The holding action at Tempe Gorge


The Greek people have had a long tradition of being invaded by marauding barbarians from the north and during the onset of spring in 1941 they were yet again feeling the brunt of a hostile invading army.

This time it was the Germans and the badly equipped and under resourced?Allied army was proving no match for the new experience of Blitzkrieg.

In scenes of utter confusion and panic, the forces of Greek, British, Australian and New Zealand forces were slowly being outflanked and outmanoeuvred by the better-armed divisions of Germans who had the added benefit of massive air superiority.

The fighting withdrawal which began north of Salonika at the Metaxas Line had slowly but surely began to resemble an all-out retreat, as Allied forces struggled to stay ahead of the encircling Germans.

Ultimate disaster was avoided however by a tiny rear-guard action which held up the German juggernaut just long enough for the bulk of the allied forces to withdraw through Larissa and escape south to fight another day.

This series of engagements came to be known as the Battle of Tempe Gorge and the participants were a motley collection of Australian and New Zealand forces. The force comprised of two battalions from the Australian 16th Brigade: the 2/2nd and 2/3rd and one Battalion from the New Zealand Division, the 21st. A small Battery: the 26th was also present alongside L Troop of the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment.

The opposing German forces consisted of the 2nd Panzer Division and the 6th Mountain Division.

So, a little over three ANZAC battalions facing two heavily armed German Divisions with air and tank support? What could possibly go wrong?

The attack began at 7 am on the 18th of April with the Germans attacking through the gorge and after bitter resistance found themselves on the back foot. Around midday, the Germans refocused their efforts and the Anzac forces began to get pushed back into the surrounding hills.

Despite desperate holding actions, by 5.30pm the battle had degenerated into utter chaos and any meaningful defence had disintegrated under the repeated German attacks which continued into the early evening.

The defending Anzac force had been badly mauled but had held their ground throughout the day giving back just as much as they received.

The time gained by this engagement proved to be invaluable as the retreating Allied forces managed to withdraw south of Larissa and establish a new line of defence at Thermopylae.

This action proved to be one of great significance as it helped to turn the tide of what was becoming an increasingly desperate situation, into one where most of the Allied troops were able to withdraw safely and fight another day.