18 DECEMBER, 1916: Peace? No chance.

A hundred years ago, as the horror story of 1916 ground towards its end, talk of peace was in the air – but it had nothing to do with Christmas.  It sprang instead from the fear felt by two individuals, powerful and experienced politicians facing the prospect of their best-laid plans coming to abject grief.   Though they were only a month apart in age, German Chancellor Theobold von Bethmann-Hollweg and US President Woodrow Wilson didn’t have much else in common, but within the space of a week each felt moved to take a personal stab at halting the First World War.

Look at Woodrow, folks! One throw and he can save the world! Or not.
Just look at Woodrow, folks!  One pitch and he thinks he can save the world! He also thinks he’s living in the same world as…
Not a populist and never a soldier, but Bethmann-Hollweg got to wear a general's uniform anyway.
Bethmann-Hollweg, who’d never been a soldier but wore a general’s uniform anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bethmann-Hollweg, the epitome of Prussian political orthodoxy, born and married into its elite inner circle, had been Chancellor since 1909 and had survived in office by reacting to, rather than attempting to overly influence, the moves made by a dominant military.  Like any good political survivor he was a wind direction expert, and he had long supported the growing influence of Ludendorff and Hindenburg, backing their demands for concentration on the Eastern Front against the less cavalier, west-facing strategy pursued by Chief of General Staff Falkenhayn.

The Chancellor remained onside once Ludendorff and his figurehead took power as the Third Supreme Command in late August 1916, and he announced their recipe for a supercharged war effort, the Hindenburg Programme, as government policy in September – but he didn’t share the belief that the German economy, bullied out of slack complacency and boosted by resources from the Army’s conquests, could outpunch its enemies. Having helped unleash a military-industrial combine bent on turning Germany into a socioeconomic runaway train, and unable to impose any kind of restraint or to prevent its huge gamble on the war-winning potential of all-out submarine warfare, an outbreak of peace was Bethmann-Hollweg’s only hope of avoiding the disastrous flame-out he foresaw.

For reasons obvious to anyone with a reasonable sense of self-preservation, the Chancellor had spent much of the autumn hoping someone else would bring about peace. Woodrow Wilson was by far the most likely candidate, both because he was a liberal pacifist to the tips of his fingers and because only the USA had the power to stop the War by cutting supplies to the belligerents. After Wilson had secured a second term at the White House on a pacifist ticket, and the vast battles on the Western Front had subsided into stalemate, Bethmann-Hollweg waited in vain for such apparently ideal circumstances to generate a peace initiative from Washington.

Hope faded as the weeks passed, so on 12 December the Chancellor took the plunge and led with his only playable card.  On behalf of the Central Powers, he proposed peace talks on the basis of frontiers as they then stood, backing the proposal with claims that German force of arms had defined the War so far and could not be beaten. This was not a strong lead. It was never going to impress the Allies, committed as they were (strategically and publicly) to reversing German conquests and punishing the perpetrators, and they duly rejected it out of hand. Meanwhile any hope that the prospect of quitting while Germany was ahead might prompt the Third Supreme Command and its backers to pursue peace (rather than the do-or-die option of all-out submarine warfare) proved completely illusory. Bethmann-Hollweg’s slightly more plausible best bet – that evidence of German interest in peace might persuade the US administration to force the issue – did appear to generate a reaction from Wilson, but didn’t come close to flushing out an ace that could end the War.

Wilson wanted peace. He had campaigned as a peacemaker, he saw himself as a peacemaker and he too viewed the exhausted, deadlocked end of the Somme and Verdun battles as a good moment for a newly re-elected president to broker peace. What’s more, this seemed a good time for the President to act as a genuinely neutral mediator because US relations with the Allies were at a low and US-German relations were on something of a high.

Despite strong cultural links with Britain and France, despite widespread American sympathy for those nations under attack by the Central Powers, and despite the huge economic boom built on the USA’s position as the Allies’ chief supplier of finance and war materials, US politicians and public were unhappy with the British in 1916. They had been infuriated by the obvious distaste for a negotiated peace expressed by the British government, by British suppression of Irish civil rights after that year’s Easter Rising in Dublin, and by Britain’s blundering high-handedness around the enforcement of its naval blockade (28 July, 1916: Special Relationship?).

At the same time, US relations with Germany had been relatively positive since the spring, when the furore surrounding the sinking of the Sussex – an English Channel ferry packed with civilians, some of them American – had persuaded Berlin to issue the ‘Sussex Pledge’, by which the German Navy agreed to stop U-boats from attacking unarmed, non-military shipping without warning. As long as the Pledge held, so would the US electorate’s mandate for peace, but the President’s hopes of avoiding, let alone ending the War would be dead if the German High Command, fighting on three fronts and required to support all its allies, sought total victory through submarine warfare.

So Wilson was in a hurry to do something peaceable once he was safely back in the White House, and was planning to approach the belligerents in mid-December – but Bethmann-Hollweg’s initiative of 12 December gave him second thoughts, on the grounds that any US move at that point might be interpreted as pro-German. Having thought twice, Wilson went ahead and acted anyway, sending identical notes to all the belligerents on 18 December. By way of avoiding any direct association with Bethmann-Hollweg’s proposal, the notes were careful to neither demand peace nor offer US mediation, but merely invited all the belligerents to state their war aims as a means of facilitating future peace talks.

Even that modest idea proved far too radical for the empires at war. Without stating its war aims, the German government replied that, though it was of course anxious to end the conflict as soon as possible, it preferred direct negotiations between warring parties to any negotiation through a mediating power such as the USA. The British government, answering on behalf of the Allies, was more forthcoming on the subject of war aims, declaring that they required the Central Powers to evacuate occupied territory, pay indemnities for the trouble caused, and grant political freedom to those central European peoples subject to Austro-Hungarian or German control. These were not aims designed to bring Germany to the negotiating table.

Taken together, the German proposal and the general response to Wilson’s note made it clear that, despite Bethmann-Hollweg’s fears for the future, neither side was really interested in a negotiated peace. Wilson nevertheless kept chasing what we would these days call his legacy, and what he saw as a new world order based on liberal principles. Talks between his chief foreign policy advisor, ‘Colonel’ Edward House, and the German ambassador to Washington, Count Johann von Bernstorff, raised the possibility of secret negotiations with a view to setting up peace talks, but in mid-January the Third Supreme Command once again rejected the idea of US mediation, making clear that it would only negotiate with belligerent powers.

Still Wilson didn’t give up, and on 22 January 1917 he delivered an oration to the Senate – known to history as the Peace Without Victory speech – that laid down his vision for a peaceful future and challenged the world to match it. The huge global impact of his words, their significance for the post-War world and the many controversies that surrounded them are important elements of the story to come, but as a postscript to the minor flurry of mid-December peace overtures the speech was irrelevant.  By the time it was delivered, the Third Supreme Command had already secured Kaiser Wilhelm’s agreement to announce the resumption of unlimited submarine warfare on 1 February.

So the German ruling elite was going for victory because anything less would break its hold on power, while the Allies were going for victory because the stats said the Central Powers were almost exhausted, and because their two-year propaganda portrayal of evil German militarism demanded it.   However much Bethmann-Hollweg and Wilson wanted to stop the War (for their own sakes), and however much war-weary populations agreed with them, peace stood no chance in December 1916.

13 DECEMBER, 1916: Prestige Fixture

With fighting in Europe all but suspended for the winter, this week in 1916 provided plenty of other news to divert the heritage industry’s Eurocentric gaze from the Somme and Verdun.  The end of Joffre’s military dominance in France marked a watershed in the grim history of the Western Front, changes at or near the top in the governments of France and Britain made for big talking points, and on 12 December an offer by the Central Powers of peace negotiations on the basis of pre-War frontiers hit the headlines, though it was essentially a diplomatic PR exercise for the benefit of neutrals, and received the expected outright rejection by Entente powers in too deep to accept anything short of manifest victory.

One way and another all these things were important, but mass media’s commemorative showreel is unlikely to include the event that left the biggest footprint for the future from that week – the re-launch, on 13 December, of the British Empire’s attacks into what is now Iraq.

The first British attempt to advance from the port city of Basra up the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to Baghdad (and even beyond) had come to a sticky end in April, when lazy planning, blinkered leadership and consistent underestimation of an intelligently organised enemy had culminated in the surrender of General Townshend’s battered army at Kut, on the Tigris.  After a long pause to completely reorganise command structures and supply systems, a process that involved transfer of responsibility for the campaign from the Indian Army to the regular British Army, recovery of Kut was the renewed invasion’s first objective.

British Mesopotamian Front c-in-c General Maude could call on about 150,000 troops by late 1916, and had been supplied with increased numbers of machine guns, field artillery and armoured cars, along with state-of-the-art trench fighting equipment, vastly improved medical facilities and 24 modern BE-2C fighter aircraft, some equipped for the game-changing task of photo-reconnaissance.  Local Ottoman commander Karabekir Bey had meanwhile strengthened his trench systems but received no substantial reinforcements, and mustered about 50,000 ill-equipped fighters. Bottom line, the British were making sure this time – but why were they bothering?

Karabekir was a sharp operator, and kept his career on the rise by transferring to the Caucasian Front once he'd experienced British firepower at first hand.
Karabekir was a sharp operator, and kept his career on the rise by transferring to the Caucasian Front once he’d experienced British firepower at first hand.

Manpower was the British Empire’s most precious commodity in late 1916. Ground troops were needed on the Western Front, at Salonika, in Egypt and Palestine, in East Africa and as garrisons for colonial stations or bases all over the world.  They were also needed in Mesopotamia, but only to guard Basra.

Britain’s stated objective in Mesopotamia, and the reason troops had arrived there in 1914, was to protect valuable oil supplies from the Persian Gulf, and every advance since had been justified as a form of ‘forward defence’ against potential threats to Basra.  In strategic terms, Mesopotamia did offer a route to conquering the Ottoman Empire by the back door, but nobody thought it an efficient route, and by late 1916 British ‘easterners’ (those strategists committed to pursuing victory away from the Western Front) viewed Palestine, with its valuable Mediterranean trading links, as a far more promising means to that particular end.

Advancing up the Tigris and Euphrates might also open a link with Russian forces in Persia, and might indirectly help Russian efforts on the Caucasian Front, but these were not high strategic priorities in London.  In fact, having watched as the British Indian Army and government blundered into a ghastly dead end for no real reason beyond an instinctive desire to attack an apparently feeble enemy, London’s only real excuse for opting to do it all over again was the restoration of imperial prestige.

Restricted to a limited offensive and instructed to minimalise casualties (I know, but it was another way of warning against over-ambition), Maude deployed his 50,000 front line troops on either side of the Tigris, and opened the operation with a preliminary bombardment during the night of 13–14 December, in time to get some fighting done before the region’s winter rains set in.  At dawn next morning, the British right began the first infantry attack, drawing Karabekir Bey’s reserves to defend positions around the settlement of Sannaiyat, less than 20 miles by river from Kut, before cavalry led the main British advance up the left bank, meeting only light resistance and making rapid progress.  By 15 December, Maude’s left was in position to cross the river and encircle the Sannaiyat defences, having suffered less than 300 casualties, but he opted for caution and instead consolidated the new position, making only one, half-hearted attempt to cross the river on 20 December.

The RFC's BE-2C fighters transformed the picture available to British commanders in Mesopotamia.
The RFC’s BE-2C fighters transformed the picture available to British commanders in Mesopotamia.

While Maude was demonstrating exactly the restraint his masters had in mind, his success was changing their minds, and he was ordered to push further upriver as soon as feasible.  January would see the beginning of a steady British campaign to retake Kut, using the same tactics of bombardment, advance and consolidation, and the prize that had drawn Townshend’s army to disaster, Baghdad, would soon be back on the British agenda.  This was an altogether more professional and considered invasion, led by a pragmatic commander and spared the gruesome horrors that had blighted the disgracefully ill-prepared Anglo-Indian attempt, but the British still hadn’t curbed a tendency to seek territorial acquisition for its own sake.

That brings us back to prestige, and as I’ve mentioned before prestige really mattered in the Arab world.  It is arguable that recovery of imperial prestige in Mesopotamia, however partial, helped the British orchestrate the Arab Revolt, smoothed their path through Palestine and facilitated their political dominance of the post-War Middle East – but any difference it made was marginal and the cost, in terms of casualties, resources and diversion of resources from other theatres, was ridiculous.

In that sense, Mesopotamia fulfilled a similar role to (and was even more disease-ridden than) Salonika, which was consuming even more Allied resources for even less return in an indirect attempt to revive French imperial prestige.  Then again, if we’re talking outcomes, nothing going on in Macedonia was destined to match the global ill winds stirred by Britain’s adventure in Mesopotamia and the artificial creation of Iraq that followed.  The real story of modern Iraq began here, and that seems worth remembering.

9 DECEMBER, 1916: Tourist Trouble

This can be a busy and potentially depressing time of year (ask any shopper), so we all understand why European minds turn to the warm, sunny Canary Islands.  A winter break in Tenerife wasn’t an option back in 1916, even for wealthy, leisured men like Asquith, Grey and other pre-War titans of the British political establishment who found themselves consigned to history from 6 December, when David Lloyd George took over leadership of the governing coalition.  Nor could the beleaguered population of Bucharest, which surrendered to German-led invasion forces on the same day, escape to the sun, though the country’s great and good, led by King Ferdinand, were already safe behind Russian lines in the northern province of Moldovia.

The change of tenant at 10, Downing Street signalled the climax to one of Britain’s greatest political careers, and was arguably the moment when British government joined the twentieth century, while the potential economic benefits from annexation of the Romanian heartlands fed the world-changing madness of the Third Supreme Command in Germany.   But Christmas is coming and I live in Norwich, so I can’t really help turning to the Canaries – and today marks the centenary of a complaint by Spanish authorities in the Canary Islands that the archipelago’s ports were being subjected to a ‘virtual blockade’ by German submarines.

The Canary Islands had been under Spanish colonial control since the fifteenth century, give or take a couple of years under British rule in the early nineteenth, and they shared Spanish neutrality in 1914.  Though it had close diplomatic and economic ties to the Entente, Spain’s neutrality was never really in question at the start of the War.  The Spanish royal government had signed pre-War agreements with the British, French and Portuguese that guaranteed the Iberian peninsula’s neutrality in the event of war – and though these proved meaningless when the Allies found a use for Portugal’s armed forces in 1916 (9 March, 1916: Pawn Sacrifice), everybody concerned recognised that Spain was in too much of a social and economic mess to restore any kind of military competence to its decrepit armed forces.

So long as Spanish interests didn’t coincide with any of the War’s battlefronts, all the Allies wanted from Spain was benevolent neutrality, unencumbered by the costs of financing a military ally. Britain in particular wanted Spanish benevolence expressed in maritime terms, as cooperation with Allied seagoing trade and obstruction of German or other enemy shipping (within the limits of international law).   In that context, nowhere administered by Spain mattered like the Canary Islands.

Peurto La Luz, Las Palmas, before the War. Times would get harder.
Peurto La Luz, Las Palmas, before the War. Times would get harder.

The Canaries were a vital crossroads and supply station for European trade with South America and Africa.  As such, they had long attracted attention from the British Royal Navy, which used warships from bases at Gibraltar and in West Africa to protect merchant shipping in the region.  The islands’ strategic importance mushroomed as everyone’s plans for a short war in 1914 matured into mobilisation for a prolonged, global economic conflict, but Allied trade via the Canaries carried on without too much trouble for the next couple of years.  Regular patrols of nearby sea lanes by British and French cruisers enforced the blockade against enemy trade and kept commerce-raiding German warships at bay, while fears that German agents in the Canaries were sending fuel and supply tenders to meet enemy shipping at sea were never substantiated.

The possibility that German naval units could be resupplied locally raised the greater fear – shared by British naval strategists, British officials on the islands and a population dependent on the free flow of trade – that U-boats were operating around the Canaries, and from the spring of 1915 the islands were alive with rumours of submarine sightings and submarine attacks.  Increased patrols and searches for German supply lines revealed no conclusive evidence of U-boat activity off the west coast of Africa, but in a world without radar or sonar the threat couldn’t be discounted.  In fact no German submarines operated anywhere near the Canaries, or took on fuel from the islands, before late 1916, when improved technology and altered strategic priorities finally persuaded the German Navy to send U-boats to the equatorial east Atlantic.

The disappointments of Jutland and appointment of the risk-taking Third Supreme Command had cemented German loss of faith in surface warships during the summer of 1916, while the development of bigger, more reliable submarines had made long-range operations feasible for the first time.  As part of a renewed commitment to limited submarine warfare against Allied trade, the first U-boat bound for the Canaries, the UC-20, left the Austrian Adriatic port of Pola in mid-October 1916, and arrived off Lanzarote on 12 November.  On 17 November it sank the Portuguese barque Emilia 15km east of Las Palmas, the first wartime loss to German submarines in Canary waters.

Survivors of the Emilia raised the alarm, and Spanish authorities followed British instructions to conduct yet another search of the archipelago’s remote harbours for German supply bases.  The few motor boats that constituted the islands’ anti-submarine defences were sent out on patrol, but the UC-20 escaped the area unmolested, and hopelessly overstretched Spanish defences had no more success with the next two submarines to arrive, the U-52 and U-47, which sank four ships in early December before shortage of fuel forced their withdrawal.

For the remainder of the War, the waters around the Canaries would remain easy pickings for U-boats, and their activities would intensify with the expansion of German commitment to unlimited submarine warfare and deployment of the giant ‘cruiser’ boats first seen when the Deutschland visited the USA (24 August, 1916: Deep Thinking). Spanish naval capacity was always hopelessly overstretched, colonial authorities were never able to effectively monitor the archipelago’s major ports, let alone its remote harbours, and the Allies were never prepared to compromise Spanish neutrality by sending state-of-the-art anti-submarine units to the islands.

Even so, U-boat attacks in the waters around the Canaries were never a strategic success, largely because the Allies, recognising the vulnerability of the Spanish islands, routed most neutral east Atlantic merchant traffic via Madeira, the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands, which could receive direct protection because they belonged to a co-belligerent, Portugal.  The slump in the economy of the Canary Islands that followed from this change in trading patterns was exactly what the Spanish authorities feared when they issued their forlorn complaint against the arrival of U-boats in December 1916.

That was hardly an anniversary, more a glimpse at a corner of the First World War that, while neither blood-soaked nor world-changing, altered the history of a region familiar to millions of modern European tourists, and that is almost completely forgotten outside academia.  It’s also a reminder that, while it’s easy to condemn the many nations tempted into joining the First World War for gain, neutrality amid the flailing avarice of the warring Great Powers often came at a price.

1 December, 1916: Gunboat Diplomacy

A couple of weeks ago, in the process of spilling a few paragraphs about the Allied shambles at Salonika, and I mentioned that one factor working to reinforce General Sarrail’s instinct to caution was the powder-keg condition of the political environment in Greece (19 November, 1916: Fake News).  Sarrail’s armed camp was hemmed by political violence and intrigue as Greece teetered on the brink of civil war between a pro-Allied rebel government centred on Salonika and a neutralist royal government in Athens .  Today seems a good day to look a little more closely at wartime Greece, because a hundred years ago, on 1 December 1916, Allied forces were engaged in serious combat by Greek troops on the streets of Athens.

Armed combat may seem an odd way to go about persuading Greece into an alliance, but world war makes a strange beast of diplomacy and the royal Greek regime’s behaviour during 1916 had been driving Allied diplomats to distraction.  The trouble centred on King Constantine’s refusal to take sides.  His position, apparently driven by an earnest desire to keep his people out of the War (and to avoid upsetting members of his extended family), had long been perceived as pro-German by most Allied strategists, but he was trusted by the British monarchy and its friends in high British places, who tended to believe that the King was a man of his word and would join the Allied side when he felt his people were ready.

Venizelos and Constantine... think Mourinho and Wenger.
Venizelos and Constantine… think Mourinho and Wenger.

The latter theory – tolerant or smug, depending on your view of elite political attitudes in early twentieth-century Europe – had survived the resignation of pro-Allied premier Venizelos in October 1915, and the barely disguised, obstructive hostility of government forces towards the Allied camp at Salonika over the following months, but it had taken a battering since the summer of 1916.

The Greek Army’s unwillingness to oppose the first German-led incursions into northern and eastern Macedonia had come close to triggering direct Allied intervention in June.  Amid civil unrest in Athens, a French naval detachment of six battleships, two cruisers and about 50 smaller craft had been about to land 8,000 troops on the offshore island of Salamis when the Athens regime agreed to Allied demands that it demobilise its army, immobilise its navy, dissolve the government and expel all German agents.

Respite from crisis ended with the failure of Allied operations from Salonika in August, which were ruined by a German-Bulgarian counteroffensive so exquisitely timed that it rekindled suspicion of Greek treachery.  The French naval force was reassembled, with the addition of various Allied ships – including light cruisers, an elderly Russian battleship, swarms of anti-submarine craft and a British aircraft carrier – and another set of demands was sent to Athens. On 3 September the demands, which included the surrender of interned German and Austro-Hungarian shipping, were met, but this time the Allies’ Mediterranean naval c-in-c, French Admiral Dartige, decided to go further.

An ultimatum of 10 September required the Greek Navy to disarm its coastal-defence battleships, hand its light units to the Allies and allow Allied occupation of its coastal fortresses.  Again the royal government agreed, and Greek light naval units officially joined the French Navy on 7 November, but Dartige kept his fleet in the Bay of Athens anyway, ready to intervene if further bullying was required.

To nobody’s surprise at the time, Dartige soon decided it was required.  A fresh ultimatum of 22 November demanded the surrender of Greek Army rifles, machine guns and artillery, with delivery of the first instalment due on 1 December.  After talks with Constantine brought the King’s formal rejection of the demands, Dartige opted to ensure compliance by landing a small force at Piraeus, and 3,000 French sailors, along with a few Italian and British troops, got ashore unopposed on the morning of 1 December. At this point, as has tended to be the way with military intervention across the centuries, emotion got the better of calculation and things went horribly wrong.

French artillery demonstrating passive aggression outside Athens
French artillery demonstrates passive aggression for the benefit of Athenians.

The French force moved inland to Athens, where its official task was to provide a ‘pacific demonstration’ of Allied determination. Some 20,000 Greek Army regulars had been gathered in or around the capital and, despite an assurance of safe passage from the King, a combination of pro-German sentiment, national pride and individual over-excitement prompted some units to open fire on the interlopers, after which heavy skirmishing broke out in several city-centre and suburban locations.  Opinions differ about the exact number of casualties during fighting that culminated in the French battleship Mirabeau firing four heavy rounds in the general direction of the royal palace, and but at least 90 men were killed before Allied diplomats and Constantine arranged a ceasefire, and the pacific demonstration retreated to Piraeus.

Without resort to evidence, royalist newspapers and politicians immediately blamed the outbreak of violence on Venizelos and his supporters.  Three days of rioting followed in Athens, as royalist mobs attacked Venizelists and ransacked their property, a period viewed by Greek commentators as the culmination of what was called the National Schism, and as the end of efforts by either side to restore Greek political unity.

News of the Athens incident provoked strong and largely predictable reactions all over the world.  Among the Central Powers and in the United States, the landing was (correctly) condemned as a violation of neutral sovereignty, while Allied media focused on portraying the ‘Athens ambush’ as proof of Constantine’s two-faced villainy.  The strongest and most significant reactions came from France, where royalist ‘treachery’ caused sufficient outrage to end all hope of Allied reconciliation with the Greek monarchy, and prompted a change of tactics on the ground.  While Salonika c-in-c Sarrail took overall command of military operations around Athens, and Admiral Souchet replaced Dartige as naval commander, the French government announced a full naval blockade of Greece – and the threat was enough for Constantine, who accepted the November demands and withdrew the Greek Army to Peloponnese.

Constantine was the ultimate loser in this ridiculous, if relatively minor Greek tragedy, because it damaged his reputation for honest dealing among Europe’s influential royal families, and so removed an invisible but effective layer of protection against regime change.  In the months to come, as Greece continued to boil on the edge of civil war, only the opposition of French premier Aristide Briand would prevent the Allies from demanding Constantine’s removal from the throne, and the chaotic, protracted saga of Greek neutrality would finally proceed to an endgame after Briand’s fall from power in March 1917.

So the Athens Landing, as it is known, was an example of dithering half-measures on both sides coming home to roost in a gunfight, and a reminder that Great Powers in 1916 foisted the same colonial attitudes and outcomes on Europe as they inflicted on the less developed world.  Though a trivial sideshow in the context of the War as a whole, it was also a pivotal incident during a tempestuous and momentous phase of modern Greek history.   As such it illustrates the point that, while Greece was hardly Europe’s most stable or coherent nation before 1914, wartime interference in its affairs by the continent’s big boys did make a significant contribution to the volatility that has plagued the country ever since.  And although the British played a significant supporting role, and other allied powers played bit parts, the principal big boys messing with wartime Greece were undoubtedly the French, and in particular the French officer class.  Here’s why.

Years of propaganda had made defence of Serbia, a close pre-War ally, into something of a popular and political sacred cause in wartime France (and a casus belli that sounded a lot more noble than hatred of Germany).  When Serbia fell, the French government desperately wanted to be seen to help, and the only way to provide military help, however token, was by advancing north from Salonika.

The French government and military had followed public opinion in insisting on maintenance of a major force at Salonika in early 1916, when their allies were ready to abandon the project as a waste of resources, but when subsequent, French-led offensives had fallen foul of Greek political factionalism (among other things), political leaders had resisted military demands for Constantine’s removal. Ignoring or overriding politicians came naturally to the French military, and the French Navy’s unproductive, destabilising adventures in Athens were typical of the half-cocked attempts to force the issue undertaken by Admiral Dartige and like-minded senior officers.  To sum up and lest we forget, France was a military takeover waiting to happen before, during and after the First World War, already on a path that would lead to the coup d’état of 1958 and the authoritarian reign of General Charles de Gaulle.