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Barton Hall sent a dispatch to the US State Department on October 13, 1921 reporting on the changed political conditions in Greece that was mainly due to the military setback in Asia Minor. King Constantine’s position was irreparably harmed further undermining his authority in Greece. In the long run, however, this would prove fatal to his throne and Cabinet Ministers.
Early military victories
On the eve of the Greek assault on the Turkish Nationalist capital, Angora (Ankara), it seemed that Constantine’s political fortunes had improved due to the military victories at Afion-Karahissar, Kutahia and Eskishehir in July 1921. Even opponents of the regime were astonished at these brilliant successes in Asia Minor. Hall was generous in his remarks of the ordinary Greek soldier. He stated that “ the Greek soldier had won new laurels for endurance and bravery. After the most exhausting marches that would have been totally impossible for any other army on earth, the Greek soldiers went into battle with every intensity and fury that literally swept aside every obstacle.”
The Greek General Staff viewed the capture of Angora as the most important factor in eliminating the Kemalist threat conclusively. It is interesting that on February 19, 1921 Colonel Sarayiannis, the Chief of the Asia Minor General Staff, told the London Conference that the Greek army could annihilate the Kemalists and sweep the country clear within three months. General Gouraud, the French Commander in Syria and Cilicia, disagreed with the Greek description of belittling and underestimating the fighting quality of the Turkish soldier. After all the French army of occupation in Cilicia withstood a ferocious Turkish nationalist attack at Marash in February 1920 which resulted in the death of some 10,000 Armenians.
The Prussian military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz writing in c.1817 stated two important two factors in prosecuting war to a logical conclusion. He declared that (1) “dispersion of [an] army if it forms, in some degree, a potential force”; and (2) the “capture of the enemy’s capital city, if it is both the centre of the power of the State and seat of political assemblies and factions.’’
The occupation of the enemy’s capital, Angora, by the Greeks would have been a major psychological blow to the military fortunes of Kemalists, if the Greeks had succeeded in dispersing and crushing the Turks. Furthermore Angora was the home of the Grand National Assembly, the civil service and the centre of all political activity in Kemalist Turkey. The Greeks would have been political masters of Asia Minor. Unfortunately the French and Italians would have viewed such a military outcome with some trepidation. The Greeks would have posed as a serious rival to Franco-Italian economic interests in Asia Minor. The British, on the other hand, viewed Greece as its prot?g?. Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, was known for his pro-Greek tendencies.
Then the unthinkable happened. Hall states that “ the retreat of the Greek army from Angora just at the moment when the best information of obtainable predicted that the army was on the point of winning its goal has stunned everyone and succeeded in knocking topsy turvy all calculations.” The Greeks had underrated the determination and resolve of the Turkish Nationalists to defend their capital. For Constantine, it would mean his gradual descent into political obscurity and eventual abdication and exile in September 1922.
Greek assault on Angora: the big prize
As Hall had lauded the efforts of the Greek soldier, he was very critical of the Greek General Staff. He believed the decision of the Greek High Command to chase Kemal’s army to Angora was a “ false move” and completely “ unnecessary.” Hall recounted that “ without taking time to reorganize their army or to bring up supplies and ammunition in sufficient quantities, the Greek army pushed on across the plain and the desert.”
He continued his criticism of the Greek High Command. He revealed that “ The watchers in this part of the world gasped and they gasped again when the Staff ordered the main army to cross the desert and attack the Kemalists from the south, leaving only one division of the Greek army along the Sangarius River to guard the lines of communications.”
One gets the impression that Hall may have considered the strategy of the Greek High Command to pursue the Kemalists into the Anatolian interior as an act of folly.
Hall acknowledged that “ American, English and Roumanian attaches, from newspaper correspondents and others, permitted to follow the troops, were to the effect that the Greeks were bound to win.” Such optimistic forecasts were based on the initial Greeks successes at Afion-Karahissar, Kutahia and Eskishehir. All these people overlooked that Kemal’s military strategy was to lure and extend the Greek lines of communications in Asia Minor.
In its long trek across the central Anatolian plateau , the Greeks experienced hot days ands chilly nights. It was not until August 24 that they had come into contact with the Turks. The shortages of ammunition, food and water, bad maps and poor reconnaissance coupled with the Greek troops falling ill through malaria and heat exhaustion compounded the difficulties faced by the Greek army.
The Greek army had failed to occupy Angora and would now be involved in a long stalemate.
Hall mentioned that the Turks stoutly defended their territory along the Sangarios River. “ Then came the astounding news that the Greek army was in full retreat, having abandoned the capture of Angora.” By September 23 the Greeks retreated to the Afion Karahissar, Eskishehir-Karakeui line. According to Hall’s dispatch Greek losses were estimated at between “ [30, 000 to 40,000] wounded, killed or maimed.” The Turks too had suffered heavy casualties.
The ordinary Greek knew that a retreat had taken place but was not aware of the magnitude of the Greek losses. The Government heavily censored the Greek press at this time. Evidently the Greek press printed bulletins issued by the Greek military on their successes in Asia Minor. It can be argued that Angora retreat would have been made to appear as a military success, albeit a temporary setback.
It is interesting that Prince Andrew wrote a private letter to his close friend Ioannis Metaxas in January 1922 stating that “ something must be done to remove us from the nightmare in Asia Minor. I don’t know what, but we must stop bluffing and the face the situation at it really is.” If Gounaris’ Government had known the contents of this personal letter, then it would have further undermined its position in the Greek Chamber.
Criticism of Constantine
Hall compared Constantine’s popularity at time of his return to Greece in December 1920 with that of the Greek retreat from Angora in September 1921. In December 1920, the Greek people were “ frantically acclaiming him” and after the Angora failure Constantine returned back to empty streets in Athens. This would suggest that Constantine and his Ministers had become unpopular with the Greek masses.
Hall believed that the Greek people could be offered a “ real solution for [their] difficulties.”
He hoped that the Royalists and Venizelists could form a single political party for the benefit of the Greek nation. The main impediment to such a political outcome was Constantine’s stubbornness and reluctance of seeking the assistance of his “arch enemy ” Venizelos.
The only possible solution would have been the formation of a third political party. However the intrigues and squabbles amongst the different political factions would have made third force impossibility. Stratos “ declared open warfare against Gounaris.” But Stratos and the Venizelists simply lacked the numbers to openly challenge Gounaris in the Greek Chamber.
Hall believed that this third force could rally around Aristidis Sterghiades who “ might attract to its membership the Venizelist, the better element in the Stratos party and the less reactionary Royalists.” However this idea was quickly quashed by “ Sterghiades [who] is adamant in his refusal to relinquish his duties as Governor General of Smyrna.”
For all his personal failings both the Royalists and Venizelists respected Sterghiades’ contribution in the running of the Greek High Commission in Smyrna.
Hall's assessment of the Greek people
Hall revealed his experience as a serving US diplomat in Athens. He mentions that “ after nearly two years residence in Greece I have the firm conviction that the underlying current of Greek life today is a genuine desire for orderly government patterned as possible after that of more prosperous nations.”
It could be argued that Hall viewed Venizelism as a positive factor in Greek life and earnestly hoped that the Greek people could be assisted “ in freeing themselves from reactionary influences.” Maybe he envisaged that the Greek people would eventually demand the removal of the unpopular Constantine and his Ministers and stage new elections. Hall might have privately thought of the possibility of the United States assisting those Greek elements that could bring about a sociopolitical change in Greece.
This could have been an important factor in bringing about an improvement in Greek-American relations and even attempt to curtail British influence in Greece.
Another important insight was the Greeks who lived abroad where treated with respect by their community. Many of these Greeks lived in America and economically assisted their families in Greece by remitting a part of their earned income. Furthermore these Greek-Americans could be a positive factor in helping their Greek brethren to become consumers of American goods and to be imbue them with the ideas of American liberal democracy.
In conclusion Hall would have been pleased to see the disappearance of King Constantine and his entourage from the Greek political scene. He considered the Greek assault on Angora as an act of stupidity.
One gets the feeling that Hall would have welcomed the return of Eleftherios Venizelos to Greece and that he might use his diplomatic position to improve Greek-American relations at expense of British dominance in Greece.
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Stavros T.Stavridis Historical Researcher, National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia (firstname.lastname@example.org)