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Civilian Casualties from British Military: The Greek Civil War

This section provides a detailed account of recorded civilian casualties that resulted from the British military’s involvement in the Greek Civil War.

When did this conflict occur?

3rd December, 1944^ – 16th October, 1949*

^ – Though direct British involvement in the Greek Civil War can be traced back to the liberation of Greece from Axis forces in October of 1944, the first large-scale instance of British ground combat in the country took place on December 3rd, 1944 [1]

* – The British military presence in Greece had, however, been largely withdrawn by 1947, and British troops largely operated in an advisory capacity by late 1945 and early 1946. The responsibilities of the British Military Mission, originally built around a Special Operations Executive team led by Major Colonel Edward Myers, centred on providing military assistance to Greek forces while also ensuring a consistent stream of intelligence concerning the political situation within the country. [2]

What is the background to this conflict?

In April of 1941, a combined German, Italian, and Bulgarian assault on Greece succeeded in overwhelming British, Commonwealth, and Greek troops tasked with ensuring the country’s defence. A Greek resistance soon formed and emerged as one of the most effective irregular forces in Occupied Europe during the Second World War. German reprisals, such as the killing of 488 civilians in Northern Greece, succeeded in initially slowing the growth of anti-Axis forces but proved incapable of stemming the burgeoning resistance by 1942. [3] The Greek resistance was dominated by a coalition of communist political movements who merged to form the National Liberation Front (EAM) and its associated armed wing, the National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS). Other groups included the National Republican Greek League (EDES) and the royalist National and Social Liberation (EKKA). Though these polarised factions frequently clashed during World War II, the withdrawal of Axis forces in October of 1944 left a power vacuum that was quickly filled by violence. By late 1944, a civil war between a British and American-backed Greek National Army, composed largely of former EDES and EKKA members,  and the Greek Communist Party’s Democratic Army of Greece was firmly underway. [4]

What role did British military forces play?

The British military contribution to the Greek Civil War can be divided into two components with distinct objectives: direct combat operations against the National Popular Liberation Army (ELAS) and advisory support to the nascent Greek National Army. In the case of the former, large-scale deployments of British ground combat forces were first visible in the Battle of Athens, known in Greek as Dekemvriana or the “December Events”, from December 3rd, 1944 to January 11th, 1945. The spark which lit the fuse for one of the most devastating urban battles waged in Greece since the start of the Second World War was born of Prime Minister George Papandreou’s decision to disarm and demobilise ELAS forces. As Greek police in Athens grew overwhelmed amidst increasingly violent protests and hit-and-run attacks, a British contingent of  4500 troops with RAF Spitfires in support was called into action. By mid-January of 1945, British forces had succeeded in isolating and destroying remaining pockets of ELAS resistance in the city at the cost of 210 British service members and an estimated 2000 ELAS fighters. [5]

Though British ground forces remained committed to assisting the newly restored Greek government in its counterinsurgency campaign against ELAS, combined-arms offensives of the scale seen in Athens were never repeated. The British military effort, instead, shifted to an advisory role reminiscent of the functions undertaken by the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. Mountain Raider Forces, rooted in the tradition of mobile raids and ambushes favoured by the wartime inter-Allied Commandos, were mentored by British Army instructors while RAF officers provided technical and operational guidance to the Royal Hellenic Air Force, moulding the latter into an organisation capable of integrating air power into larger ground schemes of manoeuvre. [6] Though this mission in Greece was soon overshadowed by the entry of American advisors and equipment, British assistance played a vital role in sparking the transformation of the Hellenic military from a doctrinal emphasis on positional warfare into an integrated counterinsurgency force combining air power, intelligence collection, and special operations to devastating effect. 

Can a figure of civilian deaths due to British military action be determined?

Yes. Over the course of the Greek Civil War, there were 451 confirmed killings of civilians by British military forces. In contrast to these 451 civilian deaths, 210 British military personnel died in the conflict. [7]

Are there any trends or incidents of note?

Attributing specific fatalities to British forces is difficult given that the remains of civilians and ELAS fighters were often buried in communal mass graves; however, cross referencing causes of death with locations and dates of British attacks allows for an understanding of patterns of civilian harm. ELAS possessed highly limited numbers of mortars and artillery pieces, with heavier armaments generally controlled by British forces engaged in clearing actions. [8] Thus, civilian deaths as a result of shrapnel and blast injuries can be overwhelmingly attributed to British forces who operated these weapons systems in support of ground forces engaged in close combat. ELAS forces also constructed fighting positions in occupied residential structures, thereby ensuring that offensive operations conducted by the British military were directed at areas with high peacetime civilian populations. [9] Non-combatant fatalities stemming from small arms fire in these areas were, thus, the frequent result of intense urban combat as British ground forces were forced to employ personal weapons to root out deeply entrenched pockets of ELAS fighters.  

  • In the Southern Athens sector of Kallithea, the second most densely populated municipality in Greece which saw major combat between British and ELAS forces, a total of 293 corpses were recovered from mass burial sites. Of those, 74 were identified as confirmed ELAS fighters while the remaining 219, 75% of all fatalities, were determined to have been non-combatants. [10]
    • Within the figure of 219, post-mortem examinations uncovered that 177 or 81% of victims possessed blast and shrapnel wounds consistent with the use of artillery.
    • The remaining 42 civilians buried in Kallithea suffered injuries stemming from small arms fire.
  • Similarly in the Eastern municipalities of Kaisariani, Vyrona, and Hymetos, 296 bodies were found in mass graves with 212, equal to 72%, identified as civilians. [11]
    • In a similar pattern, 181 of the 212 recovered civilians, equal to 85% of non-combatant deaths, suffered injuries caused by land, naval, and aerial artillery.
    • The remaining 31 fatalities stemmed from small arms fire.


[1] McNeil, William H, “II. The Outbreak of Fighting in Athens, December, 1944”, The American Slavic and East European Review 8, no.4 (1949): 252 – 261.

[2] Shrader, Stephen. British Military Mission to Greece (BMM): 1942-1944 (Leavenworth: United States Army Command and General Staff College, 2009): 28-29.


[4] Nachmani, Amikam, “Civil War and Foreign Intervention in Greece: 1946-49”, Journal of Contemporary History 25, no. 4 (1990): 489-522.

[5] McNeil, “II. The Outbreak of Fighting in Athens”, 252-261.

[6] Delaporta, Eleftheria. The Role of Britain in Greek Politics and Military Operations: 1947 -1952 (Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2003): 60-61.

[7] The Greek Civil War, 1944-1949, The National WWII Museum, 2020,

[8] Delis, Panagiotis, “The British Intervention in Greece: The Battle of Athens, December 1944”, Journal of Modern Greek Studies 35, no. 1 (2017): 211-237.

[9] Panagiotis, “The British Intervention in Greece”, 225-226.

[10] Charalambidis, Menelaos. December 1944: The Battle of Athens (Athens: Alexandria Publications, 2014): 308.

[11] Charalambidis, December 1944, 309-310.