Please note that the dates for these tours may vary from the guide below. No tours will be offered until international borders are open.
We woke to an overcast day and rain was more than a chance so umbrellas and coats came with us. We were not far away today as most sites we wanted to visit were only 10 or so kilometres from our hotel. Leaving at 0900 we headed south to the Pinios Gorge and drove though on the old road as in that area of the Gorge was where the first action occurred. There is now a new highway that passes through the mountain in one of Greece's longest tunnels but we needed to be on the old road. This was the position where 21st NZ Battalion deployed following its successful delay at the Castle at Platamon.
Due to the narrowness of the Gorge the Battalion and the supporting Anti-Tank crews were spread out in a linear formation which gave the position depth from an approach through the Pass. We passed through the 21st NZ Battalion position then made our way through the village of Tempe then continued on the north side towards Gonnos for it was there that the German Mountain Division broke out from the mountains in an endeavour to cross the Pinios and cut off our force.
From a position south of Gonnos we were able to view the area across the river where the 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions were deployed awaiting the arrival of the enemy. The first engagements were here as the enemy tried to gain access across the river where they suffered high casualties and their attack was defeated. Simultaneously, the tanks of the enemy brushed aside the 21st Battalion and broke out onto the open area. The time was now 1130 and the 21st Battalion withdrew from the Gorge and 3 tanks that emerged were fired on by the anti-tank gunners destroying two of them. The third tank held back and strangely the Germans did not press forward again for 2 hours.
Attacks resumed at 1500 across the river but was stopped again with major casualties to the attacking force and the river was not crossed, however, the main threat was from the new attack by the tanks supported by infantry out of the pass. A major battle ensued with man against tank as the Germans advanced with their tanks trailing trailers full of troops and it was those troops who suffered badly in the fight. The weight of armour against our Battalions proved the turning point resulting in the Australians slowly withdrawing to the south and having many cut off by the enemy tanks with Major Cullen leading 12 officers and 140 men back over the mountains to the East coast and then via various moves through the islands to re-join the unit on Crete. The last rear-guard was fought near the village of Makrychori with the last 25 Pounders firing over open sights until one was destroyed then the gunners withdrew with their wounded and the breech block of the other gun.
Brigadier Allen, the 16th Brigade Commander wrote afterwards, "it was a fantastic battle. Everybody was on top of the ground and all in the front line including artillery, Bren carriers, infantry and various unit headquarters with unit transport only a few hundred yards [metres] in the rear. Some confusion could be expected with every weapon firing and aircraft strafing from above. If you saw it at the cinema you would say the author had never seen a battle. We had to hold the position until dark and thanks to the morale of the force it was done. As expected the pressure eased after dark, but I have often wondered why the enemy did not follow up his success if only with infantry patrols".
Last year we visited the local Feta Cheese factory so we asked if it was possible to visit again to see the process taking place. They were again happy to have us visit and Leya, the Chemist was again to show us through.After donning our special gear we were shown through and saw all the processes taking place as this is their heaviest period. There are 400 milk producers providing the milk to the factory, some as little as 10 litres and others many thousands of litres. They receive 40 tonnes of milk daily and from that 13 tonnes of Feta are produced.
We gave our thanks and headed back to the village of Gonnos where we had lunch in a typical village Taberna, salad, tziki, bread and sausage was served. Following lunch we drove back to the hotel before heading up into the mountains to a quaint little village. This is a village where cars are not permitted, except for the few owners when they come to the village as most live away somewhere. There are only 35 who permanently live in the village. As we arrived we made our way to the square then to a shop where a few items were purchased then to a quaint café for a coffee. We did have some left over sausage and again we found ourselves feeding local animals, this time the cats.
Following coffee we made our way through the village to the entrance where Tassos had positioned our coach for our trip down the mountain to our hotel. Arriving back at our hotel we had free time before dinner to prepare for our big move south tomorrow to the ferry at Pirraeus and on to Crete.