Action at the Vale of Tempe, Greece. William Dargie, 1962. AWM
The following is an edited version of a presentation by Olwyn Green, wife of the 2/2nd Battalion's Charles Green, and author of his biography The Name's Still Charlie:
"The 18th April all day defensive battle fought at Tempe is indelibly marked in the Battalion’s memory.
The small force at Tempe, named Anzac Force, comprised 16th Brigade AIF and NZ’s 21Bn and NZ 26 Battery of 4 Field Reg and NZ L Troop of 7 A/T Reg.
By the 17th, still footsore and fatigued after the Long March, 2/2 takes its designated critical position at Tempe on 17th April 1941. It was commanded by 16th Brigade AIF’s commander Brigadier A.S. Allen (of which 2/2 was a part). 2/2 Battalion’s role was to support Allen’s HQ site. Brigadier A.S.Allen arrived on the 18th to command the force from his HQ on the left flank of 2/2 .
It was the 6th Geberg Panzer Division, commanded by famous General Schorner, that by 18th April was descending in force and forming up across the river from the 2/2nd - an obvious site as the river was fordable.
The 2/2nd was in the most critical defence position across from Gonnos from where the Germans would mount their attack across the Pinios River.
The other prong of the German Panzer advance was to have been met by 21st New Zealand (Auckland) Battalion on 2/2nd’s right flank, which was the position for the defence of the exit of Tempe or Pinios Gorge (NE of 2/2) through which ran a road. The access bridge across the Pinios River had been blown by the Kiwis but the Germans got some tanks across. Before withdrawing to Tempe, the Aucklanders had been badly mauled at their previous defence position at Platamon. There it was left short of ammunition for its 25 pounders.
The Kiwis’position was on the right flank of 2/2nd’s C Company. The other 2/2 companies were spread widely (with 1000 yards between companies) forming a thin line and communication dependent on signals equipment captured at Bardia.
By a little after midday on the 18th, the 2/2nd battalion was alone, facing a crack Panzer Division. The brave diggers held their position until they were overrun.
Key events in the battle were:
- The carrier platoon was sent to intercept the Germans crossing the river at the cost of some carriers and the death of Private Bill Sullivan.
- By midday the Kiwis 21 Bn were forced to withdraw up in the hills behind the valley or through C Coy. They had been almost overrun by a subunit of the German Division that soon succeeded in getting tanks across the river at the Eastern approach to Pinios Gorge.
- After 21NZ Bn withdrew, 2/2 was the lone infantry battalion holding the might of the German column.
- Desperate measures were resorted to as indicated by the famous performance of the mortar platoon, under Sgt Geoff Coyle. The mortar men, resorted to the dangerous use of extra charges to improve the guns’ range, were able to stop a lot of Germans from crossing the River.
- By 5.30 chaos was setting in. And by 6.45pm Col Chilton was issuing orders for those companies he could still contact to withdraw. 2/2 had ceased to be a unit. It became a case of each man for himself to escape or to become a POW.
The Australians had only small arms and some anti tank rifles. They had no Vickers guns. Artillery and A/T fire was supplied by New Zealand forces..
But their aim had been achieved. It had made possible the escape of an esitmated 6,000 Anzac troops.
At Tempe, the 2/2nd Battalion that fought a last stand .For this feat Nulli Secundus can be rightly proud. They were a lone battered battalion hanging on for every hour, every minute they could muster, to achieve their given objective : to allow their Anzac comrades to escape and to fight another day.
It could be said that it is remarkable that there were not greater casualties and not more of the battalion taken prisoners of war."
Australian Unit Locations - 18th April
16th Brigade HQ - Makyxopi
17th Brigade HQ - Zarkos
19th Brigade HQ - Domokos
2/1st Battalion - Lamia
2/2nd Battalion - Lamia
2/3rd Battalion - Larissa
2/5th Battalion - Syntomai
2/4th Battalion - Domokos
2/6th Battalion - Domokos
2/7th Battalion - Domokos
2/8th Battalion - Aliakmon
2/11th Battalion - Pineos River
2/1st Machine Gun Battalion - Larissa
Thanks to Paul Sougleris of Greek Anzacs for his information on unit locations drawn from the official unit dairies.
Lemnos Gallipoli Commemorative Committee
& Member, Battle of Crete and the Greek Campaign Commemorative Council