Greece's Hidden Army

They’re bankers, bakers, blacksmiths, barbers by day ... but by night they become dreaded guerilla fighters

FRITZ KAUFMANN October 1 1943

Greece's Hidden Army

They’re bankers, bakers, blacksmiths, barbers by day ... but by night they become dreaded guerilla fighters

FRITZ KAUFMANN October 1 1943

Greece's Hidden Army


They’re bankers, bakers, blacksmiths, barbers by day ... but by night they become dreaded guerilla fighters

GREECE is seething with revolt—armed revolt on a scale hitherto unknown in this captive country.

Recently, heavily armed bands of Greek guerillas struck simultaneously at widely separated points in a series of “terror raids.” The forays were well planned and were executed with military precision. They bore little resemblance to the sporadic raids of a year ago.

The damage, destruction and Axis losses caused by the guerilla bands were considerable.

The organized raids began last April when guerillas blew up two railway bridges between Lianoeladi and Levadia, on the main line from Salonika to Athens.

A few days later an Axis troop train was derailed five miles from Velestinon, on the important line linking the port of Volos and Larissa. Another group of guerillas entered the town of Levadia, freeing 60 patriots from a concentration camp. Later a train terminal was set afire at Dadi, Boeotia. Nine locomotives and great quantities of lumber and petrol were destroyed. The next day an Axis relief force was thrown back with a loss of 200 lives.

More recently another bridge on the SalonikaAtherts line was blown up near Platy. Raids were

Fritz Kaufmann has been for 20 years an outstanding writer on European politics. He has been chief editor of leading Berlin and Vienna newspapers and a director of the Economic News Agency of Paris. He escaped from Germany after the rise of Hitler and is now on the staff of Free World Magazine.

made on Karditsa, Calambakha, Pharsala, Velestinon and Kastoria. German and Italian prisoners were taken. A detachment of 200 guerillas crossed the Isthmus of Corinth into the Peloponnesus, raided the region of Calavryta, attacked the airfield of Argos, destroyed a number of planes and set hangars afire. The Italian garrison at Corinth and the German garrison at Piraeus were attacked.

A month later the guerillas had won control of the entire district of Calambakha. The town of Metsovon in Epirus was evacuated by the Italians. Its entire garrison was ambushed near the “Three Inns” and annihilated. The National Bands, as they are known in Greece, clashed with the Italians in the region of Siatista and captured 51 officers and 482 men. The commanding officer of the Italian garrison at the important town of Janina was kidnapped with his entire staff.

In July the bands dynamited the Asopos bridge'on the main road between Athens and Salonika. On July 7 a German convoy of 63 trucks was passing through Kozani, headed southward. It was attacked around noon. The battle lasted six hours. When it ended, 37 Germans had been killed. The remaining 78—12 of them wounded—were captured. Not a single guerilla was hurt.

Today the flag of liberation flies over Metsovon, the strategic town on the Pindus which commands the main road from Epirus to Thessaly, and over Calambakha, in the Thessalia plain. In the rugged mountains

behind these towns Axis rule has ceased altogether? guerilla land begins.

In Central Greece, in Epirus,' in Thessaly and Western Macedonia a poster can now be seen with increasing frequency. It reads: “Prohibited to

Armies of Occupation.”

A people in arms have introduced self-rule in proud defiance of the Nazi tanks and guns surrounding them. An administration of patriots has sprung up. Strict decrees are issued against cattle thieving. A barter system is arranged between villages to circumvent the black market. The village elders become the magistrates. Food in these poor mountain districts is not plentiful, but it is strictly divided between the peasant population and the regular forces of the National Bands. Often the guerillas come back from the plains with a whole convoy of German and Italian food they have captured. The peasant Ls a fanatical guerilla supporter because the bands enable him to look after his farm and protect him from the enemy.

Rise of Col. Zervas

HE story of this remarkable resistance in defiance A of the Nazi conquerors is woven into Greek politics and concerns the rise to power of Colonel Napoleon Zervas, Commander in Chief of the National Bauds.

It is reported that the Greek patriots, under Colonel Zervas, recently placed themselves under the immedi-

ate command of Allied Headquarters in Cairo. Since that time all acts of Greek resistance have become part of the general strategic plan outlined by the generals directing the common effort of the Allies in this theatre of operations. An official announcement of the attachment of the Greek National Bands to the Allied command was made by Cairo on July 3, 1943.

Thus far Colonel Zervas has remained comparatively in the dark. The name of the Greek guerilla leader is unknown to many, though familiar to a few politicians and strategists specializing in Greek affairs.

Seven years ago, on Aug. 4, 1936, the late General Metaxas assumed dictatorial powers in Greece, using the familiar pretext of a “communist conspiracy” to dissolve parliament and abolish democracy. By a sinister coincidence most of the democratic political leaders died around that time, including General Kondylis, whose influence had been instrumental in the restoration of the monarchy—Veniselos, leader of the Liberal party, most illustrious among the Greek statesmen—the independent Demerdjis, first Prime Minister of the Restoration and predecessor of Metaxas—Tsaldaris, leader of the Popular party— Alexander Zaimis, former President of the Greek Republic—Papanastasiou, leader of the Republican party—and finally the death of Veniselos’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michalakopoulos, the last man who was considered a potential enemy of Metaxas. Deprived of their leaders the parliamentary parties offered no serious resistance to their dissolution. The few of their members who did not keep quiet— Sophulis, Theodokos, Kaphandaris—were exiled to one of the more remote islands.

The King himself-—who, during the short time of his renewed reign, had won the highest respect and confidence of the Greek people—is certainly no adherent of autocracy. Yet he could not forget that during the last years before his brief abdication in 1924 he had been a virtual prisoner of the political parties, and that parliament had been unable to form a workable majority, the Liberal and the Popular party being equally strong. Metaxas’ claim that the handful of Communist deputies were the real masters of the situation was therefore not wholly absurd. In fact the King accepted Metaxas’ dictatorship. Moreover, the King’s high authority alone made it possible for the dictator to stay in power.

But if Metaxas had won the King and the country, he did not win the Greek Army. It remained the last refuge of liberalism and democracy.

Colonel Zervas was one of these prominent liberal members of the Greek officers corps. He was the scion of a wealthy and highly respected family important in the cultural life of modern Greece. One of his relatives was Christian Zervas, a learned historian of the fine arts. Another was Skevos Georgios Zervas, a specialist in the history of the Dodecanese throughout the ages. Napoleon Zervas himself, following in

the footsteps of his famous namesake, chose a military career. At that time, when Greece passed through three wars within 10 years—the Balkan War, the World War and the Greek-Turkish War—to be a Greek officer was no easy-going, pleasant job but a profession which demanded the highest courage, patriotism and devotion. It was rewarded by the high esteem in which the Greeks held their army, which played an important role in safeguarding democracy at home in a period of great political unrest.

Fervent Nationalist

IN POLITICS Zervas was a fervent nationalist—a supporter of the “Greater Greece” outlook which aimed at incorporating a large portion of Asia Minor, the Dodecanese and even Cyprus into a strong Greek empire which was to become the leading power in the Near East. But as a consistent follower of Venizelos, leader of the Liberals, he abandoned these extravagant ideas when Venizelos made his peace with the Turks and laid the foundation for a permanent co-operation of the two countries.

When Metaxas rose to power Zervas remained passive. He did not conceal his anti-fascist leanings but with the European situation rapidly deteriorating and the prospects of another war steadily growing he remained at his post.

The outbreak of the war changed everything. The survival of the nation became the only important issue. Any manifestation of political opposition ceased immediately, in an army which covered itself with undying glory, Colonel Zervas, in command of a regiment on the Albanian front, was among the bravest. Several times his name was mentioned in official dispatches.

Then the end came. German panzers rolled through Thessaly toward Athens, cutting off the Greek troops still fighting inside Albania. However, only a fraction of them surrendered to the Italians. The others vanished and were not heard of until much later. Among those who disappeared without leaving a trail was Colonel Zervas.

Metaxas died Jan. 29, 1941. The King and his family went into exile with members of the government. Greece suffered the most atrocious occupation by Germans, Italians and Bulgarians. But in the midst of her great sufferings, her starvation, the forces of popular resistance began to gather. They formed the EAM, the “front of national liberation,” uniting the small secret organizations of sabotage which had sprung up spontaneously in the main cities and throughout the provinces. While noncommittal on party policies, the EAM was quite outspoken in its repudiation of the Greek Government in exile now headed by Emmanuel Tsouderos.

The EAM controls the activities of the militant

guerillas called Elas, short for the official title, “People’s Army of National Liberation.”

The men of this “People’s Army” are a strangely assorted lot. Mountaineers and shepherds are its backbone, but from time to time it is augmented by refugees from villages and smaller towns which have been wiped out by “punitive actions” of the troops of occupation. In addition to this permanent stock there is a huge reservoir of “part-time guerillas.” Teachers, tradespeople, bankers, bakers, blacksmiths, barbers and cobblers carry on their business during the day; but at night they all become guerillas. Then there are the “foreigners,” the British and Anzac soldiers who were unable to escape when the Allied Army was evacuating Greece. Their blond and brown hair has been dyed black, their fair complexions are darkened by the sun, and they have been given forged papers for their protection—large rewards are offered by the Germans for their capture.

Among the most active guerillas are the monks and the priests. Some of them have been shot—some are held as hostages. But others fight on, like the 66-year-old Abbot Latinakis and Monsignor Joachim Apostolidis, Bishop of Kozanne, who was ordered arrested by the Germans after he delivered a patriotic sermon in his cathedral. He managed to escape to the mountains.

New Army Joins Fight

BUT soon a more professional and better equipped army of resistance was to join the fight. In the steep canyons of Epirus, on the slopes of the wild Rhodope Mountains, on the ever-clouded tops of the sacred Ossa, Pindus and Olympus thousands of soldiers of the armies which had fought in Albania had lived in hiding since the debacle. Now they began to rally around their officers. They called themselves “Antartis,” a name which is a living tradition to the Greek people, as it goes back to the name of the guerilla bands who fought during the war of liberation from the Turks, 120 years ago.

Three groups of these guerilla fighters were operating in Epirus, Macedonia and Thessaly, under the leadership of two anonymous army officers. Farther north, in the region of Fiorina and Kastoria, other bands were taking orders from Major Bonopoulos, a former Greek diplomat, who had been able to establish a close contact with the forces of General Mihailovitch across the former border of Jugoslavia. Another guerilla force, based on Mount Olympus, won control of an area of sixty square miles in the provinces of Serres and Drama, and has specialized in raiding Axis transports going from Salonika to the south through the passes of the Rhodope Mountains. Its leader called himself “Colonel Douras,” a nom de guerre chosen to protect this officer’s relatives against reprisals. Still another group, headed by Colonel

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Greece's Hidden Army

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Leonidas Spais, operated a little more to the south, not far from the Thermopylae, where, 2,500 years ago, another Leonidas won immortal fame by checking with his 300 men the powerful army of King Xerxes.

On the island of Crete, General Manoli Mandakas, aided by MajorGeneral Tsontos and Captain Korakas, commands from his headquarters in the inaccessible White Mountains 20odd guerilla bands. General Mandakas, a veteran of the Balkan and World War, has modernized the methods of guerilla warfare. By the end of 1942 his headquarters were equipped with powerful sending and receiving radio apparatus. He issues communiques in daily broadcasts to Greece and the Near East and keeps in constant contact with Allied leaders on the Continent and abroad. Today, although the Germans control the seacoast area, the entire mountainous region in the interior is in the hands of Mandakas and his men.

One day it was learned that Colonel Zervas had reappeared and had placed himself at the head of one of the largest bands of the Antartis in northern Thrace. Its actual size was never revealed, but a number of successful acts of resistance credited to it by official reports indicate that Colonel Zervas had under his command strong forces with modern material and a good organization.

Y et Colonel Zervas soon realized that the kind of warfare that he and the other guerilla leaders were able to wage amounted to nothing more than mosquito bites on the hide of an elephant.

So he sent messages to the other guerilla leaders to meet for a secret conference to form a federation under a unified command. The officers assembled. Those who were unable to attend personally were duly represented by some of their subalterns. Zervas proposed his scheme: each body should continue to act independently, but all should closely co-operate to achieve the common goal.

Politica! Problem

His sound military views found little opposition. Yet the political aspect of the movement offered greater difficulties, as the opinions of many of the officers differed widely. General Mandakas, for instance, was strongly Republican. However, using his strong personal influence upon a wide circle of officers of all political shades, Zervas was able to make them see eye to eye with him.

Zervas’ command was unanimously confirmed. The whole country was divided into military areas, each under a local commanding officer. At the same time it was decided to adopt a new name for the common organization of the militarized guerillas. They were called “Ethnikes Omades” (National Bands).

Zervas then communicated with the Allied General Staff in Cairo, informed them of the recent developments and placed his entire organization under the command of the Allies. In turn he was officially recognized as commanderin-chief of the “Ethnikes Omades,” numbering now between 40 and 50,000 men.

Zervas’ strategy is not confined to land operations. He has also created a naval task force. His men have succeeded in capturing about 30 Axis

controlled vessels, including two Italian E-boats, and are using them to harass enemy coastwise shipping. These Greek sea guerillas are as much feared by the Axis as their compatriots on land. They hide out in the many remote bays and inlets along the deeply indented coastline and carry out regular patrols. They capture a large number of enemy vessels, many of them laden with food destined for the German and Italian forces of occupation on the Greek islands.

Colonel Zervas is entitled to be proud of the military achievements during the first few months of his command, yet a much more intricate job still confronted him. He realized that the Greek Government in exile still constitutes the only Greek authority recognized by the Allies, that whatever Lend-Lease assistance might be available for the guerillas must come through this government. He was aware that the Greek Government commands the Greek Navy, the Greek Army and the Greek merchant marine

outside Greece, and that King George 11 is still the lawful sovereign of Greece. Therefore he felt it was his duty to place himself unreservedly at the service of his government. He sent a telegram of loyalty to the King.

A few weeks ago the Greek Government in exile officially announced its intention to resign immediately after the liberation of the homeland. At the same time the King proclaimed his intention to re-establish democracy in Greece and to sponsor free elections not later than six months after the country’s liberation.

This surprising move is in no small measure due to the influence of the Greek guerilla leader. Colonel Zervas has succeeded in convincing the King that the only chance of the monarchy’s survival after the war lies in an unequivocal adherence to the principle of democracy. The King’s declaration will serve as a base on which his military forces can be united with the political forces of the EAM. For that is certainly Colonel Zervas’ final aim.