Τρίτη, 27 Οκτωβρίου 2009

Greece partisan resistance

(δημοσιεύτηκε στην Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Immanuel Ness (ed.), Blackwell Editions, 2008)

Armed resistance against the Nazi occupation and the intern government of collaboration (1941-1944)

Greece had been occupied by the Wermacht in April 1941, during the German campaign in the Balkans. Before this occupation, the Greek army had fought successfully against the Italian aggression in the autumn of 1940. After Greece’s defeat, the country was divided into three zones of occupation, the Italian, biggest of all, the German and the Bulgarian one. The government of the country and King George II fled the country along with the British troops, after the defeat of the latter in the battle of Crete in May 1941. A new collaborationist government having the General Georgios Tsolakoglou as prime minister was installed by the forces of occupation.
Very soon the dreadful consequences of the new order were felt. The larceny of the country’s supplies and equipment by the conquerors in combination with the destruction of the transportation system and the naval blockade by the Allies, led to a famine, which left in the winter of 1941-42 more than 50.000 dead in Athens only. The very existence of the country was in threat because of the claims upon Greek territories by Italy and Bulgaria. In this context, the need for an organized resistance of the Greek people against the new order of the conquerors and their collaborators was vital.

The National Liberation Front (EAM) and the National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS)

The biggest resistance organization in wartime Greece was the National Liberation Front (Ethniko Apeleftherotiko Metopo – EAM). This front was the initiative of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and was formatted in September 1941 with the participation of other rather small left parties – the Socialist Party of Greece (SKE), the Union of Popular Democracy (ELD) and the Agrarian Party of Greece (AKE). EAM was from the beginning concerned about the possibility of an armed struggle. While EAM was organizing its political struggles and the economic, political and social conditions for an armed struggle were formatting, the National Popular Liberation Army (Ethnikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos – ELAS) was founded in February 1942 in Athens.
In fact, no one knew how to raise a partisan war in Greece. All had to be discovered from the beginning. In this situation, the skills of the member of the Communist Party Aris Velouhiotis proved indispensable. Born Thanasis Klaras, Velouhiotis was at this time a “veteran” communist with many years in exile from the former regime of the dictator Ioannis Metaxas. Velouhiotis’s little partisan group started its adventure in the mountains of central Greece. This little group was equipped in men and supplies by the weak communist organizations of the area’s villages. But Velouhotis’s initiatives turned to be very successful. Firstly, the partisans (andartes) stopped hiding and entered in the villages, were they spoke about the national liberation and the need to struggle against the enemy. The villagers were impressed and many joined the partisans.
The second important step was the confiscation of the agrarian production, gathered by the state’s services, in warehouses and its redistribution to the producers keeping a small amount for the partisan’s needs. The conflict of the collaborationist government with the agrarian world upon this production, the small but important organizational and political support of the organizations of EAM and KKE and the undoubted skills of Aris Velouhiotis resulted to the consolidation of the partisan armed resistance. This first period was marked by the first real battle between ELAS and an Italian platoon in the position Rika of the mountain Giona in September 9, 1942. The result was the total destruction of the Italians.

The battle of Gorgopotamos and the rising of the armed Resistance

During the Axis occupation, the British, who had their interests in Greece, tried to control the Greek resistance and to coordinate it with their own political and warfare purposes. Small British groups came into occupied Greece for these reasons. The first such group under the command of Major Myers came in Greece in October 1, 1942 with goal to cut off the railway connection between Athens and Salonika. For this reason came together the forces of ELAS under Aris Velouhiotis and the forces of EDES (another smaller resistance force) under Colonel Napoleon Zervas. The partisans attacked the Italian guards of the railway bridge at Gorgopotamos and the bridge was successfully exploded. The BBC made known the fact in the entire world, while was made obvious that the resistance was possible and effective.
In the next period until the spring of 1943, the political struggles in Athens were intensified. Tremendous manifestations of EAM with political and economical demands against the occupation and the collaborationist government shook the capital. As a result, EAM grew its influence and strength. Nonetheless, ELAS grew also in the countryside – ELAS’s manpower grew from approximately 500 partisans in December 1943 to more than 10.000 men in April 1943. Large parts of Greece’s countryside were liberated along with bigger towns. Several battles in Thessaly forced the Italian forces, a division, to abandon the area.
ELAS was reorganized into an army, who could give tactical battles and gathered a great number of the officers of the former Greek army. A well-known republican colonel, Stefanos Sarafis, became the commander of ELAS. An organizational formula of a three-member leadership was adopted, from the General Staff down to every unit. There was the army commander (Stefanos Sarafis), the political leader from EAM (Andreas Tzimas) and the kapetanios (Aris Velouhiotis). Kapetanios was the partisans’ leader before the restructuration of ELAS, and now he was responsible for the supplies, the moral and the behavior of the men among others.
Until the summer of 1943, ELAS had 30.000 fighters. His strength led to the formation of a semi-governmental apparatus for the administration of the liberated areas, which formatted a large area designated as “Liberated Greece”. In 1944, this EAM administration will form a real government of the liberated territories, the Provisional Committee of National Liberation (Politiki Epitropi Ethnikis Apeleftherosis – PEEA). Meanwhile, ELAS was recognized by the Allies as an allied force and some military aid was given by the British. But, Britain was very concerned about the growth of ELAS, who was not politically controlled and, worst of all, connected, via EAM, to the Communist Party. For this reason, the British liaison officers in Greece made great efforts to enforce other, minor but loyal to them, partisan groups like EDES and EKKA. This concluded even to armed conflicts between these groups and ELAS over disputed areas of control.
In September 8, 1943, Italy capitulated. As an allied force, ELAS demanded and forced the Italian troops in his area to surrender to his units. As a result, ELAS solved his biggest problem for his development – weapons and ammunition. At that time, ELAS was an army of 35.000 men, not a partisan army but a very serious continuation of the former Greek national army led by skilled Greek officers but also with the political orientation of the EAM – national and social liberation.

The German counter-attack

Only the Wermacht could affront ELAS in Greece. In fact, the Germans, after the Italian capitulation, had to re-conquer the country. In October 1943 a vast operation of anti-guerilla operations began. This meant a methodical destruction of any infrastructure that could support the armed resistance – burning down villages, farms and livestock, terrorizing the population with executions and slaughter of entire communities.
In December 1943, in the village of Kalavryta, the 117 German Jagerdivision executed more than 1.000 male residents. In this retaliation operations and overall in the war against the resistance forces were also involved Greek paramilitary groups, the Security Battalions, formed by the collaborationist government of Ioannis Rallis, and equipped and guided by the Germans and especially the SS. More than 30.000 people were killed in the context of these terrorist operations of the Germans and their collaborators.
As a result of the armed resistance in Greece, the Italians lost approximately 2.000 men and the Germans another 5.000. A vital contribution of ELAS was the stopping of production and export of chromium from Greece to Germany for her military needs.
During the summer of 1944, PEEA and EAM participated in a government of National Unity under Georgios Papandreou. While the Cazerta agreement between the British and the Greek resistance forces recognized the British General Ronald Scobbie as the supreme commander of all the Greek and British forces operating in Greece, ELAS had liberated already a big part of the country. In October 12, 1944, the Germans left Athens – the liberation of the country had come.

The clash of December 1944

After the liberation of the country, the government of the National Unity had to face a ruined country. The former political parties, in fact absent in the resistance struggle but participating in the governments in exile with the care of the British, had now to deal with the great political power of EAM, in which the biggest party was the Communist Party, and its armed forces, ELAS, numbering 45.000 men. The disarmament of ELAS was the biggest issue for the British and the loyal to them political parties as well as for the upper class of Greece – for the old one and also for the new, which was created by the profits of the collaboration with the former occupation.
General Scobbie demanded the disarmament of ELAS and as EAM and ELAS refused this demand, the left ministers quitted and the government of National Unity stopped existing in December 1, 1944.
Two days later, December 3, a massive manifestation was organized by EAM to protest for these events. Police officers opened fire and killed many unarmed demonstrators. The next day a general strike and several clashes took place in Athens. In the countryside, the ELAS forces disarmed rather easily the newly formed police services. The clashes in Athens escalated progressively as neither side could control the capital. The British took part everyday and more in the battles, in the side of the loyal to the government troops. The British troops that participated in the December events were more than 80.000.
As the situation worsened and the British casualties were severe, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself came in Athens in Christmas 1944. The discussions between Churchill, Anthony Edens, the Greek Archibishop Damaskinos, the Prime Minister Papandreou and the leaders of EAM and KKE Siantos, Partsalidis and Mandakas were a failure. After 33 days of fierce fights, ELAS finally withdrew from Athens in January 5, 1945.

The civil war (1946-49)

After the end of the December clashes and with the situation against them, the leaders of the EAM-ELAS decided to agree to a political solution and to disarm ELAS. With the Agreement of Varkiza (12 February 1945), all armed forces were to disarm and a new National Army would be formatted. A plebiscite for the matter of the return of the king was to be held as well as general elections for a Constitutional Convention. But the “problem” was that the amnesty given for political crimes could easily be misinterpreted.
Indeed, the new governments, with the British support, had decided to crash the left movement and not to let it have a decisive role in the country’s politics. A wave of “white terror” spread through the country as former EAM-ELAS members were brutalized and murdered in the streets and many others taken to court and convicted for any sort of crimes – even for collaboration with the enemy. The paramilitary acts against the left citizens were properly organized by the right government of Constantinos Tsaldaris, which occurred in the elections of March 31, 1946. One year after the Varkiza Agreement, the left citizens had suffered 1.192 murders, 6.413 injuries, 6.567 robberies and 572 assaults to offices of left newspapers and magazines. In June 1946 was adopted by the government, the 3rd resolution, which punished with death a vast range of activities against the “nation” or the “authorities” – it was clearly against the left movement and the former partisans. The next month were executed the first seven convicted and among them the teacher Eleni Gini, the first woman to be executed in Greece.

The new partisan warfare – the Republican Army of Greece (DSE)

In this context, and under the pressure of the former partisans who were hunted by the state, the Communist Party decided to respond military to the state’s violence. In October 26, 1946, the Republican Army of Greece (Dimokratikos Stratos Ellados - DSE) was found under the leadership of Markos Vafeiadis, a former kapetanios of ELAS and member of the Communist Party.
Meanwhile, a plebiscite in September 1946 brought back King George II and the army took the responsibility from the police to maintain the order in the biggest part of the country. The Commander of the General Staff General Constantinos Ventiris was a representative of the far right into the army.
In the international context, the Cold War had already started – the Truman Doctrine for aid in Greece was the forerunner of the Marshall Plan. As Great Britain could not afford anymore her involvement in Greece, the United States were eager to take her place and did so with economic but also military aid.
In 1947, the civil war raged. The National Army, with the American aid, could not exterminate the partisans. In the political field, the circulation of the left newspapers was forbidden and as the Communist Party formed a Provisional Democratic Government with Markos Vafeiadis as prime minister, it was forbidden too, in the end of the year.
Another aspect of the civil war in Greece was the foundation of the military camp in the deserted island of Makronisos. In Makronisos were gathered from 1947 all the soldiers suspected to be left and were forced by brutal tortures, which often ended to murders, to deny their beliefs and to go and fight against DSE.
Despite the clear supremacy of the National Army in weapons and all other equipment because of the US support, he could not defeat the Democratic Army of the left partisans for another two years. The Democratic Army had some military successes in 1948 but could not reverse the balance of power. Finally, in the summer of 1949, the National Army attacked with all his power, even with bombard planes that used napalm bombs, in the mountains of Vitsi and Grammos in northern Greece. The Democratic Army withdrew into the ground of Albania. The civil war ended letting behind 50.000 dead, 25.000 of the National Army, the police and the paramilitary groups and 25.000 of the Democratic Army. The political result was a state of repression and terror, which concluded to the military dictatorship of 1967-1974.

References and Suggested Readings

Baerentzen L., Iatrides J., Smith O. (eds) (1987) Studies in the History of the Greek Civil War, 1945-1949, Copenhagen.
Close D. H. (1993) The Greek Civil War, 1943-1950. Routledge.
Hondros J. (1983) Occupation and Resistance: the Greek Agony, 1941-1944. New York.
Iatrides J. (ed) (1981) Greece in the 1940s. A Nation in Crisis. London: University Press of New England.
Margaritis G. (2000) History of the Greek Civil War, 1946-1949. Athens: Vivliorama. (in Greek)
Mazower M. (1993) Inside Hitler’s Greece. The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44. Yale University Press.
Sarafis S. (1980) ELAS: Greek Resistance Army. London: Merlin Press.

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