“All about my Mother
How Greece escaped the Iron Curtain…”
My Mother was a friend to all good people and it came to pass that she was a friend of Randolph Churchill too. They maintained a simple friendship for many years, and their reunion twenty years after the start of the Second World War in a summer celebration — brought me to life.
Yet, she was also a friend of the Greek Guerilla fighters Aris Velouhiotis and Zervas, who were both on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Randolph Churchill son of the British Prime Minister, and a paratrooper who flew into the Balkans to assist the partisans fighting the Nazis.
Yet the Greek partisans were also fighting amongst themselves for their own political means to an end — namely gaining control of the levers of power and governance after the end of the Nazi occupation that was easily envisioned by those savvy in political history.
I am writing these words as a way to share my views of how we can get through conflict in order to arrive to a place of Peace, because today we are again fighting the renewed Cold War via proxy, same as when the Greeks were bleeding in their own Civil War…
Furthermore — it seems to be an appropriate time for such work, because Conflict Resolution is a big thing today as war erupts again all around us.
These peaceful type of words are what you’ll be reading here, because the general sense is that we seek to find our way, in order to resolve the clashing ideologies that lead to all manners of war and conflict — by seeking to understand the other sides of the ideological & political spectrum and join them in truth and reconciliation.
Such understanding of each other only exists in the realm of ideas.
The very realm in which the battleground is set.
A realm in which we don’t actually “see” someone as someone — though we believe that we do.
Beyond such understanding might we come to know each other in a different realm…
Rumi’s words indicate a possibility here:
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing — there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
I know something about this field, and how we might reach it and what to do in such a place.
And so I shall continue…
Almost half a century ago — on a verdant mountain side, a young girl drew her last breath in her mangled body riddled with shrapnel and smelling of gunpowder. As the smoke drifted away — a scene of terrible carnage was revealed. Body parts and blood were everywhere .
Dead and wounded mingled together and those that seemed alive, were moaning.
In this part of Central Greece during the slightly overcast Autumn day of November 29th of 1964 — scores of families gathered on the mountain slope for a historic anniversary pick-nick, with children frolicking in the green meadows amid grasses and shrubs.
It was a time of celebration for all the families gathered there because they were all descendants of the second world war fighters, who brought about the most successful and daring act of European Resistance against the Nazi occupation armies.
This verdant mountainside plateau was besides one of the highest railroad bridges in Europe; a steel girded bridge that span the ribs of the local mountain of Oiti, the mythical home of the ancient hero Hercules.
The ravine below the railroad bridge seemed like the most relevant place, in order to have a gathering where the people could get together in order to celebrate the most important Victory of the European Resistance of the Second World War.
This was this the site of the famed Gorgopotamos battle.
The landscape bellow the tall bridge was full of tall grass and it seemed like a “feel-good-spot” because it was right there that the Greek partisans ushered in the era of a United European Resistance against the Nazis.
And this was an important & salient point for all surviving resistance fighters and their families, because they came together to remember and commemorate the little known “Operation Harling” and the success of the united European and Greek resistance forces who clutched Victory out of the jaws of defeat against the Nazi occupier and that way brought about a spectacular result
And since this was the first time that people of all political parties, sides, and persuasions, came together to celebrate the first awesome Partisan victory of the Second World War some 22 years after the bridge was first blown up – it was a jubilant group.
Yet when the crowd was milling, a bomb exploded, killing 13 young people, among them a very beautiful young girl Kiki, that had just turned twelve… This was the biggest random civilian bomb attack since the Civil War, and it was deemed a terrorist act.
The Greek people and their government were scared because this bombing could render the fragile Peace of Greece, since it could spark another series of battles, a renewed civil war, and therefore a prolonged period of unrest and mayhem in the recently pacified country…
In this terrorist blast, more than a hundred people were injured — some in serious condition, and thirteen dead, mostly children.
But why was this terrorist attack on such a crucial time of Greek politics when the country was gearing up for a spate of economic actions that would lead to peaceful growth and development?
It was a time of promise and a time of healing after the awful civil war – but there were dark forces that didn’t want to see the brilliant sunlit uplands of progress elevate this small and ancient country.
At any rate all conciliatory political moves inside the country’s political establishment – were failing at this juncture…
Yet the Greek government wisely “guided” the findings of the investigating committee, to shift blame from the obvious terrorists, the stokers of the New Civil War to an innocuous accidental blast of an old mine.
It took an unbelievable effort at pacification by the centrist George Papandreou and the Center Union (Enosi Kentrou) government – to direct the government committee assigned to quietly investigate this terrorist attack to the “conclusion” that it was simply an old landmine going off accidentally…
They blamed the whole thing on an old American landmine that accidentally exploded. They said that it was a forgotten landmine that was used by the Greek army during the recently ended Civil War.
A forgotten land mine like the forgotten people and the forgotten memories of the recent hate and hurt. A civil war landmine which had been placed there a long time ago from an army that failed to clear it up – until someone stepped on it and it went off killing all these innocents.
As far as reasonable explanations go — it was a “long tale” but a useful one too.
It was not profitable to establish the reasons why all this came to pass – but as an exercise to understand the elements of war and occupation this is the story that was interwoven in Greek history, like ages past. A story of Love & War, and a story of hate-filled ideologies always seeking ways to unleash the forces of hate, to spread death and dishonor, and to lead us to war, instead of giving Peace a chance.
All we wanted was to allow Peace to blossom after so much Civil War…
Thankfully the terrorist bomb (the so called landmine) that blew up the people participating in the Gorgopotamos bridge Autumn gathering for the celebration of the anniversary of “Operation Harling” – did not lead to another round of Civil War.
For Greece that was the silver lining on a very dark cloud, because it offered a brilliant respite from another round of terror and bloodshed, because the dastardly plan of the two extremist sides wishing to have a renewed fight to replay the recently ended Civil War – was thwarted.
The Greek right-wingers of “Claudio” and their terrorist brethren their Greek communist allies – cooperated in this terrorist project, and although they killed a score of people – they still failed to get a rise out of the usually phlegmatic Greeks, and soon enough the misdirected political passions subsided.
Yet, because the terrorist plot, was not an accident as the political leadership tried to show in order to stop further violence — this is where the Churchill archives proved rather useful, because they showed us the bread crumps that led the way to the truth.
And this was of great help…
The Churchill archives — portions of which were opened in 2015 — fifty years after Winston Churchill’s death, as a tribute to my grandfather’s impeccable sources of information, lasting legacy and world changing decision making, show us the reality of the ideological conflict that still bedevils our world.
The Churchill archives tell us in unequivocal terms that the evidence is quite clear about who was responsible for the explosion that killed the innocents and threatened the Peace of Greece with a renewed chapter of the long simmering civil war, at the time that triggered the first blast of the Cold War which went on for more than a few decades.
Because when we root around History’s archives – we shall see that the early stages of the second world war were the real reason for this bomb blast of November 29th of 1964 that in turn was the real beginning of the actual Cold War.
And that Cold War is the beginning of the war in Ukraine today and the reality of the confrontation between NATO and the Russian Federation today…
A lot has been written – yet little is actually known about the story of Greece in the intervening years between the Second World War, and the civil war of 1945–1949.
And a lot has been lost from the story of Greece after the Civil war and up to the junta of the 1960s, and maybe no one knows the real story of the Junta’s origins and the real story of Greece up to her slow-go return to Democracy in 1973.
Even less is known about the why, the how, and the people, who really helped Greece escape the awful fate that befell the nations of central, eastern and the southern Europe back then.
Yet because progress is caused by individuals, and geography dictates history more so than anything else — the geography of the history of Greece is largely spawned by the women of this nation that has long been the subject of widespread sympathy, as it is cursed by the pendulum of wild political mood swings and unjust terror…
In Greece, the political mood swings, from left to right and back again happen daily…
The real story of a nation is not that of the politicians who front the news, but it is that of the salt of the earth people who actually place their backs on the wheel of history. And that is also this story of a woman who was never interviewed and yet has been more intertwined than anyone else in this all too real international story of love, war and redemption.
And so this story begins with Demeter, who was a University student during the Nazi occupation of Greece, and had seen the terror of the National Socialist ideology that Hitler had ushered into the seemingly dormant nations of peaceful Europe, and had turned them all into a bloody theater of war.
It was in this milieu that the young and extremely beautiful Greek girl that was a direct descendant of Demetra Ben Peter from Constantinople (Istanbul). Her descendant the beautiful and well educated girl Demetra, was born in Lamia, where her great-great grandparents had migrated to during the earlier century to escape an Ottoman pogrom against the Greeks of the Fenar in Istanbul, on the occasion of another Greek revolt in the mainland.
Now in a new century of promise and chaos the 20th one — Demetra was thrust into the world, during these difficult years, with her gift of beauty, diplomacy and languages – she was teaching English and French as she was studying Political Economy and Business in the University of Athens.
Demetra Petropoulou, with her uncanny ability for learning and great capacity for absorbing intelligent thought – she heard the liberating knowledge of the Principles of Political Economy by John Stuart Mill and the philosophers of Enlightenment.
Couple that with her Greek identity full of iron-hard belief for Freedom, that the valley of Heroes that is the Sperheios valley of Central Greece engenders – Demeter favored the modern heroes that populate the convey the “neck” of this country.
It is in Central Greece – that land of heroes and icons of war who still reside in the hearts and minds, because the people here are hardy, heady and almost crazy in their ways of belief in God and Country…
And it was this crazy body of thought, that explained modern Greek political economics, as the teleological marginal utility value that creates wealth, grows economies and allows liberal Democracies to flourish, but only in liberated societies where emancipated people, women and children still live – very likely as John Stuart Mill had forecast for another society altogether.
It is not known why the liberal Democracies were invariably capitalist societies, all the way from the ancient Athenian Democracy during the Golden Age of Pericles — onwards to the Age of Constance and the best Roman Republic all the way to the thousand years of the British parliament and the American Democracy led by the venerable House of Congress and all the Liberal Democracies of today.
Obviously the ancient recipe of true Democracy is a great dose of liberty blended with individual responsibility coupled with the notion of government by the people, for the people and from the people – and that is why these Western Democracies flourished like a well prepped pump bringing hope, liquidity and progress that will feed the people’s mind and body alike…
Arguably, the successful early Democratic societies of ancient Greece — were not totalitarian oligarchies, neither they were planned Socialist or Communist economies. They were not dictatorships or socio-fascist states either. And although Nazism and Fascism were so much in vogue at the time of the Second World War in Europe – the principle thinking was that to pave the way for Democracy, you had to have Liberty.
As a student – my Mother Dimitra Petropoulou internalized the knowledge of Freedom and Democracy, as she further studied the principles of modern economics expressed by Ludwig Von Mises, leader of the Austrian Economics School.
That is when her convictions about Liberty being the defining characteristic of a successful Society were dully strengthened and confirmed.
To put simply — the Austrian School of Economics is the bedrock of a heterodox school of economic thought, that is based on methodological individualism, the concept that social phenomena result exclusively from the motivations and actions of individuals, and single historical actors of magnitude and strength, changing the world and bending the universe to their will.…
She grasped this truth and then lived her life just like that.
Strong willed and brave as a person – she also had an uncanny ability to read people and give them what they wanted.
Unashamed of both her secret and overt contributions to the world and full of Faith in both the Economic Science coupled with the Glory of God and Creation – my Mother Demetra lived her way as such and allowed her path through life to be a rather large contribution to Liberty and Love…
Demetra Petropoulou was sponsored for a teaching assistant position in the Athens University of Economics, and it was then that her political economy study helped her fix on the ideas of modern liberal democracies and growing economies as the catalyst for the creation of a strong middle class that will usher prosperity in Greece and which in turn shall lift everybody’s boat from the shallows.
This is what my Mother Demetra wished to see for her nation too.
A lofty idea…
But first Greece had to be liberated from the hated Nazis and their allies — and then from her erstwhile errant Communist guerillas who wanted to enslave the country because of another faulty ideology.
This is what Demetra was focused on doing.
Because for Greece to become a liberal Western Democracy – first had to emerge from the ashes of war and get to be free, but then she had to bend her shape into a new liberal vessel of Democracy in order to contain all the aspirations of her people.
Yet for that to happen – Greece had first to be saved from the dual spectre of dismal fascist barbarism and from the terror inflicting subjugation to the ideological dogma of both the left and the right side of the political spectrum that inevitably follow the vacuum of power left by the retreating invaders.
So here I am raising a voice in my Mother Demeter’s favor, and in the favor of a Free Greece, that she served dutifully for all her life.
And after all the years that her secrets remained hidden – we now see her contributions to the world.
Her story is hidden deep and center under the public eye, like the Eleusinian mysteries that were the utmost secret ceremonies which were performed in her namesake honor. “Demetria” were called the famed fertility rites that the Athenian people performed in the Egyptian styled massive complex of temples and underground football field sized amphitheaters, located in the neighboring Demos of Megara. It was here that during the ancient times the Goddess Demeter was revived each Spring and where all the participants participated in ceremonies and rites of passage – and yet they were sworn to secrecy.
Of course, we knew that my Mother Demeter, had a strong yet quiet voice in the aforementioned Greek national affairs – because she had a role and a voice in concocting the scheme of these matters, by whispering in the ear of the most powerful man who decided the fate of Greece in the pivotal years right after the war.
She was able to speak to Winston Churchill directly and that she did… with a forceful and willful voice asking to keep Greece free from the betrayals of both Fascist and Communist ideology.
And because the great man had a soft spot in his heart for this person and for her candor in seeking to save her country from Communism – he listened and acted accordingly.
She also happened to have been in the position of saving his life Christmas time in Athens – where she was studying and also supporting the Cause of Democracy & Freedom and it was here that she heard from her Communist friends about the stacks of explosives placed under the Grand Bretagne hotel where Winston Churchill had just arrived to sort Greece’s political scene, trying to reverse the trend of national suicide, as the country was sleepwalking towards being just another vassal state of the Soviet Union.
It was in the Grand Bretagne hotel of Athens, that Winston Churchill held the first Greek political Conference in order to bring together all the Greek political parties, who would accept to vote on a referendum for the continuation of the King, to form a government of national unity, and lastly
And this is exactly what the forces of Evil wanted to destroy…
My mother was active in the Resistance and that is why she was informed by her Communist contacts and went herself to see the trailing wires of the giant bomb, coming out of the manhole of the sewers, a few blocks from the Grand Bretagne Hotel, across from the House of Parliament and the Constitution square.
Demetra quietly assessed the situation and walked back across the barricades that blocked all the roads and were manned with the Greek version of the Red Army, and the Eam-Ellas guerillas made up of indoctrinated and heavily armed grizzled guerillas.
Yet she managed to get through, walking as a beautiful breeze of fresh air with her university books held tight on her bosom – and she made it past all the difficulties and miraculously, she was not shot on her way back to the Hotel where Churchill was leading the Peace and Unification Conference work that was going to bring about the new Greek government.
Once Demetra got through the English barricades, she reached the Grand Bretagne Hotel, where she was ushered back inside to alert the British officer in charge about the imminent bomb blast under their feet.
She was then led to speak privately to the PM and that is when she told Churchill about not just the mass of explosives deep in the sewers under his hotel, but about the reasons why the dynamite was there in the first place…
The Indian engineers from the British Commonwealth army rushed to defuse the bomb
And that’s how the lives of Winston Churchill and many others, were saved.
Yet the conventional semi-official history has recorded things differently and certainly erroneously, by trying to make the terrorist bombers seem like Angels of Mercy, and that is not even remotely possible to be a true version of events.…
So in a revisionist approach and in order to explain their failure – the terrorist bombing plotters gave us a version of the official revisionist History coming directly from the central committee of the Soviet Communist party.
This hitherto false history records the events in this interesting way:
“In 1944, there was a plot to blow up the British HQ in Athens — the Hotel Grande Bretagne.
The end of the war was coming near, and the communist resistance didn’t like how Greece would gravitate towards the West rather than the East.
A couple of tones of dynamite and nitroglycerine were placed in the sewers under the hotel Grand Bretagne where Winston Churchill was staying.
There was a bombing team of about 30 self styled Red Army Greek communists involved.
A communist bombing squad participant, Mr Manoli Glezos had this to say about the events that transpired that Christmas night at the end of the Second World War in the center of Athens Greece:
“We worked through the tunnels … we had people cover the grid lines, because we were afraid of being heard. We crawled through all the shit and water and laid the dynamite right under the hotel.”
The explosion was planned for Christmas day of 1944 by these ungodly terrorists.
Yet, here is where the narrative is white-washed because the ungodly terrorist bombers now claim some kind of Divine intervention if not downright fatalism:
“In a twist of fate, the attack was abandoned. In a space of a few minutes before the explosion, when members of the communist-led resistance movement, EAM, learned that Churchill had flown into Greece and, unexpectedly, was visiting the British command.
One thing was attacking the British HQ…
Another was killing Churchill himself.”
The narrative that the attack was abandoned when members of the communist-led resistance movement, EAM, learned that Churchill had flown into Greece and, unexpectedly, was visiting the British command is the standard operating procedure of failed attacks everywhere, because the whole world takes ownership of a Victory, but Failure is always an orphan.
“I went over to the boy with the detonator and we waited, waited for the signal, but it never came. Nothing. There was no explosion. Then I heard that at the last minute EAM found out that Churchill was in the building and put out an order to call off the attack.”
Winston Churchill wrote in a telegram to his wife of his close brush with death in Athens on Christmas Day 1944…
Yet we now know from another eyewitness account from the young revolutionary woman Roza, who was also a close friend of Aris Velouhiotis as DEMETER were — that the failure of the bomb to explode was because, when the bombers pushed down the plunger of the bomb detonator — nothing happened.
Roza was the woman pictured in the sweater with thick stripes, as seen on all the photographs of Aris Velouhiotis on the balcony giving his famous speech in Lamia. Roza was a young music teacher from Corfu, who after being attacked by Italian soldiers in her island home — she escaped to the Free Greece of mountainous Karpenisi, the guerilla HQ near Lamia, where she met Aris and became inseparable. She was tasked with writing the real story of the Greek Communist party and their betrayal of the Partisans and Ari Velouhiotis himself who was banned by the Greek Communist party — but her story has never been published.
Yet back in the Grand Bretagne Hotel – we know from the Churchill archives and from the eyewitness accounts, that the real reason the explosion didn’t happen was because the electrical detonator wires had already been cut by the English sappers, the turbaned Punjabi engineers who rushed inside the sewers of the Hotel Grand Bretagne and pulled the wires off the bomb.
The terrorist bombing of the Grand Bretagne Hotel and the national disaster was averted, and these are the men who stopped the carnage and the terror, from fully engulfing Greece. Engineers and sappers from Punjab in the North of India, stopped the carnage, and it was the work of my Mother and two of her friends whose identity is still a secret – to notify these men and set them to action.
Sappers defusing the bomb, are the real reason why the bomb never went off after the Communist terrorists plunged the detonator and a strange quiet ensued, but nothing else.
It was indeed a “wet squib” and nothing more.
After all it was well known to then world and especially to the Communist terrorist bombers and sympathizers that Winston Churchill was the real target of the bomb and nobody else – but a more convenient truth had to be devised in order to keep the fragile Peace in Europe between the Reds and the Blues, after the war.
So when the Communists and their cohort failed to kill their principle target – they started explaining things away, as if they never wanted to kill the English Prime Minister…
Ostensibly because he was one of the “Big Three” his life was sparred. How unusual…
The would-be “Kill Churchill” bomb attack, came barely two months after the Germans retreated from Greece untroubled and untouched, after making a deal with the Communists to not fight their way out, as the country was hurtling headlong into civil war, and the Communists wanted to get arms and materiel and money from the retreating Germans in exchange of allowing them to leave unmolested.
However peaceful the German retreat was — Athens had been racked by violence after other Nazi collaborators – in one of the most controversial episodes of the second world war – opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians demonstrating in support of the partisans in Syntagma Square.
The 3rd of December killings, which kicked off a wave of Civil War violence that is known in Greece as the “Dekemvriana,” are not only Greek dimensions of the Greek Civil War – but they are regarded as the opening shots of the global Cold War between the two remaining Superpowers of the Soviet Union in the East and of the Freedom loving & Democracy aligned West.
After the opening of the Churchill archives at the Cambridge University – we now know that “Demeter” saved Winston Churchill and she also saved Athens, the Political leadership of Greece, and the Greek Democracy itself too.
But who then was this person “Demeter” that offered so much and sacrificed so heavily in the service of her country?
Her name was Demeter and her skills at languages and diplomacy was legendary… and yet she lived a remarkably quiet life.
It was so much easier for Demeter, my Mother, to converse with total strangers about all things important – rather than to speak about personal matters and indulge in the awful drudgery of small talk.
So she went largely quiet in crowds, in groups and in the general hubbub of the conscious conspiracy of politics in this small country of insular people and self serving bureaucrats.
Yet Demeter spoke volumes when engaged in a simple personal conversation.
Her story has never been talked out loud.
Then why be told now?
Perhaps as a tribute or as a memorial and a Trophy of times past, her story must be told today, because the waxing tides of time are beckoning fast.
Dimitra Petropoulou — had good language skills speaking French, English and German, almost as good as her Greek. She spoke both classic and modern colloquial language Greek and all three of the main European languages, and that allowed her to built friendships with the retreating British, and later, she was also able to woo many of the foreign occupiers who invariably befriended the most beautiful young girl in the land of Greece.
That Demeter could also “go out” and entertain at will, because she was an orphan and fairly free from conservative parental supervision – was a bonus. An anomaly, when at the time the conservative central Greek tenet of family — kept the girls in a form of “purdah” firmly inside the house destined for a life of Motherhood.
Demeter was different, and certainly liberated with a Love of the Arts and Music, language, dance and beauty. All qualities destined to give her the skills to socialize and be free from conventional ideas, as she engaged in female liberation and suffrage that she believed was appropriate for all women.
So it was natural that she befriended the English commandoes who were beaten back by the onslaught of the German tanks and heavy armor that rolled through Greece at that awful time.
The Nazi leaders were enraged because they had been diverted to Greece, and have had to delay their weather-dependent Russian campaign, by coming to Greece only to save the necks of their unreliable Italian partners. Those Italian partners whom the Greeks had soundly beaten back and had wholly defeated them. And because of that, the Germans caused plenty of unnecessary pain to the Greek people under their command.
Pain that was predesigned and precipitated as a forced famine that killed off more than 15% of all Greek people, when the German army against all conventions of war and especially the Geneva convention — stole all the strategic reserves of the staple food stuffs, from the country. This is the minimum necessary foodstuff that the country had saved in order to feed her people, in the event of bad harvests and other food shortage occurrences.
A great famine ensued…
Yet the Germans were adamant in never returning a single train of foodstuff, although such trains were kept in the Greek rail yards full of Nazi requisitioned staples, all the way up to the middle of 1943.
Regardless — Winston Churchill saw this early Greek victory as a trophy for the much maligned English armies. A tall trophy, for the Commandoes and the partisans that now rivaled in fame and honor the ancient Greeks, and had lifted the whole nation of England and also raised the Esprit De Corps of the British Expeditionary Forces, that had been rescued through retreats and surrenders in Dunkirk, in Norway and beyond.
So now for the first time in the darkest hours of the war – the Prime Minister could speak to the nation and tell the first story of Resistance to the Germans during this war.
A “blow up the bridge” story that had a happy ending.
This was the second chance that the Greeks gave to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill — to lift the Spirits of the Free & Democratic People, because for the British Prime Minister to present Greece as victorious against the Axis powers once again – was a great honor and a Parliamentary triumph in the House of Commons.
As a reminder, the Greeks had first won a victory against the Italians in their unprovoked invasion into Greece from Albania, and second in the routing of Rommel in distant North Africa, by blowing up his supply lines passing from this bridge of Gorgopotamos in Central Greece.
Indeed this was seen as a giant “payback” giving the very first victory of the Second World War to the Allied forces, and to Winston Churchill who had called for this form of resistance as his brainchild in the form of “Ungentlemanly Warfare.”
The first victory was in the beginning of the war, against the whole of the Italian army fighting inside Northwest Greece and then reversing the war with the Greeks winning and driving the Italians deep inside the Albanian territories – and that was the victory that Winston Churchill first described in Parliament fairly bragging in thrilling terms.
He said repeatedly, that it was not that the Greeks fought like Heroes, but it was rather the Heroes that fought like the Greeks.
Yet, when the German mighty armies descended into Greece from the North engulfing the small Greek army into a two front pincer attack — the front collapsed and the few British Expeditionary Forces and Allied commandoes rapidly retreated, followed closely by the German armies.
The British Expeditionary Forces were destined to meet their darkest hour in Crete, where they went hoping to make a last stand there – and then come back to liberate the mainland. The plan, didn’t work as expected.
But because that plan went pear shaped and failed to gain any traction — then they had to be evacuated yet again across the Mediterranean sea, into Alexandria Egypt.
But staying true to their earliest long term plan — they left behind secret caches of communication and sabotage equipment, mines, and alliances with strongly nationalistic local Greek patriots. The English commandoes made real friends and partners with those few Greeks who believed and indeed knew — that the day will come when the Brits would return to liberate the country, and thus they wanted to keep the flame of hope alive.
The English commandoes also left behind vital long distance radio-communications equipment, with XL maximum gain folding antennae and rechargeable batteries and crankshafts to charge them up.
They even stashed away secret caches of weapons, explosives and ammunition along with some other “victuals of war” in well hidden caves, cells and basements. Places where only the local liaison patriots could find and then they could choose to use and supply a guerilla force behind enemy lines, as well as supply the British commandoes when they would return to help liberate the country…
Demeter just so happened to be one of those patriots that could communicate well with the English commandoes, and thus she was self-chosen as a Leader for this effort of latent liberation, behind enemy lines. She was tasked to lead the effort for the whole territory of Central Greece centered in Lamia, which is the logistical bottleneck of Greece on the north to South axis.
Codenamed “Demeter” this young and beautiful girl, with great foreign language skills — excelled in her duties, and was able through her wide social circle to learn and transmit the strengths of all the German troops passing through the railroad system of central and Northern Greece. She knew the size of the troops moving from Germany to the port of Athens, and then transshipped to North Africa to augment the Rommel campaign against the Allied forces. She had “friends” in all of the train yards, and the Germans were all being observed and when the news was sent that they sailed of from Pireas to North Africa — often times their troop ships were attacked by the British fleet on their Mediterranean passage.
Demeter reported all of these Central Greece troop and materiel movements along with the Port of Athens transshipment movements to her radio contact reaching the intelligence apparatus of the Bletchley park radio station for integration into the figurative plans of the war.
She accomplished this through her natural communication skills, her daring nature, and the fact that she was too widely loved, and thus her information came through the team of dutiful admirers, careful observers and network operatives that she run.
This is why, “Demeter” and her radio set cells were nothing less than game changers for the war in North Africa and perhaps for the whole outcome of the Second World War.
Eventually the Greek patriot fighters under the studied guidance, unfailing direction, softly diplomatic and uplifting language & the unsurpassed communication skills of Demeter – all fell under her charm and her considerable diplomatic persuasion, and thus the two Greek guerilla forces came to grips with reality and with each other and chose to cooperate with the British commandoes who fell from the sky because of her radio broadcasts and repeated assurances that the capacity of the Greek guerillas to work together and blow up the railway bridges and thus severe the German railroad lines was a real and practical option.
Yet this was not nearly the whole truth since it was only because Demeter had a valuable personal relationship with both commanders of the opposing Greek guerilla forces, Napoleon Zervas leader of EDES and Aris Velouhiotis, the leader of EAM-ELAS, and with the British commandoes — she was able to convince both men to put ideological differences aside, and to fight alongside the English…
Her favor and auspices is what all men sought because she was brilliant, decisive and beautiful, and she allowed herself to be widely loved. And that is a deadly combination in a woman, but even deadlier when in the midst of a ravenous occupation she allowed herself to convince the two most fearsome guerilla leaders to risk everything and cooperate together in order to accomplish this impossible act of sabotage.
That is leadership at its finest.
So, this is how all these disparate forces came together for one time military engagement that set in motion the impossibly daring and brilliant operation “Harling” as well as the equally impossible operation “Animals” – those being the codenames for the Gorgopotamos bridge and for the Asopos bridge campaigns that comprise the duo of the most successful Resistance sabotage during the Nazi occupation years.
Demeter knew both Velouhiotis and Zervas intimately – and she convinced both of these brave men and distinct patriots, to put aside their mutual dislike, to forget their ideology, and to cooperate with the British commandoes — even going against their Greek political leadership who never permitted them to fight or engage in any operation together with each other and the British.
But because of their roots in the fertile soil for heroes, the place where Leonidas and the 300 fought and are still fight foreign invaders going North to South — to this day, and prodded and prompted by Demeter to honorable action, both Zervas and Velouhiotis chose to take a stand and fight the foreign invader together.
And thus it came to pass that through the assistance of the British SOE commandoes – they all attacked the German & Italian garrisons in the most daring raids that destroyed the German railroad supply lines by blowing up the highest bridges of the rail network – the Gorgopotamos and Asopos bridges and thus severing the bloodlines of the North African German armies of General Rommel whose whole Africa Corps subsequently collapsed and surrendered.
The historic bridge of Gorgopotamos can be found right next to the village which bares the same name. It was constructed in order to carry the railway line from Athens to Thessaloniki. It was completed in the midst of many difficulties in 1905 but it started officially operating on August 24, 1908. The bridge as well as the rest of the line from Bralos to Lianokladi, was constructed, by the French Company “Batignoles” with technical director the French engineer K. Barbier, chief engineer, the French Berro and engineers and workers from France, England, Italy and Greece.
One of the most glorious pages of contemporary history was written on this bridge. On the night of November 25, 1942, Operation Harling, known as the Battle of Gorgopotamos, a mission by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), in cooperation with the Greek Resistance groups EDES and ELAS, destroyed the heavily guarded bridge. Operation Harling was conceived in late summer 1942 as an effort to stem the flow of supplies through Greece to the German forces under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in North Africa. The target would be one of the three railway bridges, all in the Brallos area: the Gorgopotamos, Asopos and Papadia bridges. A team of twelve British commandos, headed by Lt-Colonel E.C.W. Myers, dropped over Greece, near Mount Giona in central Greece on 29 September 1942. They were deployed by Special Operations Executive (SOE), a secret British organization responsible for conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe. The team’s task was to get in touch with members of the Greek Resistance, and secure their cooperation for an operation conceived at the Allied Headquarters in Cairo. EDES’s leader, Napoleon Zervas, met with the British on 19 November, and Aris Velouchiotis, the leader of ELAS, met with them on the following day. A pact was made and by the 22nd of November the plan of attack was finalized.
The force available for the operation numbered 150 men: the twelve-strong British team, which would form the demolition party, 86 ELAS men and 52 EDES men, who would provide cover and neutralize the garrison. The bridge guard consisted of 100 Italian and 5 heavily armed German soldiers.
Here is one of the eyewitness account of the battle describing Gorgopotamos, as the Greatest Moment of Resistance to the Nazis during the Second World War.
“The blowing up of the Gorgopotamos railway bridge on November 25, 1942 still stands as the greatest and most courageous moment of resistance to the German occupation of Greece during World War II.
On September 29, 1942, a group of twelve British commandos headed by Colonel Eddie Myers parachuted into the Giona mountains of central Greece.
Among them was Themistocles Marinos, a Greek, and an unknown Cypriot who went by the code name of “Giannis.”
Their task was to get in touch with members of the Greek resistance, and implement with them a daring scheme dubbed “Operation Harling,” a plan conceived at Allied Headquarters in Cairo.
The plan was to destroy Gorgopotamos Bridge…
The project called for the blowing up of one of the three bridges over the Papadia, Asopos and Gorgopotamos rivers, since they were all the tallest railroad bridges in the region of Central Greece were the railroad passed that supplied the Africa Corps of General Rommel in North Africa.
So because the Gorgopotamos Bridge, carried the crucially-important railway line between Thessaloniki and Athens it was targeted swiftly.
In the next few days, the SOE commandoes Myers and his men surveyed all three possible sabotage areas and found that — luckily enough — the Gorgopotamos bridge was also the easiest target.
It was the only reliable route to the ports of southern Greece, and its destruction was intended to cause the interruption of supplies to the German forces under General Erwin Rommel in North Africa.
However, they had to secure the support of the two different Greek resistance groups that had been started in Lamia, for the operation to succeed.
On November 19, Myers hurried to meet Napoleon Zervas, leader of the National Republican Greek League (EDES) in Mavrolithari, Fokida.
The next day, Aris Velouchiotis, the leader of the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), met with the British commandos.
All parties agreed that the Gorgopotamos bridge was the best sabotage target.
Three days later the site was surveilled by a joint guerrilla group, and on November 22 the plan for blowing the bridge on the night of November 25th was finalized.
Gorgopotamos Bridge was guarded by one hundred Italians and five German soldiers, all with heavy machine guns.
Its neutralization would require not only swiftness but an enormous amount of explosive material.
The resistance team now consisted of one hundred fifty men, with eighty-six from ELAS, fifty-two from EDES plus the twelve British commandos.
The plan was for the Greeks to eliminate or distract the guards while the British placed the explosives along the bridge.
At 11:07 on the night of November 25, the assault on the guards defending both ends of the bridge began.
Everything went according to the meticulous plan that had been drawn up. At 1:30 in the morning of November 26 a section of the bridge was blown up and the second section soon followed, plunging into the river below at 2:21 AM.
At the same time, a train full of Italian soldiers that had been sent to Gorgopotamos to fend off the attack was successfully halted by the guerrillas.
By 4:30 in the morning, the last guerrillas had finished their operations and they met at the rendezvous in Kalyvia to convene their escape groups and commence the plan for future operations.
Of the 150 men of the resistance who fought in Operation Harling, only four were injured while the bridge guard of Italian and German soldiers had lost 20 to 30 men.
The destruction of Gorgopotamos bridge was hailed as one of the greatest acts of sabotage during the Second World War conflict…
However, several days later, nine Greek patriots were publicly executed by German occupation forces at the site of the damaged bridge in retaliation for the heroic deed.
The success of Operation Harling – Gorgopotamos, won the admiration of all occupied Europe at the time and gave courage to the Greek people during the harsh years of occupation.
Yet although at the time its impact on the North African front was seen as limited, because by the time the bridge was destroyed, the Germans had already lost the Battle of El Alamein – in reality and as seen in the British archives – this was the final push that caused General Erwin Rommel to flee and led to the surrender of the whole of the Africa Corps to the Allies…
The Gorgopotamos blast and the resultant Victory, was understandably a huge morale boost for the British and also for the people living under occupation inside Greece and it helped the recruitment for the partisan resistance and their aspirations for Liberty.
But there was another major symbolic significance behind Gorgopotamos operation, because it was the only moment in modern Greek history where leftists (ELAS) and centrist-right wingers (EDES) worked together for the good of their country.
A coalition of resistance groups is what this was described as, and thus in 1960s the administration of Giorgos Papandreou had established the anniversary of the blast of the Gorgopotamos Bridge as a day to officially celebrate the people of the National Resistance, and this led to the terrorist attack we saw at the beginning of this book…
But in the real battle, going back to the early stage of the war – we can see why this happened…
Perhaps the question would have been best asked is the “Why” was the tide of war so easily shifted?
You know that this is anybody’s guess – but the consensus remains that the Thousand Year Reich was not just a German dream of Empire, since there had been other empires that lasted that long in History, albeit they were far more benevolent than the Nazi death machine and vied for a period of long term Peace like the vaunted Pax Romana, except that the Nazis promised us only a thousand years of strife, war and unending violence.
So, it had become obvious that the Nazis had to be prevented from stabilizing themselves solidly onto the European soil because I cannot think of any nation or any people, who could have even imagined living under the Nazi jackbooted thugs for a whole millennium…
And that is also why the British Expeditionary Force in Greece left behind these radio sets and materiel, for the Greek patriots to be equipped with communication equipment and some other strategic assets that will come to bear when the time arrived…
Of course they knew that the mere possession of an English radio warranted a death sentence if the Germans were to discover the radio set in your possession, and whole families had been machine-gunned for merely having a simple radio that was tuned to the BBC.
So they concocted a scheme where upon the individual patriots who were assigned a radio set – would only be linked to one other support person with whom they had total trust and often times they were a family.
Aside from that – there was no other relationship between any one radio cell operator and other people who had a cell radio.
This was the case with Demeter too, and for her support — she recruited her only brother. Her brother Basel, eagerly signed on to this patriotic enterprise to assist in the struggle for the liberation of their country.
But unbeknownst to her brother Basel — Demeter was the head of the whole of the Greek clandestine radio networks in Central Greece and beyond. And she kept that secret all the way to her grave many years later.
And perhaps that is why she constantly fretted about the threat of discovery of anyone radio-cell operator – so she directed all of her radio operators to be extremely fast and efficient when transmitting, and to run away after each transmission to hide their radio sets far and away from each transmission site, avoiding repeats, and going into deep silence for a time no less than a week.
So the pattern was set and the radio operators hid their burst transmissions in plain sight, and then immediately moved away and hid the radio set in a succession of different caves, secret shepherd’s huts, or little churches, and abandoned monasteries, always changing locations and always moving around the villages dotting the lovely countryside of Greece.
And in her case, Demeter — she hid the radio set in the secret hillside caves surrounding the city of Lamia that is built on a volcanic substream of fissured rocks and caves, as well as in the crevices of the mountains of her homeland.
She had received excellent directions for her work, by her support officers in England and this showed in the continuity of her work during the occupation years. Maybe she had enduring luck or good fortune, and a great deal of faith, but one has to ask, how come she had such good training that she was able to develop into such good tradecraft?
And of espionage and skullduggery was her game — who was her trainer, her support and her liaison officer in Great Britain?
Who was the person that wrote her replies and handled her as an Agent’s Agent?
That we do not yet know conclusively, because it is still protected under the Official Secrets Act — however the name of Randolph Churchill as her handler has been quietly suggested. And that explains a lot about the subsequent events and the chronology of this awesome life of Demeter living dangerously as a modern Greek goddess of war and fertility…
And so it follows that during the early years of the German Nazi occupation – the radios stayed busy transmitting useful information about the German troop movements, the Jewish roundups, the Greek collaborators, the strength of the Wermacht, the German navy, the German railroads and their timetables, and their disposition.
It all worked like clockwork.
However many a patriot perished in the roundups of the innocents whose fervent luck brought them up to the German blocks on any given days’ morning exodus of the citizens after the nights of curfew, and the early morning home invasions by the Gestapo, the raids of broken doors by the local collaborators and the random shootings of fleeing civilians in the dark streets.
The executions of innocent people of Greece, coupled with the deaths caused by the forced famine – amount to a genocide and a vast war crime by any standard. It is telling that as a genocide – it was only rivaled by the great pogrom of the Jewish People of Europe.
Now, considering the industrial method of the Concentration camps, their railroad hubs, and the network of transfer stations, cattle cars and the assorted industrial infrastructure created as “Final Solution” for the elimination of the Jews in Europe – the Greek forced famine accounted for a total culling of 15% of the Greek population and as such it was a much more cost effective and efficient death and destruction campaign, against any population by comparison.
So who is to decide the magnitude of the loss?
Only the Greek patriots knew how to respond to this infamy. Only they were able to survey the scene and make an assessment of the carnage that befell their brethren.
And this is what caused them to stop being afraid and to start acting as real warriors against the barbaric enemy.
So here is to those brave souls…
My mother was “Demeter” a name of solid repute and even more solid support amongst the ones who knew her. Yet nary a soul knew her real identity – even when she was working alongside the guerillas, or the radio set cells and the British officers and commandoes.
She kept the tradecraft in near perfect style. She had been a natural and she had been taught well.
She also had the beauty of Venus and the knowledge of Athena, with the good grace and awful determination of Hera – the three most potent deities of the Greek twelve God assembly. This trifecta coupled with the earthly powers of Demeter always able to go to ground as good tradecraft demands, made her the Goddess of espionage and she was the menace to the German occupation forces whose secrets she exposed always and she was able to walk away unfailingly.
And with time came the perfect knowledge of the enemy that was the most dangerous thing, because knowledge of your adversary breeds complacency, and that is never good counsel when in war or in love.
But we digress … forwards; and we go a few years in order to see the aftershocks of war.
Because after the end of the second World War there came a spate of “welcome peace” parties that pushed global politics towards the Democratic Left.
Yet right after the jubilation of the long sought Peace had expired — there came the lopsided balance of power in Europe which led to the so called Cold War.
This is when an effective “frontier line” was created in Europe.
It was that line which Winston Churchill famously called the “Iron Curtain” since it was protected by millions of well armed battle hardened men, supported by hundreds of thousands of tanks and scores of cannon and rockets.
Winston Churchill called it the “Iron Curtain” and said that it ran from Szczecin on the Baltic Sea to Trieste on the Adriatic Sea. Behind that line was the territory of the opposing parties and both sides had deployed vast military power along this line in the expectation of major combat.
No central European country that fell behind that line to the East, ever escaped the iron grip of the Red Army, except Greece the cradle of Democracy, that was saved for a very special reason…
The Western European powers created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) precisely to fight that expected war but the strength they could marshal remained limited. The Warsaw pact of the Soviet Union, and after the mid-1950s the so called Soviet Bloc — consistently had greater numbers of troops, tanks, planes, guns, and other equipment.
Nuclear Détente, the military balance of quantitative versus qualitative, rigid versus flexible battle tactics and weapons is the point that for many years there was a certain expectation that greater numbers would prevail and the Soviets might be capable of taking over all of Europe.
Planning for the day the Cold War turned hot, given the expected Soviet threat, necessarily led to thoughts of how to counter a Russian military occupation of Western Europe.
That immediately suggested comparison with the Second World War, when Resistance movements in many European countries had bedeviled Nazi occupiers. In 1939-1945 the anti-Nazi Resistance forces had to be improvised.
Ambling towards war…
Let us however go back a few years to the dawn of the Second World War conflict, when during peacetime on a sunny day on the 15th of August 1940 – the battleship Ellie was torpedoed while tied up on the quay of the harbor under the great church of Panagia in Tinos. The Greeks were aghast when the torpedo struck and all the population were eager to fight against the aggressors. But the identity of the assassins was kept secret from them, because the Greek Premier – the Dictator Metaxas, was a friend of Benito Mussolini and Hitler.
And because of that – he kept secret from the Greek population that it was an Italian submarine, whose torpedo was responsible for the awful carnage and mayhem on this religious holiday of Peace, in this little island dedicated to Madonna “Panagia” the Mother of Jesus, no less.
Later on, in the autumn of that year – and under Benito Mussolini’s fascist directives, the Italian troops again attacked Greece unannounced, heralding the beginning of the Second World War in 1940 in Greece. They advanced successfully — yet they were defeated by the massive resistance of the Greek population and the heroic Greek army who fought bravely against the superior armies of Italy. And indeed they turned the Italians back towards their homeland and kept pummeling them until Hitler came to their rescue.
Because Hitler, had observed the failure of Mussolini with disapproval, in 1941 sent his German troops which conquered the country and placed it under the control of the Axis Powers.
The Greeks once again organized a massive resistance operation and throughout the war the German army faced great difficulties with keeping the country under control.
Same as in Italy and France — in Greece the strongest resistance organization to the fascist occupation was dominated by the leftist, socialists and Communists. ELAS, the People’s Liberation Army, had been founded on the initiative of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) some months after the German invasion. Its partisans cut across the entire left of the political spectrum and many women, priests and even some archbishops fought in its ranks.
EAM, the political wing of the People’s Liberation Army, was fully dominated by the Greek Communists.
Out of a population of seven million up to two million Greeks were members of the EAM party, while 50,000 were actively fighting in the ranks of ELAS army. ELAS was the thorn in the flesh of the Nazis and essentially wrestled the country back from the German occupiers.
In its operations, ELAS was supported by the British secret army SOE whose officers advised ELAS on the ground and supplied it with weapons and munitions. Many personal friendships developed between the Greek ELAS resistance fighters and the British SOE liaison officers.
Yet the brothers in arms were abruptly separated when Prime Minister Winston Churchill in March 1943 decided to halt all support for ELAS as he feared that Greece after the defeat of the Axis Powers could come under Communist control.
Ostensibly – Winston Churchill secretly sent his foreign minister Anthony Eden to Stalin in October 1943 to carve up the Balkans. Yet, the deal, cemented at Yalta, did not give Britain and the United States a free hand in Greece, but it contested the Greek national territory in the same way that Bulgaria and Romania were to fall under the influence of the Soviet Union.
Then it became important that in order to minimize the power of the Greek Communists and Socialists, London planned to reinstall the Greek conservative king together with a right-wing government after the war.
The crucial British Foreign Office directive of March 20, 1943 which signaled the turn around emphasized that ‘SOE should always veer in the direction of groups willing to support the King and Government, and furthermore impress on such groups as may be anti-monarchical, the fact that the King and Government enjoy the fullest support of His Majesty’s Government.’
The King was less than popular among many Greeks after having cooperated with the fascist dictator Metaxas. Inspired by Mussolini and Hitler, Metaxas had introduced the fascist salute, the rigid outstretched right arm, as well as a brutal secret police during his rule in the late 1930s.
Yet London pursued the conservative policy and in October 1943 the British Foreign Office even contemplated ‘a downright policy of attacking and weakening EAM by every means in our power’, an approach which was postponed however for it was ‘likely to sacrifice all chance of military advantage and to defeat its own ends by strengthening EAM politically’.
Churchill, who observed the battle from a distance, noticed however that ELAS remained the strongest guerrilla on the territory. It was in this context that in late 1944 he decided that something more had to be done in order to prevent the Greek Communists from reaching positions of power.
Churchill therefore gave orders that a new Greek right-wing secret army had to be set up whereupon, as journalist Peter Murtagh relates, a ‘new Greek army unit was established, which came to be known variously as the Greek Mountain Brigade, the Hellenic Raiding Force, or LOK, its Greek acronym (Lochos Oreinon Katadromon)’.
As it was aimed against the Communists and the Socialists the unit excluded ‘almost all men with views ranging from moderate conservative to left wing. Under British military supervision and at Churchill’s express orders, the unit was filled with royalists and anti-republicans.’
Field Marshall Alexander Papagos was made the first commander of the Hellenic Raiding Force and with British support he recruited right-wingers into the network and fought ELAS. As ELAS fought against both the German Nazi occupiers and the British-sponsored Hellenic Raiding Force, Churchill feared a public relations disaster should it be revealed to the British public that London was secretly supporting the fascists against the Communists in Greece.
In August 1944 he therefore instructed the BBC to eliminate ‘any credit of any kind’ to ELAS when reporting on the liberation of Greece. But only weeks later ELAS secured victory over the German occupiers and Hitler was forced to withdraw all of his soldiers from Greece.
Churchill immediately demanded that the resistance should disarm, an order which ELAS was willing to obey if it was equally applied to their only remaining enemy on the field, the British-sponsored Hellenic Raiding Force. As Great Britain refused to disarm the secret right-wing army, a large democratic demonstration organized by EAM in Athens against British interference in the post-war government of Greece took place on December 3, 1944, a mere six weeks after the German occupation forces had been pushed out of the country.
The organizers of the demonstration had made it clear that they wanted to combat the British with peaceful means, announcing the demonstration as the prelude to a general strike. Shortly after 11 o’clock in the morning of that day a group of Greek protesters, numbering between 200 and 600, walked into Syntagma Square in Athens, the main square in front of the Greek parliament.
This small group, among which were women and children in a festive mood, was part of a much larger group of 60,000, delayed by police blocks. As the small group ambled into the square, a line of armed men, a motley collection of police and freelance gunmen, presumably including members of the Hellenic Raiding Force, met them.
British troops and police with machine guns were positioned on the rooftops. The atmosphere was tense. Suddenly, and without warning, the peaceful demonstration was turned into a massacre as a spurious command was heard but was not ordered by an organized leader. Yet it seems to have been followed by the armed soldiers: ‘Shoot the bastards’…
A hail of bullets came down on the unarmed protesters who scattered in all directions. Allegedly the shooting went on for almost an hour. It left 25 protesters dead, including a six-year-old boy, and 148 wounded.
Not long after the killings the main group of protesters arrived.
In a display of remarkable restraint, the 60,000 held an entirely peaceful emotional and solemn rally, among the corpses of their fellow protesters. Banners dipped in the blood of the slain demanded that the British stay out of Greek affairs.
Many carried American and Greek flags.
Some carried the red flag of Communism.
People carried the Union Jack of Great Britain too…
In London, Churchill faced an angry House of Commons which demanded an explanation for the barbarity.
While admitting that it had been a ‘shocking thing’, Churchill stressed that it was equally stupid to bring large numbers of unarmed children to a demonstration, while the city was full of armed men. The role of the secret right-wing army in the Syntagma massacre was not investigated.
After this demonstration of force the British reinstalled the king, and ELAS handed over its arms to the British in return for the promised national democratic elections that were held in March 1946. As the Greek Communist Party and the centre left unwisely decided to boycott the polls due to the Anglo-American occupation of the country, the right emerged victorious from the elections.
A succession of weak British puppet governments with conservative and right-wing leanings followed. Convinced that Greece would fall under the control of brutal Soviet dictator Stalin if the Greek left should come to power, the government continued to arrest EAM members, many of whom were tortured on notorious Greek island prison camps.
In 1945 most parts of the world celebrated the end of the Second World War and in order to prevent such a tragedy from reoccurring, established the United Nations Organization. Yet Greece remained a battlefield and already one year after the Second World War the Cold War started.
As the frustration of the Greek left grew, a fraction rearmed and took to the hills and in the fall of 1946 and started a civil war against the local right wing government.
Britain, exhausted by World War, could no longer control the country and in early 1947 asked the United States for support. CIA expert William Blum relates that ‘Washington officials well knew that then new client government was so venal and so abusive of human rights that even confirmed American anti-Communists were appalled.’
Yet as Communist Yugoslavia supported the Greek communist armies with arms and the country seemed on the brink of turning red, President Truman with his famous ‘Truman Doctrine’ in March 1947 was able to convince Congress to openly intervene in Greece.
Greece was the first country to invite America and to be supported by the United States during the Cold War according to its strategy of combating Communism globally.
This was the Cold War reality of resistance to tyranny…
In the following decades Washington put forward the argument used in Greece, to justify its open or covert invasions of Korea, Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, Kampuchea, Laos, Nicaragua, Panama and several other countries around the world.
Meanwhile, the left-wing partisan force of some 20,000 men and women, scattered in the Greek mountains, was outnumbered as the US special units linked up with the Hellenic Raiding Force and other units of the Greek right wing army.
When Stalin realized that the civil war in Greece could lead to a superpower confrontation — Yugoslavia was excluded from the Soviet Bloc in 1948, whereupon the arms supply for the Greek partisans ebbed away. Their situation became desperate as the Hellenic Raiding Force operating under US command was excellently equipped and gained strength.
The Greek communist party was directed to betray Aris Velouhiotis’ geographic location and military strength and disposition to the Greek army, who in turn found him in the mountains of Northern Greece, cornered him in an ambush and killed him with a hand grenade in desperation…
And that was the end of it all, and the “cover” was fully applied by the Communist party, about their secret role in destroying the fragile peace of Greece right after the war, as they also destroyed the path to Independence, while betraying and killing the most legendary fighter for Greek Liberation and Independence — Ari Velouhioti, who contrary to all tenets of communist ideology, always wore the Christian cross on the lapel of his military tunic.
Now here comes the aftermath, as the Greek Civil War turned into the global conflict we now call Cold War, because this was the instant when the Greek subjugation to the Empire was finalized, and the real competition with Soviet Russia commenced…
A and is still going on today in Ukraine, in Finland and in Georgia as well as in the three small Baltic states, where NATO seeks to expand its territorial ambitions at the armpit of Russia thinking that it must be a brilliant idea to try to declaw the tiger when your head is in its mouth…
The transition of the Greek alliance to NATO and the US led forces, came when the British left the picture in Greece and by some ideological alchemy, the US President Truman labeled the corrupt right-wing regime in Athens as ‘democratic’ and dismissed its opponents on the left as ‘terrorists.’
At the time, US forces with heavy military equipment were landing in Greece in sufficient numbers to make a difference in the balance of the scales of Power.
After this troop movement — the left-wing partisan force of some 20,000 men and women, scattered in the Greek mountains, was outnumbered by as much as six to one, when the US special forces linked up with the Hellenic Raiding Force, and other units of the Greek right wing army.
When Stalin realized that the civil war in Greece could lead to a superpower confrontation and Yugoslavia was excluded from the Soviet Bloc in 1948 — the arms supply for the Greek partisans ebbed away. Their situation became desperate as the Hellenic Raiding Force operating under US command was excellently equipped and gained strength.
The United States secretly started ‘Operation Torch’ and used chemical warfare to defeat the Greek partisans by dropping thousands of gallons of Napalm on Greece. In late 1948 the Greek resistance, which on their native soil had defeated both the German Nazis and the British troops, collapsed.
The end of the civil war meant total victory for the Greek Right and its patron, the United States .
The secret anti-Communist army Hellenic Raiding Force was not disbanded but remained operational to control the Greek opposition. Greece joined NATO in 1952 and by that time ‘had been molded into a supremely reliable ally-client of the United States. It was staunchly anti-Communist and well integrated into the NATO system. Secretly the CIA and the Greek army cooperated to jointly run, train and equip the Hellenic Raiding Force under Field Marshall Alexander Papagos.
This secret CIA anti-Communist army was a most valuable asset to influence the political situation in the country.
The clandestine cooperation between the US secret service, the Greek military and the Greek government was repeatedly confirmed in secret documents, the existence of which the Greek public learned with some surprise during the Gladio discoveries in 1990.
They included a document on the Greek secret army dated March 25, 1955 signed by US General Trascott for the CIA, Konstantin Dovas, Chief of Staff for the Greek military, as well as Greek Prime Minister Alexander Papagos. The parties involved reconfirmed the agreement on the Greek secret army on May 3rd of 1960.
According to Murtagh the running of the Hellenic Raiding Force was a major project of the CIA in Greece. ‘In the mid 1950s, the CIA helped supply and equip the Force, and consciously remodelled it on existing elite units of the US army and Britain. America’s Delta Force and Britain’s Special Air Service, the SAS were the model units.
Under CIA direction, Raiding Force members were issued with green berets, long before the US army’s own Green Berets unit came into being.’ As was the case in all Western European countries, contact with British and American Special Forces remained cordial. Greek officers took much pride in having been selected for the special unit after receiving special training abroad. Murtagh correctly relates that the Greek secret army through the CIA was also linked to NATO and the stay-behind command centre ACC in Brussels. The Raiding Force doubled as the Greek arm of the clandestine pan-European guerrilla network set up in the 1950s by NATO and the CIA which was controlled from NATO headquarters in Brussels by the Allied Coordination Committee.’
Next to its domestic control tasks the Hellenic Raiding Force was trained for the classical stay-behind task. “The idea behind the network was that it would operate as a “stay-behind” force after a Soviet invasion of Europe. It would co-ordinate guerrilla activities between Soviet occupied countries and liaise with governments in exile. Those involved would be members of the conquered nations’ secret police and intelligence services, plus civilian volunteers. The Greek branch of the network was also known as Operation Sheepskin.’
As the Raiding Force, or LOK, had already been created in 1944 by the British, it arguably remains the oldest of the secret stay-behind armies active in Europe during the Cold War.
The existence of the secret army had been revealed by former CIA agent Philip Agee already in 1987 in his book ‘Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe’, for which he was heavily criticized by the CIA and the Pentagon. Agee, who had been a CIA operative in Latin America in the 1950s, left the agency on moral grounds in 1969 and thereafter publicly criticized the terrorist operations and the human rights violations of the CIA in numerous countries by revealing both operations and names of active CIA agents.
Years before the secret Gladio armies were discovered in Italy, Agee revealed that ‘paramilitary groups, directed by CIA officers, operated in the Sixties throughout Europe’. He stressed that ‘perhaps no activity of the CIA could be as clearly linked to the possibility of internal subversion’.
As far as Greece was concerned, the CIA according to Agee had played a decisive role. ‘The Greek-American CIA officer recruited several groups of Greek citizens for what the CIA called, “a nucleus for rallying a citizen army against the threat of a leftist coup.” Each of the several groups was trained and equipped to act as an autonomous guerrilla unit, capable of mobilizing and carrying on guerrilla warfare with minimal or no outside direction.’ Control of the secret army rested with the CIA and the Greek officers whom the American secret service trusted. ‘The members of each such group were trained by the CIA in military procedures. As far as can be determined, most of the paramilitary groups trained in two camps: one near Volos, and the second on Mount Olympus. After the initial training sessions, these groups would drill in isolated areas in Pindos and the mountains near Fiorina.’ As with all secret armies in Western Europe run by the CIA, the units were equipped with light weapons hidden in arms caches. “These guerrilla groups were armed with automatic weapons, as well as small mountain mortars. The weapons were stored in several places. Most of the military supplies were cached in the ground and in caves. Each member of these paramilitary groups knew where such cached weaponry was hidden, in order to be able to mobilize himself to a designated spot, without orders.’
Due to the involvement of numerous persons the need-to-know had to be extended to several groups which in turn made it extremely difficult to keep the army and its links to the CIA top secret.
‘Constant problems developed with keeping the project secret. One CIA officer described it as “a nightmare.”‘ Agee related and highlighted: “The Paramilitary Group, as far as can be determined, was never disbanded. In the eyes of senior CIA officials, the groups under the direction of the paramilitary branch are seen as long term “insurance” for the interests of the United States in Greece, to be used to assist or to direct the possible overthrow of an “unsympathetic” Greek government.
“Unsympathetic” of course to American manipulation.’ The CIA invested millions into the secret Greek army and built an entire complex of huts and training centers near Mount Olympus in east-central Greece where the members of the Hellenic Raiding Force were tutored by CIA instructors in a variety of skills including skiing, parachute training and scuba diving. About 800 secret arms caches were erected all over the country while the secret army allegedly counted as many as 1,500 officers, which were in need to recruit immediately another 2,000, to give the Hellenic Raiding Force a nucleus strength of 3,500 elite soldiers. The Greek-American CIA officer who played a central role in setting up and running the secret Greek army mentioned by Agee was Thomas Karamessines.
Like many of his colleagues in the CIA — Karamessines during the Second World War had served in the US secret service Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Due to his strong anti-Communist convictions and Greek roots he was transferred to the US Embassy in Greece in January 1946 under the cover of military attaché. During the civil war he established contacts with the British and Greek security officials and the members of the Hellenic Raiding Force.
After the CIA was created in 1947 to replace the OSS, Karamessines set up the CIA headquarters in Greece located in Athens on the fifth floor of the pale monolith Tamion Building just off Syntagma Square. Within a few years the CIA station numbered more than 100 full-time agents, most of whom were Greek-Americans as Karamessines himself. And Athens became the hub of all CIA activity in the Balkans and the Middle East, as far as Iran.
Directly involved with secret warfare and the anti-Communist CIA armies Karamessines in 1958 was transferred to Rome where as CIA chief of station he controlled the Italian Gladio and the battle against the Italian Communists. In 1962 Karamessines was forced to leave Rome amidst rumors that he had been involved in the non-clarified death of Italian industrialist and ENI boss Enrico Mattei. Back in the United States, secret warrior Karamessines became chief of CIA global covert actions when he was promoted to Deputy Director of Plans. Allegedly secret warrior Karamessines had carried the battle also to the United States and after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 was accused to have covered up traces and destroyed sensitive documents.
Karamessines saw to it that the CIA not only financed but also controlled the Greek military secret service KYP, despite the fact that the latter repeatedly engaged in torture. ‘With coinciding aims and purposes, and of course our money, it was easy to work with them,’ a former CIA agent stationed in Greece later recalled.
‘KYP were good at “noodling out” Greek Communists and those who flirted with the Soviets.’ KYP entertained listening posts targeting Bulgarian and Russian radio traffic, and sent the tapes to the United States in order to be decoded by the NSA. Monitoring the Greek opposition KYP together with the CIA amassed 15 tons of information on 16-and-a-half million individual files on Greeks regarded as a threat to the state. When paper storage started to become a serious problem the CIA provided KYP with a computer system.
In what in retrospect amounts almost to an irony of history the first democracy of the modern age, namely the United States, had hence provided the first democracy of Ancient history, namely Greece, with the first computers in order to control the population.
The KYP chief was greatly exited over the new machine and invited the press to inspect it. Standing next to the rather large and heavy machine he boasted that ‘You in Greece may sleep peacefully because this marvelous accomplishment of American science never sleeps’, whereupon in order to demonstrate the quality of the system he pressed an ‘enemy of the country’ button which to the embarrassment of the KYP produced a file on one of the journalists present at the meeting.
As the CIA together with the local oligarchy through the Hellenic Raiding Force and the KYP controlled the Greek left and the Communists — the only danger to the balance of power rested with democratic elections. Laughlin Campbell, CIA station chief from 1959 to 1962, was greatly worried that in the national elections of October 1961 the left was going to secure a victory and therefore a large number of people were either terrorized or paid in cash to vote according to KYP directives. In some villages the CIA and the army’s candidates polled more votes than there were people eligible to vote. The CIA was successful and in the end the left-leaning Centre Union got only a little over a third of the vote and a 100 seats in parliament. Its leader, George Papandreou, protested at the election fraud, later had it investigated by an independent commission which confirmed the claim, and announced a relentless struggle against the government. With strong popular support Papandreou had the courage to pick a fight with the CIA and the KYP and in 1963 forced US-supported Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis to resign.
Tensions heightened as in the following elections in November 1963 the Centre Union secured 42 per cent of the popular vote and 138 of the 300 seats in parliament. Papandreou, who headed the single largest party, was elected Prime Minister in February 1964. For the first time since the occupation of Greece by Hitler the Greek right faced the prospect of having to come to terms with a serious loss of political power.
Papandreou was guaranteed four years in government, a development which ‘sent shock waves through the right-wing establishment. Many, including several key advisers, believed it signaled that the Country was well on the road to a Communist take-over.
That was something they were determined to stop.’ Prime Minister George Papandreou had to be removed.
Jack Maury, who had replaced CIA Chief of station Campbell in Athens, was given the order to remove Papandreou. Adopting an arrogantly visible profile by wearing loud suits and large rings and driving a large American car — ‘bigger than the ambassador’s’, as he was fond of pointing out — the CIA chief of station demonstrated his power publicly.
Secretly he conspired with King Constantine, royalists and right-wing officers of the Greek military and secret service and in July 1965 maneuvered George Papandreou out of office by royal prerogative.
Several short-lived governments followed each other after the silent coup while the secret army, advised by KYP officer Konstantin Plevris, engaged in a clandestine battle to manipulate the political climate. Several bombs exploded in the country. In 1965, during the Gorgopotamos battle anniversary celebrations – innocent people were blown to pieces by a bomb, just as the political left and right had just hands in order to jointly commemorate their resistance to the Nazi occupation.
And, in particular, to commemorate their success in stopping the German troop and materiel transport trains by blowing up the bridge during the occupation.
The 1965 bomb massacre left five dead and almost 100 wounded, many gravely. ‘Well, we were officially trained terrorists’, an officer involved in the secret stay-behind operations declared later, highlighting that they had enjoyed powerful support. The support came from the administration of Lyndon Johnson in Washington who already in the context of the war in Cyprus had made it clear to the Greek government who was in charge.
In summer 1964 President Johnson summoned Greek ambassador Alexander Matsas to the White House and told him that the problems in Cyprus had to be solved by dividing the island into a Greek and a Turkish part. When Matsas refused the plan, Johnson thundered: ‘Then listen to me, Mr. Ambassador, Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If those two fleas continue itching the elephant, they may just get whacked by the elephant’s trunk, whacked good.’
The government of Greece, as Johnson insisted, had to follow the orders of the White House. ‘We pay a lot of good American dollars to the Greeks, Mr. Ambassador. If your Prime Minister gives me talk about democracy, parliament and constitution, he, his parliament and his constitution may not last very long.’ When Matsas in consternation uttered ‘I must protest your manner,’ Johnson continued shouting ‘Don’t forget to tell old Papa – what’s his name – what I told you. Mind you tell him, you hear,’ whereupon Matsas cabled the conversation to Prime Minister George Papandreou.
As the US secret service NSA picked up the message the phone of Matsas rang. The President was on the line: ‘Are you trying to get yourself into my bad books, Mr. Ambassador? Do you want me to get really angry with you? That was a private conversation me and you, had. You had no call putting in all them words I used on you. Watch your step.’ Click. The line went dead. Andreas, the son of George Papandreou, witnessed the manipulations and the secret war in his country with disgust. After having flirted with a Trotskyist group as a student, Andreas had left Greece for America in the 1930s to escape the repression of the Metaxas dictatorship. He became a US citizen, embarked on a flourishing career as an economist and academic, heading the department of economics at the University of California at Berkley.
During the Second World War he served in the US Navy and after the war was contacted by the CIA to work in the Mediterranean policy group. When he started to understand the role of the United States in Greece he cut his bonds with the CIA and in the late 1950s returned to Greece to become one of the most prominent and most vitriolic demagogic critics of the United States.
In a style reminiscent of Castro, the younger Papandreou in inflammatory speeches attacked the United States’ interference in Greek affairs, NATO, the corruption of the king, the Greek conservative parties and the Greek establishment in general. The Pentagon and the CIA were shocked to see that yet another Papandreou challenged their power in Greece.
Murtagh relates that ‘it would be difficult to understate the degree to which the former Prime Minister’s son was loathed by the Right and the CIA’.
In 1964 Andreas Papandreou assumed ministerial duties and discovered that the KYP routinely bugged ministerial conversations and turned the data over to the CIA. He furiously dismissed two top KYP officers and attempted to replace them with more reliable officers whom he ordered to stop all cooperation with the CIA. Yet, as Papandreou recalled, the new KYP Director ‘came back apologetically, to say he couldn’t do it.
All the equipment was American, controlled by the CIA or Greeks under CIA supervision. There was no kind of distinction between the two services. They duplicated functions in a counterpart relationship. In effect, they were a single agency.’
As Papandreou challenged the KYP, Norbert Anshutz, US Deputy Chief of Mission of the US embassy, came to see him and advised him to rescind his orders to the KYP. Andreas Papandreou refused and ordered the US official to leave his office, whereupon Anshutz angrily warned that ‘there would be consequences’.
The military coup d’état came on the night of April 20/21, 1967, one month before the scheduled elections for which opinion polls, including those of the CIA, predicted an overwhelming victory of the left-leaning Centre Union of George and Andreas Papandreou.
The secret army Hellenic Raiding Force started the coup which was based on the Prometheus plan, a NATO-designed scheme to be put into action in the event of a Communist insurgency. In the event of opposition, Prometheus was unequivocal: ‘Smash, without hesitation, any probable enemy resistance.’
Around midnight the Hellenic Raiding force took control over the Greek Defense Ministry which in admiration for the United States had been baptized Pentagon. They met little to no resistance and under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Costas Aslanides, a trained paratrooper, the building was secured. After the coup leaders controlled the Pentagon, phase two of the plan started and in the dark of night tanks with flashlights rolled into the capital and under the command of Brigadier General Sylianos Pattakos rounded up the parliament, the royal palace, the radio and the communication centers. Pattakos directed his column along the same route into the city taken by the Germans when they had conquered Athens in April 1941. Occasionally the tanks stopped, the officers looked around for signs of opposition. But there was none.
Athens was asleep.
The 78-year-old Prime Minister George Papandreou was asleep that night in his modest, whitewashed villa in Kastri, just outside the capital. The procedure, as in every military coup, was frightfully simple. Armed men knocked at his door, Papandreou was arrested and driven away in one of two military vehicles that had surrounded the house. At the same time eight men burst into the house of Andreas Papandreou, seven with fixed bayonets, one with a machine gun. A commotion followed, and Andreas escaped to the roof, but a soldier found his 14-year-old son, and, holding a gun to the boy’s head, forced the younger Papandreou to give up. In the space of some five hours, over 10,000 people were arrested by military squads according to detailed files and planning, and were taken to ‘reception centres’.
Colonel Yannis Ladas, the 47-year-old Director of the Greek military police, a year later in an interview took pride in the precision and speed with which the NATO plan had been implemented. ‘Within twenty minutes every politician, every man and anarchist who was listed could be rounded up… it was a very simple, diabolic plan.’29 The Greek population waking up in the morning found first of all that their phones were not working and soon thereafter that the military had taken over control.
At 6 a.m. Colonel George Papadopoulos declared through the media that he had taken over power in order to secure democracy, freedom and happiness. Eleven articles of the constitution were suspended. People could now be arrested on the spot and without warrant, to be brought before military courts.
Demonstrations and strikes were outlawed and bank deposits were frozen. The new ruler George Papadopoulos had operated as KYP’s liaison officer with the CIA ever since 1952 and within the KYP was known to be the trusted man of CIA chief of station Maury.
Yet not all officials of the United States agreed with the brutal procedure of the CIA. US Senator Lee Metcalf, days after the coup, criticized the administration of President Johnson sharply when on Capitol Hill he denounced the Greek junta as ‘a military regime of collaborators and Nazi sympathizers … who are receiving American aid’.
And the US ambassador in Athens, Phillips Talbot, complained to Maury one week after the brutal change of power that the US coup represented ‘a rape of democracy’. Maury answered: ‘How can you rape a whore?’
Due to the direct involvement of the Hellenic Raiding Force the Greek military coup has been labeled ‘a Gladio coup’. Only in one other country, namely in Turkey, the secret anti-Communist armies were equally involved in coup d’états.
In Italy the Gladio network carried out a ‘silent coup’ in June 1964 when CIA’s trusted General De Lorenzo in operation “Plan Solo” entered Rome with tanks, armored personnel carriers, jeeps and grenade launchers while NATO forces staged a large military maneuver in the area which led the Socialists to silently abandon their ministerial posts.
US historian Bernard Cook has rightly stressed that “Plan Solo” resembles the subsequent Prometheus Plan utilized by Colonel George Papadopoulos in 1967 to impose a military government on Greece. With its intent to destabilize Italy to prevent the advance of the Left, the plan was no more than “a carbon copy of Gladio”.’
And military expert Collin agrees that ‘What De Lorenzo had in mind was a plan similar in its mechanical aspects to the one successfully executed a few years later by Colonel Papadopoulos of Greece.’
The Greek junta consolidated its power through a regime of imprisonment and torture, the like of which had not been seen in Western Europe since the end of the Second World War. Most of those who had been arrested in the first hours after the coup were later moved to police and army cells. Communists, Socialists, artists, academics, journalists, students, politically active women, priests, including their friends and families, were tortured.
Their toe and fingernails were torn out. Their feet were beaten with sticks, until the skin came off and the bones were broken. Sharp objects were shoved into vaginas. Filthy rags, often soaked in urine, and sometimes excrement, were pushed down their throats to throttle them, tubes were inserted into their anus and water driven in under very high pressure, and electro shocks were applied to their head.
‘We are all democrats here’ Inspector Basil Lambro, the chief of the secret police in Athens, was fond of stressing. ‘Everybody who comes here talks. You’re not spoiling our record.’ The sadist torturer made it clear to his victims: ‘We are the government, you are nothing. The government isn’t alone. Behind the government are the Americans.’ If in the mood Basil also offered his analysis of world politics: ‘The whole world is in two parts, the Russians and the Americans. We are the Americans. Be grateful we’ve only tortured you a little. In Russia, they’d kill you.’
The Italian right and their secret soldiers were impressed with how efficiently the Greeks together with the CIA had defeated the left. In April 1968 the Greek colonels invited some 50 Italian right-wingers including notorious Stefano Delle Chiaie to come over to Greece and look for themselves. Upon their return to Italy the secret soldiers escalated the violence and started to place bombs in public places which killed and maimed hundreds and for which they blamed the Italian Communists.
The Greek junta was impressed with how efficiently their Italian friends were pushing the country towards a coup d’état and on May 15, 1969 Papadopoulos sent a telegram to congratulate them: ‘His excellence the Prime Minister notes that the efforts that have been undertaken for some time in Italy by the national Greek government start to have some impact.’
The military dictatorship in the end imploded, due to a near total lack of internal support, after the colonels had engaged in a foreign imperialistic adventure and in 1974 had sponsored a coup in Cyprus, seeking to replace the legitimate left-leaning government of Archbishop Makarios with a puppet regime and annex Cyprus.
The Turkish troops in response to the coup invaded the island and waves of violence ensued, killing thousands, leaving the island divided into a Turkish northern and a Greek southern part.
Rightfully the junta leaders — the colonels were arrested and dealt with in front of a court, with Papadopoulos being sentenced to death in 1975 for high treason, a verdict later changed into life imprisonment.
In a popular vote the Greek monarchy was abolished, and a new constitution was passed.
Andreas Papandreou after his release from the prison cells of the junta and years of exile spent in Canada and Sweden, returned to Greece and re-entered politics upon the fall of the dictatorship. He formed the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), won the elections of 1981 and as Prime Minister formed the first Socialist government of Greek’s post-war history.
Greece in the same year became a full member of the European Union, but Papandreou kept his radical style and repeatedly threatened to take Greece out of NATO. This he never did, but six years before his death Andreas Papandreou witnessed the exposure of the Gladio network in Italy and was the first former foreign official to confirm that such a secret army had also existed in Greece.
With this the scandal crossed the Italian border and started to embarrass governments across the continent. On October 30, 1990 Andreas Papandreou testified to the Greek newspaper Ta Nea that it had been in 1984 when he as acting Prime Minister had discovered a secret NATO army in Greece very similar to the Italian Gladio which he had ordered to dissolve.
Former Greek Defence Minister Nikos Kouris confirmed that the Greek secret army had been operative throughout the Cold War. ‘Our clandestine structure started in 1955’, Kouris claimed, ‘with a contract between the chief of the Greek special services and the CIA. When I learned about the existence of this unacceptable pact… I informed Andreas Papandreou… and the order was given, to dismantle Red Sheepskin.’
Passionate calls of the Socialist opposition for a parliamentary investigation of the secret army followed in late 1990 but were defeated by the acting conservative government and the conservative New Democracy Party. Defense Minister Ioannis Varvitsiotis in front of parliament was forced to confirm that the information provided by Papandreou was correct and that the CIA and local commandos indeed had set up a secret network, an operation code-named Sheepskin, which had allegedly been ‘dismantled in 1988’.
Yet Greek Public Order Minister, Yannis Vassiliadis, stressed that the police was not going to investigate ‘fantasies’, connecting Operation Sheepskin with domestic terrorism.
As many others in Europe — the Minister in his answers to journalists highlighted the stay-behind function of the Greek secret army, while categorically denying the domestic control function: ‘Sheepskin was one of 50 NATO plans which foresaw that when a country was occupied by an enemy there should be an organized resistance. It foresaw arms caches and officers who would form the nucleus of a guerrilla war. In other words, it was a nationally justifiable act.’
As nevertheless calls for an investigation intensified Defense Minister Varvitsiotis urged that there was no need for a parliamentary investigation of the Greek secret army, for he himself was going to take care of the delicate affair in his Defense Department. Varvitsiotis trusted a General with the potentially explosive investigation who had served in NATO and as Greek military attaché in Washington.
Even before the report on the Greek “stay-behind-army-secret-army” was finished, Varvitsiotis hence was able to assure his fellow ministers that ‘The government must not fear anything.’
And that was the end of it and another form of “cover” was applied fully.
Yet the Cold War continues on today…
And if there is a lesson here for America today — might be that any Civil War is always a bad idea…