We left Florina and started heading south which will take us eventually to Athens for our cruise across to Crete, as our men and women did in 1941. We decided to again drive through the Vevi area and then proceeded to the village of Sotir where 2/4th Bn, the Rangers and a Sqn of 3rd Royal Tanks. In the morning Vasey and Dougherty went forward to the companies but as light came realised that the Germans were in weapon pits on the flat ground only 1000 metres away and a machine gun fired on them as they were exposed. The British lime opened fire but not knowing that the Germans had prisoners sitting in the open, Lt de Meyrick and some others were killed. The prisoners managed to reach protection or to hide in the young crop. When the melee stopped and the Germans assembled the prisoners, 30 out of 123 had been wounded and others had escaped.
We passed through Ptolemais where we discussed the actions of the Armoured Brigade against the German armour who had tried to bypass the position that had been established forward of the Pass. It was here that the Armoured Brigade fought their finest battle in the only tank versus tank battle of the campaign which was a win for the Brigade and as the Germans had suffered heavily, losing around 30 tank plus other armoured vehicles there was no follow up as Brigadier withdrew his force. The Armoured Brigade was led by the 3rd Royal Tanks, 4th Hussars, 102 Anti-Tank Regt, 27 NZ Machine Gun Battalion and the Rangers. Mobility was the key and all the Brigade including the anti-armour mounted on trucks raced to intercept, which they did and surprised the German Force.
Most of the losses to the Armoured Brigade was due to mechanical fatigue and those losses left the Brigade very depleted, but they did a marvellous job. Due to mechanical faults mainly, the Armoured Brigade was very depleted but had done a marvellous job holding the rear guard. After going through the battle we continued on our way towards Kozani and then swung East to Veria Pass. The Veria Pass was being held by 16 Brigade to cover any enemy incursions from that flank but as the main withdrawal had crossed the Aliakman River the Brigade started to withdraw off the high range, down into the valley and further to the crossing point over the river. It was an incredible feat to withdraw partly in the dark from such a high position by going straight over the top and then over the next range before dropping down again into the Aliakman Valley. But with incredible endurance they walked the 54 kilometres and finally climbed into their new positions at Servia.
At the village near the top of the Pass we stopped for a coffee in the same café that we have visited in the past. As usually, we were welcomed by the couple who run the café and we ordered our coffee and relaxed there while we finished our coffee. We then moved onto a position that had been occupied by our soldiers all those years ago and there were still indentations in the ground to show where their positions were. It was fitting at that stage that after reading about their movement to the Aliakman River, we had a toast for the men of the 16th Brigade. The scenery from there was magnificent but I feel those there in 1941 would not have noticed.
We then retraced our steps to our lunch stop at Kesaria, which is on the very high ground overlooking the new bridge over the Aliakman Lake. Lunch was excellent as it always was and many of us had the trout, a good choice. The restaurant is located high above the lake and has views across to Servia and the Servia Pass. We cannot travel through the Pass tomorrow on our way to Platamon as it was damaged by an earthquake and unsafe at present. You can see in the photo here how the bridge is buckled. Following lunch we headed to our hotel, settled, prepared for an early dinner for tonight we headed out to Ano Komi where we were entertained by Maria and Panahoutsis and members of the village and joined them for the Religious stroll around the village led by an Easter Icon. Lovely friendly people I look forward to meeting each year.
Tomorrow Platamon and the Aegean Sea.