Major H.G Dyer's account of the attack in the Mavroneri Gorge, Olympus Pass, Greece, 16 April 1941

This excerpts are taken from H.G Dyer's Ma Te Reinga / By way of Reinga: The Way of the Maori Soldier, Arthur H. Stockwell, Ilfracombe, 1953, pp. 57-60.

'The Maoris first met the German shock troops at Mt Olympus and this was the way of it.  "D' Company which had been detached on the left flank of the Battalion was suddenly, on the approach of the Germans, drawn back into a deep gorge on the left rear.  We hastily dug weapon pits among the trees and put up what wire we had on the upper side of a mill road, which was cut out of the hill face half way up the Southern slope.  Below, some 300-400 yards, among trees and rocks, rushed a mountain torrent, while opposite, rising almost sheer from the stream, a great mountain towered over us.

On the previous day the Germans had pushed tanks and troops up to the front of the Battalion position, which, with its right on Petra Pass, stretched along the foothills looking out over the plain of Katerina [sic].  "A" Company, the Ngapuhis, had come under heavy machine-gun fire.  The mortar platoon had done good work.  Enemy scouts were on the mountain face opposite us, and were at Skoteina village some three miles up the valley, where we had a detached post.

During the morning there was heavy cloud, fog, and rain.  One could see only a few yards through the trees. At mid-day the fog thinned somewhat.  At times, enemy troops could be seen moving on the mountain side opposite.  "B" Company, the Arawas, on our right, opened on them with Bren Guns at 1,200 yards.  The order was to watch the front while one third of the troops at a time carried their heavy gear up the hillside to Battalion Headquarters, for we were to retire that night.  Consequently when the enemy rushed 16 Platoon later, some of its men, including the platoon commander, were out of position.  Half of the centre platoon was detached to Skoteina.

Each platoon was instructed to send scouts to the bottom of the gorge to contact and delay the enemy.  Tainui went from 17 Platoon. 

A report came from 16 Platoon that what appeared to be two companies of enemy were assembling opposite them.  From below came stray rifle shots and the quick rip-rip of German machine guns.

I heard afterwards that Tainui, as he saw his first German enemies running towards him, jumping from rock to rock, wished himself back in New Zealand, and thought what a fool he had been to enlist.  How many soldiers have not felt like that in their first action? . . . but perhaps more so when alone in a wild gorge with the enemy running to you, and you, a young lad and a raw soldier, have no support and no friend at hand but your rifle and your own beating heart.  Tainui shot the first man and killed him.  He shot the second and saw him go down on his knees and crawl.  He said alter that he had felt tempted to finish him off, but thought, "You poor devil, I can't do it."  Then he worked back towards his own platoon on the left, taking shots at what enemy he saw.  He said later, "Why didn't you give me a Bren gun?  I could have held that crossing for a long time."

It was then that the avalanche fell on 16 Platoon on our right.  Stray wisps of cloud were still drifting over us.  At times we could see clearly across the gorge; at others only a few ghostly trunks just in front of us.

Suddenly pandemonium broke loose.  Enemy troops were trampling down our wire and charging, shouting in English "Frightened!   Run!"  His machine-guns, rifles, and tommy guns ripped and cracked.  A battery of 2 inch mortars brought a deluge of bombs crashing down on us.  Grenades burst at random.  Our own weapons replied.  Our heavy mortars, bombs and artillery shells filled the ravine with a roar. Leaders and fighting men shouted and yelled-and all was confusion and turmoil among the mist and the trees.

Then could I tell you of brave men:  Harry Taituha, whose section post was rushed, who refused to run and was left for dead; Karetu, who killed at close quarters with his Bren gun; Joe Hiroti and Carroll, the tommy gunners who went looking for more; Tom Hawea and Murph, the mortar men who refused to be afraid; Fowler, the runner boy who was very frightened and yet very brave; Tapuke, the Battalion clerk, who appeared in our midst-"Just come down to be with the boys, Sir" -(Dear little Tapuke!  Always good; always hard-working, always brave till killed by a sniper at Sollum) -and of many more of our famous fighting men.

But at that moment the fighting was at its height.  Taituha's post was overrun.  Some men had withdrawn.  Just below the fight raged.  Bullets and bombs flew promiscuously.  Harrison was steadying the reserve section.

Then out of the bushes on my left hand, his rifle slung over one shoulder, strolled Tainui, grinning broadly.  "16 Platoon seems to be having a tough time, Sir." He said.  "I'll go down and give them a hand?"  Down into the midst of that hell's broth he went, and, with others, drove the enemy out.

Bonnie lad!  Who but a Highlander or a Maori goes so gladly to the fight?'

See also the Māori Battalion diary for April 1941 

 

Submitted by mbadmin on Tue, 29/03/2011 - 14:21

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