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Dekemvriana

Dekemvriana
Part of the Greek civil war and Cold War

Sherman tanks and troops from the 2nd British Parachute Brigade, fighting against members of ELAS in Athens, 18 December 1944.
Date 3 December 1944 – 11 January 1945
(1 month, 1 week and 1 day)
Location Greece, Athens
Result British Army and Government of Greece victory
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
Greek government-in-exile

ΡΕΑΝ
RAN
Organization X

some members of the Security Battalions
National Liberation Front
Winston Churchill
Ronald Scobie
Georgios Papandreou
Nikolaos Plastiras
Archbishop Damaskinos
Thrasyvoulos Tsakalotos
Christodoulos Tsigantes
Angelos Evert
Georgios Grivas
Georgios Siantos
Manolis Mantakas
Strength
80,000-90,000
11,600
17,800
Casualties and losses
c:210 killed
1,000 wounded
733 missing
1,000-1,200 killed
c:2,000 killed
max.3,000 civilians killed
c.20,000 civilians killed

The Dekemvriana (Georgios Grivas.

The conflict was the culmination of months of tension between the left-wing EAM-ELAS, the country's largest resistance movement which controlled most of Greece, and the British-backed government, which had returned from exile upon the Germans' withdrawal in October 1944. Although EAM had initially participated in the government, mounting differences with the traditional bourgeois parties led to the resignation of its ministers. On 3 December, a huge pro-EAM rally in central Athens was shot upon by the Police on orders from Angelos Evert, leaving 28 protesters dead 148 wounded. The killings ushered a full-blown armed confrontation between EAM and the British, under General Ronald Scobie.

The clashes were limited to Athens, and elsewhere in Greece the situation remained tense, but tranquil. The Dekemvriana ended with the defeat of EAM-ELAS, leading to its disarmament in the Varkiza Agreement. This first defeat broke the power of EAM, and was followed by a period of "White Terror" that contributed to the outbreak of the Greek Civil War in 1946.

Contents

  • Background: Greece in 1944 1
  • The events 2
    • Churchill in Athens 2.1
  • References 3

Background: Greece in 1944

By 1944, the two major resistance movements in occupied Greece, EDES and EAM-ELAS, each saw the other to be their great enemy. They both saw the Germans were going to be defeated and were a temporary threat. For the Left, the British represented their major obstacle, and for the most of the Greeks, the British were their major hope.

18 October 1944; the crowd celebrates the Liberation and the coming of Papandreou Government.

By the summer of 1944 it was obvious that the Germans would soon withdraw from Greece, as Soviet forces were advancing into Romania and towards Yugoslavia, with the retreated Germans at risk being cut off. In September, Gen. Caserta Agreement of September 1944, all resistance forces in Greece were placed under the command of a British officer, Gen. Ronald Scobie.

The Western allies arrived in Greece in October, by which time the Germans were in full retreat and most of Greece's territory had already been liberated by Greek partisans. On October 13 British troops entered Athens, the only area still occupied by the Germans, and Papandreou and his ministers followed six days later. The king stayed in Cairo, because Papandreou had promised that the future of the monarchy would be decided by referendum.

At this point there was little to prevent ELAS from taking full control of the country. With the German withdrawal, ELAS units had taken control of the countryside and of most cities. However, they did not take full control because the KKE leadership was instructed by the Soviet Union not to precipitate a crisis that could jeopardize Allied unity and put Joseph Stalin's larger postwar objectives at risk. KKE’s leadership knew this, but ELAS' fighters and rank-and-file communists did not, which became a source of conflict within both EAM and ELAS.

Following Stalin's instructions, KKE’s leadership tried to avoid a confrontation with the Papandreou government. The majority of ELAS members saw the Western Allies as liberators, although some KKE leaders, such as Andreas Tzimas and Aris Velouchiotis, did not. Tzimas was in touch with Yugoslav Communist leader Josip Broz Tito, and he disagreed with ELAS' cooperation with the Western Allied forces.

The issue of disarming the resistance organizations was a cause of friction between the Papandreou government and its EAM members. Advised by British ambassador Reginald Leeper, Papandreou demanded the disarmament of all armed forces apart from the Sacred Band and the III Mountain Brigade, which were formed following the suppression of the April 1944 Egypt Mutiny, and the constitution of a National Guard under government control. EAM, believing that this would leave ELAS defenseless against right-wing militias, submitted an alternative plan of total and simultaneous disarmament. Papandreou rejected this plan, causing EAM ministers to resign from the government on December 2. On December 1 Scobie issued a proclamation calling for the dissolution of ELAS. Command of ELAS was KKE's greatest source of strength, and KKE leader Siantos decided that the demand for ELAS' dissolution must be resisted.

Tito's influence may have played some role in ELAS' resistance to disarmament. Tito was outwardly loyal to Stalin but had come to power through his own means and believed that the Communist Greeks should do the same. His influence, however, had not prevented the EAM leadership from putting its forces under Scobie's command a couple of months earlier, in accordance with to the Organization X members had set up outposts in central Athens and resisted EAM for several days, until British troops arrived, as their leader had been promised.

The events

Unarmed protesters of EAM lying dead or wounded on 3 December 1944 in front of the Greek Parliament, while others are running for their lives; moments after the first shootings that left at least 28 dead and signalled the beginning of the "Dekemvriana" events.
An order of Gen. Scobie signed and printed on the government's newspaper "Η ΕΛΛΑΣ" (December 6), enforcing the government's ultimatum (December 1) for the immediate disarmament of all guerilla forces not allied to the government.

According to the Caserta Agreement, all Greek forces were under Allied command. On December 1, 1944, the Greek government of "National Unity" under Gen. Scobie (British head of the Allied forces in Greece at that time) announced an ultimatum for the general disarmament of all guerrilla forces by 10 December, excluding those allied to the government (the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade and the Sacred Squadron) and also a part of EDES and ELAS that would be used in Allied operations in Crete and Dodecanese if it was necessary. As a result, on December 2 six ministers of the EAM, most of whom were KKE members, resigned from their positions in the "National Unity" government. The EAM called for a general strike and announced the reorganization of the Central Committee of ELAS, its military wing. A demonstration was organized by EAM on December 3.

The demonstration involved at least 200,000 people marching on Angelos Evert giving the order to open fire on the crowd.[1] Although there are no accounts hinting that the crowd indeed possessed guns, the British commander Woodhouse insisted that it was uncertain whether the first shots were fired by the police or the demonstrators. More than 28 demonstrators were killed, and 148 were injured. This signaled the beginning of the "Dekemvrianá" (Greek: Δεκεμβριανά, "the December events"), a 37-day period of full-scale fighting in Athens between EAM fighters and smaller parts of ELAS, and the forces of the British army and the government.

At the beginning the government had only a few policemen and gendarmes, some militia units, the Piraeus. The British, outnumbered, flew in the 4th Indian Infantry Division from Italy as emergency reinforcements. Although the British were openly fighting against EAM in Athens, there were no such battles in the rest of Greece. In certain cases, such as Volos, some RAF units even surrendered equipment to ELAS fighters.

Conflicts continued throughout December with the forces confronting EAM slowly gaining the upper hand. ELAS forces in the rest of Greece did not attack the British. It seems that ELAS preferred to avoid an armed confrontation with the British forces initially and later tried to reduce the conflict as much as possible, although poor communication between its much independent units around the country might also have played a role. This might explain the simultaneous struggle against the British, the large-scale ELAS operations against Churchill's coalition government of left and right, and caused much protest in the British press and the House of Commons. To prove his peace-making intentions to the public, Churchill went to Athens on December 25 to preside over a conference, in which Soviet representatives also participated, to bring about a settlement. It failed because the EAM/ELAS demands were considered excessive and, thus, rejected. The conference took place in the Hotel Grande Bretagne. Later, became known that there was a plan by EAM to explode the building, aiming to kill the participants, which was finally cancelled.[2][3]

British paratroopers during the battle.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union remained passive about developments in Greece. True to their "percentages agreement" with Britain relating to Greece, the Soviet delegation in Greece did not encourage or discourage EAM's ambitions, as Greece belonged to the British sphere of influence. The delegation's chief gained the nickname "sphinx" among local Communist officers for not giving any clues about Soviet intentions. Pravda did not mention the clashes at all. It is speculated that Stalin did not interfere because Soviet Union would profit no matter the outcome. If EAM rose to power, he would gain a country of major strategic value. If not, he could use British actions in Greece to justify similar actions in countries in his own sphere of influence.

By early January EAM forces had lost the battle. Despite Churchill's intervention, Papandreou resigned and was replaced by Gen. Nikolaos Plastiras. On January 15, 1945, Scobie agreed to a ceasefire in exchange for ELAS' withdrawal from its positions at Patras and Thessaloniki and its demobilization in the Peloponnese. Despite this severe defeat, ELAS continued to exist and the KKE had an opportunity to reconsider its strategy.

References

  1. ^ ]Dekemriana 1944 [Δεκεμβριανά 1944 (flv) (Television production). tvxs (Reporters Without Frontiers), Stelios Kouloglou. 2006-05-01. Retrieved 2011-12-26. 
  2. ^ Petropoulos, Giorgos (24 Dec 2013). Η εκκωφαντική ανατίναξη που δεν έγινε [The thunderous explosion that never came to be]. Εφημερίδα των συντακτών (in Greek) (Athens: www.efsyn.gr). Retrieved 5 Aug 2014. 
  3. ^ Smith, Helena. "Athens 1944: Britain’s dirty secret". guardian. Retrieved 30 Nov 2014. 
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