Jordan BAEV

The Greek Civil War Viewed from the North

After the end of the Cold War several formerly top secret or confidential documentary collections stored in the Russian and East European archives have been released. This process made possible the presentation of new evidence and interpretations of Kremlin's and its satellites' role in the flap-up and development of the Greek Civil War. The author of this study has used in some previous publications a considerable number of new declassified archive sources throwing additional light on this issue and précising some old one-sided conceptions.1

It has been made clear first of all that the British Government’ fears of probable Soviet Union interference in the Greek internal conflict during the summer and autumn of 1944 were rather excessive. Long before the "percentage agreement" between Churchill and Stalin took place, the Soviet leaders had tacitly classified Greece as a British sphere of influence. As early as the 15th of August 1944 the Soviet Union's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Molotov unambiguously expressed a similar position to the former Secretary General of the Comintern Georgi Dimitrov. This proposition was confirmed by the unwillingness of the Soviet Military Command in Sofia in late September / early October to be in direct contact with the representatives of the Greek leftist representatives specially sent for that purpose as well as the categorical Kremlin "advice" of the 6th of October 1944 suggesting that the Bulgarian Government should take its military forces out of Greek territories with no delay. The same position was even more definitely demonstrated by the two messages by Dimitrov sent to the leaders of the Greek Communist Party after consultations with Stalin and Molotov /the 9th of December 1944 and the 12th of January 1945/. Actually, during those months Moscow was mainly concerned by the eventual interruption of the Soviet Forces' progress westward owing to the advance of the Allied Forces in Central Europe.

Secondly, the new declassified documents clarified the question of the Soviet factor in the reopening of the armed conflict in Greece in 1946. According to the correspondence exchanged between Dimitrov and Molotov in February 1946 both leaders explicitly favour the Greek Communist Party's participation in the forthcoming elections and point out the inadvisable of the armed confrontation alternative. A month later certain "hardening-up" of the Kremlin line /clearly expressed in cables sent by Molotov to Sofia in the period 15th - 20th of March/ was observed. Prior to the signing of the Paris Peace Treaties in January 1947 the Soviet Union, however, kept its cautious political course in regard to the civil war in Greece. The leading part in supporting the Greek leftist forces in this period with no doubt belong to Yugoslavia.

The Soviet and East European interference in the Greek political drama was most intense in 1947. The new archive evidences confirm some of the earlier theses regarding the special significance of the Stalin-Tito split of 1948 and the gradual withdrawal of Soviet support to the Greek communists. The increasing influence of the Western alliance formed in 1948-1949 which may have pressured the Kremlin's position is a topic much less written about. This paper is dedicated to that latter most dynamic period /1947-1949/ of the Greek Civil War. Attention is particularly given to the evaluation and the comments on the military- political aspects of the theme which owing to the limited access to military and intelligence Records have not been properly clarified in specialized literature to this moment.

The announcement of the Truman Doctrine and the enforced US military presence in the region brought about significant changes in the Soviet Balkan policy. In a summary evaluation of the post-war policy of the Soviet Union in Europe one can distinctly see its change in tone and intensity immediately after March 1947. Regarding to Greece in particular this resulted in a considerable increase in material and political support for the leftist forces. That change was sensed also by the Western intelligence services. A memorandum by the head of US Central Intelligence to president Truman dated 6th of June 1947 stated: "From the time the US aid for Greece was announced definite Soviet efforts to increase support for the Greek communists have been observed". At the same time an increase in the number of guerrilla and sabotage operations was also observed together with a growth in the military deliveries for the units of Markos Vathiadis from the Yugoslav territory2. Other US and British Intelligence reports from Bucharest and Sofia informed of new re-dislocations of the Soviet military forces from Romania to south Bulgaria3. Jean Payard, French Minister in Belgrade sent to Paris similar reports4.

In consequence to the changes in the Greek political situation after the announcement of the Truman Doctrine, as early as March/April 1947 the Greek Communist Party Politburo undertook measures to increase the support received from abroad. On the 21st of April 1947 Nikos Zachariadis had a meeting with the Yugoslav leadership. On the following day Zachariadis sent an extensive letter to Josip Broz Tito and Alexander Rankovich / Marko/ in which he summarized the main 10 issues discussed the previous day. At the beginning of the talks N. Zachariadis reminded that in one year EAM had been able to summon 20 000 troops under the centralized command of the Democratic Army of Greece /DAG=DSE/ General Staff. According to him the main aim of the Greek government at that time was to maintain control of the towns and main lines of communications, concurrently driving the guerrilla forces in isolation in the mountains and severing their connections with the world abroad. The Greek Politburo assessment was that this target had not been achieved. At the same time it was said there was readiness for an expansion of DAG to 50 000 men and by means of a series of battle strikes it was to take the initiative in its own hands and inflict a decisive defeat to the government forces in a number of urban centers and vital areas. Its major success, it was said, the DAG had achieved in the Northern Greece. In his talks with Tito Zachariadis outlined the main targets of the war plan aimed at the full take-over of Northern Greece /Aegean Macedonia and Western Thrace/ with a surprise attack carried out by the most experienced and best trained forces of DAG, a unit of 5-7 thousand troops upon the centers of the two areas mentioned. An urgent request was thus addressed to the Yugoslav leadership for a further considerable military aid which was to secure the success of the major military operation prepared. At the end of the letter Nikos Zachariadis underlined his "firmly optimistic expectations regarding the outcome of the struggle"5.

In compliance with the achieved agreement the representatives of the Greek CP in Belgrade regularly relayed information and reviewed reports on the situation in Greece to Moscow. For instance, on 5th of June, 1947 by secret mail Nikos Zachariadis sent to the Central Committee of the CPSU/b/, the EAM General Secretary Partzalidis Report and a message from the DAG Commander-in-chief Markos Vathiadis. On the 24th of June among new mail a secret report "On the military forces in Greece" was sent together with Information from the guerrilla commanders in Macedonia and Thrace as well as other materials. In reply to a request by Moscow, on July the 17th a Special Report "On the situation in Greece after the American intervention" was prepared. The sent information and reference materials contained important data regarding the military and political as well as economic situation in the country. The positions of the British and US military representatives were paid special attention6.

Following the intensification of the government military forces' actions in fulfillment of the "Terminius" operation and the consequent retreat of the guerrilla groups to Albanian, Yugoslav and Bulgarian territories incidents at the North and North-west borders became more and more frequent. That created new tensions between Greece and its Northern neighbors and new demarches in the UN Sub-commission on Greece7. An information contained in a Report by the commander of the Bulgarian Border troops, colonel Lev Glavinchev gives an idea of the situation. The document stated that in March 1947 there were 31 frontier incidents at the Bulgarian-Greek border and further 29 incidents occurred in April the same year8.

The incidents at the Bulgarian-Greek border caused anxiety also in Moscow. Even more so, that according the Peace treaty with Bulgaria the exit of the Soviet troops from the country was pending, too. Rather significant in this respect were the critical assessments of the frontier guard on Bulgaria's South border made an expertise document of the Soviet Military Headquarters in Sofia, presented to the Bulgarian Prime Minister at the end of July, 1947. In the document it was imperatively recommended that the Chief of the Bulgarian General Staff should be "put under obligation to develop a plan for the screening of the Border" with a view of repulsing or capturing Greek armed units entering Bulgarian territory.

The changes in the International situation directly influenced the course of the civil war in Greece. At the end of the Summer and in the Autumn of 1947 both sides in the conflicts put serious efforts to restructure their Armed Forces and to turn the war in their own favor by organizing major military operations. The news arriving in Belgrade and Sofia more and more distinctly showed the new tendency in the progress of the armed conflict in Greece.

In certain information of the commanders of the DAG units in Western Thrace and Aegean Macedonia, sent to the Greek CP representatives, situated in Yugoslavia, there was concrete data regarding fierce battles taken place in June/July in Northern Greece9. Detailed Information of the forces correlation was collected from other Intelligence sources, too. All the obtained data was summarized in general analytical reports which were periodically prepared for state, political and military leaders of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union. For instance, in a report by Bulgarian Military Intelligence under the title: "On the political and strategic situation in Greece" and dated 11th of August 1947 the battles carried out in July in Western and Eastern Aegean Macedonia and Western Thrace were described in details. It was reported that the guerrilla forces of about 20 000 men were many times less numerous than the government forces, but after several surprising and coinciding attacks in a number of populated areas, they were able to stop the offensive of the enemy and to take the initiative in their hands. Besides Northern Greece the armed confrontation had spread also in Thessaly, Epirus, Rumelia, Peloponnesus and had reached even the island of Crete. The 11th of August Report also gives information concerning a conference of the High Military Council of the Greek Army which had taken place in Volos on the 1-2nd of August and in which the heads of the US and British military missions gen. Rollins and gen. Livsey had taken active part. At that conference some proposals for "new methods of action", increase in number of the government forces and preparing a plan for "a general Autumn offensive" were discussed. Special attention in the document was paid to the information that the High Military Council had adopted a resolution to ask for the sending of US military units /2nd division of the marine corps and 82nd airborne division/ and to the request of the Greek Government for the increase of the military aid and the undertaking of diplomatic steps for the discontinuation of the help extended to the DAG from abroad, addressed to the President of the USA10.

The Yugoslav and Soviet governments immediately received detailed information about the Third Plenary meeting of the Greek CP decisions and the military conference of the DAG Headquarters held in the middle of September 1947 on Yugoslav territory. At the conference of the military commanders the "Limnes" [Lake] operation plan suggested by Markos Vathiadis after consultation with Yugoslav military experts was discussed and accepted. Its preserved handwritten variant in Russian states: "At the moment the opportunities are ripe for the concluding of the main strategic task our Democratic Army is facing, i.e. establishing a free territory in the area of Macedonia and liberating the whole of Macedonia and Thrace with Thessalonica as their center. For the purpose certain military prerequisites are to be created". It was then rather optimistically proposed the number of the DAG should be increased three times to 50 000 - 60 000 men. It was coincidentally planed to form a main expeditionary contingent with the task of securing the seizure of Thessalonica. Together with the actions in Northern Greece it was proposed to intensify actions in Thessaly, Rumelia and Peloponnesus in order to achieve maximum dispersion of the enemy forces over the territory of the country and prevent their concentration in Aegean Macedonia. This ambitious plan includes also the creation of anti-aircraft artillery, fighter aircraft and paratrooper units11.

As early as the beginning of November 1947 the Soviet Union and its allies received the first reports of new recruitment and reorganization of the Greek government forces and coordinating actions for the organizing of "retaliatory actions against the Soviet expansion on the Balkans" with the USA, Great Britain and Turkey. A Report from the Bulgarian Legation in Ankara informed: “In connection with the visit of the head of American military intelligence, gen. Chamberlain an agreement for coordination between the Headquarters of the USA, Greece and Turkey was reached…12” In a Summary report delivered to Anton Yugov, Bulgarian Minister of the Interior a number of data received regarding "a general mobilization and concentration of military units" in Western Thrace was pointed out13. In another Report on the situation in Greece it was said: "Restraining by technical reasons from an open escalation with whole military units in Greece, the Americans are now aiming at establishing a forming-up base from which forces could be sent, if necessary, to Greece, Turkey and Iran"14.

The Greek CP leadership also sent news of the new offensive prepared by the government forces. In a cable to Moscow on the 13th of December 1947 Nikos Zachariadis informed: “It is clear from all the received information that operations on major scale are forthcoming in Greece…The Americans are undertaking anything possible to save the monarcho-fascists and especially their Army from the dead end they are in…" 15

The arrival of an US naval squadron in the East Mediterranean gave cause for serious anxiety in Moscow, Belgrade, Sofia and Tirana. A report by Bulgarian Military Intelligence summarized: "In retaliation to the intensified actions of the DAG and the formation of a democratic government, from the 7th to the 16th of January 1948 the USA carried out maneuvers with their Mediterranean fleet by the South-West coast of Greece…" According to quoted data, originating from the US Naval Attaché in Athens, the fleet had been fortified with 1 000 men from the 2nd division of the marines. In other Intelligence reports to Sofia of January 1948 it was stated that more than 80 new US military advisers were sent in the Greek Army /3 officers each in the Headquarters and in the Staffs of the 2nd and 3rd Army corps and 5 officers each in the division headquarters/.16

The newly released documents of the East European archives can provide reliable enough information regarding the attitude towards the Greek Civil War and the support given to the DAG during the period after the trilateral Soviet-Yugoslav-Bulgarian meeting at the Kremlin on the 10th of February 194817 and deterioration of the relations with the Tito regime following it. For the purpose of documentary clarification on this matter a number of materials stored in the Bulgarian archives will be referred to further on in this paper. They contain a considerable in volume information and are of varied character. The Military Intelligence summary Reports and everyday/weekly Bulletins on the military and military- political situation in the state of civil war were prepared by the experts in a special section “GREECE”, created as a separate division in late 1946. The Bulgarian Border troops on their part sent everyday Bulletins of the occurring "border incidents”. The International evaluation and comments concerning the Greek conflict were printed in the confidential Bulletins of the Bulgarian Telegraph Agency /BTA/ and the summary information of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Separately through the representative of the Greek CP in Sofia Kostas Ziaperas the "Information Bulletin of the Armed Actions in Greece", prepared by the Second Bureau of the DAG Headquarters was received by the BCP International Department. Additional information was received from the Cominform Secretariat in Bucharest as well as by means of the Confidential bulletins of the CC of the CPSU /b/.

In the Summary Reports and memoranda a central place was given to the reorganization, rearmament and re-disposition of the Royalist forces; to the role of the British and American military missions; the tactics and fighting ability of the guerrilla units; the suffered losses and the correlation of forces between the two hostile sides. Many of the information reports explicitly emphasize the action of the American military mission and the military assistance received from the USA. In the Summary Report covering February 1948 special attention was paid on the replacement of gen. Livsey with Admiral Van Fleet characterized as "a good combat officer". It was pointed out at the same time that according to the instructions of the new Head of the American Military Mission "each undertaking and decision of the Government concerning the political and strategic line of Greece" had to be agreed with the American military advisers. In the Summary Bulletin covering March "the omnipotent influence of the American Military Mission on the reorganization, reinforcement draft and supplies for the Royalist forces" was once again underlined. At the insistence of Van Fleet, under the slogan for the "rejuvenation of the high ranks in the Army" 10 out of a total 11 Lieutenant-Generals were replaced together with a number of other high rank officers of the commanding staff of the Greek Army. In March more military advisors came from the USA and were assigned to all government units bigger than company. The Summary Report for April presented detailed information of "a total spring offensive" of the government troops which began on the 16th of April underlining that: "the plan for the operation was prepared by the Headquarters under the leadership of the American Military Mission".

Many of the Bulgarian Intelligence Reports and Information show a definite tendency to present the condition of the guerrilla units and their military action results on a highly overoptimistic tone. That is no doubt a reflected image of the authority circles' prejudiced attitude towards Greek CP. As well it is an evidence of the progress of more and more overwhelming Stalinization of the East European countries.

In the same time some expert assessments contain a lot of critical conclusions in regard of the fighting ability of the DAG. In the Summary Report of the Bulgarian Military Intelligence of February 1948 it was stated: "The Democratic Army keeps on acting according to the rules of "the guerrilla war"…The transformation of the Democratic Army into a modern military force is the first requirement for a successful paring of the Royalist forces, generously armed and provisioned by the USA". In addition to the already quoted the Report pointed out: "The superiority of the Royalist Army over the democratic forces is indisputably evident both in number and materials…"

The Intelligence Information include data concerning the total losses based on the official information releases of both sides in the conflict which are extremely contradictory and under a realistic independent assessment impossible. A major part of the official data is of demonstrative propaganda character and considerably differs from the actual losses in action. For example, it stated in the Summary Report of May 1948: "According to Royalist sources: losses of the Democratic Army - killed 402, wounded 214, captured 156, surrendered 228 or a total of 1 000 men; losses of the Royalists - killed 281, wounded 184, missing 16, a total of 481 men. According to Democratic sources: losses of the Royalists - killed 2 042 /1 lieutenant-colonel and 33 officers/, wounded 2 748 /1 major and 13 other officers/, passed to the side of the Democratic Army 152, or a total of 5 263 men".

With the intensification of the Spring battle in 1948 in Northern Greece the tension at the Greek borders with Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria increased. In March/April 1948 more than 150 incidents were reported at the Greek-Albanian border only. In the Daily Reports of the Bulgarian frontier posts disturbances at the border no man's land area and consequent fire exchanges were more and more frequently mentioned. In a Report by the Commander of the Border troops, Major-General Yonko Panov, delivered in June 1948, the following summary data points out: in 1945 6 568 Greek refugees arrived in Bulgaria, in 1946 - another 2 156, and in the period 15th of March 1947 - 15th of June 1948 a total of 3 283 refugees crossed into Bulgarian territory.

Interesting data is presented in Gen. Panov's April 1948 Report regarding the increasing inflow of Greek refugees. The Report contains a good deal of information concerning the character of the military hostilities in Greece and their consequences in a new light. "In relation to the actions undertaken in assistance of the DAG a number of irregularities in the behavior of the guerrillas on our territory were found out", points out the document. The Report states:" Facts of the passing of whole detachments onto our territory, sometimes even continuing the battle with the Royalists on our territory; bringing with themselves prisoners or kidnapped persons. One of the prisoners escaped, and the case then brought up at the UN Sub-Commission… After taking certain precautions the disturbances have become significantly less but the intention of some DAG representatives to consider our territory as their own is still felt…” Further on the Report points out a number of actual cases supporting the above stated - in the end of March near the border on Bulgarian territory three DAG ammunition depots were found, of which the Bulgarian authorities had never been informed. On the other hand, "persons with no responsibilities related to the frontier protections pass through the border individuals and even whole units of Greek guerrillas over the heads of the Border troops’ commanders". At the same time, according to the report, Border troops officers, ex-Bulgarian guerrillas during the period of World War II, out of solidarity with the Greek leftist movement gave their assistance without the authority to do so, neglecting their actual duties in regard to the defence of the border. Several more, striking cases are described in Gen. Panov's Report and it is proposed: "The leadership of the DAG should be warned that the people found to have crossed our border in any possible way without due permission will be detained and sent to camps… Admission to any and all civilians to our frontier posts and the region facing them should be forbidden to all except those received respective permission for it by the Headquarters of the Border troops." 18

On the 3rd of May 1948 in Sofia an interdepartmental conference was held it's target being to eliminate the errors made and to coordinate the assistance extended to the DAG at the eve of "the military actions planned for the near future". At the conference issues discussed included new deliveries of light firearms, ammunition and equipment as well as organizing a meeting between Prime Minister Georgi Dimitrov and Greek communist leadership representatives.19

In fulfillment of the new offensive operation "Coronis", planned together with the US Military Mission, on the 15th of June 1948, the government armed forces undertook a wide-front military offensive in Northern Greece. It continued more than two months, till the 22nd of August, the main hostilities taking place in the region of the Grammos and Northern Pindus mountains. Regardless of the further complication of the Soviet-Yugoslav split at the time, the East European countries most attentively followed the development of the decisive battle in Grammos and tried to re-direct the military aid to the DAG, avoiding passing through Yugoslav territory. The archive documents expressively testify that each one of the East European governments coordinated with Moscow all their acts of assistance to the Greek guerrillas. On the 14th of July 1948 Georgi Dimitrov wrote to Moscow: "Our Southern friends are putting forward to us the matter of giving them a certain quantity of arms and ammunition including anti-tank guns and mortars… Please inform me of your instructions."20 Several days later Sofia received a new appeal from the CC of the GCP signed by Zachariadis and addressed to the Communist parties of Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia, asking for military and material aid in relation to the decisive battle in Grammos.21 On the 22nd of August 1948 in a cable to Stalin /Druzhkov/ the Bulgarian leader Dimitrov /Ivanov/ pointed out: "Our Greek comrades every day are having more and more requests… We declared that we cannot do that without the respective permission. Please inform me of your instructions regarding this issue."22 The content of this message is most striking evidence of the relationship of subordination and predetermination of the political attitudes in the Soviet "sphere of influence".

In the Soviet Union and East European countries information of the progress of the hostilities in Grammos and Northern Pindus during the second /25th of June - 31st of July/ and the third /6th - 22nd of August/ phases of Operation "Coronis" was received daily. In the daily Intelligence Bulletins both data from governmental sources and such from the DAG Headquarters were printed. On the summary assessments and conclusions the DAG’s point of view prevailed. Critical remarks did not lack, too, but they reflected the position of the Greek CP leadership rather than the personal judgment of the military and political experts.

Though during the days of the fiercest battles the Bulgarian Prime Minister was in the governmental residence Euxinograd he daily received on the phone or through special courier information regarding the war events. On the 11th of August 1948 on Dimitrov’s instruction a coded message was sent to Zachariadis, insisting: “Please inform us of the course of the hostilities”. Several days later Nikos Zachariadis answered that he would send as soon as possible his report on the war situation in Greece. At the end of August the “Summary Report on the Operations in Northern Pindus from the 14th of June to the 22nd of August 1948” was received in Sofia, presenting the official position of the Greek CP Politburo23. Another secret dispatch received in Sofia in early September informed of the Greek CP Politburo decision of August the 25th concerning the weak points of the DAG Command and the errors made by it in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. It is pointed out in the document that the guerrilla commanders in those districts did not avail of the “favourable possibilities” and did not achieve “the strategic task” to delay as much as possible “enemy military forces” during the battle of Grammos. The planned military operation in Komotini /Gjumurjina/ were badly organized, “elementary military and political vigilance” lacked and because of that the Operation failed. For eliminating those weak points the leadership of the Communist Party ordered reorganization of the DAG units in Eastern Aegean Macedonia and Western Thrace24.

A thorough analysis of the hostility progress in Grammos and Northern Pindus during the Summer offensive of the Governmental forces was made in a detailed Summary Report by Bulgarian Military Intelligence regarding the situation in Greece in the period 25th of June - 25th of August 1948. The Report emphasized the great importance the Greek Command and the US Military Mission had given to that operation which strategic target had been to liquidate “the free guerrilla territories” in Northern Greece and to physically destroy the main insurgents forces in the district. For the purpose, the American recommendations for introducing new methods of action in the war were applied: “the wide use of artillery and aviation in a never seen before scale, aiming to destroy the whole district controlled by the communists, thus seizing Grammos without much royalist casualties and fully annihilating the DAG forces in that area… It should be noted that the means of mass destruction and irreparable ruin used in the district did not achieve instant results and for that reason on the 28th of July Van Fleet requested a replacement of part of the Greek Military Command, and particularly the discharge of Lieut.-General Kalogeropoulos…”25 According to information from Western sources, during the 70 days battle in Gramos the losses suffered by the Royalist armed forces were 10 % larger than those of the Greek Amy during the both the Greek-Italian and Greek-German wars of 1940-1941. The general conclusion of the Report were that regardless of the “partial success” the government forces had achieved by seizing Grammos, their enormous losses, “perpetual exhaustion and demoralization” gave a reason to suppose that “the crisis” among the ruling circles was getting worse. The Report prognosticated that the DAG Command would be able to undertake “the initiative of the forthcoming battles”26.

Another Report on the course of the military actions during the Summer governmental offensive was more realistic and professional in assessment of the actual shortcomings and errors of both sides in the warfare. “The critical analysis of the battle” stated that the government forces had spent 2/3rd of the time to prepare for a military operation and only 1/3rd for its actual course. The errors were of “tactical and operational origin”, the interaction between the different branches of forces disrupted. It was said that the DAG Command had lacked vigilance and underestimated the enemy forces, it had not planned well enough its reserve, there were problems with the interaction among some of the units, and quite a few of the counter-attacks were carried out “frontally and not from the flank” which led to significant casualties. In conclusion this document stated that: “the DAG had not carried out even one well planned in advance decisive attack in any of the sectors of the Gramos front which would have made the defense easier.”

The US and British Military Missions’ Intelligence reports contain a number of critical remarks on the military operations course, too. Thus, for instance, the Monthly Intelligence Review of the British Mission in Greece for July 1948 pointed out that in spite of the concentration of a large number of infantry and artillery units and the considerable support provided by the Air Force, the targets of the Military Command were not achieved during the first phases of Operation “Coronis”. The next Intelligence Review even more clearly stated that the Greek Military Command showed “a lamentable failure to display any sense of waging, or the will or ability to exploit success”. The division commanders demonstrated full “ignorance of the modern technique of command and conduct of the battle”27.

Both Eastern and Western analysis of the decisive Summer battles of 1948 put main account on the considerable losses suffered by both sides in the war. As before, there were fully explicable serious discrepancies between the official data presented by the government and the guerrilla Headquarters.

In spite of all the optimistic official declarations, an eloquent proof of the forthcoming strategic defeat of the guerrilla forces was the growing conflict among the leftist circles themselves which resulted in the dismissal of Markos Vathiadis from the leader’s post he held and his consequent expelling from the Communist Party.

The Kremlin demonstrated a growing indifference toward the Greek Civil War. Stalin had already changed the emphasis and the targets of the Soviet policy on the Balkans; there in the course of the following few months Tito would become “enemy Number One”, and each of the global powers would be left to rule its “sphere of influence” within the boundaries of the status quo. On a wider European scale the bi-polar confrontation was redirected to another “border zone” in the Western part of the Continent at the height of the Berlin crisis. The Soviet position foretold and predetermined to a great extend the course of the last stage of the Greek Civil War in the Year 1949.

The creation of NATO in April 1949 led to certain concern within the East European ruling circles that the West would undertake wide-scale coordinated military actions against them. Nearer home, additional rear in respect of the situation in the Balkans were triggered off by the possibility of an eventual establishment of closer political and military relations between Yugoslavia and the “Imperialistic powers”. The East judged the formation of North Atlantic Treaty predominantly from the point of view of the increasing possibilities of a new direct confrontation. As the French Ambassador in Sofia stated in his Report to Paris on 12th of April, 1949, the signing of the Washington Treaty had caused a “war psychosis” in Bulgaria28. The response of the Soviet Bloc was the intensification of the so called “Peace campaign” against the “instigators of a new world war”. In this context one could find an explanation for the Kremlin’s diplomatic approach in April-May 1949 for a political settlement of the Greek armed conflict29.

The sharp cut-down of the foreign aid affected most negatively the DAG positions and the entire course of the Civil War. Dramatic appeals for additional help were received from Greece. On the 19th of April 1949 D. Partzalidis informed Sofia: “The situation is growing worse. Nikos is absent. By discontinuing the deliveries you are cutting off our arms.” On the next day he again alarmed Bulgarian communists: “Following the discontinuation of the deliveries all operations were stopped. Some units are already starving. The situation is critical.30” With a radiogram on the 28th of April Zachariadis renewed the appeal for urgent help with deliveries of fuel and ammunitions. That same evening the Secretary for International Relations in the BCP Vulko Chervenkov answered that it were done the possible efforts for transporting some food for the guerrilla units31.

Following the Kremlin instructions in the period May-August 1949 the East European countries stopped almost all military aid for the Greek guerrillas. This position was also observed during the final fierce battles at Vitzi and Grammos mountains in August. For instance, on the 24th of August Chervenkov informed Moscow: “We are relaying the cable received from the Greek CP Central Committee: “To the CC of the BCP. Kostas informed of your stopping all aid. Please advise if there will be any further help. CC of the GCP.” We answered: “The matter regarding further help with arms and food was put by us to the superiors…32

In result of the leftist units’ retreat there were once again serious incidents at the Greek borders with Albania and Bulgaria. On the 31st of August 1949 Chervenkov informed Moscow: “In the recent few days the Greek Royalists have pushed the guerrilla forces into the Belasitza area close to our border. The guerrilla units were under fierce artillery shelling… Many shells and mines exploded on our territory. There are casualties among our citizens. Our Border troops are meeting the violators with fire… We are firmly determined to retaliate and oppose any attempt of the Royalist’s units to enter our territory. The guerrillas crossing the frontier are disarmed and transferred to the inside of the country. Our opinion is that the Greek comrades should be advised to adopt other means of struggle.” Three days later in another cable to Kremlin Chervenkov added: “The battles in the Belasitza area have been terminated. 840 guerrillas crossed the frontier into our territory. They were disarmed and directed to the inside of the country. Among them 39 were seriously wounded.”33

On the 2nd of September the Secretariat of the BCP Central Committee discussed a Special Report written by the Minister of the Interior Gen. Hristozov on the problems connected with relocation of the Greek refugees. At that time there were 4 000 Greek refugees (excluding the children) in Bulgaria. The Report emphasized: “It is to be with no doubt expected that the number of Greek refugees in the country will continue to increase, while on the other hand these people have no prospects to return to their own country in the near future…” For that reason, it was said the problem with their more permanent settling in the country was of special “gravity”. A proposal was made to relocate part of the Greek refugees to the North-Eastern part of the country /Dobruja/, providing them with the “necessary building materials, land and equipment”34.

The Greek communist leadership approached the BCP Central Committee with a request for organizing the training of Greek guerrillas and their subsequent transfer back to Greece. On the 9th of December 1949 Chervenkov informed Moscow of the Greek request for material and technical aid and the training of Greek communist functionaries in Bulgaria. On the 12th of December “Filippov” /Stalin/ answered Prime-Minister Vassil Kolarov as follows: “We agree with you. We think that if the Greeks would like to train their guerrillas, that should take place at a distance from Bulgaria - in Poland or Romania, for instance.”35 Following the above advice, on the 14th of December BCP CC addressed the leaders of the Communist Parties of Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary with a suggestion of their admitting on their territories part of the Greek refugees, staying in Bulgaria. In January 1950 positive replies to the Bulgarian proposal were received from each one of the East European capitals36.

Regardless of the fact that the many year bloody inside was terminated in favour of the Royalist forces in the Autumn of 1949, the final episodes of the Civil War died away slowly throughout the Year 1950. They continued to influence the relations between Greece on one side and the East European countries and the USSR on the other. Early in 1950 the governments of Bulgaria and Greece again accused each other of triggered off border incidents and the transfer of “terrorist groups” to the territory of the other country37. In the bigger part of their military and intelligence Reports during the period from the creation of NATO in 1949 to the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953 the Western Agencies paid exclusive attention to the movement of Soviet troops to Romania and Hungary and the equipping of the Albanian and Bulgarian Armies with Soviet arms; they most seriously made comments on the “signs” showing a preparation of a “communist attack” against Yugoslavia or Greece38. In many statements of the Greek officials the leading issue continued to be “the danger from the North”. In an analogous mirror-reverse way Bulgaria and Albania incited the public opinion against the danger of an “imperialist aggression”. Thus the tension at the North border of Greece did not calm down with the termination of the Civil War, but turned into a permanent irritant in the military and political environment of the Cold War and the confrontation between the blocks.

This paper has been presented at an International Conference in April 1999 at King’s College, London.


[1] In Bulgarian: Bulgaria and the Greek Civil War /1944-1949/, Military History Review, Sofia, 1992, No 2-3, p. 88-106; Military-Political Conflicts since WW II and Bulgaria, Sofia 1995, p. 76-110;In Greek: Dekembrhz  ton 44 [December 1944 Uprising, Athens 1996], Atqna 1996, sel. 165-189, 238-240; O emfulioz polemoz othn Ellada: Dieqneiz diastaseiz, Aqina 1997, 255 sel. [The Greek Civil War: International Dimensions, Athens 1997; Second Edition: Athens 1999, 255 p.]

[2] National Archives & Record Administration /NARA/, Washington, Record Group 218, Adm. Leahy Papers, Box 19, Folder 123. Memos from the Central Intelligence Group to the President.

[3] Verona, S. Military Occupation and Diplomacy. Soviet Troops in Romania 1944-1958. Duke Univ. Press 1992, p. 50.

[4] Ministere des Affairs Etrangere /MAE/, Paris, Archives Diplomatiques, Serie Z, Carton 371, Dossier 1, p. 37-38.

[5]  Archiv CK SKJ, Belgrade, International Relations Department /Komisija za medunarodne odnose I veze/. GREECE. Box 1, IX.33/1-27.

[6] Social History Archives, Athens, /ASKI/, f=20/33/16, 19, 22, 23, 24; 20/16/32, 33, 35.

[7] Public Record Office, London, Foreign Office .  Political. 371/ 66 966; 67 138; 67 148.

[8]  Archive of the Ministry of the Interior, Sofia /AMVR/, Information of Border Incidents in April 1947.

[9] ASKI, f=20/16/44, 45.

[10] Central State Archive, Sofia, /CDA/, F. 146 B, Op. 5, A.E. 773, l. 33-37.

[11] ASKI, f=20/33/33, 34;  20/16/55, 57.

[12]  CDA, F. 146 B, Op. 4, A.E. 1870.

[13]  AMVR, Intelligence Memo of the Deputy Commander of the Border troops, Col. Glavinchev, 3rd January, 1948.

[14]  CDA, F. 146 B, Op. 5, A.E. 1301, l. 343.

[15] ASKI, f=20/33/43.

[16]  CDA, F. 146 B, Op. 5, A.E. 1301, l. 45, 288, 306, 325.

[17] See: Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Washington, No. 10, 1998, p. 130-134

[18]  AMVR, Report of Major-General Panov regarding the attitude of the Greek guerrillas and of frontier posts participation in the Assistance campaign, 10th April 1948.

[19]  CDA, F. 146 B, Op. 5, A.E. 664, l. 6.

[20]  CDA, F. 1 B, Op. 7, A.E. 1326.

[21]  Ibid., A.E. 1391.

[22] Ibid., A.E. 1316.

[23] Ibid., A.E. 1392.

[24] Ibid., A.E. 1393.

[25]  Even in the Military Intelligence Bulletin No 328 of 29th of July, 1948 it was stated: “Following the ineffective actions on the front in Grammos mountain, the American Mission required the dismissal of some of the Corps and Division commanders,   including the Commander of the Second Army Corps Lieut.-Gen. Kalogeropoulos”.

[26]  The Report consisting of 33 pages was sent to the Prime Minister Dimitrov on 17th September 1948. - CDA, F. 146 B, Op. 5, A.E. 1306, l. 45-65.

[27] PRO. FO. 371/72 362. Monthly Intelligence Review, Greece, No. 3, 27 July 1948; No. 4, 1 Sept. 1948. The British Mission officers support the recommendation for the replacement of the Commander of the Second Army Corps.

[28] MAE. Archives Diplomatiques.Serie Z.. Carton 68. Dossier 1, vol. 19, p. 332.

[29]  The shift in Soviet attitude towards Greece in connection with the creation of NATO is stated in some CIA analyses - Assessing the Soviet threat. The Early Cold War Years. CIA 1997, p. 275, 277, 293.

[30]   CDA, F. 1 B, Op. 7, A.E. 1562

[31] Ibid., A.E. 1446, 1563.

[32] Ibid., A.E. 1478.

[33] Ibid., A.E. 11480, l. 1-2.

[34] Ibid., Op. 8, A.E. 532, l. 1,4.

[35] Ibid., Op. 7, A.E. 1436, 1491.

[36] Ibid., A.E. 1568, 1574, 1581, 1586, 1649. At the same time the Bulgarian Government expressed its indignation at Yugoslavia’s impeding Greek political émigrés who had expressed desire to come to Bulgaria from doing that. For instance, in a Diplomatic Note addressed to Belgrade of February 1950 a protest was expressed against the practice of “keeping in Yugoslavia against their will political and other refugees from Aegean Macedonia who had expressed desire to receive asylum in Bulgaria…” - CDA, F. 214 B, Op. 1, A.E. 354, l. 3. 

[37] CDA, F. 214 B, Op. 1, A.E. 352, l. 3; A.E. 711, l. 44; F. 1 B, Op. 6, A.E. 954, l. 5.

[38] CDA, F. 214 B, Op. 1, A.E. 711; PRO. FO. 371/87 584, p. 7; 371/95 074, p. 4-8; 388/65, p. 5-9; MAE, Archives Diplomatiques, Serie Z, Carton 68, Dossier 1, vol. 41, p. 112-118; vol. 42, p. 40-46; NARA, RG 59, Lot File 52-26, Box 39; RG 218, Gen. Bradley Papers, 1949-1953, Box 3; Assessing the Soviet threat. The Early Cold War Years. Washington 1997, p. 343, 393, 397, 401; FRUS, 1950, v. IV, Wash. 1980, p. 1277 etc.