Τhe power vacuum created in Greece after the withdrawal of the German occupation forces in October 1944, generated a disorder that resulted in battles in December between the forces of the Left and the newly formed Greek government armed forces aided by the British army. The battles of Athens remained in history as the “December Events” that eventually brought the Greek Civil War (1946-1949).
On October 18, Georgios Papandreou arrived in Athens and two days later he formed the Government of National Unity, which included six Ministers from the army of the National Liberation Front (EAM/ELAS). One of the first issues the new government had to resolve was the resistance groups’ demobilization and the creation of a national army. On November 5, Papandreou announced that after his cooperation with General Ronald Scobie (head of the British Armed Forces in Greece), EAM/ELAS and the army of the National Hellenic Democratic League (EDES) will disband by December 10, 1944.
EAM/ELAS, under the influence of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) that resisted the German occupation forces, was a well-structured military body and claimed a share in power, if not all the power. KKE did not like Papandreou’s decision, because EAM/ELAS’ demobilization would mean that their plan to impose a Soviet-style communist regime on Greece would not succeed. On November 20, the Politburo decided to confront the bourgeois forces and the British. The negotiations for EAM/ELAS’ demobilization were botched on November 28, and on December 1, the Ministers of EAM/ELAS left the Papandreou government.
In a power display, KKE organized a rally on Syntagma Square on Sunday, December 3, despite a government ban. It is estimated that over 100,000 people participated in the rally, while some historians claimed it was 500,000. Suddenly, someone opened a barrage of fire against the protesters, killing 30 and injuring 148. There are varied versions on who opened fire: some say it was the British and the shootings was an act of provocation, others say someone from the crowd opened fire and the police responded, others claim it was police that opened random fire at the crowd.
The day after the victims’ funerals, skirmishes broke out in Athens between the newly formed national army aided by the British and EAM/ELAS. New demonstration rallies followed, resulting in more dead. Papandreou submitted his resignation but he was dissuaded by Scobie. EAM/ELAS, 20,000 men strong, gained the upper hand in the battles that ensued, taking control of Athens, except for downtown. The other side, composed of policemen, gendarmes, Greek soldiers who had fought in Rimini and the British, was only 7,500 strong but better armed due to the British armament.
ΕΑΜ/ELAS’ intention in the battle of Athens was to disarm the resisting police forces. Particularly cruel were the battles at Makrigianni Gendarmerie headquarters (December 6-11). Eventually, the defenders held out and by mid-December the situation began to change in favor of the government forces, especially after the arrival of more British troops coming from Italy.
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill considered it inconceivable that he would lose Greece from Great Britain’s sphere of influence. He had earned it by bargaining hard with Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin Stalin’s over the “percentages agreement,” signed in Moscow on October 9, three days before the Germans’ departure from Greece. The Soviet leader kept his word and never blamed Churchill for interfering in Greek affairs. But Stalin did not discourage KKE’s leadership, who did not know about the Moscow agreement and believed that they would have the assistance of their Soviet comrades.
On January 5, 1945, EAM/ELAS was forced to flee Athens under pressure from the superior government and British forces. On January 11, EAM/ELAS signed a truce with the British and on February 12, the December Events had formally ended with the signing of the Varkiza Treaty. However, the events were the prelude to the Greek Civil War.