WW1 and earlier

Anglo-Greek ties predated WW2 by well over a century, beginning with British support during the Greek War of Independence fought against the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s. After 8 years of fighting (with British, French and Russian support), the Greeks finally threw off more than 350 years of Ottoman control. Throughout most of the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th, King George I, a former Danish prince with family ties to the rulers of Great Britain, France and Russia, sat on the Greek throne. These powers supported Greece through the various intrigues and wars of the period, the most notable of which were the two Balkan Wars of 1912-13. As a result of these politically complex conflicts, Greece gained a large amount of territory and population from the Ottomans. In WW1, Greece eventually entered the war on the Allied side in 1917. In a failed attempt to aid Serbia, Entente forces had landed at Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1915 with the permission of the Greek Prime Minister. However, Greece remained neutral, as the pro-German King Constantine (who was married to the Kaiser’s sister) had resisted Entente requests to join the war. Beset by internal political crises and heavy Entente pressure, the King was forced to abdicate in June 1917. His son Alexander assumed the crown and the Greek Army subsequently fought alongside British and French troops at the conclusion of the Macedonian campaign. As a reward, Greece gained Western Thrace from Bulgaria after the war.

Between the wars

The Entente also allocated additional lands to Greece to administer in Anatolia (where there were sizeable Greek minorities), which had belonged to the collapsed Ottoman Empire. Greek forces landed at Smyrna (Izmir) in May 1919, precipitating the Greco-Turkish War (known in Greece as the Asia Minor Catastrophe), which was to last for the next 3 and a half years. The Greeks attempted to realise the “Megali Idea”, a nationalist vision of an enlarged Greek state, Megali Hellas (Great Greece), encompassing all Greek populations that had been a part of the Byzantine Empire. This included a significant portion of Asia Minor. The noted historian Arnold J. Toynbee described the conflict thus: “The war between Turkey and Greece which burst out at this time was a defensive war for safeguarding of the Turkish homelands in Anatolia. It was a result of the Allied policy of imperialism operating in a foreign state, the military resources and powers of which were seriously under-estimated; it was provoked by the unwarranted invasion of a Greek army of occupation.”
There were also tensions with the Italians, who had forces stationed in nearby Antalya. However, diplomacy ensured a demilitarized zone (“The Milne Line”) was created to keep the Greeks and Italians apart. Italy believed it had been promised territory in western Anatolia via the secret Treaty of London in 1915. This agreement paved the way for Italy to join the Entente during WW1. However, after their delegation walked out of the Paris peace conference for two weeks in April 1919 over a range of territorial disputes,  the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos was able to take advantage of their absence and persuade the British to allocate Smyrna and the surrounding region to Greece instead. The British Prime Minister David Lloyd George was an admirer of Venizelos and called him “..the greatest statesman Greece had thrown up since the days of Pericles”. Venizelos used a combination of exaggerated population data and forged reports of atrocities against Greeks in the Smyrna region to further his case. In any event, by this time Britain and France were opposed to Italian expansion, and Lloyd George remarked “Any day it might be found that Italy had captured Anatolia and it would be difficult to get them out of there once they had occupied it”. On the 6th of May, approval was given to the Greeks to land in Smyrna. Italy was most aggrieved by this turn of events.

In 1920 the Greek Army advanced steadily eastwards, but they were unable to land any telling blows on the Turkish forces, which steadily retreated in good order. In October of that year, King Alexander died of septicaemia after being bitten by a monkey. As he had no heir, a political crisis developed. Eventually Prime Minister Dimitrios Gounaris organised a referendum which returned King Constantine to the throne, despite Entente threats to withdraw all support. The upper ranks of the Army were purged and replaced with inexperienced officers loyal to the new King.

In the winter of 1920-21 two large battles at İnönü saw the Turkish revolutionaries finally halt the Greek advance. In the meantime political developments resulted in the Italians, French and Bolshevik Russians begin to provide support to the Turks.  Only Britain remained in the Greek corner.

The summer of 1921 saw further Greek advances, to a point where they were only 100km from Ankara. At the Battle of Sakarya, King Constantine personally commanded his troops against the army of Mustafa Kemal, the future Atatürk and founder of the modern Turkish state. After a bitter 21 day struggle, the Turkish lines had held, and the Greeks would move no further eastward.

A stalemate then persisted for roughly 1 year as both sides dug in. Finally the Turks launched a major counterattack Büyük Taarruz (The Great Offensive) on 26th August 1922. Decisively defeated at the Battle of Dumlupinar, the Greeks were routed within 2 weeks and Smyrna fell to the Turks on the 9th of September.  Western diplomatic officials reported that the retreating Greeks engaged in “scorched earth” practices, though it has been documented that atrocities were committed by both sides during this period against each other’s populations in Turkey.

The conflict officially ended with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which created the internationally recognised Republic of Turkey.

King Constantine was again forced to abdicate in 1922 following the Greek defeat at Dumlupinar, and King George II, the eldest son of Constantine, took over the throne for the next 2 years. In March 1924 the Greek Republic was proclaimed and he went into exile. During the following 11 years there were 23 changes of government, a dictatorship and no less than 16 coups as Royalists and Republicans slugged it out on the political stage. A rigged plebiscite restored George II to the throne in November 1935