May 1, 2021




Since the voyage of Pytheas of Marseilles around 300 B.C. to Britain in search of tin, for which she was then renowned – considered to be the first contact between the Greeks and the British - the two peoples have often become involved - sometimes for a good cause, sometimes not. [BFCO]

During the Greek Struggle for Independence from the Ottoman Empire most Philhellenes who rallied to the support of the Greeks were British.

Venerated by all Greeks Lord Byron offered for the Greek cause his fortune and eventually his life. And the British Admiral Sir Edward Codrington commanded the combined British, French, and Russian fleet against the Turco-Egyptian fleet in October 1827 at the Battle of Navarino.

Subsequently Britain, France and Russia became in 1832 the "guarantors" of Greek independence. This role often gave them the opportunity to meddle in Greek affairs [BFCO] – often with the consent, not to say the encouragement - of Greek politicians.

In 1913 philhellenic sentiment in Britain saw the foundation of the Anglo-Hellenic League principally by classics scholar and Principal of King’s College, London, Ronald Montagu Burrows. He was a friend of Eleftherios Venizelos, Liberal Prime Minister of Greece. His expectations of the second Pericles, as he called him, were so great, that at the outbreak of the Balkan Wars he composed this Song of the Hellenes to Venizelos the

Venizelos! Venizelos!

Do not fail us! Do not fail us!

Now is come for thee the hour,

To show forth thy master power.

Lord of all Hellenic men,

Make our country great again! [BFCO]
The last stanza refers to the “Great Idea” [Μεγάλη Ιδέα] the Greeks nurtured of redeeming their lost homelands in a ‘Greater Greece’ [Μεγάλη Ελλάδα]. This vision was the principal force behind Venizelos’ decisions, too. Under his Premiership at the end of the two Balkan Wars [1912-13] the victorious Greek forces, led by Crown Prince Constantine, doubled Greece’s territory and population, but a large number of Greeks still remained outside her frontiers. [Petmezas, p. 30]

At the outbreak of the First World War Venizelos was adamant on Greece's participation on the side of her “Protective Powers”, who had by then formed the Triple Entente. And Ronald Burrows turned the Anglo-Hellenic League into a champion of Venizelos’ policy. [BFCO] In favour of his country's neutrality was Greek King Constantine I, educated in the Prussian military academy and married to Sophia, Kaizer William II’s sister. [Petmezas, p. 30] The National Schism [Εθνικός Διχασμός], the rift which split the Greeks into two camps, Royalists and Venizelists, was to poison Greek society for decades to come. And yet – neutral - Greece at the end of August 1914 through the British and the French Ambassadors in Athens placed at the disposal of the Entente the entire military and naval arsenal of the nation. [HGASH]

A concrete Allied invitation to join the War [unlike vague previous ones] came to the Greek Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, on January 15, 1915 through British Foreign Minister, Sir Edward Grey. Britain sought Greek co-operation mainly to counter the Turkish alliance with the Central Powers and to gain greater control of Eastern Europe. [Howard] She offered in return “important territorial concessions” on the Asia Minor shore.

Venizelos handed the British Ambassador an Asia Minor a map on which he had marked desired Greek expansion. The map was sent to the British Government, but no reply was given. [HGASH] The Greek General Army Staff ruled out not only any military venture in Asia Minor, which they deemed was destined to fail if it were undertaken solely by the Greek Armed Forces, but any collision with Turkey, which would automatically exterminate the Greeks living there. [HGASH]

But when the Allies launched in the same month the major Dardanelles Campaign, the Greek Prime Minister of – neutral – Greece placed at the disposal of Great Britain a military force consisting of 40,000 men and again the entire naval arsenal of the nation. The aim was forcing open the Straits for access to the Sea of Marmara and Constantinople, as well as to the Black Sea.

The mastermind of the offensive was Winston Churchill, then the First Lord of the Admiralty, who brought to light the British plans regarding Greek aid:
“The Greek army and navy were solid factors; and a combination of these with the British Mediterranean squadron offered a means of settling the difficulties of the Dardanelles in a most prompt and effective manner. The Gallipoli Peninsula was then only weakly occupied by Turkish troops, and the Greek general staff were known to be ready with well-thought-out plans for its seizure. Moreover, it seemed to me that anyhow Turkey was drifting into war with us...if we were not going to secure honest Turkish neutrality, then let us, in the alternative, get the Christian states of the Balkans on our side...whatever happened, we ought not to fall between two stools.” [Vol.1, 529]
On the advice of the Crown Council, comprised of former prime ministers, King Constantine rejected Greek participation in the Dardanelles Campaign, resulting in Venizelos’ resignation from office. [HGASH] Despite Greek absence the Allied Navy on March 5, 1915 invaded the Straits – from the Greek harbour of Moudros on the northern Aegean Island of Lemnos.

This is how Winston Churchill describes British frustration:
“In the end we had all the evils of both courses and the advantages of no course. We were forced into a war with Turkey, which ultimately became of enormous magnitude. Greece was thrown into inexplicable confusion. Serbia overrun, Bulgaria, joining hands with her recent enemies the Turks, became our foe. And Romania, when she finally came in isolated upon the side, suffered the direst vengeance at German hands. A more fearful series of tragedies has scarcely ever darkened the melancholy page of history.” [Vol. 1, 529]
“The negative outcome was disastrous not only for the Allies but also for us, especially for us”, writes on the Dardanelles Campaign Greek historian Dimitris Fotiadis. “If they had succeeded in breaking into the Straits, the Turkish army, missing every opportunity to get ammunition from Germany would have surrendered then. Bulgaria would not have dared to wage war on the Entente, and the Serbs would not have been crushed. As for us perhaps the Schism would not have been created or would not have become so deep, and the Asia Minor disaster would not have followed.” [Fotiadis, p. 126]
In early October of the same year Britain and France recalled that they were Greece’s “Protective Powers”. The reason was their plan to land forces in Thessaloniki after Bulgaria’s mobilization against Serbia. [BFCO] They felt free to turn the area into an entrenched zone and to advance to the north through – neutral - Greek territory. As an inducement to enter the War the British Government - prompted by Ronald Burrows –offered to cede Cyprus to Greece. But Venizelos [who had been re-elected Premier in the last elections] had already resigned again after King Constantine’s inflexibility, and the British offer came to no avail. [BFCO]

Meanwhile Entente-occupied Thessaloniki had been chosen by Venizelos to establish in September 1916 a «Provisional Government of National Defence» in defiance of the formal Government in Athens. And he asked Professor Burrows to be his ‘semi-official representative’ in London. [BFCO] But the Franco-British violations against territorial integrity, which culminated in November of that year and are known as the ‘November Incidents’ [Νοεμβριανά], have perhaps left a darker mark on the history of the period.

Finally, the following summer Britain and France ‘engineered the removal’ of King Constantine. [BFCO] An ultimatum dated June 11, 1917 and bearing the signature of Charles Jonnart, a French senator, invested with the rank of High Commissioner of the Protecting Powers, just informed the King that "the protecting powers of Greece decided” on his abdication and the renunciation of the crown by the Crown Prince. [Horne on French Minister Auguste Gauvain’s Memoirs]

Venizelos became Prime Minister yet again, this time of a government headed by Constantine's second-born child, Alexander, designated by the Allies. A few days later, in the summer of 1917, he was free to bring Greece into the War on the side of the Entente. [BFCO] The popularity he enjoyed in Britain was demonstrated in the autumn of the same year. A rally held for him in the British capital was so crowded, that thousands of his admirers had to be turned away, amid pamphlets circulated by the Anglo-Hellenic League, promoting his personality and Allied issues]. [BFCO]

In Turkey victory at the Dardanelles brought distinction to army officer Mustafa Kemal. But in Britain the Allied disaster reduced to minor office Churchill – who preferred to quit.

Continued stability on the Western Front increased the pressure on the Coalition Government of Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, who resigned in December 1916? The new Premier of the War Cabinet was [the former Minister of Munitions and subsequently Secretary of State for War] David Lloyd George with Arthur James Balfour as Foreign Secretary.

In opposition to the strategy of “Westerners”, who supported the concentration of warfare on the Western Front, the new Prime Minister, an “Easterner”, propounded the enhancement of military activity in the Mediterranean as far as the new arena of foreign competition - the Middle East. [Payne]

The Middle East brings to mind oil - and its growing importance in the new oil-powered military tactics. For the new Secretary of the War Cabinet, Sir Maurice Hankey, control of the Persian and Mesopotamian oil was a “first class British war aim”. [Paul]. And the British captured Mosul, the key city of northern Mesopotamia, immediately after the September 30, 1918 Armistice of Moudros, just because it shared the same geology as neighbouring oil-producing Persia. [Paul]

But the British people were war-weary. The “Man who won the War”, as the British Press called the Prime Minister, who was subsequently awarded by King George V the Order of Merit, returned to a grim domestic reality. Britain’s losses have been about 750.000 killed and 1,700,000 wounded. [Havighurst, pp. 134-35] And the world’s largest overseas investor was reduced to one of the world’s biggest debtors. The demobilization from the trenches of four million men started by the Ministry of Reconstruction was deemed unjust, causing demonstrations by the Army.

The latter in turn was called on to curb strikes by workers, who demanded higher wages and better working conditions amid inflation and tax increases. And because of its laissez-faire policy the Government could not do much more than watch - and pay - the approximately two million unemployed already on the country’s welfare system. Indeed, Britain was not “a fit country for heroes to live in”, as Lloyd George had promised before the 1918 general elections.

The British army, too, was depleted. Wrote on June 17, 1920 Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson:

 “As I had over and over again pointed out, our policy had no relation to the forces at our disposal, and we were incapable of carrying out our commitments… I had not enough troops to carry out the Cabinet policy in Ireland, Constantinople, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Persia, not to mention England, Egypt, and India.” [Callwell]

A British military engagement in response to a spring 1920 revolt in Mesopotamia against British rule turned the enraged Britons against government policy. [Bennett, p. 106] Asked on August 7, 1920 in an editorial London conservative newspaper The London Times: 
“What is the total number of casualties our forces have suffered in Mesopotamia during the single month of July, in our efforts to "emancipate" the Arabs, to fulfil our mandate, and to make smooth the way for the seekers after oil?”

For the last year or so the “seekers after oil” had their hands full with the Asia Minor Campaign. An urgent telegram, dated April 29, 1919 and sent by Venizelos to the Hellenic Ministry for Foreign Affairs, stated: 

“At this moment the Supreme Council of the Conference informs me that in today's session it decided that the expeditionary force departs immediately for Smyrna...” And Lloyd George had played a prominent part in authorizing the landing. [BFCO]

In that year Winston Churchill, an ‘Easterner’ himself [Payne], had just completed a two-year engagement as Minister of Munitions in Lloyd George's Government, before being appointed for another two years Secretary of State for War. This is how he describes the events: 

“At last peace with Turkey: and to ratify it, War with Turkey! However, so far as the Great Allies were concerned, the war was to be fought by proxy. Wars, when fought thus by great nations, are often very dangerous for the proxy.” [Churchill, Vol. 1, 529]

French Prime Minister Raymond Poincare made the same assessment of the situation, writing in 1926:

“Mr. Lloyd George, in particular, and M. Venizelos, made up their minds to throw Greece into an adventure which had no other object than to serve the interests of British Imperialism in Asia Minor, and which was doomed from the outset to certain failure.”

So did Margaret MacMillan, Professor of History at the University of Toronto and great-great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George:
 “The British, who for so long had propped up Ottoman Turkey, now needed an alternative partner to keep the eastern end of the Mediterranean safe for their shipping. ...and they did not want to spend their own money if they could help it. ...That made Greece, a strengthened Greece, quite appealing.” [MacMillan]
As a victor of the First World War Greece was indeed strengthened. Under the Treaties of Neuilly [1919] and Sevres [1920] she regained from Bulgaria Western Thrace, from the Ottoman Empire Eastern Thrace except Constantinople, and from Italy the Dodecanese Islands. She was also granted Smyrna as a Greek protectorate for five years, after which time a plebiscite would decide on the region's union with Greece. [Petmezas, p. 31] Greek control of these territories would serve British interests in the extremely important strategically and commercially International Zone of the Dardanelles. Adjacent Eastern Thrace would provide Britain with a direct European land approach to Constantinople [connecting Europe with the Middle East and Asia], and would also serve as a British military base – like the islands. [Kinross] Moreover the April 29, 1919 telegram had made it clear to the Chief Commander of the Greek Army, that by agreement of the Allies, Great Britain, France and America, military occupation of the city of Smyrna and the surrounding area would be carried out by Greek troops alone. In fact economic aid to Greece had ceased since 1918. [HGASH]

Thus, Greece was an appropriate proxy. The Greek population of Smyrna, 165,000 out of a total of 370,000, was greater than that of Athens. The Turks themselves called the city Giaur Ismir. Its key geographic location linked East with West and the Mediterranean with the Balkans.  Indeed, on the great city-states along the Asia Minor coast, Pergamum, Ephesus, Halicarnassus, were born Herodotus, the Father of History, and Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. This is where the Pre-Socratic philosophers taught the love of wisdom. Τhe Hellespont [from the Greek word Ελλήσποντος] is where Jason and his Argonauts had sailed from, in order to retrieve the Golden Fleece from Colchis [what is now Georgia].

[Even its other name, the Dardanelles, derives from Δάρδανος, an ancient Greek city on the Asian shore of the Straits.] Later the Byzantine Empire, still speaking Greek, added another chapter, headed 'Christianity', to the book on Greek Civilization. The Ecumenical Orthodox Greek Patriarchate had its seat in Constantinople, the city of Constantine, the first Christian Emperor. And the very emblem of the city, Αγία Σοφία, derives its root from the Greek word for ‘wisdom’.

And Liberal Venizelos, loyal to the Allies, was an appropriate partner. At the Paris Peace Conference his personality and statesmanship had impressed everyone. The Treaty of Sevres was his personal achievement. A British diplomat ranked him with Lenin as the rising stars of European politics. [BFCO] Lloyd George himself referred to him as “the greatest statesman Greece had thrown up since the days of Pericles”. [MacMillan]

But Greece’s obligations constituted a price that would prove too high for a country to pay as part of the concessions Venizelos had to make in return for the Treaties of Neuilly and Sevres: 

First, the incorporation into Albania of the self-declared autonomous province of Northern Epirus, and the ratification by the international treaties of the status of the Dodecanese [under Italian rule from 1911] as well as of Cyprus [ruled by Great Britain from 1878 and annexed in 1914] as legitimate under the sovereignty of these European Powers. And second, the obligation of Greece to participate actively in all post-War military operations of her allies in Crimea [1919] and of course, Asia Minor. [Petmezas, p. 31]

But the Turks were far from finished. In the first 20 months from the signing of the Armistice of Moudros, during which time the Allies commanded that the Greek forces in Asia Minor follow a strategy of “passive defence” within a specified zone [HGASH], Mustapha Kemal had the opportunity to strengthen the Turkish national movement he had formed in North Eastern Anatolia against the Greek military presence in Asia Minor and the ratification of the Treaty of Sevres.

Still in France after signing the August 1920 Treaty of Sevres - at the moment of his greatest triumph - Venizelos had narrowly escaped a murder attempt. Back in Athens his convalescence coincided with the tragic death of King Alexander. He dissolved Parliament and held in November elections - which it is not surprising that he lost. [Petmezas, p. 31] In a plebiscite held by the new Greek Government, the Greek voters, tormented by the Allies and the War, opted for exiled King Constantine's return.

Under the pretext that King Constantine had during the War aided Germany, the French, and the Italians withdrew their support to the Greeks. [Lloyd George, v.i, ii, pp.1044-45] They had become resentful, watching the British gaining control over Asia Minor and the Straits through their ties with the Greeks, who continued their advance. [Howard]

Furthermore “the Italians sold arms to Mustapha Kemal to fight the Greeks, and were paid out of money supplied by Moscow. The French Government negotiated a secret Treaty with Kemal behind the backs of the British Ministry.” [Lloyd George, v. i, ii, p.1349]

In this way the French and the Italians were securing from the Turks the transference through a revision of the Sevres Treaty of territorial concessions from Britain and Greece to France and Italy. [Llewellyn-Smith] A revision of the Treaty in combination with Turkish victory could also mean refusal on the part of the Turks to cede Cyprus to Britain; or elimination on the part of the French, the Italians, and the Russians of the British claim to Mesopotamia and Palestine. [Kinross] Even more alarming for the British was the Turco-Russian association, which foresaw a Soviet expansion into Europe, the Middle East and Asia, where lay British territorial and economic interests.[Peng] Consequently to continue supporting Greece could mean war against Turkey, Russia, France, and Italy – a war for which Britain did not have the resources either to wage or to win. [Peng]

Accordingly in a British Cabinet meeting on June 9, 1921 it was decided that “it was impossible to bolster up the Greek army, and that the only thing of real importance was to make Turkey friendly.” [Callwell] Britain reversed her policy to befriend the Turks and abandon the Greeks for the same reason that she had supported the Greeks in the first place – to protect her imperial power. [Peng]

The British favored the Turks by failing to support the Greeks, writes Churchill in the World Crisis in 1930, 15 years after the Dardanelles Operation. He himself had duly aligned himself with the Allies’ reversal of policy in favour of Kemal: 
“We should make a definite change in our policy in direction of procuring a real peace with the Moslem world, and so relieving ourselves of the disastrous realization both military and financial to which our anti-Turk policy has exposed us in the Middle East and in India. I am convinced that the restoration of Turkish sovereignty or suzerainty over the Smyrna Province is an indispensable step to the specification of the Middle East.” [Memorandum dated December 11, 1921, British Cabinet 23/31] But he gives credit to Lloyd George’s philhellenic sentiments.
But unfortunately, personal commitments may wane and personal agreements often weaken. “Greece’s friends were neither as powerful nor as steadfast as Venizelos assumed”, notes Professor MacMillan. Lloyd George had to face from the beginning of his Premiership one more front - his Liberal colleagues. His 1916 pre-election choices were thought to have triggered the Liberal Party's declining status in Britain's political system.

This tarnished his reputation, prejudicing against his subsequent political achievements. As Prime Minister within the Coalition he was also thought to have formulated and executed policy without consultation, turning his Conservative colleagues against his decisions. [Oxford]

Imperial Foreign Policy and Defence issues caused the convention of the June 1921 London Imperial Conference, called for by the Dominion Prime Ministers. Speaking on behalf of his counterparts, the Australian Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes, asked Lloyd George for “the reasons” for British foreign policy.

Hughes, the initiator of the Conference, referred to the Greeks in a manner that was inappropriate to his status. He favored the Turks, believing it was important to conciliate Moslem feelings. “He probably thought that Moslem uprisings in Egypt, Mesopotamia and India would have a deleterious affect on British strategic interests in Suez and the Persian Gulf and that the Kemalists were in a strong position to stir up Moslem passions in Mesopotamia and the Arab world. Perhaps the Australian Prime Minister considered it important to come to terms with Mustapha Kemal.” says Dr Stavros Stavridis of the National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Australia.

“One of the Allied nightmares during the recent war had been that the sultan, who as caliph was the spiritual leader of Muslims all over the world, would call on all those millions to fight against Britain in India, or France in North Africa...” recalls Professor MacMillan.

When the Greek forces approached Sangarios River in the vicinity of Ankara, it was the day - August the 4th - on which the British Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons on the Near East situation, reiterated his support for Greek claims in Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace. [British Cabinet 23/31] But a few days later the politically divided Greek Asia Minor Army, debilitated by 10 years of warfare, succumbed to the massive Turkish forces, aided militarily and financially by the Italians and the Russians. It was only a matter of time before the Asia Minor Campaign was turned into the Asia Minor Disaster. [Petmezas, p. 32]

Here we shall cite only an excerpt of the well-known report on the Turks’ entry into Smyrna by United States Consul-General in Smyrna, George Horton:

 “One of the keenest impressions which I brought away with me from Smyrna was a feeling of shame that I belonged to the human race. ... All massacres on a large scale perpetrated by Turks, and the history of the Turkish empire is largely a history of massacres, are always ordered by higher authorities. ... I believe also, if the Allied fleets in Smyrna harbor, the French, Italians, British and Americans, had emphatically told Mustapha Kemal that there must be no massacring, none would have taken place. ...” 

The Kemalist army then advanced on Constantinople and reached a British outpost, Chanak [now Chanakkale] on the Dardanelles and in the ‘neutralised’ by the Treaty of Sevres Straits zone. This is what the British Prime Minister stated on the incident in a heated Cabinet meeting on September 15, 1922:

In no circumstance could we allow the Gallipoli Peninsula to be held by the Turks. It was the most important strategic position in the world, and the closing of the straits has prolonged the war by two years. It was inconceivable that we should allow the Turks to gain possession of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and we should fight to prevent their doing so.” [British Cabinet 23/31]

Winston Churchill now changed his former stance against Lloyd George's support of the Greek Asia Minor Campaign and the views he had expressed later in his December 11, 1921 Cabinet memorandum in favour of the Turks. This is what he now claimed:

“The Asiatic arrangement should be kept separate. The line of deep water separating Asia from Europe was a line of great significance, and we must make that secure by every means within our power. If the Turks take the Gallipoli Peninsula and Constantinople, we shall have lost the whole fruits of our victory and another Balkan War would be inevitable.” [British Cabinet 23/31]
The Cabinet instructed Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon to ask the Serbian and Romanian, as well as the Greek, Governments, for support. And to inform the French Government that the British would send a division to Constantinople if they did the same. And as the Cabinet believed that the Bolshevik Russians might come to the Kemalists’ aid, it ordered the Naval Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean to go as far as sinking any vessel encountered in the Black Sea or the Straits that constituted a threat to Allied ships. [Keller] The British Government also cabled on September 15, 1922 to the Dominion Prime Ministers a plea to send contingents to defend the Straits, announcing that Britain and her Empire would declare war on Turkish Nationalists for their aggressive acts.

Only Australia and New Zealand responded. A great deal of the handling of the situation had received untimely exposure in the Press, embarrassing some participants. [Keller]

Disobeyance to Cabinet orders by General Charles Harrrington, Commander of the Chanak forces, averted military confrontation. [Keller] The Turks withdrew. The fact that General Harrington’s initiative was repudiated by the Cabinet Ministers but was considered heroic in the British Press is another indication of how war-weary the British people were.

The Conservatives met in October 1922 at the gentlemen’s Carlton Club in London and voted in favour of withdrawing from Lloyd George’s Coalition Government. They mentioned the Chanak Crisis, accusing the Government of excessive belligerence towards Turkey and failure to prevent the outcome, recklessly humiliating Britain in public. [Keller]

Lloyd George and his cabinet had to resign. [Keller] One factor in his political fall was his sympathy for the Greek cause. [BFCO] He never served in government again, although he became leader of the then ‘dwindling’ Liberal Party in 1933 for three years. [Oxford] Winston Churchill was another leading figure of the Chanak Crisis to be held responsible and to fall from political power. Military decisions involving the Dardanelles Straits caused within seven years damage to his career twice. [Keller]

The great nation itself finally succeeded in establishing herself as the dominant Power in the Near East – after four attempts since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. [Keller] The third and the fourth were the Chanak Incident and the 1923 Treaty of Lauzanne [which ceded to Britain Cyprus]. The first two were the Dardanelles Campaign and the Greek Asia Minor Campaign. [Keller]


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Since 300 B.C., considered to be the year of the first contact between the Greeks and the British, the two peoples often became involved - sometimes for a good cause, sometimes not.

In the 19th century Britain was one of the "guarantors" [together with France and Russia] in 1832 of Greek Independence. This role often gave her the opportunity to meddle in Greek affairs - not always without the consent, not to say the encouragement, of Greek politicians.

At the end of the First World War Greece, induced by her Entente allies, particularly British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, a friend of Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, embarked on the Asia Minor Campaign. It was a ‘war…to be fought by proxy’, as Winston Churchill characterized it. Greek establishment in the region would provide to war-weary Britain invaluable services to her imperialistic policy. But political pacts have no value in power politics. The Asia Minor Campaign did not prove merely ‘very dangerous for the proxy’, as Churchill had foreseen – but the greatest tragedy of Modern Greek history.