Charles Shrader, The Withered Vine. Logistics and the Communist Insurgency in Greece, 1945-1949, Praeger, Westport Connecticut – London 1999
Note on Translation, Acronyms, and Measurements
Chronology: Greece, 1939–1949
Chapter 1: Setting the Stage
Chapter 2: The Greek Resistance Movement, 1941–1945
Chapter 3: Internal Conflict in the Greek Communist Party, 1945–1949
Chapter 4: The Development of the Greek Democratic Army
Chapter 5: The Greek Democratic Army: Manpower and Logistics
Chapter 6: The Greek Democratic Army: External Support
Chapter 7: The Greek Democratic Army: Strategy, Tactics, and Operations
Chapter 8: Logistics and the Failure of the Insurrection in Greece
Appendix A: Greek Democratic Army Order of Battle
Appendix B: Organizational Diagrams—GDA Units
Appendix C: Common Map Symbols
After fifty years, the causes, course, and outcome of the Greek civil war of 1945–1949 remain clouded by ideological and nationalist cant, Cold War mythology, and the lack of definitive information on even the most basic details.
The assumption remains strongly entrenched that the attempt of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and its allies to overthrow a weak and unstable constitutional monarchy—still reeling from the awful effects of thirty years of war, foreign occupation, internal political strife, economic devastation, and social upheaval—was directed and supported from Moscow as part of a coordinated Soviet plot to topple democratic nations unhinged by the Second World War.
Many of the pertinent questions remain unanswered—or even unasked—and no aspect of the Greek civil war is less well understood than the logistical arrangements of the Communist rebels. How were the rebel forces organized? What were their logistical requirements? What were the sources of logistical support for the rebel forces? What types and quantities of materiel and other support were provided? How was that support organized and delivered? What impact did the logistical situation of the rebels have on the ultimate outcome of the rebellion?
Those questions are addressed in this study through an examination of the logistical requirements, organization, methods, and operations of the Greek Democratic Army (GDA) during the so-called “Third Round” of the Greek civil war, from February 1945 to August 1949. Although due attention is given to such logistical functions as the determination of supply requirements, the acquisition, storage, issue, maintenance, and disposal of equipment and supplies, and the provision of medical services, this study focuses primarily on the support provided to the Greek Communist guerrillas by the Soviet Union and its satellites, in particular Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The focus is essentially organizational and to a certain extent political and diplomatic. Thus, internal bureaucratic issues, Greek and international political developments, and the xiv Preface movement of men and materiel across the borders of Greece receive detailed consideration, while some aspects of operational logistics, such as the details of logistical support for specific guerrilla operations, receive less attention.
This study is based primarily on such declassified, translated records of the Greek national government, the Communist Party of Greece, the Greek Democratic Army, and other participants as have been reported or reproduced by contemporary Western military and civilian observers and intelligence agencies, particularly the U.S. military attache´s in Athens; the Joint U.S. Military Advisory and Planning Group–Greece; and the office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2, Intelligence, Headquarters, Department of the Army. Secondary works in the common Western languages (other than Greek) by Greek and other Western scholars have also been used. For the most part, access to such GDA and other Communist documentation as may have survived remains difficult, if not impossible, and access to the Greek national archives is similarly restricted, in large part due to their lack of organization. The somewhat one-sided nature of the sources thus requires that the results must be used with some caution.
The story of the logistical support of the Communist insurgents in Greece is interesting and significant in the broader context of post–World War II nationalist insurgencies. In the first place, the Communist insurgents in Greece shared with their counterparts in Indochina and Algeria a dependence on logistical support supplied by friendly neighboring states. Although able to generate significant resources internally, the Viet Minh in Indochina depended heavily on the arms, other supplies, and havens provided by the People’s Republic of China.
The Algerian rebels, unable to gather any substantial materiel resources within Algeria, were almost entirely dependent on the generosity of their Arab backers and on purchases abroad, funneled through two friendly neighboring states, Morocco and Tunisia. The Greek rebels, unable to find or produce significant military resources internally, had to rely almost entirely on the logistical support by Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia.
The Greek Communist revolt also provides an interesting case study of the impact of ideology on such military matters as strategy, tactics, organization, and logistics. In this respect, too, the Greek insurgency shares certain key decision points with the post–World War II nationalist revolts in Indochina and Algeria. Chief among those critical decisions is the selection of the optimum point at which a guerrilla war should transition to a conventional war in order to bring about the decisive defeat of the entrenched opponent. In all three cases, the decision to switch to conventional organization and tactics was ill timed or otherwise counterproductive. The Viet Minh were able to avoid serious consequences and go on to final victory only by quickly reverting to guerrilla warfare until they were in a better position to oppose the French by conventional means.
In Algeria, the nationalist rebels created conventional forces but kept the bulk of them outside the borders of Algeria, except for the “Battle of the Barrages,” in which they were decisively defeated. In any event, the conventional forces of the Algerian rebels played no important role in their ultimate success, which Preface xv was achieved by political means despite significant military setbacks. Only in the case of the Greek revolt did a faulty assessment of when to proceed to conventional operations have a decisive, negative result, and what translated the fateful decision into disaster was not so much the resulting organization, strategy, or tactics as the insupportable logistical burdens that the decision imposed.
The study of the Greek civil war of 1945–1949 thus provides important insights to the problem of externally supported nationalist insurgencies so prevalent since the end of World War II. The following examination of the Greek case seeks to answer the key questions regarding only one particular aspect of the problem—logistics. Although no brief study focused on a single factor can bring full enlightenment on such a complex subject as the causes, course, and outcomes of insurgency, I hope that this study may contribute in some small way to a better understanding of the basic details and to the dissipation of cant, myth, and ignorance.
The late Sterling Hart played a prominent role in the initiation of this study and helped in many ways to improve it. Its faults are mine, but Sterling made them fewer. I am grateful also to the staff of the U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, particularly Mr. John Slonaker, Mr. Dennis Vetock, and Mrs. Louise Arnold-Friend, who were most helpful in pointing out and locating interesting and pertinent materials. My wife Carole was, as always, patient and supportive. She merits a medal, or at least a certificate of endurance.