Battle of Kleisoura Pass

The Battle of bottleneck Kleisoura or Struggle bottleneck Kleisoura, played by the evening of April 13, 1941 and continued until the afternoon of April 14 the narrow passage formed by the mountains Vernon and wich is known as passing the Kleisouras Kastoria, between the forces of the Greek Army 20 Infantry Division and the German SS Adolf Hitler Bodyguard (Leibstandarte SS Adolf HitlerLSSAH), was a German motorized infantry division to brigade level. The capture of the pass was for the Germans strategic importance to the split of the front line that had formed the coalition forces and defined by the mountains of Verno wich Vourinos and west, Aliakmona river in the south and Mount Olympus to the southeast. The importance of the crossing was crucial for protection of controlled withdrawal of Greek forces fighting the Italians from Northern Epirus, which occurred after the split of the Greek-Bulgarian front, rapid German invasion of Yugoslavia.

Background

The rapid German promotion in Yugoslavia forced the British Lieutenant General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson (Sir Henry Maitland Wilson), commander of the British Expeditionary Corps, which consisted of the 6th Australian Division, 2nd New Zealand Division and the British 1st Armoured Brigade and the Greek military forces of TSKM (Army Section of Central Macedonia) (XII and 20th Infantry Divisions) order the withdrawal of the Allied defensive line Vermion a new defensive line westward to to address the new situation created by the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and threat of blocking would be created by the descent of the German army on the plain of Eordaia the rear ie the first line of defense of Bermuda. The decision by the British commander taken too dissent of EISH officers, who considered the accelerated movement as bad strategic move that would expose the allied army units. Indeed, as will be shown subsequently, moving with motorized transport was not applied as it should by the British officers and abandoned valuable war material.

The departure from the eastern slopes of Vermion had very negative impact on the Greek military units, as apart from the forced abandonment of well-prepared positions, there was a serious risk of exposure of the allied troops from enemy observation and air raids, although the path to west became night. The retreat covered by a mixed sized unit under the command of Lieutenant Australian Ivens Gkifarnt Mackay (Iven Giffard Mackay).

The purpose of the 20 Division was placed and defend the passage of the bottleneck, ie narrow Kleisoura the village and the road passing the bottleneck of twigless. The Dodecanese Constitution Volunteers 20 Division had detached and incorporated into unit Ivens Gkifarnt Mackay, and left to defend narrow, the 80th Constitution narrow Kleisoura and 35th Constitution Strait of shoots. The commander of 20 Division Colonel Miltiades Papakonstantinou, considering the importance of close Kleisoura and organization of the site had already sent by 10 April two infantry battalions, the 1st Battalion of 87th Constitution (I/87 Battalion) and the 2nd Battalion of the 80th Constitution (II/80 Battalion), an Dilochias pioneers and one degree mountain artillery to prepare the defense. Also sent on 11 April the Major Engineering Zissimopoulos to organize the anti-tank defense of bottleneck.

The Australian body tried to protect and give time to the Greek allied forces to move, but without success as slowing the movement and the Axis powers had descended very south than expected. When the first German forces occurred on April 13, most of the 20 Division had reached the site. The Dodecanese Constitution was divided in moving and could not get up and use. So after the conquest of VEVI by the German army was not long before the body along with some of the forces that eventually moved to collide in Battle Vevi, which resulted in a significant victory Axoma. This development certainly failed to allow the placement of Greek departments and timely preparation in strategic passage Kleisoura. Indeed some of these forces were cut off and could not be promoted to the west.

Opposing forces

Greek forces

The Greek forces belonging to the 20th Infantry Division. While I/87 and II/80 Orders and other attendant units had already reached the narrow Kleisoura already on 10 and 11 April, only a part of the 80th Constitution and the 6th Battalion had reached a comfort machine guns at noon on April 13 in the narrow passage. At 3:00 pm only one-third of all the Constitution had arrived. When it started getting dark, the Constitution managed to organize rudimentary and placed. Even during the night, some remaining forces streamed, until finally the move is complete in the morning of 14 April. These sections were half filled in manpower and held only one-third of heavy weaponry from machine guns and mortars. Shortages are also recorded in ammunition, medical supplies and communication devices, and much of it was abandoned because of the battle Vevi in Komnina and Ptolemais. For this reason, the commander of 20 Division had ordered to offset the lack of Kastoria. Between 10 and 14 April had arrived:

In operational readiness in the season 10 με April 11

•The I/87 Order of Division XII, April 10th, along with the company of Prokalypseos was placed at Lamp outpost of Greek-Yugoslav Border Sector X, 11 April. These sections were developed in the hills soubrette (1623 m) and Sargkonitsa (1386 m) north of the road Kastoria-Amynteon while another company, the 9th Battalion Prokalypseos of X Border Sector, had arrived on the 11th of April, was placed a hill southeast of the mountain passage Daouli and south of the same road. All three sections were in good operable.

•The II/80 Battalion developed defensively between hillocks Juma Manos (1534 m) and Mark Stone (1655 m), from April 10 were in good condition. Did not have to make any firm during the battle.

•2 alpine artillery, detached and installed by April 10.

•Two platoons of engineers, detached and installed by April 10.

With weaknesses and shortcomings of season 13 με April 14

•The 6th Machine Gun Battalion arrived post haste, was fatigued, had only half of its original strength and have significant shortcomings. Had 10 machine guns and had lined up right in the passage Daouli.

•The I/80 Battalion developed defensively in the hills north and south of the village musty north of the 2nd battalion, lacking a rifle battalion, a platoon machine guns, with half of its original strength and fatigue symptoms.

•The III/80 Battalion had the same weaknesses and the same fatigue with the 1st Battalion of the 80th Constitution.

•The 20th Reconnaissance Group, which came hurriedly and was jaded.

•The company of the 80th infantry mortars Constitution, had no ammunition and he became outpost.

The other military units:

•One field-battery.

•1 Mounted artillery.

•One battery with 85 mm machine gun with 3 guns.

•One field artillery platoon with machine gun 75 mm, which was an Italian war booty, and used as anti tank.

•One element field artillery used as anti tank.

Colonel Panagiotis Dedes, a former commander of the 21th Constitution was set in the early hours of April 14, leader of business at the behest of the Greek Administration in passing Kleisouras. However failed to arrive on time before or even during the battle because of the explosion of the slopes that had been built Greek forces on the road to delay the enemy. For this reason, the fill was the commander of the 80th Constitution, Colonel Claus marjoram, who was actually the leader of the business.

German forces

German units involved in the battle belong sto Syntagma bodyguards of Adolf Hitler’s SS (Leibstandarte SS Adolf HitlerLSSAH). However, because Reconnaissance Battalion who had the lead was the first participated with great success in the evening of 13 April, the commander Kurt Meyer (Kurt Meyer) emerged soon and was actually head of operations.

•Staff officers, under the command of Lieutenant General of the SS Josef “September” Dietrich (Josef “Sepp” Dietrich).

•1st motorized infantry battalion of the SS, under the command of Fritz whit (Fritz Witt).

•2o motorized infantry battalion of the SS, under the command of Wits Theodor (Theodor Wisch.

•3o motorized infantry battalion of the SS, under the command of the battalion commander of the SS (SS-Sturmbannführer) Gouilchelm Goueintenchaoupt (Wilhelm Weidenhaupt).

•4th motorized infantry battalion of the SS, under the command of the battalion commander of the SS (SS-Sturmbannführer) Janko (Jahnke).

•5th motorized infantry battalion of the SS, under the command of the battalion commander of the SS (SS-Sturmbannführer) Van Bieber (Van Bibber).

•To varymichanokinito Infantry Battalion of the SS, under the command of the battalion commander of the SS (SS-Sturmbannführer) Steinek (Steineck).

•1st Anti-Aircraft Battalion of the SS, under the command of Bernhard Kraus (Bernhard Krause)

•The armored battalion of the SS, under the command of the battalion commander (SS-Sturmgeschütz) Sonmpergker Georg (Georg Schönberger).

•1st Engineer Battalion of the SS, under the command of Christian Hansen (Christian Hansen).

•The reconnaissance battalion of the SS, under the command of Kurt Meyer (Kurt Meyer).

Battle

April 13

The preparation of 20 Division included the destruction of parts of the road between Vevi and Kastoria, in the narrow passage of musty and the protection of the town Kleisoura. The first contact of the two rival armies is already at 17:00 on 13 April, before the move is complete the entire Greek Division. The front German army units attacked mainly I/81 of the hill Sargkonitsas encountering strong resistance. Commander of the reconnaissance battalion was Kurt Meyer, who organized his battalion into three assault groups, led him and his officers alloys (Kraas) and Giounse (Wünsche). The onslaught has resulted in such need recoil because men did not obey repeated orders to attack, a German officer in order to force them to move, to hurl a grenade. Only with intense effort and the support of the artillery, the first military identification section, under the command of Kurt Meyer managed to repulse the guild I/87 at 21:00, forcing the retreat to the hills soubrette (1623 m) and Sargkonitsa (1386 m), which had under its control. Captured part of the left battery except one platoon.

Following this development, the infantry battalion III/80, located in the rearguard, at 23:00 has endeavored to understand the two hills amid gunfire and captured. The Germans after the first victorious progress, remained idle and did not continue their course. Middle of the night followed by new firefights that led to dwindling stocks of ammunition Greek forces. A total of 50 Greek officers and soldiers killed during the battles of 13 April. The commander of the 20th Division, seeing demoralized units, asked to come in support of the Department of the Army of Western Macedonia (TSDM) who fought in the Greek-Albanian border and integrated into the Army Section of Central Macedonia (TSKM) belonging to the 20th Division.

April 14

By 04:30 the German artillery began pounding the Greek positions, followed by the infantry. The Germans attacked the two roads at the eastern exit of the passage, using fumigants and intense artillery fire for cover. One attack group headed towards the road leading north from the ravine of the stream of Bern to the narrow passage Daouli, supported by heavy tanks type light armored Asolt Gun (Assault Gun, Sturmgeschütz). The other group went to attack another ravine that leads to the hill and Kleisoura Juma Manu.

After the German forces had the night seize the high ground of Sargkonitsas, could contribute more easily against Greek 6th battalion of artillery had taken place in the narrow passage Daouli and opened fire. But because of deficiencies in the guild war material at 7:00 ammunition exhausted thereby exposed the whole Greek defense. The Germans had superiority in the field. The Greek side had to face the consequences of the lack of antitank unlike the German who had light duty armored, reduced morale of soldiers worse than the losses the previous night, physical fatigue and terror of the German Luftwaffe fighter aircraft. By 9:00 the 6th Battalion began to split, machine guns blocked or silenced due to lack of ammunition and artillery elements retire. At 10:30 the gunners are forced to surrender. The Battalion I/80 though until that moment did not participate in the battle, was withdrawn when the officer found the imminent threat of encirclement guild from the north. So while stepping down, the battalion was attacked by light armor from a very short range, after a failed attempt repulse the attack, was forced to surrender at 10:45, with the exception of the first element of artillery.

The commander of the 20th Division attempted to reorganize the units west of the pass to cover the infantry from the artillery to the west while using the unit of engineering and unit identification Division to prevent recoil. However the German artillery and German air terrorized the Greek sections endangering reorganization of Greek army.

The Army Section of Central Macedonia (TSKM) having informed the latest developments, ordered the reoccupation of lost jobs, which could not be implemented in practice due to the degradation of the units. After the permission of the General Staff, the Commander of the Department of Central Macedonia Maj. Chris Karassou requested assistance from the Governor’s “Force W” Lieutenant Wilson to order the British 1st Armoured Brigade Tsarinkton (Charrington), which were then near Argos Orestikon for fight back. Although the order was given by Lieutenant Wilson, the brigade did not obey the order after mistakenly considered it was just a prompt.

The Governor of the Department of the Army Central Macedonia (TSKM) seeing no aid, called to help the Army Section of Western Macedonia (TSDM) and asked to send three artillery batteries that could with the infantry and artillery to an existing anakatatalavoun the pass. Although agreement was reached, there was not enough transport available to take the necessary forces from Albania, with the nearest power, the 13th Division near Viglista the modern prefecture Korca. The afternoon of April 14, only the first artillery battalion of the 23rd Constitution (I/23) had managed to arrive at 20:00 in the crossing of Kastoria and even not used for support.

By the afternoon of April 14, the town of Kleisoura and surrounding highlands were occupied and the road to Kastoria was open. The battle resulted in seizure of musty with 600 soldiers prisoners by German forces and a loss of an officer and six soldiers, a German policeman, and 17 total casualties. The Germans continued their march to attack the battalion I/23 and other elements of the 13th Division on 15 April. On November 16, the battalion Mayer penetrates behind the Greek lines and attacking Kastoria from the south, after having bombed, capturing a total of 1,100 soldiers. The ensuing battle is known in Greek military history as the Battle of Argos Orestikou or the Battle of Lake Kastoria. For such actions, Meyer was awarded to the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross on 18 May 1941.

Consequences

The causes of the defeat of the 20th Division were due to the composition. Most Greek sections after the Battle of VEVI and falling line Vermion was fatigued, came hurriedly were jaded, decreased in human and material resources as well as the parts were lost and several ammunition was little. But the defense was very important as it had secured 24 hours preparation for other Greek and British armored forces in order to pass to the west of Aliakmona and avoid certain entrapment. Alongside given valuable time to symptichthoun and safely prepare the Greek forces in Epirus.

The failure of the Greek Army to keep the bottleneck Kleisoura had serious consequences and the German advance threatened the controlled retracting the Army Section of Western Macedonia were still on the Albanian Front. Although coalition forces will try again to stop the Germans on April 15 in the east to Lake Kastoria and near Argos Orestikon, the new battle this time is in open ground in less favorable strategic position that the passage Kleisoura.

The Greek losses were heavy, the 80th Constitution had effectively destroyed. The Germans claimed to have managed to capture about 1,000 soldiers. The 20th Division was dissolved incorporated in much the 35th Constitution that was placed in the bottleneck of buds (leaving behind a battalion) and placed these sections near Smiksi Grevena, south of the 13th Division. Then the German invasion, sections of 21 Division will not meet again in battle.

On August 3, 2008, Memorial was erected in the settlement Lechovo Florina, in honor of the 50 soldiers who lost their lives on the first day of the Battle of bottleneck Kleisoura on April 13, 1941.

Bibliography

•George Karavitis, The Constitution Dodekanission Volunteer – Since the establishment as its dissolution (November 1940 – April 1941), ed N. & S. Mpatsioylas, October 2011, ISBN 978-960-6813-31-3

Military operations of World War II in Greece

History of Florina

History of Kastoria

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