World War I: Greece

World War I Salonica
Figure 1.--This photograph was taken in Thessaloniki where the French Army operted. The Allies (British and French) landed at Salonica--in French Salonique (October 1915). This was before Greece entered the War. The objective was to releave the besieged Serbian Army. The ininital effort failed and the Central Powers occupied Serbia, although much of the the Serbian Army escapdd. The photograph here shows Greek Macedonian refugees coming from Vardar district. The photo was probably taken after October 1916, when a big battle took place in the region. Looking at the clothing in the picture, it could be taken in the following summer. The Allies landed additionl troops as well as the Serbian Army which after a terribkle winter msarch over mountain passes had escaped to Corfu.

The Allies and Central Powers offered enducements for the Balkan countries to enter the War on their side. The Balkan countries had fought wars just before World War I. The principal targets were Turkey and Bulgaria. Thus when those two countries joined the Central Powers it helped build support for the Allies in Serbia and Romania. Serbia of course had already been attacked by Austria. This World War I in the Balkans was a continuation of the wars begun earlier, but on a far wider scale. Greece which had participated in the Balkan Wars, was more reluctant to enter World War I. This was primarily because of King Constantine. Border disputes with Bulgaria meant that there was support for the Allies in Greece. There were also historic ties with Britain because the Royal Navy had played a role in Greek independence during the 19th century. Primeminister Eleftherios Venizelos wanted to join the Allies. King Constantine was against this. The royal family had ties to the Germans. His wife was German, but the King also thought entering the War was not in Greece's interests, especially because it was not at all clear who would win the War and fighting the Turks, Bulgarians, and Austrians seemed a dangerous undertaking. The King even began negotiations with Germany. Primeminister Venizelos resigned (March 5, 1915). About a month later Venizelos won a substantial mandate in national elections (June 1915). Venizelos then pursued efforts to join the Allies. He also wanted to support Serbia. King Constantine continued to oppose this. Venizelos resigned again (October 5, 1915). The Bulgarian army moved into northern Macedonia, at the time occupied by Serbia (October 1915). Venizelos saw this an act of war. He formed a government in Crete and challenged the King. The opposition government consisted of Eleftherios Venizelos, Panagiotis Daglis and Pavlos Kountouriotis. The Venizelos Government began recruiting volunteers. An estimated 20,000 men enlisted to fight the Bulgars. The fighting proved difficult in tough mountenaous terraine. As the King anticipated, the Allies provided only limited support. The Allies continued to try to convince King Constantine to formally enter the War. When he refused, French Admiral Dartigue du Fournet blockaded Athens. The King abdicated and left Greece (June 11, 1917). Prince Alexander became king and agreed to work with Venizelos who formed a new government. Greece declared war on the Central Powers Germany (June 29). This opened a new front in the war. The Greeks deployed 250,000 men in Macedonia.

Background

The Balkans was wracked by three wars in the years leading up to World war I. Greece was involved in these wrs, but when World war I erupted in the Balkans, Greece was not involved. The Allies and Central Powers offered enducements for the Balkan countries to enter the War on their side. The Balkan countries had fought wars just before World War I. The principal targets were Turkey and Bulgaria. Thus when those two countries joined the Central Powers it helped build support for the Allies in Serbia and Romania. Serbia of course had already been attacked by Austria. World War I in the Balkans was a continuation of the wars begun earlier, but on a far wider scale.

Greek Debate

Greece which had participated in the Balkan Wars, was more reluctant to enter World War I. This was primarily because of King Constantine. Border disputes with Bulgaria meant that there was support for the Allies in Greece. There were also historic ties with Britain because the Royal Navy had played a role in Greek independence during the 19th century. Primeminister Eleftherios Venizelos wanted to join the Allies. King Constantine was against this. The royal family had ties to the Germans. His wife was German, but the King also thought entering the War was not in Greece's interests, especially because it was not at all clear who would win the War and fighting the Turks, Bulgarians, and Austrians seemed a dangerous undertaking. The King even began negotiations with Germany. Primeminister Venizelos resigned (March 5, 1915). About a month later Venizelos won a substantial mandate in national elections (June 1915). Venizelos then pursued efforts to join the Allies. He also wanted to support Serbia. King Constantine continued to oppose this. Venizelos resigned again (October 5, 1915).

Outbreak of War (1917)

<> The Bulgarian army moved into northern Macedonia, at the time occupied by Serbia (October 1915). Venizelos saw this an act of war. He formed a government in Crete and challenged the King. The opposition government consisted of Eleftherios Venizelos, Panagiotis Daglis and Pavlos Kountouriotis. The Venizelos Government began recruiting volunteers. An estimated 20,000 men enlisted to fight the Bulgars. The fighting proved difficult in tough mountenaous terraine. As the King anticipated, the Allies provided only limited support. The Allies continued to try to convince King Constantine to formally enter the War. When he refused, French Admiral Dartigue du Fournet blockaded Athens. The King abdicated and left Greece (June 11, 1917). Prince Alexander became king and agreed to work with Venizelos who formed a new government. Greece declared war on the Central Powers Germany (June 29).

Campaigns

The Greek declaration of war opened a new front in the war. The Greeks deployed 250,000 men in Macedonia. The timing, however, made a huge difference. Primeminister Venizelos had wanted to provide support to the Allies (Entente) during the Dardanelles campaign (1915). King Constantine managed to prevent it. This could have made a huge difference in the War. VenizelosHe also wanted to support French and British aid to belegered Serbia using Slonika in northern Greece as a base. The King also opposed this. Salonika did eventually serve as a base for Allied forces. There wee obstcle put in the way by the King in providing supplies as well as and communication.

Greco-Turkish War (1919-22)

Greece eventually sided with the Allies in World War I (1914-18), although the Allies had to engineer King Constantin I's replacenent as he opposed the War. One of the primary reason Greece entered the War was to obtain Ottoman territory populated by the ethnic Greeks. Greek forces with the authorization of the Supreme Allied War Council occupied Adrianople (Edirne), Bursa, and Smyrna (Izmir). The Greeks landed with the support of an Allied flotilla (summer and fall of 1919). The Turks did not resist and the Greek forces advanced to Usak, 175 kilometers inland from Izmir. There was a substantial Greek population in western Anatolia. The Turks did resist the Greek advance into Anatolia. The initial fighting was inconclusive (1920). The military situation changed changed in 1921. Turkish forces commanded by Ismet Pasha stopped Greek offensives twice at Inönü (January and April 1921). This prevented any further Greek advances. A third Greek offensive drive the Turks back to Sakarya Nehri, only 80 km from Ankara (July 1921). Here Atatürk took personal command and decisively defeated the Greek Army in a bruising 20-day battle. Greek political developments alienated the British. The French and Italians withdrew from Anatolia (October 1921). The Turks launched an offensive against the Greeks (August 1922). The Turks call it the Battle of the Commander in Chief. The Turks soon reached Izmir, trapping retreating Greek soldiers. Many were evacuated by Allied ships. The Turks then turned to eastern Thrace. Here to get to the Greeks, the Turks faced Allied troops defending the Ottoman Government in Constantinople/Istambul and the Bosphorus/Dardanelles The French Government decided to withdraw its forces. The British prepared to defend their positions. The British did not, however, want a war with Turkey and suggested a compromise. Atatürk accepted the British-proposed truce. The Armistice of Mudanya (near Bursa) ended the fighting between Greece and Turkey (October 1922). The Greek troops withdrew beyond the Maritsa River. The Turks occupied eatern Thracee. The Turks as part of the Armistice accepted a continued Allied presence on the straits and in Istanbul until a comprehensive peace settlement could be negotiated.







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Created: 7:52 AM 1/3/2009
Last updated: 6:43 PM 10/31/2015