The Greek Civil War and the Beginning of the Cold War
In the late summer of 1944, Hitler pulled all Wehrmacht troops out of the Balkans to help stop the Soviets and the Allies as they raced towards Germany. Hitler’s Balkan allies, Romania and Bulgaria, sought an accommodation with the Soviet Union and switch sides. In Yugoslavia, Josef Tito’s highly organized communist partisans filled the vacuum left by the retreating Germans and successfully stiff armed “liberating” Soviet troops. In Greece however, the partisans were generally divided into two camps that were hostile to each other. The first were the various factions supported by Tito’s Partisans and the Soviet Union, the National Liberation Front (EAM), and the other was composed of the various groups and reformed army units supporting the Greek Government in Exile, backed by Great Britain.
Winston Churchill foresaw the coming post war conflict with Communism and vowed Stalin would not have direct access to a port on the Mediterranean. All through 1944, the British made a point of securing German occupied islands in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas. The stage set, Winston Churchill quietly pulled British units out of Italy and the Middle East to accompany the return of the Greek Government in Exile after the Germans departed. On 3 October, British and Greek units occupied Athens and began funneling supplies to allied militias and disarming the EAM and the Greek Communist Party.
The EAM organized a general strike and on 3 December staged a massive protest in Athens to stop the complete erosion of communist power in Greece. The protest degenerated into a riot and eventually into open street fighting by the EAM against Greek soldiers, police and militias and their British backers. On 12 December, the tough 4th Indian Division, veterans of the 2nd Battle of Monte Cassino, arrived from Italy and this turned the tide against the Communists. By late January, the EAM was defeated. In February the various parties signed a ceasefire, supported by the US, Great Britain and even the Soviet Union. Stalin knew he could then use Churchill’s intervention in Greece as a pretext to openly do in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and Hungary what he was already doing in secret.
The Greek Civil War began in earnest in March 1946 when the Yugoslav and Soviet backed Democratic Army of Greece (DSE) attacked Greek policemen across the country (the DSE was formed from the remnants of the EAM). Great Britain was bankrupt from six years of war and asked for the United States to take their place as the Greek government’s patron.
In 1945, President Truman recognized America’s new found leadership role in the Free World, and with Secretary of State George C Marshall developed and adopted the “Truman Doctrine”, which vowed America would stop the spread of Communism, starting with Greece.
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