, the aircraft are reported to have "droned in like a swarm of angry bees".
The fight here would continue into the following day, with German armour and troops advance towards the Allied positions, and artillery duels take place between the two forces. Australians troops capture a number of German soldiers (pictured above).
The town of Servia itself would be blasted by German bombers - forty at a time. The Germans also advance on the nearby two of Kozani, effectively surrounding it. The New Zealand engineers successfully blow up the main bridge over the Aliakmon River to hamper the German advance.
Wounded from the attacks are tended by the 5th Australian Field Ambulance Station.
Meanwhile, Greek civilians flee the German attack, the roads south becoming clogged with troops and civilians. 
As this was occurring, the British 1st Armoured Brigade - led by Brigadier Charrington - began a rearguard action at Ptolemais at 3.30pm on 13th April, which would last into the early hours of the following day.
Here Col Lillington with his Hussars, a squadron of the Royal tanks, part of the Rangers and two platoons of NZ machine gunners had prepared a position. The road ran through a gorge with hills rising to 1,200 feet above it on either side. The rearguard had a clear view of the German tanks and troop carriers steadily advancing and of their men repairing the cratered road as they moved forward. By 2.30pm the Germans were exchanging fire with the British forward patrols and half an hour later their guns began accurately shelling the Rangers’ posts.
The Germans described the engagement at Ptolemais as “a fierce tank battle”. Charrington's brigade had been reduced almost to impotence. Its armoured regiment had been depleted, chiefly by mechanical breakdowns, to one weak squadron. Its infantry battalion had lost half its men; its antitank regiment had lost six guns.
These brave British tankmen had engaged the might of German armour at Sotir, as part of the Vevi withdrawal on the 12th April, and now Ptolemais. They had delayed the Germans' approach to the main British defence line and had knocked out a number of tanks, but the cost was the virtual disappearance of the one small armoured force the Allied army in Greece possessed. 
Kleisoura Pass
Meanwhile in the evening of 13th April, the 20th Greek Infantry Division was attacked at the Kleisoura Pass by 6,500 German troops, including the SS. This narrow pass lies between Mt. Vitsi and Mt. Siniatsiko. The pass was strategically important for it stood on the then main Allied defensive line (Mt.Vitsi-Mt. Siniatsiko- Aliakmon River-Mt. Olympos), behind which passed the withdrawal route of the Greek army engaged against the Italians in Albania.
Australian Unit Locations - 13th April
16th Brigade HQ - Larva
17th Brigade HQ - Daphne
19th Brigade HQ - Vevi to Kaisareia then Kozani
2/1st Battalion - Avlianna
2/2nd Battalion - Velvendos
2/3rd Battalion - Veria Pass
2/4th & 2/8th Battalions - Kromion
2/5th Battalion - Daphne
2/6th Battalion - Daphne
2/7th Battalion - Piraeus
2/11th Battalion -Daphne
2/1st Machine Gun Battalion - Gerania

Thanks to Paul Sougleris of Greek Anzacs for his information on unit locations drawn from the official unit dairies.

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

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