This was our last day on the mainland before we return in 5 days time. We are now on the ferry about to cast off for Crete where we arrive at 0500 tomorrow, time now is 2030 hours.
We started the day early again as we had a few things to see and do at Platamon before heading south to Piraeus Harbour to catch this ferry. Our first stop was to stand outside the northern wall of the Crusader Fort where we discussed the heroic action there by the New Zealand 21st Battalion as it held the ground against the German Panzer Division. The battle was fought with great manoeuvre skill by the CO Lt Col Macky as he had placed his companies in the exact positions to cover his area and was able to control the ground of tactical importance which was high up on the ridge.
He had in support 4 x 25 pounders from the NZ Battery and some Engineers. The unit dug in with the help of the Engineers who also blew the roof in on the railway tunnel thereby blocking that approach by the enemy. At one stage there were 100 plus Tanks brought forward to attack the position but they only interfered with each other as the front was not wide and the Tanks could not climb the ridge. Many dropped their tracks on the stony ground and the Field Guns accounted for quite a few. Battalion sized attacks floundered under the concentrated fire of the well placed positions but after holding for 24 hours and with the German infantry starting to outflank the position to the West, Col Macky started to withdraw his force to the Pinios Gorge. As he withdrew, it was a surprise that the Germans did not quickly follow up. This gave him the clean break he needed to withdraw without loss.
A visit inside the Fort was next and much work has been conducted since our tour was last here. Also the overgrown area within the Fort has been cleared which gives you an indication of the size of the area that would have had 500 living there in its prime period.
Excavations conducted in 1995 brought to light the traces of an Hellenistic fortification, dated to the 4th Century BC. This confirmed the suggestion that the site of the castle was occupied by the ancient city of Herakleion, the first city of Macedonia, according to an ancient source dated to 360 BC. Habitation continued on the site until the 4th Century AD. The Byzantine wall was restored by the Franks after 1204 and again by the Franks in the 14th Century. At the end of the 14th Century the fortress was captured by the Turks and was again rebuilt; its inhabitants continued to be Christian. The Germans shelled the Fort and surrounding area as part of their assault.
Coffee followed at our special restaurant in the Glen where we had lunch yesterday and following coffee we headed south. Lunch was at Lamia, only a short stop before we headed up the Brallos Pass road, as our withdrawing force did in April 1941. Once at the top we descended via the highway and visited the area of the historic battle and the 1941 battle at Thermopylae. The 300 Spartans first and the NZ Division next. Both were heroic but the latter was the success story. We then continued our journey arriving into Athens for dinner at 1820. Maria was waiting for us with our tickets for the ferry and joined us for an excellent dinner. We boarded at 2010 and await the ferry to start its cruise.