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Athens Athens During Greek Civil War

Athens in Civil War (AD 1944 - 1949)

Adapted from Athens: The First Six Thousand Years

Harry's Note: I am pleased to announce collaboration with renowned scholar and author John L. Tomkinson.

Mr. Tomkinson is the author of many books about Greece (and other subjects) and he has agreed to provide for us, some of his insights, on this page, as well as others throughout my sites. 

Please visit for more of his fascinating insights into Greek culture and history.

True lovers of Greece will be well rewarded by obtaining some of his very reasonably priced editions which are only available internationally, direct from the publisher.

His series Greece: Beyond the Guidebooks has been a source of inspiration to me personally. Major credit cards accepted.


By John L. Tomkinson

In retrospect, it is clear that the leaders of the West, already anticipating the end of the war, had their eyes set upon a new confrontation between the capitalist and communist powers, and were engaged, while the war was still going on, in manoeuvring for advantage.

Churchill, on a visit to Moscow, had proposed a secret share out of the Balkan states: with Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary to fall within the Soviet sphere of influence, while Britain would control Greece. Stalin had accepted what became known as the “Percentages Agreement”. Churchill had no doubt that King George, when restored to his throne, would prove a reliable friend, i.e. an obedient British puppet. 

But the communists, and the other patriots in ELAS, together with the vast majority of the Greek people, did not want the restoration of a monarchy which before the war had connived in the establishment of an oppressive authoritarian dictatorship.

Only the right wing, many of whom had actively collaborated with the Nazis during the Occupation, were royalist. The attitude of the British Government was soon evident when, as early as August 1944, Churchill had ordered the BBC not to give “any credit of any kind” to the resistance fighters when reporting on developments in Greece. Soon after the German army pulled out, the British army arrived under General Scobie, to be greeted by an enthusiastic welcome. They set up their HQ in the former German quarters in the Hotel Grande Bretagne.

On 18th October, George Papandreu and the government in exile were brought in on a British warship. This was a government of national unity, in which the Communist Party and ELAS were represented. The Communist Party placed the fighters of ELAS under British military authority. But the British brought in the Royalist Mountain Brigade, armed the collaborationist anti-left forces, and demanded the disarmament of ELAS. This would have left the resistance fighters at the mercy of the collaborators, so ELAS refused to disarm unless the Mountain Brigade was removed from the city.

A demonstration in Syntagma Square was fired upon from the police station by police and collaborators. Twenty-five were killed and nearly one hundred and fifty wounded. Extremists on both sides began to seek out their enemies and settle old scores incurred during the Occupation. At first the partisans did not fire on British soldiers, but, Churchill ordered General Scobie to treat Athens “as a captured city where a local rebellion is in progress.” Artillery shelled, and Spitfires strafed, the working class suburbs of Athens.

After suffering the horrors of the Nazi occupation, the Athenians found themselves under fire from the very “Allies” who had supposedly come to liberate them. Ironically, a city which had not been bombed during the war because of its historic associations came under fire from its own “allies” when the common enemy had departed.

At the same time, following their previous tactic of blockade, the British denied food to areas under ELAS control. Thousands were killed in what became known as the Dekemvriana. Paradoxically, more damage to buildings and infrastructure was done to Athens in three months of British liberation than under four years of Nazi occupation. Moreover, small-scale conflict was to continue for some time.

On 12th February 1945, General Scobie signed a truce with the partisans at Varkiza, arranged by Archbishop Damaskinos, and the fighting in and around Athens came to an end. EAM agreed to disband ELAS, and in return there would be an amnesty for ELAS guerillas, legalization of the Communist Party and a referendum on the monarchy.
Although some collaborators were arrested, only twenty-nine were executed. The police were much more interested in rounding up members of EAM and in persecuting the left. Many prominent collaborators held office in the army and police with impunity, while participation in the anti-fascist resistance during the Occupation came to be seen as evidence of being a danger to the state. Even in Central Athens, gunfire could be heard almost every night until December 1945 as the former collaborators took advantage of their position to settle scores with the resistance. By the end of 1945 about 50,000 members of EAM had been imprisoned. In the Army the Sacred Union of Greek Officers (IDEA) ensured the sidelining or retirement of all army officers who were not monarchists. EAM sympathizers were purged from the civil service. Under these conditions, ELAS refused to disarm.

The British chose five prime ministers in succession, each of whom failed to gain any authority. In April 1946 elections were held in a show of democracy which was no more convincing than those held in Eastern European states under the shadow of the Soviet Union. Naturally, the conservative Peoples’ Party won, and in September 1946, under conditions of extreme duress and fraud, no one was surprised when the monarchy received the support of a majority in a rigged referendum. It soon became clear to the left that the British were another occupying power, rather than liberators. They had no intention of allowing any regime in Greece except one which could be relied upon to be accommodating to themselves and hostile to their Soviet rivals. Greece was to be a pawn in the strategy of Cold War. The hold of the royalists and former Nazi collaborators on the forces of law and order was strengthened, enabling them to launch a sustained campaign of terror against the forces of the Left.

Arbitrary police searches of private houses were authorized, and courts martial set up to try people for security offences. Several thousand were executed, and tens of thousands sent to the reopened island prison camps of the Metaxas dictatorship. Some of these, such as that on the island of Makronisos, off the south-eastern coast of Attica, were as bad as anything the Germans had run. Arbitrary assassinations of leftists were a constant policy. Since the police controlled the issuing of permits for anything from a driving licence to university entry to running a restaurant, they required the applicants to sign retractions of unacceptable opinions. The Trade Unions were emasculated by legal restraints and police persecution of members.

Then early in 1947, the British government, finding itself overstretched and in dire straits, withdrew from three theatres of foreign affairs: India, Palestine and Greece, leaving behind intractable problems in each place. In Greece it was the end of a partial hegemony which had lasted since the 1820s.

The USA rushed in to take its place. The Greek representative in Washington was summoned to the State Department and peremptorily ordered to “request US aid”. In a speech full of the of Manichean dichotomies of Cold War propaganda on 12th March US President Truman vowed to defend Greece, and all other “freedom loving peoples” attacked by “totalitarian communism.”Greece became a client state of the USA. Dwight Griswold boasted: “I have just to make up my mind what I think is best for Greece.”

US control was institutionalized. For example, from 1948 a US citizen had to be Governor of Social Security (IKA). The Managing Director of the Department of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of the National Economy, who approved applications by individuals and companies to import and export goods was to be an American. The board of the Thessaloniki Radio Station had to have three Greek and three US members. At the same time, the army, heavily controlled by former collaborators and monarchists, became “a state within a state”.

In 1949 General Papagos was empowered to determine the composition of the army, to create and dissolve units, to decide upon operations without consulting ministers, whereas the ministers were bound by his decisions. What US domination meant for the “free peoples” they were “defending” soon became evident. Four months after the declaration of the Truman Doctrine more than 36,000 people were arrested and imprisoned in concentration camps, e.g. Macronissos.

Some 37,000 were given a court martial, and 20,000 convicted. During the next three years, nearly 8,000 were sentenced to death. “Aid” largely took the form of hundreds of military advisers, military supplies such as bombers, and reconstruction of the infrastructure to enable the military to deploy around the country.

For the next two years the civil war waged outside Athens was under the firm control of the Americans and their agents in Athens, who did not stop at chemical warfare. The new napalm was supplied by the Americans to be dropped on northern villages. Torture, courts martial, firing squads, concentration camps if anything more brutal than those set up by the Nazis and police supervision and harassment were the instruments of oppression, and felt no less in Athens than elsewhere.

Such was Greece’s fortune to be part of the “democratic free world”. By the end of the civil war, the countryside had been devastated. By 1948, over 60,000 had been killed, over 5,000 villages had been completely destroyed. Two thirds of the country people suffered from malaria. Over a third of the country’s forests had been razed. Habitable homes, seed, animals, and indeed food, was in very short supply.

Harry doesn't necessarily agree or disagree with opinions expressed herein.