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Greece in the early years of the war

At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, the Kingdom of Greece remained a neutral nation. Despite being neutral, in October 1914, Greek forces moved in and occupied the areas of southern Albania that it claimed (Northern Epirus) at a time when the new Principality of Albania was in turmoil. At the same time, the Kingdom of Italy occupied Saseno and later that December the port of Valona. By the end of 1915, Greek troops abandoned their holdings in Albania without a fight to the expanding Italian forces.

Road to War

Greece had signed a defense treaty with the Kingdom of Serbia in 1913 obliging Greece to come to Serbia's aid if attacked from the Kingdom of Bulgaria. When Bulgaria began mobilization against Serbia, Eleftherios Venizelos, Prime Minister of Greece believed that based on the treaty, he could get Greece to join the war on the Allied side if the Allies landed 150,000 troops in Salonika. Venizelos failed to bring Greece into the war on the Allied side because King Constantine I of Greece was the brother-in-law of Wilhelm II, German Emperor, then ruler of the German Empire. Constantine was married to Sophia of Prussia, one of Wilhelm's sisters and had also undergone military training in Germany. Thus, the King and the anti-Venizelists (opponents of the Prime Minister) were opposed to joining the Allied side and argued that the Serbo-Greek Treaty was void if a great power fought alongside Bulgaria. Venizelos was removed from office by the King on 5 October 1915, only to return to the political scene in October 1916.

Greece, as a neutral without the means to resist, was obliged to acquiesce in the arrival of a Franco-British (and later also Russian) expeditionary force, formed in part by withdrawals from Gallipoli, transforming Salonika into an Allied military base. (Keegan 253) These Allied forces began to arrive on 3 October 1915. In the early summer of 1917, the Greeks handed over Fort Rupel to the Bulgarians, believing it a neutral act, though claimed as a betrayal by the Allies. None the less, the Allies still tried to swing the Greeks to their side. From their positions in Greece, Allied forces (British, French, and Russian, Italian, and Serb troops) fought the war from Greek territory engaging Bulgarian forces when they invaded Greece in August 1917.

Greece joins the war

To bring Greece into the war, the Allies decided to stage a coup with the former Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos in charge. In August 1916, Venizelist officials staged the coup, prompting Venizelos to leave Athens. He returned in October 1916 and set up a Greek government in Salonika which was immediately recognized by the Allied governments. In June 1917, the coup was successful when King Constantine I of Greece abdicated from the throne. His second son, Alexander I of Greece took the throne as King. With Venizelos in charge, the Hellenic Parliament in Athens agreed to allow Greece to join the war and on 2 July 1917, Greece declared war on the Central Powers. Nine Greek divisions of the Hellenic Army were put under Allied control along with the Hellenic Navy.

Participation in the war

Greek military formation in the WWI Victory Parade in Arc de Triomphe, Paris. July 1919.

The Macedonian front stayed mostly stable throughout the war. Bulgaria had occupied Thrace in northern Greece from Allied forces before Greece’s entry into the war. In May 1918, Greek forces under French General Adolphe Guillaumat attacked the Bulgarian forces and defeated them at the Battle of Skra-di-Legen on 30 May 1918. This was the first major involvement of Greek forces in the war. Later in 1918, the Allied forces upped up their offensive from Greece into occupied Serbia. In September of that year, Allied forces (French, Greek, Serb, and British troops), under the command of French General Franchet d'Esperey, broke through German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian forces along the Macedonian front. The offensive into Bulgaria was stopped when on 18-19 September 1918, the British and Greek armies were decisively defeated by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Doiran. The outcome of this battle saved Bulgaria from being occupied. Bulgaria later signed the Armistice of Thessalonica with the Allies in Salonika on 29 September 1918. By October, the Allies including the Greeks under General Louis Franchet d'Espérey had taken back all of Serbia and were ready to invade Hungary until the Hungarian authorities offered surrender.

After the war

Being on the winning side, Greece acquired the remaining Bulgarian territory on the Aegean Sea in the Treaty of Neuilly-sur-Seine, Eastern Thrace and the Smyrna area in the Treaty of Sevres. The Greek military suffered an estimated 5,000 dead (Gilbert 541) from their nine divisions that participated in the war.

References

  • Gilbert, Martin (1994). The First World War.
  • Keegan, John (1998). The First World War.
  • Strachan, Hew (1998). World War I: A History.
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