An ELAS soldier
The Greek Civil War was fought between 1946 and 1949, and was the first example of a post-war Communist insurgency. The victory of the government anti-Communist forces led to Greece's membership in NATO, as a founding member in 1949, and helped to define the ideological balance of power in the Aegean for the entire Cold War.
The civil war consisted on one side of the predominantly conservative Greek civilian population and the armed forces of the Greek government, supported by the USA and the UK . On the other side were mostly Greek communists, and key members of the biggest Anti-Nazi resistance organization (ELAS), the leadership of which was controlled by the Communist Party of Greece.
The first phase of the civil war took shape in 1942-1944. The left-wing and right-wing of the resistance movement fought each other in a fratricidal conflict to establish the leadership of the Greek resistance. In the second phase (1944) the ascendant socialists, in military control of most of Greece, were confronted by the returning Greek government in exile, which had been formed under Western Allied auspices in Cairo. In the third phase (commonly called the "Third Round" by the Communists) (1946-1949), a centre-right government, elected under abnormal conditions, fought against armed forces controlled by the Communist Party of Greece. Although the involvement of the Communist Party in the uprisings was universally known, the party remained legal until 1948, continuing to coordinate attacks from its Athens offices until proscription.
During the conflict, neighbouring countries attempted to pursue territorial claims against Greece; they exerted pressures on both sides. The best-known example was the pressure exerted by SNOF, based in Yugoslavia, which fought as an integrated ELAS ally during the third phase of the war . Another case is the appointment of a Bulgarian minister at the last cabinet of the communist forces in 1949. On the other hand, the various anticommunist Greek governments were forced to comply with their Western allies foreign policy priorities, even after the end of the civil war.
The civil war left Greece with a legacy of political polarisation; it became a client of the US, and became suspicious of its northern neighbors until the 1980s. On the other hand, as result of the outcome of the civil war, unlike Albania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, Greece did not share the 40 years of communist rule and its attendant consequences.
The origins of the civil war lie in the occupation of Greece by Nazi Germany and Bulgaria from 1941 to 1944. King George II and his government escaped to Egypt, where they proclaimed a government-in-exile, recognised by the Western Allies, but not the Soviet Union. The Western Allies actively encouraged, even coerced, the King to appoint moderate ministers; only two of his ministers were members of the dictatorial government that had governed Greece before the Nazi German invasion. Some in the left-wing resistance claimed the government to be illegitimate, on account of its roots in the dictatorship of General Ioannis Metaxas from 1936 to 1941. Regardless of its pretensions, or of the dissenters, the government's inability to influence the governance of Greece rendered it irrelevant in the minds of most Greek people.
The Germans set up a collaborationist government in Athens; but this government, too, lacked legitimacy and support. The puppet regime was further undermined when economic mismanagement in wartime conditions created runaway inflation, acute food shortages, and even famine, amongst the Greek civilian population. Some high-profile officers of the pre-war Greek regime served the Germans in various posts. In 1943, this government started creating paramilitary forces, mostly of local fascists, convicts, and sympathetic prisoners of war, in order to fight the communist partizans and reduce the strain on the German army. These forces, which numbered 14,000 men at their peak in 1944, never were used against the Western Allies, but only against the pro-communist guerillas.
The lack of legitimate government created a power vacuum, which was filled by several resistance movements and began operations shortly after German occupation. The largest of these was the National Liberation Front (in Greek, Ethniko Apeleftherotiko Metopo, or EAM), founded in September 1941. The EAM and its military wing, the Greek National Liberation Army (Ethnikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos, or ELAS), were established by the Communist Party of Greece (the KKE). The acting leader was Giorgios Siantos (its proper leader, Nikolaos Zachariadis, was interned a German prison). Following the Soviet policy of creating a broad united front against fascism, the EAM won the support of many non-Communists. It became a large popular organisation which, although completely controlled by the KKE, tried to appear solely as a democratic republican movement. Another organization controlled by the Greek Communist Party was the OPLA (Organization for the protection of the people's fighters). Despite the grandiose name, it was predominantly a death squad, executing political opponents. In the area of Florina there also was the Slavo-Macedonian organization NOF, which changed its name to SNOF during the third phase of the civil war.
The EAM and the ELAS opposed all other resistance movements. The most important of such forces were the Greek National Republican League (Ethnikos Dimokratikos Ellinikos Syndesmos, or the EDES), led by a former army officer, Colonel Napoleon Zervas, and the National and Social Liberation (Ethniki Kai Koinoniki Apeleftherosis, or the EKKA), led by Colonel Dimitrios Psaros. The EKKA was a classical liberal movement, with strong opposition to the monarchy. The EDES was wholeheartedly committed to the liberation of Greece from both facism and communism alike, and bore little ideological identity.
The resistance first struck in Eastern Macedonia, where the Germans had allowed Bulgarian troops to occupy Greek territories. Large demonstrations were organized by the YBE (DEFENDERS OF NORTH GREECE), a right wing resistance organization, in Greek Macedonian cities, in response.
Greece is a country very favourable to guerilla operations, and by 1943 the Axis forces and their collaborators controlled only the main towns and connecting roads, leaving the mountainous interior to the resistance. By 1943 ELAS had about 20,000 men under arms, and effectively controlled large areas of the mountainous Peloponnese, Crete, Thessaly and Macedonia. EDES had about 5,000 men, nearly all of them in Epirus. EKKA only had about 1,000 men.
At the beginning the Western Allies were helping all resistance organizations with money and equipment, since they themselves needed any help they could find against the Axis. Later Western Allies tried to promote the anti-communist resistance organizations. However ELAS took control of the weapons of the Italian garrisons in Greece, when Italy joined the Western Allies, in the summer of 1943. In 1944 ELAS was able to equip its units with weapons looted by the enemy, while EDES enjoyed some Western Allied support.
There also were right-wing military organisations, such as X ("Khi")in Athens, PAO in Macedonia and others, which although they were part of the resistance, were accused by EAM of having been armed by the Germans. The fact is that all resistance organizations in Greece accused each other of secret agreements, and possible collaboration. The situation and the alliances were quite unstable. The enemy of my enemy maybe wasn't my friend but could be a source of equipment sometimes... ELAS soon managed to disolve all other partizan organizations at gun point.
EAM was the strongest of all resistance organizations, and it fought against the others as well as against the para-military forces of the collaborationist government. EAM accused EDES of collaboration with the Germans and was determined to establish a monopoly over the resistance, since it believed that the Allies would soon invade southern Europe through Greece, and wanted to be in a dominant position the day the Germans would leave Greece. This situation led to triangular battles among ELAS, EDES and the Germans. Given the support of the British and the Greek Cairo Government for EDES, these conflicts precipitated a civil war. In October 1943 ELAS attacked its rivals, particularly EDES, precipitating a civil war across many parts of Greece which continued until February 1944, when the British agents in Greece negotiated a ceasefire (the Plaka agreement).
In March 1944 the EAM, now in control of most of the country, established the Political Committee of National Liberation (Politiki Epitropi Ethnikis Apelevtheroseos, or PEEA), in effect a third Greek government to rival those in Athens and Cairo. Its aims were, "to intensify the struggle against the conquerors... for full national liberation, for the consolidation of the independence and integrity of our country... and for the annihilation of domestic Fascism and armed traitor formations." PEEA's first president was Euripides Bakirtzis, the military leader of EKKA. Later on Alexandros Svolos took his position and Bakirtzis became vice-president.
The deliberately moderate aims of the PEEA aroused support even among Greeks in exile. In April 1944 the Greek armed forces in Egypt mutinied against the Western Allies, demanding that a Government of National Unity should be established based on the PEEA principles. The mutiny was suppressed by Western Allied armed units. Later on, through political screening of the officers, the Cairo government created staunchly anti-Communist armed forces. In May 1944, representatives from all political groups came together at a conference in Lebanon, seeking an agreement about a government of national unity. Despite EAM's accusations of collaboration, made against other Greek forces, the conference succeded because of Soviet directives to the KKE to avoid harming Allied unity.
In Greece under Nazi occupation, the struggle was bitter and there was no room for delicate differentiations. All sides burned villages, and executed civilians and suspected collaborators. According to KKE, "the collaborationist groups such as X, however, used terrorism as a deliberate strategy, while with ELAS fighters it was the result of over-zealous local commanders rather than official policy". The fact is that organization X couldn't burn villages or conduct terrorism since its influence was felt only in a small part of the Athens center. The execution of the EKKA leader Dimitrios Psaros was one of the most repellent ELAS crimes: according to KKE some of his officers later were proven to be collaborators with the Germans -- according to the officers themselves they were forced to act, after the ELAS attacks against all non-communist resistance organizations. The truth is that in several cases ex-officers of the Greek army were forced at gun point to join ELAS although they were prefered to join an anti communist partizan group or the forces of the government in M.East. It is quite charasteristic the example of St.Sarafis who was the military leader of ELAS. Sarafis intented to join the non communist resistance group of kostopoulos in Thessaly with a group of other officers. On their way they were caught by an ELAS group commanded by Velouhiotis. Sarafis accepted to join ELAS at gun point when Velouhiotis killed all other officers.
By the summer of 1944 it was obvious that the Germans would soon withdraw from Greece, because the armed forces of the Soviet Union were advancing into Romania and towards Yugoslavia and the Germans risked being cut off. The government-in-exile, now led by a prominent liberal, George Papandreou, moved to Caserta in Italy in preparation for the liberation of Greece. Under the Caserta Agreement of September 1944, all the resistance forces in Greece were placed under the command of a British officer, General Ronald Scobie.
Troops of the Western Allies landed in Greece in October. There was little fighting since the Germans were in full retreat. They were greatly outnumbered by ELAS, which by this time had 50,000 men under arms and was re-equipping from supplies left behind by the Germans. On October 13 the Western Allies entered Athens, and Papandreou and his ministers followed a few days later. The King stayed in Cairo, because Papandreou had promised that the future of the monarchy would be decided by referendum.
At this point there was little to prevent ELAS from taking full control of the country. They did not do so because the KKE leadership was under instructions from the Soviet Union not to precipitate a crisis that could jeopardise Allied unity and put at risk Stalin's larger post-war objectives. The KKE leadership knew this, but the ELAS fighters and rank-and-file Communists did not. This became a source of conflict within EAM and ELAS.
Following Stalin's instructions, the KKE leadership tried to avoid a confrontation with the Papandreou government. The majority of ELAS members saw the Western Allies as liberators, although some KKE leaders such as Andreas Tzimas and Aris Velouchiotis did not trust the Western Allies. Tzimas was in touch with the Yugoslav Communist leader Josip Broz Tito, and he disagreed with ELAS's co-operation with the Western Allied forces.
The issue of disarming the resistance organizations was a cause of friction between the Papandreou government and its EAM members. Advised by the British ambassador Sir Reginald Leeper, Papandreou demanded the disarmament of all armed forces and the constitution of a National Guard under government control. EAM, believing that this would leave ELAS defenceless against the right-wing militias, submitted an alternative plan which Papandreou rejected, and EAM then resigned from the government. On December 1, Scobie issued a proclamation requiring the dissolution of ELAS. Command of ELAS was the KKE's greatest source of strength, and the KKE leader Siantos decided that the demand for ELAS's dissolution must be resisted.
Tito's influence may have played some role in ELAS's resistance to disarmament. Tito was outwardly loyal to Stalin but had come to power through his own forces and believed that the Communist Greeks should do the same. His influence, however, had not prevented the EAM leadership from putting its forces under Scobie's command a couple of months earlier.
On December 3, following an outbreak of shooting at an EAM demonstration in Syntagma Square in central Athens, full-scale fighting between ELAS and the Government. Western Allies tried to stay neutral but when the battle escalated they intervened, with artillery and aircraft being freely used. At the beginning the government had only a few policemen and a brigade without heavy weapons. On December 4 Papandreou attempted to resign but the British Ambassador convinced him to stay. By December 12 ELAS was in control of most of Athens and Piraeus. The Western Allies, outnumbered, flew in the 4th Infantry Division from Italy as reinforcements. During the battle with the ELAS, local militias fought alongside the Western Allies , triggering a massacre by ELAS fighters. It must be noted that although the British were fighting openly against ELAS in Athens there were not fights in the rest of Greece. In certain cases like Volos some RAF units gave equipment to ELAS fighters.
Fighting continued through December, with the Western Allies slowly gaining the upper hand. Curiously, ELAS forces in the rest of Greece did not attack the Western Allies. It was obvious that ELAS did not have a plan for a real coup, but was drawn into the fighting by the indignation of its fighters.
The outbreak of fighting between Western Allied forces and an anti-German resistance movement, while the war was still being fought, was a serious political problem for Churchill's coalition government, and caused much protest in the British and American press and in the House of Commons. To prove his peace-making intention, Churchill himself arrived in Athens on December 24 and presided over a conference, in which Soviet representatives participated, to bring about a settlement. It failed because the EAM/ELAS demands were considered excessive and rejected.
By early January ELAS had been driven from Athens. As a result of Churchill's intervention, Papandreou resigned and was replaced by a firm anti-Communist, General Nikolaos Plastiras. On January 15, 1945 Scobie agreed to a ceasefire, in exchange for ELAS's withdrawal from its positions at Patras and Thessaloniki and its demobilisation in the Peloponnese. This was a severe defeat, but ELAS remained in existence and the KKE had an opportunity to reconsider its strategy.
The KKE's defeat in 1945 was mainly political. The exaltation of terrorism on the communist side made a political settlement even more difficult. The hunting of "collaborators" was extended to people who had not been involved in collaboration. The KKE made many enemies by summarily executing up to 8,000 people for various political "crimes", during their period of control of Athens, and they took another 20,000 hostages with them when they departed. After the Athens fighting KKE support declined sharply, and as a result most of the prominent non-Communists in EAM left the organisation. But terrorism among the right-wing extremist gangs was strengthened.
In February 1945 the various Greek parties came to the Varkiza Agreement, with the support of all the Allies. This provided for the complete demobilisation of ELAS and all other paramilitary groups, an amnesty for all political offences, a referendum on the monarchy, and a general election as soon as possible. The KKE remained legal, and its leader Nikolaos Zachariadis, who returned from Germany in April 1945, said that the KKE's objective was now a "people's democracy" to be achieved by peaceful means.
The Varkiza Agreement transformed the KKE's political defeat into a military one. ELAS's existence was terminated. At the same time the National Army and the right-wing extremists were free to continue their war against the ex-members of EAM. The amnesty was not comprehensive, because many actions during the German occupation were classed as criminal and so excepted from the amnesty. As a result, a number of veteran partisans hid their weapons in the mountains and 5,000 of them escaped to Yugoslavia, although the KKE leadership did not encourage this. The KKE renounced Velouchiotis when he called on the veteran guerrillas to start a second struggle: shortly afterwards, he was killed by the security forces.
The KKE soon reversed its political position, as relations between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies deteriorated. With the onset of the Cold War, Communist parties everywhere moved to more militant positions. George Papandreou in July, 1945, informed the government that the dissolution of the Comintern was a fraud. Although Stalin still did not support a resumed armed struggle in Greece, the KKE leadership in February 1946 decided, "after weighing the domestic factors, and the Balkan and international situation," to go ahead with the, "organisation of a new armed struggle against the Monarcho-Fascist regime." The KKE boycotted the March 1946 elections, which were won by the monarchist United Patriotic Party (Inomeni Parataxis Ethnikofronon), the main member of which was the People's Party (LK) of Konstantinos Tsaldaris. In September a referendum narrowly decided to retain the monarchy, although the KKE disputed the results, and King George returned to Athens.
Civil War: 1946-1949
Fighting resumed in March 1946, as armed bands of ELAS veterans infiltrated into Greece through the mountainous regions near the Yugoslav and Albanian borders. They now were organized as the Democratic Army of Greece (Dimokratikos Stratos Elladas, DSE), under the command of the ELAS veteran Markos Vafiadis (known as "General Markos"), who operated from a base in Yugoslavia.
Both the Yugoslav and Albanian Communist regimes, which had come to power through their own efforts and were not Soviet puppets, supported the KKE fighters, but the Soviet Union remained ambivalent. It was not part of Stalin's strategy to conduct a war against the Western Allies in Greece, and the Soviets gave little direct support to the KKE campaign. Certain historians believe that Stalin in Greece wanted just to test the determination of the western allies.
By late 1946 the DSE could deploy about 10,000 partisans in various areas of Greece, mainly in the northern mountains. Accordiong to the DSE its fighters, "resisted the reign of terror that the right-wing gangs conducted all over Greece. During 1945-1946, 60 right-wing gangs killed 1,192 Greek citizens, and made more than 13,000 terrorist attacks against pro-democratic citizens and villages". According to the right-wing citizens, these gangs were retaliating for what they had suffered during the reign of ELAS. In many cases the Government tried to stop the action of the right-wing gangs, imprisoning their members.
This provided little relief for the average citizen, who was caught in the crossfire. When the DSE partizans were entering a village asking for supplies, the citizens could not resist. And when the national army was coming to the village the same citizens who had given supplies to the partizans, at gun point, were characterized as communist sympathizers and suffered the consequenses.
The Greek Army now numbered about 90,000 men, and gradually was being put on a more professional basis. The task of re-equipping and training the Army had been carried out by its fellow Western Allies. But by early 1947 Britain, which had spent 85 million pounds in Greece since 1944, no longer could afford this burden. President Harry S. Truman announced that the United States would step in to support the government of Greece against Communist pressure. This began a long and troubled relationship between Greece and the United States. For several decades the American Ambassador advised the King about important issues such as the appointment of the Prime Minister.
Through 1947 the scale of fighting increased. The DSE launched large-scale attacks on towns across northern Epirus, Thessaly and Macedonia, provoking the Army into massive counter-offensives, which then encountered no opposition as the DSE melted back into the mountains and into its safe havens over the northern borders. Army morale remained low, and it would be some time before the support of the United States became apparent.
In September 1947, however, the KKE leadership decided to move from these guerilla tactics to full-scale conventional war, despite the opposition of Vafiadis. In December the KKE announced the formation of a Provisional Democratic Government, with Vafiadis as Prime Minister. This led the Athens government finally to ban the KKE and suppress its press. No foreign government recognised this government. The new strategy led the DSE into costly attempts to seize a major town to be the seat of its government. In December 1947 1,200 DSE men were killed at a set-piece battle around Konitsa. However, this strategy forced the government to increase the size of the Army. Controlling the main cities, the government cracked down on KKE members and sympathisers, many of whom were imprisoned on the island of Makronisos.
Despite setbacks such as the fighting at Konitsa, during 1948 the DSE reached the height of its power, extending its operations to the Peloponnessus and even to Attica, within 20 km of Athens. It had at least 20,000 fighters, and a network of sympathisers and informants in every village and every suburb. The Army added to the refugee problem by organised expeditions to clear entire areas and deprive the DSE of support.
Western Allied funds, advisors and equipment now were flooding into the country, and under Western Allied guidance a series of major offensives were launched in the mountains of central Greece. Although these offensives did not achieve all their objectives, they inflicted some serious defeats on the DSE. Army morale rose, and the morale of the DSE fighters, many of whom had been "conscripted" at gunpoint, fell correspondingly.
The end of the war: 1949
The fatal blow to the KKE and the DSE, however, was political, not military. In June of that year, the Soviet Union and its satellites broke off relations with Prime Minister Tito of Yugoslavia, who had been the KKE's strongest supporter since 1944. The KKE thus had to choose between their loyalty to Stalin and their relations with their closest and most important ally. Inevitably, after some internal conflict the great majority of them, led by Zachariadis, chose Stalin. In January 1949 Vafiadis was accused of "Titoism" and removed from his political and military positions, being replaced by Zachariadis.
After a year of increasing acrimony, Tito closed down the Yugoslavian border to the guerrillas of DSE in July of 1949 and disbanded their camps inside Yugoslavia. The DSE still could operate from Albania, but to the DSE that was a poor alternative. The split with Tito also set off a witch-hunt for "Tito-ites" inside the Greek Communist Party, leading to disorganisation and demoralisation within the ranks of the DSE and decline of support of the KKE in urban areas.
At the same time, the National Army found a talented commander in General Alexander Papagos. In August of 1949, Papagos launched a major counter-offensive against DSE forces in northern Greece, code-named "Operation Torch". The plan was a major victory for the National Army and resulted in heavy losses for the DSE. The DSE army no longer was able to sustain resistance in a set-piece battle. By September of 1949, most of its fighters had surrendered or escaped over the border into Albania. By the end of the month, the Albanian government, presumably with Soviet approval, announced to the KKE that it no longer would allow the DSE to perform military operations from within Albanian territory. On October 16, Zachariadis announced a, "temporary cease-fire to prevent the complete annihilation of Greece." That treaty marked the end of the Greek Civil War.
Greek stamps celebrating the victory
Pope with soldiers on Grammos mountain, Nike flying over Vitsi, Soldier ready to attack the enemy, Nike with soldiers
Eleutheria Newspaper 3 August 1949, Grammos is free after a battle of five days , no resistance more from the bandits
The Western Allies saw the end of the Greek Civil War, as a victory in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The paradox was that the Soviets never actively supported the Communist Party's efforts to seize power in Greece. The KKE's major supporter and supplier always had been Tito, and it was the rift between Tito and the KKE which marked the real demise of the party's efforts to assert power.
The Civil War left Greece in ruins, and in even greater economic distress than it had been after the end of WWII and the end of the German occupation. The war divided the Greek people for the following four decades. Thousands of Greeks languished in prison for many years. Many thousands more went into exile in Communist countries, or emigrated to Australia, Germany, the USA and other countries. The polarisation and instability in the 1960s of Greek politics was a direct result of feelings and ideologies lingering from the Civil War.
Right-wing extremist organisations played a part in the politics of the time by instigating conflict and tension, leading to the murder of the left-wing politician Gregoris Lambrakis in 1963. On April 21, 1967, a group of right-wing Army officers succeded in performing a coup d' êtat and seizing power from the government, using as an excuse the political instability and tension of the time. The leader of the coup, George Papadopoulos, was a member of the extra-military organization IDEA (Ieros Desmos Ellinon Axiomatikon -Ιερός Σύνδεσμος Ελλήνων Αξιωματικών - or Sacred Bond of Greek Officers).
Before the Junta was in power, officers belonging to the ASPIDA group, a left-wing organization of anti-royalist officers, were accused of planning an attempt to take power through a coup. The attempt never took place and the officers were court martialed for, "treason against the Greek state", and, "following a known communist". They alledgedly were followers of Andreas Papandreou, son of George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece, who fled the country after the 1967 coup.
After the fall of the military junta, in 1974, a conservative centre-right wing government under Constantine Karamanlis legalised the KKE and established a constitution which guaranteed political freedoms, individual rights, and free elections. In 1981 the center/left-wing government of PASOK, which was elected with a substantial majority, voted to give all ELAS warriors a pension for their action during occupation, even if they later had revolted against the state during the "third round". PASOK claimed that this law diminished the consequences of the civil war in Greek society. Nonetheless, the same party repeatedly has come under fire for allegedly inflaming civil-war era passions, with divisive rhetoric used for its own political gain.
The Greek Civil War article and documents at the Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved June 3, 2005.
The following are available only in Greek.
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