A big day that took us from Platamon on the foothills of Mount Olympus to Piraeus Harbour and our ferry to Crete. Leaving our hotel at 0815 was necessary as we needed the extra time available to us to allow us to visit various locations associated with the 480BCE and 1941 Campaigns. The first visit was to the Castle at Platamon where Lt Col Mackay and his 21st NZ Battalion were ordered to hold the pass at Platamon leading to the Pinios Pass and the Tempe Gorge. Engineers had arrived at the position on the 10th April and were preparing weapon pits in the marble on the hillsides so when Col Mackay arrived on the 14th April at least a lot of the work had been completed. His order from Brigadier Hargest was to hold the position until the 16 April, but added, there is to be no withdrawal. An incredible order, as how can you be given an order to hold to a certain time but were not permitted to withdraw? This was the same Brigadier who due to his inept leadership would not support the Commanding Officer of the 22nd Battalion in order for the Battalion to hold the vital ground overlooking Maleme Airfield.
Anyway Mackay set out his defence and covered all the approaches to his vital ground. He had not long to wait as the German 2nd Panzer Division approached across the flat plain from Katerini. The Germans tried a frontal attack but were repulsed by the Battalion with the Germans taking huge casualties. The battle ragged all that day and evening and into the next day but the Battalion was holding. At one stage the German Force numbered close to 4,000 opposing the 700 with Mackay. Many German tanks were destroyed by the troop from 5 Field Regt and many more lost their tracks in the rocky steep slopes. Mackay determined when it was time to go and the Battalion obtained a clean break and headed for the pass.
We then entered the Castle, built originally in 400 BCE but extended and rebuilt by the Franks in the 10th Century. The Ottomans had it from 1453 until 1912 when the Greeks regained the Castle and area during the uprising that finally expelled the Ottomans from Greece.
There was originally a railway with a tunnel running under the mountain where the Castle stood but as the railway has ceased to run an enterprising fellow has established a wonderful café in front of the tunnel with glass walkways over the original rail lines and an entrance into the tunnel itself where one can walk where the Orient Express once travelled. Leaving the Café after enjoying a coffee overlooking the Aegean Sea we headed south on our journey for the day.
We had a straight run through to Lamia where we had lunch in the road-side café there. After lunch we adjourned to the area of Thermopylae to discuss the famous battles that had taken place there over the centuries. Firstly, the Spartans against the Persians and then the NZ Division against the German Panzer Division. We know the heroic battle lost by the Spartans due to treachery but not many know the heroic fight by the NZ Division. The Division was supported by a Medium Regiment and 4 Field Regiments and 2 Anti-Tank Regiments. The Field Guns and infantry held the German Division up and inflicted many casualties in both men and machines. Firing over open sites, one gun accounted for 11 German Tanks. At the end of the engagement the battlefield was strewn with burning tanks and trucks. A clean break followed and all were through Athens by next morning.
We continued south and visited the site of the ancient Battle at Marathon and then moved directly to Athens. Dinner followed and we made our way onto our ferry at 2000 for our cruise to Crete. Tomorrow, Crete.