The Peasant Lady and the Tanks

She had done this before

During the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines deployment to the Mediterranean in 1970-71 as Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 3/8, the amphibious force of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, we conducted an amphibious landing near Navplion, Greece. This city of around 10,000 is located in the mountainous Peloponnese peninsula southwest of Athens. We landed in the early winter of 1971, conducted a three day exercise with the Greek Marines, and remained ashore for about three weeks of training.

Mountainous Country of the Peloponnese Peninsula

I commanded India Company during this deployment, and during the initial landings my objective was a high steep ridge line slightly inland from the landing beaches. The terrain was so steep that I ordered my Marines to drop their packs and assault to the top of the ridge. We would remain on the objective overnight, and would retrieve the packs after it was secured. In addition to the packs, we dragged a number of five gallon water cans to the top of the ridge as well. India Company got a taste of how difficult it is to provide logistic support during mountain warfare. The next morning we were ordered to sit tight and were able to observe the maneuvering of the Greek Marines and 3/8’s other companies from our majestic height.

Later that morning India Company was ordered off yesterday’s objective and was directed to attack up a valley accompanied by a light section of tanks. Our objective for this day was at the end of the valley. We would spend the night there, and then complete the exercise with an assault at first light the next morning on another high ridge line. After that the BLT would return to our bivouac near the beach and carry out a very active training schedule that would include encounters with Greek sheep herders and a ride on a U.S. Navy destroyer.

It was during the attack up the valley with our section of two M-48A3 tanks that a memorable incident occurred. We had proceeded several miles toward our objective when the road narrowed considerably as it passed through a small farm. On one side of the road was a stone wall about six feet high, and on the other a farm building. The company command group came forward and surveyed the situation. It appeared that the passage was too narrow to accommodate the tanks. We sent out patrols to scout out other possible passages for the tanks, but the valley was too narrow at this point. It appeared to me that we would have to send the tanks back toward the beach when a short, squat peasant farm woman appeared from the building. She was dressed in black and wore a white babushka wrapped around her head.

M-48A3 Tank

She spoke no English, and none of us had any Greek, but she saw our dilemma and boldly stepped in front of the tanks at the narrowest part of the road. She raised her arms and motioned the first tank forward, then using her hands and fists to form the arm and hand signals that all tankers use when maneuvering their vehicles in tight places, guided the tank between the building and stone wall. There were mere inches to spare on either side, and we stared in amazement as she brought both vehicles through without either of them touching a thing. Then it occurred to me that she had done this before. Probably other armored units, most likely Greek, but maybe U.S. Marine as well, had passed through this valley and her farm. Whatever the case, she knew what she was doing, and probably did a better job than our own tankers could have done. As I recall, we paid her something or gave her some of our rations for her efforts, and proceeded up the valley to our day’s objective.

The next morning we attacked at first light, secured the field problem and settled in for some of the best and most memorable training of the entire six month deployment. But whenever I remember and reflect on those days at Navplion, I always see in my mind’s eye the little Greek peasant woman in the babushka guiding those tanks through that narrow passage.

Semper Fi

Dirck Praeger sends