The Navplion Shepherds

Or, The Aggressors Who Disappeared

After 3/8’s landing at Navplion in the Peloponnese Peninsula of Greece in January 1971, and after we had completed our initial training exercise with the Greek Marines, we settled in for some additional training in the mountainous country around the city. This was almost exclusively company sized training evolutions and included squad and platoon tactics, scouting and patrolling, and night operations, as well as some additional amphibious training.

Mountainous Country of the Peloponnese Peninsula

During this time India Company planned for an attack at first light to seize an objective in the mountains about five kilometers from the battalion bivouac area. We planned the operation, identified the objective of the assault, wrote the operation order and briefed the platoon leaders. After getting clearance to train in the objective area, we prepared to move out several hours before first light.

I had tasked the machine gun platoon to send one squad to the objective area to act as aggressors…to take us under fire as we assaulted the objective, to add some realism to the exercise. They departed the afternoon before and would spend the night at the next morning’s objective. The objective was on a plateau the sides of which India would have to scale before conducting the attack.

A significant number of Greek shepherds moved their herds from place to place in these mountains in search of places for the sheep to graze. There were small buildings and corrals scattered throughout the mountains that were similar to the line camps established on the vast cattle ranches on the plains of Wyoming, Colorado and other western states. Just as our cowboys lived temporarily in these line camps to be close to the cattle that roamed the huge acreage of the ranch lands, so the Greek shepherds occupied these small encampments when their sheep were grazing nearby. Having checked out the plateau during the planning stages of this India Company exercise, I noticed that one of these camps existed several hundred yards behind our chosen objective.

            

India Company departed the battalion area about three hours before first light and conducted a night approach march toward the objective area. We reached the foot of the plateau and started the upward climb toward our line of departure at the top. The terrain was rough and difficult to negotiate, but all platoons were at the LOD well before first light. Now all we had to do was wait and try to stay warm as the chill dawn approached.

As dim light started to appear in the east, India Company rose and went forward in the assault, using fire and maneuver to approach the objective. As we drew closer, we expected to hear the aggressors returning fire, but there was no sound coming from the objective. When we arrived and overran the objective, there was no one there. My aggressors had disappeared! Were they at the wrong location? I looked around the plateau as the light improved, but saw no sign of life anywhere nearby.

Then I noticed smoke rising from the chimney of the house at the “line camp”, which was a couple hundred yards away. There were sheep in the corral and the camp was obviously occupied by some shepherds. We approached the camp and I knocked on the door, wanting to ask the inhabitants if they had seen my Marines. As the door opened, and I looked over the shoulder of the shepherd who had opened it, I was amazed to see my aggressors crowded around the table enjoying a hot breakfast with the shepherd’s family.

I didn’t know whether to blow my stack at the squad leader or start laughing. The sergeant came outside and explained to me that the shepherd’s young son had approached the squad’s defensive position the evening before attracted by their campfire. The boy spoke some English so the Marines were able to communicate after a fashion. They offered him some C-rations which he ate with gusto. Later he brought his parents to the fire and introduced them to the Marines. They brought several bottles of domestic wine. After sharing the wine around the fire, the boy’s mother invited the Marines to join them for breakfast the next morning.

The squad leader told her that he would have to decline her invitation because of his mission at first light the next morning. She informed the sergeant that they ate very early and were finished before the sun came up, so in the spirit of good international diplomacy the Marines accepted, figuring that they would be back in position in time to repel our assault. Well, their timing was off and we had to assault all the way to the line camp to find our aggressors.

After all was said and done, I found it hard to be upset with the squad leader, so just a few words were exchanged about the necessity of being aware of what time it was, and that was that. After the company finished their C-ration breakfast on the objective, we saddled up and headed back to the battalion area. Thus ended another episode during an interesting and exciting several weeks in southern Greece.

Semper Fi

Dirck Praeger sends