Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945
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Chapter 7 – GREECE
From National Unity to Civil War
Into Exile – The Shadow of Metaxas – Territorial Claims – Unrest in the Armed Forces – Six Colonels and the Guerrillas – The "National Bands" Agreement – The Guerrillas’ Emissaries Return Empty-Handed – The Dilemma of Conflicting Policies – Inside Occupied Athens: Archbishop Damaskinos Acts – The Communists Set Up a Provisional Government Committee – Mutinies in Egypt–Papandreou Takes Over – The Pan-Hellenic Congress Adopts the "Lebanon Charter" – The Papandreou Government Returns to War-Torn Athens – The King Yields on the Regency Issue
The Italian-Greek War in 1940, in which Italy attacked Greece through Albania, resulted from Mussolini’s Mare Nostrum policies. The reverses suffered by Mussolini’s out-flanked, under-equipped and demoralized Albanian army resulted in resounding and unforeseen Greek victories. This affected Hitler’s global war strategy, obliging the Führer to launch a Balkan campaign to rescue the Duce. Hazardous landings of British troops on the Macedonian front were undertaken when General Wavell’s Western Desert army became available, but the short campaign that ensued ended in a British withdrawal in the face of combined Italian and German troops, first from the Greek mainland and subsequently from Crete after the Nazis’ spectacular descent on the island. King George II of Greece and his government went into exile via Crete and Egypt to England.
Into Exile [top]The King’s thoughts at that tragic moment were later recalled, in December 1944, in a letter to Churchill. King George wrote: “I did not stop to consider that Greek soldiers would die at the side of your own men in Macedonia and Crete in a military enterprise doomed in advance, nor that Greece would have to suffer the tragedy of occupation. And when, after the German attack, the political leaders faltered and none came forward to assume responsibility, I took that responsibility, acting as my own Prime Minister for some time.”
While on his way to England the King was to face several disappointments. First, there was the refusal of his suggestion to the British Ambassador, Sir Michael Palairet, in Crete that, if Crete fell, the King and the Greek government be allowed to establish themselves in Cyprus. This was followed by a similar request submitted in writing by Greek Prime Minister Tsouderos to Palairet on May 1, 1941; the Premier elaborated on the King’s proposal, suggesting that Britain should cede Cyprus to Greece in the person of King George II; this would have followed the precedent of 1863, when Britain ceded the Ionian Islands to George’s grandfather, King George I. The Greek leaders did not realize at the time that the same idea was suggested by Winston Churchill, in a telegram addressed to the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, General Maitland Wilson, in Athens on April 13, 1941, at the height of the Greek campaign. Referring to the King of Greece, Churchill stated: “If, however, he or any part of the Greek army is forced to leave Greece, every facility will be afforded them in Cyprus, and we will do our best to carry them there.”
It transpired only later that what the Greek leaders had in mind was that a Greek government should be in Cyprus “as Greeks among Greeks, not as refugees in a foreign country.” This touched on the question of sovereignty over Cyprus, which the Foreign Office and the Chiefs of Staff did not want raised, although in principle they were favourable to the Greek government’s moving to Cyprus. The opposition of the Colonial Office, however, proved decisive. Faced with the problem of Enosis supporters of the union of Cyprus with Greece, the officer responsible for the government of Cyprus wrote to the Colonial Secretary: “In the special circumstances of Cyprus, presence of the King and his government here would render the position of this [British] government almost impossible. All loyalties would be centered on the King of Greece who would be considered by most Cypriots as their King.” As a result, the idea of establishing the Greek King and government in Cyprus was dropped. The British government explained that it could not discuss Cyprus for the time being and that the presence of the Greek government there would provide the Germans with a justification for attacking the unfortified and defenceless island. For similar reasons, a plan later in the war to station some Greek army units in Cyprus was also abandoned.
Another source of disappointment for George en route to exile was his encounter and confrontation – first in Crete, the homeland of the Republican leader Eleftherios Venizelos, and later among the Greek colony in Egypt – with strong opposition to the monarchy itself, and particularly to the dictatorship of the former Prime Minister, the late General Metaxas, whom the King was accused of having maintained in power from 1936. In the face of strong pressure from the leaders of the Greek colony the King dropped two leading Metaxists from the government, Maniadakis and Nikoloudis, and requested the help of the British authorities in curbing the agitation against the government in exile fuelled by some of the influential Greek personalities in Egypt.
Yet another problem for the King was Britain’s unwillingness, kept secret for many years, to allow Princess Frederica, wife of Crown Prince Paul and later Queen of Greece, to come to England with the royal party. Indeed, King George VI, through his private secretary, A.H.L. Hardings, intimated to the Foreign Office that he did not object to Crown Prince Paul’s joining his brother, the King of Greece, in London, provided “he does not bring his wife [Frederica] who, although very anti-Nazi, is nevertheless German, and whose presence here would obviously be undesirable.” Frederica remained in South Africa throughout the war, most of the time separated from her husband.
The Durban Castle arrived in Liverpool on September 21, 1941, and the King of Greece, the Crown Prince and the government were met there by the Duke of Gloucester. A few hours later they were greeted at Euston Station by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Churchill and the members of the British Cabinet.
The Greeks were warmly welcomed into the family of the exiled governments assembled in London. Yet scarcely a year earlier, in November 1940, when Greek forces were successfully advancing in Albania, General Metaxas had declined an invitation to participate in the first conference of exiled governments; for, he had argued, although they fought for the same cause, “there did not appear to be sufficient elements of similarity between Greece and the countries” invited to that conference. The Greek Minister in London, Simopoulos, had further explained to Sir Alexander Cadogan, on November 6, 1940, that “his Government might think that it would be ominous to put themselves in the category of exiled governments.” Metaxas had in turn explained to Palairet that Greece was not at war with Germany but awaiting a German attack, which it hoped to stave off, and therefore did not wish to provoke Hitler.
The inter-Allied meeting was postponed at that time. When it finally convened at St. James’s Palace on June 12, 1941, Greece was represented. Simopoulos told the Allied leaders that Greece had “sacrificed everything” for its independence and freedom. He accepted the resolution promising “to work together with other free peoples, both in war and in peace.”
The Shadow of Metaxas [top]King George II and the government of Tsouderos did not realize at the outset that they were taking with them into exile the entire burden of the Metaxas dictatorship. It was only gradually that they discovered that in the eyes of large sections of the Greek people under occupation the dark side of the Metaxas dictatorship – his persecution of the Venizelist republicans and of various left-wing movements – by far outweighed his proud stand against Mussolini and his defiance of Hitler. As a result, the “Constitutional Question” loomed large on the horizon and threatened to undermine the King’s position.
Already while the monarch and his government were on their long sea journey to England via the Cape, the Foreign Office had received messages from its advisers in Cairo suggesting that all shades of Greek opinion urged an immediate declaration by the government reinstating the articles of the 1911 Constitution suspended by Metaxas on August 4, 1936, guaranteeing freedom of the press and the rights of individual citizens. E.G. Sebastien, formerly British Consul-General in Athens and later entrusted with Greek affairs at the British Embassy in Cairo, was particularly insistent, stating that most Greeks “fail to understand why dictatorial methods of Metaxas have not been repudiated and fear their continuance after the war unless abolished now.” In London some officials shared these views, and for the first time apprehension was also voiced lest delay in tackling the constitutional issue result in the eventual establishment after liberation of an anti-royalist government or in a declaration by the members of the Parliament dissolved in 1936 of a new regime based on the 1911 constitution.
Soon after the festivities in tribute to “Greek heroism,” which marked the arrival of the King and his government in England, these matters were raised publicly. The issue first became manifest in the new relationship between the British and the Greek governments. Eden, on November 25, 1941, presented Tsouderos with an aide-mémoire in which he reaffirmed British cooperation and expressed hope that the King would be welcomed back home on the liberation of Greece. He recommended refraining from political disturbances and suggested working for the establishment of a representative and liberal constitution in freed Greece.
In January 1942 the constitutional question entered a more active phase when the British government initiated further contacts on the subject with Tsouderos and when, for the first time, through contacts with political circles in Athens, a link was established with political personalities inside occupied Greece. In two conversations with Tsouderos, Pierson Dixon of the Foreign Office suggested that the Greek government “should make some detailed pronouncement” on the constitutional position and should announce publicly that it would refer any constitutional arrangements to public approval after their return to Greece. The Greek Premier said this was the intention of the Greek government, which was prepared to draw up proposals to that effect in consultation with the British government.
These conversations were preceded by a Greek aide-mémoire explaining the events that had led to Metaxas’s dictatorship. General Metaxas, the memorandum stated, had declared martial law because public order and the social system were endangered by Communist action. He had dissolved the Chamber because of its inability to vote on the new Constitution. The Greek government went on to declare that the 1911 Constitution had never been abolished, but the functioning of certain of its provisions was suspended. As the 1911 Constitution provided for the suspension of the articles in question in the event of war or mobilization, the government considered that the present situation in occupied Greece “makes such discussion superfluous.” General Metaxas, the document added, “acted unlawfully,” failing to invite the Greek people to elect new representatives. “We are not today in a position to make up for this failure by reason of the enemy occupation, but it will be among the first decisions to be taken by the King on his return to Greece in accordance with the free constitutional regime which will be introduced with the full approval of the Greek people.”
Tsouderos seized this opportunity to include in his official statement an attack on “certain incorrigible politicians ... capable of intrigues who believed that the Chamber of 1936, dissolved by Metaxas, should represent the country in these difficult moments.” When the people are free to choose their deputies, the Greek Premier concluded, “the King will decide, as is his right, to hold elections at the right moment.”
The Greek memorandum elicited a bitter comment from Hopkinson in the office of the Minister of State in Cairo, who complained of Tsouderos’s “complete lack of appreciation of the realities of the position.” He attacked the Greek Premier who, “while professing attachment to liberty and hatred of dictatorial methods, contemplates imposing the return of the King by force of arms against the wishes of the inhabitants of Greece.”
While these exchanges were taking place, the unexpected arrival in Cairo from Greece of an emissary of a well-known republican personality, General Gonatas, transformed the debate into an indirect tripartite discussion, which now included for the first time the representative of a pro-Allied opposition group inside occupied Greece. Gonatas stated in a letter that the Greek people would not accept the return of the King or the Tsouderos government even if they undertook to suppress the dictatorship and establish a constitutional monarchy.
In the Foreign Office – where there was hope for the return of the King, and Palairet’s message stating that Metaxas “had assured himself an outstanding place in Greek history” by “his courage in rejecting without demur the Italian ultimatum” was still remembered – this caused surprise. So far such incisive language had been voiced only in certain Greek exiled circles, particularly in Egypt. Yet it was felt that this opportunity for an exchange between all the Greek groups at home and abroad should not be neglected. To avoid a direct confrontation between the rival factions, an indirect reply to Gonatas was transmitted through British good offices. Tsouderos sent a letter to Eden in which he stated that with Metaxas’s death his dictatorship had come to an end. “August 4, 1936,” he wrote, is “legally invalid and politically non-existent.” The letter went on to declare “categorically” that the Tsouderos government “are neither exercising dictatorial authority nor continuing the policy of August 4. A) The fact that we are carrying on the Government without a parliament is due to the necessity imposed by the enemy occupation of our country; B) the 1911 Constitution is for the time being still the country’s best charter; C) after the war a free democratic constitution under the King will be established ... subject to popular approval; D) the Government under my presidency are ready soon after the conclusion of peace to hand over the administration to a new Government acceptable to public opinion.”
Eden, in a covering letter transmitting Tsouderos’ reply to Gonatas, declared that in line with the above, the British government was giving full support to the King and to his government. They hoped that the Greek people would welcome the King back and that the unity of the nation would be preserved for the prosecution of the war and the liberation of the country and would leave political questions to be settled after the war. Eden’s letter included an important opening to the Greek opposition by declaring that the British government hoped that the Tsouderos government would be strengthened by the inclusion of more personalities from occupied Greece.
In another message addressed to Sir Miles Lampson, Minister of State in Cairo, Eden laid stress on the last point, declaring that His Majesty’s Government “hope that it will be possible for other distinguished Greeks to escape from Greece to join the Government and thereby strengthen it.” This wish was realized three months later with the inclusion in the government of Panayotis Kannelopoulos, leader of Enotikon Komma (the Greek United Party) and the first personality to escape from Greece, as deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence resident in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, on February 4, 1942, the King signed a Constitutional Act declaring invalid the suspension by General Metaxas of certain provisions of the 1911 Constitution. This marked the end of the first round in the constitutional wrangle between exiled Greeks and personalities in the occupied homeland before the armed resistance movements gained strength in the Greek mountains.
These events coincided, however, with some unpleasant occurrences which were to cause irritation in Greek government circles during the winter of 1941-42. There were broadcasts from a clandestine station, the “Free Voice of Greece,” allegedly broadcasting from inside occupied Greece, but in fact put out from Jerusalem by a station controlled by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). These broadcasts, claiming to express widespread opinion inside Greece, violently attacked the Greek government in exile, accusing it of continuing the Metaxas dictatorship with some of Metaxas’s men in the government and of adopting fascist policies. Few were then aware of the differences of opinion that subsequently brought about a clash between the Foreign Office and the SOE in Cairo over policy towards Greece. The Foreign Office got the upper hand when, on Greek government insistence, Sebastien was removed from his Cairo post, while Tsouderos dropped the last of Metaxas’s former associates from his government.
The King and Tsouderos were further disgruntled by the postponement of a visit to President Roosevelt, which they had planned from the beginning of their exile. General Watson, the President’s assistant, implored the British Ambassador, Lord Halifax, for help “in finding some graceful way of preventing it.” Watson “made it clear that the President was not very keen on the visit. He did not think the moment appropriate for various reasons, including climatic.” Several days previously, on January 17, 1942, Sir Orme Sargent of the Foreign Office had indicated to Tsouderos that the King’s planned visit to the USA was in the Foreign Office’s view inopportune at this moment as America’s entry into the war had changed the whole situation and that it was advisable to wait.
Another visit planned by the Greek leaders, this time to Egypt, was the subject of a somewhat acrimonious correspondence between Tsouderos and Eden when the latter declined to provide a Foreign Office official to accompany them in their Middle East travels. Tsouderos had requested that the King and himself “be accompanied by some suitable official of the Foreign Office who would be acquainted with your policy and could act as the liaison between ourselves and the British authorities in Egypt.” This followed a complaint by Tsouderos “that certain British officials are continuing to indulge in political opposition to H.M. the King and ourselves in a manner that conflicts with the policy laid down by you in this question.”
Referring in his reply to a report by the Greek Minister to Cairo, Casalis, as “gossip by people of no importance,” Eden wrote: “I thus find difficulty in accepting solely on the evidence of such gossip the very grave conclusion reached by Your Excellency that certain British officials are continuing to indulge in political opposition to H.M. the King and yourself.” In conclusion Eden declared that “in present circumstance and owing to pressure of current work” no suitable official could be made available and the office of the Minister of State would certainly “give you all the help in their power.”
Territorial Claims [top]The question of Greece’s future frontiers preoccupied the Greek government at this early stage in exile. The victorious advance of the Greek army soon after the Italian attack into areas of southern Albania largely inhabited by Greeks had inspired an irredentist outburst of patriotism and revived memories of the centuries-old battles of the legendary Greek Evzones against the Ottoman Pashas who ruled that mountainous country along the Adriatic coast. The Greek demand for the return to Greek sovereignty of the Italian-occupied Dodecanese Islands was revived likewise. It was recalled in diplomatic contacts and in a White Book published in London in 1942 by the Royal Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Dodecanese Islands had been under Italian rule since 1919. Now the Greek government asked for their return to Greece when victory dawned.
Already in Pretoria, on his way to Britain, Tsouderos had mentioned Greece’s need for border adjustments with three of her immediate neighbours – Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. A few weeks after his arrival in London, speaking at a reception by the Greek community, he again referred publicly to Greek territorial claims in a way that embarrassed the Foreign Office in view of the wider issues involved. It was discreetly indicated to Tsouderos that it would be “most undesirable that any question of territorial adjustment regarding Macedonia be raised at this stage with the Yugoslav government.” It was further stated with reference to the Dodecanese Islands and Cyprus that the British Government “deprecate statements alluding, even in veiled language, to Greek claims to these territories, which are bound to create a false impression.”
Greek territorial claims against Albania were to some extent stimulated by the presence in Britain of King Zog, Albania’s former ruler, who had fled his country for France and had been granted transit facilities in Britain in extremis when the Germans were about to enter Bordeaux in June 1940, but who remained in London throughout the war. His efforts to restore his rule in Albania aroused considerable suspicion among the Greeks. In London various Greek government personalities contested Zog’s claim that Albania had been “the first victim of Italy.” They accused him of trying to re-establish official relations with Britain and recalled his alleged cooperation with the Italians.
British and American declarations in December 1942 on the re-establishment of Albanian independence caused tension between the British and Greek governments. Tsouderos considered them a breach of a previous British promise not to pre-judge Greek claims to northern Epirus. The subsequent threat of a Greek government crisis was averted with difficulty and Tsouderos explained that Greece could not forget the use made of Albania for aggression against Greece and the Greek populations of southern Albania.
Early in 1943, when the invasion of Italy was in preparation, Tsouderos’s government decided to raise the frontier question more formally with the British government from the angle of their common security. In a note addressed to Eden, Tsouderos stated that the influence of the Central European powers in the Balkans in the two world wars was due “to the fact that the naval powers, having much more distant bases, were not in a position to intervene in time in favour of the Balkan States.” This compelled the latter, even before the outbreak of the war, “to follow a much more submissive role towards Germany than they would have normally desired.” It was imperative, he added, “that a counterbalance should be created in the southern Balkans allowing the establishment in good time of a secure base of operations for the naval powers.”
Greece was, Tsouderos stated, predestined to play this role because of its “national homogeneity.” Touching directly on the frontier question, he maintained that “if as a result of the war the national question was satisfactorily settled” Greece would find its internal balance and stability. “Natural frontiers” in the north would prevent the repetition in the future of situations in which German forces infiltrated via Bulgaria and cut Greece off from the Yugoslav army. Furthermore Greece’s position made it possible “to exercise decisive control over the straits of the Dardanelles whatever their status.” Mentioning the Aegean islands and the Dodecanese, Tsouderos stated that their control by Greece would “exercise a definitive influence on the political attitude of Turkey.” Considering the time suitable for a political agreement with Britain on this issue, Tsouderos urged the “restoration to Greece of national territories which are part and parcel of her national entity by reason of race, tradition and national conscience.” He repeated that the strengthening of her northern frontier in particular was a “major Greek concern which both the Government and people of Greece will do their utmost to secure.”
Tsouderos’s aide-mémoire remained a mere statement for the record, since in his reply Eden asked the Greek government to defer the proposal of an Anglo-Greek agreement until the subject assumed “a rather more definite shape.” The Foreign Secretary stressed the explicit assurances already given by Britain “to secure the restoration of Greek sovereignty as it existed before the Italian attack of October 28, 1941.” He further stated that in the Greek Forces Agreement of March 9, 1942, between Britain and Greece it was laid down “that among the objects of the war are the complete liberation of Greece and the re-establishment of her freedom and independence.” He recalled his speech in the House of Commons condemning the Bulgarian occupation of parts of Greek Thrace and Macedonia and Bulgaria’s attempt to denationalize these territories. Eden mentioned again the principle agreed upon between Britain and the United States, namely not “to enter into any territorial commitments while the war lasts,” stating that accordingly “His Majesty’s Government feel themselves precluded from entering into discussion about the Greek Government claims to territories beyond the 1939 frontiers.” As a postscript to this rather lengthy negative reply to Tsouderos, Eden added that “when the time comes” Britain would help to rebuild the devastation caused by the war and restore Greece “to her position among the countries of South East Europe.” In conclusion Eden wrote: “we ourselves have a special interest in seeing Greece made strong and prosperous” and that the British government shared the Greeks’ desire that the relations between the two countries should be put on “a basis of lasting collaboration.”
Greek territorial demands were thus shelved, and the Greek Government in exile became more and more preoccupied with constitutional issues and those raised by the resistance movements inside occupied Greece. In one respect, though, a change of attitude occurred concerning the frontier question between Greece and Yugoslavia. On January 15, 1942, both governments in London signed a solemn agreement concerning the constitution of the “Balkan Union” and proclaimed the principle of “the Balkans for the Balkan peoples.” However, fourteen months later, in an aide- mémoire to Eden, Tsouderos, presumably preoccupied by Tito’s progress and no longer sure of the survival of a unified Yugoslavia, included the following ambiguous passage in his exposé: “Even supposing that, against our expectation, Croatia-Slovenia-Dalmatia should form a separate political unit outside Serbia, it is only through Greece ... that such a unit would be able to collaborate with the Eastern Mediterranean combination.” Even then, he added, this could be done via Serbia and Albania and the unit would thus extend to the Adriatic, “which it would thus control.”
Thus Greek dreams of frontier rectifications remained in abeyance.
Unrest in the Armed Forces [top]The Foreign Office did not wish to become involved in the problem posed in the spring of 1942 by the first wave of discontent among Greek units stationed in the Middle East – a problem which the King and Tsouderos meant to tackle in Egypt. According to the Greek Forces Agreement the Greek troops were under British command. This meant that the British military authorities retained the right to intervene in matters concerning the appointment of the Greek High Command. In February 1942 the Greek units in the Middle East consisted of some 8,000 men, including 3,500 who had crossed into Turkey, 600 recruited locally, 3,700 who had escaped from Greece, and about 200 cadets.
The discontent at that time related primarily to the status of certain Greek officers. As Tsouderos explained to Pierson Dixon, there was the problem of Venizelist officers exiled by Metaxas, who had later been released up to the rank of major in order to enable them to participate in the war. When Tsouderos assumed power, he also released senior Venizelist officers for the same purpose. According to Greek practice these officers on joining their units resumed the rank to which they would have been entitled had they remained on the active list throughout the period of their detentions. The result was that a number of the returning officers “had to be given senior appointments over the heads of the other officers.” This, said Tsouderos, had given rise to great discontent, especially in a small circle of officers whom he described as “dug outs.” These men created an “artificial disturbance,” alleging that the officers back from exile were traitors and anti-monarchists. Another aspect of the problem was mentioned by Tsouderos’s private secretary, Nicolareizis, in a conversation with Christopher Warner of the Foreign Office, when he observed that a higher proportion of officers in relation to other ranks were escaping from Greece. He added that this was not a bad thing, since the Greek government intended to use the army to impose a regime of their choosing when they returned to Greece.
To resolve the problem, the Foreign Office asked the War Office to assume its share of responsibility in what was essentially a military matter. In a letter to Major D. Talbot-Rice of the War Office, Pierson Dixon referred “to the political and personal differences which unfortunately abound in the Greek army.” Dixon apparently considered it opportune to offer a piece of advice to the British Middle East Command, being convinced “that nothing except active service could put an end to the present dissensions, and we hope it will be possible to do something in this direction before very long.” He added that “the present inactivity of the Greek land forces gives rise to fears that the Greek army is being kept out of the fighting, in order that it may be available as a means to re-impose the monarchy and the present Greek Government on the Greek people after the war. Nothing but the use of the Greek army in the field could dispel this fear.”
Hardly a week later Dixon again wrote to the War Office, to Colonel L. de H. Larpent, expressing concern over “further delay in putting Greek land forces into the field.” He wondered whether after the completion of the equipping and training of the Greek Army “it would not be possible to constitute, for instance, a Greek Commando unit for raids on Axis forces and installations on the Greek islands and mainland.”
In the weeks that followed, the War Office still thought that a visit of the King to the Middle East would help solve the problem of unrest in the army. At the same time General Auchinleck, Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, thought the problem was due to the “incompetence of senior officers.” He suggested that “changes at the top would end dissension and make for efficiency.” The Foreign Office in a message to the Minister of State in Cairo, Sir Miles Lampson, expressed fear lest the proposed changes would amount in practice to “a considerable strengthening of the Venizelist element” in the High Command and stressed the undesirability of making “flagrantly political appointments.” It suggested a “compromise arrangement” pending the visit of the King. In a message on February 25, 1942, signed by Sir Orme Sargent, the Minister of State was urged “to avoid giving any impression of taking sides.”
Meanwhile, in a letter to Tsouderos, Eden expressed his regret at Britain’s “inability to be more forthcoming in the matter of equipment for the Royal Hellenic Armed Forces at the present.” He assured him, however, of the supply of further equipment to the Greek forces “as soon as the production position permits.”
As the visit of the King of Greece to the Middle East approached, the War Office supported General Auchinleck’s stand that the “Greek contingent should not be expanded beyond what their state of efficiency justifies.” This directive was designed as a briefing on the issue of the Greek army intended to coincide with the arrival of the King and his Prime Minister. It stated clearly that the only argument they were likely to accept was that “the lack of equipment is the obstacle.”
“If so,” Sir Orme Sargent commented, “I am afraid we can hope for no improvement in the situation and must face the prospect of the Greek forces gradually deteriorating as a result of political intrigue and demoralization brought about by inaction.”
Six Colonels and the Guerrillas [top]During the autumn and winter of 1940-1941 the Greek government, engaged in a successful war against Italy in Albania, had become increasingly aware that it must prepare for a German attack whose outcome was uncertain. The eventuality of a German invasion resulting in the forced withdrawal of King and government abroad had to be envisaged along with the occupation of national territory by the enemy. This caused the government in the last hours before it left Athens to entrust to six loyal colonels remaining in the capital the task of working clandestinely for the liberation of the country. Very little was known about their activities until Colonel Chris Woodhouse, second in command of the British mission to the Greek underground, ventured into Athens and met two of the six, one of whom, Colonel Spiliotopoulos, was to become military governor of Athens when the government returned to Greece in 1944.
These officers still seemed to be living with traditional concepts of warfare, oblivious to the strategies and methods evolved by the resistance movements which had sprung up all over occupied Europe. Woodhouse reported that the “Six Colonels” had little insight into guerrilla fighting in the mountains and knew very little about the resistance movements that had been operating there for months. Furthermore, he reached the conclusion that it was impossible to lead the resistance movements from beleaguered Athens and that the officers were unsuitable for taking charge of operations in the mountains and had no practical plans for assuming leadership there. They belittled the importance of the activities of the guerrillas in the North, which they considered mere “pinpricks”, and dismissed the possible danger of civil war. Their role, as they saw it, was to prepare the nucleus for a new national army which, after the expected collapse of Italy, would fight the Germans abroad, leaving the returning Greek government to settle things at home. Pro-Government politicians in occupied Athens, such as Gonatas, Papandreou and Kannelopoulos, left their mark on Greek policies in exile by stepping into the vacuum of leadership created by the departure of the King and the government. The “Six Colonels” remained little known and entrenched in their outlook. They were separated from both the politicians in Athens who were in touch with the Government in exile and from the guerrillas in the mountains who maintained close contact with the British Military Mission headed by Brigadier E. C. W. Myers, who had been parachuted into Greece on September 28, 1942.
In the following months the role of the guerrillas in resisting Axis occupation increased, while, correspondingly, the gulf separating them from the government in exile deepened. The strongest and largest guerrilla movement was EAM-ELAS, largely under Communist leadership. Its political wing, the EAM (National Liberation Front), formed in September 1941, consisted of various left-wing elements – Communists, Socialists and left-wing democrats – who formed a kind of anti-fascist popular front, with the Communists keeping in the background. The military wing, ELAS (or National Popular Liberation Army), formed in April 1942, was entirely dominated by the Greek Communist party, KKE, whose primary aim was to ensure a post-war Communist regime for Greece. The other main resistance movement was EDES, sponsored by the National Republican Greek League. Anti-Communist in outlook, it was under the nominal leadership of General Plastiras, who lived in exile in France. Its leader in Epirus was Colonel, later General, Napoleon Zervas, who was considered pro-British. Another guerrilla movement which was politically very close to EDES, the EKKA, led by a well-known officer, Colonel Psarros, was eliminated by repeated ELAS attacks in late 1943 and early 1944.
The two main resistance movements were united in their fight against the invading forces and in their opposition to the return of the King, as well as in their readiness to cooperate with the British Middle East Command. They were, however, tragically divided by constant competition in recruiting adherents, by the allocation of their respective areas of operation and, above all, by the determination of EAM-ELAS to achieve sole control over all resistance movements and impose their rule on the country, if necessary by civil war. After months of contacts with ELAS men in the mountains of northeastern Greece, Myers reported to Cairo that their leaders “regard English weapons primarily as a means of strengthening their control of Greece and only secondarily as the means contributing to the war effort. The fact that we were fighting their enemy, fascism, happened to suit them.” They interpreted the principles laid down by Roosevelt and Churchill in the Atlantic Charter as a guarantee against what they seemed to fear most – an attempt by Britain to back the return of the King to his throne in Athens.
Zervas and EDES were prepared to follow the British lead unhesitatingly, and Zervas even sent a message of loyalty to the King and government in London. During the period that preceded the Italian collapse, both ELAS and EDES depended for arms on British supplies flown in nightly from Egypt. Clearly, British policy-makers in Cairo had the possibility of giving all-out support to Zervas, thus reducing and ultimately eliminating ELAS. Support, however, continued to both movements. The maintaining of supplies to ELAS, it was argued, was justified by the hope of detaching from its ranks those moderate elements which were unaware of EAM’s predominantly Communist leadership. Another argument put forward in Cairo was the fact that ELAS controlled areas commanding German rail and road communications with the south – a major consideration in view of the extensive sabotage operations soon to be undertaken throughout Greece. Their aim was to deceive the Axis as to where landings were likely to take place, as Allied fleets laden with troops set sail from North Africa to Sicily and Southern Italy.
British support for ELAS during this crucial period was the subject of bitter complaints by the Greek government, who maintained that inside Greece the United Kingdom was conducting a line radically opposed to its officially-declared policy of supporting the return home of the King and his government. In the controversy which ensued between SOE London, SOE Cairo and the Foreign Office, several alternatives were examined, including whether to give massive backing to Zervas’s EDES, whose andartes (right-wing guerrillas) were less numerous in the mountains and operated in a smaller area than ELAS, or try to make both movements cooperate. The British Military Mission chose the latter course. It was greatly encouraged in this by the fact that both EDES and ELAS men cooperated with the group of British officers who, in a spectacular operation on November 25, 1942, blew up the viaduct over the Gorgopotamos, a river in central Greece. As a result, German transports travelling south to Greek harbours were held up for two months at the height of the vital battles in Tunisia.
The "National Bands" Agreement [top]This success gave birth to the idea of a “National Bands” Agreement intended to prevent further fighting between the various groups. It was hastily drafted by Myers and Woodhouse during an emergency session held in the small village of Avlaki, as the various andartes in the neighbourhood were again about to hurl themselves at each other’s throats. The agreement, offered for signature to all the resistance movements, divided Greece into areas of operation under leaders recognized by mutual agreement with the representative of the British General Headquarters, Middle East. The latter alone was to be responsible for all military decisions in the area. The agreement laid down that the national bands of one area would give maximum assistance to those in another area at the request of the area commander; that members of the bands, while free to hold their own political views, should not mention politics in public; that no “barbaric” acts by members of the “National Bands” would be allowed, that nobody would be executed without fair trial and without a British liaison officer being made fully aware of the facts. Other provisions referred to considerations of great importance for the British Mission, namely that all Greeks enlisted would be free to choose the “band” they would join and to transfer their allegiance to another “National Band” if they so desired. Those who had been condemned in the past for such actions would be given complete amnesty. Finally, should there be failure by a “band” to carry out this agreement, “GHQ Middle East” would immediately order the cessation of the supply of war materials to this band “until such time that the failure be rectified.”
The agreement as drafted by Myers and Woodhouse was soon endorsed by Cairo and submitted for signature by all andartes leaders who could be reached. There was no problem about its acceptance by Zervas. However, more than four months of feverish contacts were to pass before ELAS agreed to sign it, with the approval of EAM. They held out right to the end in their opposition to the role reserved for British liaison officers in the field and bargained about their share of supplies. They dragged their feet, saying they needed to consult their central committee in occupied Athens, while, in fact, they hoped meanwhile to widen the areas in which they operated, to increase the number of their recruits and weaken, if not eliminate, other andarte movements. For his part, Brigadier Myers kept explaining that the proposed agreement was a purely military understanding outside the realm of politics.
A turning point in these endless discussions came on May 26, 1943, when Myers delivered to the three EAM-ELAS leaders in the mountains – Evmaios, Saraphis and Aris – a formal message from Middle East HQ. They were warned that if ELAS did not sign the agreement, the British government “reserve the right to take certain action in the interests of Greece, whose freedom they wish to secure as soon as possible.” The warning was followed by a strong condemnation of ELAS’s attempts to seize power by force in the mountains and disband andartes loyal to the Allies. These actions, the message read, affected the Allies in the prosecution of the war, in their pursuit of freedom for all peoples and in their opposition to tyranny. However, the message also included an important political statement: “Although they [the British government] regard the King of Greece as the legitimate authority in Greece until the country is freed, they have no intention of imposing the King against the will of the people.” 
This message, brought to the attention of EAM’s central committee in Athens, resulted in a change in their tactics. An apologetic reply addressed to Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, denied any intention of preparing a coup d’état to seize power in the country, declared that EAM/ELAS was struggling for the triumph of the principles of the Atlantic Charter, and promised to coordinate their operations with the plans of Middle East Command. Finally they took note that the British government did not intend to impose the King against the will of the Greek people. This message was duly acknowledged by the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, in a communication to the EAM Control Committee, in which he declared that he considered the Greek guerrillas as a part of the forces under his command and praised ELAS’s record in fighting the enemy.
The actual signing of the National Bands Agreement took place only after Myers had assured Saraphis that two-thirds at least of the supplies dropped by British aircraft would be delivered to areas under ELAS control. This paved the way for the establishment in the mountains of a Joint Guerrilla GHQ under Myers in which both ELAS and EDES were to be represented.
The joint headquarters were established after weeks of widespread sabotage undertaken on Cairo’s instructions in order to deceive the enemy as to where Allied landings in southern Europe were to take place. This campaign culminated in another remarkable operation – the destruction of the Asopos viaduct. It was soon realized, however, that, instead of the expected invasion of Greece, Sicily was to be the target. Disappointment spread among the guerrillas, the sense of urgency seemed to decline, and with the prospect of the invaders’ remaining in Greece, time was available for the resumption of political maneuvering and intrigue.
The signature of the National Bands Military Agreement by EAM-ELAS coincided to the day with the Greek King’s statement on July 4, 1943, that as soon as the security of the country was complete, free and general elections for a Constitutional Assembly would be held, not later than six months after the liberation. This well-meant statement resulted, however, in an EAM-ELAS outburst asserting that the six months’ delay mentioned by the King hid the intention of eliminating the opposition leaders and rigging the elections. Not only did various leaders of the movement now openly declare that ELAS would not disarm, in order to prevent the return of the King before a plebiscite could be held, but, for the first time, voices were heard calling for the establishment of a provisional free Greek government in the mountains on the Yugoslav pattern. Civil war became a real threat.
To weather the gathering storm, Myers fell back upon his plan of bringing the guerrilla leaders to Cairo. He had nurtured this idea since the beginning of his stay in the mountains and attached great value to personal discussions between the leaders and his superiors.
Representatives of the three main resistance movements – EAM-ELAS, EDES, and EKKA – were most eager to join in the mission to Cairo. A last-minute hitch occurred as the plane sent from Cairo to collect them was landing on a secret airfield. EAM-ELAS insisted that, contrary to the original arrangement providing for one representative of each movement, four members of their central committee should proceed to Cairo. It so happened that there was enough room for all of them on the plane and the six resistance leaders, accompanied by Myers and David Wallace, political and diplomatic adviser to the Mission, reached Cairo almost unheralded. Very few in Cairo knew of their arrival, in August 1943, which was unannounced and had the effect of a bombshell on the hostile Greek political establishment.
The Guerrillas’ Emissaries Return Empty-Handed [top]King George II’s chances of retrieving his throne in the wake of the liberating armies were reduced with the unexpected arrival in Cairo of the guerrilla delegates. The group, whose brief was to discuss military questions, consisted of politicians who insisted on dealing mainly with political issues. Their arrival also coincided with a new situation in the Tsouderos government, in which a majority of ministers were now unsuccessfully attempting to extract from the King an undertaking not to return to Athens before a plebiscite could be held on the country’s future regime.
This issue had not been discussed by Myers and Woodhouse with the guerrilla leaders before their departure for Cairo. In their informal and improvised exchanges of views the official recognition of the andartes as part of the Greek Armed Forces was seen as a first priority. One of the suggestions discussed was the appointment by the Greek General Staff of military liaison officers to act with the guerrillas, while civilian liaison officers appointed by the Greek government assisted in dealing with problems of civil administration. The British officers were to pave the way for the return of the Government to freed areas in the mountains if the liberation of Athens occurred only at a later stage of the campaign.
Once in Cairo, the three Communists of the EAM team under Tsimas set the tone to the delegation’s discussions. Encouraged by the prevailing atmosphere of despondency and confusion in government circles, they demanded an immediate proclamation by the King that he would await the outcome of a plebiscite before returning to Greece and announcing that the guerrillas would join the government, with their representatives occupying the key ministries of the Interior, War and Justice. They further demanded that this last decision take effect immediately in the freed areas of Greece.
The maximalist nature of these demands, amounting to a virtual takeover of the government, and the precipitancy with which they were advanced had the opposite effect to what the guerrilla leaders expected. Sir Reginald Leeper, British Ambassador to the Greek government, came to the rescue. He encouraged Tsouderos to continue his contacts with politicians in Athens in order to establish a wider representative government and urged the King to refrain from any abrupt pronouncements. He even arranged an informal meeting in his own apartment between the King and the EAM representatives – the first meeting ever held between the sovereign and Communist leaders.
The King’s reaction is recorded in a message dated August 19, 1943, to Churchill and Roosevelt, requesting guidance in the crisis he faced. He wrote: “I am suddenly faced by the most curious situation of the unexpected arrival of certain individuals from Greece who are supposed to represent various guerrilla bands ... and who wish to press me to declare that I should return only after a plebiscite which could decide the form of the future regime ... In these circumstances I would much appreciate your advice as to the policy which would at this time best serve the cause of Greece and the United Nations.” He added in conclusion: “I feel very strongly that I should return to Greece with my troops.”
The following day South African Prime Minister Smuts, who had followed the Greek situation very closely, joined in the fray. In a message to Churchill he referred negatively to the arrival of the guerrilla leaders and cited rumours that SOE, Cairo, and its men in the Greek mountains were left-wingers who could not be trusted. Referring to King George II, Smuts added: “We have every good reason to stand by him in this crisis ... The Bolshevisation of a broken and ruined Europe remains a definite possibility to be guarded against.”
Churchill also had the Foreign Office’s views on the Greek crisis before him in Quebec, where he was conferring with Roosevelt. “We suggest,” the Foreign Office background paper stated, “that the King of Greece should be assured of our full support whatever decision he may take. The King’s own attitude appears to be hardening and I think that if our reply gives him encouragement he may well take a firm line against the left-wing politicians in Cairo.” Referring to the guerrilla leaders’ arrival in Cairo, the message added: “The present position which has exposed the unfortunate King to this blackmail and political pressure need never have arisen if the arrival in Cairo of the six Greeks representing the guerrilla bands had been more adequately prepared beforehand.”
The Foreign Office’s criticism of SOE operations in Greece also came to a head on that occasion. Sir Orme Sargent, in a letter to the head of SOE, Lord Selborne, on August 22, 1943, wrote: “I feel bound to point out that we have constantly drawn the attention of SOE during the last two years to the danger of strengthening such left-wing organizations as the EAM, and if they have attained the dominant position which they now hold it is, I fear, largely due to the moral support and financial assistance which they received from SOE.” He also thought that the arrival of the guerrilla representatives would “arouse the latent suspicions of the King that SOE Egypt is still working against him.”
Churchill and Roosevelt approved the Greek King’s stand. They urged him not to act hastily or unconstitutionally. The King therefore persisted in his attitude. The immediate consequence of the message from Quebec was to reunite the members of the Tsouderos government who rejected the guerrilla leaders’ demand to take over the government. The guerrilla delegation was increasingly seen as a group of undesirable agitators whose continued presence in Cairo was inadvisable. They were sent back to their mountains almost abruptly, no agreement being reached with them. Myers’ warning of the serious consequences that would follow the return of the guerrilla leaders to Greece empty-handed remained unheeded. Within weeks of their return, ELAS indeed launched violent attacks against other andarte movements, and, with the acquisition of large quantities of arms after the Italian army’s surrender in September, they became increasingly independent of supplies from the British Middle East Command. The long-feared civil war became a reality.
The Dilemma of Conflicting Policies [top]The blunt encounter between the guerrilla leaders, the Greek government and the British civil and military authorities in Cairo led to a reappraisal of Greek policy in the highest British spheres. This came within weeks of Eden’s statement in the Commons on July 8, 1943, welcoming the King’s “far-sighted” declaration of July 4 on Greece’s future constitutional and political evolution in keeping with the principles of democracy and the Atlantic Charter.
Now the Foreign Office, in a message to the British Embassy in Washington, referred to the King’s opposition to a suggested pledge that he would not return to Greece until after a plebiscite was held. This opposition, the message said, was based “on the conviction that the present is not a satisfactory time for the solution of the constitutional issue.” If the King now agrees not to return, “he will in fact be signing his own abdication.” The message added that neither the Greek government nor the guerrillas could speak for the whole country. Referring to the treatment of the guerrilla leaders in Cairo, the message denied that they had been forced to return to Greece. “They spent six weeks in Cairo and thus had ample time for their military and political discussions,” the message read, adding: “their request for posts in the Greek Cabinet was vigorously opposed by the Greek ministers themselves without any prompting from us.”
Upon reaching London, Brigadier Myers was actually cold-shouldered by the Foreign Office, although he was received by the Greek King and by Churchill at Chequers. Leading officials considered that his conduct of affairs in “andarteland” had unnecessarily strengthened EAM-ELAS and paved the way for their exaggerated political demands. Sir Orme Sargent told Myers bluntly that he was considered responsible “for putting the andarte leaders up to the idea of asking for portfolios in the Greek government,” an accusation which Myers vigorously denied.
Myers’s main argument, however, was set forth in a memorandum addressed to Lord Selborne by Selborne’s political adviser Colonel Stanley Casson and brought to the attention of the Foreign Office. Stressing that the Greeks were individualistic, Casson wrote: “EAM has a communist spearhead with a democratic liberal shaft behind it. In due course the shaft will detach itself from the spearhead. But until then the spearhead could be thrust profitably at the Germans. Greek political sagacity can be relied upon later to dismantle the weapon if we help them.”
Casson enumerated three alternative courses open to Britain: to support the return of the King at the head of his army and Government at the risk of facing the accusation of a “return backed by foreign bayonets”; abdication of the King in favour of his brother, Crown Prince Paul (not considered responsible for the Metaxas regime) or of a republican government based mainly on the republican members of the Tsouderos government; or to urge the King to declare that in no circumstances would he return to Greece before a plebiscite was held to decide whether Greece desired the monarchy. 
Sir Orme Sargent felt unable to agree “with all the conclusions” of Colonel Casson but wrote to Selborne that he shared his “view that a policy of appeasing EAM leaders is impractical and dangerous.” This was the Foreign Office’s last word in its confrontation with the SOE following the upheaval of the Cairo meeting.
In these autumn months of 1943 the question of whether to continue support for left-wing guerrilla forces in the Balkans still took precedence over the constitutional issue. Richard Casey, the new British Minister of State in Cairo, raised the question directly with Churchill on October 3, 1943, pointing out the contradiction between arming the guerrillas and a policy of support for the return of the monarchs of Greece and Yugoslavia to their liberated countries. He suggested supporting further guerrilla pressure on the enemy “without any formidable building up of the Left-Wing guerillas” while at the same time endeavouring “to build up Right-Wing elements by all means in our power.”
This question also prompted Eden to appeal for Churchill’s guidance. His two visits to Cairo in late October and early November, on his way to a Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Moscow and on his return, enabled him to discuss the issues at hand with the British and Greek authorities in the Egyptian capital. Back in London, he submitted a comprehensive memorandum to the War Cabinet, “Policy Towards Greece,” in which he recommended the three following steps: Britain should at once break with the present leaders of EAM-ELAS; the King should be invited to make a declaration stating that at the moment of liberation a Regency Council composed of leading personalities would be nominated and that he himself would remain outside Greece until the constitutional issue was settled; and the King should in secret authorize Archbishop Damaskinos to appoint such a Regency Council when the time came and encourage him meanwhile to take the lead in uniting moderate opinion.
These recommendations were preceded by a definition of British policy aims in Greece, namely, to honour the alliance with the King and the Greek government, to ensure that on liberation “the country does not relapse into chaos or become subject to a minority dictatorship,” and “to maintain and strengthen the traditional ties between our two countries.” The Eden memorandum went on to say that British support for the King was unpopular in Greece, but “we should be doing a great disservice to the Greek people by strengthening a gang of ruthless fanatics whose intention is to impose a minority dictatorship to the exclusion of all other groups and parties.”
Eden stated that the Russians showed no interest in the Greek situation. “It may be that they regard Greece as being within our sphere of influence, but this attitude might well change if the EAM gains complete control of Greece.” He expressed the opinion that political disadvantages “considerably outweigh the military advantages” of continued support to EAM and that the King’s undeniable link with Metaxas and the EAM’s “vilification campaign” against him had resulted in turning at least eighty percent of the Greek people against the King. “The monarchy has no hope of surviving,” he concluded, “unless the influence of EAM can be broken.” For that purpose “the King must give a public pledge that he will not return until the constitutional issue has been settled by a plebiscite or elections to a constitutional assembly.”
Inside Occupied Athens: Archbishop Damaskinos Acts [top]As the fateful year of 1944 approached, the Greek problem seemed inextricable. In Greece, ELAS attacks on the other guerrilla groups gained in intensity, and EAM’s plans to establish an independent government in the mountains became a real threat. The group of politicians in Athens which Tsouderos had approached with the proposal that they join him and strengthen his government refused this offer. Agitation continued within the Greek army in the Middle East. The obduracy of King George on the constitutional issue was now supported by two influential leaders, Roosevelt and Smuts. The advance of the Allied armies in Italy was slower than expected, and the Greek population faced another cold winter of semi-starvation.
On the British side, one decisive strategic fact, which could not be disclosed at the time, was a decision taken in Quebec to concentrate the decisive military effort in Western Europe. This meant that no large-scale military operations were planned in the Balkans. It also meant that only a minimal British force would be available to enter Greece, either to attack the Germans or to occupy the country in case the Germans decided to evacuate it. It had earlier been assumed that a fairly large force would be needed to ensure law and order in the early stages of liberation. Such a force would be considered indispensable if a promise effectively made by Churchill at the height of the “guerrilla leaders’ crisis” in Cairo was to be fulfilled; on August 31, 1943, he had written to the King: “We are all looking forward to your return to Greece at the head of your army and remaining there until the will of the Greek people is expressed under conditions of tranquillity.”
In London much emphasis was laid on the supposedly pro-British feelings of the Greek population. It was thought, therefore, that a symbolic British military presence would be sufficient to maintain law and order, unless, as Eden stressed, one of the guerrilla movements tried to seize power by force and civil war broke out. Churchill thought that 5,000 British troops with armoured cars and Bren-gun carriers would be sufficient, especially as the Greek population would not know how many were to follow. The problem was how in such conditions Britain could maintain its support for the King’s return when all the indications were that the great majority of the Greek people opposed it.
A dispatch from Ambassador Reginald Leeper in Cairo reported that “evidence from Greece seems to show more and more plainly that King George’s return will be opposed actively. A British officer who returned from Athens a few days ago has brought back a report from Damaskinos ... to this effect, while Tsouderos has learnt the same from an emissary he sent secretly to Athens himself. He is in consequence seriously shaken.” And Leeper concluded: “I fear the King may be counting on support in Greece which we here consider he is unlikely to receive.”
Douglas Howard of the Foreign Office’s Southern Department, commenting on this dispatch, suggested that the King “be told the facts.” “The King must realize the strength of the opposition to his return to Greece, that it would be unfair to press him to return before a plebiscite (and against the will of his government) and give him the impression that he would be going in with the British army if in fact ... this will not be the case.”
To this Sir Orme Sargent added his own comment: “What is new in the situation is that the chances of the British army invading and occupying Greece have recently diminished, and simultaneously the prospects of the King finding support among the Greek population have declined.”
The King, meanwhile, under the threat of the Tsouderos government’s breaking up on the constitutional issue, wrote a rather vague letter to his Prime Minister on November 8, 1943, stating that “when the long-desired hour strikes I will examine anew the question of my return to Greece in agreement with the Government.” Tsouderos insisted, however, that the King supplement his letter by a pledge that his return to Greece “will only be decided after full agreement with the Government.” The deadlock continued.
Somewhat unexpectedly, EAM, which had completely broken off relations with the government since their delegates had been compelled to return to Greece in August, approached Tsouderos directly. They seized upon a statement made by the Greek Prime Minister denouncing the German-sponsored Security Battalions as a suitable occasion to congratulate him on his declaration and renew contact with the government. They went on to suggest that the time was ripe for reopening the question of forming a government of national unity and invited the Premier to send a delegate to their headquarters to discuss the idea further. To this suggestion, coming at a time when ELAS attacks on the other andartes were gaining in intensity, Tsouderos replied that the issue could not be discussed without the reconciliation of all the resistance movements. He left the door open, however, for further discussions by suggesting that EAM should get in touch with the government’s representative in Athens.
This meant that EAM should contact Archbishop Damaskinos. It was at this time that the idea was first mooted that if the King did not return to Athens immediately after the liberation, a Regent should be appointed to ensure the continuity and the constitutionality of the regime during a transitional period. The idea soon gained the support of the Tsouderos government and also that of Churchill and Eden, who saw in it a way of preserving the monarchical principle in very delicate circumstances. The King, however, vehemently opposed it, seeing in the appointment of a Regent or a Regency Council a step towards his elimination as head of the Greek State. A tacit compromise was reached whereby Damaskinos was to be regarded as the government’s representative in Athens for the purpose of talks with the representatives of the various political groups in occupied Greece. The proposed discussions were to be limited to preparing the constitution of a national unity government, which would include all shades of Greek opinion.
The suspense that followed the King’s letter to Tsouderos, Damaskinos’s contacts in Athens, and efforts to bring about a cease-fire between ELAS and EDES was broken by the arrival in Cairo of Roosevelt, Churchill and Eden on their way back from the Teheran Conference in late November 1943. The course to be adopted by the King of Greece was suddenly being discussed in the highest Allied councils. In line with his memorandum to the British cabinet on November 14, Eden seized the opportunity of his stay in Cairo to call on the King of the Hellenes on December 3 and to “put to him the arguments in favour of a declaration that he would not return to Greece until asked to do so by the Greek people ... I recommend that King George should consider asking Archbishop Damaskinos to head a Regency Committee in Athens when the Germans withdraw.” “The King,” added Eden, “listened to me quietly but made little comment and I thought it probable that, after reflection and taking counsel, he would follow the course I suggested.”
Things turned out differently, however. The King, when received by Roosevelt, seems to have complained that the British were now trying to get rid of him. Surprisingly, the President told him “that the war was not nearly over yet and that it would be a great mistake for him to make the proposed declaration.” When Roosevelt saw Eden later he was “cold” towards him and complained of the British treatment of the King of Greece. This almost led to an Anglo-American incident at a time when the coordination of Allied policies was more vital than ever. The British side was all the more surprised since the President’s closest advisers in Cairo – Hopkins, Winant and Ambassador MacVeagh – had been kept informed and consulted on the subject. Eden retorted that his suggestions to the King were in the monarch’s interest and that if he did not follow the advice tendered to him he would soon be without ministers. The President’s attitude was unexpected also in view of the reluctance he had shown previously to receive “those Balkan Kings” in Washington. Further efforts on the part of Churchill and Eden to induce the King to accept their recommendations proved to be of no avail. George II insisted on his latest formula, stating that he would reconsider the date of his return to Greece with his government at the time of the liberation.
The King continued to block the Regency proposal and thereby the decision not to return to Greece prior to a plebiscite on the continuation of the monarchy. It became clear that unless the Tsouderos government succeeded in persuading the King to accept the Regency of Damaskinos it would collapse. It nonetheless still initiated an approach to the British government asking that a Greek army unit be included among the Allied troops “entering Rome triumphantly” and requesting membership of the Advisory Council for Italy.
The Communists Set Up a Provisional Government Committee [top]Meanwhile Tsouderos’s two-way contacts inside occupied Greece were marking time. The Greek Premier linked his key objectives – the establishment of a national unity government and a unified national army – to a new effort at reconciliation between the fighting resistance movements. There was some uncertainty among the ELAS leaders as to the extent of support they could count on from the Soviet Union. Indeed, on January 3, 1944, Molotov came out in favour of Tsouderos’s appeal for an immediate armistice, addressed to General Sarafis of ELAS, and Zervas of EDES, thus adopting the same position as Eden and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Molotov said he accepted the British view that reconciliation of the rival resistance groups in Greece was possible and considered it expedient to bring about a united front of all these groups “for the purpose of strengthening the struggle against the German invaders.” The fact that Tsouderos had invited the EAM to approach Archbishop Damaskinos appeared to its leaders as the beginning of recognition, and they felt flattered. The prospects of an agreement now seemed more favourable than ever before. The solution sought was to include all the resistance groups in a unified Greek National Army under the government of Greece.
Discussions between EAM and EDES commanders at what was called the Merokovo Conference were difficult and protracted. They ended on February 29, 1944, with a truce agreement signed on a nearby bridge leading to the hamlet of Plaka and thereafter called the Plaka Agreement. However, many issues remained pending. Each andarte wished to keep full control of its men and arms. While the truce agreement retained most of the ideas set forth in the National Bands Agreement of the previous year, EAM-ELAS still maneuvered to achieve preponderance both militarily – for it ruled the largest area free from enemy control – and politically in the committee which was to negotiate with the Tsouderos government on the establishment of a national unity government. No agreement could be reached on the appointment of a Commander-in-Chief for all the guerrilla groups. A breakdown of the conference was avoided only after the threat by Middle East Command observers that those responsible for reviving the civil war would be held responsible for it.
A week after the Merokovo conference Tsouderos received a reply from Archbishop Damaskinos. In secret consultations with the representatives of all parties including the Communists, the Archbishop reported, an agreement had been reached on two points: firstly, the King should sign a secret constitutional act whereby the Archbishop would be appointed Regent on the departure of the Germans and until the Greek people expressed its sovereign will on the question of the King’s return; and secondly, at the right time the Regent would call on Themistocles Sophoulis, an elder statesman and a former leader of the liberal Venizelist party, to head an all-party government. While these two points had received unanimous agreement, Damaskinos stressed that differences persisted on the need to broaden the Government in Cairo and on the Communists’ demand that four ministries – Home Affairs, Justice, Education and Welfare – should function inside Greece and be coordinated there by a Vice-President of the Council.
The refusal at this stage to send leading personalities from Athens to join Tsouderos’s Government in Cairo was due partly to the personal situation of Sophoulis. At the age of eighty-two he could not travel to Cairo by an underground route. He opposed the idea that, pending his assuming office on liberation, someone else should replace Tsouderos. However, before an assessment could be made of the new situation, a political bombshell exploded with the announcement, two weeks after the Plaka agreement, of the establishment by EAM of a Provisional Government Committee, sometimes referred to as the Political Committee, the PEEA. The pattern established by Tito’s national liberation bodies naturally came to mind.
The Committee established at ELAS headquarters issued a proclamation to the Greek people and sent the following telegram to Tsouderos dated March 16, 1944, and signed by five of its leaders, almost all of them well-known Communists: “We have to announce the formation in Free Greece of the Political Committee of National Liberation with the object of uniting the national forces for the coordination of the national liberation struggle by the side of the Allies, for the administration of the areas in Greece already free or being freed, and for safeguarding after liberation a smooth and free political life throughout the country. The Committee aims at the firm foundation of a Government of general national unity, interpreting the manifest desire of the people and their armed forces. We address ourselves to you and ask you to realize the imperative formation of a Government of general national unity.”
In his reply Tsouderos ignored the PEEA-ELAS appeal and called the attention of its leaders to his recent communications with EAM, the main political body to which they claimed to be attached. “I assure you,” Tsouderos wrote, “that it is the firm policy of my Government that it should be broadened in such a way that it should take on a representative popular character.” Tsouderos added that his government would “continue these political negotiations and address itself for this purpose to the parties and organizations ... which through their history or present day activity are entitled or even morally obliged to share the responsibilities of Government at this critical moment for the nation.”
Faced with the prospect of a Communist-led government in the Greek mountains, with an obstinate monarch in London and with politicians in Athens who refused to recognize that time was not on their side, Tsouderos appealed to Sophoulis for immediate action to bolster up his team by sending over reputed and representative personalities to join his government. This time the response was rapid, and within weeks George Papandreou and several other personalities arrived in Cairo.
By the time the resignation of Tsouderos on April 3, 1944, had become inevitable, his idea of an all-party national conference was well underway. While the King, still in London, was hesitating as to whether to accept his Prime Minister’s resignation, all the groups welcomed Tsouderos’s invitation. The political parties in Athens said they would send representatives, and within days a conditional acceptance was received from EAM and the Communist Party. The latter requested that the Political Committee (PEEA) they had established also be invited. Sophocles Venizelos, who by then had succeeded Tsouderos, accepted this condition, his one concrete decision during his short premiership, considering it, to quote Ambassador Leeper, as a mere “device for increasing the EAM’s representation at the Conference.”
The Mutinies in Egypt – Papandreou Takes Over [top]The situation was overshadowed, however, by the mutinies which broke out on April 3 in units of the Greek army, navy and air force stationed in Alexandria on the eve of their embarkation en route for the Italian front. Agitation within the Greek armed forces continued for some time, fed by EAM propaganda. The announcement of the establishment of the Political Committee of liberation brought the situation to a head with acts of disobedience aimed at forcing the inclusion of the EAM ministers in the government and recognition of the Political Committee in the mountains. The leaders of the mutinies seemed unaware of the fact that by the time they acted, Tsouderos had resigned and EAM had accepted to participate in the national conference convened by him. Indeed, later, at the conference, EAM delegates condemned the mutinies.
Churchill, acting Foreign Secretary in the absence of Eden, took up the challenge personally in a series of operational orders addressed to Ambassador Leeper and General Paget in Cairo. He denounced this “undignified, even squalid exhibition of indiscipline, which many will attribute to an unworthy fear of being sent to the front.” He stressed that British “relations are definitely established with the lawfully constituted Greek government headed by the King, who is the ally of Britain and cannot be discarded to suit a momentary surge of appetite among ambitious émigré nonentities” or guerrillas “in many cases indistinguishable from banditti.” To General Paget Churchill stated: “You will have achieved success if you bring the brigade under control without bloodshed. But brought under control it must be. Count on my support.” And again to Leeper: “There can be no question of making terms with the mutineers about political matters,” and two days later, “you should use the weapon of blockade to the full and defend yourself against attempts to break out ... Do not show yourself overeager to parley. Simply keep them rounded up by artillery and superior force and let hunger play its part.” And finally: “On no account accept any assistance from American or Russian sources, otherwise than specially enjoined by me.”
The Prime Minister informed Roosevelt, who answered in an approving message in which he called on the Greeks to remember their “glorious past,” “set aside pettiness” and “show personal unselfishness.” Churchill ordered the message to be read “to the mutinous brigade and recalcitrant ships.” He also kept the Russians informed of developments. They replied that it would be “improper” to be associated with any public pronouncements on political matters in Greece.
The mutinies were liquidated on April 23, 1944,when loyal Greek troops under Admiral Voulgaris boarded Greek warships in Alexandria harbour. The Greek navy consisted of nearly twenty vessels headed by the old cruiser Averof, with about 2,800 officers and ratings. The fighting that ensued caused fifty casualties before the ringleaders of the mutiny were rounded up and taken ashore. The Greek brigade, consisting of nearly 12,000 officers and men, surrendered after a short encounter with Greek loyalists and British units, in which one British officer was killed. The ringleaders were court-martialed and a number of death sentences were passed but later commuted.
While this crisis was in progress, King George II arrived back in Egypt, accepted Tsouderos’s resignation and appointed Sophocles Venizelos as head of Government. On April 12 the King issued a statement which was considered at the time as having a salutary effect on all concerned: “We must have outside Greece a government as representative as possible; made up of all trends of patriotic opinion to the exclusion only of those who have collaborated with the enemy. Such a government will of course be largely composed of Greeks who have lived in their country under enemy occupation and are thus conscious from their experience in the cities and in free mountain Greece of the real interest of the day.”
This statement, issued with the concurrence of Prime Minister Venizelos, became within a few days the basis for forming a new government headed by George Papandreou, who had recently arrived from Athens and took office on April 26, three days after the end of the mutinies. The King’s statement helped Papandreou in his urgent and immediate task of saving a proposed national conference of the various Greek factions from being engulfed in the still smouldering flames of rebellion.
The choice of Papandreou was a surprise to the Greek political circles in Cairo who considered him a second-rate, pre-war politician, leader of a breakaway fringe of the Venizelist movement – the Democratic Socialist Party. His secret activity in militant political circles in Athens under the occupation had been known only to a few members of the Cairo government and to the British authorities in the Middle East. In an historic report he sent them from the underground he outlined what he saw as the two guiding principles of future national policy: “a. Consciousness of an identity of interests with Great Britain; b. Need for a policy of careful consideration and wisdom vis-à-vis Russia which is becoming the most powerful nation in Europe.”
In the light of these principles Papandreou stressed the need to reinforce and develop national guerrilla bodies simultaneously with EAM-ELAS. He stated that since the King had “agreed to submit himself to the judgement of the people” he must accept the obligation of waiting for it. The Government in Cairo and the political leaders in Greece must reach full agreement on a programme of action, and immediate negotiations must be opened with these aims in mind.
Papandreou applied himself to strengthening cooperation with Britain, whose interests in checking Soviet expansionism he saw as identical to those of Greece. He considered the division of the Greek people into royalists and republicans an anachronism, the real division being between bourgeois-liberal elements and supporters of the KKE Communists. National unity demanded the participation of EAM in the government, which, however, should not be dominated by them. When liberation came, the British must disembark troops in Greece to guarantee a democratic transition and protect the regime from armed minorities. Papandreou was determined to pursue this policy. When groups which had participated in the Tsouderos and Sophocles Venizelos governments showed reserve towards him, he eliminated them and established a temporary government of officials pending the outcome of the general conference, his immediate objective.
The Pan-Hellenic Congress Adopts the "Lebanon Charter" [top]High up in the mountains of Lebanon, at a hotel anachronistically named the Grand Hotel du Bois de Boulogne – far from the civil war raging in the mountains of Greece, from the poisoned atmosphere of the mutinous Greek army units and from the embittered politicians in Cairo who felt they had been bypassed by the choice of an outsider as Premier – twenty-five Greek personalities representing all shades of opinion from the right to the extreme left assembled in May 1944. “The delegates in this sequestrated spot,” wrote Ambassador Leeper, “either had to come to terms or murder one another.” He himself kept out of the way in a neighbouring village, available, as he made it known, should anyone wish to ask for his advice.
The Panhellenic Congress, as it was later called, in which all the political parties and national resistance organizations participated, was undoubtedly dominated by the personality of Papandreou. From the start he repeated the slogan he had launched on assuming power: “One country, one government, one army.” He was determined to force the Communists, along with the EAM-ELAS delegates and those of the Political Committee (PEEA) into a defensive position. Indeed he launched the attack immediately when, in his inaugural address on May 17, 1944, he declared: “If the EAM intends to use its material force as a means of civil war and of exterminating its adversaries, and, tomorrow ... as a means of enforcing domination over the majority of the Greek people, then there is certainly no possibility of agreement. Our duty, then, is to rally the nation and call to our aid our great allies in this double struggle against the external invader and the internal enemy. The Greek people do not wish to choose between tyrants; they do not want tyranny at all.” Then pointing to the alternative, Papandreou stated: “If, however, the EAM abandons its aims of enforcing domination and will be content with political means of argument, and if consequently it agrees to avoid influencing the armed forces, if it accepts the dissolution of the ELAS as well as all other guerrilla bodies and the formation of a national army owing allegiance only to the country and obeying the orders of the Government, then the participation of the EAM in our National Union can be considered a fact.”
There can be no clearer formulation of his programme than this plain statement addressed to the Communist Party and supported in principle by all the other participants in the conference. Papandreou also had the backing of Churchill, who wrote to Eden: “I hope there will be no uncertainty in the terms of distrust in which we speak about EAM, and that we make no objection to the disappearance of ELAS so far as our military operations are concerned.”
The informal meetings of delegates with Ambassador Leeper in a neighbouring village were the first frank political dialogue between British representatives and the Greek Home Front.
In their first confrontation with Ambassador Leeper, the EAM delegates stressed that they had always been “solidly pro-British,” they had fought the Germans and had never committed any atrocities. Leeper replied that this did not tally with his information. The following day other EAM delegates tried to persuade Leeper that EAM represented a coalition of the left-wing parties of Greece, and that they were the ones who had fought the enemy. The Ambassador stated very bluntly that “they had done nearly as much in preventing others from doing so.” He added that “the fight against Fascism must be against the enemy and not against political opponents conveniently described as Fascists.”
The group of delegates from Athens told Leeper that public opinion in Greece would not be satisfied unless the conference openly condemned the “crimes committed by the EAM” and decided to disband ELAS so that a National Army could be formed as soon as possible. Leeper explained that Britain was not the ally of any particular party or organization but the “Ally of Greece.”
One much-remarked absentee from the conference was the representative of the Royalist Popular Party, Petros Mavromihalis. He told Papandreou that his party had declined the invitation to the conference because “instead of pursuing and attacking this traitorous organization – the EAM – ... your invitation has given it the appearance of legality.”
Papandreou in his contacts with Leeper during the conference insisted that he would demand that ELAS be reorganized, brought “under the National Government, incorporated into a National Army on a non-party basis and used in areas where it could be most useful.” He also repeated what he had told Admiral Rawlings a few days earlier, namely that “the British flag, backed with force if necessary, would be welcomed by the large majority of Greeks to restore order when the Germans are forced out of Greece.”
In a strong attack on what he termed EAM’s attempt “to monopolize the national struggle,” Papandreou added: “They prevented Greeks from fulfilling their patriotic duty. They made themselves a State within a State, and considered their opponents enemies of their country. Such a state of affairs only occurs in a Fascist system in which the Party is identified with the State.” The strong support given to Papandreou by the vast majority of the delegates enabled him to force the EAM delegates onto the defensive.
The EAM delegates, Svolos and Roussos, sent a message to Churchill condemning the Greek army mutinies as “paranoid acts committed by irresponsible individuals.” Both also condemned the mutinies in their speeches at the conference, though in different terms. Svolos said that had there been a government of National Unity, the mutinies might never have taken place. Roussos blamed them on the Tsouderos government.
The first two chapters of the eight articles which formed the Lebanon Charter dealt with the issues facing Greece in the wake of these tragic events. They were adopted unanimously after a letter was read from the Commander-in-Chief, Middle-East, approving the principle of forming a national army in Greece to replace the existing bands of guerrillas. This reorganization, he underlined, must not reduce the scale of the resistance to the Germans; moreover, it should have the prior approval and be under the operational command of the Commander-in-Chief. The decisions affecting the Greek armed forces therefore dealt with their reorganization, the establishment of discipline, and the unification of all guerrilla bands under the sole orders of the Government in the fight against the invader. The record reads: “Everyone agreed that mutinies were a crime against the country,” that they should be punished according to the level of responsibility of those involved; that the “guerrilla principle of military formation is not a permanent system and that we must proceed as quickly as possible towards the formation of a National Army.”
The other chapters of the Lebanon Charter dealt with the cessation of terror in the Greek countryside, the establishment of personal security and political liberty, and the provision of material welfare to the population. It was further established that the Greek people would freely decide on their future constitution and government, uninfluenced by any pressure once the country had been “liberated in common with the Allied forces.” This passage was to assume great importance when British forces landed to defend Athens against the assault of ELAS. The final chapter demanded “full satisfaction of our national claims: the creation of a new, free and great Greece.” This meant in essence the revival of Tsouderos’s earlier claims for post-war territorial revision.
The Papandreou Government Returns to War-Torn Athens [top]The King followed the developments of the Lebanon conference from Cairo. His absence was conspicuous and meaningful. He had not been called upon to preside in person over the restoration of national unity. Papandreou, on returning to Cairo, called on him and reported on the Lebanon Charter which the King approved. Thereupon Papandreou resigned but was entrusted by the King with the task of forming the new National Unity Government. This government was formed without the participation of EAM, which continued to bargain and man£uvre until mid-August. Although the question of the monarchy appeared to recede before the burning issues of the approaching liberation, EAM seized upon it again as a pretext in order to attempt to extricate themselves from the obligations entered upon at the Lebanon conference.
While the King still persisted in his refusal to appoint Archbishop Damaskinos as Regent in liberated Athens, this stand was somewhat overshadowed during the summer months, as the Greek government and public opinion became absorbed by the struggle with SOE and the trials of the mutineers. Papandreou, in a clever diplomatic move, on June 12, explained that the King in his letter to the government of November 8, 1943, had already stated that he would consult his ministers on the date of his return and that the problem therefore was settled and no further statement was required. He added that the decision on the future constitution would be taken as soon as possible after the liberation, and each member of the government was free to express his views. The King disliked this interpretation of his letter of November 8 but refrained for the time being from any further action on the subject. EAM, however, continued to press for a clear undertaking by the King not to return to Greece pending the outcome of the popular vote.
EAM, which continued to talk of the “Lebanon conference” and not of the “Lebanon charter,” meanwhile presented its demands, at the same time going ahead with the plans of the Provisional Government Committee, the PEEA. In a document issued on July 11 they even referred to it as the “National Government.” When presented with the decisions taken at the Lebanon conference with their concurrence, they back-pedalled, stating that this was merely an “agreement in principle” which left the door open for reinterpretation. EAM’s aim obviously was to maintain their supremacy inside Greece. Their demands, which constantly increased, changed for tactical reasons, but their aim remained the same.
Repeated requests by EAM for key positions in the future government were rejected by Papandreou with British approval. However, Svolos, who was still President of the PEEA, took a more moderate attitude during his stay in Cairo. He urged his colleagues in Greece to accept Papandreou’s interpretation of the King’s letter, which he considered a sufficient guarantee on the issue of the monarchy. Greek Communist party documents revealed later that Svolos was accused in the mountains of ignoring EAM demands.
Before he returned to Greece, Svolos declined an offer to join the government in Cairo. A final break between Papandreou’s government and EAM seemed imminent, when suddenly, on August 17, EAM dropped their demand for Papandreou’s resignation and accepted five cabinet posts, including the Ministry of Justice, but not that of the Interior which they had insisted on in earlier negotiations. The EAM ministers soon arrived in Cairo and were sworn in before Crown Prince Paul just before the King left for his “no return” journey to London. The Government of National Unity, now completed and fully recognized, had at last materialized.
EAM’s last minute volte-face was no longer expected when it occurred, although it had been predicted by those who regarded EAM as a mere instrument of Moscow. For years Moscow’s shadow had loomed large over the Greek situation. When Eden analyzed the Greek issue before the Cabinet in London in November 1943 he declared that the Russians had shown no interest in the Greek situation at the Moscow conference of Foreign Ministers. He did, however, add that “it may be that they regard Greece as being within our sphere of interest, but this attitude might well change if EAM gained complete control of Greece.” Six months later the Foreign Office reported to the British Embassy in Greece “that the Russians are apparently prepared to let us take the lead in Greece in exchange for the predominant role which they play in Romania.” On June 6, 1944, Eden told the cabinet that “there are unhappily increasing signs of Russia’s intentions to play their own hand in the Balkans” regarding the British interests in Greece.
It was later revealed that Soviet officers of the Red Army mission to Tito had reached EAM headquarters shortly before the U-turn in the SOE tactics when they joined the Papandreou government. This suggests possible Soviet intervention. Coinciding with the Soviet Army’s entry into Romania and Bulgaria, EAM’s decision was interpreted in some British circles as definitely signifying Soviet acceptance of a predominantly British influence in Greece. This view was vindicated on October 9, five days before the return of the Greek government to Greece by the “half sheet of paper” agreement reached in Moscow, whereby Stalin accepted that Britain should have a 90% say in Greek affairs, as suggested by Churchill, against a Soviet 90% in Romania, a 70% say in Bulgaria, and 50% in Hungary and Yugoslavia.
The co-existence of the EAM ministers with their colleagues of the all-party government lasted until after the government’s return to Athens in October. Four days after the Government was fully constituted, Papandreou left for Rome, where he met Churchill on August 21. His main objective was to persuade the British Prime Minister of the need to send British troops to Greece immediately after the German withdrawal, since, he argued, the Greek State was unarmed, whereas minority organizations possessed ample stocks of arms. Churchill told the Greek leader that the British Government was aware of the situation and was considering the matter with the aim of helping to restore an orderly administration to liberated Greece. He supported Papandreou’s stand that there was no need for another declaration by the King on the constitutional issue and seized the opportunity to give what Harold Macmillan called “Winston’s royalist sermon” – a “monologue chiefly confined to the merits of the monarchy.” Churchill made it clear, however that “Britain has no intention of trespassing the rights of the Greek people to determine their own destinies and choose between monarchy and republic.”
In his talks with Eden and Harold Macmillan, the Prime Minister’s personal representative in the Mediterranean, Papandreou maintained that the choice in Greece was not between monarchy and republic but between the forces of revolution and those of evolution. He stressed the urgency of settling the question of the Regency.
These discussions were overtaken by Churchill’s offer to Papandreou for the reconstructed Greek government to move from Cairo to Italy, a suggestion warmly welcomed by the Greek Prime Minister. This meant they would be nearer to Greece and more closely associated with preparations for her liberation. In spite of the hesitations of some Greek ministers, who were loath to leave Cairo, the government was installed at the end of the first week in September, at Cava dei Tirreni, close to Salerno and southeast of Caserta. Cava was to be their last station on the way back to Athens.
The impending landing in Greece of a small British force to accompany the government back to its capital and to help ensure order and suitable arrangements for the distribution of food and relief called for a new agreement between Allied Headquarters and the Greek Government. The Caserta agreement was signed on September 26, 1944, for Britain by General Wilson and Macmillan and for Greece by Papandreou and the two main guerrilla leaders who had been brought over to Italy for the occasion, General Saraphis of ELAS and General Zervas of EDES. This agreement was important later, when, after civil war broke out, darkening the light of liberation, it served as the legal basis for British intervention in order to halt the fighting.
The main object of the agreement was to ensure the cooperation of the guerilla forces with General Sir Roland Scobie, who had been appointed Allied General Officer Commanding in Greece. The guerrilla forces were to place themselves under the control of the Greek Government, which in turn placed them under General Scobie. While they were expected to harass the retreating German armies, it was laid down that in Athens no operation would be undertaken except under the direct orders of General Scobie. The Greek guerrilla leaders declared they would form a national union and coordinate their efforts to maintain law and order and prevent civil strife and illegal arrests.
Scarcely had this agreement been concluded when it was put to the test. Early in October Patras was the first town to be evacuated by the Germans. The Papandreou Government rejected a suggestion that it move there immediately as it decided that it must be the first to enter liberated Athens. Greek liaison officers were sent out to evacuated areas accompanied by British officers. They found it difficult to cope with the hopeless administrative problems and merely collected the first reports about massacres perpetrated by ELAS units in the western Peloponnese. By 14 October, 1944, fleets carrying troops from Naples, food and medical supplies from Alexandria, and the government and officials from Taranto had converged; they formed a huge armada of eighty ships that slowly advanced toward the half-destroyed harbour of Piraeus, along a narrow lane cleared by mine-sweepers. It was headed by the thirty-five year-old cruiser Averof, pride of the Greek navy, carrying the returning government and flying the largest Greek flag ever seen, followed by the British cruiser Orion carrying the British command and officialdom. Their destination was clear, their destiny most uncertain.
The King Yields on the Regency Issue [top]With the government now back in Athens and the King in London, Crown Prince Paul in Cairo held the key to the legitimate solution of the constitutional issue. Both had considered it outrageous that they had not been invited to head the historic re-entry into Athens. At the King’s request his brother, the Diadoch Paul, appeared unheralded at General Wilson’s headquarters at Caserta. Prince Paul asked that the Greek government permit him to lead the return to liberated Greece in place of his brother. A scene painful to all those present followed. The British reply could only be negative. The British representatives knew that if Paul’s request were granted the EAM would have a free hand to seize power, and the all-party government, which had been so laboriously assembled by Papandreou, would be dissolved.
The fate of the King was somewhat ignored in the heat of the fighting in Athens which followed the EAM’s insurgency. The opinion gradually prevailed that there was no military solution to the Greek problem and that it could be solved only by a political agreement. This opinion was shared both by Commander-in-Chief, Middle East, General Alexander, and by Harold Macmillan, who maintained that the appointment of Archbishop Damaskinos as Regent was indispensable. Macmillan concluded that there was a large amount of sympathy for EAM in Greece and repeated his previously held view that “a moderate, progressive policy could detach the vague, radical element from the hard core of EAM.”
In order to make the implementation of such a policy in the midst of a cruel civil war possible, three important steps had to be taken: King George II had to agree to the appointment of Damaskinos as sole Regent; the Papandreou government had to ask the King to appoint the Archbishop as Regent; and, not least important, Churchill had to be persuaded that Damaskinos was neither “a Quisling and a Communist” nor a would-be dictator, as he told the cabinet on December 21, 1944.
Once Churchill’s doubts and objections to the personality of Archbishop Damaskinos were removed, after his arrival in Athens, the road was open for a renewed political effort to find a solution to what appeared to be an inextricable imbroglio. The King was left with no choice by Damaskinos’s convening of a conference of representatives of all shades of Greek opinion including Communist and EAM delegates and by the passing of a unanimous resolution recommending the appointment of the Archbishop as Regent. This was explained to him plainly once Churchill and Eden returned to London.
The fateful night of 29 to 30 December, 1944, remains the turning point in the history of post-war Anglo-Greek relations. Churchill took upon himself to subject the King of Greece to his vigorous argumentation. He had used it with limited success in his repeated crises with De Gaulle and with greater success with King Peter of Yugoslavia as well as Polish ex-Prime Minister Mikolajczyk, when he induced him to join the Lublin Poles in forming a Government of National Unity. Reporting immediately to President Roosevelt that the King agreed to appoint Archbishop Damaskinos as Regent “during this period of emergency,” the Prime Minister told the President: “Anthony and I sat up with the King of Greece till 4:30 this morning ... This has been a very painful task to me. I had to tell the King that if he did not agree, the matter would be settled without him and that we should recognize the new government instead of him. I hope you will be able to give every support and encouragement to the Archbishop and his government.” The following day Churchill again cabled Roosevelt, adding: “The Greek King behaved like a gentleman with the utmost dignity.”
“The same could hardly be said of Churchill and Eden,” noted Stelios Hourmouzios, the King’s secretary and historian of the Greek royal family, who was instructed to wait in an adjoining room at No. 10 Downing Street during that stormy night session. “I could hear through the doors the voices of Churchill and Eden, particularly the latter, raised in anger at the King. In the middle of this heated argument the door was flung open and the King stormed out, his face white and taut. He had been told bluntly that he had until 2 a.m. to appoint the Archbishop as Regent; if he refused, the British government would recognize the Archbishop as Head of State anyhow, would accredit their Ambassador to him, and would withdraw recognition from King George, who would be allowed to remain in England only as a private individual ... after recovering his composure, he [the King] went back to Downing Street and informed Churchill and Eden that he had no choice but to acquiesce to their demands.”
The turbulent story of the Greek government in exile came to an end as the year of victory, 1945, dawned. The future of independent Greece remained in the balance, in the shadow of civil war, until two unforeseen events occurred. On September 1, 1946, a plebiscite held in accordance with the promises given resulted in a 69% majority vote in favour of King George II, who returned to his throne. A year later, in 1947, the Truman Doctrine was proclaimed, and the United States of America became a full partner in guaranteeing Greece’s freedom and independence.
Yapou: Governments in Exile, 1939-1945
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