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Greek Resistance

National Resistance
Part of the Balkans Campaign of World War II

Triple Occupation of Greece by the Axis (1941–44)
Date 1941–1944
Location Greece
Result Establishment of Free Greece, first phase of the Greek civil war
Resistance Forces:
National Liberation Front

National Republican Greek League

National and Social Liberation

Panhellenic Union of Fighting Youths
National Organization of Crete
British Mission in Greece (SOE)



Hellenic State

Principality of the Pindus

Commanders and leaders
Aris Velouchiotis
Stefanos Sarafis
Georgios Siantos
Markos Vafiadis
Andreas Tzimas
Evripidis Bakirtzis
Alexandros Svolos
Markos Vafiades
Napoleon Zervas
Georgios Kartalis
Dimitrios Psarros
Komninos Pyromaglou
Alexander Papagos
Kostas Perrikos
Georgios Petrakis
Vasilios Sachinis
Eddie Myers
Chris Woodhouse
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Bill Stanley Moss
Günther Altenburg
Hermann Neubacher
Walter Schimana
Alexander Löhr
Hellmuth Felmy
Pellegrino Ghigi
Carlo Geloso
Andon Kalchev
Georgios Tsolakoglou
Konstantinos Logothetopoulos
Ioannis Rallis
Georgios Poulos

The Greek Resistance (Greek: Εθνική Αντίσταση, i.e., "National Resistance") is the blanket term for a number of armed and unarmed groups from across the political spectrum that resisted the Axis occupation of Greece in the period 1941–1944, during World War II.


  • Origins 1
  • First resistance acts 2
  • Establishment of the first resistance groups 3
  • Resistance in the mountains – Andartiko 4
    • Emergence of the armed resistance 4.1
    • The establishment of "Free Greece" 4.2
    • Italian collapse and German takeover 4.3
    • Prelude to Civil War: the first conflicts 4.4
  • Resistance in the islands and Crete 5
  • Resistance in the cities 6
    • Urban protest 6.1
  • Risks involved 7
  • Table of main resistance groups 8
  • Notable Resistance members 9
  • See also 10
  • The Resistance remembered 11
  • References 12
  • Sources 13
  • External links 14


The rise of Egypt, where they proclaimed a government-in-exile, recognised by the Western Allies, but not yet by the Soviet Union, which was temporarily friendly to Nazi Germany after the signature of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. The British actively encouraged, even coerced, the King to appoint centrist, moderate ministers; only two of his ministers were members of the dictatorial government that had governed Greece before the German invasion. Despite that some in the left-wing resistance claimed the government to be illegitimate, on account of its roots in the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas from 1936–41.

The Germans set up a Athens. Some high-profile officers of the pre-war Greek regime served the Germans in various posts. This government however, lacked legitimacy and support, being utterly dependent on the German and Italian occupation authorities, and discredited because of its inability to prevent the cession of much of Greek Macedonia and Western Thrace to Bulgaria. Both the collaborationist government and the occupation forces were further undermined due to their failure to prevent the outbreak of the Great Famine, with the mortality rate reaching a peak in the winter of 1941–42, which seriously harmed the Greek civilian population.

First resistance acts

German soldiers raising the German War Flag over the Acropolis of Athens. The symbol of the country's occupation, it would be taken down in one of the first acts of the Greek Resistance.

Although there is an unconfirmed incident connected with Evzone Konstantinos Koukidis the day the Germans occupied Athens, the first confirmed resistance act in Greece had taken place on the night of 30 May 1941, even before the end of the Battle of Crete. Two young students, Apostolos Santas, a law student, and Manolis Glezos, a student at the Athens University of Economics and Business, secretly climbed the northwest face of the Acropolis and tore down the swastika banner which had been placed there by the occupation authorities.

The first wider resistance movements occurred in Doxato and the village of Choristi are officially considered today Martyr Cities.

At the same time, large demonstrations were organized in annexation of Greek territories.

Armed groups consisted of andartes - αντάρτες ("guerillas") first appeared in the mountains of Macedonia by October 1941, and the first armed clashes resulted in 488 civilians being murdered in reprisals by the Germans, which succeeded in severely limiting Resistance activity for the next few months.[1] However, these harsh actions, together with the plundering of Greece's natural resources by the Germans, turned Greeks more against the occupiers.

Establishment of the first resistance groups

Guerillas of ELAS

The lack of a legitimate government and the inactivity of the established political class created a power vacuum and meant an absence of a rallying point for the Greek people. Most officers and citizens who wanted to continue the fight fled to the British-controlled Middle East, and those who remained behind were unsure of their prospects against the Wehrmacht. This situation resulted in the creation of several new groupings, where the pre-war establishment was largely absent, which assumed the role of resisting the occupation powers.

The first major resistance group to be founded was the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and other smaller parties, but all major political parties refused to participate either in EAM or in any other resistance movement. On February 16, 1942, EAM gave permission to a communist veteran, called Athanasios (Thanasis) Klaras (later known as Aris Velouchiotis) to examine the possibilities of a victorious armed resistance movement. Soon the first andartes (guerrillas) joined ELAS and many battles were fought and won against both the Italians and Nazis (the sabotage of Gorgopotamos bridge [with the participation of EDES partisans and British commandos of SOE], the battle at Mikro Horio, etc.)

The second to be found was Venizelist-oriented National Republican Greek League (EDES), led by a former army officer, Colonel Napoleon Zervas, with exiled republican General Nikolaos Plastiras as its nominal head. Although its foundation was announced in late 1941, there were no military acts until 1942, when the Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS), the armed forces of EAM, was born.

Resistance in the mountains – Andartiko

Napoleon Zervas, leader of the military wing of the EDES, with fellow officers

Greece is a mountainous country, with a long tradition in andartiko (αντάρτικο, "guerrilla warfare"), dating back to the days of the klephts (anti-Turkish bandits) of the Ottoman period, who often enjoyed folk-hero status. In the 1940s, the countryside was poor, the road network not very well developed, and state control outside the cities usually exercised by the Greek Gendarmerie. But by 1942, due to the weakness of the central government in Athens, the countryside was gradually slipping out of its control, while the Resistance groups had acquired a firm and wide-ranging organization, parallel and more effective than that of the official state.

Emergence of the armed resistance

In February 1942, EAM, an organization controlled by the local Communist Party formed a military corps, ELAS, that would first operate in the mountains of Central Greece, with Aris Velouchiotis a communist activist as their chief captain. Later, on 28 July 1942, a centrist ex-army officer Col.Napoleon Zervas announced the foundation of the "National Groups of Greek Guerrillas" (EOEA), as EDES' military arm, to operate, at first, in the region of Aetolia-Acarnania. National and Social Liberation (EKKA) also formed a military corps, named after the famous 5/42 Evzone Regiment, under Col. Dimitrios Psarros, that was mainly localized in the area of Mount Giona.

The rail bridge of Gorgopotamos that was blown up (Operation Harling).

Until the summer of 1942, the occupation authorities had been little troubled by the armed Resistance, which was still in its infancy. The Italians in particular, in control of most of the countryside, considered the situation to have been normalized.[2] From that point, however, the Resistance gained pace, with EAM/ELAS in particular expanding rapidly, with armed groups attacking and disarming local gendarmerie stations and isolated Italian outposts, or touring the villages and giving speeches. The Italians were forced to re-evaluate their assessment, and take such measures such as the deportation of Army officers to camps in Italy and Germany, which naturally only encouraged the latter to join the underground en masse by escaping "to the mountains".[3]

These developments emerged most dramatically as the Greek Resistance announced its presence to the world with one of the war's most spectacular sabotage acts, the blowing up of the Operation "Harling"), carried out by 12 British Special Operations Executive (SOE) saboteurs and a joint ELAS-EDES force. This was the first and last time that the two major Resistance groups would cooperate, due to the rapidly developing rivalry and ideological retrenchment between them.

The establishment of "Free Greece"

Nevertheless, constant attacks and acts of sabotage followed against the Italians, such as the Battle of Fardykampos, resulting in the capture of several hundred Italian soldiers and significant amounts of equipment. By the late spring of 1943, the Italians were forced to withdraw from several areas. The towns of Karditsa, Grevena, Trikkala, Metsovon and others were liberated by July. The Axis forces and their collaborators remained in control only of the main towns and the connecting roads, with the interior left to the andartes. This was "Free Greece", stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Aegean and from the borders of the German zone in Macedonia to Boeotia, a territory of 30,000 km² and 750,000 inhabitants.

Italian collapse and German takeover

Alexander Papagos, commander of the Hellenic Army during the Greco-Italian War, was arrested with other Greek ex-military officers in 1943 and sent to concentration camps in Germany because of his resistance action.

By this time (July 1943), the overall strength of the andartes was around 20[4]-30,000,[5] with most belonging to the ELAS, newly under the command of General Stefanos Sarafis. EDES was limited in operations to Epirus, and EKKA operated in a small area in Central Greece.[5] The Italian capitulation in September 1943 provided a windfall for the Resistance, as the Italian Army in many places simply disintegrated. Most Italian troops were swiftly disarmed and interned by the Germans, but in many places significant amounts of weaponry and equipment, as well as men, fell into the hands of the Resistance. The most spectacular case was that of the Pinerolo division and the Aosta Cavalry Regiment, which went completely over to the EAMite andartes.[6]

Memorial in Distomo for the Distomo massacre.

The Germans now took over the Italian zone, and soon proved to be a totally different opponent from the demoralized, war-weary and far less brutal Italians. Already since the early summer of 1943, German troops had been pouring into Greece, fearing an Allied landing there (in fact falling victims to a grand-scale Allied strategic deception operation, "Operation Barclay"). Soon they became involved in wide-ranging counterguerrilla operations, which they carried out with great ruthlessness, based on their experiences in Yugoslavia. In the course of these operations, mass reprisals were carried out, resulting in war crimes such as at Kommeno on August 16, the Massacre of Kalavryta in December and the Massacre of Distomo in June 1944. At the same time, hundreds of villages were systematically torched and almost one million people left homeless.[7]

Prelude to Civil War: the first conflicts

Despite the signing of an agreement in July 1943 between the three main Resistance groups (EAM/ELAS, EDES and EKKA) to cooperate and to subject themselves to the Allied Middle East High Command under General Wilson (the "National Bands Agreement"), in the political field, the mutual mistrust between EAM and the other groups escalated. EAM-ELAS was by now the dominant political and military force in Greece, and EDES and EKKA, along with the British and the Greek government-in-exile, feared that after the inevitable German withdrawal, it would try to dominate the country and establish a soviet regime. This prospect was not only linked with the increasing distrust shown by many conservative and traditional liberal members of the Greek society towards the Communists and EAM, but also with British. The British were opposed to an EAM's after-war dominance in Greece due to their political opposition to communism, while on the logic of the spheres of influence they believed that such a development would lead the country, which traditionally considered belongs in their sphere of influence, to that of the Soviet Union. Finally the conflict of interests between them and the USSR settled after British secured Soviet assent to this in the so-called "percentages agreement" between Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in October 1944. EAM on its part considered itself "the only true resistance group". Its leadership was intensely distrustful of British policies for Greece, and viewed Zervas' contacts with London and the Greek government with suspicion.[8]

Dimitrios Psarros, leader of EKKA

At the same time, EAM found itself under attack by the Germans and their collaborators. Dominated by the old political class, and looking already to the oncoming post-Liberation era, the new , were also reinforced, receiving arms and funding by the British.

A virtual civil war was now being waged under the eyes of the Germans. In October 1943, ELAS attacked EDES in Plaka agreement) which in the event proved to be only temporary. The attack led to an unofficial truce between EDES and the German forces in Epirus under General Hubert Lanz.[9] But the fight continued amongst ELAS and the other minor resistance groups (like "X"), as well as against the Security Battalions, even in the streets of Athens, until the German withdrawal in October 1944. In March, EAM established its own rival government in Free Greece, the Political Committee of National Liberation, clearly staking its claim to a dominant role in post-war Greece. Consequently, on Easter Monday, 17 April 1944, ELAS forces attacked and destroyed the EKKA's 5/42 Regiment, capturing and executing many of its men, including its leader Colonel Dimitrios Psarros. The event caused a major shock in the Greek political scene, since Psarros was a well-known republican, patriot and anti-royalist. For EAM-ELAS, this act was fatal, as it strengthened suspicion of its intentions for the post-Occupation period, and drove many liberals and moderates, especially in the cities, against it, cementing the emerging rift in Greek society between pro- and anti-EAM segments.

Resistance in the islands and Crete

W. Stanley Moss in Crete during the Damasta sabotage.
The resistance in Crete was centred in the mountainous interior, and despite the heavy presence of German troops, developed significant activity. Notable figures of the Cretan Resistance include abduction of General Heinrich Kreipe by Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bill Stanley Moss and the battle of Trahili.

Resistance in the cities

Kostas Perrikos, leader of PEAN, was executed by Gestapo

Resistance in the cities was organized quickly, but of necessity groups were small and fragmented. The cities, and the working-class suburbs of Athens in particular, witnessed appalling suffering in the winter of 1941-42, when food confiscations and disrupted communications caused widespread famine and perhaps hundreds of thousands of deaths. This caused fertile ground for recruitment, but lack of equipment, funds and organization limited the spread of the resistance. The main roles of resistance operatives were intelligence and sabotage, mostly in cooperation with British Intelligence. One of the earliest jobs of the urban resistance was helping stranded Commonwealth soldiers escape. The resistance groups stayed in touch with British handlers through wireless sets, met and helped British spies and saboteurs that parachuted in, provided intelligence, conducted propaganda efforts, and ran escape networks for allied operatives and Greek young men wishing to join the Hellenic forces in exile. Wireless equipment, money, weapons and other support was mainly supplied by British Intelligence, but it was never enough. Fragmentation of groups, the need for secrecy, and emerging conflicts between right and left, monarchists and republicans, did not help. Urban resistance work was very dangerous: operatives were always in danger of arrest and summary execution, and suffered heavy casualties. Captured fighters were routinely tortured by the Abwehr and the Gestapo, and confessions used to roll up networks. The job of wireless operators was perhaps the most dangerous, since the Germans used direction-finding equipment to pinpoint the location of transmitters; operators were often shot on the spot, and those were the lucky ones, since immediate execution prevented torture.

Urban protest

One of the most important forms of resistance were the mass protest movements. The first such event occurred during the national anniversary of 25 March 1942, when students attempted to lay a wreath at the Monument of the Unknown Soldier. This resulted in clashes with mounted

  • Martyr Cities & Villages of Greece Network 1940-1945 (in Greek)
  • which contains an extensive interview with Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, and documents the Battle of Trahili, filmed in 2003.The 11th DayOfficial site of the documentary film

External links

  • R. Capell, Simiomata: A Greek Note Book 1944-45, London 1946
  • Clogg, Richard (1986), A Short History of Modern Greece, Cambridge University Press,  
  • N.G.L. Hammond, Venture into Greece: With the Guerillas, 1943-44, London, 1983. (Like Woodhouse, he was a member of the British Military Mission)
  • Howarth, Patrick (1980), Undercover, the men and women of the Special Operations Executive, Routledge,  
  • Drez, Ronald J. (2009), Heroes Fight Like Greeks: The Greek Resistance Against the Axis Powers in WWII, Ghost Road Press,  
  • Mark Mazower (2001). Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44. United States: Yale University Press.  
  • Papastratis, Prokopis (1984), British policy towards Greece during the Second World War, 1941–1944, Cambridge University Press,  
  • Perdue, Robert E., Jr. (2010). Behind the lines in Greece : the story of OSS Operational Group II. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.  
  • Shrader, Charles R. (1999). The Withered Vine: Logistics and the Communist Insurgency in Greece, 1945-1949. Greenwood Publishing Group.  
  • Reginald Leeper, When Greek Meets Greek: On the War in Greece, 1943-1945
  • United States Army Center of Military History, German Antiguerrilla Operations in The Balkans (1941-1944) Washington DC: United States Army.
  • Hondros, John L. (1983), Occupation and Resistance: The Greek Agony, New York: Pella Publishing


  1. ^ Mazower (2001), p. 87-88
  2. ^ Mazower (2001), pp. 106–7
  3. ^ Mazower (2001), p. 132–3
  4. ^ German Antiguerrilla Operations, Ch. 7.II
  5. ^ a b Mazower (2001), p. 137
  6. ^ German Antiguerrilla Operations, Ch. 8.III
  7. ^ Mazower (2001), p. 155
  8. ^ Mazower (2001), p. 141–43
  9. ^ Mazower (2001), pp. 148, 178
  10. ^ Mazower (2001), p.112
  11. ^ Mazower (2001), pp.120-121
  12. ^ Mazower, Inside Hitler's Greece p.177
  13. ^ Shrader (1999), pp. 23, 26
  14. ^ a b Shrader (1999), p. 31


The Resistance remembered

See also

EAM/ELAS and affiliated:





British agents:

Notable Resistance members

Group name Political orientation Political leadership Military arm Military leadership Estimated peak membership
National Liberation Front (Ethnikó Apeleftherotikó Métopo/ΕΑΜ)
Broad leftist front affiliated with the Communist Party of Greece Georgios Siantos Greek People's Liberation Army (Ellinikós Laikós Apeleftherotikós Stratós/ELAS) Aris Velouchiotis, Stefanos Sarafis 50,000 + 30,000 reserves (October 1944)[13]
National Republican Greek League
(Ethnikós Dimokratikós Ellinikós Sýndesmos/EDES)
Venizelist, nationalist, republican, socialist, anti-communist Nikolaos Plastiras (nominal), Komninos Pyromaglou National Groups of Greek Guerrillas
(Ethnikés Omádes Ellínon Antartón/EOEA)
Napoleon Zervas 12,000 + ca. 5,000 reserves (October 1944)[14]
National and Social Liberation
(Ethnikí Kai Koinonikí Apelefthérosis/EKKA)
Venizelist, republican, liberal, anti-communist Georgios Kartalis 5/42 Evzone Regiment
(5/42 Sýntagma Evzónon)
Dimitrios Psarros and Evripidis Bakirtzis 1,000 (spring 1943)[14]

Table of main resistance groups

The resistance also involved risks for ordinary Greeks. Attacks often incited reprisal killings of civilians by the German occupying forces. Villages were burned and its inhabitants massacred. The Germans also resorted to hostage taking. There were also accusations that many of ELAS' attacks against German soldiers didn't happen for resistance reasons but aiming the destruction of specific villages and the recruitment of their men. Quotas were even introduced determining the number of civilians or hostages to be killed in response to the death or wounding of German soldiers.[12]

Resisting the Axis occupation was fraught with risks. Foremost among these for the partisans was death in combat as the German military forces were far superior. However, the guerrilla fighters also had to face starvation, brutal environmental conditions in the mountains of Greece, while poorly clothed and shod.

Statue of Nike (Victory) in Hermoupolis commemorating the Resistance

Risks involved

In early 1943, rumours spread of a planned mobilization of the labour force by the occupation authorities, with the intent of sending them to work in Germany. The first reactions began amongst students on 7 February, but soon grew in scope and volume. Throughout February, successive strikes and demonstrations paralyzed Athens, culminating in a massive rally on the 24th. The tense climate was amply displayed at the funeral of Greece's national poet, Kostis Palamas, on 28 February, which turned into an anti-Axis demonstration.[11]


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