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The British Intervention in Greece:
The Battle of Athens, December 1944

The British intervention in December 1944 represents a major turning point in Greek history. The forces of EAM-ELAS suffered a severe blow in the streets of the capital, and their loss had significant consequences. The military defeat of the Left consolidated the anticommunist camp and exacerbated the polarization of Greek society and political life. During the December events, a bloody wave of retributive violence occurred that undoubtedly had its roots in the Axis occupation and the clashes that took place between the main resistance organizations and the state's security forces. Nevertheless, as this paper argues, these confrontations were not the only factors that produced the destructive cycle of violence that took place during the December events. Urban guerilla warfare played a critical role in the conflict, and an analysis of the battlefield can shed new light on certain developments during this crucial period. A series of military decisions taken during the counterinsurgency operation within the context of a civil war radicalized those involved and led eventually to a bloodbath.


On Christmas Eve, 1944, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill crossed the streets of Athens in an armored car in order to participate in a conference that had been organized on his initiative. He was there because British troops, along with Greek government forces, had been conducting a counterinsurgency operation designed to defeat the communist-led forces of Ethniko Apeleftherotiko Metopo and its armed wing Ethniko Laiko Apeleftherotiko Strato (EAM-ELAS), and by so doing to stop a left-wing coup d'état attempt.

Much has been written about the political aspects of the December events, and the role Britain played in them has been adequately analyzed, thanks in [End Page 211] great part to the declassification of the National Archives in the 1970s. Three interpretations of what happened in December 1944 predominate the literature. First, the traditional point of view that prevailed until the end of the Greek dictatorship in 1974 saw the events of December 1944 as a "second-round attempt" by Greek communists to seize power (Woodhouse 1948; O'Balance 1966; Averof-Tositsas 1978). Second, revisionists then argued that the Left never had any intention of taking power by force but rather that the events constituted the Left's response to a series of needless provocations from British imperialists and their local collaborators (Eudes 1972; Hondros 1983). This point of view prevailed in the 1980s, following the recognition given to the resistance by the Greek Panellinio Sosialistiko Kinima (PASOK) government. The postrevisionist response appeared after 2000. Here, we see an effort to pose new questions in relation the literature of the 1980s, questions that were based upon the role played by EAM-ELAS during the occupation and the connection between the Red and White Terrors. This approach often focused on the microlevel and used tools from other disciplines. According to this interpretation, the December events constituted three things: a coup, a civil war, and a revolution (Kalyvas and Marantzidis 2015). Last but not least, other studies have analyzed the social dimensions of this episode in order to understand the role and motivations of common people. Among these studies are Dekemvriana: I Maxi tis Athinas, a book that covers in detail most aspects of this clash (Haralambidis 2014), and the study by Polymeris Voglis on the social dynamics of the Greek Civil War (Voglis 2014).1

The aim of this paper is not to provide yet another analysis of the political implications of the December events. Instead, the focus will be mainly on the military and social dimensions of them—two aspects that have been somewhat overlooked. In order to provide a balanced assessment of the events, primary sources from all sides in the conflict have been consulted. Although the main body of my sources comes from the National Archives and, in particular, the Foreign Office, the War Office, and the Cabinet, I also use documents from EAM-ELAS and the Greek Government, especially the daily reports of military officials, as well as accounts from captains and officers who participated in key operations. Lastly, I include insights gained from reading the memoirs of lower-ranking soldiers.

My analysis is divided into three parts. In first part, the British response and military objectives concerning the crisis (3 December to 5 January) are discussed. Here, material from the National Archives is used in order to present, as far as possible, a coherent and chronological overview of their counterinsurgency operation. The main purpose is to paint a fuller picture of the crisis, [End Page 212] as well to describe its stages and the landscapes upon which the battles were fought, in order to provide a context for the paper's subsequent sections. The second part describes the tactics adopted by both sides as they undertook the difficult task of urban street fighting. The British strategies, approaches, difficulties, and problem-solving reactions are investigated alongside the decisive factors that led to the defeat of ELAS. Moreover, an effort is made to present some sense of how those living in the besieged city of Athens experienced the conflict. The last part then examines the escalation of the violence, analyzing the main reasons behind the horrible cycle of violence from the communist side that took place, especially against civilians, as well the atrocities committed by the British and Government troops. Overall, the important role that such a particular type of fighting played in the conflict is emphasized.

The main argument presented here supports the view that the Battle of Athens was not something planned by either side, and that once it started, it led to unforeseen outcomes. This extreme situation, which demanded extreme measures, intensified the rift between the forces of the Left and non-EAM sympathizers. In the end, British support and the defeat of EAM benefited the rivals of the Left, which were unified against a common enemy from that point on. As will be shown, this occurred for three reasons. First, British forces were not prepared for the conflict, and it was only the arrival of reinforcements that allowed them to repel the attack. Nevertheless, even with this help, they remained unable to clear the Greek mainland. However, the Left was also not prepared, and its ambivalent tactics during the initial phase of the conflict complicated things even more. Second, urban street fighting presented a new experience for both the British Army and civilians. Finally, the counterinsurgency operation, conducted in the context of a civil war, provided the main reason for the radicalization of those involved and led to a massive wave of violence. Even though the context of civil strife was present because of the atrocities committed during the occupation, the brutality of the 33 days of the Battle of Athens could be better explained only if we take into consideration a series of military decisions taken by the opposing forces and connect them with urban guerrilla warfare and the need to mobilize the civilian population against the enemy.

British response and military objectives during the crisis

In 1995, a historical conference was organized in Athens, marking the 50th anniversary of the December events. Many ELAS veterans participated in it, and during the discussion, it was stated by some that the leadership had been [End Page 213] inadequate and ill-prepared for the clashes; a statement all fighters agreed with (Farakos 1996, 146–160). Mitsos Partsalidis, the Secretary of the Central Committee of EAM, in a personal conversation in early December 1944 was so convinced about British intentions that he told the father of Leonidas Kyrkos: "Mihalaki, we have our information. … The British are not going to strike" (Kouloglou 2005, 129). The lack of decisiveness is shown also by the fact that all the divisions of experienced fighters were stationed outside of the city at the beginning of the conflict and the brunt of the operation was undertaken by ELAS reservists (Hondros 1983, 246; Gerolymatos 1996).

Lack of preparation, though, was not a factor that concerned only EAM-ELAS. At the start of December 1944, the city of Athens had reached a breaking point. Both sides were on the verge of collapse, and a single act of provocation could open a Pandora's box of violence. Following communications with George Papandreou, Sir Reginald Leeper, the British ambassador to Greece, informed the Foreign Office that General Ronald Scobie had taken precautionary measures to deal with an urgent situation due to the fact that EAM had refused government orders to postpone a demonstration scheduled for 3 December. He furthermore added:

Personally I am glad that the appeasement period is now over. Appeasing Greek communists is strangely reminiscent of appeasing Hitler. I do not pretend that we are going to have an easy time but I am sure we can manage. Papandreou is at a moment of relief and apprehension—relief he can now act openly according to his convictions—apprehensive of the effect of Anglo-Greek relations if any British soldiers are killed. I have told him that the British realise their position quite clearly and can look after themselves and that for any advice I give him I am prepared to take responsibility.

(TNA/CAB121/558: 146, 01.12.1944)

The events of the so-called Bloody Sunday signaled the outbreak of hostilities. Angellos Evert, then director of the Greek police, sent a report stating that only when some terrorist elements of the insurgents had thrown hand grenades, killing a police corporal named John Lampropoulos and wounding another policeman named Papadopoulos, were they forced to retaliate using weapons (TNA/FO371/43738:150, 07.12.1944). In total, 11 demonstrators lost their lives and 60 were wounded, while the police force suffered one fatality and four wounded. As was expected, EAM sources present a different assessment. According to their narrative, Evert ordered the police to open fire with machine guns without warning. Admittedly, due to the presence of numerous eyewitnesses who were not protesters but foreign correspondents—29 in total—and officers, as well, historians agree that this explanation seems more credible (Baerentzen and Close 1993, 85; Sakkas 2013, 29). [End Page 214]

At the time, British forces in the city totaled about 4,500 men that included sections of the 23rd Armored Brigade, the 3rd Corps HQ, the 2nd Parachute Brigade, the 139 Infantry Brigade, administrative personnel, and an Royal Air Force (RAF) regiment (TNA/CAB121/558: 254, 04.12.1944). In general, the sources divide the battle into five phases. The first covers the period from the end of November until 8 December, during which time the British forces remained chiefly on the defensive while awaiting the arrival of reinforcements. The second phase (8 to 17 December) marks a period of preparation that had as its main goal the task of securing and expanding their defensive positions. The next ten days (17 to 27 December) saw major counteroffensive operations take place in an attempt to recapture the main lines of communication. The fourth phase (27 December to 5 January) was in essence the final one, and it resulted in the defeat and evacuation of the insurgents. Finally, the period spanning 5 to 15 January saw mainly cleanup operations (TNA/CAB106/461: nos. 7–9).

The British initially took no action apart from disarming some ELAS members. The insurgents' first objectives, on the other hand, were to seize police stations with speed and to capture the main government buildings without engaging British troops (Kotsakis 1986, 59). At dawn of the next day, the British disarmed the 2nd ELAS regiment, which was under the command of Captain "Nikiforos" (Dimitrios Dimitriou) and which was moving from Thebes to reinforce the rebel forces. Scobie gave new orders to the Central Committee of EAM that it had until midnight of 6/7 December to hand over all weapons (TNA/CAB121/558: 218, 05.12.1944). Up until this point, the British general had underestimated the determination of ELAS, believing that only a single "volley from the British troops'' would terminate the rebellion (Alexander 1982, 86). The first actions of the British army took place on 4 December and involved aiding in the evacuation of members of the nationalist organization "X" to the area of Thiseio; this step was taken to avoid their potential capture by ELAS and, secondly, to capture without the use of force EAM headquarters on Korai Street. Within 24 hours, 16 out of 24 police stations had fallen into ELAS hands (TNA/WO/201/1797: 81447, 05.12.1944). The speed of the attack caught General Scobie by surprise. Until December 6, the Greek police and the newly formed National Guard in Athens and Piraeus were considered ineffective. Thus, the implementation of an operational plan became imperative (TNA/CAB121/558: 242, 06.12.1944). General Scobie divided the city into four sectors: Piraeus and Phaliron became the responsibility of the 139th Infantry Brigade (codenamed Blockforce) under the command of Brigadier A.P. Block; the center of Athens (referred to as Arkforce) was controlled by the 23rd Armored Brigade and 2nd Parachute Brigade [End Page 215] under the command of Brigadier R.H.B. Arkwright; and southeastern parts of the city were manned by the Greek 3rd Mountain Brigade.2 In addition, RAF squadrons were ordered to attack any ELAS columns moving into the city (TNA/CAB121/558: 263, 07.12.1944).

The main objectives of these forces were as follows. Arkforce was to hold the center of Athens (Constitution Square; Stadiou and Panepistimiou Streets; the Royal Gardens and the Palace), which contained the majority of government buildings, and at the same time to relieve the pressure that ELAS was putting on the defenders of the headquarters of the Gendarmerie Makrigianni, which controlled the main passages to Constitution Square. Blockforce was directed to hold its positions in Piraeus and Phaliron. The navy was stationed at Piraeus, and their position at Phaliron Bay provided access to the only roads leading to the Hassani (Kalamaki) airfield. In addition, Phaliron was used for the landing of British troops. Finally, the Greek Mountain Brigade was ordered to launch an attack on rebel strongholds in the southeastern sector of the city, a move that was designed to force ELAS to withdraw from Makrigianni (TNA/CAB121/558: 263, 07.12.1944).

The next day, the situation deteriorated even further, and there was an increase in the number of unprovoked attacks against British troops, as well as massive infiltrations by insurgents into areas held by government forces (TNA/CAB121/558: 290, 08.12.1944). Some progress was made on 8 December, both in Athens and Piraeus, when government forces managed to push the rebels back. Moreover, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean, Field Marshall H.M. Wilson, sent an additional Spitfire squadron from Italy and diverted the 4th Infantry Division, which had been awaiting dispatch to Palestine (TNA/FO371/58934: no. 41).

However, it was one day earlier, on 7 December that the fate of the battle was probably sealed. The failure of ELAS to capture the military facilities in the area of Goudi is considered by historians to be the most crucial turning point. Had the rebels captured this vital location, it would have allowed the 2nd Division, in combination with the 1st Brigade of ELAS, to attack the center of the city from two different directions (Haralambidis 2014, 129). Nevertheless, it was too early to realize the scale of this failure because ELAS still possessed an advantage. Despite the British successfully holding their positions, the continuous infiltration of divisions from the Peloponnese and Roumeli gave the rebels numerical superiority.

On 11 December, the new Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Theatre, Field Marshal Harold Alexander, and the Residence Minister, Harold McMillan, landed at Kalamaki airfield to make an assessment of the situation. [End Page 216] The conclusions they reached were merely optimistic. After an immediate conference with Scobie, Ambassador Leeper, and McMillan, Alexander realized that, after having been cut off from the sea, British forces defended a dangerous and vulnerable perimeter and had only three days of ammunition and six days of rations. He therefore ordered Scobie to implement immediately three measures: consolidate British positions at all costs, secure Kalamaki airfield, and organize armored columns that would bring supplies to the perimeter. In addition, Alexander announced that he would send orders for the 4th Division to be transferred from Italy. The next day, Field Marshall Alexander returned to his base and decided to reorganize the command. Along with the staff of X Corps, General John Hawkesworth received orders to go to Athens and direct the situation, while Scobie remained responsible for the general direction of policy. Alexander's measures marked a crucial point, after which the tide would steadily turn against EAM-ELAS. The fact that Kalamaki airport had remained in British hands allowed for the rapid dispatch of reinforcements. Within four days, the British 4th Division had reached Athens, and Hawkesworth rapidly organized a new plan of action. The forces under his command were given the following orders: 1) the 4th Division was to restore main lines of communication by opening up the road from Phaliron to Athens; 2) Arkforce was to strengthen its positions along with the Greek Mountain Brigade; 3) Blockforce was to continue clearing Piraeus (TNA/CAB106/606: nos. 5–7). At the same time, reinforcements kept coming to Phaliron Bay and Piraeus Harbor (Margaritis 2010, 18).

Meanwhile, General Scobie received a memorandum from the Central Committee of EAM offering the conditions for a ceasefire, the principle of which was the disbandment of all government forces in exchange for the withdrawal of ELAS from Athens. Scobie replied that he would only accept the terms if ELAS surrendered its weapons. Negotiations soon reached an impasse. This outcome was directly linked with the instructions received from the War Office a few days earlier: "The clear objective is the defeat of EAM. The ending of the fighting is subsidiary to this" (TNA/CAB121/558: 300, 09.12.1944).

The 18th of December marked the fiercest fighting of the conflict, and the belligerents launched decisive operations in almost all sectors. The British forces took Lofos Sikelias and Ardhitos Hill, as well as ground around the Acropolis (TNA/CAB121/559: 441, 18.12.1944). Possession of these places gave them the advantage of being able to deploy artillery pieces at key locations around the center of Athens. The insurgents conducted two major operations. The first was against the Averoff prison, where the Quisling Prime Minister John Rallis was held, and it resulted in the capture of 250 prisoners. The second [End Page 217] was against RAF Headquarters in Kifissia, which proved to be the last tactical success of ELAS in the conflict. In a move that boosted morale, the rebels captured a significant number of weapons, as well as taking the opportunity to stock up on ammunition and to take prisoners (TNA/CAB106/461: no. 44). Nevertheless, the situation was already irreversible, and from 20 December onwards, they steadily lost ground on all fronts (TNA/CAB121/559:465, 21.12.1944). The numerical superiority of the British Army, in combination with its deployment of tanks, heavy artillery, and aircrafts, was something that could not be matched by a guerrilla force.

However, the success of British troops in Athens was not enough to end the conflict militarily. Although the rebels were on the verge of defeat in the capital, they still retained a significant advantage. Rebel forces controlled the vast majority of the mainland, while ELAS forces simultaneously attacked Ethnikos Dimokratikos Ellinikos Syndesmos (EDES)—the second largest resistance organization—positions in Epirus (Sarafis 1980, 506–510). In addition, Hitler's Ardennes offensive was still in progress, and Allied troops were also needed for the Italian campaign. Having taken into consideration these factors, General Alexander communicated with the British Prime Minister, informing him that the objective of clearing Athens was feasible, but other operations could not be undertaken on the mainland; General Alexander thus suggested that he find a political solution (TNA/CAB121/559: 469, 21.12.1944). Due to a combination of pressure from the Labour Party and the press, Churchill agreed to visit Athens, organize a conference between the two sides, and meet Archbishop Damaskinos, the candidate for the Regency (Thorpe 2006).

In the meantime, British troops had completely restored the lines of communication between Phaliron, Piraeus, and Athens, further consolidating their positions (TNA/CAB121/559: 473, 23.12.1944). On Christmas Eve, the day that Churchill arrived, almost half of the city was controlled by British forces, and rebel strongholds in the districts of Kallithea and Nea Smyrni had been cleared. In the days that followed, British troops further advanced into the area around the Acropolis and captured the Papastratos tobacco factory in Piraeus, enabling them to link their units within this sector (TNA/FO371/43739: R21863, 28/12/1944).

The conference on 26 through 28 December, which had been organized at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, proved a disaster. In an exceedingly tense climate, the two sides simply exchanged accusations (Churchill 2010, 1182–1184). The only thing that they agreed upon was the appointments of Archbishop Damaskinos as Regent and General Nikolaos Plastiras as Prime Minister. Meanwhile, one ton of dynamite was discovered in the main sewer [End Page 218] under the Grand Bretagne Hotel, the base of the government and British forces (TNA/FO371/43739: R21863, 27.12.1944).

This failure of the negotiations led to a final offensive on 29 December by British and government forces in the southeastern suburbs of Athens, an area that had been the main stronghold for the rebels. The district of Kaisariani, referred to by Communists as the Greek Stalingrad, saw the most ferocious fighting of the entire conflict. A combined attack from the Greek Mountain Brigade and British forces, along with support from tanks and aircrafts, resulted in the clearing of the southeastern sector and signaled the final defeat of ELAS (TNA/CAB121/559: 521, 30.12.1944).

Up until 2 January, General Hawkesworth had established a continuous front and the remaining insurgent forces had been concentrated into two main groups: around Kipseli in the center and in the districts of Dafni and Peristeri, which were the main escape routes for ELAS fighters. Three days later, the battle was essentially over, and ELAS began its withdrawal. On 11 January, General Scobie met with an EAM-ELAS delegation and agreed upon the terms of the ceasefire. ELAS forces were evacuated, and an armistice was implemented four days later. The Battle of Athens was over. During the hostilities, British forces suffered 1,923 casualties (TNA/CAB106/461: no. 44). At the end of the operation, approximately 80,000 men had been dispatched to Greece, surpassing the number deployed in the campaign to drive out the Germans (Margaritis 2010, 18).

Tactics and everyday living

One of the most enduring and iconic images in Greek history shows a tank destroying the gates of the National Technical University in an attempt to suppress the student rebellion against the Greek military junta in 1973. However, this was not the first time that this particular gate had been destroyed by an armored vehicle. Twenty-nine years earlier a British tank did the same thing, except then the aim had been to drive out of the building the ELAS student company "Lord Byron" (Tzouvelis 2003, 12).

This incident and others like it demonstrate that a different kind of warfare was taking place. Within Athens itself, an especially densely populated city, the two sides had to adapt their military strategies and tactics to the specific conditions of urban warfare. The British forces had a conventional army, supplied with superior equipment and supported by tanks and warplanes, while the rebels relied on their knowledge of the terrain, the lessons in guerilla warfare learned fighting against the Germans, and the support of a mass [End Page 219] movement. However, the absence of any fixed military front and the fluidity of the battlefields meant that the civilian population found itself caught in the middle, and this, of course, had a profound impact on everyday life. As was to be expected, a propaganda battlefield emerged as each sought to win the hearts and minds of the Athenians.

From the beginning of the hostilities, the decision by EAM-ELAS not to engage British troops created a peculiar situation. Taking into account the fact that the British land forces had not been designed as an army of occupation—it possessed limited artillery units and an inadequate number of armored troops—it can be argued that this presented an opportunity for General Scobie (TNA/CAB106/461: no. 8). The atmosphere of a phony war that developed in the first week allowed the British to intervene in several sectors and more effectively alleviate the pressure placed upon those loyal to government forces than they otherwise might have been able to do (TNA/WO106/3185: no. 6).

Nevertheless, the stalemate was not going to last for long. The direct confrontation with the British opened up a new phase in the conflict as hostilities intensified (TNA/CAB121/559: 342, 11.12.1944). From this point onwards, the streets of Athens would be converted into death traps. The British had to adapt rapidly to the situation and fight an enemy, 80% of whom dressed in civilian clothing. After a building had been cleared, the rebels, under the cover of darkness and in civilian garb, reoccupied it and resumed firing on British positions (TNA/CAB121/558: 292, 09.12.1944). In the area of Piraeus, sites that the British thought had been cleared of insurgents became battle zones once again when insurgents indistinguishable from the civilian population moved back into them from neighboring districts (TNA/CAB121/558: 809, 10.12.1944). In some cases, tear gas was used (TNA/CAB121/559: 49A, 17.12.1944). Snipers proved to be one of the insurgents' most effective weapons, but they created panic in their ranks. Spiros Tzouvelis, a soldier who fought in the center of Athens, describes the situation:

Any house could be a front, every building could be a front. Everything was mixed. … Keeping guard exposes you to several dangers but the worst of all are snipers. They are like ghosts, hidden in the shadows, behind half-opened windows, under rooftops or abandoned houses. You cannot know when they might strike or if the bullet comes from far away or right next to you (2003, 42, 52).

Regarding the issue of the fluidity of the battlefield, British officer Richard O'Brien reports: "The German war seemed preferable, even if it did mean mortars and shells. In Italy everything was clearly defined; here right and wrong, [End Page 220] friend and foe, front lines and back areas are inextricably intermingled" (cited in Hassiotis 2015, 276).

The RAF had to conduct carefully designed operations so as to avoid collateral damage. Spitfire aircrafts were used against enemy lines of communication, troop concentrations, and buildings. Rocket-firing Beaufighters constituted the main weapon against gun positions, and Wellington aircrafts were used for bombing attacks, deploying flares, and dropping supplies (TNA/AIR49/12: 14A, 02/01/1944). Understandably, American Sherman tanks and armored cars were essential components of the British forces. Apart from the morale boost that they gave to government forces, they proved indispensable in street fighting. During the final stages of the conflict, even their physical appearance prompted a panicked response from the rebels, eventually breaking their will to continue the struggle. However, the narrow roads of Athens, free from infantry support, made them vulnerable on occasion. Had the insurgents possessed antitank weapons, they might have been able to deal with them more effectively (TNA/WO106/3185: no. 24). Instead, ELAS used mines, explosives, and roadblocks against them (TNA/CAB121/559:392, 14.12.1944). Firebombs, usually Molotov cocktails, were another useful weapon and, surprisingly, so too were blankets, which were thrown into the tanks' tracks immobilizing them.

Deception became a key weapon, as each side attempted to trick the other, occasionally in violation of International Law. For example, on 5 December, General Scobie agreed with the Central Committee of EAM that its fighters would evacuate the Acropolis so as to protect the Parthenon from being damaged in the fighting. However, two hours after ELAS forces left the monument, British soldiers equipped with machine guns and mortars occupied it, meaning that if any antiquities were destroyed, it would be from rebel fire (Rodakis and Grammenos 1986, 22–23). Orestis Makris, captain of the 1st Regiment of ELAS, also recalls that on another occasion, indeed the same day, during an attack on the Singros prison, after the insurgents had agreed with a British captain to allow his men to evacuate some prisoners, the British immediately opened fire using tanks and infantry without any warning (1985, 208). A very common tactic used by the rebels, on the other hand, was to dress in the uniforms of dead British soldiers, policemen, gendarmes, or Red Cross workers (TNA/CAB121/558:309, 10.12.1944). Women and children were employed in this way, as well (Gerolymatos 2004, 155). These people were then used as bait to distract the opponent or to give false information that would lead the enemy into an ambush (TNA/WO106/3185: no. 23). Another tactic used during sieges was to convince lower ranking fighters to kill their superiors by guaranteeing their personal safety (Daskalakis 1973, 366). [End Page 221]

As noted earlier, the insurgents possessed an intricate knowledge of the town, and many of them were seasoned veterans. Nevertheless, these advantages proved only partially useful. First, ELAS units had never taken part in operations on such a scale, and, second, the vast majority of the units that came from the Greek mainland were familiar with mountain and not urban warfare. The harsh reality of urban warfare was experienced by a battalion from Corinth that participated in an offensive on 8 December and lost 150 men in just a couple of hours (Makris 1985, 236). The captain of 1st Army Corps of ELAS, Spyros Kotsakis, makes it clear that his men only fought effectively when they cooperated with local ELAS soldiers who had local knowledge (1986, 190). George Siantos, the General Secretary of the Kommounistiko Komma Ellados (KKE), in a report written in regard to this issue: "The mountain fighter prefers to fight in the countryside which he knew. Houses were terrifying because they could not defend themselves there" (1986, 66). As the fighting continued and as ELAS's casualties mounted daily, it was decided that they had to promote youths from the youths' organization, namely, the Enniaia Panelladiki Organosi Neon (EPON) to fill their increasingly depleted ranks. This meant that the new fighters, apart from their enthusiasm, did not have much experience, and they were no match for the British soldiers (Liaroutsos 1987, 8). According to one estimate, for every street that ELAS captured, it suffered approximately 30 casualties and 24 wounded (Stavrianos 2000, 827).

Moreover, the absence of a separate home front meant that the civilian population also suffered greatly during the conflict. The general strike of 4 December, for example, totally paralyzed the city. Gas and electricity ran dry, and in the following days, the rebels cut water supplies, thus increasing the risk of typhoid and typhus epidemics breaking out (TNA/FO371/43737: R20784, 13.12.1944). The situation deteriorated further due to the low temperatures and cold conditions. The black market continued to plague the city, as well. Traffic was allowed to run for two hours (12 noon until 2 p.m.) per day, and the interruption of daily news meant that rumors spread rapidly (TNA/CAB121/559: 395, 17.12.1944). The only source of communication between war correspondents and ELAS was through stringers—Greek journalists with access to EAM contacts who fed information to the foreign press. Consequently, current news updates reached journalists even before they reached military authorities (Byford-Jones 1945, 158).

People had no choice but to adapt to this brutal environment. Apart from a tiny perimeter of a few meters that surrounded the Grand Bretagne Hotel, within which inhabitants did not directly experience the horrors of the war, the remaining civilians suffered. However, the experience was not the same for [End Page 222] all, and it can be argued that the civilians can be divided into two categories. The first were those who cooperated with EAM-ELAS, including those who performed tasks in support of the rebellion. In particular, women and children played a variety of significant roles, acting as nurses, preparing food, conveying the wounded, transporting ammunition, and delivering messages (Makris 1985, 249); this represented a total blurring of the lines between private and public life. These people fought for a common purpose, and every comrade was seen as a family member. In addition, this group of civilians participated in the continuous public demonstrations, a tactic used by EAM to apply further political pressure by showing its influence among the masses. These bonds, especially in the refugee neighborhoods, which had been developed during the occupation, were further forged by the December experience (Haralambidis 2010, 72–73).

The second category consisted of those who tried to remain neutral, but still the battle interrupted their everyday lives. The destruction of their properties, the cold weather, the lack of food, and the curfew essentially left them in a state of confinement (Gerolymatos 2004, 165). They were not even safe in their own homes: they could not sit next to the windows, they had to keep all the lights switched off, and they needed to be on alert day and night. The persistent fighting was not the only thing that made their lives more difficult. As the battle intensified, several searches were conducted by the KKE's militia, Ethniki Politofilaki (EP), in order to identify potential collaborators. During these investigations, the persons responsible were suspicious and sought to intimidate those that they were interrogating (Tzouvelis 2003, 55). Clearly, private space was violated in this case, and on many occasions this atmosphere of terror made this group of civilians hostile toward EAM-ELAS (TNA/CAB121/559: 438, 19.12.1944). In addition, government sources indicate that EAM tried to conscript people in the controlled areas through intimidation (Hellenic Army General Staff / Army History Directorate 1998, 304). On the other hand, investigations and forced clearing of neighborhoods were tactics used by the British and the Government forces, as well, and it consisted of two stages. The first was to evacuate civilians from an area and then detain anyone who could be a possible suspect. The next was to leave Greek units to patrol the area and distribute food (TNA/WO170/4048: 17.12.1944).

Within the impoverished city, the lack of food supplies created an enormous problem. The Military Liaison (ML) responsible for the distribution of food faced tremendous difficulties (Lazou 2010, 113–115). The British and the government repeatedly accused the rebels of not letting the authorities do their job, while the insurgents claimed that Scobie's policy was to bring their forces [End Page 223] to the brink of starvation. According to unconfirmed reports, ELAS's loud speakers announced that General Scobie had issued the following ultimatum: "Lay down your arms, or I will blockade you and starve you to death" (TNA/CAB121/559: 441 18.12.1944). By contrast, British sources claimed that the rebels had looted several shops and had even forced civilians to feed them with the supplies from their homes (TNA/CAB106/461: no. 41). For instance, in the suburb of Kifissia, reports mention that food had been seized from houses of non-EAM supporters (TNA/CAB121/558: 267b, 08.12.1944). Setting up soup kitchens in the center of Athens and organizing air drops of supplies by the RAF, nicknamed "winged saviors," constituted a "hearts and minds coup" for Scobie and the British (Goulter 2009, 101). This atmosphere of mutual suspicion led to conflicting reports about the situation, and this makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions. The only thing that can be argued with some certainty is that British access to supplies gave them important leverage, and that this was then utilized to put psychological pressure on the rebels.

Nevertheless, there exists one final aspect to the conflict, and that is the way that it was portrayed in British propaganda. Quite simply, they ignored it. On the pages of the magazines Aera and Foto-News, which were printed in Cairo by AGIS (Anglo-Hellenic Intelligence Agency), respectively, pictures of ELAS's forces were not included, and attention was mainly given to people from the government and the Allied war effort around the globe. It is indicative that during the Prime Minister's visit to Athens Aera's front page showed images of the welcome parade and an illuminated Acropolis and not much else (Kardasis and Psarolimligkos 2009, 56–57).

Escalation of violence

On 5 December, Greek intellectual George Theotokas wrote in his personal diary the following:

The public opinion is divided. The group that belongs to the KKE is fanaticized as ever, being in a situation of a religious zeal ready to do whatever is asked by their superiors: madness, heroisms, sacrifices. On the other hand, the majority is adamant. The big anticommunist mass has already forgotten its differences and demands one thing: strike at the KKE with all means available, and then some.

One of the most complex issues of this conflict concerns the escalation of violence. With so many factors being interrelated, multiple aspects must be taken into account to be able to arrive at a reliable conclusion, especially since [End Page 224] the slide to violence is better seen as resulting from a chain reaction that was triggered by certain choices in the battlefield. The need for the opposing sides to mobilize their bases of support, to deprive the enemy of its manpower, and to strike with every means available led to a series of unanticipated results. In the end, the Battle of Athens was characterized by violations and abuses of the laws of war, such as the detaining of hostages, the killing of civilians, and other forms of unlawful retribution. The main outcome produced by these actions was the consolidation of the anticommunist camp, which paved the way for further polarization.

From the very beginning, fears existed of possible reprisals, and Britain's (initial) numerical inferiority prompted a cautious attitude. This is shown in the decision not to use tear gas against the rebels (TNA/CAB121/558: ANNEX III, 06.12.1944). Furthermore, even though violence between EAM-ELAS and the antileftist groups was not anything new, the breakdown in relations with the British was a product of the December events. The warm welcome, regardless of political orientation, for the Allied troops, which took place after the liberation, would henceforth belong to the past (Hassiotis 2015, 273).

Brutalities among Greeks occurred from the first days of the hostilities. The British were unable to handle the situation and indirectly admitted that the maltreatment of ELAS prisoners was something to be anticipated due to the atrocities being perpetrated by the Leftists (TNA/FO371/43736: R20320, 08.12.1944). The hostile attitude against the British personnel was not the same. It is interesting to note that some reports during the first days of the uprising made a differentiation between rebels and some "terrorist" elements. In particular, on 10 December, it is mentioned that: "Unprovoked attacks on British troops appear mainly carried out by terrorist elements rather by [sic] rebels as a whole" (TNA/CAB/121/558: 309, 10.12.1944).

As to be expected, the direct confrontation with the British gradually changed this atmosphere. In general, many members of the British army were quite dissatisfied with the bellicose and ungrateful stance of EAM (Hassiotis 2015, 279). Specifically, the tactics adopted by ELAS, which constituted violations of the rules of war, led the British to take countermeasures. The main accusations against them were the following: ignoring Red Cross vehicles, deploying civilians in police uniforms, using women and children as ammunition carriers, and firing explosive and flat-nosed bullets (TNA/WO106/3185: no. 24). The British Army was not familiar with this kind of warfare, and these tactics prompted them to use more extreme measures. More specifically, the report of 23rd Armoured Brigade notes that: [End Page 225]

In such fighting, our own troops must be prepared at all times for such abuses, and must NOT be squeamish about killing anyone carrying a weapon—civilian, women or child. All occupants of a house from which fire has been coming must be arrested or killed.

(TNA/WO106/3185: no. 23)

The apparent solution to this problem was to deprive ELAS of manpower. As Polymeris Voglis maintains, control of any suburb by ELAS was dependent upon two factors: the mass mobilization of its supporters and the levels of violence being used by its opponents (2014, 83). Therefore, the British ordered mass arrests of insurgents throughout Athens. Consequently, this measure resulted in indiscriminate detentions, which created panic within the ranks of ELAS. Because its fighters did not wear military uniforms, identifying who was a rebel represented a serious problem and greatly complicated the situation. For instance, Georgios Angelakopoulos was arrested because he had in his pocket a poem denouncing King George, and the popular actor Mimis Fotopoulos was sent to the camp especially designated for political exiles in El Daba in Egypt because he was a member of EPON (Panourgia 2009, 72–73). From 10 December onward, 1,800 POWS were transferred to the prison camp in Kalamaki and from there to the Middle East, with women as well as men included in this group (TNA/FO371/43737: R20414, 10.12.1944). Even though they were not supposed to be deported until the end of the month, 348 female prisoners were detained in a central area of the city (TNA/CAB121/559: 493, 26.12.1944). By the end of December, 7,450 prisoners had been captured, and 3,063 had been evacuated to El Daba (TNA/FO371/43739: R2207, 29.12.1944).

These kinds of incidents took place very often during the uprising and finally led EAM's leadership to follow a harder line. The political background of this decision can probably be traced to December 13 and 14, when the Socialists in EAM proposed adopting conciliatory measures, but their proposal was rejected without debate (Fleischer 1995, 75). Thereafter, and according to Spyros Kotsakis, during the second half of December, ELAS embarked on its own reprisals by arresting civilians (1986, 210–211). This was the crucial event that radicalized the Battle of Athens to an unexpected scale. From this point onwards, not only would behavior toward the British be more strident, but a vicious circle of violence would be unleashed, and the violence fell into two categories. The first one was the maltreatment of hostages and the second was a series of executions by the EP.

Having not been prepared for such a situation, EAM-ELAS lacked the means to provide basic necessities to the hostages, who numbered approximately 12,000 (Haralambidis 2014, 311). Another problem was that these arrests were indiscriminate, and some of those taken hostage were not people [End Page 226] necessarily linked with anti-EAM activities (Leontaritis 1986, 114). The vast majority were transferred on foot by marches in the cold winter weather, during which many died. For instance, according to information provided by H.G. Morrow, officer of the King's Royal Rifle Corps, on Christmas Day, from a column of 800 people only 600 remained ten days later. Some died from the cold and starvation, while others were executed (TNA/HS/5419: nos. 3–4, 15.01.1945). In addition, during these operations, it is reported that the rebels had also captured children and did not allow the Red Cross to give them aid (TNA/FO371/43739: R21947, 28.12.1944). Furthermore, as the fighting continued, reports surfaced regarding the maltreatment of British prisoners—in some cases even cold-blooded executions (TNA/FO371/43737: R20935, 15.12.1944). On 31 December, five hundred RAF prisoners were located 100 miles outside of Athens (TNA/CAB121/559: 553, 31.12.1944).

Simultaneously, in the suburbs of the capital, approximately twelve hundred people were executed by the EP (Haralambidis 2014, 295). This issue is probably the most controversial of the December events, and we cannot analyze it in detail here due to a lack of space except to present a general overview. The carrying out of revolutionary justice as presented by the Left was based on two premises. The first one was a legal institution, namely, the laika dikastiria (people courts), and the second and most important, the increasing use of violence, which was spurred on in the second half of December, when the British were gaining the upper hand and EAM was losing ground (Mazower 2000, 27). Of course, it can be taken for granted that high tensions existed before liberation and that the majority of the population who had suffered during the occupation wanted justice. There was a popular demand for prosecution of people who had collaborated with the Nazis, particularly black marketers, certain persons that belonged to the upper class, members of the security battalions, the gendarmerie, and the Eidiki Asfaleia (Special Security). Additionally, during 1941–1944, a new social category emerged due to the significant redistribution of wealth, and, as was expected, these people were persona non grata (Vergopoulos 1981, 302). Last but not least, a culture of mistrust developed because of the fear of possible spies (Panourgia 2009, 76).

Hence, a need for revenge that was already present, combined with the realization that sooner or later ELAS must evacuate the city, produced a literal bloodbath. Undeniably, there were elements of class warfare during the December events, but the uprising also provided an opportunity for people to settle old personal rivalries (Moumtzis 2013, 204; Kostopoulos 2016, 225). In the district of Peristeri, a mass grave that spanned over 200 yards was discovered. Captain Blackner, an eyewitness, estimated that approximately 1,200 people [End Page 227] had been executed at the site, most of them having been slain with axes and knifes (TNA/HS/5419: 7, 17.01.1945). George Theotokas described the actions in terms of "a pure Marxist revolution determined to exterminate the bourgeois way of life" (Theotokas 1996, 452–453). The right-wing newspaper Dimokratia called them "human sacrifices by cannibals" (Byford-Jones 1945, 202). The mutilated corpses attracted international attention, and foreign observers arrived in Athens to investigate the situation. On 22 January, Sir Walter Citrine, along with a delegation from the Trades Union Congress, conducted an investigation and produced a report entitled What We Saw in Greece that received much publicity over the following months (Woodhouse 1948, 225). Until that point, many countries, including the US, had been frustrated by the British policy in Greece. The American ambassador, Lincoln MacVeagh, had repeatedly protested about the issue to his British counterpart (TNA/FO371/43738: 114, 19.12.1944). Yet the impact of the report had serious consequences and represented a huge blow to EAM's international recognition, causing the loss of many sympathizers in Great Britain (Sakkas 2013, 65).

The sufferings caused by the military operation and the intensifying polarization led many opponents of EAM to join the newly formed National Guard that was organized by the British. In Piraeus alone, 2,000 men enlisted, and by 21 December, the Guard's total strength was 6,500 (TNA/CAB121/559: 465, 21.12.1944). Joining the Guard provided an opportunity for those who had been wronged by EAM to exact revenge (Baerentzen and Close 1993, 91). Self-preservation motivated some moderates to join. Lastly, some members of non-EAM resistance organizations who were afraid that they would be charged with atrocities committed during the occupation believed that by joining they could clear their names (Pentzopoulos 2012, 61). One representative example was the organization of Panellinia Enosis Agonizomenon Neon (PEAN) that eventually supported the Government; its casualties in one month had been equal to those incurred during the three years of occupation (Hatzivasileiou 2004, 279). But most important was Deputy Minister of War Leonida Spai's decision to incorporate the security battalions into the struggle against the Left on 12 December. This was a policy change that would have important consequences for the signing of the Varkiza agreement in February 1945 (Close 1995, 139). Therefore, it was not a surprise that the forces of the National Guard after 1945 were comprised of elements with anticommunist credentials (Tsakalotos 1960, 715).

Pausanias Katsotas describes well this transition that affected the lives of many people who were exhausted by the occupation and wanted the restoration of a normal life: "The Greek people felt sympathy for EAM because they knew that ELAS which resisted the Germans was a creation of the Communist party. [End Page 228] However, the December rebellion made them want to keep their distance and considered them as responsible for this new crisis" (Katsotas 1981, 264).

However, the communists also presented accounts about the atrocities committed by the other side. These offenses fall into three categories: the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians by the RAF, the artillery, and the navy; the relentless shelling of the city and its neighborhoods; and the violence against civilians by the British and the Government's troops (Rodakis and Grammenos 1986, 123). A report from the 6th Axtida of Kommatiki Organosi Athinas (KOA) states that in the eastern suburbs of Athens alone, civilian dead and wounded stood at 1,397, with 842 houses partially or totally destroyed (Ekdosi tis 6is Axtidas tis KOA 1976, 37, 40). On 9 December, the Central Committee of ELAS protested to Scobie that the RAF had attacked civilians from close range, including women and elderly men (Rodakis and Grammenos 1986, 119, 244). Another report cites the ongoing massacre of EAM sympathizers in districts that were occupied by the British. Meneleaos Lountemis describes the disgrace he felt because the British used the Acropolis as an artillery base: "Taking advantage of our respect for the monument they bomb with brutality our homes. … How could you retaliate. … Even Tamerlane would not have done that" (2004, 137).

Such accusations are found in British sources, as well. From the beginning of the campaign, General Scobie had informed the War Office regarding the difficulty of dealing with ELAS, and he furthermore added: "Troops are insufficient to clear Athens-Piraeus under present conditions without resorting to shelling and bombing in built up areas regardless of damage or civilian casualties" (TNA/CAB121/558: 302, 09.12.1944). Peter Holloway, who participated in the bombing of Athens, admits that on 29 December alone, his cruiser fired 2,000 shells in the southern suburbs of the capital (Holloway 2003).

Reprisals were not absent from the British side. George Siantos notes that aircrafts and artillery conducted relentless shelling in the area of Kipseli, leading to the deaths of a great number of children. Moreover, they attacked the northern suburbs in retaliation for the capture of the RAF HQ and even struck an ELAS military hospital (Siantos 1986, 41). George Xouliaras—known as Pericles—mentions that when the British captured the hospital Sotiria, they even killed some patients who were inside (2005).

Such brutalities carried another important aspect that should be noted, and this concerns a racial/ethnic dimension to the conflict. Winston Churchill had spoken about the responsibility of "the white races" to those who were "colored," enjoying support from those who believed in Great Britain's "civilising mission" (Iatrides 2013, 194). In contrast, many sources from EAM-ELAS focus [End Page 229] their attention upon colonial troops and made particularly harsh criticisms. Many Leftists who participated in the battle used an overtly racial vocabulary to describe their colored opponents—for example, referring to them as arapades (Arabs). An ELAS bulletin of 14 December states that "Arapades in collaboration with Greek traitors conducted a series of murders, rapes and destruction of properties in Piraeus" (Kotsakis 1986, 145). The communist newspaper Rizospastis noted: "What can we say about the landing of arapades in British uniform in Piraeus to drown the people of Athens in blood?" (TNA/CAB121/559: 444, 20.12.1944). This may be explained by the fact that many ELAS fighters considered them to be primitive people who had come to do the empire's dirty work, and they perceived their presence as the ultimate proof that they were to be dealt with not as allies, but as a colony. For these reasons, the treatment of Indian POWs was more brutal than that of other British prisoners (TNA/WO361/1751: 1B, 30.01.1945).

Regarding the issue of mass killings, even after the December events, the KKE admitted some mistakes, but it did not accept full responsibility for them. Their official line was that provocateurs and traitors had infiltrated their ranks and wanted to harm their image. Furthermore, another claim was that the British had gathered several corpses from bombarded areas and buried them in mass graves (Haralambidis 2014, 304–308).

The final factor that contributed to the escalation of violence was the fear that to surrender would mean certain death by execution. This was certainly the fate of some prisoners, especially Greeks ones, and rumors spread throughout the city about men being massacred. Captain Makris describes a representative incident in which seven gendarmes were murdered immediately upon their surrender. It is worth nothing that this act was characterized by this captain as treason, since it led to their rivals fighting to the death rather than surrendering (1985, 226). Nonetheless, the damage was done. An officer of the Regiment of the Gendarmerie stationed at Makrigianni, for example, said to his men: "We must understand it: from here we are going out either winners or dead. No retreat or negotiations are possible" (Daskalakis 1973, 424). The political commissars of EAM, on the other hand, had warned ELAS's fighters that surrendering to the government was equivalent to a death sentence (Hellenic Army General Staff / Army History Directorate 1998, 329). This culture of violence and mutual hatred had been cultivated since the days of the occupation, but now it had reached new levels.

Another policy that exacerbated the violence was that, following the arrival of British reinforcements, the insurgents tried to compensate for their lack of manpower and supplies by ordering their men not to retreat but to fight [End Page 230] to the death. Among other orders, there were directives given to the commanders of ELAS brigades that: "Retreat will not be discussed and the struggle should last until the end" (Kotsakis 1986, 154–155). This attitude may be explained by the insurgent's frame of mind. Kaisariani had not been named the Greek Stalingrad simply for propaganda reasons. For the vast majority of the ELAS fighters, the battle represented the continuation of the antifascist struggle. The only difference was that this time the Germans had been replaced by the British (Handrinos 2012). In addition, in the eastern suburbs, they were fighting for their homes and properties, fearing reprisals should they lose. Therefore, the rebels' resistance in Kaisariani was very stubborn, and they fought from door to door and from street to street; only when the threat of encirclement was imminent did they decide to withdraw (Katsimitros 1970, 165).

This spiral of violence unleashed during the December clashes would represent a turning point in Greek history. Richard Capell, who was a war correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, captures well the most important legacy of the Dekemvriana: "Greeks feel their politics so intensely that they ruin themselves thereby and especially when a vicious circle of vendettas spiraled until every family in the land had suffered the loss of a dear one as a result of the hatred between the opposing fractions" (cited in Smith 1988, 199).

The fact that ELAS remained undefeated in the mainland and that the government was both vulnerable and mainly based in urban centers made the task of making the peace almost impossible. Soon the two rivals would meet again, but next time it would be in the mountains of Greece.


This paper has focused upon the military and social issues at play during the events of December 1944, outlining in some cases how they interacted with one another. The main conclusions reached are as follows. First, the inadequacy of British and government forces gave EAM-ELAS the opportunity to conduct a surprise attack that allowed it to fight on for over a month. As was to be expected, the ideologically motivated insurgent army was defeated eventually by the conventional British army. However, the duration of the battle proved long enough to spark various events that would gain their own dynamics. Second, this type of warfare, and the tactics followed by both sides not only led to a schism between the Left and the British in Greece but also alienated some moderate elements of the society from EAM. Finally, the deadly combination of a counterinsurgency operation within the context of a civil war resulted in a new wave of violence that would be used by the victorious side as the principal [End Page 231] excuse for persecutions during the period that followed the Varkiza Agreement of February 1945.

The new dimension that emerged during December 1944 was the decisive solidification of the anticommunist bloc. This does not mean that the civil war that followed afterward was inevitable, but the polarization caused by the Dekemvriana was certainly an important contributory factor. The fear of a communist revolution and the mass wave of violence deepened social divisions and led many people who belonged to the so-called grey zone to participate or support directly or indirectly one side or the other. As George Margaritis observed in his study of the Greek Civil War, the December events and the British intervention provided an opportunity for a variety of groups, from Venizelist anticommunists to collaborators, to cooperate in order to confront the communist threat (2005, 72).

Athens had suffered greatly during the Nazi occupation, and the people anticipated the restoration of normal life after the liberation. The street fighting that converted their city into a war zone tested their limits once again. After the December events and due to the brutalities committed by both sides, issues of security and peace were made a top priority. Having won the battle, the government tried to present itself as the only power that could accomplish this task, and after three-and-a-half years of continuous presence in the capital, EAM's legitimacy was undermined (Voglis 2014, 177). Violence has been used by postrevisionist scholars as a way to explain the Greek Civil War. According to this narrative, the Red Terror of December led to the White Terror of the following summer, and this action-reaction process, active within a framework of reprisals, paved the way for the last phase of the conflict over the period 1946–1949 (Moumtzis 2013).

This thesis focuses upon the wave of violence conducted by the Left in order to propose some reasons for the escalation. Within the limits evident herein, it is impossible to conduct a careful examination of all the related accusations, although some general conclusions can be drawn. Political scientist Stathis Kalyvas uses the term selective violence to describe a form of violence directed against specific individuals on the basis of personal information and indiscriminate violence to describe violence directed against people that belong to a certain group (2006, 146–210). Under various circumstances, the second of these tends to be counterproductive, and this may indeed be the case here. This paper suggests—as a possible approach for further research—that EAM-ELAS's decision to deploy violence during the December events presented a transition from a selective form of violence to an indiscriminate form, a decision that had powerful, negative consequences for the movement. [End Page 232]

Three important ones were: 1) the loss of control by the upper echelons of the decision-making process to lower-ranking members; 2) an increased lack of discipline among its ranks; and 3) a decrease in operational efficacy. Despite that, during the early stages of the conflict, EAM's leadership ordered the targeted extermination of people on the basis of certain intelligence that they had obtained, and they sanctioned the taking of hostages. In the former practice, we see an example of selective violence, while in latter is clearly an indiscriminate form. Undoubtedly, the motives of the perpetrators of these actions were many and varied. Among them were indoctrinated fanatics, others who wanted to solve personal differences, opportunists in pursuit of wealth, and possibly some provocateurs. In light of such a mosaic of factors and events, it cannot be argued with certainty which ones were prevalent. However, we might observe that the impending defeat of ELAS led to the indiscriminate killing of many people who had never been involved in antileft actions.3 Therefore, it could be said that we have the characteristics of violence targeted toward the group that, ostensibly or not, opposed EAM. As the General Secretary of the KKE Nikos Zachariadis said in regard to the issue of hostages in June 1945: "Our mistake was that we ordered the arrest of hostages without having discipline and at the end this was downgraded to an action outside of politics" (ASKI/Arxeio KKE/02: 102, 22).

Even today, the public debate about the Greek Civil War is fierce, in particular because so much research is oriented toward contemporary politics rather than history. Overall, a coherent overview of social and military issues is imperative and necessary in order to understand fully what took place and why during this fateful decade.

Panagiotis Delis
Simon Fraser University
Panagiotis Delis

Panagiotis Delis is a PhD researcher at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for Hellenic Studies, Simon Fraser University, and has the forthcoming publication "Violence and Civilians during the Balkan Wars (1912–13)" in the Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies. His current project is "The Balkan Wars of 1912–1913: Aspects of Violence (Civilians, Combatants, POWs) and the Participation of the Greek and Bulgarian Army."


1. For a detailed examination on the literature of the Greek Civil War see Gardika et al. 2015.

2. The Mountain Brigade was formed in the Middle East after a failed attempt by EAM sympathizers in the Greek Army to force the government-in-exile to accept the principles of the movement. The brigade contained faithful anticommunist elements and captured Rimini during the Allies' campaign in Italy.

3. For example, the murder of the famous actress Eleni Papadaki by EP fanatics and the wave of violence directed against members of other left-wing organizations, which resulted in the assasination of many people (Lampatos 1996, 140–143). [End Page 233]


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CAB106/461, Greece: Operations of British troops in the insurrection 1944 Dec.-1945 Jan.
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CAB121/558, Political and Military Situation in Greece Following the Insurrection, Vol. 1.
CAB121/559, Political and Military Situation in Greece Following the Insurrection, Vol. 2.
FO371/43736, Greek Political Crisis of November-December 1944. Code 19 file 745 (papers 19517–20399).
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