331 Armoured Brigade Company RASC, Greece (December 1944)

Discussion in 'RASC' started by Danny Boy, Apr 3, 2014.

  1. Danny Boy

    Danny Boy Member


    I've recently found out my grandfather was temporarily posted to 331 Armoured Brigade Company RASC during his active service in Greece in December 1944. It seems that this company particularly sustained heavy losses on 13/12/44 (as identified from a number of entries on CWWG Site). At this time my grandfather was lucky to escape with his life when his vehicle was destroyed by enemy action. This is reported in his parent company's war diary (64 Bulk Petrol Company) & historic accounts from family members who he had spoken to.

    I would appreciate if anyone can share any knowledge of 331 Armoured Brigade Company RASC and there operations in Greece in December 1944. Does anyone have a war diary reference for the unit as I'm struggling to find one? I'm especially interested in understanding the circumstances that the unit faced on and around 13/12/44.

    Many thanks
  2. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot 1940 Obsessive

    My money would be on this one Danny but not 100%

    WO 170/2493 Companies: 331 Company RASC 1944 Jan.- Dec.
  3. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    The main infantry barracks was attacked that day by ELAS with many casualties and over 100 taken prisoner. 331 Coy RASC took the brunt of it. Will give you a bigger explanation later. Gus
  4. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    “To go all through the Desert and Italy and go out like that!”
    Sergeant - 23rd Armoured Brigade Rear HQ, 13th December 1944.

    On the 13th December 1944, ARKFORCE troops continued to vigorously defend and area 4000 by 5000 yards in the centre of ATHENS.

    At 0330 that morning, a heavy barrage of mortar fire was directed at the infantry barracks on the North East corner of the military district and in excess of 1000 ELAS fighters of ELAS “Force No 1”, some disguised as friendly Gendarmerie and Greek National Guardsmen. This was the location of 23rd Armd Bde’s Rear HQ and Signal squadron, the Artillery’s Field guns and the largest supply depot in ATHENS.

    ELAS Force No.1, was commanded by Major Mavrothalassitis, OC 3rd Regt along with Kommisar Stefanos and consisted of the following formations:

    · 4 Coys of 1st (Corinth) Btn (7th Gp)
    · 3 Coys of 3rd Btn (3rd Regt, 2nd Bde)
    · 2 Coys of 2nd (Ampelokipi) Regt, 2nd Div
    · A troop of artillery in support.
    · Dynamite Squads in anti-tank role.

    Entering through a hole, blown in the 10 feet high north perimeter wall, the force attacked the HQ Squadron Offices and 23rd Armd Bde HQ Signals. The telephone exchange was riddled with bullets and set on fire. Signalmen Bonser was shot in the head (and died of his wounds the next day) and every other duty operator within was seriously wounded. Only Signalman N. Booth escaped injury by feigning his own death. All normal communications with Bde HQ were quickly lost. But despite ELAS best efforts, Cpl W.H. Stevenson and Signalman E. Knott of 23rd Armd Bde Signals would not let them into the radio room so radio communications with ARKFORCE was maintained.

    Troops from ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ defence platoons (mostly 331 Coy RASC) and the workshops staff of 331 Coy RASC were all overrun and were forced to withdraw to their pre-planned positions. Only ‘D’ platoon held their ground until the building they were in was set ablaze.

    As soon as ARKFORCE HQ got wind of the attack 23rd Armd Bde’s Infantry Reserves, 2nd Btn The Kings Regiment (2 KINGS), who had only been flown in the day before, were ordered to stand-to. At the same time, Lt Simpkins, one of the Bde HQ’s Liaison Officers (LO), was despatched to the infantry barracks to assess the situation.

    At 0430, Lt Simpkins found that a fierce fight had broken out in the area of the POL stores with ELAS setting it ablaze, destroying 7044 tins of transmission oil, 90 tins of engine oil, 356 tins of Kerosene and 115 lbs of grease. The razing continued until many more buildings in the north east corner of the barracks containing the Brigade’s rations and some 40 vehicles are alight. The spilt fuel cascaded down the hill and caught fire, creating a wall of flames, bisecting the barracks. The air was filled with the sound of alarm whistles blown by the infantry barracks guards as every available soldier from Brigade Rear HQ, 463rd Battery 104th Regiment RHA, 1238th Field Company RE, 331st Coy RASC, 66th LAA Regiment and a mortar platoon of 11th KRRC stood-to in response.

    The British troops put up a valiant resistance, firing bren guns and 2 inch mortars at the ELAS force. They prevented them from seizing or destroying the ammunition stores and the Brigade’s 25 pounder artillery guns. But ELAS superior in numbers meant that some smaller formations were very quickly overwhelmed.

    At 0800, RAF Spitfires arrived on scene to strafe the area to the Northeast of the Brigade Rear HQ. Meanwhile tanks of HQ and 5 troop, 46th RTR are readied if necessary.

    At 0900, ‘A’ company of 2 KINGS under the command of Major HV Richards arrived at the infantry barracks only to find that the attack was virtually over bar a few isolated pockets of resistance and the majority of ELAS Force No.1 had already withdrawn back through the very same hole in the wall after suffering over 200 casualties and 28 taken prisoner. In turn, the cost to the Brigade’s Rear HQ was 20 deaths, 40 others wounded, and worryingly over 100 taken prisoner, mostly coming from 331st Coy RASC and the 11th KRRC. As ELAS withdrew, they were themselves counter-attacked by troops of the Greek Mountain Brigade who recovered some of the troops that had been taken prisoner. A completely futile and unsuccessful counter-attack by ELAS followed later in the day which was successfully beaten off. Interrogated prisoners revealed that their ELAS commanders had deceived them by saying that the occupants of the barracks were Greeks and not British.

    An admission to 97th General Hospital on the 15th Dec 44. was Sapper Batchelor, from 1238th Field Company, Royal Engineers, who arrived on foot, badly wounded and in a highly distressed state. After being patched up, he was discharged to his unit, where he reported that soon after his capture by ELAS, on 13th December 1944, they took him to some ‘working class’ flats, only 500 yards from the Infantry Barracks he had been defending. Inside, he and some members of the Brigade RASC Company were stripped of their clothing and boots, then forced him to run up a nearby hill, whilst being fired at from behind. He believed that he was the only one to have escaped with his life.

    On the 16th December 1944, civilian sources reported to HQ 40th RTR that a fresh shallow grave had been dug just behind the same flats that Sapper Batchelor had been held prisoner. It wasn’t until the 18th December 1944, that it was deemed safe enough for a party from 331st Company, Royal Army Service Corps, to go and investigate. There, Captain E.R. Marks, RA, found the bodies of three soldiers from his own unit, who had been missing, presumed captured, after the infantry barracks attack of the 13th December 1944. All three soldiers had been stripped of their clothing, tied up, very badly beaten and then summarily executed. HQ 23rd Armoured Brigade initiated a court of inquiry which concluded that this was done by a group of about 9 ELAS men, led by a single ELAS officer.

    The three murdered soldiers, were:

    WO Alfred William WHYBROW Age 31 T/173126
    Mechanic Sergeant Major Sgt Haydon George DAVIES Age 27 T/168456
    Pte Tuddwell Edward OWEN Age 32 T/221408

    They were finally laid to rest at Phaleron War Cemetery.

    The losses were so bad that messages of sympathy were sent to 331 Coy RASC from HRH Princess Alice of Greece, Major General Arkwright, Commander ARKFORCE, Brigadier Hermon, Commander 23rd Armoured Brigade and Colonel Studdy, Headquarters & Military Liaison (Greece) Deputy Director of Supply & Transport (DDST).

    From the diaries of 331 Coy RASC, on the 14th Ded 44, 50 replacement drivers were brought in from 66th LAA Regt (stayed till 20th Dec 44) and on 18th Dec 44 reinforcements were brought in by air from Italy, 5 Offs, 116 men including 60 transferred from Royal Artillery.

    Of the 18 confirmed deaths that day, 14 were from 331 Coy RASC. 2 from 66 LAA Regt. 1 from 64 Lt Airlanding Bty and 1 from 713 Artisan Coy.

    Of the 126 troops taken prisoner that day, 95 were from 331 Coy RASC, 17 from 11th KRRC, 13 from 66 LAA Regt, 5 Army Catering Corps and 1 Royal Engineer.

    The POWs were marched into the mountains of Northern Greece by ELAS some walking barefoot in winter for many hundreds of miles and treated appallingly. They were eventually returned on 27 Jan 45, not long after ELAS surrendered. Most spent the next few weeks in hospital. All were sent back to UK on SS Georgic on 27th March 45 to recuperate.

    This was the first completely organised attack by ELAS in strength and it failed. With the losses they received, they did not try an attack of this magnitude again in ATHENS.

    I would love to see the war diaries of 64 Mob Pet Coy. If you are happy I will PM you my email address.

    Hope this helps

    Danny Boy likes this.
  5. Danny Boy

    Danny Boy Member

    Hi Gus,

    Many thanks for this - much appreciated. This is brilliant - exactly what I was looking for. That's really bought the background of this day to light.

    What a day and night to be there. My grandfather was very lucky to walk away from this. His vehicle was reported destroyed. Much respect to all who served there and especially those who never returned.

    I will happily share the War Diary copies I have with you. I've got 64 Bulk Petrol Coy in Greece from November 1944 to September 1945. Would you like a specific period or the whole lot?

    Please PM me your e-mail & I'll arrange to get them over to you shortly.

    Best wishes,

  6. Danny Boy

    Danny Boy Member


    Many thanks - good call, looks like this is possibly the one. I'll be in touch for some more diary copies then shortly. Just researching a couple of other units first.

  7. Bryan Holloway

    Bryan Holloway New Member

    Just realized while looking through my father's papers that although he never spoke of his wartime experiences was in 331 COY RASC. His name was James Edward Holloway T/4754077 - Driver Mechanic. He died aged 92 in 2005 only saying he was in Greece and Italy and if I recall possibly Africa and Corsica during WW2. He was awarded Italy Star among the usual medals.
    Interestingly, I have found tucked into his discharge papers a Memorial Service for 331 COY RASC at ST Andrew's Church Athens dated 25th February 1945 wrapped in tissue paper. Inside, two photos of a Roll of Honour including the names of the three murdered men located in the grave behind the flats where Sapper Batchelor had been held prisoner. He had presumably kept this as a memory of the horrific attack. I attach an upload of this Memorial Service.
    Hope this adds a little more of the jigsaw of that period.
    Bryan Holloway.

    Attached Files:

    Bruneval, gmyles and dbf like this.
  8. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    Hi Bryan

    The RASC took the brunt of the casualties that day. With 13 killed, 20 wounded and 100 taken prisoner. As far as I can tell, your father was one of the lucky ones.

    I have the diaries of 331 Coy RASC from their arrival in Greece in October 1944 to January 1945.

    If you wish a copy PM me on the "inbox" tool above with you email address.

    My father was in Greece at the same time and he didn't talk about it either.

  9. Bryan Holloway

    Bryan Holloway New Member

  10. Bryan Holloway

    Bryan Holloway New Member

    Hi Gus,

    Many thanks for the offer, would dearly love to view the diaries you mention. Unable to locate the 'In Box' you mention (not conversant with site) however,: hollbry@btinternet.com will get to me.

    Regards, Bryan.
  11. gmyles

    gmyles Senior Member

    Hi Bryan

    It would be better if you deleted your email from the above post and start a private conversation with your email address in it.

    Scroll to top of web page and on the right hand side is the word "Inbox". Hover your mouse over it and a menu should appear. Select "Start a new conversation" and add "gmyles" as the participant.


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