The ANZAC’s Thermopylae

Here we bloody well are and here we

It was on this day in 1941, at Thermopylae which showed beyond any doubt that Leonidas and his handpicked Guard are the ultimate warrior standard…

When the allied Australian and New Zealand forces that had landed in Greece earlier in April, began to retreat, some had to act as rearguard. Passing through Olympus and Servia, the ideal spot to set a cover line for the retreating forces were the straights of Thermopylae. The New Zealanders under General Freyberg were holding the line from the coastal road to the Sperchios river. The Australians’ defensive area was from Sperchios to the village of Brallos. In and around the village itself, the 19th Australian infantry brigade had been placed, comprised of the 4th and 8th Infantry Battalion. Commander of these forces was the Gallipoli veteran, General Mackay. On April the 20th, the Australian forces were reinforced by the 11th Infantry Battalion.

The ANZAC generals are said to have informed their men that they would not retreat from their positions. A good example of the ignorance of the overall strategic planning to leave Greece or, simply, an attempt to enforce maybe laconic discipline?

In any case, Mackey, after the battle had stated to an Australian newspaper correspondent that “I thought we would last for a couple of weeks and that we would simply be pushed back due to sheer weight of numbers”.

And yet, as would be shown many times in subsequent WWII history, the forces that had well prepared defences, received the order to retreat and abandon their positions! An order, almost criminal from a tactical point of view, since there was no one to cover that retreat! Luckily enough, the two generals in command, both distinguished veterans of WWI, executed the order received, but left a brigade in each of the two defence positions. With two brigades covering the retreat of the remaining three, the generals hoped to prevent a tragedy of the ancient Greek proportions.

The 6th New Zealand brigade and the 19th Australian infantry brigade had to hold the passages to southern Greece, for as long as possible, allowing for the safe retreat of the rest of the units to the South.

On the morning of the 24th April and shortly before the outbreak of the expected German attack, general Vasey, commander of the 19th Australian brigade handed out the daily order. Inspired by the historical figure of Leonidas, he said to his men,

“Here we bloody well are, and here we bloody well stay”.

The Nazi forces were unaware of the fact that the defensive positions that they had located were already abandoned by most of the men in defence. They fell upon the Allied forces with fury, much like the sea on the ANZAC’s right wing. They fell however upon the wavebreakers! Waves of soldiers, reinforced by armour and Stuka dive bombers fell upon the walls of Australians and New Zealanders. The only outcome was for them to break. The attackers, not the defenders! With fantastic bravery and composure, the warriors from the “island continent” repelled all the German attacks.

During one afternoon Stuka pass, a New Zealand officer stands up shouting above the noise of the battle to the men in his platoon to drop for cover. A soldier hesitates for a moment. A fatal moment. He doesn’t make it. The Stuka riddles the ground and gets him. The lieutenant remains dumbstruck petrified. Rage flows through him. A second Stuka approaches. He hears it. His soldiers shout for him to get to cover. He ignores them. He turns and points the muzzle of his Lee Enfield towards the sky. He aims…

“You won’t get anywhere with that, Lieutenant!” a soldier yells at him from the relative safety of the trenches.

“You’re right!”

he answers and tossing his rifle, he runs to his dead comrade. He picks up the Bren from the lifeless arms of his soldier and goes two steps forward. Down on one knee and with the machine gun shouldered (!) he fires a long burst on the bomber closing in! The Stuka returns fire. The shots from the aircraft fall frighteningly close and around him, raising dirt and stones and creating a curtain of dust. The Stuka levels out of the dive and leaves. The covered New Zealanders raise their heads to see how badly their lieutenant was hit. With the dust resting, they see their lieutenant without a scratch, having raised his arm, hand in a fist and his middle finger extended towards the leaving bomber! Enthusiastic warriors as they be, the New Zealanders start cheering and counterattacking the infantry forces in front of them! Was it luck? Was it a very well calculated (why he took two steps forward from his fallen comrade) risk? The only thing certain was that in the same way, this particular officer would continue to avoid enemy fire for the upcoming years of the war and would become the most decorated soldier of WWII!

By nightfall, the ANZACs had destroyed 15 German tanks and had erased almost a complete company from the total Wehrmacht forces, with relatively light losses of their own. On the night of the 24th of April, a new order for retreat came in. This time, they had no reason to stay. They abandoned their positions and followed the bitter procession of soldiers trying to reach the ports of Rafina, Porto Rafti, Nafplion and Kalamata (Peiraias could not be used to refuge all those fighters along with their equipment since it constituted a permanent target for  the Luftwaffe and the, by now almost dead, Regia Aeronautica).

The ANZACs followed with respect and ethos the footsteps of king Leonidas and his 300 brave men. Always the correct people to do the heavy lifting no matter which state, they never brought shame to their flags. The same however could not be said for their senior leadership (political and military alike). As Crete would prove about a month later, senior leadership would, on more than one occasion, prove to be very insufficient…

Read the article in Greek.

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Του Εύζων η αρετή

Η οποιαδήποτε εισαγωγή από το ιστολόγιο απλά περιττεύει…

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Του Εύζωνος Κανάρη Αντωνίου…

Εύζων δεν σε κάνει μόνο η στολή,
Εύζωνας είσαι σε όλη σου την ζωή. .
Στην τιμή σου, στην οικογένεια σου, στην δουλειά σου, στους φίλους σου
και την εκτίμηση σου προς αυτά.
Εύζων σημαίνει να είσαι πάντα ζωσμένος καλά…
με μία καρδιά που χτυπάει δυνατά…
και μέσα στην ψυχή…
θάρρος, αγάπη και υπομονή.
(Του Εύζωνα η μεγαλύτερη αρετή…)

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Flying in foreign skies – A South African Guardian of Greece

It is important for us to not forget who we are and where we come from. It is also important that we don’t forget what we are fighting for. Honour to those who can do all of these and give their all to their struggle. One of those was Marmaduke “Pat” Pattle who was killed in action, a day after the Germans invaded the unfortified Athens…

RAF Squadron Leader, Marmaduke Pattle, who was given the nickname of “Pat”, was born on July 3rd, 1914. His aerial victories (confirmed and unconfirmed) are over 50 and the confirmed over 40. Of those, 26 were Italian and of those, 15 were recorded as he was flying the Gloster Gladiator. A genuine gladiator himself as was his plane he fought against his Axis counterparts and at the end, against disease and the hardships of war. He was declared as the Gladiators’ and Hurricanes’ top ace of WWII.

Pattle was born in South Africa, the son of English immigrants. As soon as he finished school he enlisted in the South African Air Force (SAAF) but in 1936 was transferred to the RAF. Upon completing his training as an operator, he was placed in the 80th Squadron which had just received its Gloster Gladiators.

In April 1938, 80th Squadron transferred to Egypt. It was there that for the first time his capabilities as an aviator and his natural talent as a marksman were noticed. It was there however that his love for the air force was also confirmed which was translated into hard work and effort to improve those two talents. Many would have been complacent, but he wanted to continuously improve and get even better!

With the outbreak of the war, Pattle’s Squadron was transferred to the borders of Libya, over which he first saw action in August of 1940. The “B” flight, which Pattle led, was moved to Siddi Barani. Until August 4th, 1940, in the air battles above the North African sand, Pattle had 4 shot down and one unconfirmed victory.

On August 4th, the Italians fought fire with fire, but he managed to escape without sustaining any injuries. That day, they were escorting a Lysander, when the British came face to face with six Breda Ba.65 of the 159 Squadrilia and as many CR-32 of the 160 Squarilia. From Pattle’s shots, the Breda made a forced landing and one of the Fiats fell spiralling out of control and the sky. After avoiding multiple attacks from Breda’s and CR’s, Pattle was forced to abandon his aircraft when he came under fire from Franco Lucchini – an ace, veteran of the Spanish civil war – and his rudder was destroyed. It’s not necessary for us to note once again that the Italian pilots had the tendency to fly and fight in packs, something that they proved many times in the Albanian theatre as well. Pattle walked till the border and two days later was picked up by a detachment of Hussars, who then took him to Siddi Barani.

On August 8th, leading 14 Gladiators versus 16 CR.42 of 9 and 10 Gruppo, Pattle brought down two more aircraft. Almost a month later, Pattle was promoted to first Lieutenant.

In November, Pattle’s Squadron was moved to Greece to reinforce the RHAF against the Italian invasion. It was this battle field that was destined to do him honors and make him the legend he is today. On November 19th, still with the Gladiators, Pattle and 8 of his pilots of the 80th Squadron attacked CR-42s and the G.50s in the area of Korytsa. In the air battle that ensued, Pattle accounted for two of the eleven (9 confirmed and 2 possible) in total British victories.

On February 11th, 1941 – the day that Bardavilias Anastasios was killed – Pattle was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Up until that point in the war, he was Britain’s top ace. What’s more, he had achieved that with the British outdated biplane, the Gloster Gladiator!

The aircraft, with which the 80th Squadron was equipped with, only 4 years before, had now been technologically removed from the modern aerial battle field. 80th Squadron re-equipped on February 20th, 1941 with Hawker’s rugged fighter, the Hurricane. That day, Pattle, with Hurricane V7724, led 6 Hurricanes that were escorting 16 Bristol Blenheims. Fiat G.50’s took off to intercept but fell upon the Hurricanes. It was the first time that Pattle tasted the firepower of the Hurricane’s 8 Vickers machine guns. It was the first of 35…

On March 18th, 1941, Pattle received the DFC a second time as with three Italian fighters shot down over Chemara, he had raised his total score to 23.

Pattle served with the 33rd Squadron in March and April of 1941. On his first contact with the Luftwaffe, on April 6th, Pattle shot down 2 Bf-109E’s of JG27 in the battle of the forts, in Rupel.

In April, Pattle fell victim of the flu and his health condition had reached such a low point that his acting commanding officer, Squadron Leader Jones, gave him a direct order not to fly unless the sirens notified of an air invasion. An order which Pattle very willingly ignored and despite his high fever (39 degrees Celcius), shot down 9 aircraft in 4 days!

On April 20th, the day on which he flew for the last time, taking part in the aerial battle of Athens, the last 12 fighters of the RAF in Greece, took off in a desperate and almost defiant interception mission of the German aircraft. Roald Dahl, a pilot of the RAF at the time, mentions that 5 Hurricanes were shot down with 4 of the aviators being killed. One of them was Pattle who had taken off despite his having still a high fever, due to the flu! The 3 out of 5 aerial victories of the Luftwaffe are credited to Gustav Rödel, one of the most successful Luftwaffe aces of WWII, even though Pattle’s kill was shared by two Bf-110’s of JG26.

What is amazing about Pattle’s score is that it was recorded in a time frame of 9 months, which in itself unavoidably leads us to the question: had he not have taken off that day and Pattle continued on in the war, how much would he have reached?

Pattle is remembered highly as an excellent marksman, an extremely good aviator and a very good leader. As a leader he was always demanding much more from himself than his men and it was said that even though he was supposed to be “in bed”, he insisted on leading his men!

Even though we will never know Pat’s exact number of kills, it is for a fact that they are over 27 and count between 27 and 44, without being quite able to exclude that they actually did reach 50. Regardless the exact number however, the Squadron Leader is the greatest biplane ace of WWII and one of the greatest Hurricane aces of the war. It is possible that he is the best RAF ace of the whole war. He claims the largest number of kills (confirmed and unconfirmed) but as we said before, we will never know for sure the grand total.

Squadron Leader Marmaduke Pat Pattle DFC and bar, fell during the very last stand of defence of Greece against the German invaders on this day, April 20th, 1941. We shall remember him because we remember the words of Pericles’ eulogy,

ΑΝΔΡΩΝ ΕΠΙΦΑΝΩΝ ΠΑΣΑ ΓΗ ΤΑΦΟΣ – EVERY [PATCH OF] EARTH [CAN BE] A PROMINENT MAN’S GRAVE!

ΑΙΕΝ ΥΨΙΚΡΑΤΕΙΝ – FOREVER HOLD THE HEIGHTS

Read this article in Greek

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Οι Άγνωστοι Πορτογάλοι

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Η (ευζωνική) ζωή μας (φωτογραφικές) στιγμές

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Ταξίδι στον χρόνο με 40 στάσεις…

Δημοσιεύεται όπως μας στάλθηκε…

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Σήμερα, 21 Μαρτίου έχει γενέθλια η Φρουρά. Σαν σήμερα, 21 Μαρτίου του 1914, ιδρύθηκε με την ονομασία Ανακτορική Φρουρά. Με την ευκαιρία, αυτής της σημαντικής επετείου στη χρονική πορεία της Φρουράς στον χρόνο, εγκαινιάζεται μία έκθεση ζωγραφικής στο στρατόπεδο της Προεδρικής Φρουράς με θέμα την εξέλιξη της ευζωνικής ενδυμασίας μέσα στα χρόνια…

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Η συλλογική μας μνήμη υπό κατάρρευση!

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The Victoria Cross- Ο Σταυρός της Βικτωρίας

vc1Η ανώτατη ηθική αμοιβή για γενναιότητα υπό εχθρικά πυρά συμπληρώνει σήμερα 160 χρόνια…
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