Greece during the Great War


 In 1914, after the outbreak of WW1, the two sides tried to form alliances with the Balcan countries. Soon Serbia joined the Triple Entente while Turkey and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers. Greece decided to remain neutral. That decision was the result of the complex political situation of the country. Greece was a royal republic but the King's role was dominant and sometimes there were contrasts between the Palace and the Prime Minister. During that period, King was Constantine I and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, a man with a very strong personality. Under his inspired leadership Greece had doubled its territory during the two Balcan wars against the Otttoman Empire (1912) and Bulgaria (1913). Constantine was married with the Kaiser's sister and by deciding to remain neutral was giving an advantage to the Cental Powers. On the other hand, Venizelos wanted to join the Triple Entente, having in mind post-war territorial gains -mainly in Asia Minor which was populated by a large number of Greeks but was still part of the Ottoman Empire. The contrast was inevitable and divided the people in two sides, the Royalists and the Venizelists. It was called the "National Division" and had a very negative impact on Greece's future progress.

Eleftherios Venizelos - Prime Minister of Greece

Constantine I - King of Greece


Timeline of events

End of 1914 Venizelos suggested the partecipation of 2 batallions and of the entire Greek fleet in the Gallipoli campaign (the Allied landings in the Turkish penisula of Gallipoli in order to take control of the Dardanelles straits). England and France accepted while Russia insisted that no Greek forces should enter Constantinople (Istanbul) in case of success.
February 1915 Constantine refused to take position and asked the opinion of his military advisors, who considered the forcing of the Straits impossible and they suggested a ground attack in eastern Thrace (present European Turkey) from the Greek borders. As a result, Constantine refused to give his permission for the use of Greek forces in Gallipoli and Venizelos resigned.
September 1915 After a landslide victory in the new elections Venizelos formed a new government. Bulgaria entered the war with the Central Powers. Venizelos ordered a general mobilitation of the Army, but when he was asked if  it was against the Bulgarians only, he responded that it was against the Austrians and the Germans too. Constantine disagreed again and Venizelos was forced to resign for the second time on Sept.24, 1915.
November 1915 As Serbia collapsed under the attack of the Central Powers and the Galipolli campaign resulted a disaster, it became evident to the Allies that there was a serious risk to lose the Balcans. Ignoring the Greek decision to remain neutral, French and British forces landed at the port of Salonica in order to create a new front in the north Greek province of Macedonia. The Galipolli forces were transfered there gradually.
December 1915 British and French forces made another rude intervention by occupying the Ionian island of Corfu. They used it for the evacuation of the retreating Serbian forces. Constantine despite those provocations did not react. Venizelos decided not to partecipate in the new elections. The situation was critical. 
June 1916 Germans and Bulgarians passed the Greek-Bulgarian borders and requested the handling of the mountain forts. The new Greek government was with the back in the wall and after not reacting to the Allied landings in Salonica and Corfu was forced to accept, if Greece wanted to remain neutral. The Bulgarians take the largest fort (Rupell) and 3 major cities. All the Greek territorial gains of the second Balcan war were virtually lost. The Allies were furious and requested the immediate resolution of the Greek Parliament and of the Greek Army.
July 1916 The Greek army officers in Salonica organize the rebel movement of "National Defence" in order to defend eastern Macedonia from the Bulgarians.
September 1916 Venizelos joined the movement in September after recruiting almost 20.000 men from the aegean islands. Soon a new revolutionary government -led by Venizelos-was formed. The Allies backed this unofficial government openly and they offered funds and military equipment. Greece was virtually divided in two states. Meanwhile in Athens, Constantine made an agreement with the French envoy after the French fleet surrounded the Greek capital. He was disposed to accept to withdraw his forces from central Greece and to hand over large quantities of naval and military equipment. He also stated that he'd encourage volunteers to join the rebel forces in Salonica. In return, he wanted the Allies to guarantee the present borders and to respect Greece's neutrality. The French refused and demanded the hand over of the equipment without any conditions while the rebel forces joined the Allied troops in the Macedonian front.
November 1916 Constantine finally accepted the Allied terms but he stated that he couldn't control the Army and so he couldn't guarantee the safety of the Allied soldiers. A landing of British and French forces in Pireaus was decided, in order to seem that the King was forced to accept. The French took control of the Greek fleet. Navy officers and sailors returned to Athens protesting and organizing opposition. Soon they were joined by many soldiers who judged the agreement humiliating.
November 18,1916 The Allied landing was a disaster. The 3000 French and  British men who disembarked at Phaliron and Pireaus soon faced strong resistance. The French Admiral in person was trapped inside the Zappeion palace and was saved by Greek soldiers faithful to the King. In the chaos that followed, French warships opened fire against the Palace (the present Parliament in downtown Athens) killing a number of innocent civilians. In the afternoon, the two sides finally compromised and the Allies withdrew leaving 194 dead and many injured. The Greek casualties were 82 (without counting the civilians). The Allies considered the possibility to start a siege with their fleet.
November 21,1916 The survivors from the Britannic were transfered on warships at Pireaus. However, the nurses disembarked and they were hosted at the "Actaion" hotel (owned by Venizelists). The RAMC Officers disembarked too but they were hosted at another hotel owned by royalists. The ambient was hostile but nothing serious happened. Many Greek sympathisers visited them and joined the funerals of the wounded who died of their injuries. One week later the French Navy started the naval blocade of Athens.
May 1917 Constantine abdicated and his son Alexandros became King. He agreed to cooperate with the Allies.
June 1917 Venizelos returned victorious in Athens and formed a new government. Greece officially joined the Allies against the Central Powers, Bulgaria and Turkey. By the end of the war in 1918, 250.000 Greeks had fought with the Allied troops in the northern Balcans driving enemy forces out of Eastern Europe.