Photo of the week: War makes strange bedfellows

In this picture, taken in 1944, the British tank, flanked by British paratroopers, is not fighting against the Germans in some Italian town. It is shooting against Greeks, during the Battle of Athens, one of the best known episodes of the Greek civil war.
You may have already noticed two figures that do not quite fit: who might be the man on the left, in a typical German coat and helmet, holding a rifle? He is obviously not an enemy, nor a bystander. There is another one, kneeling near the lamppost, in a Greek helmet instead of a paratrooper’s beret. These can’t be anything but Greek members of the National Guard Units, which included people who had formerly been in the collaborationist Security Battalions as well as right-wing paramilitaries. These fought, side by side with the British, against their mortal enemies, Greek communist partisans.
British troops in Athens, Greek civil war, 1944
 In conflicts, the middle ground tends to disappear.
When the Germans came to Greece, the communist party had been illegal and under persecution for decades. Thus they were perfectly primed for underground activity and among the first to offer organized resistance to the Germans. Their ranks soon swelled with people eager to fight their conquerors. On the other hand, right-wing extremists sided with the Germans, against the communist danger.
When the British came to Greece in October 1944, as part of the liberation army, they thought they’d be enjoying a sunny fall, away from the Western Front, where their compatriots were fighting. A few weeks later, they found themselves caught in a bitter urban war, where each block was stubbornly defended by the very communist partisans who had fought against the Germans a short while ago.
The partisans wanted a say in the country they had fought to liberate. The Greek king and government were eager to return to the previous status quo, and were loth to allow any political or social reform. As the British government supported the Greek one the British (and Indian) troops in Athens found themselves fighting alongside people who had sided with the Nazis. Winston Churchill thought the matter so important that he pulled units from the Italian front to send to Greece. He told their commander, General Scobie: “Do not hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.”
At the time when the German counter attack in the Ardennes was in full swing, the British in Greece were fighting against former allies in a battle against communism.
The cold war had already begun.
Note: the picture is not mine of course. I found it here. It was taken in Petmeza st., little more than a mile south of the Acropolis.

2 comments on “Photo of the week: War makes strange bedfellows

  1. Pingback: Α 71-year-old graffiti | Aristotle, Greek tourist guide

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