The Red December of Greece - Part 2 - The First Battle of the Cold War
Tanks in between protesters in Greece.

You can see the first part of this series of articles on Greece during World War 2, describing the main resistance groups, here: The Red December of Greece - Part 1

On October 14, 1944, just 24 hours after the departure of the Germans from Athens, British paratroopers dropped in as "liberators". The people greeted them enthusiastically as allies, with slogans in support of the Greek EAM (National People's Liberation Army) and ELAS (Greek People's Liberation Army).

The trouble started on October 15, 1944 when the nationalist organizations staged a demonstration which was struck by the left-wing EAM in Omonia square.

The British immediately occupied the center of Athens and organized at strategic points. From that day, the "allies" began cooperating with those which betrayed Greece and which collaborated with the Germans.

On October 18 English troops landed in Piraeus. General Scobie, was accompanying them. Together with them disembarked George Papandreou, Greece's prime minister - appointed by the British. In order to get this job he promised that he will bring back to the throne King Glucksburg and would put Greece under the control of England. Papandreou’s arrival was well organized. A government committee expected him, with armed divisions together with rebels of ELAS.

On December 2, 1944 ministers who belonged to EAM resigned from the government, after disagreements about the disarmament. Immediately EAM declared strikes and requested permission to protest in Syntagma square. The government despite initially accepting, finally banned it on the orders of the British, late at night. EAM’s officials stated that it was impossible to cancel the demonstration in such a short time and they decided to proceed.

The people of Athens on Sunday, December 3rd defying a government ban, peacefully occupied Syntagma Square. The demonstration, attended by 600,000 protesters, was drowned in blood when police officers opened fire indiscriminately on the crowd. Eventually the sporadic gunfire stopped and the protesters stood up and began to dissolve. Some bodies remained immovable on the road. After a pause, the police started shooting again. When it seemed that the shooting finally stopped for good, some protesters appeared in Syntagma Square to collect the dead and the heavily injured. However, the police once again started shooting. In the end 33 were killed and over 140 were injured (other sources report 54 dead and 70 wounded). But this did not stop the demonstrators who began to be routed to the police station from where they were intercepted by a new fire. Then the British tanks which were lined in Panepistimiou avenue, came. Along with them arrived the British military police. The protesters greeted them with relief. A British officer shouted to police director Angelos Evert, who was standing on the balcony of the police headquarters: "Immediately stop shooting" . Then Evert replied innocently, "Who shoots?" After a while the streets were deserted. Some men and women left makeshift wooden crosses at points where the victims' blood was spilt. Other women packed the blood in bags and old cans.

Fourteen years later, the Chief of Police in Athens, Angelos Evert admitted in an interview to the newspaper Acropolis that he ordered the violent dissolution of protesters under orders which he had received.

Now it is a historical fact that the attack on the protesters on Sunday, December 3, was ordered by the government of Papandreou and the leader of the police, Angelos Evert.

On December 4, a general strike was launched by EAM. The funeral of the victims took place in the Cathedral of Athens and then the funeral procession headed to Syntagma square. There were 300,000 protesters. The coffins were lined up in a row, where the victims of the Sunday shooting had fallen. Everyone knelt in silent prayer. Some were holding banners written with the blood of the dead. At the top of the procession there was a banner held by three young women who were dressed in black. The banner said "When the people are set in front danger of tyranny they pick either chains, or arms."

This protest was also attacked and this time 100 were killed and many more were wounded. The angry crowd besieged hotel "Cecil" in Omonia square in order to set fire to it, but the timely intervention of the British prevented it.

On this day the first battle between the rebels of ELAS and the collaborators of the Germans started in Thisio. On the same day ELAS forces staged an occupation of several police stations in Piraeus and in areas around the centre of Athens.

These events caused a government crisis and Prime Minister George Papandreou announced that evening his intention to resign. The British reacted immediately and required him to remain in his place.

On December 9 Winston Churchill ordered new aid to Greece. The next day the British launched an operation to recapture Piraeus. On December 16 new British "aid" landed at Faliro and began operations to recapture the areas of Athens which were in control of ELAS. When they began to secure control of the Sygrou avenue, they transferred troops from Faliro to Athens.

On December 18 the British occupied Lycabettus where they made checkpoints with firearms at the most important streets. During all these days of the fighting the British air force bombed districts where ELAS supporters lived in the capital and surrounding areas, causing numerous civilian deaths.

On the night of 17-18 December, ELAS forces launched a successful occupation of the hotels Kifissia, Pentelikon and Cecil, where the RAF personnel lived. A total of 50 officers and 500 RAF aircraftsman were captured.

On the night of 23-24 December ELAS forces proceeded to implement projects aimed at blowing hotel Great Britain where the Greek government and the British staff were staying. For this purpose a sewer which ended near the foundation of the building was filled with explosives. The explosion was postponed due to the arrival of Churchill in Greece and during this time the British identified and disabled the explosives. Churchill stayed near Faliro in battleship Ajax and the next day he went to the hotel Great Britain where he participated in negotiations between the government and the delegation of EAM-ELAS. The negotiations failed and the fighting continued on 5 and 6 January, 1945.

ELAS was forced to leave Athens on January 5 and Piraeus on January 7. On January 11, there was an end to fighting, with the agreement of EAM with General Scobie. Dekemvriana ended definitively with the signing of the Treaty of Varkiza on February 12, 1945.

The reason for the defeat of ELAS was the intervention of British troops in Greece, whose interference was underestimated by EAM from the beginning. Also the Communist Party of Greece was not geared to a general conflict.

Even today we have not fully assessed the global importance of these events, which were de facto the first battle of the Cold War. If EAM had managed to blow up hotel Great Britain and kill Churchill even before Hitler died, the consequences for the whole world would be overwhelming. Quite possibly the Cold War would not have started and Hitler may have been spared. The "allies" played a bad game with Greek people, who had just emerged from the Nazi nightmare with terrible losses. Britain pushed Greece to the heartbreaking civil war which we will analyze in the third part of this series.