wwi greece

Allies Decide to Depose King Constantine of Greece

Alexandre Ribot (1842-1923), French PM March-September 1917, and architect of King Constantine’s deposition.

May 28 1917, London–The Allied governments had long had issues with Greece’s King Constantine, the Kaiser’s brother-in-law.  Matters nearly came to a head in December 1916, when Allied soldiers became involved in a firefight on the streets of Athens.  Sarrail had long been advocating for removing King Constantine entirely, but the French government stopped short of doing so in December, instead demanding concessions and imposing a blockade until they were granted, while simultaneously granting more recognition to Venizelos’ government in Salonika.

By May 1917, however, the situation had changed.  Briand’s government had fallen, and his replacement as French PM, Ribot, was more open to removing King Constantine.  The revolution in Russia and the deposition of the Romanovs meant that the Russians were no longer as opposed to the removal of King Constantine as an affront to monarchy in general; furthermore, as Russia was in favor of a peace without annexations, Greek ambitions on Turkey were less of a threat.  In Greece, Venizelos was eager to dampen growing republican sentiment among his supporters, and saw a deposition of King Constantine as the only way to preserve the monarchy.

The last piece fell into place on May 28, when Ribot, at a conference in London with Lloyd George, convinced the latter to sign onto the idea as well.  A diplomatic mission would be sent to Athens, notifying King Constantine that his absolutist rule, in supposed violation of the Greek Constitution, would no longer be tolerated by the powers that guaranteed Greek independence.  The demand would be backed by force; Allied troops would soon land around Athens, while a division would move south from Salonika into Thessaly.

Today in 1916: Austrians Capture Asiago
Today in 1915: Germany Issues Unapologetic Note on Lusitania to US

Sources include: Alan Palmer, The Gardeners of Salonika

March 24, 1917 - Greece Protests Italian Occupation of Epirus

Pictured - Italian soldiers in Greece, WWI.

Albania was a mess during the First World War. It had only recently become independent of Ottoman rule in 1912, but centuries of Turkish occupation had left it an ethnic and religious melting pot, with none of the groups eager to get along with the others. It was nominally a principality, but tribal chiefs squabbled and the central government controlled almost nothing. A Muslim peasant revolt forced the German prince invited to rule into exile within months. In the south of the country, the region known in antiquity as Epirus, Greek settlers declared independence in a move to integrate their country with Greece.

Greece occupied Epirus in 1914, but the situation was complicated because Italy did not hide its desire to annex parts of Albania. In 1915, the Treaty of London gave some coastal ports to Italy, while Serbia and Montenegro also occupied portions. It was all part of complicated balancing act by which Paris and London tried to appease both Greece and Italy to have them as allies.

Italy joined the Entente, but not Greece, and when Athens ceded border forts to Bulgaria in 1916, the Allies ceased favoring it over Italy. Italian soldiers marched into northern Epirus in 1916, where they did not hide their annexationist attitudes. They disarmed Greeks, removed Greek flags, and closed Greek-language schools. In June Italy declared that Albania was “independent” under the Italian king. Obviously, this greatly irked the Greeks, who were now divided in a civil war between a pro-Allied splinter government in Salonika, and the royalist, neutral government in Athens. Both sides protested to the Allies in March about Italy’s occupation of Epirus.

In the end, the war pleased nobody. The Allies confirmed Albanian independence after the conflict, which annoyed the Greeks who hoped to annex parts. The Italians celebrated the decision and kept troops in the hopes of making Albania a puppet state, but Albanian guerrillas chased them out in 1920. Italy’s failure to win much territory at the peace table drove anger at the Allies and eventually helped the rise of fascists in the 1920s who wanted to redraw the world order implemented by the Treaty of Versailles.

Keeping Morale Up in Salonika

A poster advertising the 27th Division’s horse show.

July 23 1917, Salonika–The Allied troops around Salonika, far from home, suffering from malaria, and with little action on the front since May, faced a growing morale problem.  This was especially true for the French.  Strict censorship had prevented news of the mutinies from reaching Greece (beyond possible word of mouth), the soldiers did learn of their effects–most notably, a new, more generous leave policy.  This was obviously difficult to extend to the Army of the Orient, which caused discontent and even a brief mutiny on July 16.  Although it was soon broken up and around ninety mutineers arrested, Sarrail recognized that morale was a growing problem.

Leave was difficult to grant because it took so long to get back to France by sea, and doing so meant traveling through U-boat hunting grounds in the Aegean.  However, with King Constantine’s abdication and Greece’s subsequent entry into the war, her railroads and ports were now fully available.  On July 23, Allied transports began using the port of Itea, in the Gulf of Corinth.  A much shorter sea voyage, to Taranto and the Italian railroad network, was now available, making the granting of leave (and the movement of troops in general) much more feasible.

The British attempted to keep their morale up in the meantime through a variety of diversions.  The 28th Division kept a pack of beagles, which had the run of the front, often crossing over into the Bulgarian lines.  The Bulgarians always graciously returned the beagles to the British without incident.  The 27th Division held an impressive horse show lasting from July 23rd to the 25th, under the protection of Allied air cover.  Sarrail himself even attended the final day of the festivities.

Today in 1916: Failed British Attack on Pozières Ridge
Today in 1915: Fighting Dies Down Around Mt. San Michele After Most Italian Gains Reversed
Today in 1914:  Austrian Ultimatum Delivered to Serbia

Sources include: Alan Palmer, The Gardeners of Salonika.