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Belligerents and Participants
While the Balkan League formed a united alliance against the Ottoman Empire in the First Balkan War, they began arguing over how to divide up the spoils once the conflict was over. Bulgaria, who took the brunt of the fighting, wanted control over Macedonia and sent her army in against the Greek and Serb forces occupying this territory in 1913. By this time Greece and Serbia had signed a mutual defense treaty, which now made them Allies against Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War. This conflict was fought to a standstill, exhausting all, and Bulgaria was left with few territorial gains and bitter as a result.
When the Great War broke out, the Allies were began pressuring Greece to attack its tradition enemy, the Ottoman Turks. Too weakened by the Balkan Wars to undertake offensive measures, Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos tried to revive the Balkan League and make this new alliance applicable against the Central Powers. When these efforts failed, Venizelos invited the Allies to land at Salonika (Thessalonika) to aid the Serbians already under attack by Austria-Hungary. King Constantine of Greece, who was married to Kaiser Wilhelm’s sister Sophia, did not want to get involved in this War and saw Venizelos’ invitation not only as an effort to enhance his own political power but as a violation of the kingdom’s neutrality. Despite this political infighting, Allied troops had already landed in Salonika and were massing to reinforce Serbia. Before these new circumstances could be resolved, Serbia was knocked out of the war.
When the pro-German King removed Prime Minister Venizelos in October of 1915 the Allies at Salonika were left in political limbo. While the Allies cared little for the kingdom’s sovereignty and would not leave, they feared that a move against Bulgaria, who had now joined the Central Powers might inspire the Greek army to break their neutrality and attack the Allied flank. This stalemate led the British to consider redeploying their troops back to the Western Front but the French insisted they stay. They then began digging trench lines on the Greek border with Bulgaria but no further action was taken. Even though the Allies in Salonika grew into a great army, France seems to have been more interest in positioning itself for postwar influence over the eastern Mediterranean than actually fighting on this front. Germans jokingly referred to Salonika as their largest prison camp.
The Allies in Salonika began preparing for action in 1916, but in August Bulgaria launched a spoiling attack. The Struma offensive quickly made gains as the Greek army put up little resistance. The Bulgarians had already seized the Greek fortress at Rupel without opposition, and with more territory lost to them, unrest broke out in Athens. Followers of Venizelos staged an uprising, taking the city of Thessaloniki. With Allied help they seized more territory and by October they set up a provisional government in Crete. After being informally recognized by the Allies, this rival government declared war on Bulgaria and Germany on November 24, 1916. Despite the bravado, many Greeks saw this new regime as nothing more than a puppet of the Allies and they had great difficulty raising an army to support their cause.
The French unhappy with the political stalemate pressed the matter further by launching a naval attack on Athens in December. French forces managed to seize the Greek Navy and they pushed out Greek troops still loyal to the King. The Allies could not act against King Constantine himself because he was related to Czar Alexander II, but when the February Revolution in Russia forced the abdication of the Czar, Constantine was then forced to Abdicate. His pro-Western son Alexander then took the thrown, and Venizelos was allowed to reassume power as Prime Minister. After exiling his political enemies and securing promises of territorial gain from Britain, he declared war on all the Central Powers on June 30, 1917. The Greek army leant its weight to the Allied offensives against Bulgaria in 1918 and helped to liberate Serbia.
In their effort to bribe other nations into entering the War, the Allies promised the same parcels of territory to multiple partners through secret deals that they could not honor after the conflict ended. Nationalists who had long wished to see the Aegean turned into a Greek sea were upset at the few territorial gains provided by the Versailles Treaty. In May 1919 Greek forces landed at Smyrna, and as their occupation of Anatolia grew, it inspired Turkish nationalists to take up arms and renew their fight, which turned into the Greco-Turkish War. Greece itself was left in political turmoil as prewar rivalries between the Venizelist Liberals and the Royalists now grew to proportions where they saw each other’s actions as treasonous.
In mid-August 1917 a kitchen fire grew out of hand and quickly spread through the old wooden neighborhoods of Salonica until at least a third of the city had gone up in flames. Some have suggested that efforts to fight the fire were hampered by the great quantities of water the Allies held in reserve for their own use. Many postcards were published afterwards of the fire and the city in ruins that can easily be mistaken for war damage.
Although there were limited periods of intense fighting along the Greek border, it was relatively quiet when compared to other battlefronts. Combat here was not well represented on postcards despite the large amounts printed. Most cards seem to have been produced for the Allied forces occupying Salonika, and they usually only show typical behind the front line subjects. Sometimes they can easily be mistaken for ordinary view-cards until military subjects are gleaned from them. Most of these cards came from French and Italian publishers such as E. Le Deley and IPA.
Oumbertos Argyros was very interested in religious art, and extensively traveled to important centers of faith. A good deal of his work satisfied contemporary taste as he produced many landscapes and figure paintings in an impressionist style. While he studied painting in Athens, his ties to Germany date back to the years he spent at the Munich academy. During World War One he illustrated propaganda cards for German publishers.