This is an unusual book. The history of Greece during the second world war has been extensively discussed by many scholars but Gerolymatos’s book differs from the others in two respects: (1) his main focus is on clandestine operations and intelligence activity in occupied Greece (rather than on the resistance in the mountains), (2) he gives a survey of the history and organization of British intelligence in general, thus providing a guide through this maze of relevant organizations.
The author’s main purpose, however, is to describe—and, one feels, to give due credit to—covert operations and espionage, an area of Greek resistance activity that in his view has been neglected. His book provides what is probably the most detailed account to be found anywhere, and certainly in English.
The book consists of three parts. Part 1 (25–124) deals with the historical background. Although there is a chapter on Greek history from 1936 to 1940, the main focus here is on the history of British intelligence and espionage. Part 2 (129–216), “The Situation in Greece and the Middle East,” is about the various organizations active on Greek soil and also about British policy toward Greece. Finally, Part 3 (221–353) continues the story of covert operations and [End Page 376] the Greek resistance, ending with the outbreak of civil war in Athens in December 1944. As the author himself recognizes, some events and issues are covered more than once because of the structure of the book, which is somewhat complex.
The book opens with a dramatic account of the demonstration on 3 December 1944 that served as the fuse igniting the December war in Athens in which “[British] troops had to be prepared to destroy the very forces that their own government had so desperately tried to create three years earlier in order to fight the Axis” (16). This tragic, ironic, and true observation leads the author to reflect on what he calls the “inherent contradictions” among espionage, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare. He rightly remarks that British “offensive strategy” in the early phase of the war, after the fall of France, “came to depend largely on three elements—the blockade, the bomber offensive, and guerrilla warfare” (17). It would probably be fair to say that one major purpose of this book is to blame the British for not being properly able to control or even to understand the forces that they themselves had unleashed. In Gerolymatos’s view, this failure was caused at least in part by “confusion in the direction and coordination of the British intelligence services in Greece.”
It is certainly correct to see events in Greece, both during the world war and immediately afterwards, as largely influenced by decisions made by the British on many levels. This is hardly new. What is new is the tone of Gerolymatos’s discussion, which seems to imply that if only the British had been more competent then a better result, and for Greece a less tragic one, might have ensued. This may be correct, but it ignores the fact (amply supported by a study of the second world war as a whole) that for the strategists in London the fate of individual countries was—and had to be—of secondary importance compared to the overriding aim of winning the war against Germany.
The chapter on “British Policy toward Greece, 1936–1941” (37–55) emphasizes Greece’s unique position as a fascist dictatorship that nevertheless cultivated good relations with Britain. Gerolymatos quotes a strategic appreciation written in September 1939 for the Foreign Office by the British Committee of Imperial Defence. In this paper, British interest in using Greek harbors and denying their use to others is apparent; it is worth noting that at this early stage of the war it was believed in London that Britain could not provide “any British land or air forces to assist Greece unless the neutrality of Italy [was] assured beyond all possible doubt.” Interestingly, this document also noted that “the French favour the establishment of a...