Ralph Sunleys article on Greece in the British Mediterranean Strategy was slated for publication in TEM originally, but he graciously agreed to let us publish it on the Generalstab Archives for now. For a well-informed look at the role of Greece in the bigger picture of British military strategy in the Mediterranean as well as the brutal German occupation take a look at the article here.
Month: August 2015
Second Balkan War
Greek War of Independence
A History of the Greek Revolution – Turkish Rule
Wikipedia article on Greece during WWI
The Abdication of King Constantine I of Greece
First World War.com – Memoirs & Diaries – The Abdication of King Constantine I of Greece
Greece and the Allies 1914-1922, G. F. Abbott,1922, Methuen & Co Ltd
Lecture 14: Greek nationalism, the “Megale Idea” and Venizelism to 1923, Steven W Sowards, 1996
Arnold J. Toynbee and Kenneth P. Kirkwood, Turkey, 1926, London: Ernest Benn, p. 94
Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)
Wikipedia article on the Greco-Turkish War
Greco-Turkish War (1919–22) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Greco-Turkish War 1920-22, Peter Kincaid Jensen, International Journal of Middle East Studies, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), Volume 10, Issue 04, pp 553-565
GREEK BARBARISM – Part 2 – Greek Atrocities and Massacres of Turks During Greek Occupation of Izmir and Adjoining Territories, 1919
Turkey and Greece: A History of Colliding
Cyprus: A Place of Arms (London: Praeger, 1966), chapter 6
The political and diplomatic Background to the Metaxas dictatorship 1935-36, Harry Cliadakis.http://www.metaxas-project.
“Neither Fascist nor Authoritarian: The 4th of August Regime in Greece (1936-1941) and the Dynamics of Fascistisation in 1930s Europe”., Aristotle Kallis
Neither fascist nor authoritarian – Research Portal | Lancaster University
King George II article on Wikipedia
Greece becomes part of the British sphere of influence
The American College of Greece – Art (Ioannis Metaxas)
Great Britain, House of Commons PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES, Vol. 346, col. 13. http://hansard.
The Political and Diplomatic Background to the Metaxas Dictatorship, 1935-36, Harry Cliadakis, Journal of Contemporary History, SAGE, Vol 14 (1979), p117-38
[Comments on page by Metaxas’ grand-daughter Ioanna Phoca-Metaxa]
Translation of memoirs from Italian Ambassador to Greece Emanuele Grazzi
THE CHRONICLES OF A CAREER – Sir Anthony Eden, LEWIS BROAD, Hutchinson & Co 1955, p152-154.
The Battle of Greece
The German Campaign in the Balkans (Spring 1941) a model of crisis planning, General Major Burkhart Mueller-Hillebrand, Office of the Chief of Military History, 1952
The German Campaign in the Balkans 1941, by Mueller-Hillebrand
MEMOIRS – Winston Churchill (abridged), Houghton Mifflin 1959, Chapter 18 vol 2, pages 420-433, 792, 797
Operation Harling COMBATSIM.COM: Operation Harling: Destruction of the Gorgopotamos Rail Bridge, 1942
Axis Occupation of Greece during World War II
THE GREEK CIVIL WAR 1943 – 1949, Major Jeffrey C. Kotora, USMC, 1985, Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Command Decisions, Chapter 10, Richard M Leighton, United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 70-7. OVERLORD Versus the Mediterranean
Ideology, calculation, and improvisation: spheres of influence and Soviet foreign policy 1939–1945, Geoffrey Roberts, Review of International Studies (1999), 25, p655–673
Strategic Deception Behind the Normandy Invasion
Major Jon S. Wendell, United States Air Force
Deceit on D-Day Outtakes from Victory and Deceit, A. Nofi
StrategyPage.com – Military Book Reviews
Bulgaria and the Aegean Sea (1941-1944) Military- Political aspects, Dimiter Yonchev
Sofia was bombed? : Bulgaria’s Forgotten War with the Allies, Irina Gigova
U.S. State Department [Eizenstat] Report on Allied Relations and Negotiations With Turkey
The Republic of Turkey & Nazi Germany
World War II: Turkey
World War II — Turkey
The Duke of Edinburgh
Greek civil war http://www.globalsecurity.org/
Greek Civil War
The Greek Dilemma War and Aftermath, William Hardy McNeil, J.B. Lippincott Company, 1947
28th October 1940: “OXI” (NO) DAY – the day Greece – Feldgrau.net
The surrender of Italy in 1943 opened up an opportunity for Britain in the Aegean. Italian troops garrisoned much of Greece including many Aegean islands. On Rhodes, Allied hopes were pinned on the 40,000-strong Italian force stationed there changing sides. However, quick action by the Germans forced the Italians to surrender, and they were disarmed, along with all the other Italians occupying Greece (with the exception of Kefalonia where they were massacred instead). The British still managed to occupy the islands of Kos, Leros and Samos with a small force by the middle of September. But, as November drew to a close, local German air superiority had won the day, and the remaining British units were forced to withdraw. The defeat was a blow for Churchill, but he was as yet undeterred in his plans for the Eastern Med. (This campaign is covered in detail in David Hughes’ “Disaster in the Aegean” scenario published in TEM 57 and Frank Watsons’ “Dodecanese Adventure” article in the same issue.)
Churchill continued to push for an East Mediterranean strategy at the Cairo and Tehran talks in late 1943. His primary objective now was to open the Aegean and secure a sea route to the Turkish ports, with the aim of bringing Turkey into the war on the Allied side. A major outcome would be a sea route to the Soviet Union through the Dardanelles that bypassed the dangerous waters of the Arctic–echoing his ill-fated 1915 Gallipoli campaign. However the Americans were opposed to the idea for several reasons. They suspected the British of not being wholly committed to the planned invasion of Northwestern Europe, were suspicious of Britain’s political motives with a view to post war influence in the region, and not least were concerned about getting bogged down in the difficult terrain and politics of the Balkans. Another attempt at taking Rhodes was seriously considered by the British, but the US reiterated it would not provide a single landing craft for the attack. (At this stage in the war, the British could only spare minor forces, like they did in the Dodecanese, from their main commitments, and US support thus was needed to ensure success in secondary operations against the Germans.) In the end the realpolitik of the US and the Soviet Union put an end to all the British ideas of major activity in the Eastern Mediterranean until the Germans evacuated Greece in October 1944. The British, though, kept the diplomatic channels working and were able to agree with the Soviets that Greece was to come under the British sphere of influence (while Rumania and Bulgaria were to be left to the Soviets).
In order to deceive the Germans about the upcoming invasion of Normandy, elaborate operational ruses were devised and fed to Nazi intelligence under the overall guise of Operation Bodyguard. One such ploy was Operation Zeppelin, a planned invasion of Greece by (almost) non-existent forces. This phantom invasion threatened landings in Greece, Albania, the Adriatic or even the Black Sea. The desired (and realised) outcome of this plan was that the Germans were forced to keep formations in Hungary in reserve to defend against this perceived threat, instead of in France where they would have been far more useful.
Bulgaria had mostly managed to remain at arm’s length from the war until 1943. Although it joined the Axis in 1941, it never declared war on the Soviet Union and did not participate in Barbarossa. Yugoslav Macedonia and most of Thrace were given over to Bulgarian administration after the Balkan campaign, and Bulgaria spent the next 3 years trying to control these sectors with a variety of harsh methods. By late 1943, though, things were starting to go seriously wrong. Heavy Allied bombing raids on Sofia had shaken the Bulgarians confidence in the alliance with Germany. The Soviets were pushing westwards hard from Ukraine, and a communist insurgency threatened the stability of the government. In addition there were constant fears about the Allies landing in the Aegean or in Thrace and posing a direct threat to Bulgaria itself, not to mention the possibility of Turkish involvement on behalf of the Allies. The Bulgarian 2nd Corps units stationed in Thrace were therefore a first line of defence for the homeland against an Allied attack in the Aegean, but had the situation deteriorated it is likely that these units would have withdrawn to the passes of the Rhodope mountains to defend the Bulgarian homeland. In the end, the Red Army entered the country unopposed on September 5th, 1944 and on the 9th a communist coup succeeded in taking control of the government and country. Subsequently the Bulgarians began fighting alongside the Third Ukrainian Front to drive the Germans from the Balkans, and they remained in the Soviet sphere of influence for another 46 years.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk died in November 1938 and was succeeded as President of Turkey by İsmet İnönü. An alliance agreement was signed with Britain and France in 1939. However, this agreement largely failed, as Turkey refused requests to help Greece and stayed out of the war until it symbolically joined the Allies in 1945.
The British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir John Dill met with the Turks in early 1941 as part of their efforts to create a united Balkan Front, but the Turks were in no mood to confront the Germans. The Turkish Army was in a poor state and in dire need of modern equipment, plus the economy required many resources. In addition Turkey was fearful of fighting both the Soviets and Germans (who were still allies) at the same time. Only if attacked would they enter the war.
General James Marshall-Cornwall headed a second British Military mission to Ankara in April. The Turkish authorities demanded impossible amounts of Allied assistance. While these talks were taking place, the Wehrmacht unleashed its assault on Yugoslavia and Greece. Turkey remained neutral.
In June 1941 Turkey signed the German-Turkish Treaty of friendship with Germany, although Hitler had written to İnönü three months earlier guaranteeing the Turkish borders. Stymied, Allied negotiators decided to send just enough supplies to keep the Turks friendly, without actually pressuring them further to enter the war at that stage.
Churchill held direct talks with İnönü at Adana in southern Turkey in January 1943, aiming to bring the Turks into the war by late 1943. This would open up the shipment route to southern Russia and divert German forces away from the Eastern Front. The demands of İnönü in terms of resources and equipment were again prohibitive, and thus Turkey still remained neutral.
Turkey did possess one item of strategic importance–chromite ore which is the major source for chromium. Chromium is an essential component in the steelmaking process, and Germany had no supplies under its control after 1943. The US and Britain signed preclusive trade agreements with Turkey for chromite ore and were the sole buyers from 1940-1942. To their consternation, the Turks then signed a trade agreement with Germany beginning in 1943, and according to Allied estimates the amount was sufficient to meet or even exceed German requirements. Diplomatic pressure from the Allied powers was brought to bear, but did not deter the Turks from continuing to send the precious ore to the Reich. When German negotiators arrived in Ankara in April 1944 to extend the existing agreement, the Allies had had enough. A note from the US and British Ambassadors containing a direct threat was sent to the Turkish Foreign Minister. It ended “…any renewal of agreements or the conclusion of fresh agreements on the same lines will entail the application to Turkey of blockade measures such as the two Governments have throughout the war applied to neutral countries”. Six days later, all shipments of chromite ore to Germany ceased.
Turkey continued to resist all efforts to get it to join the Allies until February 1945, when it made a token declaration of war on Germany in order to become a member of the United Nations. This declaration did not have any practical effect on the war, and Turkey sent no troops into battle.
The British had long-standing interests in the Aegean and tried to protect them throughout the war. They sent valuable forces to disaster in 1941 and after that played a strong hand in the resistance against the Axis occupiers. Despite all of Churchill’s diplomatic manoeuvring, they were unable to successfully return until October 1944 when the Germans evacuated the country in order to avoid being cut off by the Red Army advancing through Rumania and Bulgaria.
Almost as soon as they landed, they became caught up in the “Second Round” of the Greek Civil War when ELAS attacked them and Greek Government forces. The lightly armed irregulars of ELAS were no match for the well trained and supported British, and by February, the ELAS had agreed to peace via the Varzika Agreement.
This agreement was however to provide only a temporary respite for the war-weary citizens of Greece. The civil war flared up again in May1946 and continued for another 3 years until the ELAS was finally dispatched with US and British assistance. Over 100,000 people were reportedly killed before the Communist forces were defeated.
Greek-British ties continue to this day. Both countries are members of the European Union and NATO. Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh is a grandson of Greek King George I.
British support in 1941
When Italy attacked Greece from Albania in December 1940, Metaxas requested assistance from the British. At that time, however, only a few RAF assets were available, plus some small forces sent to Crete to allow Greek troops there to redeploy to the mainland. Almost completely unassisted, the Greek Army was able to repel the Italians and push into southern Albania before a stalemate developed.
Churchill sent his close aide Anthony Eden and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir John Dill on a lengthy diplomatic and military mission to try and mobilise the friendly Balkan nations to defend Greece from the expected German attack in the spring of 1941. The idea was to persuade Yugoslavia and Turkey to join the fight, but both countries refused.
Direct British intervention was therefore the only feasible option. Churchill instructed Eden that as desirable as it was to send the Greeks assistance, it should not be done “if the prospects were no more hopeful than for another Norwegian fiasco”. The Allied commanders in Egypt, however, considered that there was a good chance of success. The Italians had been swept away in Libya and a sizeable Allied force was able to be deployed.
Churchill’s memoirs show that he was still hesitant about committing ground forces to Greece, but he wrote of Anthony Eden’s message from Athens:
“… Collapse of Greece without further effort on our part to save her by intervention on land, after the Libyan victories had, as all the world knows, made forces available, would be the greatest calamity. Yugoslavia would then certainly be lost; nor can we feel confident that even Turkey would have the strength to remain steadfast if the Germans and Italians were established in Greece without effort on our part to resist them. No doubt our prestige will suffer if we are ignominiously ejected, but in any event to have fought and suffered in Greece would be less damaging to us than to have left Greece to her fate . . . . In the existing situation we are all agreed that the course advocated should be followed and help given to Greece.”
This proved to be the decisive argument and the War Cabinet agreed. Thus the British and Greek governments agreed in early 1941 that ‘Lustre Force’ would be deployed to Greece. Originally planned for 100,000 men, bickering between Allied commanders and events in Cyrenaica resulted in only around 70% of the planned number actually being sent, comprised mostly of Commonwealth units. The force was severely lacking in tanks, artillery and air cover. In addition, the decision weakened the British forces in North Africa, allowing Rommel’s Afrika Korps to counterattack.
The presence of significant Allied forces on the Continent, especially so close to the oilfields at Ploesti, crossed a red line for the Germans. They quickly drew up plans to expel them and did so with Operation Marita in April 1941. Shortly afterwards Operation Merkur captured Crete and ended all British presence in continental Europe (apart from Gibraltar), despite the valiant efforts of the Allied troops on the island. Greece had been completely defeated within 8 weeks and some 25,000 Commonwealth soldiers became POWs. At the time these losses were a severe setback to the war in North Africa.
Although the Greek expedition had been a military failure in itself, Anthony Eden stood up in the House of Commons to defend the venture. “In this war,” said Eden, “we are fighting not for gains but causes. Greece is the embodiment of those causes. I believe that had we not gone to her help we could not have raised our heads again.”
The effect of the campaign on Barbarossa is debatable and outside the scope of this article. What is beyond doubt is that although conventionally defeated, Greece (and Yugoslavia) became a festering sore for the Axis, requiring large amounts of troops and resources to control resistance movements that could not be pacified.
Greece was divided into 3 occupation zones – Italian, German and Bulgarian. Italy administered most of western Greece apart from Athens, as well as a portion of Crete and a significant portion of the Aegean islands (including the Dodecanese). Bulgaria was granted Eastern Macedonia and Western Thrace – territory it had held up until the end of The Great War. Germany controlled the rest including Athens, Central Macedonia and Thessaloniki, as well as the far east of Thrace along the border with Turkey.
During the occupation, the already severely weakened Greek economy was strained even further by the Germans who requisitioned large amounts of raw materials and food. A “war loan” to Germany only added to the misery. A famine struck during the winter of 1941-42, exacerbated by an Allied blockade, and an estimated 300,000 people perished. Eventually the Allies partially lifted the blockade so that the Red Cross could distribute emergency supplies.
Immediately after the defeat of Greece, there was little that could be termed as resistance. After a few months, small guerrilla bands and networks to aid escaped POWs began to appear but were of little concern to the occupiers as yet.
In 1942, organised resistance movements began to appear, in two main groups. One was the ELAS (Ethnikos Laikos Apelevtherotikos Stratos, Greek People’s Liberation Army), the military arm of the EAM (Ethnikon Apelevtherotikon Metopon, National Liberation Front). The EAM was a front for the KKE (Kommounistikon Komma Ellados) or Communist Party of Greece. On the other side of politics was the EDES (Ethnikos Dimokratikos Ellinikos Syndesmos) or National Republican Greek League. The EDES was only small to begin with and consisted of around 300 former Greek Army officers and men.
Sporadic attacks occurred on Axis troops during the summer of 1942 but by the autumn both groups clashed with the Italians in larger scale operations. In October, a British SOE (Special Operations Executive) unit headed by Colonel E.C.L. Myers made contact with ELAS and EDES, and a combined attack destroyed a key viaduct and railroad at Gorgopotamos (Operation Harling). This was SOE’s first major success of the war. It inspired the Greek guerrilla movement and many other bands began to spring up, each with their own political aims right across the spectrum. By the end of winter EDES and ELAS had increased their numbers to 1500 and around 4500 respectively.
Meanwhile, internal politics in the KKE was producing some contradictory outcomes. In the first half of 1943, ELAS made some attacks on EDES and other small non-communist forces. However the KKE then signed up to a ‘National Bands Agreement’ in July 1943 establishing a common HQ and operational areas for all resistance groups, thereby ensuring the continued flow of British weapons to ELAS.
Events of the next 3 months turned out to be a pivotal point in the struggle. The KKE sensed that an Allied return to Greece was imminent after the Italian surrender in September. The KKE leaders in favour of seizing power over all of Greece by any means became the dominant faction, and they wished to complete this goal before the Allies arrived. They estimated that the strength of ELAS (around 15,000 under arms) was sufficient to crush all opposition, and importantly they no longer needed British supplies as they had captured the equipment of the entire Italian 24th (Pinerolo) Division, which had surrendered to them.
In October 1943, the ELAS launched a campaign to destroy all the other resistance groups. This incident led to the British ceasing all weapons shipments to the ELAS and throwing their resources entirely to EDES. It was also the beginning of the Greek Civil War, which would continue in various forms for another 6 years.
This “First Round” of the war initially lasted around a week. EDES repulsed the ELAS attacks but other smaller groups were dispersed or destroyed by the ELAS. The fighting was interrupted when the Germans began an assault of their own. Both major groups suffered significant losses, with the ELAS getting the worst of it. German operations continued well into the winter of 1943/44, concentrating on Macedonia and Epirus. Once the Germans paused, EDES counterattacked ELAS and regained some lost ground. Naturally the British were extremely concerned by the situation and eventually managed to broker a truce between EDES and ELAS in February 1944.
It was now that political developments came to the fore. On March 10th the KKE declared that it had set up a provisional government – the PEEA (Politiki Epitropi Ethnikis Apelevtheroseos, Political Committee of National Liberation). This posed a direct threat to the Greek government-in-exile. Although the KKE had taken great care to project the PEEA as an anti-fascist rather than a communist organisation (to widen its appeal), the strings were being pulled in secret by the KKE’s Central Committee. The first impact of this declaration was a mutiny by elements of the Greek forces in exile on 31st March (which was quickly put down by the British). The Greek government in exile had to respond. It called a conference in Lebanon in May 1944, and under the stewardship of George Papandreou a new government of national unity was formed, to include members of all parties and the PEEA. The KKE delegates, however, had overstepped their authority in signing up to the plan, and as a result the KKE had been outmanoeuvred. It tried to stall for time but larger diplomatic forces had also been at work. A Soviet delegation flew to the KKE headquarters on the 26th of July. Although there are no records of what exactly took place, shortly thereafter the KKE dropped all its objections and joined the new government.
Although German forces still continued ground operations during 1944 (mostly against ELAS), the Soviet advance had cast the die and they prepared to depart. By October the British were in Athens and the Axis occupation had effectively ended after 3 and a half years. Over 300,000 civilians and thousands of guerrilla fighters had died, and the country was in ruins.
Ioannis Metaxas came to power in early 1936. He came from a military background and in his youth he had attended the Berlin War Academy for 4 years from 1900-1903. His time spent in Germany was a happy one, and he was later considered by most to be a Germanophile. He worked his way up the ranks of the Greek Army to be Chief of Staff by 1913 and was then King Constantine’s principal military adviser until the King was forced into exile in 1917. Metaxas also went into exile, later returning and entering Greek politics. After a further exile and return, he was appointed to the post of Prime Minister President by King George II in April 1936. Four months later, he suspended the Greek parliament and parts of the constitution, taking all power for himself and soon assuming the title of Arkhigos (“Leader”). This was perceived at the time by Metaxas and the King as the only solution to a political crisis (one of many) that had paralysed Parliament. Opposition parties were banned and the dictatorship of the “4th of August Regime” had begun.
He was a staunch royalist and anti-Communist, but whether his regime can be classified as “Fascist” is the subject of academic debate. Certainly it was authoritarian or at least quasi-fascist. He engaged in many reforms but also brutal repressions of his left wing enemies. His government has been compared to that of Franco’s Spain, rather than the pure fascist states of Italy and Germany.
During this period Italian expansionism began to assert itself against Greece. This drew Greece ever closer to the British, although Metaxas made an effort to keep the country effectively neutral for as long as possible. He did, however, declare that in the event of invasion he would fight alongside the Allies. A factor in this position was that the Allies promised the return of the Dodecanese after the war, which had been occupied by Italy in 1912.
Nonetheless, the Italian occupation of Albania in April 1939, along with a subsequent guarantee of Greece’s borders by Britain and France, began to sway him even further towards the Allied side. Prime Minister Chamberlain declared to the House of Commons on 13 April that
“…in the event of any action being taken which clearly threatened the independence of Greece or Rumania, and which the Greek or Rumanian Government respectively considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty’s Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Greek or Romanian Government all the support in their power”.
In addition, Metaxas’ patron King George II and many of Greece’s elite were strong Anglophiles. For better or worse, Great Britain was committed to supporting Greece in the event of an attack.
Metaxas was also prepared for an assault from Bulgaria, and he had a huge chain of fortifications that bore his name built along the border. Redoubtable as they were, the Germans were to easily outflank them in 1941 by going through Yugoslavian Macedonia during Operation Marita.
The Greek cruiser Elli was torpedoed by the Italians at anchor in August 1940, but Metaxas chose to ignore this provocation in a last ditch attempt to keep Greece out of the war. Unfortunately this was in vain. At 3am on 28th October 1940 the Italian Ambassador Emanuele Grazzi delivered an ultimatum demanding free passage for Italian troops to unspecified strategic sites in Greece. Metaxas’ paraphrased reply was said to be “Oxi!” (No!). The date is a national holiday for Greece to this day – Oxi Day. Within hours of the rejection, the Italians invaded Greece from Albania.
Ioannis Metaxas died in January 1941, with the Greek Army having successfully counterattacked the Italians and driven them back into Albania. It was the first time during the war that Axis forces had been defeated in a land battle.
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