Monday, May 18, 2015

Resistance and Civil War in Greece

Communist partisans being arrested.
Arrested suspected Communist fighters pass British troops during the fighting in Athens, December 1944—two months before the civil war started.

 Forming the new Greek army General Scobie, the British commander in Greece, in discussion with General Saphis, the commander of ELAS, and the bearded General Zervas, who led EDES.

Combating the Axis occupation of Greece was bedevilled by enmity between the two main Resistance groups, although the Special Operations Executive (SOE) did its best to get them to cooperate with each other. When liberation came, a fierce civil war broke out as the Communists tried to take control.

In autumn 1942 the British identified the Gorgopotamos viaduct as a vital target. The viaduct carried the Salonika–Athens rail line and its removal would disrupt the Axis supply lines running down through Greece and across the Mediterranean to North Africa. A sabotage team was parachuted in to blow it up and make contact with both Greek resistance groups, ELAS and EDES, who were able to provide help in destroying the target in November.

Encouraged by this, the team was to continue its coordination efforts. It soon became clear that ELAS, or rather its political wing, the National Liberation Front (EAM), was bent on controlling all resistance activity to strengthen its position for taking over the country on liberation. Efforts were therefore made to boost EDES, thus ensuring them greater respectability from Britain.

Allied deception measures for the July 1943 Sicily landings included leading the Germans to believe that an attack on the Balkans was likely—achieved through widespread sabotage activity in Greece. Given the dominance of the communist ELAS, the SOE realized that it must work with them to bring this about. It therefore helped set up a joint Resistance HQ, with EAM/ELAS being given a dominant role. The operations were successful, and the Axis transferred two divisions to Greece to combat them.

Cooperation falters
This climate of cooperation between the resistance groups did not last long. In August 1943, a resistance delegation arrived in Cairo, accompanied by the head of the British military mission to Greece. With EAM/ELAS delegates forming the majority it demanded that there be a plebiscite held in Greece on whether the king be allowed to return, and three government posts in the areas of Greece controlled by the resistance. The British refused both demands. Disgruntled, the delegates returned to Greece believing that the British intended to reimpose the monarchy by force. Fighting also broke out between ELAS and EDES. A truce was finally arranged in February 1944, after which EDES found its members restricted to just north-western Greece.

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