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Greece in World War I

Greek War Cruiser Averof sails to Constantinople 1918. Small sea vessels with Greek flags join the scene from the Asiatic side/Kadikoy. Topkapi Palace forms the bacground

Eleftherios Venizelos was born in Chania, Crete in 1864. After studying law in Athens Venizelos became leader of the Liberal Party in Crete. In 1896 he took a prominent role in the Cretan rising against Turkish rule. In 1905 Venizelos becoming the island's first independent prime minister.

In 1910 Venizelos became prime minister of Greece and supported the Balkan League against Turkey (1912) and Bulgaria (1913). As a result of these conflicts Greece gained territory from its defeated rivals.

Mavi Boncuk | Greece in World War I

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Greece, under the leadership of Prime Minister ELEFTHERIOS VENIZELOS just had gained vast territories doubling it's size and raising the country's population from 2,800,000 to 4,800,000 million; Venizelos leaned toward the Entente, especially toward Britain and France. King CONSTANTINE I., married to a sister of Kaiser Wilhelm, sympathized with Germany and advocated a policy of neutrality.

In the beginning of the war, Britain was interested to keep the Balkan countries, especially the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria, out of the war. Only when this policy failed with the entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war (Nov. 2nd 1914) did this policy change. Now, Britain offered Greece the vague prospect of territorial acquisitions in Asia Minor (Smyrna) and southern Albania (Northern Epirus) as a reward for entering the war, while asking it to cede territory in eastern Macedonia to Bulgaria. King Constantine, after initial approval, turned down the offer and prime minister Venizelos resigned (March 1915). For the time being, Greece remained neutral.

On October 14th 1915 Bulgaria entered the war on the side of the Central Powers. Serbia's position now became untenable. Ex-prime minister Venizelos now 'invited' the British and French to send an expeditionary force to Salonica, a port from which they could support the landlocked Serbs. Venizelos, whose supporters dominated the recently gained Aegaean Islands and Greek Macedonia, established a PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT in Salonica. The British Navy occupied CORFU to provide the Serb forces retreating through northern Albania with a base. Venizelos' provisional government even raised an army which, alongside with the Serbs and the Anglo-French expeditionary force, fought the central powers on the Macedonian front. Eastern Macedonia, meanwhile, had been occupied by Bulgarian troops.

In Athens the royalist government continued to pursue a neutral course; in Dec. 1916 British and French forces landed at Piraeus in a failed attempt to force him to take a pro-Entente position; the troops were repelled and the royalist government grasped the opportunity to clamp down upon supporters of Venizelos who, in their eyes, were conspirating with a traitor. Between September 1915 and June 1917, Greece had two governments hostile to each other, and both were more concerned about their mutual rivalry than about the World War going on around them.

In June 1917 the Entente demanded King Constantine to leave the country. He was succeeded by his son Alexander. Now Venizelos was legitimately appointed prime minister. He dismissed Greece's parliament as 'fraudulently elected' and recalled the parliament of 1915, thus securing a majority and alienating the opposition. Greece now formally became one of the Entente powers. Although Greece did commit troops, the country suffered comparatively few casualties in the war.