GREECE FIGHTS BACK
Despite atrocities unsurpassed in the history of tyranny Greek guerillas wage a bitter, stubborn warfare against their Axis foes
THE POSTER appeared in glaring prominence high on a wall in the heart of Athens, one January morning of this year.
“Reward of 100,000,000 drachmas,” its black letters shouted, “for information leading to the capture of any one of these men: Colonel Zervas,
Colonel Spais, or Colonel Douras.”
The announcement did not say who the men so advertised were, or why their capture was desired. That was unnecessary. Every Athenian who passed by the poster knew. The three were guerrilla leaders, men become legendary heroes to the people of occupied Greece—and continual headaches to the Axis. One hundred million drachmas is a stupendous fortune, even in a country where currency has dropped precariously in value, thanks to heedless Nazi inflationary measures. The ragged, gaunt Athenians who passed under the sign looked as if such an offer might well tempt them. All were thin, all bedraggled (for there is no longer new clothing for sale in the stores; that has been cleaned out long ago), many were homeless. Yet the offer apparently enticed none; its effect was only to swell their pride in the men who have been key figures in Greece’s bitter, stubborn warfare against the Axis invaders.
A few days later the Axis authorities found a small inscription written hurriedly in chalk over the lower part of the poster: “The Greeks do not betray those who fight for the liberation of Greece.”
Greek guerrillas have been fighting the Axis from the mountaintops since the Nazi blitz of April, 1941. They have played no little part in undermining the formidable bulwarks of Hitler’s “fortress Europe,” and by this have contributed mightily to the chances of Allied success in smashing through those bulwarks.
In recent months these patriot warriors have become so well organized that their fighting is comparable to that of regular soldiers on other recognized battlefronts. There is even said to be a general staff, which issues communiques to be circulated from village to village by special messengers. Exactly what generals may compose this staff cannot yet be told.
DOURAS was the first of the great guerrilla “generals.” His was the name which first came down from the mountains where the patriot armies were established, breathed in accents of pride and renewed faith. Little is known about the man himself, as he has used an assumed name to protect his family still in Athens.
Spais may also be an assumed name, for it is seldom that Greeks under the tyranny of Axis rule dare announce their identities. Generally it is only after a man is dead—brought down by the firing squad, strung up on a gibbet by the executioner, or killed in hand-to-hand combat—that his true name is made known.
Zervas, however, is known to be a hard-bitten Army officer who distinguished himself in many encounters on the Albanian front. His name was first mentioned in connection with the dynamiting of the enormous Gorgopotamos Bridge on the Athens-Salonika trunk line last December. Since then Zervas has been accused by the Axis again and again of playing a decisive role in guerrilla uprisings.
The dynamiting of the Gorgopotamos Bridge was one of the most spectacular of all guerrilla actions up till that time. There had been continuous incidents along the vital railway, the only line linking the port of Piraeus with the continent of Europe. Many of them had been directed by the mysterious Douras. Others were spontaneous, sporadic attacks by small bands of men who struck whenever the opportunity presented, hurling grenades through windows, or ripping up the rails a short while before a troop or supply train came along.
Then news of the destruction of the giant bridge was released by the Nazis—in an announcement of hostages killed in reprisal. The Axis authorities also arrested a large number of men who were reserve officers in the Greek Army. But apparently they failed to capture some of the most important figures.
A battle of several days followed the dynamiting. Italian soldiers were sent out to round up guerrillas. But the patriot fighters had already become entrenched in mountain “fortresses.” The number of Italians killed was reported variously to be anywhere from one hundred to six hundred, the Greek casualties were far smaller.
Other incidents followed the attack on the Gorgopotamos Bridge. Axis authorities killed more hostages. The wave of terror swelled.
In late January a man was executed whom the Italians believed to be a ringleader: Colonel Papakyriazis. His loss was mourned. But the guerrilla attacks not only continued, they increased in fury and frequency. By March of this spring the Axis commands were forced to set up artillery and machine-gun posts to guard the supply routes, sending motorcycle forces before and after truck convoys crossing the winding mountain highway down from Salonika.
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Greece Fights Back
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There can be no accurate figure of the number of men in the guerrilla bands. Officially it has been set at close to 40,000, but as the bands are swelled constantly by volunteers, and depleted by casualties, this can be only an estimate. The ranks of the guerrilla bands i have been filled with youths who have run away from the tyranny of j the city, with old men, even women j and with soldiers who were demobilj ized after the blitz of two years ago had overrun the country and who were happy enough to get back into the fight as soon as possible.
In the beginning these bands were forced to depend chiefly on unj adulterated courage, reinforced by a j few light weapons. Increasingly the ; “army” became more professional, receiving arms smuggled in by submarine or dropped by parachute from Allied planes. Now their leaders are all experienced Army officers, seasoned veterans of other wars.
HARDLY a week has passed since the beginning of the year that has not been marked either by a piece of sabotage, or a battle between guerrillas and Axis soldiers.
In early February two trains carrying Axis troops were derailed near Larissa, an important railway junction midway between Athens and Salonika. Later the same month another railway bridge was destroyed near the Serbian border. One pitched battle in the Pindus region lasted three days. It cost the Italians 150 men.
More Italian troops were rushed to the region to quell the uprisings. Two battalions of Fascist soldiers were reported to have been engaged in that light. The guerrilla bands numbered only a fraction as many, but they fought from well-concealed mountain positions, while the Italians were in the valleys.
The rocky Pindus mountains are the home of the evzones, those daring highlander fighters in kilted skirts and pompom shoes. Mountain people are traditionally tough lighters and hardy individualists. The evzones live up to the tradition.
The Epirus village of Tsolyti, a hamlet in the foothills of mountains, was captured by guerrilla bands in March. The Italian forces in the village were all killed or captured. But planes and artillery cannon were turned on the settlement, and the patriot victors were overwhelmed.
In their efforts to quell the guerrilla forces, the Axis authorities have burned down many towns and villages of Greece. One of the most recent villages to be reduced to charred walls and rubble was Chrysso on the slopes of Mount Parnassus. In the Parnassus region a large number of Anzacs—those left behind in the evacuation of April, 1941— have fought beside nativeguerrillasin the unequal struggle between ragged individuals and uniformed troops of a mechanized army.
But the burning village of Chrysso housed no guerrillas. Patriot fighters live far higher on the mountains, out of reach of roads and highways.
When another Pindus village, Microhori, was destroyed by fire, a priest and a schoolteacher were burned alive in sight of the other citizens. To the Greeks this was history repeating itself, for the Turks of the Ottoman Army did the same thing to another priest, nearly a 150 years ago, and every Greek schoolboy knows the story of the way he sang the Hymn to Liberty (the Hellenic National Anthem) as the flames consumed him.
Not until the war is over will we know just how much communication there has been between United Nations commands in the Middle East and the daring fighters of the mountains. But even the Axis had to admit in its usual left-handed fashion that there must be some communication.
In January the port collector of the island of Lemnos was executed, accused of having given information and aid to British submarines approaching the island. Port Collector Arvanitakis had beena popular man. When the reason for his execution was made known, uprisings occurred throughout the island in protest over his death. Arvanitakis became a hero, another to be told about in story and legend. The Axis tyrants executed eight Lemnos citizens, accusing them of being accomplices to Arvanitakis.
Later in the same month armed patriots from Douras’ bands raided a concentration camp near Larissa, overpowered the guards, streamed in over the barbed-wire entanglement, and managed to free twenty of fifty Greek officers who were held in the camp in shackles—even though fresh Italian troops were rushed to the scene, and ten light tanks fired on the guerrillas. But twenty guerrillaleaders were released from bondage.
THE growing force of Greek resistance throughout the fall and winter months of 1942-43 has strengthened the bonds of sympathy between Jugoslav and Hellenic patriots. On New Year’s Day, 1943, the guerrillas of Northern Greece held a celebration on a mountaintop near Fiorina, not far from the Jugoslav border. A celebration by a group of tattered, lean men, who have probably not slept under a roof for months on end, who live on little but olives and goat milk, sounds incongruous. Yet the story goes that they “feasted” on roasted wild game with peasant wine to wash it down, confident and elated at the effectiveness of their raids against Axis concentrations.
A visitor came to their celebration, a representative of General Mikhailovitch of the fighting Jugoslav guerrillas, who brought a message of congratulation from the general. Before he had left, plans were drawn up to co-ordinate their joint attacks against the Axis still closer. Later the Greeks appointed a liaison officer to be stationed at Mikhailovitch’s secret headquarters—Bonopoulos, a former statesman and a reserve officer in the Greek Army.
While the guerrilla armies attack from the mountains, the people of the cities do all they can to hamper the enemy. Weakened by famine, followed by Gestapo, they nevertheless have managed to disrupt telephone and telegraph lines, blow up military centres, and to cause great damage to other military or semimilitary installations.
It was saboteurs who nearly wrecked the naval base at Salamis on January 11. The Nazis had built this base into a giant arsenal, and it played an important part in the naval war of the Eastern Mediterranean. Twenty-five Germans lost their lives in the explosion. In retaliation, the Nazis executed fifteen hostages selected at random, and hanged in a public square ten prominent citizens of Salamis, “as a warning to the other inhabitants.”
But the “warning” was of little avail. A few days later the Nazi propaganda centre in Athens was destroyed by dynamite.
The most dangerous spot in all of occupied Greece has been the port of Piraeus. Here explosions have shaken the wharves again and again as ships carrying munitions, or Axis troops headed for North Africa, have been dynamited. In January of this year a storehouse in Piraeus containing food supplies for Nazi troops was destroyed by fire. In early February an Italian ship lying, at anchor in the harbor was dynamited —and among the twelve hostages executed in reprisal was the priest of St. Nicholas church in the Piraeus.
In late February a German ship in Salamis harbor was nearly wrecked as a bomb went off near an antiaircraft installation on the top deck. Three German soldiers were killed in the explosion.
IT IS impossible to classify the doers of such deeds. Saboteurs come from all sections of the population. Many of those employed in such organizations as the Telephone and Telegraph Company, or the Electric Power Company, or in any of the factories turning out goods for the Axis, are always on the alert for a chance to wreck some vital link in the Axis war machine. Several employees of the Telephone and Telegraph Company were hanged publicly in Athens this spring, and among them were women. Students have played a large part in underground warfare. So have children, and mothers, and even grandmothers.
Peasants who are forced to hand over all their produce to the enemy tyrants find many ways of sabotaging the Axis machine. In Salonika several factories were engaged in war production, one of them, a textile factory, making clothes for civilians of the Reich. Then one fine January day the cotton storehouse of the factory went up in flames. Peasants had cleverly inserted combustibles in the cotton as they baled it. After that, the authorities demanded that the peasants must attach labels bearing name and address to each bale.
Hostages have been executed in the same ruthless fashion as in the rest of Nazi-held Europe. One of my good friends was a victim of a Nazi firing squad. Thanos Skouras was of great help to me when I was in Athens as a correspondent of the Columbia Broadcasting System. When the Germans entered Athens Thanos was treated better than others of my friends. The conquerors actually permitted him to continue in his business, and grandly drew up a plan by which he would do just as they told him to, and they
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It happened he was one of the last people I saw in Athens when I departed from that unhappy capital two months after the Nazis had overrun it. I went to say good-by to him and his pretty Dutch wife, and found them listening to the radio in great excitement. Germany had just launched a full-scale attack against Russia.
“That’s going to be the finish of the Nazis,” Thanos predicted enthusiastically. His face beamed with optimism as I left. “I hope we shall see you back in Greece when the war’s over,” he said in farewell.
He was thrown into a concentration camp last December. A month later he was selected as one of a group of fifteen innocent hostages, chosen at random by the Germans. All were shot summarily in reprisal for a German ship which had been wrecked in Piraeus harbor. The bodies of the victims were taken to the cemetery in a truck and dumped into a common grave.
I have wondered what happened to his pretty Dutch wife and his infant son, but I feel confident that she like all the rest of the population is in the war by whatever means they can find to fight the enemy.
From Offense to Defense
THROUGHOUT the first year of
occupation, Greece served as an embarkation point for Axis troops going to the North African front. But before the second year of occupation had ended, the tables had turned, and the long coast line of Hellas began to bristle with Nazi fortifications, designed to hold off an invading United Nations liberation force. The civilian population of the southern Peloponnese was evacuated from coastal areas long ago. Early this year Greeks were forced to leave such towns as Marathon and Raima, on the Attica coast near Athens.
The Nazis sent heavy reinforcements of shock troops to Crete—not for invasion purposes this time, but as defense. They knew well that when an Allied landing should be attempted, Greek patriots would stand ready to risk all, in order to aid the liberation armies.
On the fifth of March, when the Nazis tried to conscript additional Greek labor for work on the Aegean fortifications, a full-scale riot broke out in one of the public squares of Athens. So intense was the fight of the Athenians against the guards, the Nazis brought out machine guns and even tanks. Reports say “hundreds” were killed or wounded. Even such workers as could be conscripted under these circumstances would hardly be trustworthy for work on vital military installments.
Long before they received encouragement from the outside world that Allied victory looked hopeful, the Greeks retained their belief in victory. Through one of the worst famines in this century, despite brutalities and atrocities unsurpassed in the history of tyranny, they have kept the faith.