Greece and Great Britain in the 1930s and 1940s A Couple of Revealing Documents

Greece and Great Britain in the 1930s and 1940s

A Couple of Revealing Documents

On October 28, 1940, Italy attacked Greece. We know now that Italian invasion was due not to Mussolini’s initiative but to Ciano’s one. For the latter was in contact with the British; and the British wished Greece to be involved into the Second WW in order to establish air bases on Greek territory and bombard the oil fields in Ploieşti, Romania.

Iōannēs Metaxas was by then Greece’s Prime Minister. He was a brilliant Engineers officer and a noted pro-German as well. On August 4, 1936, he managed to have an authoritarian system imposed on Greece – under his own leadership. Still Metaxas was dependent on King George II of the Hellenes. The Sovereign had expressed during the First WW the same pro-German sentiments as Metaxas. But his mind was changed in the 1930s: he had fully understood that Greece was run (and she keeps being run) by a supra-masonic government closely associated to Great Britain’s “deep state”.

If truth be told, Italians were right to attack Greece. For Metaxas had offered the British military bases on Crete island as early as 1939; and to cap it, he  had summoned the Greek shipowners to put their ships at the disposal of the British Government. The latter, nonetheless, was not satisfied; for their aircrafts could not reach Romania from Crete. They asked, therefore, Greece to be involved in the conflict – in order to have the Ploieşti oil installations destroyed after one or two air raids. Since, nevertheless,  Metaxas was adamant in his neutralist attitude, they provoked the Italian attack by means of their “friend” (=agent) Galeazzo Ciano.

Yet Metaxas regarded the Italian-Greek conflict as a “separate” one. That is why Lord Halifax addressed him the message published hereafter. As everyone can see by reading Metaxas’ note of his talk with Sir Michael Palairet, the British minister at Athens, who had communicated to him the invitation/suggestion of Lord Halifax, the Greek Prime Minister turned down the British proposal. For if Greece had overtly declared that she sided with Great Britain, Germany would menace Greece, the British  would grasp the chance to do some raids on Ploieşti, but Greece would be destroyed at the end. As a matter of fact, Germans had been categorical to Metaxas: The British on Crete island? All right! Had they been given bases in Northern Greece, Germany would regard that event as a casus belli.

Still late  in December 1940, Lord Halifax was replaced at the Foreign Office by Anthony Eden. Unlike Lord Halifax who was Christian (a virtual crypto-Catholic), Eden was moulded on Churchill model. In other words, he was ruthless and unscrupulous. Shortly after the Christmas holiday, therefore, the London Government asked anew Metaxas a British air basis to be established in Salonika. On December 30, 1940, Metaxas acquiesced; the day after he “withdrew” his agreement. As a result, he passed away a couple of weeks later, on January 29, 1941, literally because of… his amygdales.  His successor, Alexandros Korizēs, imitated him and turned once more down the British proposals for  a British air-basis in Salonika (for Ploieşti to be bombarded). The result? He committed suicide on April 18, 1941 with…two bullets into his heart. (Sure, he was murdered by David Balfour, sibling of the famous British family, who was disguised as… an Orthodox priest.)

Paradoxical as it may appear, it was thanks to Metaxas and Korizēs that the Ploieşti oil fields were not bombed in 1940 and 1941; and it was thanks to Greece that the  National Socialist Germany was able to resist till 1945.




The minister of the United Kingdom visited me today and announced on behalf of the Lord Halifax [= Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom during the years 1938-1941]  that our presence as observers to the Council of Great Britain’s Allies to be summoned in London does not satisfy the British Government; for it wished us [= the Greeks] to take an active part in the works of this Council. That is why the British Government let us know a priori the content of the communiqué to be published after the works of the Council will be finished. Would we [= the Greeks] take an active part as full members of the Council, Greece will be able to fully participate in this symbolical expression of solidarity between the Allies. He added, nonetheless, that the British Government does not want us to take part against our will, but, in any case, he  would be sorry to notice the absence of a Greek delegation.

I replied to Mr Palairet [= the British minister at Athens] that I am totally disposed to be pleasant to His Majesty’s Government; yet I must draw attention on the consequences of our taking part in the Allies’ Council to be summoned. For such an attitude would provide Germany with a very welcome pretext to attack Greece. I am sure of course that such an attack will doubtlessly take place sooner or later; still, even a fortnightly postponement of the German aggression constitutes a big benefit for Greece. Mr Palairet agreed to this. And I added: If despite this, the British Government considers the German attack on Greece to be useful [to the British], I want this to be categorically declared to us – in full knowledge of the consequences; and the relevant responsibility will be assumed jointly by Greece and Great Britain. In such a case, moreover, the British Government will have to reinforce us [= the Greeks] with aircraft capable of resisting not only against the Italian aviation (which has not been done satisfactorily so far) but the German one as well. For the German air attacks [against the Greek territory] should be taken into very serious consideration.

                                                                        [Signature:] M[etaxas]

                                        *  * *

The British control over the foreign policy of Greece in general and of the Greek Navy in particular is an old story. Here are some parts of the document revealing the facilities that the British obtained in the Greek seas as early as the mid-1930s.


Aide-Mémoire [2]


Most Secret


It will be recollected that early in December last His Majesty’s Government asked the Hellenic Government for assurances of their support, … and that the Hellenic Government returned a very definite reply in the sense that Greece would unhesitatingly meet all her obligations. In particular, the Hellenic Government were asked to afford facilities to the Royal Navy – on the supposition that Great Britain should prove the victim of the aggression visualised- for the use of harbours, docks and repair facilities; on these points equally firm assurances were given.

The Naval Attaché has now been instructed to make further enquiries, on the same hypothesis, namely that Italy takes offensive action against Great Britain while the latter is acting in accordance with her obligations under Article 16 of the Covenant – but it is particularly desired to emphasize that His Majesty’s Government do not consider that this contingency is at present likely. It may in fact be said that the present enquiries may fairly be regarded as the logical continuation of the original exchange of views.

It is also desired to emphasize that the preparation of detailed plans for international cooperation are not at the moment suggested. The enquiries which the Naval Attaché  has been directed to make are as follows:

A.   Use of harbours


The principal initial requirement of the British Fleet under the circumstances visualised will probably be the use of certain secluded harbours for the refuelling of destroyers since it is to be assumed that in at least the early stages, war will be waged in the Eastern Mediterranean. It will evidently be of importance that such movements, i.e. those of the oilers themselves and those of the vessels  refuelling for them (an operation which probably be performed and completed during night) should be veiled in the maximum secrecy. Will it therefore be possible for the Hellenic Government to arrange that any reports to Athens from Customs or other officials shall be treated as highly confidential and withheld from the public?

Later, the use of better-known harbours (such as for example Salamis) might be desired, mainly for light craft and auxiliaries, particularly if defensive arrangements can be provided early in hostilities. Such cooperation would evidently fall within the scope of the assurances already given, while the maintenance of secrecy would be facilitated by the working of the general censorship which, presumably, will be imposed.



B.   Repair facilities


Salamis is well-known too for its capacity to maintain a small Navy in an efficient state, and assurances are therefore requested that urgent repair work for the British Fleet would be unhesitatingly be undertaken, and that every effort would be made by the use of day and night labour and by the enrolling of such additional workmen as are available in Greece to expedite the work to the fullest extent. It might even be desired to send labour from British yards to assist in the work, in which case it is hoped that every effort would be made to ensure the cordial cooperation of the employees of the Hellenic Government, and that arrangements for their accommodation and victualling  would be placed at the disposal of the Royal Navy.

The use of the facilities existing at the Piraeus, which are in the hands of private firms, is a further matter for consideration. Presumably no objection would be raised to the British Government  entering into contacts with these firms, or, alternatively, does the Hellenic Government contemplate enrolling them in some scheme of national service on the outbreak of war? In this latter case, the situation would then presumably be the same as that at Salamis as visualised above. An expression of opinion as to the value of the Piraeus resources  would be welcome.


C.   Active cooperation of the Hellenic Navy


It is to be assumed that since the giving of the original assurances in December, the role of the Hellenic naval forces in the event of war has been receiving the attention of the Ministry of Marine, and that action is in progress to bring the Fleet quickly to a state of maximum efficiency.

It will be recollected that shortly after his arrival in Athens, the Naval Attaché, with the concurrence of His Majesty’s Minister, formulated a series of questions regarding the then state of the Hellenic Navy, and that the Ministry of Marine was kind enough to furnish the information desired. It is now requested that these original question may be reviewed and the answers brought up today, particularly referring to:

1.    Manning.

2.    State of readiness.

3.    Training.


D.   Material


The stores most in demand in the event under discussion would probably  be anti-submarine nets, mines, depth charges and mining-sweeping equipment. Information is required as to the position in these respects, with particular reference to the reported shortage of T.N.T. for mine and depth charge filling, the construction of nets, and the provision of mine-sweeping gear. In connection with the latter, what is the progress in training, and to what extent is it considered  that effective mines sweeping, either by naval craft of by auxiliaries could now be undertaken?


E. Operational


What is the general idea of the Ministry of Marine as to the employment of the Hellenic Naval forces under the circumstances postulated? What are considered to be the present operational capabilities of (i) the Destroyer flotilla and (ii) the Submarine flotilla?


E.   Recognition


What systems are now in force for the interchange of recognition signals by day and by night between:


(i)              Two surface vessels or submarines on the surface.

(ii)            A surface vessel and a submerged submarine.

(iii)           A surface vessel (or a shore authority) and an approaching merchant vessel.


F.    Defence of Bases


Has any progress been made since the replies to the earlier questions were drafted, and has the special committee appointed for the study of the subject arrived at any conclusions or recommendations?

Have any additional A.A. defences been installed at, for example, Salamis island? What is the estimated efficiency of the A.A. defence system on Lipso [sic] island? Have, for example, satisfactory firings been carried out against a towered aerial target?


G.   Trade protection


In the circumstances under consideration it is possible that important traffic to and from the Black Sea and in the Eastern Mediterranean in general may require organisation and protection, particularly in the case of passages through the area adjacent to the Italian bases in the Dodecanese. In this event it would probably be necessary to institute a Naval Control Service, as developed in the Great War, at Salonica and Athens, in which work the cooperation of the Hellenic Navy with the Royal Navy would be of great value. A combined Control Staff might be formed, to include persons with local knowledge of shipping requirements and conditions, provided with suitable office and clerical assistance. Assurances of these facilities and of cooperation in the institution and conduct of such an organisation are requested.

British Legation, Athens

8th February, 1936









[1] Source: Archives of the Foreign Ministry of Greece (hereafter: AYE), 1940, A.9. The original of this  document was written in Greek; it has been  translated into English by the author and Kerry Bolton, and published first in Ab Aeterno (New Zealand), no’s 8 & 9 (July-December 2011).


[2]  AYE, 1935, A.A.K., 7. This document has been hand-copied and is not wholly reproduced