3 Greece – Allies at War with the Resistance

Although, like Yugoslavia, the Greek resistance successfully challenged German occupation, the result could hardly have been more different. While the Allies were celebrating Tito’s triumph, they were bombing Athens to destroy the main resistance movement – EAM (the National Liberation Front) and its military arm ELAS (the National Popular Liberation Army). This stark contrast originated in the different ways imperialism interacted with people’s war.

Today oil makes the Middle East the world’s chief battleground. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was the Balkans which saw the fiercest conflicts. Here the tectonic plates of the Russian, British, Austro-German and Turkish empires overlapped. Greece held a unique place within this unstable zone. In 1821, inspired by liberal revolutions in America and France, it won a fragile independence from Turkey. However, to withstand the pressure of its Russian-influenced Slavic neighbours, it always depended on a close alliance with Britain. Support was willingly provided because Greece was a key transit point on the route to India, and so London defended the puppet monarchy in Athens even if this included suppressing its own people. [1]

In 1936 the Greek King appointed a fascist dictator, General Metaxas, to forestall a general strike. He, like rulers before him, proceeded to detain some 50,000 Communist Party (KKE) sympathisers. [2] The autobiography of one Central Committee member for the inter-war period records 15 separate arrests, often accompanied by long jail sentences, beatings and torture. [3] Metaxas consciously emulated the Third Reich with his promotion of the ‘Third Hellenic Civilisation’, and maintained that ‘if Hitler and Mussolini were really fighting for the ideology they preach, they should be supporting Greece with all their forces’. [4] Woodhouse, an articulate liaison officer sent into wartime Greece to promote British interests, considered Metaxas had ‘benevolent’ and ‘high-minded motives for undertaking supreme power’. The dictator died in 1941, much to Woodhouse’s consternation: ‘his five years were

[ 38 ]

[ Greece 39 ]

not enough’. [5] Woodhouse must have been relieved when the King declared that ‘all fields of activity, political and military … shall continue in the same spirit as before’. [6] The British supported dictatorship because, as another liaison officer explained in 1944, Greeks ‘are a fundamentally hopeless and useless people with no future or prospect of settling down to any form of sensible life within any measurable time … [They] are not capable of being saved from themselves nor for themselves worth it. This is also the unanimous opinion of all British liaison officers who have been long in the country.’ [7]

Despite its fascist government Greece entered the Second World War on the Allied side because Italy invaded what it thought was a target for easy conquest. Here was further evidence that, despite the rhetoric, rulers did not consider the Second World War to be a war between fascists and anti-fascists. Britain’s General Wilson was aware of the irony. It ‘was really a paradox in that in our struggle against totalitarianism we should be supporting one Fascist government against another’. [8] However, in the first major setback any fascist army had experienced Mussolini’s forces were repulsed. To prevent further humiliation Hitler stepped in, [9] whereupon the Greek monarchy fled to Cairo under British protection.

The Nazi occupation of Greece produced suffering comparable to Russia, Poland and Yugoslavia. It cost the lives of 8 per cent of the population (550,000 people), and 34 per cent of national wealth. 402,000 houses and 1,770 villages were destroyed, leaving 1.2 million homeless. Furthermore, 56 per cent of roads, 65 per cent of private cars, 60 per cent of trucks and 80 per cent of buses were put out of action. [10] One particularly harrowing episode was the famine of 1941/42 that claimed some 250,000 victims and struck Athens particularly hard. [11] An EAM spokesperson, Dimitros Glinos described how many ‘have been turned into skeletons … Suddenly they have all aged and black worry and mortal agony is etched in their eyes. The gap between their income and the most necessary expenditure has become fearful. [An] entire wage is not enough to buy food… .’ [12]

The Greek ruling class was divided in its response to foreign occupation. There were open collaborationists like the quisling Prime Ministers Tsolakoglou and Rallis. More cautious members of the ruling class acted to ‘re-insure themselves by discreetly financing every possible winner’. [13] The King and his ministers turned to attentism. Glinos, wrote that:

[ 40 A People’s History of the Second World War ]

the kindest interpretation that could be placed on the stand of these leaders is passive fatalism and biding one’s time. ‘Let us wait for others to liberate us …’ [For] above all they fear the people itself. They fear its awakening, they fear its active participation, they fear perhaps, as the people takes its liberties in its hands, that they will no longer be the leaders of its future political life. For they are used up to now to ruling from above… . [14]

Unlike their leaders, the ordinary people of Greece could not enjoy the luxury of passive contemplation, and resistance movements emerged. The largest was EAM/ELAS. It found even less sympathy from the British than had Tito, who was eventually allowed to establish an independent republic, despite being less compliant than EAM/ELAS. This discrepancy is at first sight perplexing. Tito, an acknowledged CP leader, never accepted British orders. ELAS’s leadership, on the other hand, comprised three people of whom only one (the EAM representative) was closely tied to the KKE. [15] The others were Stephanos Sarafis, (initially) a non-communist army officer, and Aris Velouchiotis, a kapetan. The kapetans were a group of ‘bold, charismatic and fiercely independent [chieftains who] had appreciated the possibilities of armed resistance earlier than anyone else’. [16] ­Aris was nominally communist but spent the war in revolt against its orders, being described by the KKE General Secretary as ‘an adventurist and suspect person [who is] helping the forces of reaction ... ’. [17] Furthermore, unlike Yugoslavia’s partisans, ELAS, signed an agreement putting itself ‘under the orders of the Greek Government [and] the Supreme Allied Commander’. [18]

Britain accused ELAS of brutality, as exemplified by Aris, who has been described as a ‘sadistically violent man’ [19] who executed people for stealing chickens, [20] cattle-thieving, [21] seduction and rape. [22] In mitigation, however, one British liaison officer recognised that Aris’s tactics instilled martial discipline and were ‘his effective way of putting life into the growing movement of resistance against the enemy’. [23] People’s war inevitably had its share of excesses and cruelty, though these paled against the inhumanity of the imperialists at Auschwitz or Hiroshima.

Woodhouse voiced another objection to ELAS. He stated the chief aim of ELAS was to destroy rival resistance movements in a bid to monopolise post-war power. Stalinist methods were indeed ingrained and ELAS did compel smaller resistance groups like EKKA (National and Social Liberation) to merge with it or disband. [24] Yet this criticism should not be taken too far. In relation to its

[ Greece 41 ]

largest rival, EDES, ELAS proposed unity by offering its leader the post of joint commander-in-chief. [25] He refused. Ignoring this fact, Woodhouse concluded that for ELAS ‘fighting the Germans was a secondary, though not a negligible, consideration …’. [26] The truth was rather different. British antagonism to ELAS did not arise because it was ineffective against the Germans, but because ELAS was part of a much bigger enterprise.

It was just the military wing of EAM, a broad-based political movement established in October 1941. This took resistance right into the heart of society. Glinos reported its ‘fight is daily and embraces all levels of existence. It takes place in the people’s market, in the soup kitchen, in the factory, on the roads and in the fields, in every kind of work.’ [27] By the end of the war EAM claimed up to two million members, [28] and the support of about 70 per cent of the seven million population. [29]

As we have seen, opponents accused EAM/ELAS of being no more than a KKE front. Though less directly tied to communism than the Yugoslav partisans, EAM/ELAS was certainly associated with the KKE. That Party began the war with just 5,000 members, but possessing a national organisation, knowledge of operating illegally, and above all a belief in mass struggle, the Party’s membership rose to 350,000 by 1945. [30] However, to suggest the KKE simply manipulated the population for its own ends was unfair. Comprising just a fraction of EAM’s total membership [31] the Party could only lead it if the masses freely accepted the Party’s policies. Furthermore, EAM included several other parties, such as the Union of Popular Democracy and Greek Socialist Party. Though the KKE was the largest component at EAM’s foundation in September 1941, by 1944 the Agrarian Party had overtaken it. [32]

Finally, the EAM was, as one writer puts it, an umbrella organisation for a vast network of other bodies ‘in each village, town, and orchard, it seemed’. [33] Collectively this made up a resistance state which operated right under the noses of the Nazis. One entity was the Workers’ National Liberation Front (EEAM). Woodhouse, by no means a sympathiser, writes that ‘wherever there was a working population, EEAM inspired it against the occupying authorities’. [34] The most dramatic example of this came when Germany attempted to conscript labour for the Reich. Eudes’s account captures the spirit of the moment: ‘The Athenian sea was flowing into the centre of the city from all directions … 200,000 men, a quarter of the population of Athens, marching empty-handed through a hail of bullets … The Athenians charged, insane but irresistible, transported towards their

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objective with a battle-crazy momentum that could not be touched by mere blood, by a scattering of deaths … .’ [35]

As a result of the demonstration Greece became the place where Nazi conscription of slave labour suffered its most comprehensive defeat. [36] EAM took up other issues of immediate concern that connected with resistance to occupation. According to an eyewitness: ‘The first goal EAM had set was to fight for life – against hunger … The first song that was heard was “For life and freedom, bread for our people”.’ [37]

Another feature which might, by comparison, seem a surprising distraction in the middle of a world conflagration, was the transformation of gender relations. Before the Second World War women were regarded as virtual slaves. [38] Their lives were strictly regulated (with honour killings not unknown), and in the countryside three quarters were illiterate. [39] One participant, commenting in the 1990s, recalled that thanks to the resistance: ‘we women were, socially, in a better position, at a higher level than now … Our organization and our own government … gave so many rights to women that only much later, decades later we were given.’ [40] For the first time, women voted and shared in the clandestine election of a provisional government for Free Greece. [41] This body announced that: ‘All Greeks, men and women, have equal political and civil rights.’ [42] Women deputies and judges were elected, and equal pay decreed. [43]

This was practical politics. EAM/ELAS could not afford to overlook the contribution of half the population and once involved, women changed themselves:

I couldn’t go anywhere without my parents knowing where I was going, whom I was going with, when I would be back. I never went anywhere alone. That is, until the occupation came and I joined the resistance. In the meantime, because we were right in the midst of the enemy, we had an underground press, there at the house … It was very dangerous [but my parents] had to support us. [44]

Equality was not a paternalistic gift:

The minute you confront the same danger as a boy, the minute you also wrote slogans on the walls, the moment you also distributed leaflets, the moment you also attended protest demonstrations along with the boys and some of you were also killed by the tanks,

[ Greece 43 ]

they could no longer say to you, ‘You, you’re a woman, so sit inside while I go to the cinema.’ You gained your equality when you showed what you could endure in terms of the difficulties, the dangers, the sacrifices, and all as bravely and with the same degree of cunning as a man. Those old ideas fell aside. That is, the resistance always tried to put the woman next to the man, instead of behind him. She fought a double liberation struggle … . [45]

Thus the partisans (known in Greece as andartes) included a women’s regiment. [46] This perturbed Woodhouse who complained to London that ‘many weapons are wasted in the hands of women … .’ [47] But the new role of Greek women reflected a recurrent aspect of people’s war. It was also seen in Yugoslavia, as elsewhere, because the fight was not only against Nazism but also for a different world.

The Greek resistance generated mass activism in other arenas too. Areas under EAM control organised self-government on a grand scale. Villagers elected municipal councillors and judges in mass assemblies. A very popular move was to have courts dispense with expensive lawyers: both sides presented their own case, and natural justice prevailed. [48] In the public administration of Free Greece demotic, literally the language used by ordinary people, replaced the formal Greek of the educated elite – katharevousa.

One of the most spectacular achievements was a general election involving one million voters [49] conducted under the noses of the Nazi occupiers. Mazower warns against ‘idealising’ this event since ‘voting procedures bore little relation to peacetime practice’. [50] Polling stations and ballot boxes were impossible so votes were collected door to door. But the ballot was remarkable nonetheless. It created the Political Committee of National Liberation (PEEA) which, unlike pre-war official parliaments, was a representative cross-section of society. Its 250 delegates included two bishops and two priests, 22 labourers, 23 farmers, 10 journalists, 10 scientists, 9 school teachers, and so on. [51]

The resistance struggle was costly in terms of food and taxes. So there is no reason to doubt one writer’s claim that, ‘Under the thumb of andartes it must have seemed to many that one form of state had replaced another in the struggle for control of food supply’; and ‘you do not argue when you are faced with men with guns’. [52] Yet even Woodhouse admitted: ‘The success of the rebel movement is bound up with the support of the villages: if the villages were disloyal to the movement it could not have made a successful start …’. [53] The benefits were reciprocal. EAM reforms encouraged

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villagers to furnish ELAS, the military wing, with the wherewithal to exist, and this sustained the defensive shield that enabled EAM reforms to be implemented.

In a much-quoted passage, Woodhouse later wrote in grudging admiration that:

The initiative of EAM/ELAS justified their predominance, though not their tyranny. Having acquired control of almost the whole country, except the principal communications used by the Germans, they had given it things that it had never known before. Communications in the mountains, by wireless, courier, and telephone, have never been so good before or since … The benefits of civilisation and culture trickled into the mountains for the first time. Schools, local government, law-courts and public utilities, which the war had ended worked again … All the virtues and vices of such an experiment could be seen; for when the people whom no one has ever helped started helping themselves, their methods are vigorous and not always nice. The words ‘liberation’ and ‘popular democracy’ filled the air with their peculiar connotations. [54]

If EAM represented political struggle, the work of ELAS embodied the military side of people’s war. A German report on ‘The Political Situation in Greece’ in July 1943 described ELAS as ‘the main bearer of the entire resistance movement against the Axis powers [and] represents the greatest danger to the occupying forces’. [55] Woodhouse agreed:

[B]etween October 1943 and August 1944, apart from purely punitive reprisals, nine operations serious enough to warrant codenames were launched [by Germany], all in northern Greece. Except for the last case (in August 1944), all these operations … [were] mainly directed against ELAS, because the Communists ignored the instruction of [Britain’s] General Headquarters Middle East to refrain from offensive operations. [56]

ELAS suffered four-fifths of all the casualties inflicted by the Axis. [57] The Nazis themselves counted 19,000 dead and had to commit about 10 per cent of all their anti-resistance forces to ELAS alone. [58] This was all the more impressive in that ELAS received little aid. Its commander affirmed that he could have doubled the 50,000 andartes deployed if properly equipped, [59] and Woodhouse’s

[ Greece 45 ]

predecessor as chief British liaison officer, Myers, calculated that London provided less than one-sixth of ELAS’s arms. [60] He wrote that despite ‘getting virtually no war supplies’, ELAS liberated four-fifths of the Greek mainland. [61]

London hoped that in EDES (the Greek National Republican League) they could find an alternative resistance movement to help with its war. Unlike ELAS, EDES eschewed social radicalism and mass mobilisation and claimed to focus exclusively on the military struggle. Thus it evaded the key question of the monarchy and its fascist past. According to EDES’s political adviser, attempts to formulate a programme were always met ‘with stubborn opposition … Nothing was heard but the slogan “Faith in the leader. All for the leader. All from the leader”.’ [62] That leader was Napoleon Zervas who, according to Britain’s Military Mission, needed ‘persuasion’ to take to the field. After 24,000 gold sovereigns proved insufficient [63] tactics ‘little short of blackmail’ had to be employed to make him fight. [64]

EDES’s 12,000 guerrillas were totally dependent on Britain’s generous assistance. [65] When ELAS complained about inequality of treatment, one British officer replied: ‘It’s only natural that we should reinforce Zervas as he is our servant.’ [66] Although EDES did mount some serious anti-German operations, [67] like the chetniks of Yugoslavia it was willing to collaborate with the occupier. One letter to the Wehrmacht read: ‘We are not fighting you Germans, we are fighting the Communists. We are ourselves true Fascists’, [68] and Woodhouse found EDES harboured ‘downright collaborators’ in Athens. [69] So unsurprisingly EDES made little headway against the Germans. By the time ELAS drove them from Greece EDES held only ‘a tiny strip thirty-five miles long and twenty-five miles wide … a Greek San Marino’. [70] Despite EDES’s Allied backers, it took just a fortnight for ELAS to rout Zervas’s force in a short civil war. His troops finally retreated to Corfu on board British ships. [71]

The difference in the treatment meted out by London to Tito’s partisans and ELAS arose from the calculations that produced the ‘percentages agreement’ [72] between Stalin and Churchill. This assigned respective British/Russian influence as 50/50 in Yugoslavia, but 90/10 in Greece. So its very strength as a resistance movement made London determined to crush ELAS. It was too effective! The strategy unfolded in two phases. At first ELAS and EDES were treated on a relatively equal footing. A spectacular operation to blow up the Gorgopotamos rail viaduct in November 1942 was carried out by four British agents, 45 EDES and 115 ELAS andartes.

[ 46 A People’s History of the Second World War ]

They cut the supply line to Rommel for six weeks, depriving him of crucial deliveries during the battle of El Alamein. [73] The greatest level of co-operation came in the summer of 1943 during ‘Operation Animals’, a resistance offensive which fooled the Nazis into expecting Allied landings in Greece rather than Sicily.

However, the British attitude was governed by a cynical calculation, so well described by Brigadier Barker-Benfield that it is worth quoting at length:

Our long-term policy towards Greece is to retain her as a British sphere of influence and that a Russian dominated Greece would not be in accordance with British strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean … Our present Political and Military policies are at first sight contradictory. The former, by propaganda and public speeches is designed to indicate our disapproval of EAM. Therefore, should EAM reach power we can expect them to be anti-British. Military considerations, however, demand that we should give maximum support to ELAS, who are the only resistance organisation in a position seriously to support our attempts to harass the enemy. Thus our military policy is bolstering up EAM.

Although these two policies appear to be diametrically opposed, this is not the case, as it is solely a question of timing.

Our immediate policy should be the purely military one of giving support to the guerrilla organisations to enable them to assist in liberating their country and ensuring that Greece continues as a British sphere of influence. This should give way to the political policy of no support to EAM as soon as liberation is achieved.

The changeover from one to the other is certain to cause opposition from ELAS and can only be carried out successfully if British troops are sent to Greece at the appropriate time. These troops would have two roles, firstly that of hitting the Germans where they are weakest, and secondly, that of ensuring a British military control of the whole country. [74]

The ‘change-over’ from ‘military policy’ to ‘political policy’ can be dated to mid-1943. Before that time General Wilson welcomed ELAS help, saying ‘Bravo to the guerrillas!’ Afterwards he ordered that: ‘all operations cease immediately [and] all guerrillas remain quiet …’. [75] Churchill’s shift in attitude was equally marked. Once he described ELAS as ‘gallant guerrillas containing thirty

[ Greece 47 ]

enemy divisions.’ Now they were ‘in many cases indistinguishable from banditti…’ [76]

In April 1944 the exiled Greek army in Egypt were subjected to the new policy. Britain and the US insisted the King would be re-established, although they knew full well that apart from republicans there were ‘no other organisations in Greece visible without a microscope’. [77] When the Second Brigade protested [78] Churchill accused them of an ‘undignified, even squalid, exhibition of indiscipline, which many will attribute to an unworthy fear of being sent to the front.’ [79] The reverse was true. They had long been asking to be sent into action and instead were now threatened with being disarmed. They replied: ‘We hold our weapons to liberate our country. We do not wish to surrender these arms which we glorified with our blood in Albania, in Macedonia, in Crete, and at Alamein. We request that the order for our disarming be rescinded and that we be sent immediately to the front to fight.’ [80]

However, imperialist politics outweighed defeating fascism. Churchill ordered that the Brigade be ‘rounded up by artillery and superior force and let hunger play its part’. [81] Starved into submission, up to 20,000 men were sent to North African concentration camps. [82] The rest of the Greek army was then purged of all dissidents. [83]

The lengths to which Britain would go to secure the defeat of ELAS were revealed when the Wehrmacht began to withdraw in late 1944. Neubacher, the chief German official in Greece, was perplexed by the strategy the Allies adopted:

[T]hey have hitherto allowed our forces to be moved from the islands to the mainland with almost no opposition by sea or in the air, but they mobilise the red bands against our escape routes on the mainland. By this they apparently intend to keep German forces on the Greek mainland until the moment when their own operation is possible, and in this way they hope to prevent a general revolution. [84]

The commander of Germany’s Army Group F reported ‘repeated offers of negotiations concerning the evacuation of Greece’. [85] In what Mazower calls ‘one of the most extraordinary and potentially explosive episodes of the whole war’ [86] an Allied officer, with the full knowledge of SOE Cairo, met the head of the German Secret Field Police to canvas possible joint action (though nothing came of this).

German reports were confirmed by statements from British officials: ‘it would be very awkward if the Germans in Greece were

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anxious to surrender immediately, since we do not want them to collapse until we ourselves are ready to send in British troops to Greece. Otherwise, there will be a hiatus of which EAM will take full advantage.’ [87]

Ultimately, this delicate plan almost broke down because the Germans beat an ignominious retreat. ELAS controlled large areas by September 1944 while the British reached Athens only on 14 October.

That the British nevertheless attained their goal is very revealing of the politics of EAM/ELAS and the KKE. Like many wartime movements they had mobilised vast numbers to fight, not only against occupation, but for a different post-war world. Why, having succeeded with the former, did the leadership fail to implement the latter? The answer lay in Moscow where foreign policy was shaped by its Anglo-American alliance, and local communist parties knew it. The KKE’s leader, Zachariadis, saw Greece as between ‘two poles: the European Balkans with the Soviet Union at its centre, and the Middle East with its centre in Britain. A correct policy would be to tie together these two poles.’ [88] After Zachariadis was shipped off to Dachau concentration camp, it fell to Siantos to implement the updated line of 90/10 shares: ‘Greece belongs to a region of Europe where the British assume all responsibilities … .’ [89] On his release in 1945, Zachariadis took charge once more and was proud to declare: ‘From the very first day, the people’s liberation movement invested sincere efforts, trying to achieve understanding and co-operation with Great Britain … to help that country master its great difficulties, the crisis through which it was going in the Mediterranean.’ [90]

So leaders of the Greek people’s war were mentally disarmed before British imperialism. This was exemplified by the PEEA, the body created by the clandestine general election. It spoke in conciliatory terms, declaring support for the Atlantic Charter and the Allies’ Teheran Conference, and asked only that it be included in a future Greek coalition government. [91]

At this point face-to-face encounters between the royal government-in-exile and the guerrillas became possible when a mountain airstrip permitted resistance representatives to travel abroad. When they met the government-in-exile, the Greek resistance (including both EAM/ELAS and EDES) discovered each inhabited different worlds. [92] The Greek PM ‘was very uncertain about the continuance of the resistance movement at all … It might be better

[ Greece 49 ]

to urge the guerrillas to return to their village [and] cultivate the land.’ [93] British officials on hand agreed: ‘There has never been any doubt that our long-term political interests would be better served by an inactive sabotage policy.’ [94] After hearing this the resistance delegation was abruptly dismissed. Even the EDES delegate was outraged: ‘We were transported like prisoners to the airport… Because we disturbed British policy and the plans of the King, we were “undesirables”.’ [95]

EAM/ELAS now had to choose between continuing its Free Greece government, based on the aspirations of the people’s war, or co-operation with Britain. It chose the latter. [96] The way was smoothed by a marginal shift from the monarchy. To regain any support at home it would have to temporarily work with the guerrillas. The result was the Caserta agreement, whereby PEEA members joined the government-in-exile (now renamed ‘Government of National Unity’). In return the resistance had to agree that: ‘All guerrilla forces operating in Greece place themselves under the orders of the Greek Government of National Unity, [which in turn] places these forces under the orders of [Britain’s] General Scobie who has been nominated by the Supreme Allied Commander as General Officer Commanding Forces in Greece.’ [97]

To prove its sincerity EAM/ELAS forbade ‘any attempt by any units under their command to take the law into their own hands. Such action will be treated as a crime and will be punished accordingly.’ [98] Russia played its part. EAM/ELAS had awaited a Soviet military mission with great anticipation, not just because of apparently shared political beliefs, but as an alternative source of military aid. [99] When it arrived the mission delivered an ‘abrupt shock’. [100] It offered no support but ordered the resistance to enter the government of the detested King. [101]

This sacrificing of the people’s war was criticised from within the resistance itself. At a crisis meeting in the summer of 1944 even the communist Secretary of EAM denounced the betrayal. [102] Woodhouse recounts that: ‘Inside the KKE, the apostles of direct action under Aris Velouchiotis were openly spoiling for a new fight; the apostles of political infiltration under Siantos were wondering whether to persevere with the government-in-exile’. [103]

In Eudes’s account the argument has been interpreted as a division between imaginative partisan tactics and doctrinally correct urban struggle policy. The andartes and kapetans were ‘unorthodox … by comparison with the Stalinist ideal’ and ‘recoiled spontaneously from the centralism and quasi-industrial organization of the

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orthodox Revolution’. The KKE’s Central Committee was ‘prepared to renounce [the guerrillas] at the decisive moment to preserve an abstraction’. [104] There may have been an element of this in play. One of the built-in tensions in all anti-fascist resistance was between its social driving forces and the demands of military strategy. Though Clausewitz’s axiom is correct, politics and their military expression are not identical. In many parts of Europe communist organisation was based on the urban working class, but, until the final showdown, partisan warfare avoided Wehrmacht concentrations, which were located in towns. So there was a disjuncture between the two, which meant guerrilla resistance did not follow a conventional proletarian model. This was true in mainland Greece where the andartes operated in the mountains. [105]

However, this town/country split was not paramount. A more important factor was the contradictory position of the KKE leaders caught between people’s war and imperialist war. That proved a fatal weakness at the moment of Nazi withdrawal.

When the British arrived in Athens, just 48 hours after the German departure, the royal Government had virtually no representation on the ground. Apart from a tiny enclave controlled by EDES and disputed border areas, ‘the rest of Greece was in the hands of EAM/ ELAS, who occupied the towns, the villages and the provinces’. [106] The Nazi collapse had been rather too sudden for the Allies. Nevertheless, they had meticulously planned for this moment. As early as May 1944 Churchill was organising the despatch of thousands of British troops, ostensibly to ‘restore law and order’. [107]

George Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister, wished to participate in this enterprise. He wrote to Churchill that he was ‘seriously disturbed’ by the success of EAM/ELAS. ‘Only the immediate appearance of impressive British forces in Greece, and up to the Turkish frontier, will suffice to alter the situation.’ [108] This telegram was sent just three weeks after the formation of the ‘Government of National Unity’ with EAM members included as ministers!

However, such was their contempt for all Greeks that the British decided to carry off the coup alone. Churchill’s view was that: ‘It is most desirable to strike out of the blue without any apparent preliminary crisis. It is the best way to forestall the EAM: the Greek Government know nothing of this plan and should on no account be told anything’. [109] Though Churchill threw up a smokescreen of democratic rhetoric to justify ‘Operation Manna’, General Alan Brooke was clear that the role of Allied forces ‘was to ensure the

[ Greece 51 ]

setting up of a Government which we consider the most suitable, but there was no guarantee that the Greek people would be of the same opinion’. [110]

This was not a simple policing operation as claimed, but classic imperialism. The British wanted to physically dominate a foreign land. The Allied commanders would have liked to emulate Nazi methods but feared opposition from their own soldiers. As one put it: ‘We could go quicker if we stormed our way through the streets with tanks and “Rotterdamed” the whole quarters by air bombardment as the Germans and Russians in a similar position would probably do. But, apart from other disadvantages of such a policy, the troops would refuse to do it.’ [111]

Nevertheless, Churchill told General Scobie: ‘Do not hesitate to fire at any armed male in Athens who assails the British authority or Greek authority … [A]ct as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.’ [112] Even the Greek PM was appalled [113] and threatened to quit. Churchill told his ambassador in Athens: ‘Force Papandreou to stand on his duty … Should he resign he should be locked up till he comes to his senses.’ [114]

To consolidate their hold the British forces and their Greek assistants employed the ‘Security Battalions’. One reason that ELAS agreed to disarm was this clause of the Caserta Agreement: ‘The Security Battalions are considered as instruments of the enemy [and] will be treated as enemy formations.’ [115] It was not honoured. These repressive forces came straight out of the era of Nazi occupation. Recruited by the previous quisling Government they had been equipped and commanded by Germans. The Battalion pledge of allegiance ran: ‘I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will obey absolutely the orders of the Supreme Commander of the German Army, Adolf Hitler’. [116]

Churchill’s private view of these militias was extraordinary: ‘It seems to me that the collaborators in Greece in many cases did the best they could to shelter the Greek population from German oppression… .’ [117] In public he was no less forthcoming, telling Parliament: ‘The security battalions came into existence … to protect the Greek villagers from the depredations of some of those who, under the guise of being saviours of their country, were living upon the inhabitants and doing very little fighting against the Germans.’ [118] In other words he preferred collaborators to anti-fascists, and Nazi’s auxiliaries to the people’s resistance! Other reactionary forces used included what remained of the Greek army after its purge – the far-right Sacred Company and Mountain Brigades. [119] While these

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forces ran rampage, ELAS was ordered to dissolve as a ‘private’ militia (that just happened to have the support of 70 per cent of the population).

The head of EAM pleaded: ‘The British must give the Greeks at least the impression that they are a free people … .’ [120] but the KKE understood that the new government was deploying ‘Fascists, disguised Fascists or supporters of the Metaxas dictatorship’. [121] Nevertheless it still hoped to avoid confrontation, and in the face of open violence from the British and Greek governments told its members: ‘Communists. You stood as champions of the national and popular uprising. Stand now as … patriots, united in the struggle for the completion of the liberation of Greece along with the ELAS and our allies under our United Government.’ [122]

Operation Manna was fully unleashed when a mass demonstration protested at the violation of the terms regarding new security forces. At least ten people were shot dead by police, the victims including unarmed children. [123] In the uproar the British army indeed acted as if ‘in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress’. During the first 24 hours it fired 2,500 shells into residential areas of Athens causing 13,700 casualties. [124] Scobie dropped the following leaflet:

All civilians are informed that as from 9am tomorrow all rebel guns firing, whether in the town or in the environs will be hit with all the arms at my disposal – that is to say, with land artillery, naval guns, aeroplanes, rockets and bombs. This attack will continue until the guns are destroyed. For their personal security all civilians in the areas concerned must immediately evacuate to a distance of 500 metres (545 yards) from the position of any rebel guns. No further warning will be given. [125]

By the time the ‘December events’ were over Scobie had been as good as his word. There were 50,000 Greek dead and 2,000 British casualties. [126] Incredibly, Churchill claimed ‘our troops are acting to prevent bloodshed’. [127]

The clash between the two wars was so stark that it caused an outcry in Britain. One MP pointed out that: ‘British soldiers and Greek patriots lay dead side by side, each with an allied bullet in his heart [because] British policy seemed inclined to support many of the worn-out regimes in Europe, as against the popular forces which had emerged.’ Another suggested the Government backed ‘reactionary and often even quisling elements to delay recognition of the genuine democratic movements in Europe’. [128] Even The Times found it

[ Greece 53 ]

‘inconceivable that the British liberation armies … should be asked to coerce or conquer a section of a liberated and allied people which, only a few weeks ago, was engaged in active and gallant resistance to the Germans’. Repression in Athens came ‘at the expense of the war against Germany’ because its forces were, at that very moment, making a daring breakthrough in the Ardennes during ‘the Battle of the Bulge’. [129] While the Gorgopotamus raid had assisted British efforts in North Africa, the attack on Athens drew numerous troops from Italy and hampered the Allied offensive there. [130]

The Americans later adopted the role of imperial arbiter in Greece, but at the time they were horrified. In Athens Ambassador McVeagh accused Churchill of handling ‘this fanatically freedom-loving country (which has never yet taken dictation quietly) as if it were composed of natives under the British Raj …’. He also understood that behind the conflict stood those ‘with possessions, on the one hand’ and those ‘without possessions but hungry, homeless and armed on the other’. [131]

The battle for Athens was not as straightforward as Churchill had hoped. On 21 December The Times reported RAF headquarters ‘overrun after an all-night battle … by a force which, it was officially announced to-day, included fully armed women, boys and girls’. [132] According to Woodhouse, ‘ELAS at one time held almost the whole of Greece but for a few square miles of Athens’. [133] At home a beleaguered Churchill lamented: ‘there is no case in my experience … where a British government has been so maligned and its motives so traduced in our own country by important organs of the press or among our own people.’ [134] Facing a vote of confidence in Parliament he turned rhetorically to Stalin, his one remaining significant source of support, by suggesting that Britain was locked in ‘a struggle to prevent a hideous massacre in the centre of Athens, in which all forms of government would have been swept away and naked, triumphant Trotskyism installed’. [135]

Eventually Churchill had to fly to Greece himself to sort out the mess. Still EAM did not press home its military advantage. A Guy Fawkes style plot to blow up his hotel was therefore abandoned and ELAS battalions gave up their weapons. [136] EAM’s Central Committee sent this grovelling message to the British PM: ‘Your Excellency, the Greek people experienced on the happy occasion of your coming to Athens a feeling of deepest relief …The Greek people has never ceased for a moment to look with unshaken faith and deep regard on our great allies and, in particular Great Britain… .’ [137]

Unlike Yugoslavia, in Greece the issue of the two wars was settled decisively in favour of imperialism. It is true that the

[ 54 A People’s History of the Second World War ]

British postponed the return of the King for a time, and under the Varkiza agreement of 12 February 1945 promised a regime of ‘free expression’, ‘an amnesty for political crimes’, a ‘purge’ of collaborators, plus a ‘plebiscite and elections’ to be ‘conducted in complete freedom’. But, in return, ‘the armed forces of resistance shall be demobilised and in particular ELAS, both regular and reserve …’. [138] ELAS carried out its pledge, surrendering more guns than the agreement had stipulated. [139] The other side failed to reciprocate. In the year following Varkiza a right-wing reign of terror murdered 1,289, wounded 6,671, arrested 84,931, and tortured 31,632 Greeks. [140] Promises of a free election became a hollow joke. A delegation of British MPs reported that:

Throughout our visit we found that, with the exception of the extreme right wing, everybody said that the election was carried through by means of forgery, perjury, terrorism, assassination, and every possible form of corrupt practice… [T]he giving of official positions in the state, gendarmerie and police to notorious collaborators with the enemy [means] no such thing as a fair election or fair plebiscite is a possibility. [141]

Women who had glimpsed liberation in the ranks of EAM/ELAS now faced rape, torture and death. Between 1948 and 1950, for example, 17 were executed for subversion, the youngest being 16 years old. [142] Others were in jail right up until the 1960s. Their persecutors, now working with US counter-insurgency forces, had flourished under the British, and previously under the Axis. A US Senator described what they were doing: ‘We had to back not the good guys but the bad guys in Greece, to put it simply in the vernacular. We did not back the people.’ [143] On the ground a resistance woman confirmed this: ‘After the liberation … we, who had fought the occupation, we were the bad guys, and those who had collaborated with the Nazis, they were now the good ones. The government rewarded them and punished us’. [144] The civil war eventually cost 158,000 Greek lives, [145] but it meant that in 1947 a US paper could report: ‘Churchill’s victory is complete – and neatly underwritten by hundreds of millions of American dollars. It could only be slightly more complete if Hitler himself had engineered it!’ [146]

What happened in Greece was not a difference of opinion within a single world conflict. It was two types of war clashing to such an extent that bombs, tanks, torture, rape and prisons decided the outcome.


[1]See C. Tsoucalas, The Greek Tragedy, Harmondsworth, 1969, p. 18, and E. Thermos, ‘From Andartes to Symmorites: Road to Greek Fratricide’ in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1968, p. 114.
[2]M. Mazower, Inside Hitler’s Greece, Yale, 1993, p. 98, Tsoucalas, p. 52 and E.C.W. Myers, Greek Entanglement, London, 1955, p. 105.
[3]‘The Communist Party history of Giannis Ioannidis’, in P. Auty and R. Clogg (eds), British Policy towards Wartime Resistance in Yugoslavia and Greece, London 1975, pp. 43–67.
[4]See Tsoucalas, p. 55.
[5]C. Woodhouse, The Apple of Discord, London, 1948, pp. 16–17.
[6]New York Times, 30 January 1941, quoted in Tsoucalas, p. 63.
[7]Quoted in L. Baerentzen (ed.), British Reports on Greece 1943–1944, Copenhagen, 1982, p. 151.
[8]Quoted in W. Deakin, E. Barker, J. Chadwick (eds), British Political and Military Strategy in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe in 1944, Houndmills, 1988, p. 89.
[9]Yugoslavia was conquered in one week, but it took almost a month to subdue Greece. This prolonged struggle delayed Operation Barbarossa, which meant the Wehrmacht was caught out by the harsh Russian winter, with decisive results for the entire war (D. Eudes, The Kapetanios, London, 1972, p. 10).
[10]Tsoucalas, p. 91.
[11]Mazower, Inside, p. 41, Tsoucalas, p. 59, Eudes, p. 33.
[12]D. Glinos, ‘What is the National Liberation Front (EAM), and what does it want?’ in Clogg, p. 82.
[13]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 28.
[14]Glinos, in Clogg, p. 90. See also Mazower, Inside, p. 98, and Myers, p. 103.
[15]Sarafis was initially arrested by ELAS forces and had to be convinced to take command, though he did join the KKE later on. See S. Sarafis, ELAS: Greek Resistance Army, London, 1980, pp. vi, 100.
[16]Mazower, Inside, p. 330.
[17]Zachariadis, quoted in Eudes, p. 238.
[18]The Caserta Agreement, 26 September 1944, in Woodhouse, Apple, p. 306 and Clogg, p. 174.
[19]Mazower, Inside, p. 125.
[20]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 66, Mazower, Inside, p. 316.
[21]Myers, p. 73.
[22]According to Spiro Meletzis, the official resistance photographer, quoted in J. Hart, New Voices in the Nation. Women and the Greek Resistance, 1941–1964, Ithaca, 1996, p. 201.
[23]Myers, p. 73.
[24]Mazower, Inside, p. 325. However, it is worthwhile noting that the killing of EKKA’s commander, Psarros, was carried out by Aris in defiance of the other ELAS leaders, because of a factional dispute (which will be discussed later). See Tsoucalas, p. 68n and Sarafis, p. 111.
[25]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 136 and Myers, p. 102.
[26]C. Woodhouse, ‘The Situation in Greece – January to May, 1944’ in L. Baerentzen (ed.), British Reports on Greece 1943–1944, Copenhagen, 1982, p. 73, and Woodhouse, Apple, p. 61. See also Mazower, Inside, p. xix.
[27]D. Glinos, ‘What is the National Liberation Front (EAM), and What Does it Want?’, in Clogg, p. 91.
[28]Tsoucalas, p. 66 and L.S. Stavrianos, ‘The Greek National Liberation Front (EAM): A Study in Resistance Organization and Administration’, Journal of Modern History, Vol. 24, No. 1, March 1952, p. 44.
[29]M. Hadas, ‘OSS Report of 13 September 1944’, in Clogg, p. 182.
[30]Eudes, p. 66.
[31]Hart, p. 197. Hart estimates that in the Peleponnese approximately 25 per cent of EAM’s leadership was communist. See p. 149.
[32]Sarafis, p. iii.
[33]Hart, p. 187.
[34]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 32.
[35]Eudes, pp. 37–8.
[36]Sarafis, p. 318, and Eudes, 33–40.
[37]This was reported by an Athenian woman who was twelve years old in 1941. Quoted in Hart, p. 88.
[38]See Hart, p. 201.
[39]See Hart, p. 153–61.
[40]See Hart, p. 24.
[41]Mazower, Inside, p. 279 and Hart, p. 31.
[42]Quoted in Hart, p. 31.
[43]Stavrianos, ‘The Greek National Liberation Front’, p. 53.
[44]Quoted in Hart, p. 174.
[45]Quoted in Hart, p. 168. Mazower makes an identical point in M. Mazower, ‘Structures of authority in the Greek resistance, 1941–1944,’ in T. Kirk and A. McElligott, Opposing Fascism, Cambridge, 1999, p. 130.
[46]Hart, p. 176. In the Democratic Army, the successor to ELAS in the post-’45 civil war, women formed a significant proportion of the fighters and participated on equal terms with the men (A. Nachmani, ‘Civil War and Foreign Intervention in Greece, 1946–49’ in Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 25, 1990, p. 495).
[47]Woodhouse, ‘The Situation in Greece’, in Baerentzen, p. 81.
[48]The pattern was set by the village of Kleitsos in Eurytania on 11 October 1942 and it spread rapidly first to EAM districts and eventually to all resistance controlled areas. See Stavrianos, ‘The Greek National Liberation Front’, pp. 47–51, Mazower, Inside, pp. 271–2, Hart, p. 207, Sarafis, p. 324.
[49]Eudes, p. 121.
[50]Mazower, Inside, pp. 293–4.
[51]Stavrianos, ‘The Greek National Liberation Front’, p. 53.
[52]Mazower, Inside, p. 132.
[53]Woodhouse, ‘The Situation in Greece’, p. 84.
[54]Woodhouse, Apple, pp. 146–7.
[55]Quoted in Tsoucalas, p. 63.
[56]C.M. Woodhouse, ‘Summer 1943: The Critical Months’, in P. Auty and R. Clogg (eds), British Policy towards Wartime Resistance in Yugoslavia and Greece, London 1975 , p. 127.
[57]Compare the figures given by Sarafis of 19,355 (Sarafis, p. 427), and Myers combined resistance tally of 25,000 (Myers, p. 280).
[58]This is according to Sarafis (see Sarafis, p. 427). Myers suggests a resistance total of 150 locomotives were damaged or destroyed, over 100 bridges blown up and over 250 ships of above 68,000 tons sunk or damaged (Myers, p. 280).
[59]Sarafis, pp. 265, 402, Myers, p. 281.
[60]Myers, p. 280.
[61]Myers, p. 220.
[62]Stavrianos, ‘The Greek National Liberation Front’, p. 43.
[63]Myers, p. 281. See also Mazower, Inside, p. 140.
[64]C.M. Woodhouse, ‘Summer 1943’, in Auty and Clogg, p. 119.
[65]Myers, pp. 267–8.
[66]Sarafis, pp. 303, 426.
[67]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 61. See also Mazower, Inside, pp. 77–81.
[68]Sarafis, p. 224.
[69]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 75, See also Mazower, Inside, pp. 140–1.
[70]This is according to US reports, quoted in L.S. Stavrianos, ‘Two Points of View: I. The Immediate Origins of the Battle of Athens’, in American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 8 No. 4, 1949, p. 244n.
[71]Woodhouse, ‘The Situation in Greece’, in Baerentzen, p. 112–114, and Myers, p. 272.
[72]W. Churchill, The Second World War, Volume 6, London, 1954, pp. 194–5.
[73]See Eudes, p. 21 and Myers’s account as leader of the operation, Myers, p. 85, and Sarafis, p. 49.

Quoted in W. Deakin, ‘Resistance in Occupied Central and South-eastern Europe’, in Deakin et al., pp. 131–2. After the event both Woodhouse and Myers argued in similar terms about the reasons for a switch in policy. Myers wrote:

Whilst Allied strategy on the main battle-fronts was defensive, every act of sabotage, almost every bang, in enemy-occupied territory reaped a moral reward out of all proportion to the military gain – great even though the latter often was by itself – and fully justified our policy. When the Allies changed over to the offensive, however, morale-raising bangs and propaganda were comparatively unimportant … But by then it was too late to try to send back to their homes the many thousands in the guerrilla forces … (Myers, p. 279).

[75]Quoted in Sarafis, p. 153.
[76]Quoted in Tsoucalas, p. 73.
[77]Discord, p. 152.
[78]The Ango-American action was in defiance of a unanimous agreement between the Greek political parties, including the Royalists! See L.S. Stavrianos, ‘The Mutiny in the Greek Armed Forces, April 1944’, in American Slavic and East European Review, Vol. 9, No. 4 1950, pp. 305–6.
[79]Tsoucalas, p. 73.
[80]Stavrianos, p. 310.
[81]Churchill, 14 April 1944, quoted in Tsoucalas, p. 73.
[82]Tsoucalas gives the figure of 20,000 (Tsoucalas, p. 73) while Thermos suggests it was 12,000. (Thermos, p. 117).
[83]Eudes, pp. 77–85, 121–30.
[84]Neubacher, on 14 September 1944, quoted in Deakin et al., p. 141.
[85]Deakin et al., p. 141.
[86]Mazower, Inside, p. 329.
[87]Quoted in Deakin et al., p. 143.
[88]Quoted in L. Karliaftis, ‘Trotskyism and Stalinism in Greece’ in Revolutionary History, Vol. 3, No. 3, spring 1991, p. 6. See also the translation in S. Vukmanovic, How and why the People’s Liberation Struggle of Greece met with Defeat, London, 1950, p. 13.
[89]Quoted in Tsoucalas, p. 83.
[90]Vukmanovic, p. 13.
[91]Clogg, pp. 171–3.
[92]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 150.
[93]R. Clogg, ‘“Pearls from Swine”: the FO papers, SOE and the Greek Resistance’, in Auty and Clogg, p. 197.
[94]Quoted in C.M. Woodhouse, ‘Summer 1943: The Critical Months’ in Auty and Clogg, p. 38.
[95]K. Pyromaglou, quoted in L.S. Stavrianos, ‘Two Points of View’, p. 307.
[96]The KKE leadership had used the PEEA as a lever to gain ministers in the Cairo government. Thus the PEEA’s first meeting had also been its last. Stavrianos, ‘The Greek National Liberation Front’, p. 54.
[97]Clogg. p. 174 and Sarafis, p. 387.
[98]Clogg, p. 174.
[99]Eudes, p. 145–8.
[100]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 199.
[101]Tsoucalas, p. 77.
[102]Mazower, Inside, pp. 295–6.
[103]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 196.
[104]Eudes, p. 105. See also Vukmanovic.
[105]Sarafis, p. iii.
[106]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 214.
[107]Tsoucalas, p. 134.
[108]Quoted in Stavrianos, ‘Two Points of View’, p. 242.
[109]Quoted Deakin et al., p. 136.
[110]Deakin et al., p. 135.
[111]General Alexander, quoted in T.D. Sfikas, ‘The People at the Top Can Do These Things, Which Others Can’t Do: Winston Churchill and the Greeks, 1940–45’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 26, 1991, p. 322.
[112]Clogg, p. 187.
[113]J. Iatrides (ed.), Ambassador MacVeagh Reports, Greece, 1933–1947, Princeton, 1960, p. 656.
[114]Sfikas, p. 321.
[115]Clogg, p. 174.
[116]http://politikokafeneio.com/Forum/viewtopic.php?=114187&sid=040bbd798e8d1b12e85459197e9d8b1b, accessed 8 August 2009.
[117]Quoted in Sfikas, p. 324.
[118]The Times, 6 December 1944.
[119]Stavrianos, ‘Two Points of View’, pp. 245–6, and Sarafis, pp. 494–5.
[120]Professor Svolos, quoted in Iatrides, p. 657.
[121]Mazower, p. 352.
[122]My emphasis. Stavrianos, ‘Two Points of View’, p. 244.
[123]The Times, 6 December 1944.
[124]Thermos, p. 119.
[125]The Times, 21 December 1944.
[126]Nachmani, p. 495.
[127]The Times, 6 December 1944.
[128]The Times, 9 December 1944.
[129]Editorial, The Times, 14 December 1944.
[130]See the report of Charles Edson, OSS, in Clogg, p. 191, and Woodhouse, Apple, p. 218.
[131]Iatrides, pp. 660–1.
[132]The Times, 21 December 1944.
[133]Woodhouse, Apple, p. 218.
[134]Quoted in Stavrianos, ‘Two Points of View’, p. 240.
[135]Ibid. Stavrianos points out that Churchill won the vote by 279 to 30, but notes that ‘although over 450 members were present, only 309 voted’.
[136]Mazower, p. 370.
[137]The Times, 1 January 1945.
[138]See the text of the Varkiza agreement in Woodhouse, Apple, pp. 308–10, Clogg, pp. 188–90, Sarafis, pp. 530–4.
[139]Thermos, p. 120.
[140]Tsoucalas, p. 94, and Thermos, p. 120.
[141]Quoted in Thermos, p. 121.
[142]Hart, p. 252.
[143]Senator McGee to US Senate, 17 February 1965, quoted in T. Gitlin, ‘CounterInsurgency: Myth and Reality in Greece’, in D. Horowitz (ed.), Containment and Revolution, London, 1967, p. 140.
[144]Hart, p. 257.
[145]Eudes, p. 354.
[146]New Republic, 15 September 1947, quoted in Thermos, p. 121.