1/12/1916 The Battle of Athens: French marines clash with Greek royalists

The situation in Greece remains chaotic. Allied forces are occupying much of Greek Macedonia, with the port of Salonika as their headquarters. The remnants of the Serbian army has also been shipped to Macedonia and is now plugging away at the Bulgarians who occupy their country. Meanwhile Bulgarian troops have crossed the border in a number of places.

Deep divisions in the Greek body politic make it hard to respond coherently to this tense situation. The country now has two governments. In Salonika, a pro-Allied government is headed by Eleutherios Venizelos, Greece’s prime minister before the start of the war. Meanwhile in Athens King Constantine is doing his best to preserve Greek neutrality.

Constantine’s determination to keep Greece out of the war may mark him down as the only sane man in a continent gone mad, but his neutralism irks the Allies. If Greece came into the war on their side it would make it far easier for them to menace the Central Powers in the Balkans. They are determined that one way or another Greek neutrality must be brought to an end.

So today a force of 3,000 French marines lands at Piraeus and marches to Athens. The French hope that this show of force will overawe Constantine and force a realignment of Greek politics in their favour. But things do not go according to plan. Fighting breaks out between the French and Greek troops. The Greeks shell French positions and French ships retaliate by shelling parts of Athens.

Neither side is prepared for a complete rupture: the Greeks want to stay out of the war, the French want to bring the Greeks in as an ally, not tip them into the German camp. The French beat a hasty retreat back to their ships and the Greeks let them go.

But with the French gone, the Greek royalists turn their attention to the supporters of Venizelos. Were his supporters guilty of treason by supporting the French landing? Is it time to deal with the followers of this rebellious politician?

image source:

Douglas MacPherson illustration from The Sphere, 16 December 1916 (Wikipedia)

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