The Greek Civil War (Greek: ? E? [?], o Emfýlios [Pólemos], "the Civil War") was a civil war in Greece fought between the Greek government army (supported by the United Kingdom and the United States) and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) -- the military branch of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) (supported by Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria) from 1946 to 1949. The Soviet Union avoided sending aid. The fighting resulted in the defeat of the DSE by the Hellenic Army.
The civil war resulted from a highly polarized struggle between left and right ideologies that started in 1943. From 1944 each side targeted the power vacuum resulting from the end of Axis occupation (1941-1944) during World War II. The struggle was one of the first conflicts of the Cold War (c. 1947 to 1989) and represents the first example of Cold War postwar involvement on the part of the Allies in the internal affairs of a foreign country. Greece in the end was funded by the US (through the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan) and joined NATO (1952), while the insurgents were demoralized by the bitter split between the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin, who wanted the war ended, and Yugoslavia's Josip Broz Tito, who wanted it to continue. Tito was committed to helping the Greek Communists in their efforts, a stance that caused political complications with Stalin, as he had recently agreed with Winston Churchill not to support the Communists in Greece, as documented in their Percentages Agreement of October 1944.
The first signs of the civil war occurred in 1942 to 1944, during the German occupation. With the Greek government in exile unable to influence the situation at home, various resistance groups of differing political affiliations emerged, the dominant ones being the leftist National Liberation Front (EAM), and its military branch the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) which was effectively controlled by the KKE. Starting in autumn 1943, friction between the EAM and the other resistance groups resulted in scattered clashes, which continued until spring 1944, when an agreement was reached forming a national unity government that included six EAM-affiliated ministers.
The immediate prelude to the civil war took place in Athens, on December 3, 1944, less than two months after the Germans had retreated from the area. After an order to disarm, leftists resigned from the government and called for resistance. A riot (the Dekemvriana) erupted; and Greek government gendarmes, with British forces standing in the background, opened fire on a pro-EAM rally, killing 28 demonstrators and injuring dozens. The rally had been organised under the pretext of demonstrating against the perceived impunity of the collaborators and the general disarmament ultimatum, signed by Ronald Scobie (the British commander in Greece). The battle lasted 33 days and resulted in the defeat of the EAM. The subsequent signing of the Treaty of Varkiza (12 February 1945) spelled the end of the left-wing organization's ascendancy: the ELAS was partly disarmed while the EAM soon after lost its multi-party character, to become dominated by KKE.
The war erupted in 1946, when former ELAS partisans, who had found shelter in their hideouts and were controlled by the KKE, organized the DSE and its High Command headquarters. The KKE supported the endeavor, deciding that there was no alternative way to act against the internationally recognized government formed after the 1946 elections, which the KKE had boycotted. The Communists formed a provisional government in December 1947 and made the DSE the military branch of this government. The neighboring communist states of Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria offered logistical support to this provisional government, especially to the forces operating in the north of Greece.
Despite some setbacks that the government forces suffered from 1946 to 1948, they eventually won, largely due to increased American aid, the failure of the DSE to attract sufficient recruits, and the side-effects of the Tito-Stalin split of 1948. The final victory of the western-allied government forces led to Greece's membership in NATO (1952) and helped to define the ideological balance of power in the Aegean Sea for the entire Cold War. The civil war also left Greece with a strongly anti-communist security establishment, which would lead to the establishment of the Greek military junta of 1967-1974 and a legacy of political polarisation that persists to this day.
While Axis forces approached Athens in April 1941, King George II and his government escaped to Egypt, where they proclaimed a government-in-exile, recognised by the UK but not by the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill encouraged King George II of Greece to appoint a moderate cabinet. As a result, only two of his ministers were previous members of the 4th of August Regime under Ioannis Metaxas, who had both seized power in a coup d'état with the blessing of the king and governed the country since August 1936. Nevertheless, the exiled government's inability to influence affairs inside Greece rendered it irrelevant in the minds of most Greek people. At the same time, the Germans set up a collaborationist government in Athens, which lacked legitimacy and support. The puppet regime was further undermined when economic mismanagement in wartime conditions created runaway inflation, acute food shortages and famine among the civilian population.
The power vacuum that the occupation created was filled by several resistance movements that ranged from royalist to communist ideologies. Resistance was born first in eastern Macedonia and Thrace, where Bulgarian troops occupied Greek territory. Soon large demonstrations were organized in many cities by the Defenders of Northern Greece (YVE), a patriotic organization. However, the largest group to emerge was the National Liberation Front (EAM), founded on 27 September 1941 by representatives of four left-wing parties. Proclaiming that it followed the Soviet policy of creating a broad united front against fascism, EAM won the support of many noncommunist patriots.
These resistance groups launched attacks against the occupying powers and set up large espionage networks. The communist leaders of EAM, however, had planned to dominate in postwar Greece, so, usually by force, they tried to take over or destroy the other Greek resistance groups (such as the destruction of National and Social Liberation (EKKA) and the murder of its leader, Dimitrios Psarros by ELAS partisans) and undertaking a campaign of Red Terror. When liberation came in October 1944, Greece was in a state of crisis, which soon led to the outbreak of civil war.
Although controlled by the KKE, the organization had democratic republican rhetoric. Its military wing, the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) was founded in February 1942. Aris Velouchiotis, a member of KKE's Central Committee, was nominated Chief (Kapetanios) of the ELAS High Command. The military chief, Stefanos Sarafis, was a colonel in the prewar Greek army who had been dismissed during the Metaxas regime for his views. The political chief of EAM was Vasilis Samariniotis (nom de guerre of Andreas Tzimas).
The Organization for the Protection of the People's Struggle (OPLA) was founded as EAM's security militia, operating mainly in the occupied cities and most particularly Athens. A small Greek People's Liberation Navy (ELAN) was created, operating mostly around the Ionian Islands and some other coastal areas. Other Communist-aligned organizations were present, including the National Liberation Front (NOF), comprised mostly by Slavic Macedonians in the Florina region. They would later play a critical role in the civil war. The two other large resistance movements were the National Republican Greek League (EDES), led by republican former army officer Col. Napoleon Zervas, and the social-liberal EKKA, led by Col. Dimitrios Psarros.
The Greek landscape was favourable to guerrilla operations, and by 1943, the Axis forces and their collaborators were in control only of the main towns and connecting roads, leaving the mountainous countryside to the resistance. EAM-ELAS in particular controlled most of the country's mountainous interior, while EDES was limited to Epirus and EKKA to eastern Central Greece. By early 1944 ELAS could call on nearly 25,000 men under arms, with another 80,000 working as reserves or logistical support, EDES roughly 10,000 men, and EKKA under 10,000 men.
To combat the rising influence of the EAM, and fearful of an eventual takeover after the German defeat, in 1943, Ioannis Rallis, the Prime Minister of the collaborationist government, authorised the creation of paramilitary forces, known as the Security Battalions. Numbering 20,000 at their peak in 1944, composed mostly of local fascists, convicts, sympathetic prisoners-of-war and forcibly impressed conscripts, they operated under German command in Nazi security warfare operations and soon achieved a reputation for brutality.
EAM-ELAS, EDES and EKKA were mutually suspicious and tensions were exacerbated as the end of the war became nearer and the question of the country's political future arose. The role of the British military mission in these events proved decisive. EAM was by far the largest and most active group but was determined to achieve its own political goal to dominate postwar Greece, and its actions were not always directed against the Axis powers. Consequently, British material support was directed mostly to the more reliable Zervas, who by 1943 had reversed his earlier anti-monarchist stance.
The Western allies, at first, provided all resistance organisations with funds and equipment. However, they gave special preference to ELAS, which they saw as the most reliable partner and a formidable fighting force that would be able to create more problems for the Axis than other resistance movements. As the end of the war approached, the British Foreign Office, fearing a possible Communist upsurge, observed with displeasure the transformation of ELAS into a large-scale conventional army more and more out of Allied control.
After the September 8, 1943, Armistice with Italy, ELAS seized control of Italian garrison weapons in the country. In response, the Western allies began to favor rival anti-Communist resistance groups. They provided them with ammunition, supplies and logistical support as a way of balancing ELAS's increasing influence. In time, the flow of weapons and funds to ELAS stopped altogether, and rival EDES received the bulk of the Allied support.
In mid-1943 the animosity between EAM-ELAS and the other movements erupted into armed conflict. The communists and EAM accused EDES of being traitors and collaborators, and vice versa. Other smaller groups, such as EKKA, continued the anti-occupation fight with sabotage and other actions. They declined to join the ranks of ELAS. While some organizations accepted assistance from the Nazis in their operations against EAM-ELAS, the great majority of the population refused any form of cooperation with the occupation authorities.
By early 1944, after a British-negotiated ceasefire (the Plaka Agreement), EAM-ELAS had destroyed EKKA and confined EDES to a small part of Epirus, where it could only play a marginal role in the rest of the war. Its political network (EAM) had reached about 500,000 citizens around the country. By 1944, ELAS had the numerical advantage in armed fighters, having more than 50,000 men in arms and an extra 500,000 working as reserves or logistical support personnel (Efedrikos ELAS). In contrast, EDES had around 10,000 fighters and EKKA around 10,000 men.
After the declaration of the formation of the Security Battalions, KKE and EAM implemented a pre-emptive policy of terror, mainly in the Peloponnese countryside areas close to garrisoned German units, to ensure civilian allegiance. As the communist position strengthened, so did the numbers of the "Security Battalions", with both sides engaged in skirmishes. The ELAS units were accused of what became known as the Meligalas massacre. Meligalas was the headquarters of a local Security Battalion Unit that was given control of the wider area of Messenia by the Nazis. After a battle there between ELAS and the Security Battalions, ELAS forces prevailed, and the remaining forces of the collaborators were taken into custody.
After the civil war ended, postwar governments declared that 1000 members of the collaborationist units were massacred along with civilians by the Communists; however, that number was not matched by the actual numbers of bodies found in the mass grave (an old well in the area) of executed Security Battalion and civilian prisoners. According to left-wing sources, civilian bodies found there could have been victims of the Security Battalions. As Security Battalions were replacing occupation forces in territories the Germans could not enter, they were accused of many instances of brutality against civilians and captured partisans, and of the executions of prominent EAM and KKE members by hanging.
In addition, recruiting by both sides was controversial, as the case of Stefanos Sarafis indicates. The soon-to-be military leader of ELAS sought to join the noncommunist resistance group commanded by Kostopoulos in Thessaly, along with other former officers. On their way, they were captured by an ELAS group, with Sarafis agreeing to join ELAS at gunpoint when all other officers who refused were killed. Sarafis never admitted this incident, and in his book on ELAS makes special reference to the letter that he sent all officers of the former Greek army to join the ranks of EAM-ELAS. Again, numbers favored the EAM organisation; nearly 800 officers of the pre-war Greek army joined the ranks of ELAS with the position of military leader and Kapetanios.
In March 1944, EAM established the Political Committee of National Liberation (Politiki Epitropi Ethnikis Apeleftherosis, or PEEA), in effect a third Greek government to rival those in Athens and Cairo "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 consisted of Communists and noncommunist progressives.
The moderate aims of the PEEA (known as " ", "the Mountain Government") aroused support even among Greeks in exile. In April 1944 the Greek armed forces in Egypt, many of them well-disposed towards EAM, demanded for a government of national unity to be established, based on PEEA principles, to replace the government-in-exile, as it had no political or other link with the occupied home country and that any pro-fascist elements in the Army be removed. The movement caused problems and anger to the British and Americans and was suppressed by British forces and Greek troops loyal to the exiled government.
Approximately 5,000 Greek soldiers and officers were sent into prison camps in Libya, Sudan, Egypt and South Africa. After the mutiny the economic help from the Allies to the National Liberation Front almost stopped. Later on, through political screening of the officers, the Cairo government created the III Greek Mountain Brigade, composed of staunchly anticommunist personnel, under the command of Brigadier Thrasyvoulos Tsakalotos.
In May 1944, representatives from all political parties and resistance groups came together at a conference in Lebanon under the leadership of Georgios Papandreou, seeking an agreement about a government of national unity. Despite EAM's accusations of collaboration made against all other Greek resistance forces and charges against EAM-ELAS members of murders, banditry and thievery, the conference ended with an agreement (the National Contract) for a government of national unity consisting of 24 ministers (6 of whom were EAM members). The agreement was made possible by Soviet directives to KKE to avoid harming Allied unity but did not resolve the problem of disarmament of resistance groups.
By 1944, EDES and ELAS each saw the other to be their great enemy. They both saw that the Germans were going to be defeated and were a temporary threat. For the ELAS, the British represented their major problem, even while for the majority of Greeks, the British were their major hope for an end to the war.
By the summer of 1944, it was obvious that the Germans would soon withdraw from Greece, as Soviet forces were advancing into Romania and towards Yugoslavia, with the retreating Germans at risk of being cut off. In September, General Fyodor Tolbukhin's armies advanced into Bulgaria, forcing the resignation of the country's pro-Nazi government and the establishment of a pro-Communist regime while Bulgarian troops withdrew from Greek Macedonia. The government-in-exile, now led by prominent liberal George Papandreou, moved to Italy, in preparation for its return to Greece. Under the Caserta Agreement of September 1944, all resistance forces in Greece were placed under the command of a British officer, General Ronald Scobie.
The Western allies arrived in Greece in October, by which time the Germans were in full retreat and most of Greece's territory had already been liberated by Greek partisans. On October 13, British troops entered Athens, the only area still occupied by the Germans, and Papandreou and his ministers followed six days later. The king stayed in Cairo because Papandreou had promised that the future of the monarchy would be decided by referendum.
There was little to prevent the ELAS from taking full control of the country. With the German withdrawal, ELAS units had taken control of the countryside and of most cities. However, they did not take full control because the KKE leadership was instructed by the Soviet Union not to precipitate a crisis that could jeopardize Allied unity and put Stalin's larger postwar objectives at risk. The KKE's leadership knew so, but the ELAS's fighters and rank-and-file Communists did not, which became a source of conflict within both EAM and ELAS.
Following Stalin's instructions, the KKE's leadership tried to avoid a confrontation with the Papandreou government. The majority of the ELAS members saw the Western Allies as liberators although some KKE leaders, such as Andreas Tzimas and Aris Velouchiotis, did not trust them. Tzimas was in touch with Yugoslav Communist leader Josip Broz Tito and disagreed with ELAS's cooperation 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 British ambassador Reginald Leeper, Papandreou demanded the disarmament of all armed forces apart from the Sacred Band and the III Mountain Brigade, which were formed following the suppression of the April 1944 Egypt mutiny, and the constitution of a National Guard under government control. The communists, believing that it would leave the ELAS defenseless against its opponents, submitted an alternative plan of total and simultaneous disarmament, but Papandreou rejected the plan, causing EAM ministers to resign from the government on December 2.
On December 1, Scobie issued a proclamation calling for the dissolution of ELAS. Command of ELAS was KKE's greatest source of strength, and 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 means 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 in accordance with the Caserta Agreement. In the meantime, following Georgios Grivas's instructions, Organization X members had set up outposts in central Athens and resisted EAM for several days, until British troops arrived, as their leader had been promised.
According to the Caserta Agreement all Greek forces (tactical and guerillas) were under Allied command. On December 1, 1944, the Greek government of "National Unity" under Papandreou and Scobie (the British head of the Allied forces in Greece) announced an ultimatum for the general disarmament of all guerrilla forces by 10 December excluding the tactical forces (the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Squadron); and also a part of EDES and ELAS that would be used, if it was necessary, in Allied operations in Crete and Dodecanese against the remaining German army. As a result, on December 2 six ministers of the EAM, most of whom were KKE members, resigned from their positions in the "National Unity" government. The EAM called for a general strike and announced the reorganization of the Central Committee of ELAS, its military wing. A demonstration, forbidden by the government, was organised by EAM on December 3.
The demonstration involved at least 200,000 people marching in Athens on Panepistimiou Street towards the Syntagma Square. British tanks along with police units had been scattered around the area, blocking the way of the demonstrators. The shootings began when the marchers had arrived at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, above the Syntagma Square. They originated from the building of the General Police Headquarters, from the Parliament (), from the Hotel Grande Bretagne (where international observers had settled), from other governmental buildings and from policemen on the street.
Among many testimonies, N. Farmakis, a member of the Organization X participating in the shootings, described that he heard the head of the police Angelos Evert giving the order to open fire on the crowd. Although there are no accounts hinting that the crowd indeed possessed guns, the British commander Christopher Montague Woodhouse insisted that it was uncertain whether the first shots were fired by the police or the demonstrators. Britain and local Nazi collaborators armed by Britain killed 28 or more demonstrators, and hundreds were injured. This signaled the beginning of the Dekemvriana (Greek: , "the December events"), a 37-day period of full-scale fighting in Athens between EAM fighters and smaller parts of ELAS and the forces of the British army and the government.
At the beginning the government had only a few policemen and gendarmes, some militia units, the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade, distinguished at the Gothic Line offensive in Italy, which, however, lacked heavy weapons, and the royalist group Organization X, also known as "Chites", which was accused by EAM of collaborating with the Nazis. Consequently, the British intervened in support of the government, freely using artillery and aircraft as the battle approached its last stages.
In the early morning hours of 4 December, ELAS reservists began operations in the Athens-Piraeus area, attacking Grivas' X forces. In the evening, a peaceful demonstration by EAM members cum funeral procession took place. Government forces took no action but the procession was attacked by Chites led by Colonel Grivas, with over 100 dead.
On December 4, Papandreou gave his resignation to the Scobie, who rejected it. By December 12, was in control of most of Athens and Piraeus. The British, outnumbered, flew in the 4th Indian Infantry Division from Italy as emergency reinforcements. Although the British were openly fighting against the EAM in Athens, there were no such battles in the rest of Greece. In certain cases, such as Volos, some RAF units even surrendered equipment to ELAS fighters. However, the units of the ELAS in Central Greece and Epirus attacked Napoleon Zervas's units of the EDES forcing them to flee to the Ionian islands.
Conflicts continued throughout December with the forces confronting the EAM slowly gaining the upper hand. ELAS forces in the rest of Greece did not attack the British. It seems that the ELAS preferred to avoid an armed confrontation with the British forces initially and later tried to reduce the conflict as much as possible although poor communication between its very independent units around the country might also have played a role. That might explain the simultaneous struggle against the British, the largescale ELAS operations against Trotskyists and other political dissidents in Athens and the many contradictory decisions of EAM leaders. Also, KKE's leadership, was supporting a doctrine of "national unity" while eminent members, such as Leonidas Stringos, Theodoros Makridis and even Georgios Siantos were creating revolutionary plans. Even more curiously, Tito was both the KKE's key sponsor and a key British ally, owing his physical and political survival in 1944 to British assistance.
This outbreak of fighting between Allied forces and an anti-German European resistance movement while the war in Europe was still being fought was a serious political problem for Churchill's coalition government of left and right. It caused much protest in the British press and the House of Commons. To prove his peacemaking intentions to the public, Churchill went to Athens on December 25 to preside over a conference in which Soviet representatives also participated, to bring about a settlement. It failed because the EAM/ELAS demands were considered excessive and so rejected. The conference took place in the Hotel Grande Bretagne. Later, it became known that there was a plan by EAM to blow up the building, aiming to kill the participants, and the conference was finally cancelled.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union remained passive about developments in Greece. True to their "percentages agreement" with Britain relating to Greece, the Soviet delegation in Greece neither encouraged nor discouraged EAM's ambitions, as Greece belonged to the British sphere of influence. The delegation's chief gained the nickname "sphinx" among local Communist officers for not giving any clues about Soviet intentions. Pravda did not mention the clashes at all. It is speculated that Stalin did not interfere because the Soviet Union would profit no matter the outcome. If EAM rose to power, he would gain a country of major strategic value. If not, he could use British actions in Greece to justify similar actions in countries in his own sphere of influence.
By early January, EAM forces had lost the battle. Despite Churchill's intervention, Papandreou resigned and was replaced by 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. Despite the severe defeat, ELAS continued to exist, and the KKE had an opportunity to reconsider its strategy.
KKE's defeat in 1945 was mainly political but the exaltation of terrorism in the whole country made a political settlement even more difficult. The hunting of "collaborators" was extended to people who were supporting the Greek government. The brutal treatment by the Organization for the Protection of the People's Struggle (OPLA) and other minor communist groups of their opponents (including policemen, professors and priests) during the events greatly increased anticommunist sentiment. In the area of ULEN refineries, hundreds of noncommunists were executed. In the village of Feneos, OPLA turned a nearby monastery into a concentration camp and killing ground for those they deemed "reactionaries". It is believed that hundreds were killed. In addition, several Trotskyists had to leave the country in fear for their lives (Cornelius Castoriadis fled to France). As a result of the fighting in Athens, most of the prominent noncommunists of EAM left the organization, and KKE support declined sharply. After the ceasefire, ELAS under the leadership of Siantos left Athens, taking thousands of captives.
In February 1945, the various Greek parties signed the Treaty of Varkiza, with the support of all the Allies. It provided for the complete demobilisation of the ELAS and all other paramilitary groups, amnesty for only political offenses, a referendum on the monarchy and a general election to be held 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 for a "people's democracy" to be achieved by peaceful means. There were dissenters such as former ELAS leader Aris Velouchiotis. The KKE disavowed Velouchiotis when he called on the veteran guerrillas to start a second struggle; shortly afterwards, he committed suicide, surrounded by security forces.
The Treaty of Varkiza transformed the KKE's political defeat into a military one. The ELAS's existence was terminated. The amnesty was not comprehensive because many actions during the German occupation and the Dekemvriana were classified as criminal, exempting the perpatrators from the amnesty. Thus, the authorities captured approximately 40,000 Communists or ex-ELAS members. As a result, a number of veteran partisans hid their weapons in the mountains, and 5,000 of them escaped to Yugoslavia, although they were not encouraged by the KKE leadership.
Between 1945 and 1946, anti-Communist gangs killed about 1,190 Communist civilians and tortured many others. Entire villages that had helped the partisans were attacked by the gangs. The gangs admitted that they were "retaliating" for their suffering under ELAS rule. The reign of "White Terror" led many ex-ELAS members to form self-defense troops, without any KKE approval.
KKE soon reversed its former 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. The change of political attitude and the choice to escalate the crisis derived primarily from the conclusion that regime subversion, which had not been successful in December 1944, could now be achieved. The KKE leadership decided in February 1946, "after weighing domestic factors, and the Balkan and international situation", to go forward with "organization of a new armed struggle against the Monarcho-Fascist regime." The KKE boycotted the March 1946 elections, which were won by the monarchist United Alignment of Nationalists (Inomeni Parataxis Ethnikofronon), the main member of which was Konstantinos Tsaldaris's People's Party. A referendum in September 1946 favored the retention of the monarchy, but the KKE claimed that it had been rigged. King George returned to Athens.
The king's return to Greece reinforced British influence in the country. Nigel Clive, then a liaison officer to the Greek Government and later the head of the Athens station of MI6, stated, "Greece was a kind of British protectorate, but the British ambassador was not a colonial governor". There were to be six changes of prime ministers within just two years, an indication of the instability that would then characterise the country's political life.
Fighting resumed in March 1946, as a group of 30 ex-ELAS members attacked a police station in the village of Litochoro, killing the policemen, the night before the elections. The next day, the Rizospastis, the KKE's official newspaper, announced, "Authorities and gangs fabricate alleged communist attacks". Armed bands of ELAS' veterans were then infiltrating Greece through mountainous regions near the Yugoslav and Albanian borders; they were now organized as the Democratic Army of Greece (Dimokratikos Stratos Elladas, DSE) under the command of ELAS veteran Markos Vafiadis (known as "General Markos"), operating from a base in Yugoslavia and sent by the KKE to organize already existing troops.
The Yugoslav and Albanian communist governments supported the DSE fighters, but the Soviet Union remained ambivalent. The KKE kept an open line of communication with the Soviet Communist Party, and its leader, Nikos Zachariadis, had visited Moscow on more than one occasion.
By late 1946, the DSE was able to deploy about 16,000 partisans, including 5,000 in the Peloponnese and other areas of Greece. According to the DSE, its fighters "resisted the reign of terror that right-wing gangs conducted across Greece". In the Peloponnese especially, local party officials, headed by Vangelis Rogakos, had established a plan long before the decision to go to guerrilla war, under which the numbers of partisans operating in the mainland would be inversely proportional to the number of soldiers that the enemy would concentrate in the region. According to this study, the DSE III Division in the Peloponnese numbered between 1,000 and 5,000 fighters in early 1948.
Rural peasants were caught in the crossfire. When DSE partisans entered a village asking for supplies, citizens were supportive (years previously, EAM could count on two million members across the whole country) or did not resist. When government troops arrived at the same village, citizens who had supplied the partisans were immediately denounced as communist sympathizers and usually imprisoned or exiled. Rural areas also suffered as a result of tactics dictated to the National Army by US advisers; as admitted by high-ranking Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials in the documentary Nam: the True Story of Vietnam, a very efficient strategy applied during the Greek Civil War, and in the Vietnam and Korean Wars, was the evacuation of villages under the pretext that they were under direct threat of communist attack. It would deprive the partisans of supplies and recruits and simultaneously raise antipathy towards them.
The Greek army now numbered about 90,000 men and was gradually being put on a more professional footing. The task of re-equipping and training the army had been carried out by its fellow Western Allies. By early 1947, however, Britain, which had spent ?85 million in Greece since 1944, could no longer afford this burden; U.S. President Harry S. Truman announced that the United States would step in to support the government of Greece against Communist pressure. That began a long and troubled relationship between Greece and the United States. For several decades to come, the US ambassador advised the king on 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, Peloponnese and Macedonia, provoking the army into massive counteroffensives, which met no opposition as the DSE melted back into the mountains and its safe havens across the northern borders. In the Peloponnese, where General Georgios Stanotas was appointed area commander, the DSE suffered heavily, with no way to escape to mainland Greece. In general, army morale was low, and it would be some time before the support of the United States became apparent.
In September 1947, however, the KKE's leadership decided to move from guerrilla tactics to fullscale conventional war despite the opposition of Vafiadis. In December, the KKE announced the formation of a Provisional Democratic Government, with Vafiadis as prime minister; that led the Athens government to ban the KKE. No foreign government recognized this government. The new strategy led the DSE into costly attempts to seize a major town as its seat of government, and in December 1947, 1200 DSE fighters were killed at a set battle around Konitsa. At the same time, the strategy forced the government to increase the size of the army. With control of the major cities, the government cracked down on KKE members and sympathizers, many of whom were imprisoned on the island of Makronisos.
Despite setbacks, such as the fighting at Konitsa, the DSE reached the height of its power in 1948, extending its operations to Attica, within 20 km of Athens. It drew on more than 20,000 fighters, both men and women, and a network of sympathizers and informants in every village and suburb.
Among analysts emphasising the KKE's perceived control and guidance by foreign powers, such as USSR and Yugoslavia, some estimate that of the DSE's 20,000 fighters, 14,000 were Slavic Macedonians from Greek Macedonia.[better source needed] Expanding their reasoning, they conclude that given their important role in the battle, KKE changed its policy towards them. At the fifth Plenum of KKE on January 31, 1949, a resolution was passed declaring that after KKE's victory, the Slavic Macedonians would find their national restoration within a united Greek state. The alliance of the Democratic army with the Slav Macedonians, caused the official Greek state propaganda to call the communist guerillas Eamovulgari (from EAM plus Bulgarians) while the communists were calling their opponents Monarchofasistes (Monarch fascists).
The extent of such involvement remains contentious and unclear; some emphasize that the KKE had in total 400,000 members (or 800,000, according to some sources) immediately prior to December 1944 and that during the Civil War, 100,000 ELAS fighters, mostly KKE members, were imprisoned, and 3,000 were executed. Supporters emphasise instead the DSE's conduct of a war effort across the country aimed at "a free and liberated Greece from all protectors that will have all the nationalities working under one Socialist State".
DSE divisions conducted guerrilla warfare across Greece; III Division, with 20,000 men in 1948, controlled 70% of the Peloponnese politically and militarily; battalions named after ELAS formations were active in northwestern Greece, and in the islands of Lesvos, Limnos, Ikaria, Samos, Creta, Evoia and the bulk of the Ionian Islands. Advisers, funds and equipment were now flooding into the country from Western Allies, and under their guidance a series of major offensives were launched into the mountains of central Greece. Although the offensives did not achieve all their objectives, they inflicted serious defeats on the DSE.
The removal of children by both sides was another highly emotive and contentious issue. About 30,000 children were forcefully taken by the DSE from territories they controlled to Eastern Bloc countries. Many others were moved for protection to special camps inside Greece, an idea of Queen Frederica. The issue drew the attention of international public opinion, and a United Nations Special Committee issued a report, stating that "some children have in fact been forcibly removed".
The communist leadership claimed that children were being gathered to be evacuated from Greece at the request of "popular organizations and parents". According to other researchers, the Greek government also followed a policy of displacement by adopting children of the guerrillas and placing them in indoctrination camps.
According to Kenneth Spencer, a UN committee reported at that time, "Queen Frederica has already prepared special 'reform camps' in Greek islands for 12,000 Greek children...." According to the official KKE story, the Provisional Government issued a directive for the evacuation of all minors from 4 to 14 years old for protection from the war and problems linked to it, as was stated clearly according to the decisions of the Provisional Government on March 7, 1948. According to non-KKE accounts, the children were abducted to be indoctrinated as Communist janissaries. Several United Nations General Assembly resolutions appealed for the repatriation of children to their homes. After 50 years, more information regarding the children gradually emerged. Many returned to Greece between 1975 and 1990, with varied views and attitudes toward the communist faction.
During the war, more than 25,000 children, most with parents in the DSE, were also placed in 30 "child towns" under the immediate control of Queen Frederika, something especially emphasised by the left. After 50 years, some of these children, given up for adoption to American families, were retracing their family background in Greece.
The insurgents were demoralised by the bitter split between Stalin and Tito. In June 1948, the Soviet Union and its satellites broke off relations with Tito. In one of the meetings held in the Kremlin with Yugoslav representatives, during the Soviet-Yugoslav crisis, Stalin stated his unqualified opposition to the "Greek uprising". Stalin explained to the Yugoslav delegation that the situation in Greece has always been different from the one in Yugoslavia because the US and Britain would "never permit [Greece] to break off their lines of communication in the Mediterranean". (Stalin used the word svernut, Russian for "fold up", to express what the Greek Communists should do.)
Yugoslavia had been the Greek Communists' main supporter from the years of the occupation. The KKE thus had to choose between its loyalty to the Soviet Union and its relations with its closest ally. After some internal conflict, the great majority, led by party secretary Nikolaos Zachariadis, chose to follow the Soviet Union. In January 1949, Vafiadis himself was accused of "Titoism" and removed from his political and military positions, to be replaced by Zachariadis.
After a year of increasing acrimony, Tito closed the Yugoslav border to the DSE in July 1949, and disbanded its camps inside Yugoslavia. The DSE was still able to use Albanian border territories, a poor alternative. Within the Greek Communist Party, the split with Tito also sparked a witch hunt for "Titoites" that demoralised and disorganised the ranks of the DSE and sapped support for the KKE in urban areas.
In summer 1948, DSE Division III in the Peloponnese suffered a huge defeat. Lacking ammunition support from DSE headquarters and having failed to capture government ammunition depots at Zacharo in the western Peloponnese, its 20,000 fighters were doomed. The majority (including the commander of the Division, Vangelis Rogakos) were killed in battle with nearly 80,000 National Army troops. The National Army's strategic plan, codenamed "Peristera" (the Greek word for "dove (bird)"), was successful. A number of other civilians were sent to prison camps for helping Communists. The Peloponnese was now governed by paramilitary groups fighting alongside the National Army. To terrify urban areas assisting DSE's III Division, the forces decapitated a number of dead fighters and placed them in central squares. Following defeat in southern Greece, the DSE continued to operate in northern Greece and some islands, but it was a greatly weakened force facing significant obstacles both politically and militarily.
At the same time, the National Army found a talented commander in General Alexander Papagos, commander of the Greek army during the Greco-Italian War. In August 1949, Papagos launched a major counteroffensive against DSE forces in northern Greece, codenamed "Operation Torch". The campaign was a victory for the National Army and resulted in heavy losses for the DSE. The DSE army was now no longer able to sustain resistance in pitched battles. By September 1949, the main body of DSE divisions defending Grammos and Vitsi, the two key positions in northern Greece for the DSE, had retreated to Albania. Two main groups remained within the borders, trying to reconnect with scattered DSE fighters largely in Central Greece.
These groups, numbering 1,000 fighters, left Greece by the end of September 1949. The main body of the DSE, accompanied by its HQ, after discussion with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other Communist governments, was moved to Tashkent in the Soviet Union. They were to remain there, in military encampments, for three years. Other older combatants, alongside injured fighters, women and children, were relocated to European socialist states. On October 16, Zachariadis announced a "temporary ceasefire to prevent the complete annihilation of Greece"; the ceasefire marked the end of the Greek Civil War.
Almost 100,000 ELAS fighters and Communist sympathizers serving in DSE ranks were imprisoned, exiled, or executed. That deprived the DSE of the principal force still able to support its fight. According to some historians, the KKE's major supporter and supplier had always been Tito, and it was the rift between Tito and the KKE that marked the real demise of the party's efforts to assert power.
Western anti-Communist governments allied to Greece saw the end of the Greek Civil War as a victory in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Communists countered that the Soviets never actively supported the Greek Communist efforts to seize power in Greece. Both sides had, at differing junctures, nevertheless looked to an external superpower for support.
|Origins of the Cold War|
|World War II|
(Hiroshima and Nagasaki)
|Cold War (1947-1953)|
|Cold War (1953-1962)|
|Cold War (1962-1979)|
|Cold War (1979-1985)|
|Cold War (1985-1991)|
|Timeline · Conflicts|
|Cold War II|
The Civil War left Greece in ruins and in even greater economic distress than it had been following the end of German occupation. Additionally, it divided the Greek people for ensuing decades, with both sides vilifying their opponents. Thousands languished in prison for many years or were sent into exile on the islands of Gyaros and Makronisos. Many others sought refuge in communist countries or emigrated to Australia, Germany, the US, the UK, Canada and elsewhere.
The polarization and instability of Greek politics in the mid-1960s was a direct result of the Civil War and the deep divide between the leftist and rightist sections of Greek society. A major crisis as a result was the murder of the left-wing politician Gregoris Lambrakis in 1963, the inspiration for the Costa Gavras political thriller, Z. The crisis of the Apostasia followed in 1965, together with the "ASPIDA affair", which involved an alleged coup plot by a left-wing group of officers; the group's alleged leader was Andreas Papandreou, son of George Papandreou, the leader of the Center Union political party and the country's prime minister at the time.
On April 21, 1967, a group of rightist and anti-communist army officers executed a coup d'état and seized power from the government, using the political instability and tension of the time as a pretext. The leader of the coup, George Papadopoulos, was a member of the right-wing military organization IDEA ("Sacred Bond of Greek Officers"), and the subsequent military regime (later referred to as the Regime of the Colonels) lasted until 1974.
After the collapse of the military junta, a conservative government under Constantine Karamanlis led to the abolition of monarchy, the legalization of the KKE and a new constitution, which guaranteed political freedoms, individual rights and free elections. In 1981, in a major turning point in Greek history, the centre-left government of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) allowed a number of DSE veterans who had taken refuge in communist countries to return to Greece and reestablish their former estates, which greatly helped to diminish the consequences of the Civil War in Greek society. The PASOK administration also offered state pensions to former partisans of the anti-Nazi resistance; Markos Vafiadis was honorarily elected as member of the Greek parliament under PASOK's flag.
In 1989, the coalition government between Nea Dimokratia and the Coalition of Left and Progress (SYNASPISMOS), in which the KKE was for a period the major force, suggested a law that was passed unanimously by the Greek Parliament, formally recognizing the 1946-1949 war as a civil war and not merely as a communist insurgency (? Symmoritopolemos) ( ?. 1863/89 ( 204) ). Under the terms of this law, the war of 1946-1949 was recognized as a Greek Civil War between the National Army and the Democratic Army of Greece, for the first time in Greek postwar history. Under the aforementioned law, the term "communist bandits" ( Kommounistosymmorites, ), wherever it had occurred in Greek law, was replaced by the term "Fighters of the DSE".
In a 2008 Gallup poll, Greeks were asked "whether it was better that the right wing won the Civil War". 43% responded that it was better for Greece that the right wing won, 13% responded that it would have been better if the left had won, 20% responded "neither" and 24% did not respond. When asked "which side they would have supported had they lived in that era", 39% responded "neither side", 14% responded "the right wing", 23% "the left wing" ; while 24% did not respond.
|DSE||? ?||Democratic Army of Greece|
|EAM||National Liberation Front|
|EDES||?||National Republican Greek League|
|EKKA||?||National and Social Liberation|
|ELAN||?||Greek People's Liberation Navy|
|ELAS||?||Greek People's Liberation Army|
|KKE||? ?||Communist Party of Greece|
|NATO||North Atlantic Treaty Organization|
|Nazi||National-Socialist; National Socialist German Workers' Party|
|NOF||? ?||National Liberation Front (Macedonia)|
|OPLA||?||Organization for the Protection of the People's Struggle|
|PASOK||?||Panhellenic Socialist Movement|
|PEEA||? ?||Political Committee of National Liberation|
|USSR||Union of Soviet Socialist Republics|
|YVE||? ?||Defenders of Northern Greece|
Nevertheless, during the Greek Civil War, Greek Communists did receive aid, including weapons and ammunition, from Albania, Bulgaria and, in particular, Yugoslavia.
After the German forces withdrew in October 1944, the Greek Communist Party found its armed force - ELAS - subordinated to the British army with Moscow's consent. But the Greek Communist Party soon opted for insurgency. Clashes occurred between the communists and the British, together with the forces of the new British-backed Greek government. Stalin at the time, however, needed to maintain good relations with the United Kingdom for strategic reasons [...] Without outside help, [...] the revolt petered out. Then Stalin changed his mind, hoping to play off the Americans and British over Greece. [...] By 1946 [the Greek communists] were eager to resume armed struggle. [...] Zachariadis [...] needed support from communist states for military equipment, and he gained the desired consent on his trips to Belgrade, Prague and Moscow. [...] But Stalin changed his mind yet again and advised emphasis on political measures rather than the armed struggle. [...] Tito and the Yugoslavs, however, continued to render material assistance and advice to the Greek communists. [...] Stalin reverted to a militant stance after the announcement  of the Marshall Plan and ceased trying to restrain the Greek Communist Party. Soviet military equipment was covertly rushed to Greece. A provisional revolutionary government was proclaimed [24 December 1947]. But it became clear that the Greek communists as well as their Yugoslav sympathisers had exaggerated their strength and potential. Stalin felt he had been misled, and called for an end to the uprising in Greece. [...] The Yugoslav communists objected to Stalin's change of policy. [...] Bulgarian communist leader Traicho Kostov urged that Soviet aid be sent to the Greek insurrectionists. [...] This had disastrous consequences for the Soviet-Yugoslav relationship; it also brought doom to Kostov, who was executed [16 December 1949] with Stalin's connivance at the end of 1948. Stalin himself continued to waffle on the Greek question in the following months [...] but in the end he ordered the communists under Nikos Zachariadis and Markos Vafiadis to end the civil war. [...] Yet, despite being deprived of supplies from Moscow, they refused to stop fighting royalist forces. [...] Ultimately the communist insurgency stood no chance of succeeding. By the end of 1949 the communist revolt had been crushed and the remnant of the anti-government forces fled to Albania.
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