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Historical Observations: The Greek 11th Division: French and British views

The U.S. Charge d’ Affaires in Athens, Jefferson Caffery, sent a dispatch on September 30, 1922 to the State Department regarding an incident that happened between Greek troops and a French detachment near Moudania after the conclusion of the Greco-Turkish war. The French were so displeased with the way this matter was reported in the Athenian press that its legation issued an official communique outlining its version of events. It stated:

“Several Athenian newspapers have published in recent days an account of incidents which allegedly took place between troops belonging to the eleventh Greek division and a French detachment in the vicinity of the Cyzicus peninsula. It is said that the retreating Greek troops seeking to reach the peninsula to embark from there, had been prevented from doing so by the French detachment which had refused to take them prisoner and had forced them to surrender to the Kemalists under the pretext that they could not enter the neutral zone.

“It was added that a French warship had fired on a Greek detachment when it was to get through. From the information received on the subject by the French Legation, it appears that the [following] facts took place: The inter-allied authorities of Constantinople, at the news of the retreat of the Hellenic army, sent by mutual agreement to Bursa three inter-allied officers, and to Moudania a French detachment, to ensure public order and the protection of foreign nationals.

“This detachment strictly accomplished its mission and did not intervene in any way to prohibit the movement of the Greek troops going to embark at Moudania or to prevent them from heading to the Cyzicus peninsula, which is very far from Moudania.

“No warship fired on the Greek troops. It is true that Greek detachments presented themselves to the head of the French detachment and declared that they wanted to surrender to him. This officer refused. The port of Moudania is indeed very far from the neutral zone and the French detachment would have had no right to disarm and intern any Hellenic or Turkish troops there.

“On this refusal, the Greek soldiers spontaneously gave up their arms and asked the French officer to be their intermediary between them and the Turks to whom they wanted to surrender. The officer accepted and having advanced for this purpose in front of the Turks, the surrender was negotiated and carried out without incident.

“The intervention of the French detachment, therefore, had a character very different from that attributed to it by the recently published accounts. Instead of harming Greek interests, its essential result was first of all to prevent violence which could have affected the various populations present in Moudania, to protect in particular thousands of Greek refugees who had come to claim the assistance of the French soldiers, and as regards the Greek troops, to mediate at their request between them and the Turkish army.

“There is nothing left of the version spreading these days in the Athenian press, except for some doubt about the good faith of the authors of such serious accusations and such insulting comments.”

Three major Athenian newspapers: Embros, Patris, and, Eleftheros Typos published a press release on September 10/23, 1922 from the French Legation regarding an incident that occurred between the 11th Greek Division and a French detachment division in the Cyzicus peninsula. This place is located on the Turkish side, on the southern coast of the sea of Marmara.

The Athens press stated that retreating Greek troops were trying to reach the peninsula to embark from there but were blocked by a French detachment. They previously refused to accept them as hostages and forced them to surrender to the Kemalists under the pretext that they could not enter the neutral zone. It was added that a French warship shelled a Greek unit, that wanted to leave there. The French Legation denied these allegations and sought to portray themselves as seeking to help the Greek troops.

What do the U.S. and British documents reveal about this incident? The British Charge d’Affaires in Athens, Lindley told Caffery that, “Two Greek regiments belonging to the 11th division [were] under the command of Colonel Ziras on the 12th [September] before Moudania, where they expected to embark for Greece.” Several days earlier, Moudania had been occupied by two detachments of French troops and by declaring it neutral ground. “The French captain [met] the Greek commander and informed him he could not pass.” Colonel Ziras declared that the French captain told him that “you had better surrender because of 5,000 Turks over here to the right between you and the sea.”

The Greeks did not surrender and found no Turks as they proceeded toward the sea. They embarked “at a small port a short distance to the left of the neutral zone.” On September 12, General Kladas proceeded to “Moudania with the remainder of the 11th Division, and received the same summary from the French Captain.” Kladas replied: “Then I’ll surrender to you and you can intern us.” “

Because France is not fighting Greece, but you can surrender to me on account of Kemal”, the French captain said. General Kladas and his troops were immediately handed over to the Kemalists. The French captain served under the Commander-in-Chief of Allied forces in Constantinople, General Tim Harington.

On the other hand, the British dispatch mentions the French captain telling Colonel Ziras that Moudania was neutral and the French would “open fire on Greeks if they advanced.” The French captain invited the Greeks to surrender “for account of Kemal.” General Kladas surrendered to the Turks. Both Colonels Melas and Ziras abandoned their weapons by withdrawing their troops under fire from the French and bringing them to Panderma before embarking for Greece. The French communique never mentioned this last detail.

The Greek Foreign Minister, Kalogeropoulos, was disappointed about a so-called ally “handing prisoners over to the Kemalists [which] was unheard of,” and that [the] “Greek government were rather at a loss.”

In conclusion, the Greek version of events seems to have been accepted by British officials in Athens.

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