The first phase of the civil war occurred in 1942–1944, during the Occupation. With the Greek government in exile unable to influence the situation at home, various resistance groups of differing political affiliations emerged, the dominant one being the leftist National Liberation Front (EAM), controlled effectively by the Communists. Starting in autumn 1943, friction among EAM and the other resistance groups resulted in sporadic clashes, which continued until the spring of 1944, when an agreement was reached forming a national unity government which included six EAM-affiliated ministers. The second phase occurred in December 1944, after the country had been liberated. EAM, in military control of most of Greece, confronted the British-backed government, and tried to wrest control of the capital, Athens. The defeat of EAM forces spelled the end of its ascendancy: ELAS was disarmed, and EAM continued as its political action as a multi-party organization. Tensions remained high however, as clashes between right and left-wing factions continued. In the third phase (1946–1949), guerrilla forces controlled by the KKE, having a political and logistic back up by the newly founded northern Socialist States (Albania, Yougoslavia, Boulgaria and USSR) fought against the internationally recognized Greek government which was formed after elections boycotted by KKE. Despite initial failures by the government forces from 1946 untill 1948, increased American aid, lack of high numbers of recruites on the renks of DSE and the side-effects of the Tito–Stalin split, led to their defeat.
The final victory of the Western-supported government forces led to Greece's membership in NATO, and helped to define the ideological balance of power in the Aegean for the entire Cold War. The civil war also left Greece with a vehemently anti-Communist security establishment, which would lead to the establishment of a military regime, and a legacy of political polarization which lasted until the 1980s.
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 even famine, amongst the civilian population. In 1943, Ioannis Rallis, the prime-minister of the collaborationist government, authorized the creation of paramilitary forces, composed mostly of local fascists, convicts, and sympathetic prisoners of war, in order to fight the partisans -mostly communists- and spare the German army from committing more of its highly trained troops that were needed on other fronts. These forces, known as the Security Battalions, numbered 20,000 men at their peak in 1944.
The power vacuum that the occupation created was filled by several resistance movements that ranged from a pro-Royalist to Communist ideologies. The largest of those was the National Liberation Front, founded in 27 September 1941 by representatives of four left-wing parties. Following the Soviet policy of creating a broad united front against fascism, EAM -as it became known in Greek- won the support of many non-Communists patriots. It soon became the most popular organization, numbering nearly 2,000,000 members in 1943. Although controlled by KKE, the organization had a modest democratic republican rhetoric. Its military wing, the Greek People's Liberation Army or ELAS was founded in February 1942.At EAM's peak, the Organization for the Protection of the People's Fighters - OPLA was founded as EAM's militia, mainly in the occupied cities and especially Athens. Other communist aligned organizations, included and in the Florina region, the NOF comprised mostly by Slavic Macedonians which would play later a critical role in the civil war.
EAM - ELAS and the other popular resistance movements, including the EDES, led by the royalist former army officer, Colonel Napoleon Zervas, and the social-liberal EKKA, led by Colonel Dimitrios Psarros were embroiled in mutual suspicion which in the coming years would transform to an open conflict. Resistance was born first in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, where Bulgarian troops occupied Greek territories. Large demonstrations were organized by YVE, a right wing organization, in many cities, as a response.
The Greek landscape favoured 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. At about this time, ELAS had about 30,000 men under arms and effectively controlled large areas of the mountainous Peloponnese, Crete, Thessaly, and Macedonia (a territory of 30,000 km². and 750,000 inhabitants). EDES had about 10,000 men, nearly all of them in Epirus. EKKA had only about 1,000 men.
In mid-1943 the animosity between EAM-ELAS and the other movements took the form of an armed conflict. The communists accused EDES and EKKA of being traitors and collaborators and vice versa. Still the extent of the validity of these accusations, in the chaos of wartime, remains a source of age-old, perennial controversy in Greece. The historic research showed that while some organizations did accept assistance from the Nazis in their operations against EAM-ELAS, the great majority of the population refused any form of co-operation with the occupation authorities. By early 1944, after a British negotiated ceasefire EAM-ELAS had effectively routed EKKA and confined EDES to a small part of Epirus where it could only play a marginal role in the rest of the war.
As the communist position strengthened, so did the numbers of the Security Battalions with both sides engaged in several skirmishes. ELAS units were accused for the Meligalas massacre, where after a battle between ELAS and the Security Battalions (Meligalas was the HQ of a local Security Battalion Unit that was given the control of the wider area of Messenia by the Nazis), 1,500 members of the collaborationists along with civilians were massacred. According to left wing sources, , the civilian bodies found there might have been victims of the Security Battalions.
Also the 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 non-communist resistance group commanded by Kostopoulos in Thessaly along with other former officers. On their way they were caught by an ELAS group with Sarafis agreeing to join ELAS at gun point when all the other officers who refused were killed. Sarafis never admitted this incident, and on his book for ELAS. makes special remark on the letter he sent to all officers of the former Greek Army to join the ranks of EAM-ELAS.
In March 1944 the 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. 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 consisted not only of communists but also of progressives, who had nothing to do with communist ideas.
The moderate aims of the PEEA (known as κυβέρνηση του βουνού, "the Mountain Government") aroused support even among Greeks in exile. In April 1944 the Greek armed forces in Egypt, many among whom were well-disposed towards EAM, mutinied against the Western Allies, demanding that a Government of National Unity be established based on the PEEA principles. The mutiny was suppressed by Western Allied armed units and Greek officers loyal to the exiled government. Approximately 8,000 Greek soldiers were sent into prison camps in Libya, Sudan, Egypt and elsewhere. Later on, through political screening of the officers, the Cairo government created staunchly anti-Communist armed forces.
In May 1944, representatives from all political parties and resistance 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 all the other Greek forces, and charges against EAM-ELAS members of murders, banditry and thievery, the conference ended with an agreement for a government of national unity consisting of 24 ministers (6 of whom were EAM's members). The agreement was made possible by Soviet directives to KKE to avoid harming Allied unity, but it didn't resolve the problem of disaramanent of resistance groups.
Troops of the Western Allies landed in Greece in October. There was little fighting since the Germans were in full retreat and most of Greek territory had already been liberated by either ELAS or EDES. For example, only the central part of Athens was under German occupation on October 13, while all other regions were under EAM-ELAS rule. The German forces 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 British troops entered Athens, and Papandreou and his ministers followed 6 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. KKE’s leadership knew this, but the ELAS fighters and rank-and-file Communists didn't. This became a source of conflict within EAM and ELAS.
Following Stalin's instructions, KKE’s 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 apart from the Sacred Band and the III Greek 'Rimini' Mountain Brigade, which were formed after the suppression of the April 1944 Egypt mutiny, and the constitution of a National Guard under government control. EAM, believing that this would leave ELAS defenceless against the right-wing militias and the anti-communist Security Battalions, submitted an alternative plan of total and simultaneous disarmament, which Papandreou rejected, as he had started viewing the Security Battalions as a good reserve against a possible communist coup, and EAM ministers resigned from the government on December 2. On December 1, Scobie had issued a proclamation requiring the dissolution of ELAS. Command of ELAS was 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, according to the Caserta agreement.
In the meanwhile, following Grivas' instructions, Organisation X members had set up many outposts in central Athens and resisted EAM for several days, until the British troops arrived, as their leader had been promised.
Conflicts continued throughout December with the British slowly gaining the upper hand. Curiously, ELAS forces in the rest of Greece did not attack the British. It seems that ELAS preferred a legitimate rise to power, but was drawn into the fighting by the indignation and, at the same time, the awe of its fighters after the slaughter on December 3, aiming at establishing its predominance. Only this version of the events can explain the simultaneous struggle against the British, the large-scale ELAS operations against trotskyists and other political dissidents in Athens and many contradictory decisions of EAM leaders. Videlicet, KKE's leadership was supporting a doctrine of 'national unity' while eminent members, e.g. Stringos or Makridis and even Georgios Siantos, were elaborating revolutionary plans.
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, and caused much protest in the British press and in the House of Commons. To prove his peace-making intention, Churchill himself arrived in Athens on December 25 and presided 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, thus, rejected.It is of most importance at this point to mention Churchill's telegraph to General Scobie in mid-December advising him to "...treat Athnes as an occupied city". By his arrival in the Greek Capital, the evacuation of the British forces and the trial of all NAZI collaborators, that EAM asked for, was not on Churchill's agenda.
In the meanwhile, the Soviet Union remained surprisingly passive about the developments in Greece. True to their "percentages agreement" with Britain, the Soviet delegation in Greece wasn’t encouraging or discouraging EAM’s ambitions, as Greece belonged to the British sphere of influence. Pravda didn’t mention the clashes at all. If this position of the Soviet leadership had been brought home to KKE’s leadership, the Dekemvriana might have been averted. It seems that Stalin didn’t have the intention to avert the Dekemvriana, as he 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 the British actions in Greece to justify to the Allies any intervention in his own sphere of influence.
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' 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.
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. Several Trotskyists had to leave the country to save their lives (e.g. Cornelius Castoriadis fled to France). 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.
The Treaty of Varkiza 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 classified as criminal and so excepted 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 the KKE leadership did not encourage this.
During 1945–1946, right-wing gangs killed about 1,190 pro-communist civilians, and tortured many others. Entire villages that helped the partisans were attacked by those right-wing gangs. According to the right-wing citizens, these gangs were retaliating for what they had suffered during the reign of ELAS. The reign of "White Terror" wave led many of persecuted 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. This change of political attitude, the choice to escalate the crisis was primarily deriving from the persuasion that the regime subversion, that hadn’t succeeded in December 1944, could now be achieved.
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, showing his respect for percentages agreement of Moscow, that placed Greece in the British sphere of influence and Romania as a counterweight in the Soviet one, 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 of Konstantinos Tsaldaris. In September a referendum decided to retain the monarchy, although KKE disputed the results, and King George returned to Athens.
The King's return in Greece reinforced the British influence in Greece. Nigel Clive was then a liaison officer to the Greek Government and later the head of the Athens station of MI6. In his view, 'Greece was a kind of British protectorate, but the British ambassador was not a colonial governor'. Whether this is true or not, it is a fact that six Prime Ministers changed within just two years, an indication of the instability that would characterize the country's political life for the next years.
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's only object in Greece was to test the determination of the western allies.
By late 1946 DSE could deploy about 16,000 partisans, 5,000 of them in Peloponnese and other areas of Greece. According to the DSE, its fighters, "resisted the reign of terror that the right-wing gangs conducted all over Greece".
The average and mainly peasant citizen 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, were characterized as communist sympathizers and suffered the consequences (usually imprisonment or exile).
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. DSE launched large-scale attacks on towns across northern Epirus, Thessaly, Peloponnese 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. In Peloponnese, where General Georgios Stanotas was appointed as area commander, DSE suffered a lot, as there was no way to escape to mainland Greece. Generally speaking, Army morale was not high, and it would be some time before the support of the United States became apparent.
In September 1947, however, KKE’s 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 to finally ban KKE. 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 sympathizers, 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 Attica, within 20 km of Athens. It had at least 20,000 fighters, and a network of sympathizers and informants in every village and every suburb. It has been estimated that out of DSE's 20,000 fighters, 14,000 were Slavic Macedonians from Greek Macedonia. 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. Several "calculations have been made to associate DSE fighters with foreign "invading" armies. One must take into account that KKE had in total 400.000 member (800.000 according to other sources) just before December 1944 and that during Civil war 100.000 ELAS fighters - KKE members in their majority- were put in prison (3000 of them were executed). Given these facts, it is easy to understand how DSE was conducting its war effort thought the country aiming at " a Free and Liberated Greece from all protectors that will have all the nationalities working under one Socialist State".
Western Allied funds, advisers 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.
The transfer or relocation of children from Greece to Socialist States was another contested issue. About thirty thousand underaged children were leaving in territories controled by DSE were relocated to Eastern Bloc countries. Many others were moved to special camps of the Government of Athens, inside Greece and found in foster homes in US decadeslater (see: Political refugees of the Greek Civil War). The issue drew the attention of the international public opinion, and a United Nations Special Committee issued a report, according to which "some children have in fact been forcibly removed". Communist leadership accepted that children were being gathered for the purpose of evacuating them from Greece, but they argued that this happened per the request of "the popular organizations and the parents". According to other researchers, the Greek government also followed a policy of displacement by adapting children of the guerrillas, and placing them in indoctrination camps.
According to Kenneth Spencer, member of the Balkan Comittee of UN by that time reported "Queen Federica has already prepared special "reforming camps" in grek islands for 12.000 greek children..." . According to official KKE historiography, no such abductions occurred, and any evacuations were undertaken for the children's own protection from the "National Army"; This is stated clearly to the decisions of the Provisional government on the 7 of March 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 the truth regarding the "children abduction by KKE" is finally revealed. Many of these children have returned to Greece between 1975-1990 and their testimonies are ,often, other than the described anti-communist references. ,.
Furthermore, another side of the children abduction is now revealed: During the Civil War more than 25.000 of children, most of them with their parents belonging to DSE, were put in 30 "Children Towns" under the immediate control of Frederika of Hanover. After 50 years the majority of these children is found given to American families, searching their family background in Greece. ,, , , , , .
The fatal blow to KKE and the DSE, however, was political, not military. In June of that year, the Soviet Union and its satellites broke off relations with President 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 campaign was a major victory for the National Army and resulted in heavy losses for the DSE. The DSE army was no longer able to sustain resistance in set-piece battles. 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 KKE that it would no longer 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." This ceasefire marked the end of the Greek Civil War.
The Western Allies saw the end of the Greek Civil War, as a victory in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The irony was that the Soviets never actively supported the Communist Party's efforts to seize power in Greece. The KKE's major supporter and supplier had always 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 polarisation and instability of Greek politics in the mid-1960s was a direct result of the Civil War and the deep divide between the leftist/deomocratic and rightist/monarchical sections of Greek society. A major such crisis 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, the 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 Army officers carried out a coup d'état and seized power from the government, using as a pretext the political instability and tension of the time. The leader of the coup, George Papadopoulos, was a member of the right-wing military organization known as IDEA (Ιερός Δεσμός Ελλήνων Αξιωματικών, "Sacred Bond of Greek Officers"). The 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 the center-left-wing government of PASOK, which was elected with a substantial majority, allowed DSE veterans who had taken refuge in Communist countries to return to Greece and reestablish to their former estates. PASOK claimed that this helped diminish the consequences of the civil war in Greek society. Moreover, PASOK government offered state pension 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) - where KKE was the major party by that time - suggested a law, that was passed unanimously by the Greek Parliament. The results were final recognition by the Greek state of the 1946-1949 war as a Civil War and not merely a Communist insurgency (Ν. 1863/89 (ΦΕΚ 204Α΄) )., According to this law, for the first time in the Greek post-war history, the war of 1946-1949 is recognized as a Greek Civil War between the National Army and the Democratic Army of Greece. According to the aforementioned law, the term "Communist Bandits" (Κομμουνιστοσυμμορίτες, ΚΣ) wherever it occurs in Greek laws should be replaced by the term "Fighters of DSE".
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