3/2/1919 Carving up Turkey

As a defeated power, the Turks are going to have to accept the loss of their empire in the Middle East. The exact shape of arrangements there is still up for grabs, as there is a welter of contradictory agreements in place between Britain, France, the Arabs, and Zionist Jews. More worryingly for the Turks, Allied eyes are also turning towards their Anatolian heartland. Venizelos, the leader of Greece, presents his country’s claims to the Paris Conference today. He argues that his country should be granted much of European Turkey and also much of Anatolia’s Aegean coast. He cites the Greek inhabitants of these regions and the ancient links they have to Hellenic culture. While he is at it, he also claims much of Albania, but he is careful not to antagonise the British by advancing claims on Cyprus. And he avoids appearing too greedy by not making any explicit claims on allied-occupied Constantinople itself.

Venizelos’s claims receive a favourable hearing from the Allies, with Lloyd George particularly enthusiastic. The British prime minister has formed a warm relationship with Venizelos himself, but he also sees a strong Greece as a useful British ally in the Eastern Mediterranean. His military men are less enthusiastic, warning that an attempt by the Greeks to establish themselves in Anatolia may well provoke a determined Turkish reaction. Their warnings go largely unheeded.

The one Allied power that is signally unimpressed by Greek claims is Italy. Italy’s leaders also want to take over Albania and they are eyeing up some of the same Anatolian coastal areas as the Greeks. Graeco-Italian relations are further complicated by the Italian occupation of various Greek-speaking islands in the Aegean.

The Allies are also trying to assert their power within Turkey, not just in the occupied zone but beyond it. Here their goal is to have those responsible for atrocities against the Armenians or Allied troops arrested and tried. However this is all proving a bit difficult. The Allies can arrest people in the occupied zone, but beyond that the Turkish authorities are reluctant to do the Allies’ bidding. Calthorpe, Britain’s high commissioner in Constantinople, reports that the Turkish Sultan fears for his own safety if he cooperates too readily with Allied attempts to prosecute war criminals. Nevertheless, the British continue to insist to the Turks that there must be justice for the terrible crimes that were committed.

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Greek ambitions (Wikipedia: Megali Idea)

2/7/1917 Greece formally joins the Allies

For some time now Greece has been divided between a pro-Allied government headed by Eleftherios Venizelos based in Salonika and a neutralist government in Athens loyal to King Constantine. But now the Allies have successfully forced the Constantine into exile. Venizelos returns to Athens and establishes a pro-Allied government there whose writ will run over all of Greece, albeit relying on Allied arms to intimidate any remaining supporters of Constantine.

Today Venizelos finally achieves his great ambition: declaring war against the Central Powers and bringing Greece into the war on the side of the Allies. The Allies hope this will allow them to increase the pressure on the Central Powers in the southern Balkans.

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A pro-war propaganda poster (Wikipedia)

12/6/1917 The Allies finally get rid of Greece’s uncooperative King

Greece has for some time now been divided between the followers of Venizelos, the pro-Allied politician, and King Constantine, who wishes to keep the country out of the war. Allied forces have established themselves in the northern port of Salonika and are trying to contest the Central Powers’ control of the Balkans. Venizelos established a pro-Allied government there too but Constantine remained ensconced in Athens.

A previous French attempt to oust Constantine failed. Now the French have another go, occupying key points in southern Greece and presenting an ultimatum to Constantine, demanding his abdication. This time Constantine accepts defeat, agreeing to leave Greece for exile in Switzerland (but not formally renouncing his throne).

Constantine’s second son Alexander is installed as king, bypassing his elder brother George who is believed to have pro-German sympathies. Alexander agrees to recall Venizelos to the capital and invite him to form a government. With many of Constantine’s supporters following him into exile, the way is now set for Greece to formally join the Allies.

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King Constantine (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Eleftherios Venizelos (Wikipedia)

7/12/1916 Greece: the royalists’ revenge

Greece now has two governments. Eleftherios Venizelos leads a pro-Allied government in Salonika. Venizelos wants to bring Greece into the war on the Allied side. As Salonika is now under French and British occupation, many see Venizelos as little more than their puppet. Meanwhile in Athens another government is loyal to Greece’s King Constantine, who is determined to keep the country out of the war.

The recent French attempt to occupy Athens and force a change in Constantine’s line has been a fiasco, with royalist forces obliging French to beat a hasty retreat. Since then Athens has seen a brutal purge of Venizelos’ supporters. Many of his partisans have been arrested and their homes or businesses ransacked. There are reports of some Venizelists being roughly mistreated or even murdered. The Archbishop of Athens excommunicates Venizelos, with Constantine issuing a royal warrant for his arrest.

In Salonika meanwhile Venizelos formally declares war on the Central Powers. This however is an empty gesture as he lacks any serious military force of his own.

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?

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

3/11/1915 Serbia on the rack

Things are not going well for Serbia. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans invading from the north have been joined by a Bulgarian invasion force from the east. The combined onslaught is too much for the Serbian armed forces. They retreat to Kosovo in the south of the country. Much of the country’s civilian population is in flight, fearing the vengeance of the Austro-Hungarians. Famine and pestilence stalk the land. The end of Serbia appears to be nigh.

The Serbians are in desperate need of assistance from their allies but the help forthcoming from Britain and France is a derisory. A small British and French force landed in the northern Greek port of Salonika. The Allies had hoped that by doing so they could bring Greece into the war on their side and lead the Greek army to Serbia’s aid. Eleftherios Venizelos, the Greek prime minister, was supportive of this endeavour but King Constantine is determined that his country remain neutral. The Greek authorities have made no attempt to dislodge the British and French from Salonika but there is no prospect of their army marching with the Allies to the aid of Serbia.

Despite the uncertain Greek political situation, General Sarrail has sent his French force north from Salonika into Serbian Macedonia. His force is too small to materially effect the outcome of the fighting there but he hopes to secure a corridor for the Serbians to retreat to Salonika. However, even this modest goal is starting to look like it might be over-ambitious. The French find themselves fighting the Bulgarians near Krivolak. If Sarrail expected the Bulgarians to be an easy enemy to fight he is now disabused of that notion. His force finds itself battling more for its own survival than to keep lines of communication open to the Serbians further north.

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Austro-Hungarian troops carrying out executions (The History Place)

Maurice Sarrail (Wikipedia)

14/10/1915 Bulgaria joins the war against Serbia

Things are not going well for Serbia. The German and Austro-Hungarian forces invading from the north are proving unstoppable. Belgrade has fallen and counter-attacks have failed to dislodge the invaders. This invasion is commanded by Germany’s Mackensen and it does not look like there will be a repeat of the mistakes that allowed the Serbs to repel three Austro-Hungarian invasions last year.

Now things get worse for Serbia. Bulgarian forces launch an invasion of the country form the east. The Bulgarians are looking to pay back Serbia for its perceived treachery in the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913. They have also been promised significant territorial gains at Serbia’s expense by Austria-Hungary and Germany.

The Serbs are now desperately outnumbered and being assailed from two sides. If help is not forthcoming there is every likelihood that they will be overwhelmed. They have a treaty of alliance with Greece, obliging that country to come to their aid in the event of war with Bulgaria. Unfortunately Greece is in the grips of political paralysis, with Prime Minister Venizelos favouring intervention and King Constantine wanting to remain neutral. Until Venizelos can prevail over the King there will be no support from Greece; this is unlikely to happen any time soon, as Constantine has now sacked his prime minister and appointed a more pliant replacement.

There is a small British and French force in Salonika, the northern Greek port. They had been secretly invited in by Venizelos but now with his sacking the Salonika force finds itself in an awkward position. Nevertheless, the French under General Maurice Sarrail move north. Sarrail knows his force is too small to materially affect the outcome of the war in Serbia but he hopes to at least secure the Serbs’ line of retreat to Salonika.

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Bulgaria stabs Serbia in the back while Greece looks on (Hellenic Communication Service)

map (The Robinson Library)