The Greek Invasion and Occupation in Turkey 1919
What a Calm Mess
The Greek “invasion” had no opposition but the Turks had already decided to fight the difficult fight. The Greek government was in heaven, as the old dreams of the Greater Greece came to life. The Turk’s were at the lowest point in their existence, beaten down both politically and militarily. WW1 had ravaged their systems. What they desperately needed was time to recoup and build. Venizelos was very hopeful about the “Greater Greece” aim and was confident that Turkey could be subdued under the Greek boot.
Because everything Turkish had been dismantled or lost, the Turks initially fought at the grass roots level. The actual military units suffered the same poor conditions and were very limited. Much like the North Vietnamese during the long Vietnam War, the Turks were willing to continue the fight forever. They felt they could outlast any invader. Thus, the great motivator for them were Greek soldiers on Turkish soil. Something not to underestimate.
The general situation in Turkey was that the Head of State (Padishah) and his government wanted to continue and were defending it for their own benefits and organized their all activities according to this idea.
The Turkish population was very tired after losing the First World War. The government’s extreme docility to the demands of the allies made people anxious and angry.
The Padishah’s orders and propaganda did not allow people to resist. The country started to disintegrate and İzmir’s occupation made this situation worse. The weak government was unable to function very well and carried out no activities to save the spiral spin downward. Except for those benefiting from the government, there was no hope and little support. As a result of this, various efforts and struggles started in country. The discontents gathered. There were two groups; those beneficial and those harmful to the Turks.
The harmful efforts came from the Greek Turks (Rum) in the areas around Izmir and Istanbul (fomerly Constantinople) and the Pontus area (coastal areas along the Black Sea) from Giresum, Ordu to Samsun. The Armenian efforts to create an Armenian State in eastern Turkey in the area around Adana, and the Kurds who were trying to so the same in southeastern Turkey.
Mustafa Kemal Paşa (Pasha) evaluated the situation, and found none suitable. To Kemal, a new free Turkish Republic must be created. The Allies had occupied the railways and seaports. The Turkish people were very poor and public security was not good. The army was disintegrating. The Rum (Turkish Greeks) and Armenians treated the Turkish people ruthlessly, many were just armed gangs.
The Greeks landed in Western Turkey. Geographically, this area contained numerous mountains from along the coastal areas and end in central Turkey. The mountains generally rise steeply at the coasts The Murat mountains were very important for the defense of the area and contain seven peaks. The first ones are the mountains of Murat-Ahır-Sultan which combine with the Taurus mountain range (Toroslar). These are 2000 (6000 ft)-2400 meters high. The second mountain range is south and east of Eskişehir and Türkmen (Turcoman).These are about 1800(3600 ft) meters high.
The Railroadshad a low capacity of only five trains per day due to a state of lack of repair and maintainence. The communications network was very weak and there were just one telegraph station in every city. Telegraph lines usually followed the railways ending at a station. The only airfield was near Izmir.
The Turkish Army
The Turks had 20 infantry and 4 weak cavalry regiments. These forces were very weak.
Working against the Turks were the internal mutinies and unsteady conditions in the political realm.
Each division contained: 2020 men, 1500 rifles, 12 heavy machine guns, 8 artillery guns, but due to sickness even these “ideal” numbers changed. There were 50-60 of soldiers in the battalion. The army was not well educated nor disciplined. This army was far different than in WW1. Social and economical issues affected them very badly, it was in a state of deteriation. Many deserted. They were well-trained before the First World War. Even the reserve officers and noncommissioned officers lacked the skills.
In May, 1919, the Turkish Army consisted of the following:
1stCorps at Edirne (49thDiv. at Kirklarelli and Edirne. The 60thDiv. at Sarkoy, Malkara)
25th Corps at Istanbul (10th Caucasian Div. in the city, 1stDiv. at Kocaeli)
14thCorps at Tekirdag ( 55thDiv. at Tekirdag, 61stDiv. at Bandirma, Balikesir)
17th Corps at Izmir (56th Div near Izmir, 57thDiv. at Aydin)
20th Corps at Ankara (23rdDiv. at Afyon, 24thDiv. Konya, Ankara)
12thCorps at Konya (11thDiv. at Nigde, 41stDiv. at Karaman)
3rdCorps at Sivas (5thCaucasian Div. at Amasya, 15thDiv. at Samsun)
13thCorps at Diyarbakir( 2nd Div. at Silvan, 5thDiv. at Mardin)
15thCorps at Erzurum (3rdCaucasian Div at Tortum, 9thCaucasian Div. at Erzurum, 11th Caucasian Div. at Vanda, 12thDiv. at Horasan.
When the Greeks landed at Izmir on May 15, 1919, the Turkish 17th Army Corps was the only army unit that could oppose them. Their disposition was:
The 17th Army Corps’ headquarters and dependent units were in İzmir.
The 56th Division headquarters and dependent units were also in İzmir. Its 173rdInfantry Regiment HQ was in Urla (one battalion of this regiment was in İzmir, the other two battalions on coasts on Urla Peninsula to protect and observe. The 2ndBn/174th Regiment was in İzmir (in the barracks), the 172nd Regiment in Ayvalık, the 56thDivision artillery unit was in Seydiköy-I,Gaziemir.
The 57th Division headquarters and dependent units were in Aydın. Its 135thRegiment was in the Söke area. The 175th Regiment in the Aydın area, while the 176thRegiment was in Antalya. The 57thDivision artillery regiment was in Denizli. It covered a 800 km front. The unit had 123 officers, 1231 soldiers, 1722 rifles, 12 MG, 16 artillery guns and 889 animals.
The 5thaircraft squadron was in Seydiköy Airport, and a Seaplane squadron was at Güzelyalı. These divisions had been in WW1. Most of the officers and soldiers had been injured and were very tired and weak.
The Greek Army
The Greek Army forces had 15 divisons in 1919. Each division averaged around 12,000 men, 9000 rifles, 18 heavy and 36 light machine guns, 24 quick firing field guns, 12 mountain guns. The expeditionary force was the Greek 1st Division.
The Greek Navy consisted of:
The Battleships (BB) Kılkış and Lemnos: Thirty-four torpedo tubes, weighed 13.000 tons, 17 miles an hour, four 30.5 cm, eight 20.3 cm, eight 17.7 cm, twelve 7.5 cm guns.
The Armored Cruiser (CA) Averoff: Thirty-one torpedo tubes, weighed 10.118 tons, 22.5 miles and hour, four 23.4 cm, six 19 cm, sixteen 5.5 cm.
The Cruiser: Helle: Sixteen torpedo tubes,weighed 2.600 tons, 20 miles per hour.
The Destroyers (DD):Aetos, Leon, Jerax and Panthir: Eight torpedo tubes, weighed 980 tons, 32 miles per hour.
DD’s Keravnos and Neagenea: Four torpedo tubes, weighed 750 tons, 30 miles per hour.
DD’s Aspis (Shild), Niki (Victory), Doxa (Glory) and Velos (Arrow): Four torpedo tubes, weighed 350 tons, 30 miles per hour.
DD’s Thyella, Sfendoni, Lonchi and Naphkratoussa: Eight torpedo tubes, weighed 400 tons, 30.5 miles per hour.
The Torpedo boats:
Aigli, Thetis, Daphne, Arethusa, Alcyon and Doris : Five torpedo tubes, weighed 125 tons, 25 miles per hour.
The unit chosen to land at Symrna (Izmir) was the 1st Division. The division included the 4th and 5th Infantry Regiments, the 3rd and 9thbattalions of 1/38th Evzon Regiment, 11th and 12th Battalions of the Artillery Regiment, two engineer companies, one cavalry platoon, medical and logistics formations. Some 13,000 men.
By the beginning of May 1919, Italy had troops in Konya, Kuşadası, and southwestern Turkey. Italy occupied Antalya. Fears were rampant that the Italians would also occupy İzmir. The British PM, Lloyd George, was very anxious about occupation of İzmir by the Greek forces, fearing resistance from the Turks or perhaps, Italians. The PM required the commander of Allied Sea forces, Admiral Calthorpe,to support Greek division landing at İzmir.
Admiral Calthope had four British destroyers in Mondros and two destroyers in the Aegean Sea. He, himself, would be on one destroyer in the lead of the group by some four miles. It was decided that if they met the Italian navy, the British would tell the Italians they are udner the protection of the British Navy. England, France and America decided that just Greece would occupy İzmir. Colonel Pangalos sent a sealed envelope about the plan to this division informing divisonal commander it was under Greek Government orders and authority, not Allied authority.
Greek intelligence indicated that the Turkish forces in the İzmir garrison were about 3000 men, actually there were 3400 men consisting of four infantry battalions and one artillery company with a few guns. However, of the 3400 men, only 200 soldiers were active. The army corps commander was also in İzmir. Thus, the Greeks faced nil opposition.
A lot of Allied warships had already massed at İzmir by May 13, 1919. Everybody along the piers were curious about them. This number of warships in the waters no doubt curbed any ideas the Turks had about resisting. After all, many Turks lived in Izmir. But the civilians peering out at the many warships were still unaware what was going to happen.
The first of 13,000 Greek troops, 4000 animals and 75 artillery guns now descended, without incident in Izmir and its environs. The Rum people and others were ecstatic with the sight of Greek soldiers reclaiming what was thought was theirs all along. Part of the “Great Idea”. The quays and town was decorated and lined with Greek flags. Large crowds cheered and troops marched down the streets. For most, it was a euphoric scene and experience filled with pride. The locals were not surprized for on the previous day Greek leaders there had posted proclamations announcing the coming event. However, not all were happy. The Turks were not of course, and since no instructions had arrived from the War Ministry, many local Turk leaders chosed to resist defiantly. In the Turkish areas of Izmir, men ran up and down the steets calling for recuits to resist the occupation, some fires were set, groups gathered to plan and speeches were condemning the arrival of Greek troops on Turkish soil. Lacking weapons, the Izmir Reserve Officers Group led hundreds of angry Turks to the local police armory and busted down the doors, seizing the weapons and ammunition.
People were very anxious and waiting for something to happen. Nervous. Turkish women remained in their houses. Many stores were closed. The Turkish governor was very relaxed and told all Turk citizens there was nothing to be worried about.
TheIslahat Gazetesi (The Reform Newspaper)had informed the locals that the occupation was a minor detail and intended to make people calm and feel safe. Greece’s PM Venizelos’s message from Paris was read to the local leaders people at Metropolis Church that afternoon: “At last we have realized our aim that we have intended for centuries. Greece was chosen to this occupation by the Paris Peace Conference. We are here to secure the area. I appreciate the help of Western Anatolian Rum People today.”
Because no orders were given to the Turkish detachments (in many cases)they were left to their commander’s discretions. The Turk 2nd battalion of the 173rdInfranty Regiment was confined to the barracks in Izmir. Other garrison detachments remained unclear what to do. Moreover, some officers went to their offices as if nothing unusual was happening that day. As a result, the army corps’ order indicated no measures would be taken.
About a mile from the docks, the Greek Evzone soldiers passed the “Yellow Barracks” where the men of the Turkish 2ndBn were housed. The bugles sang out ceremoniously, Rum people and others ran along their side waving Greek flags and yelling Greek praises. Some man running in front of the Greek troops waved a Greek flag to and fro.
Bam! He was dead. The crowd freezes. The gunshot came and went. Operating on automatic, the Evzone troops deployed rapidly. Celebration suddenly turn to chaos. Nearby, an innocent young aspriring Turk journalist, Osman Nevres, who had been covering the arrival became the target for a swarm of Greek soldiers. Using their rifles, the Greeks battered and killed the reporter (obviously, the Greeks thought he had fired the gun). Greek troops opened fired taking aim at the barracks, went into a tailspin in the Turkish area of Izmir. There, they rampaged and murdered many Turk civilians. Gunfire was out of control firing into the crowds during the frenzy. Numerous volleys of fire for no apparent reason. The Greeks took most of the 2ndBattalion into captivity escorting them to the Patras. Along the way, 30 of them were killed. Anyone Turkish was in grave danger.
The horror and carnage continued for two days. The Greek soldiers killed at least 300 Turk civilains , pillaged homes and businesses in a “free for all” mindset. Many locals took advantage of the chaos and joined in the looting and killing. It was not only confined to Izmir, but to within a six mile radius of it. Any Turkish house or business had became an instant target. Some 62 Greeks, 78 Turks, and 22 others were either killed or wounded. On May 20th, two Greeks were sentenced to die by execution for excessive conduct.
The incident was an embarrassment to the Greeks and the Allies. A US Naval Officer in Izmir recommended that British, French, US and Italians should land to mitigate the explosive atmosphere. It was ignored.
Over 500 men of the 2ndBattalion were imprisoned aboard the Patras in inhuman conditions with no food or water. Many died and those who survived were freed on the 18th at British insistance.
The Greek troops quickly moved into the surrounding areas and established a provisional local government by the 17th. On the surface, Syrmna looked placid and undisturbed. The undercurrent was there: was a friend really a friend? Were they agents? There was a lot of double dealing and this created a delicate situation with the local population. The new Greek governor was M. Aristide Sterghiadis, arriving on the 21st. The local Turks began their own guerrilla style war with the local 2000 man police force to embarrass the Greek government. The Turks were attempting to enlist others in their fight in Panderma and Denizli.
The bad blood that had developed between the allied powers and Greece had delayed the reinforcements for the Greek 1st Division had finally arrived with the 8th regiment of the Archipeligo division in the Cavalla area. Also sent was the 3rd Cavalry regiment. The 6th regiment was sent to Myilene on May 8th, the 5th Reg was shipped to Izmir on June 7. The 4th regiment on June 25th. Izmir soon had eight infantry battalions, while Pergame had the 1stBn/8th Regiment.
Once the Greeks landed in Smyrna, they quickly spread their wings as Greece wanted more strategically. Prime Minister Venizelos explained this during the Paris Peace Conference, indicating that one division is not sufficient and occupying just Smyrna would be a bad strategy. In reality, when the first Greek divisions landed, the Turks were quite powerless to oppose them except for acts of sabotage by those opposing them.
It is now known that it was the Italians and their provocative announcements about occupying southern Turkey before any of the allied forces, which prompted the British to urge the Greeks to land in Asia Minor. Had it not been for the Italians wanting to occupy Turkey first, perhaps the Greeks would have never landed there or would’ve expanded their interests. In any case, to the Greeks, the expansion of the bridgehead was important to control the surrounding areas, many with militias or armed gangs that opposed the Greek occupation. According Turkish accounts, these came to around 2000 men and 150 cavalry. Greek commanders had already been informed that the Italians had landed at Kusadasi and advancing to Soke. It was thought the Italians objective was Aydin. This fear was so great, the Greek commander would soon steer forces toward it in order to reach it before the Italians.
On the 27th, Greek units moved towards Aydin. This force was to occupy the Meander River Valley with the 4th Regiment led by Col. Tserulis. It contained three battalions, one battalion of the 8th Regiment, two artillery batteries, the 13thMedicial company, and one police company. At Aydin, would be the Greek's first shock when the Turks attacked in large numbers forcing them to surrender the town.
The Italians had occupied Antalya, Fethiye, Marma-far,Bodrum and Konya . They were controlling the rail stations at Edirne (Andrianople)and Muratlı by a detachment and occupied Tekirdağ for security. In addition, they had a regiment in Eskişehir. The Italian Army landed at Kuşadası with a detachment of 150 men on May 14. They then marched to Selçuk (Akıncılar) and raised the Italian flag. The town Söke was also occupied by a detachment. Their objective was to occupy the Menderes River Valley preventing any Greek units moving further south. Even between the Allies there remained much distrust of one another!