28 (Maori) Battalion
CHAPTER 4 — The Campaign in Greece
The Campaign in Greece
Germany delivered an ultimatum to both Greece and Yugoslavia and followed up its rejection with an attack against them on the morning of 6 April 1941. By this date only a part of two of the promised three divisions and a much smaller proportion of Air Force units had arrived in Greece. The New Zealand Division, supported by 1 Armoured Brigade, was deployed on a very wide front; west of the New Zealanders, 12 Greek Division was waiting relief by 6 Australian Division; further west, 20 Greek Division was widely spread towards the Yugoslav frontier, and it was still hoped that the Yugoslavs would safeguard the Monastir Gap and the Allied left flank; in Macedonia the Greeks were defending their Bulgarian frontier against a combined German air and ground attack.
It had been agreed that the New Zealand Division could not, for any length of time, defend its position north of Katerini. Nevertheless, it must remain there for the time being, to delay any immediate enemy thrust while Australian Corps headquarters worked out a plan for switching it back to the Olympus passes and linking up with the Australians.
The Maoris were not displeased with the dramatic turn of events and went on digging and wiring with a new interest although the possibility of having to fight there seemed remote. This view was not shared by the Higher Command who knew something of German blitzkrieg methods and of the ill-armed Greek forces facing the invaders. That night, the Reinforcement Company back at Voula, near Athens, was to receive a convincing demonstration of German air power when the dock area at Piraeus was bombed for two hours. Six merchant ships, a tug, and twenty lighters were burnt and others sunk; another, with a cargo of explosives, blew up and added to the destruction. The Maoris and a party of gunners were despatched on salvage duty and worked all day in the burning and collapsing harbour buildings. Thereafter they were retained on security patrols or to guard an adjacent airfield.
Within forty-eight hours the general situation was critical—the Greek defences on the Bulgarian frontier had been pierced, Salonika was threatened and Yugoslav resistance had collapsed. page 49 Nothing could prevent a German junction with the Italians in Albania, but an Australian brigade group, with half 27 NZ (Machine Gun) Battalion, had been sent to Vevi, the southern exit of the Monastir Gap and the historic invasion route into Greece.
Instructions issued by Brigadier Hargest made it clear to the Maoris that this time they were really in the war and without an English Channel, the Royal Air Force, and the Navy between them and the enemy. The Brigadier's instructions stated that little was known about the enemy but the pass was to be held to the last man and the last round. In other words, the Maoris might have to stage another Orakau and with the same defiant cattle cry, ‘Ka whawhai tonu matou, ake! ake! ake!’,1 that Rewi Maniopoto had thrown back at General Cameron demanding his surrender.
It was a busy day for the battalion. Tents were struck and only the flies retained for shelter; reserve rations and ammunition were carried into each company area; B Echelon moved back to the new Brigade B Echelon area near Kokkinoplos; Captain Royal was warned that 22 Battalion was taking over his and part of 23 Battalion's area and that his company would move to a new position in the morning.
A trickle of civilians that had begun to move through the pass developed into a stream and B Company was ordered to set up a check post, examine all vehicles, and turn back Greek soldiers who were becoming a noticeable proportion of the refugees. The possibility of Germans in Greek uniforms was not to be discounted and the reported cutting of telephone wires did something to substantiate the rumours that grew wilder as the day wore on. The fancy that some enemy were infiltrating and the fact that the wires were being cut led to the introduction of a password and answer that were peculiarly New Zealand. They were based on the parody of a haka known to every school boy. If the challenge ‘Halt! Timaru!’ was not answered by ‘Waipukurau!’ it would be safe to assume the challenged was no New Zealander.
Further afield oil installations were fired in Salonika and later the engineers with the Divisional Cavalry blew the bridges over the Aliakmon River. The 21st Battalion came up from Athens, where it had been guarding vital points, and occupied the approaches to the Pinios Gorge at Platamon on the extreme right of the Olympus position.page 50
Captain Royal handed over to 22 Battalion the next morning and B Company began another system of defences on Petras Hill in the rear of 22 Battalion's left flank. There was a good view of the pass approaches, and Second-Lieutenant Brant2 with an attached machine-gun section and Lieutenant Rangi3 with the battalion mortars were there together with an artillery OP.
Salonika fell during the day (9 April) and the commander of the Greek East Macedonian Army capitulated to the Germans, whereupon the signal was given for the immediate retirement of the New Zealanders behind the Olympus Pass positions. Fourth Brigade passed through the Olympus defences en route to the Servia Pass, with the role of covering the withdrawal of Greek and Australian forces from the Vevi area and acting as a pivot for later consolidation on a line running west and east through Servia; 6 Brigade followed after dark to a position in divisional reserve, and the only troops forward of 5 Brigade were the Divisional Cavalry, with some artillery and machine-gunners, and a group of unit carrier platoons.
Another forty-eight hours and grave decisions were being taken. The Germans in Salonika had regrouped and were feeling for crossings on the lower Aliakmon, where the Divisional Cavalry was still screening the vacated New Zealand lines and the occupied positions on the Olympus range. In the west the enemy had debouched from the Monastir Gap at Vevi, had joined up with the Italians in Albania, and was attacking the Greek flank; 4 Brigade was holding the Servia defile in the same manner as 5 Brigade at Olympus, but there was the extreme likelihood of the whole British force being encircled by an enemy thrust towards the upper Aliakmon, where General Papagos was endeavouring to deploy what Greek forces he could withdraw from Albania.
The Maoris went on with their digging, wiring, and track cutting until the 12th, when instructions were received to vacate C and D Companies' positions and withdraw behind the Mavroneri Gorge facing west. When they had been first placed it had been the intention to hold the Olympus position with both 5 and 6 Brigades but events had moved too quickly. It was no page 51 longer possible to have a continuous line from Olympus to Servia and 5 Brigade was now merely to delay the enemy and then withdraw.
The troops accepted the position philosophically—they had done the same thing often enough in England and apparently it was part of a soldier's life to dig a weapon pit and then leave it. As the new line was where the Maoris stood and fought their first engagement a more detailed description of the terrain is necessary.
From the edge of the fenceless Katerini plain, wooded spurs, the foothills of Mount Brusti, to the south-west, and Mount Olympus, to the south, began abruptly and rose rapidly. The lower slopes were covered in scrub where charcoal burners had deforested the country; next came a belt of oleanders, sumac, bay, arbutus and chaste trees with fairly thick undergrowth; above this was a forest of mixed oak and beech with a more open undergrowth of fern, wild pear, and the mauve-flowered Judas tree as characteristic of Greek as the rata is of New Zealand bush; highest of all were the black pine ridges with little growing between them except an occasional hawthorn or juniper bush.
Winding through the ridges were deep gorges where plane trees grew as tall as any New Zealand white pine, with their feet in the water and their branches reaching up to the sun.
It was along one of these gorges, the Mavroneri, that the Maoris were placed. This gorge, beginning at Skotina village and twisting in a north-easterly direction for four miles, debouched on to the plain, and along its side was a good metalled road that joined the pass road in front of 22 Battalion. There was a sawmill at Skotina and the road was substantially built to carry the timber wagons.
Behind, or rather south-west of Skotina, the road continued as a timber track for about eight miles along the side and over Mount Brusti, leaving a gap of five miles to the rear exit of the Olympus Pass road. Substitute Ruatahuna for Skotina and the rest falls naturally into place—typical Urewera country.
The 22nd Battalion lay astride the Olympus Pass road in front of the actual pass, with its D Company on the left flank facing Katerini and sited on a shoulder around which the Skotina road curved. A Company (Captain Bell),4 the right flank company of 28 Battalion, faced in the same direction on a page 52 page 53 sector of wooded spurs diagonal to the main mountain mass with a clear view towards both Skotina and the main pass roads. The immediate front was covered with scrub, and further forward some broken country offered good cover for infiltrating infantry. There was a 400-yard gap between 9 Platoon (commanded by Captain Leaf,5 vice Lieutenant Wiremu,6 evacuated sick) and the left of 22 Battalion, while three-quarters of a mile west 8 Platoon (Lieutenant Urlich)7 was on the edge of the Mavroneri Gorge. No. 7 Platoon (Lieutenant Porter)8 was in company reserve. B Company's new (and fourth) position was on a hillside, covering the gap between A Company and the left flank of 22 Battalion, and facing north-west across the gorge with 10 Platoon (Lieutenant Vercoe), right, and 12 Platoon (Lieutenant Stewart)9, left, spread along half a mile of front. No. 11 Platoon (Lieutenant Pene) was assigned a special duty by Colonel Dittmer and will be dealt with later, but the result was to leave Captain Royal with no reserve platoon. This deficiency was compensated for by placing A Company's reserve platoon in such a position that besides fulfilling its role as a reserve to A Company it could cover part of B Company's front with enfilade fire if the enemy attempted to attack from the northwest.
Olympus Pass Positions, 13-17 April 1941
Battalion Headquarters left its cherry trees below the road and moved to the top of a saddle of the ridge about a mile to the left and above B Company. There was another of the countless foot tracks through B Company area along to Battalion Headquarters, with a branch which led behind A Company towards the rear of 22 Battalion. From Battalion Headquarters there were other tracks that led by devious routes down to the pass road near Brigade Headquarters. They were to become very important to the Maori Battalion.
The way was then clear for D Company (Major Dyer) to take its position on the left of B Company and further left along the Mavroneri Gorge. The weather, hitherto perfect, had broken page 54 and the track down to the flat, and thence to a ford at the bottom of the gorge, was difficult for men laden with as much reserve ammunition and stores as they could carry.
Major Dyer placed 16 Platoon (Lieutenant Ormond)10 straddling a spur and separated from B Company by a small gully, and 17 Platoon (Lieutenant Logan), likewise on a spur, with a section (Corporal Wipiti)11 somewhat detached but in a position to enfilade part of the half-mile front. No. 18 Platoon (Lieutenant Gilroy)12 was in reserve between and above the forward platoons. The mortar platoon and machine-gunners remained on Petras Hill, where they could switch to each front and support A, B or D Companies.
The troops immediately began to dig themselves in while some Greeks, whose services were obtained by Colonel Dittmer, arrived with mules laden with ammunition and wire. Snow began to fall, and while the men made frantic efforts to pile their gear and ammunition into heaps the Greek muleteers curled up in their black-hooded cloaks and went to sleep.
Three miles farther south at Skotina, Lieutenant Pene, with 11 Platoon detached from B and under command of D Company, was preparing to hold the tracks leading into Skotina in case the enemy made a wide outflanking movement. It will be seen that Major Dyer held a long and thinly occupied line with a worrying, though extremely precipitous, gap between Lieutenants Logan and Pene.
The sun shone again in the morning (13th) and the troops dried out after their night's work in the snow and rain. C Company (Captain Scott) moved back and was placed in reserve on the ridge behind B and D Companies in such a position that if required it could move north-east down a ridge to A Company or to the gap between A Company and 22 Battalion; or straight down north-north-east to B Company; or nearly due north to D Company.
While the Maoris improved their positions and placed a few strands of barbed and some concertina wire along the mill road below them, German bombers passed high overhead. Heavy smoke clouds hung in the air over Salonika and the Divisional Cavalry was falling back after blowing bridges and road blocks.page 55
For the first time genuine night patrolling was carried out by 28 Battalion. The Mavroneri riverbed was thoroughly combed but no enemy was reported, although Brigade had sent a warning message that action might develop in the morning. Soon after daylight the first sign that the approaching enemy was taking a close interest in the Olympus area was the appearance of a reconnaissance plane which circled the brigade positions. A signal from Brigade Headquarters advised that immediate artillery support would be provided upon the firing of coloured flares in the order green-red-green, and that all friendly armoured fighting vehicles approaching from Katerini would be flying khaki shirts as a sign of identification.
The Divisional Cavalry, its supporting carriers and other arms, moved over the pass in the afternoon (14 April) and 5 Brigade stood to confront the enemy. It did not feel unequal to the task although 28 Battalion, excepting A Company, had had little enough time to prepare for the occasion.
On the eve of battle Brigadier Hargest issued a special message:
Units LUXA [code name for 5 Brigade] holding front line. Every precaution against losses from enemy action will be taken. Movement day forward areas restricted to minimum. Sentries will be posted all sec posts day and night. Wherever possible patrols both standing and moving will be established and offensive action taken. MILK [Divisional Cavalry] has witnessed uncanny enemy infiltration methods. This will be guarded against. Do not give away position of posts by aimlessly discharging weapons. We are in excellent positions. With skill and courage easily defeat enemy.
The 22nd Battalion drew first blood when a motor-cycle patrol was stopped by a blown bridge at the foot of the pass and was shot up. The 21st Battalion at Platamon, on the other side of Olympus, had halted an enemy force making an unexpected drive along the shortest but worst route to Larisa. Anzac Corps was making new dispositions to deal with this eastern threat. And at ten in the evening Brigadier Hargest was told that the Division was going to give up the Olympus Pass and dig in for good and all at Thermopylae, a hundred miles or so farther south, where a line from coast to coast could be held with or without the aid of Greek forces.
At first light on the 15th all eyes in A Company were on the road from Katerini and at 10.30 a mixed column was seen approaching the Boomerang, a point half-way between Kato page 56 Melia and the Skotina road junction. As soon as it came within range of 5 Field Regiment's guns, winched into positions on peaks that would have made the hair of the gunners on Anzac stand on end, harassing fire was brought down and the vehicles scattered. This was evidently not expected in the German plan of operations for the spotter plane again closely inspected the area, quite disregarding the fire of ack-ack, Brens. The rest of the day passed in sporadic artillery activity, with Lieutenant Brant's machine guns and Lieutenant Rangi's mortars firing at extreme range whenever a target presented itself. Late in the afternoon the enemy opened up with guns of a heavier calibre sited beyond the range of the 25-pounders. A few shells fell in the vicinity of Battalion Headquarters, and some snakes which did not relish the concussion smartly vacated the area.
Occasional shelling in A Company's area resulted in the Battalion sustaining its first battle casualties when Sergeant Hare13 (Mortar Platoon) was wounded and Private Ellison14 shell-shocked from a near miss. The only damage to materials was caused by a shell near A Company's cookhouse which destroyed some rations.
Quartermaster-Sergeant Peter Samuel,15 after surveying the damage to his stores, sent an invitation to as many as could be spared to come down and eat the punctured tins of bully beef and condensed milk.
Much the same situation existed on the rest of 5 Brigade's front, but over where 21 Battalion was holding the Platamon tunnel a day-long battle raged, with the battalion still holding at dusk and five enemy tanks immobilised in no-man's-land.
In the meantime company commanders had been called to a conference at which Colonel Dittmer announced that 5 Brigade would be pulling out that night behind 6 Brigade, then preparing a delaying position at Elasson. The battalion order of march would be Headquarters, C, D, A, and B Companies. The route was along the Skotina road to the track leading to Km 42, where Sergeant Vercoe (‘I’ Section) would establish a check post. All troops must be clear by 10 p.m. and would march to Kardaras, seven miles south of Battalion Headquarters and four miles past the alpine village of Ay Dhimitrios, where 22 Battalion page 57 would be astride the road by midnight. The 23rd Battalion on the right would conform. Each company would have four pack mules for carrying out reserve ammunition, tools, cookers, signal and other equipment. The mean would carry twenty-four hours' rations and the rest would be destroyed. The machine guns, 3-inch mortars, and any sick would move forthwith.
These orders were relayed to platoons but were later postponed for twenty-four hours to allow the withdrawal of 5 Brigade to be co-ordinated with that of other British formations.
The postponement was wirelessed in clear by Lieutenant Bennett, but if the enemy picked up the message he would not have been able to do much about it for the instructions were in Maori.
The first day in action ended, as far as 28 Battalion was concerned, with no actual contact with enemy infantry and two casualties; but the sight of lighted vehicles moving after dark along the road to Haduladhika suggested that the spotter plane had found the Brigade flank.
There was little sleep that night. B, C, and D Companies had listening posts along the river but heard nothing; A Company, the nearest to the enemy, had an anxious time with finger and trigger never far apart. An enemy patrol did reach the company's right flank, but Captain Leaf was an old soldier and had tied petrol tins along the wire which gave the alarm, and the intruders departed.
The morning of 16 April dawned grey with rain threatening. Lieutenant Urlich, looking down on the Katerini plains, wrote: ‘Could see road from katerine black with enemy vehicles. They advanced right under us and then our 5 Fd [Regiment] 25 pounders opened fire and picked vehicle-tank after vehicle-tank until Jerry found it too hot. Staff car came up part of the way and lasted one minute and a half before it was blown to Hell.’
The machine-gun section and the battalion 3-inch mortars joined the gunners, but the spotter plane still overhead directed fire on to them in retaliation and Sergeant Katene's16 mortar section was forced to move to alternative positions until ordered to withdraw in accordance with his instructions.
The enemy attempted to force the pass road with tanks supported by mortars, but 5 Field Regiment and 22 Battalion were equal to the occasion although, through a request from 22 Battalion, 15 Platoon (Lieutenant Tuhiwai) was sent down into page 58 support on the pass side of Petras Hill as a precautionary measure. It was not needed and returned to C Company.
A fog at midday reduced visibility to a few yards and the enemy probed the brigade positions. A party bumped into 8 Platoon but sheered off again when fired upon. Later, enemy could be heard in the Mavroneri Gorge working towards B Company. It was dead ground, but Lieutenant Porter put his platoon mortar on to the area and also borrowed Urlich's mortar for the same purpose.
It should be mentioned at this point that Colonel Dittmer, when the enemy closed in on his left front, was apprehensive about the ability of one platoon to prevent an outflanking move through Skotina, so cutting the pass road behind him and the remainder of the brigade front.
A battalion of 6 Brigade was to have taken up a position about Skotina village westwards, but as this did not happen, 13 Platoon (Lieutenant Reedy)17 was sent from C Company to reinforce Lieutenant Pene. Later, Major Dyer was requested to send Lieutenant Te Kuru18 and twenty men half-way between his left flank and Skotina as a link between D Company and the two isolated platoons.
When B Company scouts reported noise in the gorge below them, Captain Royal was busy with the preparations for the withdrawal. The men's packs and the company tools had already been stacked at Company Headquarters but the mules and their attendants had disappeared. The cooks and batmen had therefore to carry this equipment up to Battalion Headquarters themselves. Late in the afternoon the mist cleared sufficiently to disclose enemy troops, widely dispersed, moving down a bare ridge on the far side of the gorge. Fire was opened at 1200 yards but was apparently ineffective. Lieutenant Stewart went through his wire to shorten the range but the swirling mist came down again and hid the target.
The enemy had, in fact, worked down a ridge that led into the gorge below Porter's position, but, blocked by a cliff on the Maori side, was moving up stream with the intention of attacking Point 917 behind A Company and 22 Battalion and near Km 42. The approach to B Company area, after the cliff had been passed, was up easy bush-covered slopes for about 600 yards, page 59 then through the wire defences covering the road. As soon as the wire was reached, B Company, with cleared lanes giving a view, brought all its fire to bear and this, plus the A Company mortars, convinced the enemy that the shortest way to Point 917 was not necessarily the easiest. No. 12 Platoon reported by runner that six enemy dead were lying outside the wire, and Lieutenant Bennett, who happened to be at B Company headquarters at the time, left to acquaint Colonel Dittmer with the situation in the gorge. The enemy withdrew from sight but B Company, assisted by C Company above it, continued to plaster the opposite side of the gorge on the blind. Their fire had quite unexpected results, as will be seen later on perusal of the German commander's report which says that one-third of his force was pinned down.
Major Dyer had been kept informed by Colonel Dittmer about the situation on the brigade front and, with the knowledge that the enemy was doing what was expected of him in feeling for the flanks, visited Lieutenant Pene covering the tracks into Skotina. The platoon had already seen scouts on the distant hills evidently keeping the village under observation. The inhabitants of Skotina, nearly all women and children, were standing in groups in front of their houses, and an old man was beating a woman who was having hysterics. While Dyer was returning to his company Lieutenant Reedy and his platoon from C Company were clambering down a spur to reinforce Pene.
Later, as previously mentioned, Major Dyer was ordered to send a platoon approximately twenty strong to form a connecting link with Skotina. The men were taken from the reserve platoon with Lieutenant Te Kuru in command, and Company Headquarters details took their places in the more important weapon pits.
D Company's first close contact with the enemy is described by Major Dyer:
When the enemy were seen advancing on the mountain face opposite us I sent Jack Tainui,19 my best scout, and another down to the bottom of the gorge to observe the enemy as it was possible to cross the river by leaping from rock to rock. As the enemy, Austrian mountain troops I think,20 page 60 started to cross, he picked them off at close range. I believe he shot three. He told me that one man was only wounded and started to crawl away. He raised his rifle to finish him off and then found that he could not do it. He withdrew in front of the enemy, and in the middle of the main action which followed immediately, he reported to me and then with a grin said he was going down (a matter of about thirty yards) to give the boys a hand as they seemed to be having a tough time.
Warned by the firing on its right, D Company was peering into the mist and the enemy was concentrating on the flat where Battalion Headquarters had originally been established. Suddenly, Private Harold21 in 16 Platoon took careful aim and fired. An enemy scout who had reached the road fell on his back. Harold turned to his mate, ‘Old Horse’ Martin,22 and said shakily, ‘Old Horse, I've killed him.’
‘Oh,’ said ‘Old Horse’, looking for a target, ‘Don't you worry about that, Tihora, we'll soon kill plenty more.’
A patch of fog covered the road and a salvo of mortar bombs fell in D Company area, followed by machine-gun bullets cracking through the trees. The actual attack came in against the right flank of D Company and the forward section of 16 Platoon received the brunt of it. The post was commanded by Corporal Taituha,23 who had asked to be relieved of his job as orderlyroom sergeant when action seemed pending and reverted to the rank of corporal to be in the fighting. The first rush was halted with grenade and tommy gun and the enemy withdrew to shelter below the road. An attempt to find a gap further right was frustrated by Corporal Harrison's24 section, and still further right a probe was halted by fire from B Company.
The next effort was more determined. The enemy charged through the wire on the top side of the road firing their automatics and shouting, ‘Frightened! Run!’ Some of the newlyjoined men wavered but were reassured by the others and a confused mêleé took place at close quarters in the mist. Maori yells answered the shouting enemy but the forward section, immobilised in the pits, was overrun. Corporal Taituha took page 61 cover behind a tree, and it was his determined stand that permitted his section to pull back. He kept on shooting until the butt of his rifle was blown off and he was himself so seriously wounded that he was later left for dead.
Private Ropata25 refused to move and fought on until he was mortally wounded; Harold and ‘Old Horse’ Martin likewise stayed in position and fulfilled the latter's prediction that they would soon kill plenty more.
Major Dyer, only thirty yards from the fighting, could get no clear picture of the situation until Private ‘Chook’ Fowler26 reported with a message from Lieutenant Ormond that part of his area had been overrun. Colonel Dittmer was informed and was asked for reinforcements. He was also told at the same time that although the position appeared bad the company had no intention of retiring. Help was promised, and Dyer then sent Fowler to Lieutenant Gilroy with orders to face right and clear the area with the bayonet. They stalked from tree to tree but the enemy had gone. Corporal Harrison had, in fact, already restored the situation. Reinforced by some of Taituha's men, he had poured such a volume of fire into the vacated area that the enemy refused to face it and withdrew.
As soon as Major Dyer's request for help was received Captain Te Punga27 (Adjutant) collected some spare Headquarters details, mortar platoon, and machine-gunners, and with about forty men then took up a position behind D Company, not so much to restore the front posts as to prevent anything more than a local penetration. This was quicker and simpler than getting a message to C Company which, further down the ridge, was already in a good position to stop a deep penetration.
It was getting dark and the battalion was due to withdraw in a short time. The company did, however, receive an addition to its strength for Private (Brownie) Tapuke,28 the battalion clerk, appeared at Major Dyer's elbow and said quietly: ‘Just come down to be with the boys, sir.’ Scouts went forward after the firing ceased and reported that the enemy had retired into the gorge again, whereupon the company arrangements went forward for the withdrawal.page 62
It is clear from the Battle Report of 2 German Infantry Regiment that the Maoris had wrought better than they knew:
At 1000 hrs 3 companies of II Battalion were sent up to relieve I Battalion with orders to press forward past Karia [Kariai] and capture Pt. 917 from the west. It was quite impossible to send A Tk guns, infantry guns, or indeed any kind of guns up this way as the route was too mountainous for any but foot troops, and it had not been thought necessary to equip a Pz division with mules. The force had reached a stream bed NW of the steep slope of Pt 917 with no sign of the enemy. Fire was then opened from the slopes of Pt 917 whereupon 7 and 9 Coys rushed across the stream and attacked on a wide front. 8 Coy was pinned down north of the stream by the fire. The attackers went forward with no interruption as far as the mountain track leading up to Pt 917. Here 7 Coy was held up owing to the impossibility of silencing enemy MGs firing on its flank from the east. Here also the enemy was in fortified field positions with excellent camouflage, and fired only at close range at observed targets. Three officers of the battalion (including the commander and the adjutant) and several OR were wounded. Another attempt to send 7 Coy further out around the left flank failed as a number of new enemy MGs opened up and inflicted more casualties. The knocking out of several enemy MGs in the thrust through the first belt of wire had also failed to diminish the volume of fire. The acting battalion commander therefore decided to take advantage of the gathering dusk and pull back to the high ground opposite. This decision was strengthened by the failure of 8 Coy (further east) to make any headway against the MG and mortar fire.
Colonel Dittmer's biggest difficulty was how to get the Skotina detachment out, for clearly it would not be able to use the road back to D Company, if indeed it was able to move at all. There was no means of communication except by runner and it was not known if the detachment had been involved in the fighting. RSM Wood, with Private Hoko29 as guide, was sent to Skotina with orders for the platoons to wait until it was quite dark and then strike straight upwards to the top of the ridge behind them and then by the most direct route to the pass road. All arms and ammunition were to be carried out.page 63
The position on 5 Brigade's front was that 22 Battalion had successfully prevented enemy infiltration after the morning efforts to force a breakthrough and 23 Battalion had had much the same experience as the Maoris, with the enemy feeling for a flank. The 21st Battalion at Platamon was attacked frontally by tanks and outflanked by infantry and had retired to a new position in the Pinios Gorge. Australian troops were being hurried to its assistance to hold until all British forces had cleared Larisa.
The Maoris' difficulties in disengaging were increased by a strong wind and driving rain that began at dusk, so that the time allowed for moving by night along the now slippery tracks proved insufficient. The order of march was the same as originally planned. C Company, with Battalion Headquarters and the attached machine-gunners, started off and, as soon as the starting point on the track was cleared, waited for the next company to join up. This procedure was repeated until all sub-units had gained touch.
There were several tracks over the ridge and down to the pass road, but knowing that the battalion was now well behind the brigade timetable Colonel Dittmer could not risk descending to the pass road until it had left the main gorge. Some sections of the road in the gorge were hewn out of the side of precipices and the engineers had set charges to blow the road completely away, and he knew that this should have already been done.
The battalion ‘I’ section had reconnoitred many tracks that led to the pass proper as well as further to the rear, and Dittmer chose one that he had been over himself and which came out fairly well to the rear. After following the ridge that ran almost parallel to the pass for roughly a mile, he switched to another track bearing south. There was some delay while the second track was picked up, for although the ‘I’ section had marked the junction with pieces of rag and papers they were hard to find in the dark.
There was still some sporadic fire across the Mavroneri Gorge when D Company prepared to withdraw. Word was passed from man to man, mostly in Maori, to close in on the right and the platoons gathered at Company Headquarters. With the driving rain and complete darkness this took some time, and when at 8 p.m. the company was due to withdraw Lieutenant Logan had not arrived with 17 Platoon. It was nearly half an hour later before he reported with the information that Corporal Wipiti's section was missing.page 64
The platoon had concentrated around the reserve section and a runner was sent to inform Corporal Wipiti. He returned to say he had not been able to find them in the darkness but had called out and got a reply and had delivered the message.30 After waiting some time without any appearance of the section, it was assumed that it had moved up a track that had led from behind the section through the reserve platoon area to Company Headquarters. It was not there and yells of ‘E Wipiti! Haere mai!’ were unanswered. It was almost an hour behind time when D Company, with Corporals Matthews31 and Tainui in the rear, spraying the darkness with Bren bursts, climbed up the ridge in Indian file.
A Company's move out was unmolested, but on account of the darkness and rain and boggy track it was about midnight before the last of the men was through B Company's area, from where it will be remembered there was a track up to Battalion Headquarters. Captain Leaf was a tower of strength right through the night. He was a man of powerful physique and he heartened the men with jokes, helped those who slipped and fell to regain the track, and on occasion threatened dire punishment to any who showed signs of panic. Major Bertrand and Sergeant Vercoe checked the last of A Company through and then followed behind B Company.
Sometimes two abreast, but more often in single file, the Maoris, with all their arms, packs, and ammunition, marched across the mountainsides towards the pass road and safety. In the pitch blackness and driving rain they maintained touch by each holding the bayonet scabbard of the man in front, and when anyone slipped he had to feel with hand and foot to regain contact.
All but the last road block, a bridge over a watercourse, had been blown by 3 a.m., and that would have been attended to long since had Brigadier Hargest not driven up and told the engineer in charge to hang on in the hope that the battalion would yet emerge from the blackness of the hillside.
A quarter past three and no Maori Battalion. The bridge was to be destroyed by 3.30 at the latest and the engineers were on page 65 the point of lighting the fuse when they heard the sound of marching men. Maoris or Germans? Maoris!
To Colonel Dittmer at the head of his battalion the road was apparently deserted and the inference was that all the demolitions on it had been blown and the last of the brigade departed. Faced with the prospect of meeting enemy infantry on the road or of marching an unknown number of miles, he sent word back that those who felt they could not carry their packs much further were to dump them over the edge of a bank on the left of the track. Within a few hundred yards the Colonel met the engineers and was told that the transport was still waiting about a mile further back.
The trucks, insufficient to take the battalion in one load, relayed the troops to a position behind the alpine village of Ay Dhimitrios where a hot meal and cigarettes were waiting. Then, without respite or sleep, the men began to prepare a holding position. When the last of B Company arrived a check-up disclosed that Lieutenant Te Kuru and his men had come in but that the Skotina detachment was missing. In actual fact they were not far behind B Company and had had an even more gruelling experience. They had not been engaged while D Company was fighting, beyond receiving a few light mortar shells and exchanging a few shots at extreme range with the enemy scouts still watching from the opposite hillside. The RSM and scout sent to guide them out arrived safely and the two platoons were concentrated preparatory to the withdrawal.
The RSM wrote later:
The trip out was unmitigated Hell. Intensely dark, heavy rain and strong wind. Visibility absolutely nil. No stars for direction, compasses useless owing to windings of track. Grade was terrific, I should say 1 in 3 or 4. Speed was no more than 1 to 2 miles per hour due to the above mentioned facts, and the further one that tracks had to be actually felt by one's feet as to direction.
Half-way up the ridge a fork in the track raised the question as to which way to go. Eventually some went to the left, some to the right; but soon it was found that the left track was the wrong one for it was taking them down to the river again. They halted with a cliff on one side and the gorge on the other and determined to climb straight upwards. Lieutenant Pene remembers the climb:page 66
We climbed this precipice packs and all by grabbing and clutching at trees and branches and hauling ourselves up foot by foot…. I don't think any of us will ever forget this night as long as we live.
By good luck the parties met again and, with the exception of three or four who were sure their party was still on the wrong track and were not seen again, eventually made the pass road. Even they were not the last for odd men who had been missed or had lost contact kept coming down the road during the day. Battalion strength returns disclosed 4 killed and 18 missing. Corporal Taituha was included among the killed, but he recovered sufficiently to wander in the hills for a week and was finally taken prisoner in a village when seeking a doctor.
A temporary line to seal off the exit from the Olympus Pass had been established by 22 Battalion, and 23 Battalion was similarly placed across a possible outflanking route at Kokkinoplos. Two battalions of 16 Australian Brigade were hurrying to the support of 21 Battalion in denying the road from the Pinios Gorge to Larisa until daylight on the 19th, by which time the Anzac Corps should be clear of the gateway to the plains of Thessaly.
C Company had eaten breakfast and was in position on the left of 22 Battalion by the time B Company arrived in the concentration area. The men had scarcely finished eating when they were ordered to a position on a hill about two miles forward astride another possible German route to the rear of Olympus Pass. A Company remained at the ‘Breakfast Area’ while D Company withdrew further to the rear in reserve. B Company felt that it was rather hardly done by as it had been the last out of the pass and, more important, had had the shortest time at breakfast, and the men voiced their comments in no uncertain language. Captain Royal rebuked them by quoting some lines of the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, slightly amended. He told them: ‘Yours is not to reason why but to do or die.’ It was sufficient; they took up their gear, fell in smartly, and marched off in the still pelting rain.
About midday orders came that 5 Brigade would move through Larisa to a position south of a pass at Lamia, about 80 direct miles south but considerably longer by the winding roads. The 28th Battalion was to leave two companies as local protection to a troop of 5 Field Regiment and to delay the page 67 enemy should he attempt to press the withdrawal. A and B Companies were detailed for the task; B Company was to join A Company at the ‘Breakfast Area’ and withdraw at 4 p.m. while A Company and the artillery would leave half an hour later, whereupon both companies would tie in with the brigade column at Larisa, with Volos as the destination.
Across plain and high country for 30 miles the road was packed with vehicles, but the rain had grounded the German planes for the time being and there was no interference from the air. In passing, it should be mentioned that the Larisa airfield had been bombed until the RAF squadrons had been compelled to withdraw, first to Athens and finally to Crete and the Peloponnese, giving the enemy almost undisputed control of the air.
It was while passing through the barricaded streets of Larisa that the Maoris saw what unopposed air power could do. The town, previously damaged by an earthquake, was in ruins, soldiers and civilians were lying side by side covered with sacks or blankets, and bullet-ridden trucks were heaped along the side of the road. Outside the town were numerous dead horses, cows and sheep, slaughtered while the owners were taking them into the hills.
From Larisa the withdrawal plans were based on two roads, the only two roads south. The Australians and 1 Armoured Brigade were to use the main road to Lamia, while the New Zealanders were to move by a secondary road to Volos, then along the coast via Almiros to Lamia.
The head of the 5 Brigade column found that the road to Volos was under repair and there were hours of waiting; the vehicles would have been sitting shots for German planes if they could have got into the air. Retreats under pressure, especially at night, are not conducted with the precision of a military tattoo and there were orders and counter-orders that made the following twenty-four hours something of a nightmare, not only for the battalion commanders at the time but later for the historian.
To return to the rearguard. The artillery troop had opened up on enemy troops feeling forward along the road at Ay Dhimitrios when B Company began its timed withdrawal and marched back a mile or so to the waiting transport. A Company and the artillery troop joined them and, after several tangles with columns coming down from the Servia Pass, caught up with the rear of the battalion near Larisa.page 68
Added to the confusion of re-routeing 5 Brigade was the fact that the original instructions to the RMT carrying 28 Battalion were to offload it short of Volos and return for other formations while the troops marched the rest of the way. These instructions were countermanded but did not reach every vehicle, and when the battalion eventually moved off, 10 Platoon of B Company and the whole of A Company were taken part way along the road, were offloaded, and marched to Volos, where we will leave them for the moment.
Colonel Dittmer at the head of the column did not know he had again lost part of his command. In any case he had other worries, for prior to leaving Ay Dhimitrios he had received verbal instructions that 5 Brigade was taking up a delaying position at Almiros to cover the withdrawal of 21 Battalion and the Australians from the Tempe Gorge. This instruction still stood, but his altered route had made it impossible to get to his destination in time.
The main road, packed with Australian convoys, was now doubly congested and there were more hours of waiting while traffic jams were untangled. During one of these halts new orders given by an insufficiently briefed staff officer were to branch off at Pharsala, where a secondary road connected with Almiros. On arrival at Pharsala it was learnt that the road was out of order for a convoy and the battalion continued on to Lamia. From Lamia a road ran east and north along the coast direct to Almiros and the battalion carried on to its original destination. In one respect the Maoris were lucky, for soon after daylight they were on the secondary coast road and enemy planes with nothing to oppose them were bombing the main road without let or hindrance.
The day was advancing when the battalion reached some high country south of Almiros, and Dittmer considered his task could be fulfilled by taking up a position there and getting dug in before dark. However, before anything more than a reconnaissance had been made, instructions were received from General Freyberg to return to Lamia. The rearguard was no longer necessary.
While halting briefly in Lamia the Maoris found to their great surprise that the local fish shops displayed ‘kinas’ for sale. These prickly sea-eggs were smaller than the New Zealand variety, but the Maoris bought the lot and later despatched them with relish.page 69
The last lap of the journey was through the Thermopylae Pass south of Lamia, to the coast at Ayia Trias, north-west of Molos, where the companies dispersed for the night. In the morning the battalion was spread along a four-mile line from Ayia Trias across marshy plains to the Molos road, then west across the foothills south of the Thermopylae road. The troops dug themselves in and the missing platoons arrived in trucks that had been sent for them.
The troops were spurred to dig by the knowledge that the rest of the Division was retiring under pressure towards the Thermopylae line being prepared by 5 Brigade. Further west, the Australians were doing the same thing on the Brallos Pass. Once again it was a position with only two passes across a tank-proof range, but with the inestimable advantage of being a very much shorter line.
The enemy air force, possibly too occupied in harrying the roads further north, did not molest the troops during the day. It was different the next day. Sixth Brigade had won through and was dispersed behind 5 Brigade; it now faced east along the beaches on guard against a possible sea landing from the island of Euboea. Fourth Brigade was further in the rear. Australian units, part of Divisional Cavalry, and 7 Anti-Tank Regiment were fighting a delaying action at Dhomokos. The planes were now free to attend to the troops digging in and proceeded to do so. From dawn to dusk the sky was seldom clear of aircraft bombing and shooting up the roads. There was no RAF to interfere, and it was the luck of the Maori Battalion to survive the day without casualties.
As a matter of record, what planes the RAF had still in action were fighting against odds in the air and were being shot up on the ground near Athens. All the troops knew was that the enemy was in undisputed possession of the skies above them.
They were, however, much cheered by the persistent rumour that Winston Churchill had stated on the BBC that 500 bombers were on their way from England, and at last light there appeared some evidence that the RAF could still hit back. Twenty enemy bombers, flying serenely past, broke formation and scattered. Then one, leaving a curving trail of smoke, fell into the sea and burst into flames. The troops lying hidden in the long marshy grass cheered the lone Hurricane that dived out of a cloud before vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. It was the last friendly plane the Maoris saw in Greece.page 70
At Olympus the battalion had had to move as soon as it had completed its defences and it was the same at Thermopylae, for just as it was adding the final touches orders came to move. Sixth Brigade was coming into the line and 5 Brigade was to move over to its left. The move was partly by march and partly by transport, and by daylight on the 21st the Maoris were in position near the warm sulphur creek that gave the locality its name. On their left 23 Battalion was to link up with the Australians and 6 Brigade was on the other flank. The Maoris were thus in the same area as Leonides and his army had been when he held the pass in 480 BC against Xerxes and his Persians, until a fifth columnist led the enemy by night over the heights by such a track as the Maoris knew on Olympus. In those far-off days the narrowest part of the pass was only 165 feet wide between the precipice and the sea, but earthquakes and deposits from the overflowing Sperkhios River had since then created the marshy plain wherein the troops had hidden for the previous two days. It is now crossed by a road and a railway line.
The battalion was tactically disposed with D Company right, B centre, C left, and A in reserve. B Company found itself digging in near warm springs and named the place Rotorua after its home town. To make it even more homelike there was a sanatorium with bath-houses and all the amenities that go with such an establishment. Unfortunately, the buildings were outside the defensive position, but many movable articles such as bedding went to make the lot of the soldier in the line as comfortable as possible.
The Maoris' task was urgent enough in all conscience with the weight of the victorious German Army bearing down on them, but not sufficiently urgent to prevent a hasty dip in a creek that reminded them so much of home.
Enemy transport could be seen near Lamia and a company of 18 Battalion was sent to help the Maoris prepare for their reception, but the night passed quietly. There was an artillery duel throughout the morning and reconnaissance planes tried to spot the guns, which ceased fire while they were overhead. Occasional shells fell in the battalion area but there was only one Maori casualty—the last in Greece. Staff-Sergeant Warihi32 was wounded when the transport was dive-bombed.
In Athens momentous decisions had been made. On 22 April Colonel Dittmer returned from a brigade conference and called page 71 his commanders together; he told them that the Greek armies in the north, armies that had successfully fought the Italians in Albania, had capitulated to the Germans, and British troops were going to evacuate the country—if they could. Fifth Brigade would leave the line that night on the first stage of its journey to the embarkation port. All moves were to be made by night and the troops would hide up during the day. Each man would carry his personal gear, equipment, and weapons, with 100 rounds per rifle and twelve magazines per Bren. Anything else was to be destroyed by any means other than fire or explosives. In the Maori view it was not much of a way to run a war by sneaking off in the night and being chased from one end of Greece to the other. As for carrying their personal gear, it was mostly lying in the Olympus Pass. They regained a little of their good humour by painting on ration boxes and the like exceedingly rude messages to Hitler.
The battalion was about to move out at dusk towards the road leading to the transport rendezvous when a group of planes made a most determined attack on the road. The attack continued for twenty minutes, but the sole result was that the battalion was delayed by that amount of time.
The column, less the carrier platoon which, with the carriers of 22 Battalion, was detailed to join the Divisional Cavalry and other units as a rearguard for Anzac Corps, did a slow 17 miles on account of congestion to the Konstandinos area, where it halted and dispersed. At first light it was found that Captain Scott, his headquarters, 13 Platoon, and some men of 15 Platoon on 13 Platoon's truck were missing. The instructions were to follow the truck in front, and the truck in front of Captain Scott kept travelling all night. When daybreak disclosed the position Scott decided to hide under the first cover available. It was a lucky decision, for hardly had the transport been parked under a clump of trees when a group of enemy planes came roaring down the road looking for targets. We will leave them there for the time being.
Fifth Brigade was dispersed and the vehicles camouflaged before dawn. The Maoris were bivouacked under olive trees near the village of Ay Konstandinos by the sea, and though planes were overhead most of the day the troops were not molested. The villagers had fled to the hills and the troops, with time on their hands, not unnaturally got into mischief. They found a distillery where quantities of what appeared to be a white wine, but which was in reality immature cognac, were maturing. It page 72 soon became necessary for Colonel Dittmer to issue instructions for the destruction of any of this spirit found in the possession of the troops and to warn them of the consequences if any more of it was sampled. A patrol was given the thankless task of destroying any casks still intact, and the CO, who never did things by halves, made a personal inspection. He found one of his Headquarters staff weaving an unsteady path, and instantly commanded the destruction of a bottle hidden under one arm but was silent about a turkey struggling under the other. For once evasive tactics were adopted by the Maori officers and the CO never knew the havoc wrought by the over-potent brew. It is said that one truck spluttered happily along on the contents of a petrol tin that had had its proper spirit emptied and had been refilled with cognac. The locality was afterwards known in the battalion as Koniac Bay.
Early in the morning (23 April) Major Bertrand and Captain Werohia left the unit to report at Athens, where they were detailed to join the embarkation staff being organised to supervise the evacuation. En route they met Captain Scott, still wondering where he was and where was the rest of the battalion. Major Bertrand was able to advise him that he was on the main road to Athens and that the battalion would probably be passing during the night, whereupon Scott decided to remain under cover until the battalion passed and then rejoin the column. This was successfully accomplished in due course.
As soon as darkness fell the battalion, still without its carrier platoon, joined the convoy of 5 Brigade, Divisional Headquarters, engineers and field ambulances, and the drive of almost 150 miles commenced at 9 p.m. It was to be a non-stop journey along a narrow, winding road, and it had to be completed before dawn disclosed their whereabouts. Instructions were emphatic—nothing was to be allowed to interfere with progress. As the enemy had not employed his aircraft to any extent in the forward areas at night, most of the journey, except at such well-marked places as Thebes and Athens, was done at a good speed with headlights dimmed.
Seen from a rise in the road, the column looked like an endless glow-worm. Some trucks broke down but the unit was fortunate in having six spare trucks under command of the RSM for such a contingency; the halted vehicles were wrecked as much as possible in the time available and, in the hilly country, pushed over the side of the road into ravines while the troops climbed into the spare vehicles. Gaps caused by page 73 these delays were made good by an increase in speed, which in turn caused some concertina-ing at the rear of the column. It was in one of these periods that the trucks carrying the mortar platoon turned off the main road and failed to rejoin the unit.
In the grey, bleak dawn of 24 April the Maoris passed through the outskirts of Athens—an Athens waiting to be occupied by the victorious Germans. Because of a curfew the windows were shuttered and the streets empty, a different reception from the joyous clamour when the battalion had marched from Piraeus a few short weeks earlier. Another 15 miles north-east brought the troops to the shelter of a pine forest near Marathon—a well-named destination. Nobody was more pleased to be there than the drivers, whose skill, power of concentration, and endurance had brought 5 Brigade a little closer to safety.
Many beaches were to be used for embarkation, but the only one that concerns the Maori Battalion was near the fishing village of Porto Rafti, where Major Bertrand was in command. Bombers, twenty at a time, were searching for the troops but found no targets, and while the rest of the Division fought off planes, tanks, infantry, artillery, and the newest German arm—paratroopers—the Maoris occupied themselves with a soldier's occupations when not fighting—eating and sleeping.33
Orders were received in the afternoon for the final move to the beaches and the systematic destruction of vehicles began. Only sufficient for the last short run to the beach were kept and the rest rendered useless by draining the crankcases and running the engines until they seized. It was a heart-rending task for the drivers, for few of the trucks had run more than 2000 miles. The work of destruction was completed by slashing the tyres and smashing what could be smashed with a hammer or screw-wrench.
Neither the carrier platoon, which had left the battalion at Thermopylae, nor the mortar platoon that had gone astray during the night had rejoined the unit, and no information could be obtained regarding their whereabouts.
The final move commenced at 9 p.m., when the troops were debussed and led down to the beach in groups as called for. The transports, on account of the depth of water, were a mile off shore, and besides the ships' boats the embarkation staff had hired two caiques that could shift eighty at a trip, and there was also an MLC that could take 500 at a load.page 74
The operation went smoothly, but when the transports were due to depart at 3 a.m. there were still five hundred, mainly Field Ambulance and Headquarters Company 28 Battalion men, who could not be taken. They were loaded on the MLC and taken to an island about five miles away, where they and their craft hid up. The battalion was taken to the Glengyle, where the men were warmly welcomed by the crew with hot cocoa. They bedded down wherever space could be found and left the rest to the Navy. If they thought of anything it was summed up in the proverb:
He toa taua, he toa pahekeheke,
He toa mahi kai, he toa pumau.34
And perhaps some of them remembered those green lizards on Mount Olympus.
At this point it is necessary to forestall events by a few days and relate the adventures of the various parties of 28 Battalion that did not embark with the main body.
Captain Love and about forty men of Headquarters Company remained on the island until brought back two nights later and safely embarked.
WO I Wood, bringing up the rear of the column with breakdown trucks, soon filled them and lost time repairing others to keep the stranded troops moving. When his party eventually arrived in Athens security was so tight that he could not find the battalion and was directed to the Reinforcement Camp at Voula. It was not until the following day that he was told that Porto Rafti was the embarkation beach for 5 Brigade, and on arrival found that the battalion had gone the previous night. He and his party, including RQMS Burke,35 who had also missed embarkation, reported to an Australian officer who said he was in charge of the zone, and who ‘put us to work by day and assisting embarkation by night. During the day we demolished trucks—set them going, put sand in the oil intake, drained the radiators and revved them up with a stone on the accelerators until they seized. Picks were then put through engine blocks, radiators, petrol tanks and so on.’ This party also was safely embarked and joined the battalion in due course.page 75
Lieutenant G. Bennett and the carrier platoon were detached from the rearguard and sent to the Corinth Canal to provide local protection in company with C Squadron of the Divisional Cavalry and other units. They were overwhelmed by paratroops and forced to disperse. Only a handful escaped to Crete or Egypt.
Lieutenant Rangi and the mortar platoon, after losing the battalion, joined a column being embarked on the Hellas in Piraeus. The Hellas was disabled by a bombing raid and the mortar platoon, some of whom had to swim for it, joined the Reinforcement Company at Voula. The Reinforcement Company, with string tied on its puggarees to distinguish the men from footloose refugees, was ordered to Navplion for embarkation and reached the port safely, only to find the transport it was to board lying burning in the harbour. The column, of which the company was a part, ultimately reached Kalamata on the 27–28 April and the Maoris took shelter in a Greek church. That night, as the thousands of New Zealanders, Australians, British, Greek, Cypriot and Palestinian troops were assembling, the advanced guard of a German force that had crossed the Corinth Canal drove straight through the town to the waterfront. Fighting commenced as odd parties led by British and New Zealand officers cleared the town and captured about one hundred Germans. Besides the organised fighting, odd groups joined in on their own account and Sergeant Horopapera36 was wounded in the party led by Sergeant Hinton,37 who was later awarded the VC for his exploits that night.
Other Maoris who fought with distinction in the short and confused mêleé at Kalamata and who were mentioned in reports by either Major MacDuff,38 OC Reinforcement Camp, or Brigadier Parrington, who commanded at Kalamata, were Privates Mehana39 and Popota.44 Unfortunately, there were no particulars in the reports nor has it been possible to obtain any.page 76
Kalamata was in our hands, but only one destroyer came into the harbour. A few hundred men, mostly wounded, were evacuated, and next morning the force was surrendered to the Germans. Lieutenant Herewini41 describes the last hours of the Reinforcement Company:
We remained on the beach where we could see one of the destroyers quite plainly. Embarkation commenced but was restricted to about 600 sick and wounded. 2 Lt Hokianga42 I understand was given then an opportunity of boarding the last boat but he sent one of his own platoon boys in his place. The latter was apparently a bundle of nerves. Later that night word came down the column that all ranks were to surrender. We all experienced a rather sinking feeling. We thought of escaping to the hills but after a brief conference decided to remain and face the music with our troops. Of the officers, there were Henry K. Ngata, George R. Bennett, Henry Hokianga, Tenga Rangi, Jim Wiremu and myself. Our decision to stay was made in view of the fact that we were uncertain of the fate of the boys were they left to their own devices with the Germans. The NCO's and other ranks were told they could make for the hills if they liked but nearly all chose to stay with us. Standard of morale and discipline was high right up to the time the destroyer departed without us, then for a little while there was a slight wavering but very soon morale was high again as we all adopted the attitude ‘To Hell with the Jerries anyhow.’
At 0530 hrs we became prisoners of war and were herded together like a lot of cattle—it was a pathetic sight. Officers and men felt closer together however and we all felt we were one big family together with our NZ pakeha friends. It wasn't long before Kalamata became known as ‘Calamity Bay’.
Lieutenant McKay43 and a party of unknown strength was detailed in the confused hours before the evacuation of Voula to some duty that eventually ended on crete, but with McKay mortally wounded in action at Maleme further particulars have not been obtainable.page 77
In all, approximately forty Maoris were evacuated to Egypt by various chances—some strays joined Australian or British convoys going direct and some went with 6 New Zealand Brigade.
|Killed in action or died of wounds||10|
|Prisoners of war||83|
|Wounded and p.w.||11|
1We will fight on for ever and ever.
3Capt T. Rangi; born Ohinemutu, 27 Nov 1911; labourer; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.
4Capt L. J. Bell; born Skippers, 27 Jun 1905; grocer's assistant; killed in action 22 May 1941.
5Capt H. W. Leaf, MC; born Whirinaki, 16 OCt 1890; Supervisor, Native Dept, Inspector of Health (Native); Lt, Maori Pioneer Bn, 1914–19 (MC); killed in action 22 May 1941.
8Maj W. Porter, MC and bar; Kaeo; born Taumarere, 23 Aug 1915; taxi driver; twice wounded.
10Maj A. G. Ormond; Wairoa; born NZ 23 Jan 1904; farmer; wounded May 1941.
12Lt J. T. Gilroy; born NZ 8 Mar 1905; clerk.
14Pte V. G. Te H. Ellison; born Dunedin, 19 May 1918; student; wounded 15 Apr 1941.
15S-Sgt H. Y. T. Samuel; Awanui; born NZ 6 Feb 1904; motor driver.
17Capt H. Te O. Reedy; born Whareponga, 16 Aug 1903; sheep-farmer; p.w. May 1941.
182 Lt G. A. Te Kuru; born NZ 22 Sep 1908; civil servant; killed in action 21 May 1941.
19Sgt J. Tainui, MM; born NZ 13 Oct 1917; labourer; killed in action 15 Dec 1941.
20Actually 7, 8, and 9 Companies of 2 Infantry Regiment, 2 Panzer Division.
23Cpl H. P. Taituha; born NZ 4 Jan 1907; Native Land Dept; wounded and p.w. Apr 1941; repatriated 5 Nov 1943.
24Sgt G. R. Harrison, m.i.d.; born Opunake, 23 Jul 1907; auditor; wounded 5 Jul 1942.
25Pte M. Ropata; born Wairoa, 28 Mar 1918; labourer; killed in action 17 Apr 1941.
26Pte R. T. Fowler; born NZ 24 Jun 1918; died of wounds 4 Sep 1942.
28L-Cpl B. Tapuke; born NZ 25 Mar 1917; labourer; killed in action 23 Nov 1941.
30After repatriation it was found that Corporal Wipiti had faithfully obeyed his orders. He had been told to stay until he got word to move and had not heard the verbal messages. In the morning he found the battalion gone. The section was captured a week later while trying to rejoin the unit.
32S-Sgt J. Warihi; born NZ 16 Mar 1905; forestry worker; wounded and p.w. Apr 1941.
33German paratroops landed at the Corinth Canal at dawn on 26 April.
34Slippery are the pathways of fighting men,
Firm are those of the tillers of the soil.
40Pte P. P. Popota; born Pamapuria, 7 Mar 1919; labourer; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.
42Capt H. Hokianga; Porangahau; born Hastings, 3 Aug 1911; farm labourer; p.w. 29 Apr 1941.
43Lt W. H. McKay; born NZ 5 Apr 1907; journalist; died of wounds while p.w. 30 Aug 1941.