Shiny 7 War Diary 1945 - Greece
12 December. Tuesday. Drivers in three parties left Taranto for Pescara by train, Lt Barnes and two Sections stood to, ready to fly to Athens. All money was changed for DMA and a small party was left at Dowler Camp to guard baggage. The strength of the main body on board ‘HMT Banfora’ was 129 all ranks. The 7th officers were:
OC,Major S H A Johnson. 1 Pl Lt A Hobson MC. Capt G E Corry-Palestine
A2i/c Lt W E N Cummings. 2 Pl Lt P D Smart. Lt A L S Bocker-Italy
3 Pl Lt J V Barnes
Field Marshal Alexander was promoted as Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean to succeed Field Marshal Wilson, appointed to head the British Joint Staff Mission in Washington. General Mark Clark became 15 Army Group Commander, and general Truscott Commander of US 5th Army.
The 7th were about to leave Italy expecting to return at a later date for the final offensive which would now have to wait until the weather improved in the spring of 1945.
They had been part of one of the largest international armies ever assembled, consisting of contingents from twenty-six nations, welded into one force by Field Marshal Alexander with one objective the defeat of the German forces. For the record and in no special order they were:
British, American, Canadian, Newzealand, Indian, Sinhalese, South African, Swazi, Newfoundland, Bechuana, Seychellois, Mauritian, Rodrinez Islanders, Carribean, Basuto, Nepalese, Cypriot, French, Belgium, Syro Lebanese, Greek, Jewish, Polish, Yugoslav and Italian.
The background to the situation in Greece was briefly that from 1939 Greece had declared her support for Britain, and steadfastly remained our Ally through thick and thin when other countries gave us up for lost. The Italians invaded Greece from Albania in October 1940 and a small force of ‘Blenheim’ bombers with a number of specialist troops was sent to the aid of the Greeks. The first troops to land in Greece in strength went at the request of the Greek Government to meet a German invasion and two Divisions and an armoured brigade began to land on 7th March 1941. The Germans launched their attack on April 6th, using paratroopers in strength sweeping the British forces out of Greece, and then Crete by May 31st. This was done in spite of the fact that the force commander knew the exact plan of the airborne attack on Crete. It has been said that due to this defence of Greek territory the attack on Russia was delayed. One definite fact was that it dissuaded the Germans from launching any further airborne attacks in strength, due to their losses in men and equipment, probably saving Malta.
From the time of the German invasion until they withdrew in 1944, Greek guerrillas (Andartes) bands harassed the German forces supported by British liaison officers who were given small amounts of gold to distribute, the only acceptable currency. The two main bands were the EDES and ELAS. The EAM/ELAS were both controlled by the KKE. (Greek Communist Party) It was known that the EDES and the ELAS might cause problems in particular ELAS, but Britain supported anyone who would fight the common foe, and could not pick and choose. It was thought by the authorities in Cairo that all the guerrilla bands would unite under Zervas the leader of EDES. He had been offered the command of all ELAS forces by EKE but refused to accept, as he would not take orders from the Communist Party i.e. KKE who deployed bands in the mountains to gain control of the local population, but not to have wasteful encounters with the Germans. They would only attack targets suited to their purpose, and not those selected by the MEF HQ in Cairo. HQ were constantly advised by the officer in charge on the spot in Greece, but his messages were not deciphered or even read supposedly due to lack of Cipher clerks. Added to this was the conflict of interest due to both MEF HQ and London issuing instructions. This made for a first class ‘Shambolic Lash Up’ costing many people dear. The first taste of this came October 1943 when ELAS instead of attacking Germans, turned on EDES destroying many small bands. The Italian Pinerlo Division who wanted to fight the Germans were told to split into small parties, and make for the mountains by the EMA, only to find ELAS waiting to disarm them, and then herd them into concentration camps where they were starved and used as slave labour by their captors.
In September 1944 the German force of 150,000 began to withdraw from Greece and a small British force was sent to Greece to hasten their withdrawal in Operation ‘Manna’. Lt General Scobie, RE was the GOC. He was a commander with an outstanding record as a front line siege commander in Tobruk and Malta. His directive was to secure Athens and its airfield, and then maintain law and order, establish a Greek Government in Athens and make possible the distribution of relief supplies. A secondary task was to effect the surrender of the German forces. The force began to land in Greece during September 1944. One of the items issued to the troops before they sailed was a ‘Blue Book’ which gave the background details of the country, people, their customs and characteristics. They were given a rapturous welcome at points where they landed. ELAS had not at that time completed their movement from the mountains. At this time high level conferences were taking place. The Prime Minister and Stalin with full accord of President Roosevelt agreed spheres of influence in the area and division in Greece was ‘others 90%, Russians 10%.’ At about this time a party of Russians parachuted on to ELAS HQs to assess the fighting potential of the ELAS, and reported back that they were nothing more than a rabble of armed men. Lt General Scobie and the C-in-C CMF General Wilson met the leaders of EDES and ELAS and thrashed out a written agreement regarding the areas of the country in which EDES and ELAS would operate, and they would act under the orders of Lt General Scobie. He ordered them to eliminate the German forces, and prevent them from destroying ports and communications. Collaborators must be brought before the courts and not punished summarily by the ‘Andarte’. British officers in Greece were amazed to see the Germans moving in one direction and ELAS in the opposite direction. A deal had been made by ELAS with the Germans-‘In exchange for weapons ELAS would leave the Germans unmolested’. Either a totally wrong or no briefing was given to unit commanders about the situation, and the well-known motives and methods used by ELAS. To give the political scene one last twist the Germans set up Greek Security Battalions, considered collaborators by the ‘Andarte’. The Germans did their best to stir up the situation, a number of Greek communists escaped from goal and others were released by the Germans. In addition the Germans carried out atrocities which have never received the full glare of world publicity they deserve. Whole communities were destroyed irrespective of age and some groups were locked up in cellars and burned. ELAS no longer tried to disguise their ultimate objective ‘To gain control of Greece at all costs’. Anyone who stood in the way including the British would be destroyed even if in the end only 25% of the population remained alive.
The situation gradually deteriorated. For reasons best known to them the vast majority of American, and some of the British press misreported, misrepresented, and either deliberately or misunderstood the situation. The Americans having agreed to the action sat back allowing the British to ‘Carry the Can’ in the traditional manner. Those Americans on the spot reckoned they were neutral! It appeared that the only people who wanted the truth known were the British forces in Greece.
On December 3rd strikes were called in the main cities and ELAS refused to demobilise, gathering their forces at key points. On December 11th a National Guard was embodied with the sole purpose of maintaining law and order. ELAS were busy getting rid of those who disagreed with them. Shooting started the British force was forced to take up arms against the rebels, and some outlying detachments were attacked. The distribution of supplies to the population was disrupted.
The first troops in any numbers to land were two Bns of 4 Indian DIV who hurried ashore at Salonika to take up defensive positions before a convoy of Russians reached Salonika. Their vehicles were throwing up dust clouds enroute from the mountains as the British troops went ashore. The two commanders British and Russian met, acknowledged one another, and then the Russians climbed aboard their vehicles and drove off into the mountains. No information had been given to the British forces to look out for Russians. This appeared to be the first meeting of the East - West, Allied ground forces in WW2.
Lt A Hobson MC, OC 1 Platoon
photo with kind permission of Peter Hobson
Photo with kind permission of Peter Hobson
This was the only campaign fought by the Allied forces in the West from 1940 when the Commander did not have the full order of battle, plan, etc. of the enemy. The boot was on the other foot. ELAS manned all the telephone centres, and had people planted at key points in the British HQs passing back vital information.
This then was the situation in which the 7th were to be involved and officially designated a Battle Honour. ‘Greece 1944-45’. Seral 828. Separate Action Athens 2nd December1944/15TH January 1945.
Field Marshal Alexander arrived in Athens on December 11th doing the ‘Mad Mile’ from Kalamaki, through the streets of Athens after dark to Lt-General Scobie’s HQ in an armoured command vehicle a ‘Staghound’ seated in the loader’s seat, with the gun jammed, no lights, and the turret lid down-the light switch could not be found by the scratch crew of two. Normally there were five people in the ‘Staghound’. Mr Harold Macmillan travelling in the second ‘Staghound’ drew the fire, shots hitting the outside.
Field Marshal Alexander was at home with the beleaguered Garrison. His summing up was, the seaport could not be used due to enemy action, the airport could only be reached by armoured vehicles and /or tanks, the garrison was outnumbered with only six days rations and three days ammunition, and that it would take s weeks to put the situation right. Nearly all of Athens and Piraeus was in enemy hands. The enemy had mounted guns around the city shelling the HQ, and ELAS trained by the Germans in street fighting were making their presence felt.
Lt General Hawkesworth GOC X Corps in Italy was ordered to take command of the ground forces under the overall command of Lt General Scobie. It was hoped that the scales would be tipped by the strength of the 4th Division. Supplies would have to be landed over open beaches at Phaleron.
The order of battle as the Shiny 7th joined the fray with 4 DIV was:
Corps III and X Corps HQ Divisions 4 and 4 Indian
Brigades 139 Infantry, 23 Armoured 2 Para., 3 Greek Mountain (Rimini)
Regiments KDG., RSR., LRDG., SBS. 2., 9., 40 Royal Marine
2902 Fd Sn RAF
12 December. Just before midnight on 11th December, Lt Barnes and his two sections were briefed and he was to prepare a list of demolition equipment, to be issued on arrival at Kalamaki aerodrome which was surrounded and likely to be under fire. The 7th War Diary appears incorrect, giving the landing date as 13 December an understandable error in the circumstances. Reveille was very early, the party were flown to Greece in one of 70 ‘Liberator’ bombers of the Balkan Air Force landing at Kalamaki airfield. As they landed 2/4 Hants took up defensive positions around the airfield to defend it in case of attack. 2 Kings regrouped on the airfield and were sent into Athens after dark. 28 Bde HQ came under fire as they landed. Sections were given a truck and taken to a house in Faliron posting sentries ready to defend the building. ELAS were known to be making their main effort on 12 December, and were expected to attack the airfield, 4 DIV Tac HQ & 28 Bde HQ were threatened, all ranks prepared to defend their HQs and Major-General Ward GOC 4 DIV went out on a fighting patrol. The immediate enemy in Athens were the Athenian Army Corps, they had not been in action against the Germans. Their plan was to isolate all strong points. Cut all communications capture all police stations. Destroy the police and newly formed National Guard, and then to concentrate on any strong points holding out, this final phase was now in process. This ELAS Corps numbered 11,000 plus artillery and admin troops. Press gangs roamed the streets and buildings keeping the strength of each Brigade at about 2000.
13 December. Wednesday. As soon as the ‘HMT Banfora’ sailed at 1700 hrs with the main body of the 7th, 2 SLI and other troops, apparently the junior officers and senior other ranks decided to make the most of what they had thoughtfully brought on board and settled down in a cabin for a once and for all binge to quell any feelings of sea sickness and to land in style come what may.
The ship set a course for Greece where, as the 7th Company Royal Sappers and Miners served for six years 1842-1848 on the island of Corfu off the west coast of Greece-‘7’ were no strangers to this mountainous rocky country, of mountain barriers and poor communications.
On land Lt Barnes and his party had collected their essential baggage flown in by 9 Dakotas, and were hard at work constructing ‘Silent Sentries’. He now takes up he story with hand written notes (and copied) although written some thirty three years later, places, times and the work are very accurate compared with the 7th War Diary and 2 Kings & 2/4 Hants Regimental History’s.
Notes on the British Campaign in Greece 1944-45
By J V Barnes Lt RE. 7 Field Company RE.
Although I did not keep a diary at the time, the events of December 1944, and January 1945 are still very clear in my mind some thirty-three years afterwards, and I am writing them down to record some of the incidents that occurred before, and after the battles against ELAS forces.
In early December 1944 the 7 Field Company were under canvas near Taranto engaged in handing over vehicles, and equipment to 5th British Infantry Division preparatory to moving to Palestine, for rest and training before our anticipated return to Italy in the spring 1945 to finish off the Italian Campaign. We were then warned to be prepared to move to Greece, and the handing over process was put in reverse. For the first time in my experience a question was put after briefing the party of two Sections. The question was:
“Why are we being sent to Greece to fight Greek working-men?” The answer was that like them I had no first- hand information on what was happening, but Field Marshal Alexander had never given us ‘Duff’ orders, and as far as I am concerned I would go there and accept his orders. This appeared to leave the question unsettled, but the reply was accepted.
I was ordered to take two Sections, and be prepared to fly to Athens the next morning, taking off about 0900 hrs from an aerodrome near Taranto. I was to make a list of demolition equipment which ordnance would have delivered to me in Athens. That the ignitors and explosive would actually appear in what were obviously rather difficult circumstances on the other side of the Adriatic was doubtful. The remainder of the Company and the Division would go by sea. My party were flying out as the engineer support for the two leading battalions of 28 Bde, 2 Kings & 2/4 Hants. I remember that at about 0200 hrs I was awakened, a torch was shining in my face, and I was given a signal to read to the effect that all troops landing by air in Greece had to be prepared to fight their way off the airfield. Reveille was I think at 0430 hrs, and I felt that it was rather unsporting of those higher up to spoil my sleep just to tell me something that would have been plain on arrival there. My party reached the aerodrome near Taranto to find some twenty to thirty, possibly more ‘Liberator’ bombers marshalled around the airfield to take my party and one battalion of infantry and other elements to Athens. As some planes took off others landed so that there was an atmosphere of purposeful activity. I felt that I was rather fortunate to be given a bomb-aimer’s place in the nose of the ‘Liberator’ as my as my flight position, it was certainly a most comfortable place with padded cushions to lie on. The flight was uneventful apart from a diversion or two to fly around storm clouds rather than through them. Our route was along the Gulf of Corinth, with a sharp turn as we approached the mountains on the landward side of Kalamaki Aerodrome, (also called Hasani) our pilot landed us safely and rapidly. A truck was waiting to transport the Sapper party to Faliron where we were billeted in a house, previously occupied by German troops as either an officer’s or Sergeants mess to judge by the murals of naked women which formed the most noticeable feature of the decorations. We were told there were be food for us in a neighbouring cook-house at 1730 hrs. The reception had been much better than expected, but when we arrived for food we found we had lost an hour in flight, and the local time was 1830 hour. However the cooks produced something after all, and we settled into our billet without much discomfort. The orders received were, when not operational to stick to the immediate area, post sentries, and be prepared to defend the locality. We had a sentry post on the flat roof of the billet.
The next morning after landing, we took over a brand new 15cwt truck, and later I was surprised to say the least to have handed over to me the complete demolition stores list I had requested at Taranto. This unexpected outcome gave me a very much increased confidence in the efficiency of army logistics. We set to work constructing ‘Silent Sentries’ which were alarm lights from Verey-light cartridges embedded in sand inside cigarette tins to be activated by trip wires connected to a pull-ignitor, safety fuse, detonator and primacord.
The immediate task was given to us was to secure the seaward side of a POW cage between the road, and the sea near Glyfada. Beyond the perimeter wire fence was a German minefield of Tellermines with A/PM added on the edges. The Sappers started clearing a path through the mine field with a prodding drill, mine detectors not really being the favourite equipment since we seldom used them in Italy, due to wooden mines used there. We preferred to use our eyes, and hands to cope with the sporadic minefields encountered so far. As time went on I could see that we would have to speed up to get the job done before dark, and started to spot probable mine positions from the regular pattern in the field. The path to be used by the guards was meanwhile being fenced off with angle iron pickets, and barbed wire. We were being watched by a rather ragged crowd of ELAS POWs who were awaiting transport to the Middle East. One of the Sappers found a booby trapped Tellermine which was neutralised. I decided that having established the pattern of the minefield to set out the line of the track avoiding the known mine positions, but checking that no A/PM had been left undiscovered. By this method the track was completed by dusk. All the same the track had a curious zig-zag mine free shape, and ELAS discouragement from further escape was assured.
Next came the discovery by the party of the true situation in Greece. From contacts with the local population we had heard stories about ELAS behaviour, and overnight any thought that our presence in Greece might not be in the best interests of democracy were gone for good. In fact when one afternoon there was a report of an imminent ELAS attack on our billet area, the sappers wanted to go on a fighting patrol to put paid to the ‘baskets’ this was not permitted due to operational orders but from that time onwards there was not the slightest hesitation regarding action against ELAS.
Rations were hard tack, and twenty-four hour packs not always one per man per day. The weather was cold but bright. Later on in the month the clouds became quite stormy and the temperature fell.
This is the extent of the notes written by Lt Barnes
14 December Thursday. Lt General Hawkesworth arrived setting up his HQ at Faliron known as MCA HQ. ELAS kept up the pressure, but they were held in Piraius-Faliron area by a mixed force under command of 4 DIV.
15 December. ‘MHT Banfore’ anchored in Salamis Bay and the 7th were ferried ashore at 2200 hrs by landing craft to open beaches in the bridgehead held by 28 Bde. They formed up on the shore and marched off to billets in Faliron quickly learning that ELAS had no particular dress save to look like British and Greek troops using the blue and white brassard’s of the National Guard and the Red Cross for which they had no respect whatsoever. Everyone male and female were suspect. Girls are girls the world over and were being used by the ELAS to lure the unsuspecting into capture, and then gouging their eyes out and castrating them. The eyes of the enemy were a trophy of war for the females fighting with ELAS, and they had small tins in which they kept the eyes of their victims. In all respects this was a dirty war with anything going for the enemy as long as the immediate objective was achieved.
It was learned that the Greeks called Lt-General Scobie ‘Scompo’ and that the wine was resinated in many parts of Greece giving the wine a turpentine flavour, they found that the local spirits called Ouzo, Rahki and Mastikha looked harmless, but was very potent.
16 December. Recce parties covered a wide area searching fo engineer stores. A stock of barbed wire was found and brought into Coy HQ. MT was in very short supply, only four vehicles were issued for the whole unit.
The Shiny 7 was employed throughout the period of fighting in support of 28 Bde and ‘Hunterforce’ ordered in the first place by Lt General Hawkesworth as an armoured column to relieve beleaguered garrisons in the area, and later to open up roads out of Athens denying their use by ELAS.
Lt Barnes party prepared to support an attack by 2 SLI which was postponed for 24 hours. The objective was high ground at Lofos Sikelias (Rouf Barracks) west of the Athens road. This was the Divisions’s opening move to secure the route to GHQ in the Centre of Athens- the objective was easily taken and then securely held.
18 December. 1 Pl supported an attack by 2/4 Hants on the Athens brewery a strong point about 3 miles along Singros Avenue which ran in a straight line from 4 DIV bridgehead to the centre of Athens. The attack was made early in the morning. ELAS made no move and were dispersed in the buildings around the brewery. A tank blew down one of the gable walls, the pole charges were used to blow in the main doors, and after a fight 2/4 Hants cleared the whole area taking 30 ELAS prisoners. 1 Pl cleared road blocks south of the brewery, and generally supported the attack. Infantry in another area were given orders that they must not damage any buildings not even mark them, as they were in a ‘Red Light’ district- this was odd!
Three landing stages were constructed, and completed the next day.
At midday Captain Corry arrived from Palestine with his party. Lt Smart and a Section came under command of ‘Hunterforce’ assembling at the HQ of KDG at Kalamaki and commanded by Major Wise RTR, 23RD Armoured Bde. The force was to go to the relief of the RAF AFHG at Kifissia some 14 miles north of Athens, ammunition and food were running out and ELAS were making continuous attacks. The first shells hit the cypher section all but destroying communications. Lt General Scobie had asked the RAF Commander if he thought the garrison numbering over 700 should be withdrawn but the RAF Commander felt they would be all right. ELAS proceeded to over-run the Garrison taking a large number of prisoners who were split into small parties, and sent marching northwards to suffer severe treatment, on a march of 700 miles crossing mountain ranges in the depth of winter, with few clothes on a starvation diet. ‘Hunterforce’ were too late, they inflicted considerable casualties on the enemy, and rescued 100 of the Garrison 20 of whom were wounded. In addition a large amount of abandoned equipment was destroyed. It was the first time in the history of the RAF that an entire AFHQ had been captured.
The Prime Minister wrote a minute on January 2nd 1945 to the Chief of Air Staff regarding the surrender of 700 airmen at Kifissia- Field Marshal Alexander had been asked to make a searching enquiry. He, the PM, wanted to know about their training, had they fired a rifle? and what weapons were they armed with?
For the next few days the 7th was busy working in the dock area of Piraius on the roads, making barricades, manning road blocks, wiring off the Corps maintenance area, building huts at Kalamaki airfield, salvaging materials, repairing culverts on the main Faliron-Athens road, and in their spare time making over 1000 ‘Silent Sentries’ for distribution to 28 Bde. A method of construction was devised to make the ‘Silent Sentries’ waterproof against rain and snow. Vehicles began to arrive from Italy easing movement and extending the area of activity. A party from 1 Pl went to a dump for suitable material to do a roofing job on a house being converted to a store by 18 Fd Pk. After casually driving around the dump Cpl C Beck decided on suitable material when, a sentry behind a wall called to him to say that: “Snipers in high buildings outside the store dump did not like people walking about in full view”. The sappers leapt on board their vehicle, and as if ordered the vehicle began to move and then accelerate out of the sniper’s view. The party then drove around stopping momentarily for material to be thrown on board, and kept doing this until they had a full load. This gave the sentry a chance to locate the sniper and Cpl Beck got his stores.
24 December. Lt General Scobie decreed that Christmas should be postponed until a later date. A half day off was granted to the 7th if not on guard and/or other urgent duties making ‘Silent Sentries’ for example. They needed to be quick on the trigger as the ELAS came in with determined attacks on many positions expecting the troops to be off guard. They were thrown back at all points losing a number of men. On Christmas Eve the PM and Sir Anthony Eden, flew into Kalamaki in a ‘Skymaster’ as gun flashes lit the area around the airfield. About three hours later they left the aircraft to meet Field Marshal Alexander and then went aboard ‘HMS Ajax’. By this time Christmas day had dawned and the Ship’s Funny Party were dressed up in fancy dress clothes- a Naval tradition at Christmas. Through the hours of darkness depth charges exploded in the sea around the ‘Ajax’ to prevent any attempt at an underwater attack. On board the Funny Party went with a swing the more so as the party had not been warned about the visitors. When Archbishop Damaskinos in his flowing robes and tall black hat came on board he was greeted by a sailor disguised as a girl swooning in front of him. He was led away in amazement to meet Winston Churchill by the ship’s Captain doing his best to explain that it was Christmas.
26 December. Tuesday. The 7th built huts at Kalamaki airfield on a relief system, and those not working were put through an exacting course in the use of and firing a PIAT. 2 Pl began to clear mines on a difficult shoreline location chosen as a Maintenance dump for III Corps, There were other places just as suitable and less hazardous, but this was the chosen place.
The PM went to Lt General Scobie’s HQ and as he left ‘Ajax’ the ELAS dropped some shells near the ship, and as he inspected the guard outside the HQ, a back-firing motor cycle caused a stir. Then in the dim lights of hurricane lamps on the table in an unheated room all parties in the Civil War came together to thrash out a political agreement. The Greek parties were left in conference, it was for them to sort the matter out. True to form ELAS tried to bring pressure to bear, reinforcing the Athens area and bringing every gun they could muster to shell the area. The RA had circles drawn on their maps where they must not fire a shell, and not even one round at any target before being granted permission by III Corps HQ. 2 SLI had to endure a number of hours shelling and by the time counter fire was ok’d it was too dark to see the target.
28 December. All of the Greek parties agreed that Archbishop Damaskinos should become Regent and later King George of Greece issued a statement confirming the appointment. ELAS days were numbered as they were unable to prevent desertions from their ranks even after executing culprits in public. They took explosives into the sewers in an attempt to blow up a hotel housing the American reporters. These same reporters appeared to hope certainly saying as much, that there would not be a settlement. Their observers permitted the ELAS to use a building housing them with an American flag on it, proclaiming neutrality, protesting when paratroops shot at snipers out of the windows. The most senior USA representative was very pleased to accept rations delivered by vehicles obliged to do the ‘mad mile’, at the same time refusing British troops permission to draw water from the well in the garden of the property he was occupying.
Intelligence officers were warned that females were being used to bring grenades through the lines in their knickers - one I.O. informed his CO “not to worry we will always find them there, but we might miss one or two in their hand bags”! Each day the curfew was lifted for two hours and people took to the streets to shop etc. ELAS took off their arm bands, had a good look around and often moved into and occupied properties already cleared.
29 December. 2 Pl worked on the shoreline minefield - Lt Cummings 3 Pl prepared with one Section to support an attack by 2 Kings, and Lt Hobson MC, and a Section of 1 Pl were in support of a ‘Hunterforce’ operation designed to stop supplies being brought into Vari after being landed on the coast from Caique and then dispatched to an ELAS stronghold at Koropi. Lt Hobson MC carried out a recce of the route to be used in an aircraft. Three small craters were noted near kitsi otherwise no road blocks were seen, and the aircraft kept its distance from small arms fire. In the afternoon the sapper party in two ‘white’ cars under command of ‘A’ Sqn KDG went to Vari - two troops made their way via cross country tracks to Koropi. The sappers and other troops moved on the main road to Koropi. Only one of the craters spotted on the recce needed filling the other two having been filled by Lt Smart’s party on the run to Kifissia. Three road blocks were encountered built by Lt Smart’s party on the run to Kifissia. Three road blocks were encountered built by large stones to a height of 4’ 6” and in one case supplemented by 90lb rails embedded in concrete. The three road blocks were sown with Tellermines and an improvised mine. In all 42 mines were lifted, a number from the rubble of the craters. After a KDG vehicle was blown up. (luckily no one was badly hurt) a small party advanced in open order across a field to a small building with every intention of ‘Doing’ any Greeks who might be found. However, the building was empty which was probably as well for everyone. No supplies were found at Koropi. The next morning ‘B’ Sqn KDG raided Koropi but returned empty handed apart from a wounded ELAS officer who was holed up in a cave. The KDG had lost a number of cars, with nothing to show for their efforts, which caused them some concern, at the same time making them more determined than ever.
30 December. The 7th continued to do a variety of jobs - the transport situation improved as more unit vehicles arrived from Italy. The beachhead, aerodrome, strong points on the ‘mad mile’, and the centre of Athens were all securely held improving the general situation. The British forces gathered their strength ready to strike and drive ELAS from the Southern area of Athens.
31 December. Sunday. A ‘Hunterforce’ operation was in process to hold the enemy in 10 Bde’s area and open up a road for armoured cars and SP guns, was called off after about half the work had been successfully completed, due to a more urgent task.
The second operation was hurriedly organised on a larger scale than the Kifissia rescue on December 19th.
The Garrison at Pallini radio station ten miles east of Athens, the only direct link between Greece and London was under siege. Pallini was the centre of ELAS held territory. ELAS first cut the power supply to prevent transmission, and then attacked, but were repulsed by the Garrison of 120 men and withdrew at day light. (31 December)
50 RTR suffered some casualties in the fighting. The Garrison could serve no useful purpose and it was decided to pull them out. Time was a critical factor, the operation would have to be completed in the remaining six hours of daylight. This was the first attempt to break-out of Athens, and it was essential to hold the route open for the return run. All vehicles were armoured and a third empty. Lt Colonel M J Lindsey, DSO, CO of the KDG was in command of the force made up by:
B Squadron ) A Squadron 40 RTR (Sherman tanks)
D Squadron Two Troops) KDG B Squadron 11KRRC (White Cars& Carriers)
Battery Two Troops) One Section 7 Fd Coy RE (White Cars)
The front, and flanks of the column were covered by two ‘Spitfires’ giving close support raking ELAS positions with fire. Communications ground to air was next to useless. Later VHF radios from the RAF were installed in Command Vehicles so that the Commander could speak direct to the air, lessons from years of war had to be relearned about close air support. Progress was slow. It took almost two hours to cover half of the journey due to a road block defended in company strength with rifles and MGs. It was not possible for the sappers to place charges to blow a way through the large boulders and mines until the ELAS were silenced long enough to do the job. A KDG Troop worked across country outflanking the ELAS position subjecting them to a blasting with ‘Spitfires’ joining in forcing them to withdraw.
At the radio station, the Commander placed elements around the perimeter to fight off any ELAS whilst the empty armoured transport evacuated the Garrison in batches escorting them back to Athens. The force left the radio station loaded with rations dropped from the air for the Garrison who were supplied in this way. The last elements withdrew in the dark to Athens, and were unopposed.
The operation was a success and the part played by the 7th is detailed in the report by Lt Barnes.
A bomb drop photo from a B-17 flying fortress AAF serial number 42-31836 (named "Pig Chaser") in the 463rd Bombardment Group on September 15th,1944 over the Kalamaki Airfield. At that time it was being used by the German Luftwaffe to evacuate their troops from Greece with Ju-52 transport planes
Following the withdrawal of German forces from Greece. Resistance guerrilla groups not allied with the government were ordered to disarm. Some factions including the communists refused and protested.
Unarmed protesters of EAM lying dead or wounded on 3 December 1944 in front of the Greek Parliament, while others are running for their lives; moments after the first shootings that left at least 28 dead and signalled the beginning of the "Dekemvriana" events. (December events) Its not clear who opened fire first, protesters or the police, but it started the Greek Civil War in December 1945
An order of Gen.Scobie signed and printed on the government's newspaper "? (December 6), enforcing the goverment's ultimatum (December 1) for the immediate disarmament of all guerilla forces not allied to the government
RE Aspect of Hunterforce Operation - 31 December 1944
TASK 1 In support of 10 Brigade
Composite of Force
1 Troop, ) 1 Section. 7 Fd Coy RE
1 Half Troop, (2 SP Guns) 1 Pl LRDG
Advance northwards from road junction 393393 to contain enemy in the area of 10 Bde operations and open road for Armoured Cars and SP Guns.
Rough stone barrier at 394402 was reached at 0815 hrs. Protection was provided by the deployment of KDG Troop. Block was cleared by half Section of sappers who started removing stones by hand, and then directed civilians who had been turned out by the KDG to assist. Remaining half Section swept road 50 yards either side of block, no mines were found. Barrier was cleared in 15 minutes. Sweeping took 20 mins, not including time for setting up detectors which was 5 mins. See sketch.
Advance continued to 389404. The bridge had been blown but the demolition was not completely effective in destroying it, sketch shows damage. A ditch had been dug across the road over arch and it was decided to ramp down lips of the ditch, spoil being replaced to make up the level of the crossing. The gap was almost about 15’ across and 4’ deep. The near lip was ramped down with GC necklace to loosen road metal and shift spoil. This was a successful process and saved ½ hour hand work. Civilians were again working with pick and shovel. The road and ditch were swept, no mines were found. A diversion for wheels was found by KDG and the far exit of track was swept. Limits of sweeping are shown on sketch.
The force was then recalled for a different operation. Work was 50% complete at this point and had taken 30 minutes.
Task II In support of B Squadron KDG
Composition of Force
B Squadron ) A Squadron 40 RTR
D Squadron Two Troops ) KDG B Company 11 KRRC
Battery Two Troops ) One Section 7 Fd Coy RE
Relief of 50 RTR detachment manning W/T station at PALLINI involving opening of road. The operation was hurriedly organised. Due to the hours of daylight available time was an essential factor.
Column started from Athens 399451 at 1245 hrs. First barricade 417463 rock wall 3’x3’ was dismantled by half Section, swept the road. No mines were found. Advance continued to 444478, there were two road blocks here 100 yards apart. The first as made of tree branches and trunks, the second was a stone wall 4’ 6”x 4’ which completely blocked the road. A diversion to the south was found by KDG to be mined. This was swept, but the American detectors were found to react strongly to broken tiles which were scattered about the track. These tiles had a dark purple tint. The entrance to the diversion was prodded and 3 Tm 42 were found. As it was not possible to check the track with certainty, an alternative way off the road was made by filling in the ditch and cutting away through the bank on the south side of the road near the mined track. This ramp was used to send round a Troop supported by on tank on the right flank across country.
A tree block was removed by Sprs by hand after the tank dragged the first tree clear. A lane was swept through this barrier and the Section proceeded to the stone block covered by two tanks. Stones were then removed from the wall so that either the gap could be made by hand or, if this did not prove practicable, gap could be blown. This work was on the nearside of the block, after about three minutes work several bursts of MG was fired at the block from straight down the road. Fire was returned by the RE Section with rifles and TMGs. The tanks were asked to give supporting fire and ‘Ammonal’ was brought up to blow the gap. The ammonal was placed as shown on the sketch and the Section then took cover under the tanks. A gap was blown 10’ wide, and was suitable for wheels without further work. The road was swept for 50 yards on the far side of the block and to the far exit of the diversion track. One Tm 42 was found in this track.
Advance continued to 477476 where a road block was encountered. This was an S-Bend block shown in sketch and was partially knocked down by a tank. A minefield was found by KDG 150 yds beyond this block. Ten Tm 42 were lifted by the KDG who handed them over to the RE for disposal.
No further blocks or mines were found on the road to Pallini, but the road surface, eastwards of 482475 deteriorates and becomes very potholed, water-bound macadam 18’ wide. Up to this point the surface had been 2-way Cl 70 tarmac. Bridges at 447479 and 496470 were both undamaged, no indication of demolition charges could be found. The road in the rear of the column was patrolled by 2,4,5 Troops KDG who prevented erection of further blocks and laying mines.
Lt R V Barnes RE
1ST January 1945
01 January. Monday. There was no time for ‘Hogmanay’ celebrations - two new tasks were commenced. The largest was wiring the perimeter of Kalamaki aerodrome. Latrines were built for the FGCM Holding Centre. CSM Joiner of 2 SLI was attached to train a demonstration Section in local defence weapon training.
02 January. Lt Barnes recced road bridges south of Katispodhi in preparation for a concerted effort by 4 DIV and other formations to drive ELAS out of Athens into the open and end hostilities. 2/4 Hants opened the attack at 2200 hrs westwards from Goudhi Barracks supported by 2 Pl.
03 January. 2 Kings passed through 2/4 Hants at Midday maintaining the pressure in what was a hard fight. 2 SLI began to clear the streets in the area - 2 Pl acting independently of the infantry, clearing road blocks at the entrance to the streets leading off the main road picking up a number of mines whilst ELAS harassed them with sniper fire. The war diary recorded that there was no serious RE work done! Serious enough as mine lifting always is with the enemy around taking the odd shot. The main axis Leoforos - Kifissia was opened and 20/30 mines were lifted plus a number of road blocks cleared.
Kalamaki Airfield known as Ellinkon International Airport by the Greeks and Ellinkon Airbase
The airfield was built in 1938 with a 1800m runway. After the Nazi invasion of April 1941 it was used as a Luftwaffe air base.
During the occupation the airfield was attacked at least 12 times by USAF and RAF bombers and fighters.
After the end of World War II, the Greek government allowed the United States to use the airport from 1945.
Now known as Hassani Airport, it was used by the United States Army Air Forces from 1 October 1945 as a base of operations for Air Transport Command flights between Rome, Italy and points in the Middle East.
In 1956 when the airport was turned over to the Greek civil aviation authorities.
The airport was renamed Athenai International Airport and the USAF used only a small part of the airport for military cargo use and diplomatic air traffic.
The 7206th Air Base Group remained the primary USAF unit at the airport, along with the 6916th Security squadron providing electronic aerial surveillance of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
To accomodate traffic growth, however, the main runway was extended to 3,500 meters in 1958 - the year jet aircraft were introduced.
On 25 February 1976 the American part of the airfield was renamed Hellenikon Air Base and provided administrative and logistical support to U.S. units and organizations in Greece, the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean and parts of Africa.
With the end of the Cold War, it was agreed to end the USAF presence at the airport and the United States closed its facilities in 1993.
A new airfield was ordered to be built in the late 1990s. It opened on 29 March 2001 and Ellinikos closed as an international airfield that same year.
After its closure as an international airfield, the northwest side of the airfield was redeveloped for the 2004 summer Olympics.
The runways were converted into a sports park for field hockey, baseball and softball. One of the hangars was converted for fencing venues and for indoor basketball arenas.
The Athens radar center is still located at the airfield and there is a fair chance the remainder of the runways will be reused for general aviation.
06 January. Official notice was given that Athens was cleared and the population called it ‘Second Liberation’.
2 Pl returned to HQ at 2000 hrs - 28 Bde had gained their objectives. 3 Pl prepared to support KDG in aforce known as ‘Thebes Force’ with the objective “To drive ELAS off the roads cutting their communications.” The force was under the direct command of MCA HQ. To ensure adequate wireless communication three different types of set were used to overcome the difficult weather conditions and mountainous country.
At 0600 hrs the self-contained ‘Thebes Force’ of 350 vehicles, equipped to remain on operations for a week if necessary, rolled off on its journey. The units were:
Armd Car Regt KDG COY RASC
‘A’ Squadron 40 RTR Workshops REME
Bn Motorised Inf 2 Beds & Herts Recovery Detachment REME
Two Pls RE 3 Pl 7 Fd Coy One Section Lt Fd Amb RAMC
Pl 225 Fd Coy
Vehicles included a Bulldozer and 250 Gallon Water Trucks.
The route was Athens - Coastal Plain to Elevsis - across the mountain range Kithairon then down to the plain of Thebes. The first hold-up was a blow on a causeway between the sea, and marsh on the bay of Elevsis. This was covered by mortar and small arms fire from the hills overlooking the road. Armoured cars made a detour clearing the ELAS and taking eight prisoners. ELAS were found in two small towns and chased into the hills. Sweeps were made in Elevsis to subdue the ELAS and recces in force of two outlying places to the north of Mandra and Magoula, made contact with ELAS, A ‘Sherman’ tank blew up on a mine blocking he road, and it was towed back after dark. The commander decided to laager for the night on Elevsis airfield operated by the American Transport Command who said: “This is neutral ground and could not be used”. However the force moved on to the airfield as directed by the Commander. ELAS were too concerned about withdrawing northwards to cause a problem. Later and typical of the way the Americans reported events in Greece at the time an article appeared in a magazine to the effect that, “Once a British task force from Italy landed somewhere along the coast and started invading airfields. They had not been in contact with British HQ in Athens and had no idea the Americans were in Greece. They moved on to the field mainly because scouting ‘Beaufighters’ had spotted an excited crowd of men clustered on the roof. One of the ATC officers rode out to meet the British and fund himself staring down the barrels of a number of weapons - Brave as a lion he advanced , when he was a few yards away, a British officer looked out of the turret when he saw the Americans he blew a gasket, and wanted to know what they were doing there and was a little teed-off because the Americans wre not fighting ELAS. Butmost of them did not seem to mind very much.”
07 January. Early in the morning 3 Rimini Bde arrived to search Elevsis and ‘Thebes Force’ pushed on along a twisting road to Oinoi where a number of ELAS were over- run but difficulties began a short way ahead at the entrance to a gorge, which climbs steely to the pass of Dryoscephalae 2000’ up. ELAS from their vantage point could block all movement - history has a way of repeating itself. ELAS were making their last stand to block the advances on the last mountain barrier out of Attica northwards an historic battle-ground of the past. Aerial recces showed that the road was blown into the gorge. Every available weapon from tanks, and other vehicles were brought to bear in an effort to flush ELAS out of their formidable positions and in the end they began to pull out after suffering a number of casualties. There was now only three hours daylight left. Lt Barnes went forward on foot to recce the road ahead of the ‘Force’ under fire. He recced craters and succeed in removing a cache of explosive, detonators etc which the enemy might have used to make further obstacles, and evacuated. Lt Barnes took command of 3 Pl and Lt Smart 2 Pl. the advance was delayed until the next day.
Lt General Scobie issued a congratulatory message to the troops. Some extracts are:
“I send my warm congratulations to all ranks on the successful outcome of the operation in Athens and Piraeus…The prolonged street fighting in the heart of a friendly city has been a sad and most difficult operation of war. In these exceptional and testing circumstances, you have done your duty without fear or favour….Your discomforts have been severe …..Despite great provocation you have fought with self-restraint and sel-control……the minimum of harm was caused to civil life and property, although this sometimes caused avoidable casualties…”
08 January. The ‘Thebes Force’ advance was unopposed and the Sprs opened the road by 1000 hrs - ELAS told their troops that the front is broken, and that they would have to make their way north the best way they were able. A search of Thebes was made after a tumultuous welcome, and huge quantities of ammunition and explosive were found including 20 tons of dynamite. Further north KDG patrols picked up M.Partsaides, Secretary of EAM and M. Zevgos on their way to make an armistice. They were dispatched to GHQ Athens.
2 Pl worked on the route to Thebes improving crater crossings following up 3 Pl and learned that a Spr was wounded and evacuated from 3 PL.
09 January. 1 Pl were strengthening a bridge over the River Asopus south of Thebe but were held up for the lack of stores - 2 Pl worked on the main Thebes axis - 3 Pl made an early start back to Athens via a different route east of Tanagra - Skhimatarion then beside the rail way line to Athens. The roads were very poor, two muddy rivers were forded and most of the vehicles in the column had to be towed across. Craters blown at midday by ELAS prevented the ‘Force’ reaching Athens that day. Spr Gould arrived with ’Weary Willie’ his D4 at HQ to give assistance on the roads.
10 January. 3 Pl filled in a crater, and then recced Marathon Dam where, they found the Dam empty but all of the installations were OK. The platoon arrived at Coy HQ at 1700 hrs.The objectives of the drive had been achieved. Any hope ELAS had of holding a mountain line near Athens was shattered. 10 and 12 Bde of the Division fanned out to the north occupying key points. ELAS were captured in droves and other forces were trapped with only one option to pull out and try to reach their strongholds further north.
As a result of the Thebes operation Lt Barnes was awarded the MC.
Lt Smart with a half Section of 2 Pl was in support of ‘A’ Squadron 4 Recce Regt. The order to join 4 recce was given the previous night - eventually tracking their quarry down in a tobacco factory in the country on the way to Corinth. The Pl caught up with the head of the column which was halted due to a large blow on a cliff edge some 100 yards long. With the aid og the Rimini Bde the ‘Blow’ was made passable in three hours enabling the column to close up on a village near Corinth, where they were held up due to a blown bridge which was covered by erratic mortar fire. The commander decided to stop for the night not allowing the bridge to be made passable during the hours of darkness.
11 January. 2 Pl made an early start 0500 hrs and repaired the bridge with RSJs allowing the column to cross on the wobble with no sign of ELAS who had withdrawn across the Corinth canal to the high ground on the far bank which dominated the area. Before the column could advance it was necessary to bridge the Corinth blocked by a ship and a large demolition. ELAS made their presence felt with mortar, and small arms fire from well hidden positions anyone who moved about needed an armoured shield. At dark, patrols were left on the canal and the remainder of the party including the Sprs withdrew. In the meantime HQ and 3 Pl moved to a location at Elevsis. Close to midnight a truce was signed to come into force in three days time. ELAS were permitted to withdraw with their weapons and HOSTAGES. Only British hostages are known to have been allowed free. The pressure was on to obtain an agreement as quickly as possible - had this not been the case with ELAS cut off, the hostages might have been saved prolonging the negotiations but of course the critics were not in the hands of ELAS hostages.
12 January. At 0700 hrs 3 Pl moved to Levadia under command of ‘225’. 1 & 2 Pl prepared to bridge the Corinth canal unloading and loading pontoons on and off No3 Bridge Pl’s vehicles. ELAS observed but did not attempt to interfere keeping quiet and under cover. The chose site was at the southern end of the canal, a ferry site. The approach on the nearside had been cut into the side of the hill, and was about 15’ deep leaving a very restricted launching site, therefore the method of building was to build a short nose lashed to floating pontoons. As the bridge was built it would be floated across - shades of the first bridge ‘7’ built over the Willebroeck Canal (Senne) north of Brussels. Due to the heavy rain the 120’ TS was called ‘Rainy Bridge’ and owing to a shortage of essential bridge parts completion was delayed until January 15th. Field Marshal Alexander visited the site when the bridge was in position, and the approaches being improved. (see bridge photo) 3 Pl returned to HQ and were sent to Ayioi Theodori to join 2 & 3 Pls working on roads on heavy rain.
18 January. 0001 hrs ‘Shiny 7’ came under command of the CRE 46 DIV. The whole of 46 DIV had been sent to Greece in the last few weeks and the RE was responsible for opening up communications in the Peloponnese. The 7th‘s task was to open the road from Corinth along the coast to Patras. Due to a shortage of Bailey bridge equipment a number of interesting jobs were done with the material on hand, jacking up for reuse large spans of concrete at blown bridges, making culverts, filling craters, resurfacing the road and the building of two 70’ DS, BBs ‘Sunny’ and ‘Windy’ and one 160’ DS, BB ‘Cloudy’
During the next two weeks the Platoons needed all the strength they could muster from their ‘Compo Rations’. They had the assistance of 3 Pl 272 Fd Coy RE, 46 Div, and 360 civilians as paid labour to carry out the continuous programme of heavy work in winter conditions.
14 February. 2 Pl under command of 28 Bde moved to Levadia as the Civil War in Greece ended. Some years later after another armed insurrection the Greek Government announced victory and by that time the Americans supported the government and the few British soldiers in Greece at that time were not involved. Two days later. 3 Pl moved to Lamia. The task of Platoons remained to open communications aided by 900 hired civilian labour under the Chief Civil Engineer Lamia.
18 February. The ‘225’ took over all tasks at Khalkis, training stores, and the civil labour force. HQ moved to Lamia and 1 Pl dropped off 20 miles south of Lamia at Amfiklia- 3 Pl moved east along the coast road nearly thirty miles to Petasyia at 0900 hrs. Heavy snow was expected and started to fall two hours later they left giving them time to reach their destination. The main roads were passable but dangerous. The civil labour force gave it up as a bad job. ‘Weary Willie’ the D4 was on standby but would driver Gould be able to see through the snow blanket in front of him? The ration truck and another vehicle driven by Dvr L Dodge were stuck for three hours on the Bralos Pass situated about 10 miles south of HQ. After a difficult drive both vehicles arrived at HQ about 2300 hrs.
21 February. A message was received that Sgt Stamper and a small party of 2 Pl was marooned in the snow at Distomon but under cover. The party Sgt Stamper, Spr G Twells and a Greek interpreter called ‘Gus’ left 2 Pl location at Levadia on a recce of mountainous roads to the east of Levadia in a ‘Jeep’ driven by Spr Taffy Aston. The roads were in a shocking state. About 25 miles into the mountains the Jeep broke down, and could not be repaired, then the snow began to fall. It was the worst blizzard any of them had experienced with visibility down to one yard. The Jeep was abandoned, and the party set out on foot hoping to find shelter and found the going very difficult as the snow was lying, deepening by the minute. They had a stroke of good fortune and found a small church, saving what might have been in all probability a disaster. Eventually when the snow eased it was possible to see a village in the bottom of the valley a few miles away. When the party reached it they could see that it had been almost totally destroyed. Every plot of land at the rear of where the houses had stood there were crosses marking the graves of victims of a massacre. The SS carried out a reprisal due to the derailment of a troop train by the partisan. An American magazine carried a report that 1500 people were killed in one hour. This figure may or may not have been the correct number, but it was the kind of act for which the SS had become infamous. The villagers who remained put up the party, one to each house. Sgt Stamper stayed with the leader of the village who produced a cigar box a gift from an Australian Captain whom he had hidden from the Germans. Sgt Stamper wrote a message which the village leader gave to a young lad with bare feet and told him to deliver the message in Levadia, the young messenger then led a relief party back to the village completing an outstanding feat.
Further Campaign awards were announced:
CSM F Smith, Sgt J Stamper, L/Cpl W Gardiner. Mentioned in Dispatches.
‘Weary Willie’, a civilian snowplough, and man power opened the main roads by February 26th.
Lts Barnes and Cummings returned from hospital and the inoculation season began, TAB, TT and 48 hours off for the recipients. The ELAS had put some corpses down a number of wells contaminating water supplies, typhus jabs were a must. A German was captured in a house in Lamia during the evening of March 2nd as the Sappers sat down for their eggs and chips in a local café. Off duty the ‘In Thing’ was a sulphur bath. ‘59’ took over all tasks and the 7th prepared to move.
06 March. Early in the day Platoons moved off to concentrate at Volos on the east coast about 100 miles south of Mount Olympus, and on the northern shore of the land locked bay of Pagassitikos. Good billets were found and off duty there were cafes, canteens of other units and a cinema to visit to see ‘Candlelight in Algeria’. There was a greater variety of work, to be done. At Larissa a small detachment, marked out a fair weather strip on the local airfield, and cleared German bombs from the runways. Minefields near Dhimini, Volos were marked, and a belt of Shu mines were cleared. Other parties located and destroyed almost 30 tons of German shells, bombs and other ammunition. The operation of the Larissa ferry was a welcome change from attention to minefields, craters and bombs. This ferry took on an increasing amount of traffic as communications were opened for transportation of food and supplies of all kinds for distribution to the destitute population. Traffic on the ferry soon built up from 20 to in excess of 100 vehicles per day. The 7th still expected to be moved back to Italy therefore courses started for reinforcements in mine warfare, assault demolitions, watermanship, and the whole Company took part in military training
Lt Smart wrote up this account from his notes sometime after the war, of the Campaign in Greece from December 1944 until March 1945, and it gives a vivid picture of events. Humour was always close at hand whatever was happening and that comes through in his story.
Grecian Incident December 15th - January 11th 1945
‘HMT Banfora’ was the ship in which we were travelling, besides the Company, various other units were packed in, including Fd Ambulance and the 2nd Somerset Light Infantry. Life on board was a shambles as the warning to move had only been one day at Taranto, and the awful business of changing currency had been seen to for the Company. The Sprs were camped below deck, but the journey was fortunately short, and they were not unduly worried. Food was as good as on any other ship, and everyone was browned off. The ship sailed into the Bay of Salamis at about 1000 hrs on the morning of December 15th and sat there all day, as there was some difficulty about landing craft to ferry us ashore. After lunch a small party went ashore headed by the OC Major Johnson. John Barnes was already in Athens as he had flown across with a small party of Sappers from Italy with the 2/4 Hants Regt.
Lying in the Bay we could hear all sorts of noises, mostly machine gun fire coupled with large guns, and it was eerie as we didn’t know which side was firing the OC ship told us we must be prepared to fight our way ashore, but with all our kit this seemed unlikely.
However it was a good rumour, and set the moaning to even greater pitch. By evening everyone was restless, so quite a party was thrown in the cabin with the Sgts. The party soon got out of hand, ending with the baggage officer and two Sgts incapable. The batman of the baggage officer was warned to wake him when the unit baggage officers were called forward. This may explain why the baggage party did not turn up until late the next day?
At 2200 hours we walked down into a tiny LCT which was to hold a thousand but was choc-a-block after the first unit had boarded. As more, and more, piled on board, the troops began to bleat like sheep, all kinds of witty remarks were coming up. When the medicals began to board a voice shouted out: “DRs strip off for FFI inspection.” The cheerfulness of all was really remarkable. We disembarked on to the open beach, put our small kit into a truck, and marched off to a billet not far away to Faliron a district of Athens. Each Platoon had its own billet. It was now a matter of curling up on stone floors in our greatcoats to sleep, our blankets were still on board and ought to arrive tomorrow. A shave, and a wash in the morning of December 16th did the world of good. We were issued with twenty-four hour assault rations to keep us going until a supply could be organised. The ration was quite good and constituted soley of concentrate.
The Greeks seemed pleased to see us, but a curfew of two hours at 1400 hours had been imposed on them, of which not one Greek took the slightest notice. No food supplies were coming through, but a prosperous ‘Black Market’ flourished which kept the majority from starving. For ourselves we were forbidden to go around alone, and at all times to keep away from Greeks, and to carry arms at all times. The very first morning after this order was issued, we caught a member of the unit guard playing and skipping with some Greek children. Will you ever make the Tommy downhearted! Gordon (2i/c) arrived from Palestine on Monday December18th and took over from me. I went up to HQRE in the afternoon, and while there the adjutant told me I was to take four Sprs with some picks, shovels and crowbars, and report to the CE on the front. I asked him what the job was, he gave a vague answer about knocking down some road blocks. I took four Sappers from 1 Pl with tools in a scout car to the Carlton Hotel, where the CE lived. I found him, explained who I was, and he then told me some different story before passing me on to the Ops side of the building. Here I was given a better idea, but not detailed and told me to report to the CO of the 2nd Royal Northumberland Fusiliers on the airfield at Hasani (Kalamaki) before 2200 hours. One thing I did know was that I was going on an armoured column run, first of its kind in Greece.
Back with the Company I told the OC what had happened, and we made a small stores plan to meet all eventualities. I was to take a scout car with six Sprs, mine lifting and demolition stores together with a Section’s normal tools. We set off and reached the 2nd RNF on the airfield without much trouble. The CO did not have the slightest idea what was happening and his office was full of officers with maps and cases. Eventually a man came along who did know, and he proceeded to enlighten us. An RAF AFHQ at Kifissia was isolated, and under heavy continuous attack by ELAS, wireless communication was feeble, they were running short of food, and ammunition. Supplies had to get to them and it fell to us to get them there. Instead of using the direct route through Athens to Kiffisia the column was going right around the mountains, rejoining the main road at Amaroussion, returning the same way. The force was named ‘Hunterforce’ under command of Major Wise RTR, there were elements of RTR, RE, KDG, 2ND Beds & Herts, and RAF Regiment. The order of Battle was discussed and agreed:
2 Tanks RTR Charlie 1 1 White Car 7 Fd Coy RE 3 White Cars Beds & Herts
1 Dingo (Self) Charlie 8 3 Tanks RTR Charlie 3 2 White Cars RTR
3 Armd Cars KDG Charlie 6 1 Command Car Major Wise 4 Armd Cars RAF. R
There was a total of twenty armoured vehicles with a formidable fire power between them, the tanks were firing either 6 pounders or 75mm, the armoured cars 2 pounders. Opposition and road blocks were expected, but nothing that could not be overcome in a short time. The officer in the leading tank knew Kifissia inside out, which was to prove invaluable in finding our way straight in. it seemed strange that no reinforcements were taken, and only ammunition, as we knew they were short of rations, but we were not in the position to argue. The AFHQ was to be notified by radio of our coming, and was expected to hold out until we did arrive. There were 800 airmen. Sleep that night was on the drome. As soon as I had explained the situation to the SectIon and seen them settled in, I went to bed. At 0500 hours December 19th everyone was about, filling up with petrol, oil, and making breakfast in the dark. The Tank people had their methods of fires but on the whole the tea tasted the same whoever made it. At 0600 hours we formed up on the runway in the dark, and set off with a wireless check as we pulled out on to the main road in the direction of Koropi away from Athens with the tanks kicking up clouds of dust as their tracks ground up the poor road. On through a road block which had been dealt with previously, and which I had looked at the previous evening, we gradually drove away from all civilisation. As dawn broke we heard the sound of planes, and two ‘Spitfires’ swept over our column, and went ahead doing low level recces. It was cold but the thrill of the whole thing made up for that. On through a tiny village whose inquisitive inhabitants came out to look, and to stand uncertain as to whether or not we were going to shoot them. The road was poor but allowed fairly fast travel, and did not twist and turn too much. My RTR driver was a southern Irishman who said little, concentrating on the road. Our little Dingo had no room left for even a breath of fresh air, we were cramped, having to stand up to turn. As we entered Koropi, and ELAS entre, the whole village turned out to cheer but soon dispersed as the leading tank fired a shot at a stone block on the road. They all mucked in with the Sappers, and had it passable in five minutes. Peania the next village had three stone blocks, but the civilians dealt with them clearing a passage. One keen eyed Tank Commander saw a civilian slink into a house, followed him in and came out with a German rifle, evidence that although things were quiet, trouble could start at any given moment. Two more road blocks were encountered, and dealt with in a short time. At one of these blocks we were just starting off again, when my driver spotted something. He leapt out of the Dingo, disappearing into a courtyard, reappearing a minute later with a machine gun, and an ELAS dressed in battledress. He had the MG pointing in the back of the ELAS and was kicking him as hard as he could. We could not take prisoners with us so we gave him one more hard kick for luck and destroyed the MG. This seemed to transform my driver who began to mutter grim Irish curses and breathe heavily. The leading tank stopped, and a short conference over the wireless began, the quiet voice of the commander broke the silence, and the decision was made. Major Wise was only twenty three years old, but he looked at least twenty nine. Now we broke away across country towards the town of Amaroussion. A narrow muddy track proved difficult to negotiate but finally all vehicles managed to get through. On the right someone pointed out a ‘Beaufighter’ which was smoking. We had no time to investigate but found out later that the previous day a Sapper from a sister Field Company the ‘59’ whilst working on an airfield had thought he would like a flight in a plane, and approached a pilot who told him he was shortly going up in his ‘Beaufighter’ and he could go as well if he would like to do so. Unfortunately the plane developed engine trouble while over ELAS held country and crashed. The two men escaped injury, and were taken prisoner, and released at the end of hostilities. The column stopped at Armaroussion before tackling the last two miles on the highway to the objective. Civilians came rushing out from all over the place, and an old woman started to kiss my driver. He went purple. I think she must have seen the red light as she rapidly disappeared! Others were crying, and all seemed glad to see us. Little cakes and wine came out, but time was short, and the tanks were closing down all apertures until only slits were visible. Weapons were checked. Our Bren and Tommy guns were ready to fire. We swept off the side road on to the Athens - Kiffisia highway, round one corner, and then up a slight gradient to Kifissia. Half way up on the side of the road was a badly camouflaged anti-tank gun with its crew. The leading tank went too quickly to fire at the gun, but shouted over the wireless to the end vehicles to put it out of action. The top of the slope, and we then entered a small square with a few ELAS running as fast as they could. We turned off to the right, not before a stream of bullets had hit the square. It was there I fired my first burst, more for the fun of firing it than the target. The leading tank was going so fast he hit the curb, almost skidding round in a complete circle. It was all so confused, with tanks firing as they moved, everyone talking together on the wireless, the odd ELAS firing back, and the speed at which the column entered. Finally the tanks halted and amidst the noises we heard the leader say: “I think it’s the hotel over there”. We pulled up outside another hotel, and my driver noticed a man looking out of a window. Immediately he was up in the Dingo, and had the lid pulled over. Trying to drive with only the front window of the Dingo to look through is not so easy, and only in an emergency is the lid pulled over…Charlie 1 (tank) said he was going to pull round to the suspected hotel, and the control car gave our position for all round covering fire…Charlie 8 (me) follow the tank in front. It was only a matter of a hundred yards, but as we pulled round a charge was thrown out of the top window burst on the road between the Dingo and the tank. The hotel and garden at the front appeared deserted, and it was fairly obvious that we were too late. My Dingo positioned itself under a barrel of a 6 pounder, and together we fired at a suspicious looking road block about one hundred yards down this side street. There must have been something because it blew up with a bang. The Beds and Herts were called forward and as they drew up alongside the hotel, the leading man was shot between the eyes on jumping out. A search was made of the hotel produced a nil result as far as the RAF garrison were concerned, and the Beds & Herts returned to their cars. On my left was a smaller hotel and an RA Captain appeared with a growth of a beard, and looking pale. He crouched behind a pillar, and shouted to me that he had some wounded men inside the hotel. As I spoke to control on the wireless he doubled to the Dingo. Control was able to speak to him asking a number of questions. He said all the transport was ok, but ELAS had drained the petrol tanks of the vehicles. If we could produce enough petrol for 3 tonners, he could find the drivers, and they could then take what remained of the Garrison including the wounded back in the column as soon as the firing died down. Control said: “Charlie 8, go round the town and bring it back here”. Well, that was a nice state of affairs. I could find the petrol, it was the little business of stepping out the car, and then lifting the petrol into the car which I did not like. Down the road at the back of the hotel we had passed on entering, in the garden were lying lots of petrol cans, but it was impossible to say whether or not they were empty. I called up another car which was nearby and asked if he could come to the back entrance with me whilst I had a look around. The two of us entered, and just as I put the lid up to get out, a shot was fired from a window above. Together we began the leisurely game of putting a burst in every window of the hotel. When this was over there was no more firing. A quick jump out, and it was obvious that all the cans had been emptied. I left the other car and made my way round to the other side of the building where I had seen the cans. All the streets were littered with brand new vehicles ready to drive away, and most heart breaking of all was to see the jeeps out ready to drive away, but to drive in a thin skinned vehicle was not possible at the moment. I picked up four infantry, and together we moved down the road. No one shot at them so I got out the car with my driver. Up the street came some ELAS with a white flag, and they looked as if they had learned their lesson. The infantry disarmed them, and took them to control. There was some women among them and a number of pugnacious little boys. As we went up the steps at the back of the hotel, a civilian informer came out and told us there were four ELAS hiding in the basement. My driver was all for throwing a grenade but we sent the informer down to bring them up, and they came up wearing RAF uniforms even sporting pilot’s wings. We searched them and this produced small items of kit which they had obviously taken from the RAF. They were then bundled off to control. Inside the building it looked as if a tornado had hit it. Officers and ORs had been billeted there, and the ELAS had been through their kit, scattering it over the rooms. Photos of a baby was the thing that stuck in my mind most of all, and dozens of empty bottles. Shirts, vests, socks, beds cases - everything a looter could dream about. I managed to put aside a hurricane lamp and an issue mug. We did not have room in our Dingo to carry anything else. One Bren gun which was lying around we took to safety. Outside the infantry were taking the petrol to the trucks. We decided to make a thorough search of the hotel to pass the time. As we re-entered we saw an ELAS run upstairs - we both let rip, and were just going up when a shout came to rejoin the column which was ready to move off. On board again, and we tried to get in the same positions as we were when we came, but I for one was right at the back of the column. The majority of the ELAS had to be left in the gardens as we had no room to take them. The informer was almost beside himself with fear because we could not take him. I suspect that his life was short after we left.
On the outskirts of the town ELAS had felled a giant tree across the road. Instructions to all cars over the air told us to take the first left, then two rights, to bring us back on to the road again, past the ant-tank site which was now bare - someone had come slipped up there, as no one had fired at it, and it had been pulled away for safety. Nearby a wounded ELAS was trying to crawl across the road when the first tank caught him up, but I don’t think he was run over. In the town we had seen only three dead men but a lot had been killed by us during the morning. As we drove through Amaroussion and Melissia, people were watching us with a quiet look on their faces as if they knew we were not staying. A civilian car was abandoned in the middle of the road. it had a large red cross painted on it, inside were stocks of petrol and ammunition which a tank had set on fire. We now took a slightly different route for a few miles, and then cut across country again. Over the air I heard the Commander say to the leading car, that he was to push on back to Athens and warn the RAF that we had about twenty wounded on board, and that he was to take the second car as escort. We were going much slower as we had the wounded to think of. Fifteen minutes later a report came back saying that one of the two cars had struck a mine. Control then sent a message I had been expecting, and told me to go ahead to find out what the trouble was. I passed all the others and went belting on, passing through a village and coming upon the two cars outside the village. They had surprised a bus load of ELAS, I had passed the wreckage further back. The ELAS party had been mining the route. I got out and had a quick look. The mines were Tellermines easy to see and as I was picking them up a shot was fired at us. Immediately we grabbed every available weapon we had, and blazed away in all directions - the villagers disappeared as if by magic. I picked up a total of five mines. The driver of the blown up car had his leg broken, and a second attempt was being made to lift him out of the car. It was agreed that I would go ahead with the other car to save a repetition as I knew what to look for. Just as we were about to set off again, a message came over the wireless to say that another truck had been blown up on a mine one mile back, and that the Sappers in the White car had lifted a further seven. Three of us had driven through that belt, and had been lucky to miss them. No one had been injured. The two of us started up and drove down the road looking for mines - the ‘Spitfires’ were still with us and heaven knows what they were firing at, for every now and then they would fire a burst into the mountains. Still their presence was very comforting. We continued separated from the main column and on reaching the crest of a ridge, saw a civilian car about 200 yards away which stopped as soon as it saw us. The occupants bailed out, and ran for it. We concluded they were ELAS, our automatics and a 2 pounder were brought into action as they hid in some trees. When we thought they had had enough we stopped firing and shouted to them to come to us but nothing would make them move. Another civilian car rolled up with one man who said he was innocent, we sent him up to collect the ELAS. Four men dressed in battledress came across from the trees with their arms in the air. One was a boy of 18 who kept asking if we were going to shoot him, two were quiet and the fourth was in a state of terror, wringing his hands. The Irishman grabbed one of them and took him back to the trees where they had been hiding and returned with two rifles, two pistols and some ammunition. To stop the ELAS wailing and wringing his hands the Irishman took his belt and braces from him. The young boy muttered about mines down the road, but would not say where they were, so we put him in the front of the Dingo, and set off slowly. The other gave a message to the leading tank to run over the first car which he did with relish. For a short time the boy kept looking around grinning in a cocky sort of way, but slowly he became more serious, suddenly he yelled, jumped out of the car. We pulled up dead because we knew that we had found what we wanted. There on top of a bridge were four objects and could mean only one thing, mines. As I got out of the car a group of four or five grinning ELAS appeared, and were obviously the mine laying party. The mines were Tellermines and not booby trapped. When the mines were lifted the boy indicated that the bridge was blown. This was not good news, we set off at once into a gorge as the light began to fail, and in the most, narrow part ELAS had blown a portion of the road for only five feet to a depth of five feet. This was not serious but meant delay. At first I thought it would be best to blow the lips of the crater away and fill in with picks and shovels, but on looking up saw a lot of stones and rocks and decided to fill in by hand straight away. The main body of the column had closed up by this time. I asked for all fit bodies from RAF Regt and tank crews to give a hand and a large party wandered down. We had just started on the job when someone must have fired at us, for although I heard nothing, the leading tank ‘Spitfires’ and a few riflemen were all firing. Only Sprs and tank crews kept working. The Sprs stacked and bonded the stones as they were thrown down to them. Soon the Job took shape, and when it got dark it was finished. ‘Beaufighters’ took over from the ‘Spitfires’ patrol dropping flares along the route for us to see the road more easily. Half an hour later we were waved to a standstill by a red light, and a friendly voice halted us. The two of us looked at one another in the dark and knw it was all over - the other car reported to control. Major Wise told us to wait for the main column, and that we would enter the drome as a complete unit in the order we had started out. The boy was shivering with cold, and my driver gave him his greatcoat. With every light blazing the column swept on and we took our original place in it. Twenty minutes later we were on the outskirts of the aerodrome, and stopped outside the hospital where the wounded were carried in. the ELAS prisoners were taken to the POW camp almost opposite on the shore. A final run of ten minutes, and we pulled up outside a large hotel on the front which the RAF had taken over. A hot meal was waiting inside for the Sapper Section, blankets would be issued, and they would sleep there for the night. Having sorted this out the officers were taken to the RAF Mess and given a hot meal, wash and brush up. We met some of the pilots who had been escorting us. One a Group Captain said: “He was unable to see a thing from where he was, as we could not pick up sound and could not spot tracer.” This story had a sad sequel as the wounded who were evacuated the next day December 20th by a transport plane crashed into the sea, drowning a number of the casualties.
After reporting to the OC and making my written report, I returned to the airfield attached to the KDG as the sapper element of a ‘Hunterforce’ for which another operation was being planned. This was cancelled, and on Christmas Day I returned to the Company with the Section.
December 28th was the end of my short holiday. I was told to recce an area of the beach near the POW Camp one thousand yards long which was wanted for an Engineer base Depot (supply). The strip in question was reported to be lousy with mines. I took Sgt Stamper with me, and together we walked the whole length carefully without seeing anything more than a large number of holes to take Shumines, from which it was clear that mines had been lifted. In addition there were two belts of Tellermines. There was little doubt that mines did exist there, but they had been there so long they were difficult to see. We had prodded suspicious places without finding anything. The belt ran straight through the POW Camp, and the Syrian Pioneers had been in the habit of making a dash at night across the minefield in a bid for freedom. The British guards did not follow them because of the mines. (This had been stopped by a mine-clearing operation by Lt Barnes) The beach was semi-rock, stone, sand and grass and there were some large bomb craters here and there. Due to the bombs the pattern of mines was to change in places and some of the mines were now three feet deep. Furthermore the bombs had scattered thousands of metal splinters over the area causing the detectors to go on the blink. There were other suitable sites for the depot without the hazard of mines. The OC made representations but ‘NO’. Lifting would commence the next day. In four days one thousand and fifteen mines were lifted without incident. The job was completed by January 2nd in spite of storms and bad weather.
Next day Wednesday January 3rd after an early breakfast, and complete with batman Billington, I joined and relieved John Barnes taking over 2 Pl in support of 2/4 Hants. Having seen the Platoon I walked to Rouf Barracks to the hospital wing where 2/4 Hants had their HQ, I found my friend Vic the intelligence officer. He was about to visit the forward Company with the CO, would I like to come? Wanting very much to say no I went along. We passed an ELA who had been dead for some time and crossed the main road to where Gordon Baker was just finishing a house to house search of his area. Together we entered a deserted house, and supped a morale booster. The relieving Battalion (2 Kings) was moving up to take over so I left Vic, and went back to contact them. After discussion it was agreed that the Platoon would not be split up in penny packets, and would do any work asked for and other work we could see. Straight away the first thing that struck one’s eye was that every turning off the main road was mined, and most of them had big stone road blocks as well blocking all entrances. We started by taking Tellermines out of the road opposite, and there Billington lifted his first. A tank blew up with a loud bang on some waste land, but no one was hurt, and we lifted a further four mines, two of which had been moved by the tank track. An ambitious ELAS fired at us with a rifle, caught in the open and not being heroes we doubled smartly away! In our absence a second tank blew up, and my name was mud. Billington clad in his steel helmet beckoned me across …..I thought he had found an ELAS. He showed me an almost complete set of mess crockery, but had not thought of the difficulties carting it away. He was very upset having to leave it to the rightful owners! My faithful shadow stuck close to me that day, and his presence was very comforting….for an ex paratrooper he was very quiet,but when he was roused he was a horrible sight to see. After reporting progress on the wireless, we set about clearing the main Athens - Kifissia road, which would become the main AXIS of advance when possible. We turned off the main road following the infantry through some mouse holes they had made in garden walls. At last we came to an obstruction and picking an escort of two infantry Bren gunners we set off - the essence of caution! A civilian came tearing across a small strip of waste ground on the left, and was greeted by a burst of fire from an enthusiastic ELAS who obviously did not mind ho he fired at as long as it was someone. At the road block in question there were ten enormous reels of cable which we started to move to one side, being helped by civilians who appeared as if by magic. Looking down the road to the right, one could see a big bus at right angles to the main street, which had a sinister air about it. Further investigation proved the supposition that mines were there, and we lifted nine or ten, of which half had ignitors. Suddenly in the middle of this scene appeared a single Private unarmed laying a line to one of the forward Companies. He was one of those Infantry types whom one meets in action, who seemingly have no cares in the world and who just grin the whole time as if there was no danger..…a type who gives that little extra confidence to a chap who had begun to shake slightly - a type that deserves a medal, not so much for bravery but for that indescribable quality that reassures men in times of doubt, and rallies and unites the weak and the brave to do things they would not do were it eft to themselves to decide. We found a chap at the road block who spoke English and who owned a wine shop …could men resist? For the first time we sampled some wine free, probably the one and only time a Greek has given anything away free. The light was fading, and fortified by the wine we moved nearer to the forward infantry. John (Lt Barnes) appeared to relieve me for the night. After giving my report to the CO 2 Kings, I went back to Company HQ at Faliron, dreaming of my bed, and a good night’s sleep but I was sadly mistaken as I was shortly to find out. Having listened to my report Gordon (Capt Corry 2i/c) told me to see the CO who had something to tell me. I nearly dropped dead when he told me to pack my kit, and to sleep five miles out with KDG who were going on an Armoured Car run at 0515 hours in the morning! I left one hour later, and was shown into billets by the tank people at 2230 hours.
At 0430 hours the next morning January 4th the CO of the KDG had a conference, and told us the ‘Form’. The column would go to Athens, and then split into two, whereupon each column would attempt to capture a bridge over a large anti-tank canal (River Kifissus). Eric (Lt Cummings) was in the right hand column with half of 3 Pl, and I was to take the left hand column with the remainder of 3 Pl. the OC was travelling with HQ in an armoured car, and was netted in with his wireless to Eric and myself. The whole day I did not see Eric, but could see his party working in the distance. We set out frozen stiff for Athens, and formed up under a bridge waiting for daylight to help us. While brewing up a battalion of Greek soldiers passed, all singing and looking very brave. I had my party in a White scout car, and they were very badly off for room. We were travelling about thirty cars back just about the right distance from the lead car to be out of harms way when firing started as we moved by rough tracks about a mile through a rough area of the city. On the outskirts of the city we came across Greek soldiers behaving in a brutal manner to the ELAS prisoners they had captured. By this time shooting was going on all over the place. One burst came our way and the sappers got down in the car burying the wireless operator. The road ran as straight as a die across a canal, and was lined with beautiful trees on either side. The whole area was dead flat the only cover being the trees, houses and factories. A number of trees had been felled making an ideal road block. The first block was dealt with by 6 Black Watch, and we dealt with the next two dragging the trees aside with a winch. This left us with one more obstacle before the bridge which was intact as far as the eye could see. Eric’s party were meeting craters, and a culvert was blown up in their face. The lie of the land gave perfect fields of fire for our escorts and all kinds of vehicles were on the canal side blasting anything that moved on the far bank. Stretched across the road were dozens of banners, no doubt all ELAS. On the far side the road ran into the town beyond which sloped up into the mountains. Our two Scout cars were now in the first five as it was our ‘show’ from now on. ‘Spitfires’ were patrolling above but so far they had not straffed any targets. A stream of messages, and a question came over the wireless: ”Is the bridge blown?” “Get the bridge cleared.” And so on. Our only danger could come from the far side which had perfect observation. The last twenty yards to the bridge was open and uninviting. A single one way gap was blasted through the road block, and debris cleared by hand.
Our goal was in sight, the bridge was intact, but a stone block five feet high and twenty feet thick, was in position on the top. After a quick recce to ensure that the bridge was undamaged, the sappers checked for mines but none were found. Six of the party began to place explosive charges to blow the block on the bridge. The remainder were manning rifles, and Bren guns to give cover. Everything was very quiet and all caution was thrown to the wind in an effort to do the job quickly. When a long angry crackle of an automatic fired at close range ended the silence just as I was advising the OC what was happening. A Cpl had been hit in the leg and was sitting behind a wall which formed part of the bridge and bullets were chipping away at the concrete about a foot away from him. Billington had been hit in the hand and stood behind a tree as bullets chipped the other side of the tree. He was safe provided he remained behind the tree where he was. Cpl James MM, the driver of my Scout car was working his way along the road with a Bren gun. The wounded Corporal was still under fire but was grinning, and had lit a cigarette. An armoured car of the KDG was slowly coming up. Billington shouted that he had seen a sniper, who was in a small building on the right with a large Red Cross painted on it about fifty yards away. I went back to the wireless and gave the location of the building. No amount of shouting could make Billington drop into the dip behind him where he would be safe, so it was up to me to cross the ten yards drop to the dip, and get Billington down into it. I made it into the dip, and after some urging Billington fell in the dip beside me clutching his Tommy gun. He had been hit in the fingers a bullet had gone through two fingers. Two ‘Spitfires’ then appeared and after circling came screaming down with guns blazing to deal with the sniper. We were only fifty yards away and the empty cartridges were falling all around us. The bungalow hospital had disappeared. An armoured car backed up to the bridge to give cover so that we could get the wounded out which we did. Under cover of the armoured car charges were placed on the road block, and my scout car backed up with the engine running. On a signal a Bren gun posted for the purpose fired a couple of bursts into the town to keep their heads down the armoured car withdrew. I lit the fuze for the charge and leapt into the Scout car which pulled out fast to a point about two hundred yards away. All of this time messages on the wireless asking what was going on, when was the job going to be done etc. the ‘Blow’ did not do the trick, and we had to repeat the dose. Meanwhile an ambulance evacuated the two wounded. Billington was in some pain but contrived to grin. Four bullets had found their mark two in his fingers, one in the folds of his coat. The third hit the butt of his Tommy gun which he was holding and the fourth bullet had entered his left hand trouser pocked, removed a trouser button and left by the right trouser pocket. Two more ‘Blows’ were made to no real effect. The last one was tricky, due to the fuze burning out without igniting the detonator, which in a way was a blessing in disguise as the charge was really too large and might have damaged the bridge. After waiting three minutes which seemed endless for the fuze to ignite the detonator I walked back to the charge wondering if the fuse was still burning. It had in fact burnt out. I immediately ordered the Section to clear the stones by hand. At last I was able to report that the bridge was clear, but the first armoured car got stuck on a stone which we moved. The time was now four o’clock - we had not realised how long we had been on the bridge. As we went through the village people came out and some were crying. The column Commander said he was going to dash up to the next village (Peristeri) to a petrol dump. I was ordered to wait for the OC at the next cross-roads. The driver noticed some figures running across the road about one thousand yards away to the left. The KDG and ourselves opened fire giving them a fright without hitting anyone. People in the village stormed two shops used by ELAS as a HQ and food store which they kept locked keeping the food for themselves. We had to intervene when fighting broke out in a howling screaming mob of men, women and children trying to get some food which by this time had all gone. The OC ordered us back to billets. At the bridge site we stopped to investigate a small hospital, not the one destroyed. Inside were a number of women all casualties from the ‘Spitfire’ attack. All feelings of triumph oozed out and we felt like crawling away. The four worst cases were laid on the Scout cars, and at the first ambulance were transferred for evacuation to hospital. After a check on the Section stores and vehicles I made my report to Gordon (2i/c). Most people had a lie in the next morning - Eric and I decided to try a cinema which had opened in the evening but the OC told us to say in camp as another job was coming off tomorrow January 6th.
The next day at 0500 hrs in overcast conditions we made for an RV at Temple of Zeus to join ‘Thebesforce’ of about three hundred and fifty vehicles. Eric with 3 Pl were the Sapper support, I was recce officer travelling near the head of the column using other people’s wireless sets. Our final objective was Thebes. As places were occupied the Greek National Guard would be called forward to clear, search and occupy them. The leading car was trigger happy giving anything which moved a burst. Two ‘Blows’ were dealt with and people came out in a village to warn us that the road was mined. We proceeded with the utmost caution. The road was Tarmac so that the surface would be broken if mine were in the road. Ten Tellermines were lifted from the road and then a road block demolished. At a point where the road ran along a causeway near the sea ELAS began to show fight with the odd sniper. A wide detour was made in heavy rain and we slipped down a hillside on a rough track to join the main road. Further back the Sappers were hard at work with the bulldozer to help them fill in a large crater. Resistance increased with a mortar dropping its bombs, but the armoured cars pressed on to Eleveis, and as we reached the town I moved over to allow the heavier vehicles with fire power to go ahead as my two seater Dingo would only be in the way - ELAS began to run. The column passed through for one mile and the main body halted as they would spend the night on the airfield at Elevsis. My orders were to return to Company HQ. John would takeover from me and I would pick up 2 Pl and bring them out to Elevsis the next day. On return to HQ I gave a full report to Gordon and then had a good clean up, large meal and sleep. The next day I led 2 Pl to Elevsis and found billets which needed a great deal of cleaning up. Late that evening the OC arrived looking very dirty. The main column had caught up with ELAS in a gorge (Kaza Kani). There had been an ambush and Eric and a Spr had been wounded and evacuated. John had done a very difficult recce, and he would now takeover 3 Pl and I would takeover 2 Pl. ELAS had been blasted by ‘Spitfires’ and every possible weapon in their positions overlooking the gorge. The column halted for the night. In the evening of January 9th as I was going to bed a message came to say I was to contact 4 Recce Regt in Elevsis and liaise and that I was to take a half Section (6 Sprs+1 NCO), and do an armoured run to Corinth in the morning. After scouring the town the driver and I could find no sign of them - in the morning after a very cold night, once more I set off with the whole Platoon to search for the elusive 4 Recce Regt out in the country in a tobacco factory and the main column had already left. So we chased off on the Corinth road, as we turned into the first village the road was blocked with a teeming mass of people and none of our troops in sight. Dvr T Aston stopped the Jeep by instinct, and then let in the clutch and we charged at them with our weapons ready for action. The crowd slowly parted, and we saw the 4 Recce Regt vehicles on the other side of the village square. The Major said “He had found the road blown away at the cliff edge for about 100 yards, it would take about four days to repair, and that the smaller cars were looking for a detour but the likelihood of finding one was very small.” I went to take a look - it was bad, but with the Platoon a suitable crossing was possible in one day. The Major said: “The Greek Infantry under command could be used if I wished.” The estimate now dropped to three hours. The Greek infantry worked like Trojans, and soon the Platoon were on the scene plus the CRE and the OC examining the work which was completed in four hours. The plan now was to push forward as quickly as possible to try and locate ELAS. The spearhead was all armour and I was ordered to join it in a Jeep, using the 4 Recce Regt wireless sets to keep in touch with the OC. As the leading car approached the village near the canal at Corinth the main road bridge and a smaller one built by the Germans over an anti -tank ditch were blown. A fight started and ELAS began to drop mortar bombs here and there in addition to using their small arms from well concealed positions. As darkness fell the mortaring stopped and we could have soon had the bridge over the anti- tank ditch passable, but the Major in command insisted on closing down for the night. Some kind of unwritten agreement had been struck with the ELAS. Both sides were dogged tired so they would sleep in the top half of the village, and our party the other half. I was to take the Sappers out to repair the anti - tank ditch at 0500 hours the next morning. In two hours a rickety crossing was made using the remains of the German bridge not destroyed by the blow. With a wobble this way and that the column crossed. The canal was blocked at the south - western end by a ship the ‘Vista’ and by its side was a wooden bridge destroyed by ELAS. Looking down the canal in the opposite direction a large demolition about a half mile away had blocked the canal. To the south-west there was a low range of hills about eight hundred yards away which dominated the whole area. ELAS brought down fire causing casualties to the Greek infantry. The column now made for the high ground along the coast road. The infantry advanced in open order up a hill coming under fire from our own cars which did not help. ELAS were firing mortars at about one per minute. trying to hit a small square where a number of vehicles were parked close to the buildings. I was under cover between two armoured cars when the OC made his appearance in an armoured car with Bertie (Lt Hobson) in another armoured car and oddly enough the firing stopped as if ordered to do so, and as I made my verbal report when the OC was not looking ‘Hobson’s’ head popped up and down to give a boy scout salute! ELAS had seen enough and down came a mortar bomb fifty yards away convincing the OC that this was not a healthy place to be. A recce of the canal bank was carried out to find a suitable bridge site. In the meantime the Greek Infantry attempted to make an assault crossing of the canal in one boat meeting a bloody repulse. The Recce Major in Command decided to ‘Pack it in’ for the day as the light began to fail and this proved to be the last day of action. A few days later Bertie’s Platoon (No1) built a raft which was used to launch a 120’ TS Bailey bridge built by the Platoon (No2) in pouring rain.
All of our time was now spent opening the road to Patras which involved a great deal of heavy work. Everyone was happy tho’ for we were a happy Company, and there was no time to sit around moping. From the end of the month we made move after move until we arrived at Volos where we are now. (6 March 1945).
The 7th enjoying their belated Christmas party February 1945
10 March. As essential repairs were made to the Divisional newspaper lorry, 15 Army Group in Italy were preparing a shattering blow to deliver Kesselring’s Axis force. Formations were rested and trained to use the new armoured assault equipment sent out from the UK. The Allied Chiefs of Staff only expected the forces in the Mediterranean to hold down the Axis forces of 1,000,000 men, and felt that if they could do more than that then good luck to them.
15 March. The main rear party returned to the fold from Italy. The next day Spr T Deakin and his passenger, a civilian Greek civil engineer was killed when the Dingo Scout car in which they were travelling overturned. Spr T Deakin was buried at Faliron War Cemetery Athens.
23 March. Pl moved 100 miles due north to Larissa a fairly large centre of communications to take over from 4 Fd Coy Indian Sappers and Miners of 4 Indian DIV who were concentrated at Salonika.
Later in the month the ‘Empire Roach’ tied up at Volos with a load of much needed engineer and other stores.
01 April Easter Sunday. ‘Make and Mend’. Church services for all denominations were well attended.
That night the offensive was opened up in Italy by No 2 Commando Bde attacking across the mouth of the Po. The enemy was caught off guard not expecting an offensive to open until much later in the month. The drive forward went from good to excellent and it seemed that the ‘7’ would not after all return to Italy. Two days later at 1050 hrs a vehicle blew up whilst being loaded with Tellermines lifted from a minefield. Dvr K Maddy, Sprs C Coyle, C Rugman and four Greek National Guard (GNG) were killed and three GNG seriously injured. The cause of the explosion was not known and early next day a court of enquiry assembled to report the accident. The 7th casualties were buried at Faliron, Athens.
05 April. Captain Corry was posted to GHQ and Lt Cummings to 4 DIV HQRE. Capt C A Blewitt returned to the 7th as 2 i/c. Padre Munro spent a week with the Company and then left for the ‘225’. Apart from GNG being supervised workin on the minefield, 1000 civilians were working as hired labour, and a summary gives some idea of the Sapper effort required in the 7th area alone to bring Greece to a point where the population could begin o produce for themselves:
12 Major road repairs.
8 Bridges. With span varying between 525’ and 15’
Total span of all bridges 1067’
Four bridges had multiple spans, most of the piers and arches were badly damaged.
NB Only Major works listed
It was not uncommon for unit transport to make round trips of 1200 miles from one coast to the other. MT of the No 3 Bridge Platoon (attached) left on April 22nd for the ‘59’ in Western Greece 600 miles away, just in time to miss an inspection by the GOC 4 DIV. The band from the Divisional concert party played the Corps march past ‘Wings’ as the ‘Shiny 7’ marched past. After the inspection which went off well, a Tabloid Company Sports was held in the afternoon won by 2 Pl and the Soccer Shield was presented to 3 Pl by the GOC.
27 April. Lt Bocker returned from Italy to command 2 Pl as they moved to Elasson on the main road to Salonika and about 20 miles north of Larissa. The Platoon was responsible for the roads Elasson - Servia and Elasson - Katerini. 1 & 3 Pls alternated the road works and training which took on an air of unreality as 15 Army Group raced towards Trieste and Venice spearheaded by the New Zealanders and 6 Armoured DIV.
02 May Wednesday. At 2pm all Axis forces in Italy and Austria totalling 1,000,000 laid down their arms in unconditional surrender after protracted negotiations dating back to February 1945. When General K. Wolff in command of the SS made contact the Axis Army Group Commander Von Vietinghoff agreed to a cease fire at midday on Wednesday May 2nd. Before this was confirmed Field Marshal Kesselring now commanding the German forces in the North West Europe had his command increased to take in the Italian front and cancelled the arrangement. The contact man in all the ‘Toing and Froing’ was ‘Little Wally’ of the Amercan OSS (Office of Strategic Services), a Czech speaking fluent German and a legal expert, he had seen the brutalities of Dachau concentration camp as a prisoner, and now here he was in the centre of negotiations for peace in Europe. Kesselring was fighting for time in the hope of withdrawing to a stronghold in the mountains of Southern Europe it was therefore essential that the front in Italy was held. However after hearing of Hitler’s death he agreed to the Southern Front surrender at 0430 hours to take effect at 1400 hrs May 2nd. Field Marshal Alexander did not make any announcement until he received confirmation that the order for the cease fire had been issued by the German High Command and this confirmation came one hour before the deadline. This news was broadcast that evening, but did not rate an entry in either a number of personal diaries or The War Diary of the 7th. On May 5th force’s newspapers carried the news that the surrender was going well and that the German Generals had reported as ordered to 15 Army Group HQ for terms. The instrument of surrender was signed at Field Marshal Alexander’s HQ at Caserta on April 29th.
Apart from the 1,000,000 Axis troops who surrended, the enemy lost 500,000 men as casualties and the price to the Allies was over 300,000 in casualties during the Italian Campaign.
07 May Friday. The 7th received news that the war in Europe was over at 2000 hours, and the PM would make a formal announcement the next day and that The King would broadcast in the evening. There was a great celebration in the canteen when the stock of ‘Rezina’ was all but sold out. The next two days were holidays in honour of ‘V E Day’ and great celebrations went off with a flourish. The May 8th Edition of the forces newspaper carried messages of congratulations from far and wide to the CMF.
Major-General C B Callender, CB, MC, took over command of 4th Division from Major-General A D Ward, CB, CBE, DSO.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill leaving HMS AJAX to attend a conference ashore. December 28 1944. Athens can be seen in the background.
Click the link below for a short brief on the Greek Civil War
Dingo Scout Car Type used by the 7th in Greece
Some types of equipment used by the 7th in Greece
Archbishop Damaskinos with PM Churchill Athens December 1944
Lt Smart and Lt Hobson MC.
(Photo taken in Naples Aug 1944)
Photo by kind permission of Peter Hobson
A Special Order of the day was issued by Field Marshal Alexander.
The copy is from an Original.
10 May Thursday. Lt Smart and 16 ORs from 3 Pl left to join a mixed force of all arms from 28 Bde under command of Brigadier Preston known as ‘Preston Force’ to deal with the surrender of 22,000 Germans on the Island of Crete, and to stop the Cretans and Germans fighting each other. The Cretans were stirred up by ELAS elements encouraging the locals to pay off old scores. The Sapper detachment supervised Germans who cleared the minefields they had laid. Their methods were described as spectacular rather than efficient and were a hard bitten looking crowd. This was the last warlike contact with the German enemy by the 7th and the task was successfully completed in the last week of July.
15 May Tuesday. The 7th moved to Delfi to relieve 1238 Fd Coy RE and 2 Pl were detached to Lamia. The Delfi location was high up on a mountain-side clear of mosquitoes not far from the coast and very healthy. The Company settled into a peaceful routine of PT - Work - Sports mainly swimming in the afternoon interspersed with visits to the ancient city ruins of Delfi. Large numbers of civilians were employed as hire labour and under supervision on all kinds of works on roads, bridges, and buildings which was known as PWD (Public Works Dept). The hired civilians were paid wages and cash in kind, as rations. In the period until the 7th left Greece, problems cropped up due to strikes caused in the main by a very high inflation rate, and the constant pressure for food. Rations for the Sappers were not exactly deluxe, fresh potatoes rarely seen and the majority found the local café to eat in during the evening in addition to eating their full share in camp.
07 June Thursday. The move to Delfi was short lived as the 7th moved back to Volos. Capt Blewett left for the ‘225’, Capt K Severn MC was posted as 2 i/c and Lt E S Simmer joined the Company. 1 Pl began to build ‘Auction Bridge’ a 11o DS low level over the River Pinios at Larissa, the last recorded bridge to be built by the 7th. When Auction Bridge was completed after being held up for stores and the ferry dismantled. 3 Pl went to Faliron under command of 18 Fd PK Coy RE to build 4 DIV rest camp. Early in July Lt Bocker was posted to HQRE as the educational officer after a spell of almost 2 years as 2 Pl Commander. Lots of discussion went on regarding release and the first one out of the hat was Spr W Edwards demobbed as one of A/S II Group on Saturday July 7th. At the time a number of Sappers went home on LIAP and from this day onwards the strength of the ‘Shiny 7’ gradually fell and as time passed there were many changes of personnel due to release. Quite a number would be on leave which in some cases could be for two or more months worked out in this way. Anyone with three and a half years service overseas was entitled to thirty days’ leave at home known as ‘Python’. This could be added to LIAP making sixty-one days and known as LILOP. At the end of the war all regular soldiers were entitled to twenty- eight days leave and ORs re-engaging to complete twelve or twenty-two years service were granted a further twenty-eight days.
26 July Thursday. Spr J Godden was killed whilst riding a M/C in a road accident and was buried at Faliron War Cemetery, Athens.the most skilful M/C riders had serious problems on the Greek roads which were a constant hazard to men and machines. The whole Company were now together at Volos and early in August Major Johnson was posted to the MEF prior to release, and Major Hamilton was posted from the ‘59’ as OC.
15 August Wednesday. The news everyone was hoping for came when the Japanese surrendered unconditionally and the war was at an end. This day was named ‘V J Day’ and the 7th celebrated for two days in style. Slowly the 7th became a Road Works, District RE, and a Fd Pk Coy rolled into one responsible for engineer store dumps and in charge of all PDW hired labour. The Company workshop produced standardised road signs, repaired a constant flow of vehicles of all types and infantry units were scoured for tradesmen to cope with the work to be done. Captain Smart was posted as the Garrison Engineer. A Greek typist was employed and a Greek typewriter bought to ensure that contracts were made as intended. Problems arose over a contract for work on the 53 General Hospital, as the local materials which the Greeks could supply sand, gravel and standing timber could only be bought at inflated prices.
The rains in late September produced washouts of diversions and found the weakness in any structure near rivers. Lts Boutwood and Coombes were posted to the 7th, and at the beginning of October Lt-General Scobie paid a visit to the Company, and the 2 RF paraded their colours in Volos watched by the 7th and many of the local population. Trade courses were set up in Italy for anyone wishing to take advantage and prepare for the jobs they wished to have when released.
December. The cookhouse grapevine as good as ever forecast a move further north and this proved to be correct. The Division were to relieve 4 Indian Division in the north of Greece, the relieved Indian units would return to India and the British units of that Division to the south of Greece to form 13 Division with other British units.
This was a blow as the billets at Volos had been vastly improved, and now in midwinter it would be a matter of starting over again. This did not affect the preparations for ‘Christmas’, turkey plucking and the rest. A ‘Christmas Party’ was held for the children of the hired civilian labour which was a great success and the 7th celebrated in traditional style, officers and Sgts serving the Dinner and then playing a selected team at football. Late in the year Lt-Colonel Walker DSO, became CRE in place of Lt-Colonel Finch OBE.
June. Major P W E Kinder MC, became OC and Major-General Down CBE, GOC 4th Division. ‘225’ a unit of 4 DIV since January 1940 were replaced by 42 Fd Coy RE. All units in the Division were now regular units.
An outbreak typhoid fever in Verioa caused strict regulations to be enforced regarding drinking water. All cafes were placed out of bounds. A Spr was infected who had refused inoculation, and another Spr was thought to have been infected whilst away on a course. Anyone who had not been inoculated with TAB was confined to barracks.
July. It is sad to relate that Spr J E Tolley died from typhoid fever on July 27th and was buried at Faliron War Cemetry , Athens.
The task of the Division in Greece was now complete and the first units sailed from Salonika to the Middle East in August. Meanwhile the 7th continued to operate as a works unit for the PWD. Christmas was celebrated in Greece for a second time.
Early in 1947 the 7th was posted to the MEF, and then placed in ‘Suspended Animation’ disbanded. It mounted to the same thing. After continuous service from January 1st 1805, having served with distinction under Wellington in the Peninsular, throughout the Crimean War, Boer War and World War 1, as a unit of the ‘Contemptibles’. ‘The Shiny 7’ ‘Black Horse’ was now on the shelf until 1949 when it was reformed as 7 Field Squadron RE in 21 Engineer Regiment part of BAOR.
'Scobiemass' photos courtesy Lt Hobson MC with kind permission of Peter Hobson.
Lieutenant General R M Scobie CB, CBE, MC, General Officer Commanding Allied Land Forces Greece, at his headquarters in Athens.
Paratroops from 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade, take cover on a street corner in Athens during operations against members of ELAS 6 December 1944
Sherman tanks and troops from 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade, during operations against members of ELAS in Athens, 18 December 1944.
British soldiers admire the Caryatids during a tour of the Acropolis in Athens.
Indian troops visit accropolis
Field Marshal Alexander
KG PC GCB OM GCMG CSI DSO MC
I returned to the fields of glory,
Where the green grasses and flowers grow.
And the wind softly tells the story,
Of the brave lads of long ago.
March no more my soldier laddie,
There is peace where there once was war.
Sleep in peace my soldier laddie,
Sleep in peace, now the battle's o'er.
In the great glen they lay a sleeping,
Where the cool waters gently flow.
And the grey mist is sadly weeping,
For those brave lads of long ago.
March no more my soldier laddie,
There is peace where there once was war.
Sleep in peace my soldier laddie,
Sleep in peace, now the battle's o'er.
See the tall grass is there awaiting,
As their banners of long ago.
With their heads high forward threading,
Stepping lightly to meet the foe.
March no more my soldier laddie,
There is peace where there once was war.
Sleep in peace my soldier laddie,
Sleep in peace, now the battle's o'er.
Some return from the fields of glory,
To their loved ones who held them dear.
But some fell in that hour of glory,
And were left to their resting here.
Ballad: The Battle's o'er - Andy Stewart
7 Field Company RE War Diary 1945-1947
This is a fitting ballad to all the 'Shiny Seveners' who have been killed in all campaigns or have died in peace.
Please click on the link below
4 Division Victoria Cross awards 1939-1945
T/Capt R.Wakeford VC
2/4 Bn Hampshire Regiment
Date: 13 May 1944
Place: Near Cassino, Italy
Fus F.A.Jefferson VC
2 Bn Lancashire Fusiliers
Date: 16 May 1944
Place: Monte Cassino, Italy
7 Field Company RE
4 Division TRF
7 Field Company RE
was in the 4TH Division during this period
King George VI
Cap Badge during
the period 1936-1952
19 january. The 7th main body were in Veroia - the move was made in two stages to take over from 4 Fd Coy Sappers & Miners IE. Veroria was situated inland about 30/40 miles from the east coast and Coy HQ was in Veroria Barracks. Tasks were familiar, road communications, general works on property, and the supervision of a German Engineer Coy which was something new. Billets were taken over from 21 Fd Coy Sappers & Miners IE.
05 February. 2 Pl were detached to Kozani situated midway between the east and west coasts and their billets needed a great deal of work to bring them up to a reasonable standard and over-crowding could not be avoided.
High winds caused drifting snow blocking roads - the civilian labour worked well but expected to be paid over the odds and refused to work in wind ‘The Vardar’ possibly because of their very poor clothing. A number of the bridges were constructed of ‘Flambo’ a modified ‘Bailey’, made locally, using mild steel.
Lt Weddle and a number of reinforcements arrived and 20 CRE Works Lt - Colonel M C Richardson paid a visit to the Company. The CRE considered that the billets at Kozani were unsatisfactory and that the rations for the detachment were inadequate - this triggered off a number of visits by 4 DIV GOC and others. At the end of June the problem was partially solved by transferring two Sections of 2 Pl to HQ. The rest of the 7th fared much better, a canteen was opened and as always the Sappers found havens of their own as a change and supplement to normal rations. Welfare was not helped by the fact that new battledress had gone out of fashion and it really was a case of ‘make and mend’. The ‘Lone Sapper’ busy with his sharp pencil and note book working out his points for release wondered how it could happen that a high percentage of the population were walking about in good battledress and here he was mending frayed cuffs of his threadbare battledress.
05 March. Sadly Spr L Bye a very young Sapper died at 159 Fd Ambulance and was buried by a party from 3 Pl at Salonika on March 7th, and later moved to Faliron, Athens.
Greek elections were held on March 30/31 and all troops were confined to barracks, any disturbances which may have occurred did not affect the 7th and appeared to go off democratically and peacefully. The task of the British Force in Greece was now completed. An uneasy truce existed with the ELAS who had lost support, they had withdrawn to their mountain strongholds to prepare for another day.
April. There were further round of inspections by the E-in-C MEF, and the GOC-in-C Land Forces Greece. Capt Severn MC, was now OC as Major Hamilton had left for release. The 7th were now working a normal peacetime routine and sports played a much greater part in the programme and a cutting from ‘Quadrant’ shows that the Company still knew how to use a bat and ball.
2 Platoon, Volos sea front, Greece 1945
Left to Right back row: Morrison, Calender, Eastwood, Herbet, Cole, Dickinson, Fuller, Ireland, Dodd, Davidson, Henderson, Scott
Middle row: O'Halleron, Taylor, Wake, Gilleard, Morris, Maughan, Hamilton, Williams, Aldis, Noble, Patteson
Front row: Twells, Smiles, Ralph,Jackson, Woodland, Frame, Gorman, Hearn, Vams? Stamper
Below: A cutting from the Quadrant
This cutting from ‘The Quadrant’ published I September 1945 requires no comment.
This cutting from ‘The Quadrant’ published I September 1945 requires no comment.
A small regatta was held with the teams of four crew from each platoon using German assault boats. This was won by one of the Coy HQ teams and L/Sgt Cloke won the single sculls. A minor bridge school took shape. Parties of 1/6 E Surreys were attached for training with assault boats in fast flowing currents. A great deal of time was required to keep vehicles on the road due to continuous use and a shortage of spares. The RMO took the hint giving interesting talk on many aspects of health in Greece, and carried out an FFI inspection. A Section came under command of 2 DCLI on a goodwill tour of Euboa Island for one week.
The 7th moved on to Khalkis where 1 Pl had taken over the work in progress maintaining the Thebes-Khalkis road with hired labour, and the operation of the swing bridge at Khalkis between the mainland and Euboea Island shown on a photograph. Work commenced improving the ends of local jetties at Khalkis. A training programme was soon under way constructing ‘Bailey’ pontoon rafts to take ‘Churchill’ tanks, Class 40. Trials were made with improvised rafts, using German assault boats and cheeses. Timber drum rafts constructed by 18 Fd Pk were used as flying ferries and because of the shortage of cars and outboard motors ‘Kedge Anchors’ were the order of the day. At times the sea was rough curtailing watermanship activities.
21 January. ‘7’s moves kept pace with the progress of work and Xilokastron was the next stop. A special fact finding group of five TUC headed by Sir Walter Citrine arrived in Athens. There followed a deputation of MPs who reported back to the House of Commons on the situation. The TUC group like the MPs were given a free hand. They visited a mass grave where a bucket of eyes had been found, and had a free no holds barred meeting in a hall full of troops and were put in the picture as to the true state of affairs in no uncertain terms. They found great resentment among the troops on the unfair manner Greece had been presented by the press. Later even ‘The Times’ was moved to print the facts about ELAS atrocities.
The Divisional welfare services moved to Greece at the end of the month. Quadrant appeared and a restaurant was opened in the Averoff, Athens, which in its day had served Kings and Ambassadors.
On the last day of the month 1 Pl moved to Khalkis, later in the day all civilian labour was paid off except the interpreter.
02 February. Commitments were handed over to the ‘272’ 46 DIV and the ‘7’ came under command of the CRE 4 DIV. Final preparations for ‘Scobimas’ were made for the celebrations to be held the next day. Captain Corry and CSM Smith worked very hard collecting Christmas fare and willing hands plucked 20 turkeys. The celebrations were in traditional style. A church service in Xilokastron Church, Christmas Dinner in the village hall served by the officers and Sgts, and in the evening a Company dance was held in the village hall very much enjoyed by everyone even by those who did their stint on guard that night.
Friday. By the end of the day the whole Company had moved into Corinth Police Station, and the first recces were done on ‘Sunny Bridge’. In the evening the Sappers gathered strength in the local cafes sampling the wine and visiting photographers to send snaps home. Local cinemas opened and one of the pictures shown was ‘Kentucky’ to picture starved Sappers a classic. The Drivers took their share of guard duty and were enlisted to unload ‘Bailey’ stores at a dump being formed by the 7th on the canal side at Corinth. The normal procedure for guard duty was Pls mounted their own guard - each Section took turns on a nightly rota with a pair of the Section doing (usually) a two hour spell. Providing guards could be a problem for a Pl on detachment especially in mobile type warfare where the whole Pl were out on jobs. This was an aspect to which the Germans always paid great attention. Their specialist troops were not expected to do their own maintenance etc when resting. The ‘Lone Sapper’ took a very dim view if awakened too early because an earlier turn had forgotten to ask his Section Commander for his pocket watch passed on from one relief to the next. (Service pocket watches were issued to Cpls upwards).
04 January. 2 Pl remained in support of 28 Bde- 1 Pl were hard at work on the aerodrome. 3 Pl after a day weapon training were in support of ‘Hunterforce’ commanded by KDG CO in an armoured sweep to the NW of Athens to capture the main road bridge, called Kolokinthus over the River kifissus and crossing it to raid the suburb Peristeri reported as an ELAS HQ. Intelligence reports from reliable sources indicated that the bridge was prepared for demolition. The bridge was strafed by ‘Spitfires’ and shelled until the main body advanced capturing it intact. ‘C’ Squadron KDG swung south to the Dhafni bridge 2000 yards downstream of the main bridge. It was thought from aerial recces that this bridge was blown and blocked by fallen trees. A crossing was forced by 3 Pl aided by ‘Spitfires’ - Spr Billington Lt Smarts batman and a Cpl were wounded by small arms fire and evacuated. The column then swung north to join up with the main body. Many dumps of arms and ammunition were found and when the search was resumed the next day, tons of mortar, small arms ammunition, 500 lbs of explosive and 50 rifles were collected. A gruesome mass grave was discovered - the corpses of 1500 hostages executed mainly with knives, and butcher’s cleavers, the majority of the bodies had been mutilated. Witnesses testified that during the ELAS occupation, at regular intervals batches of hostages were picked up from the streets and their homes, brought to Peristeri and murdered. The PM gave details to the House of Commons on January 18th but some critics were sceptical. The raid was a decided success.
Lt Hobson MC outside 7 Field Company office Volos 1945