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The Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, known as the Western Front (Turkish language: Batı Cephesi) of the Turkish War of Independence in Turkey and the Asia Minor Campaign (Greek: Μικρασιατική Εκστρατεία) or the Asia Minor Catastrophe (Greek: Μικρασιατική Καταστροφή) in Greece, was a series of military events occurring during the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire after World War I between May 1919 and October 1922. The war was fought between Greece and the Turkish National Movement who would later establish the Republic of Turkey.

The Greek campaign was launched because the western Allies, particularly British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, had promised Greece territorial gains at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. It ended with Greece giving up all territory gained during the war, returning to its pre-war borders, and engaging in a population exchange with the newly established Turkish Republic under the provisions of the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations signed prior to the Treaty of Lausanne.

The collective failure of the Greek military campaign against the Turkish revolutionaries, coupled with the expulsion of the French military from the region of Cilicia, forced the Allies to abandon the Treaty of Sèvres. Instead, they negotiated a new treaty at Lausanne. This new treaty recognised the independence of the Republic of Turkey and its sovereignty over East Thrace and Anatolia.


Geopolitical context

Territories claimed by Megali Idea Greek irredentists

The geopolitical context of this conflict is linked to the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire which was a direct consequence of World War I and involvement of the Ottomans in the Middle Eastern theatre. The Greeks received an order to land in Smyrna by the Triple Entente as part of the partition. During this war, the Ottoman government collapsed completely and the Ottoman Empire was divided amongst the victorious Entente powers with the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres on August 10, 1920.

There were a number of secret agreements regarding the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The Triple Entente had made contradictory promises about post-war arrangements concerning Greek hopes in Asia Minor.[1]

At the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, Eleftherios Venizelos lobbied hard for an expanded Hellas (the Megali Idea) that would include the large Greek communities in Northern Epirus, Thrace and Asia Minor. The western Allies, particularly British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, had promised Greece territorial gains at the expense of the Ottoman Empire if Greece entered the war on the Allied side.[2] These included Eastern Thrace, the islands of Imbros (İmroz, since 29 July 1979 Gökçeada) and Tenedos (Bozcaada), and parts of western Anatolia around the city of Smyrna, which contained sizable ethnic Greek populations.

The Italian and Anglo-French repudiation of the Agreement of St.-Jean-de-Maurienne signed on April 26, 1917, which settled the "Middle Eastern interest" of Italy, was overridden with the Greek occupation, as Smyrna (İzmir) was part of the agreements promised to Italy. Before the occupation the Italian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, angry about the possibility of the Greek occupation of Western Anatolia, left the conference and did not return to Paris until May 5. The absence of the Italian delegation from the Conference ended up facilitating Lloyd George's efforts to persuade France and the United States in Greece’s favor to prevent Italian operations in Western Anatolia.

According to some historians, it was the Greek occupation of Smyrna that created the Turkish National movement. Arnold J. Toynbee argues: "The war between Turkey and Greece which burst out at this time was a defensive war for safeguarding of the Turkish homelands in Anatolia. It was a result of the Allied policy of imperialism operating in a foreign state, the military resources and powers of which were seriously under-estimated; it was provoked by the unwarranted invasion of a Greek army of occupation."[3]

The Greek community in Anatolia

Distribution of Nationalities in Ottoman Empire (Anatolia),[4]
Ottoman Official Statistics, 1910
Provinces Turks Greeks Armenians Jews Others Total
Istambul (Asiatic shore) 135,681 70,906 30,465 5,120 16,812 258,984
Ismid 184,960 78,564 50,935 2,180 1,435 318,074
Aidin (Izmir) 974,225 629,002 17,247 24,361 58,076 1,702,911
Bursa 1,346,387 274,530 87,932 2,788 6,125 1,717,762
Konya 1,143,335 85,320 9,426 720 15,356 1,254,157
Ankara 991,666 54,280 101,388 901 12,329 1,160,564
Trebizond 1,047,889 351,104 45,094 1,444,087
Sivas 933,572 98,270 165,741 1,197,583
Kastamon 1,086,420 18,160 3,061 1,980 1,109,621
Adana 212,454 88,010 81,250 107,240 488,954
Bigha 136,000 29,000 2,000 3,300 98 170,398
Ecumenical Patriarchate Statistics, 1912

One of the reasons proposed by the Greek government for launching the Asia Minor expedition was that there was a sizeable Greek-speaking Orthodox Christian population inhabiting Anatolia that needed protection. Greeks have lived in Asia Minor since antiquity and before the outbreak of the First World War, up to 2.5 million Greeks lived in the Ottoman Empire.[5] The suggestion that the Greeks constituted the majority of the population in the lands claimed by Greece has been contested by a number of historians. Cedric James Lowe and Michael L. Dockrill also argued that Greek claims about Smyrna were at best debatable, since Greeks constituted perhaps a bare majority, more likely a large minority in the Smyrna Vilayet, "which lay in an overwhelmingly Turkish Anatolia."[6] Precise demographics are further obscured by the Ottoman policy of dividing the population according to religion rather than descent, language or self-identification. On the other hand contemporaneous British and American statistics (1919) support the point that the Greek element was the most numerous in the region of Smyrna, counting 375,000, while Muslims were 325,000.[7][8]

Nevertheless, the fear for the safety of the Greek population was a well-founded one; In 1914, the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire enacted genocidal policies against the Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Assyrians. While the Armenian Genocide is the best known of these events, there were also genocidal atrocities towards Greeks in Pontus and western Anatolia. The Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos stated to a British newspaper that "Greece is not making war against Islam, but against the anachronistic Ottoman Government, and its corrupt, ignominious, and bloody administration, with a view to the expelling it from those territories where the majority of the population consists of Greeks."[9]

To an extent, the above danger may have been overstated by Venizelos as a negotiating card on the table of Sèvres, in order to gain the support of the Allied governments. For example, the fact that the Young Turks were not in power at the time of the war makes such a justification less straightforward. Most of the leaders of that regime had fled the country at the end of World War I and the Ottoman government in Constantinople was already under British control. Furthermore, Venizelos had already revealed his desires for annexation of territories from the Ottoman Empire in the early stages of World War I, before these massacres had taken place. In a letter sent to Greek King Constantine in January 1915, he wrote that: "I have the impression that the concessions to Greece in Asia Minor... would be so extensive that another equally large and not less rich Greece will be added to the doubled Greece which emerged from the victorious Balkan wars"[10]

Through its failure, the Greek invasion may have instead exacerbated the atrocities that it was supposed to prevent. Arnold J. Toynbee blamed the policies pursued by Great Britain and Greece, and the decisions of the Paris Peace conference as factors leading to the atrocities committed by both sides during and after the war: "The Greeks of 'Pontus' and the Turks of the Greek occupied territories, were in some degree victims of Mr. Venizelos's and Mr. Lloyd George's original miscalculations at Paris."[11]

Greek nationalism

The Greek Kingdom and the Greek diaspora in the Balkans and western Asia Minor, according to a 1919 Greek map submitted to the Paris Peace Conference.

One of the main motivations for initiating the war was to realize the Megali (Great) Idea, a core concept of Greek nationalism. The Megali Idea was an irredentist vision of a restoration of a Greater Greece on both sides of the Aegean that would incorporate territories with Greek populations outside the borders of the Kingdom of Greece, which was initially very small. From the time of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, the Megali Idea had played a major role in Greek politics. Greek politicians, since the independence of the Greek state, had made several speeches on the issue of the "historic inevitability of the expansion of the Greek Kingdom."[12] For instance, Greek politician Ioannis Kolettis voiced this conviction in the assembly in 1844: "There are two great centres of Hellenism. Athens is the capital of the Kingdom. Constantinople is the great capital, the City, the dream and hope of all Greeks."

The Great Idea was not merely the product of 19th century nationalism. It was, in one of its aspects, deeply rooted in many Greeks' religious consciousnesses. This aspect was the recovery of Constantinople for Christendom and the reestablishment of the Christian Byzantine Empire which had fallen in 1453. "Ever since this time the recovery of St. Sophia and the City had been handed down from generation to generation as the destiny and aspiration of the Greek Orthodox."[12] The Megali Idea, besides Constantinople, included most traditional lands of the Greeks including Crete, Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace, the Aegean Islands, Cyprus, the coastlands of Asia Minor and Pontus on the Black Sea. Asia Minor was an essential part of the Greek world and an area of enduring Greek cultural dominance. The Greek city-states and later the Byzantine Empire also exercised political control of most of the region, from the Bronze Age to the 12th century, when the first Seljuk Turk raids reached it.[citation needed]

The National Schism in Greece

The National Schism in Greece was the deep split of Greek politics and society between two factions, the one led by Eleftherios Venizelos and the other by King Constantine, that predated World War I but escalated significantly over the decision on which side Greece should support during the war.

The United Kingdom had hoped that strategic considerations might persuade Constantine to join the cause of the Allies, but the King and his supporters insisted on strict neutrality, especially whilst the outcome of the conflict was hard to predict. In addition, family ties and emotional attachments made it difficult for Constantine to decide which side to support during World War I. The King's dilemma was further increased when the Ottomans and the Bulgarians, both having grievances and aspirations against the Greek Kingdom, joined the Central Powers. According to Queen Sophia, Constantine’s dream of "marching into the great city of Hagia Sophia at the head of the Greek army" was still "in his heart" and it appeared as if the King was ready to enter the war against the Ottoman Empire. The conditions, however, were clear: the occupation of Constantinople had to be undertaken without incurring excessive risk.

Though Constantine did remain decidedly neutral, Prime Minister of Greece Eleftherios Venizelos had from an early point decided that Greece's interests would be best served by joining the Entente and started diplomatic efforts with the Allies to prepare the ground for concessions following an eventual victory. The disagreement and the subsequent dismissal of Venizelos by the King resulted in a deep personal rift between the two, which spilled over into their followers and the wider Greek society. Greece became divided into two radically opposed political camps, as Venizelos set up a separate state in Northern Greece, and eventually, with Allied support, forced the King to abdicate. In May 1917, after the exile of Constantine, Venizélos returned to Athens and allied with the Entente. Greek military forces (though divided between supporters of the monarchy and supporters of "Venizelism") began to take part in military operations against the Bulgarian Army on the border.

The act of entering the war and the preceding events resulted in a deep political and social division in post–World War I Greece. The country's foremost political formations, the Venizelist Liberals and the Royalists, already involved in a long and bitter rivalry over pre-war politics, reached a state of outright hatred towards each other. Both parties viewed the other's actions during the First World War as politically illegitimate and treasonous. This enmity inevitably spread throughout Greek society, creating a deep rift that contributed decisively to the failed Asia Minor campaign and resulted in much social unrest in the inter war years.

Greek expansion

Map of Greek and Turkish offensives.

The military aspect of the war began with the Armistice of Mudros. The military operations of the Greco-Turkish war can be roughly divided into three main phases: the first phase, spanning the period from May 1919 to October 1920, encompassed the Greek Landings in Asia Minor and their consolidation along the Aegean Coast. The second phase lasted from October 1920 to August 1921, and was characterised by Greek offensive operations. The third and final phase lasted until August 1922, when the strategic initiative was held by the Turkish Army.

Occupation of Smyrna (May 1919)

Arrival of Crown Prince George in Smyrna, 1919.

Greek soldiers taking their posts in Smyrna (Turkish language: Izmir) amidst the jubilant ethnic Greek population of the city, 15 May 1919.

On May 15, 1919, twenty thousand[13] Greek soldiers landed in Smyrna and took control of the city and its surroundings under cover of the Greek, French, and British navies. Legal justifications for the landings was found in the article 7 of the Armistice of Mudros, which allowed the Allies "to occupy any strategic points in the event of any situation arising which threatens the security of Allies."[14] The Greeks had already brought their forces into Eastern Thrace (apart from Constantinople and its region).

The Christian population of Smyrna (mainly Greeks and Armenians), according to different sources, either formed a minority[6][15] or a majority[16] compared to Muslim Turkish population of the city. Official Ottoman state census statistics of the time illustrate that the population was majorly Muslim and Turkish.[17] The majority of the Greek population residing in the city greeted the Greek troops as liberators.[18] By contrast, the majority of the Muslim population saw this as an invading force and some Turks resented the Greeks as a result of a long history of conflict and antagonism. Nevertheless, the Greek landings were received by and large passively, only facing sporadic resistance, mainly by small groups of irregular Turkish troops in the suburbs[citation needed]. The majority of the Turkish forces in the region either surrendered peacefully to the Greek Army, or fled to the countryside.[citation needed].

As Greek troops advanced to the barracks, where the Ottoman commander Ali Nadir Pasha has been ordered to offer no resistance, a Turkish journalist in the crowd, Hasan Tahsin, fired a shot, killing the Greek standard-bearer.[19] Greek troops started firing both at the barracks and the government buildings. Between 300 to 400 Turks were killed or wounded, against 100 Greeks, two of whom were soldiers, on the first day.[19]

Greek summer offensives (Summer 1920)

During the summer of 1920, the Greek army launched a series of successful offensives in the directions of the Büyük Menderes River (Meander) Valley, Karşıyaka (Peramos) and Alaşehir (Philadelphia). The overall strategic objective of these operations, which were met by increasingly stiff Turkish resistance, was to provide strategic depth to the defence of Izmir (Smyrna). To that end, the Greek zone of occupation was extended over all of Western and most of North-Western Anatolia.

Treaty of Sèvres (August 1920)

Partition of the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty of Sèvres.

In return for the contribution of the Greek army on the side of the Allies, the Allies supported the assignment of eastern Thrace and the millet of Smyrna to Greece. This treaty ended the First World War in Asia Minor and, at the same time, sealed the fate of the Ottoman Empire. Henceforth, the Ottoman Empire would no longer be a European power.

On August 10, 1920, the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Sèvres ceding to Greece Thrace, up to the Chatalja lines. More importantly, Turkey renounced to Greece all rights over Imbros and Tenedos, retaining the small territories of Constantinople, the islands of Marmara, and "a tiny strip of European territory". The Straits of Bosporus were placed under an International Commission, as they were now open to all.

Turkey was furthermore forced to transfer to Greece "the exercise of her rights of sovereignty" over Smyrna in addition to "a considerable Hinterland, merely retaining a ‘flag over an outer fort’." Though Greece administered the Smyrna enclave, its sovereignty remained, nominally, with the Sultan. According to the provisions of the Treaty, Smyrna was to maintain a local parliament and, if within five years time she asked to be incorporated within the Kingdom of Greece, the provision was made that the League of Nations would hold a plebiscite to decide on such matters.

The treaty was never ratified by the Ottoman Empire[20][21] or Greece.[22]

Greek advance (October 1920)

In October 1920, the Greek army advanced further east into Anatolia, with the encouragement of Lloyd George, who intended to increase pressure on the Turkish and Ottoman governments to sign the Treaty of Sèvres. This advance began under the Liberal government of Eleftherios Venizelos, but soon after the offensive began, Venizelos fell from power and was replaced by Dimitrios Gounaris. The strategic objective of these operations was to defeat the Turkish Nationalists and force Mustafa Kemal into peace negotiations. The advancing Greeks, still holding superiority in numbers and modern equipment at this point, had hoped for an early battle in which they were confident of breaking up ill-equipped Turkish forces. Yet they met with little resistance, as the Turks managed to retreat in an orderly fashion and avoid encirclement. Churchill said: "The Greek columns trailed along the country roads passing safely through many ugly defiles, and at their approach the Turks, under strong and sagacious leadership, vanished into the recesses of Anatolia."[23]

Change in Greek government (November 1920)

Anastasios Papoulas, commander-in-chief of the Greek Army of Asia Minor.

During October 1920, King Alexander was bitten by a monkey kept at the Royal Gardens and died within days from sepsis. This incident has been characterized as the "monkey bite that changed the course of Greek history".[24] Venizelos's preference was to declare a Greek republic and thus end the monarchy. However, he was well aware that this would not be acceptable to the European powers.[citation needed]

After King Alexander died leaving no heirs, the general elections scheduled to be held on November 1, 1920 suddenly became the focus of a new conflict between the supporters of Venizelos and the Royalists. The anti-Venizelist faction campaigned on the basis of accusations of internal mismanagement and authoritarian attitudes of the government, which, due to the war, had stayed in power without elections since 1915. At the same time they promoted the idea of disengagement in Asia Minor, without though presenting a clear plan as to how this would happen. On the contrary, Venizelos was identified with the continuation of a war that did not seem to go anywhere. The majority of the Greek people were both war-weary and tired of the almost dictatorial regime of the Venizelists, so opted for change. To the surprise of many, Venizelos won only 118 out of the total 369 seats. The crushing defeat obliged Venizelos and a number of his closest supporters to leave the country. To this day his rationale to call elections at that time is questioned.

The new government under Dimitrios Gounaris prepared for a plebiscite on the return of King Constantine. Noting the King's neutrality during World War I, the Allies warned the Greek government that if he should be returned to the throne they would cut off all financial and military aid to Greece. A month later a plebiscite called for the return of King Constantine. Soon after his return, the King replaced many of the World War I veteran officers and appointed inexperienced monarchist officers to senior positions. The leadership of the campaign was given to Anastasios Papoulas, while King Constantine himself assumed nominally the overall command. In addition, many of the remaining Venizelist officers resigned, appalled by the regime change. The Greek Army which had secured Smyrna and the Asia Minor coast was purged of Venizelos's supporters while it marched on Ankara.

Battles of İnönü (December 1920 – March 1921)

Map showing the advance of the Greek army on the western front.

By December 1920, the Greeks had advanced on two fronts, approaching Eskişehir from the North West and from Smyrna, and had consolidated their occupation zone. In early 1921 they resumed their advance with small scale reconnaissance incursions that met stiff resistance from entrenched Turkish Nationalists, who were increasingly better prepared and equipped as a regular army.

The Greek advance was halted for the first time at the First Battle of İnönü on January 11, 1921. Even though this was a minor confrontation involving only one Greek division, it held political significance for the fledging Turkish revolutionaries. This development led to Allied proposals to amend the Treaty of Sèvres at a conference in London where both the Turkish Revolutionary and Ottoman governments were represented.

Although some agreements were reached with Italy, France and Britain, the decisions were not agreed to by the Greek government, who believed that they still retained the strategic advantage and could yet negotiate from a stronger position. The Greeks initiated another attack on March 27, the Second Battle of İnönü, where the Turkish troops fiercely resisted and finally defeated the Greeks on March 30. The British favoured a Greek territorial expansion but refused to offer any military assistance in order to avoid provoking the French.[citation needed] The Turkish forces received significant assistance from the newly formed Soviet Union.[25]

Shift of support towards Turkish Revolutionaries

By this time all other fronts had been settled in favour of the Turks[citation needed], freeing more resources to focus on the main threat of the Greek Army. The French and the Italians concluded private agreements with the Turkish revolutionaries in recognition of their mounting strength.[26] Turkish revolutionaries bought equipment from Italy and France, who threw in their lot with the Turkish revolutionaries against Greece which was seen as a British client. The Italians used their base in Antalya to assist, especially from the point of view of intelligence, to the Turkish revolutionaries against the Greeks.[27][unreliable source?] There emerged a friendly relationship between the bolshevik Russian SFSR and the Turkish Revolutionaries, which was solidified under Treaty of Moscow in March 1921. The RSFSR supported Kemal with money and ammunition:[28][29] in 1920 alone, the government of Vladimir Lenin supplied the kemalists with 6.000 rifles, over 5 million rifle cartridges, 17.600 projectiles as well as 200.6 kg of gold bullion; in the subsequent two years the amount of aid increased.[30]

Battle of Afyonkarahisar-Eskishehir (July 1921)

King Constantine decorating the victorious war flags outside Kütahya, 1921.

Between 27 June and 20 July 1921, a reinforced Greek army of nine divisions launched a major offensive, the greatest thus far, against the Turkish troops commanded by Ismet Inönü on the line of Afyonkarahisar-Kutahya-Eskishehir. The plan of the Greeks was to cut Anatolia in two, as the above towns were on the main rail-lines connecting the hinterland with the coast. Eventually, after breaking the stiff Turkish defences, they occupied these strategically important centres. Instead of pursuing and decisively crippling the nationalists' military capacity, the Greek Army halted. In consequence, and despite their defeat, the Turks managed to avoid encirclement and made a strategic retreat on the east of the Sakarya River, where they organised their last line of defence.

This was the major decision that sealed the fate of the Greek campaign in Anatolia. The state and Army leadership, including King Constantine, Prime Minister Dimitrios Gounaris, and General Anastasios Papoulas, met at Kutahya where they debated the future of the campaign. The Greeks, with their faltering morale rejuvenated, failed to appraise the strategic situation that favoured the defending side; instead, pressed for a 'final solution', the leadership was polarised into the risky decision to pursue the Turks and attack their last line of defence close to Ankara. The military leadership was cautious and requested for more reinforcements and time to prepare, but did not go against the politicians. Only a few voices supported a defensive stance, including Ioannis Metaxas. Constantine by this time had little actual power and did not argue either way. After a delay of almost a month that gave time to the Turks to organise their defence, seven of the Greek divisions crossed east of the Sakarya River.

Battle of Sakarya (August and September 1921)

Greek lithograph depicting the Battle of Sakarya.

Following the retreat of the Turkish troops under Ismet Inönü in the battle of Kutahya-Eskisehir the Greek Army advanced afresh to the Sakarya River (Sangarios in Greek), less than 100 km (62 mi) west of Ankara. Constantine's battle cry was "to Angora" and the British officers were invited, in anticipation, to a victory dinner in the city of Kemal.[31] It was envisaged that the Turkish Revolutionaries, who had consistently avoided encirclement would be drawn into battle in defence of their capital and destroyed in a battle of attrition.

Despite the Soviet help, supplies were short as the Turkish army prepared to meet the Greeks. Owners of private rifles, guns and ammunition had to surrender them to the army and every household was required to provide a pair of underclothing, sandals.[32] Meanwhile, the Turkish parliament, not happy with the performance of Ismet Inönü as the Commander of the Western Front, wanted Mustafa Kemal and Chief of General Staff Fevzi Cakmak to take control.

The advance of the Greek Army faced fierce resistance which culminated in the 21-day Battle of Sakarya (August 23 – September 13, 1921). The Turkish defense positions were centred on series of heights, and the Greeks had to storm and occupy them. The Turks held certain hilltops and lost others, while some were lost and recaptured several times over. Yet the Turks had to conserve men, for the Greeks held the numerical advantage.[33] The crucial moment came when the Greek army tried to take Haymana, 40 kilometers south of Ankara, but the Turks held out. Greek advance into Anatolia lengthened their lines of supply and communication and they were running out of ammunition. The ferocity of the battle exhausted both sides but the Greeks were the first to withdraw to their previous lines. The thunder of cannon was plainly heard in Ankara throughout the battle.

That was the furthest in Anatolia the Greeks would advance, and within few weeks they withdrew in an orderly manner back to the lines that they had held in June. The Turkish Parliament awarded both Mustafa Kemal and Fevzi Cakmak with the title of Field Marshal for their service in this battle. To this day no other person has received this five-star general title from the Turkish Republic.

Stalemate (September 1921 – August 1922)

Mustafa Kemal's visit to Çay. From left to right: chief of staff of the Western Front Miralay Asim Bey (Gündüz), commander of the Western Front Mirliva Ismet Pasha (İnönü), unknown, military attaché of the Soviet Russia K.K. Zvonarev, ambassador of Soviet Russia S.I. Aralov, Mustafa Kemal Pasha, ambassador of Azerbaijan SSR Ibrahim Abilov, commander of First Army Mirliva Ali Ihsan Pasha (Sâbis), in the morning of 31 March 1922.

Having failed to reach a military solution, Greece appealed to the Allies for help, but early in 1922 Britain, France and Italy decided that the Treaty of Sèvres could not be enforced and had to be revised. In accordance with this decision, under successive treaties, the Italian and French troops evacuated their positions, leaving the Greeks exposed.

In March 1922, the Allies proposed an armistice. Feeling that he now held the strategic advantage, Kemal declined any settlement while the Greeks remained in Anatolia and intensified his efforts to re-organise the Turkish military for the final offensive against the Greeks. At the same time, the Greeks strengthened their defensive positions, but were increasingly demoralised by the inactivity of remaining on the defensive and the prolongation of the war. The Greek government was desperate to get some military support by the British or at least secure a loan, so it developed an ill-thought plan to force diplomatically the British, by threatening their positions in Constantinople, but this never materialised. The occupation of Constantinople would have been an easy task at this time because the Allied troops garrisoned there were much fewer than the Greek forces in Thrace (two divisions). The end result though was instead to weaken the Greek defences in Smyrna by withdrawing troops.

Voices in Greece increasingly called for withdrawal, and demoralizing propaganda spread among the troops. Some of the removed Venizelist officers organised a movement of "National Defense" and planned a coup to secede from Athens, but never gained Venizelos's endorsement and all their actions remained fruitless.

Historian Malcolm Yapp wrote that:[34]

After the failure of the March negotiations the obvious course of action for the Greeks was to withdraw to defensible lines around Izmir but at this point fantasy began to direct Greek policy, the Greeks stayed in their positions and planned a seizure of Constantinople, although this latter project was abandoned in July in the face of Allied opposition.

Turkish counter-attack


Mustafa Kemal with the Turkish revolutionaries before the counter-attack.

The Turks finally launched a counter-attack on August 26, what has come to be known to the Turks as the "Great Offensive" (Büyük Taarruz). The major Greek defense positions were overrun on August 26, and Afyon fell next day. On August 30, the Greek army was defeated decisively at the Battle of Dumlupınar, with half of its soldiers captured or slain and its equipment entirely lost.[35] This date is celebrated as Victory Day, a national holiday in Turkey and salvage day of Kütahya. During the Battle of Dumlupınar, Greek General Nikolaos Trikoupis and General Dionis were captured by the Turkish forces.[36] General Trikoupis only after his capture learned that he was recently appointed Commander-in-Chief in General Hatzianestis' place. On September 1, Mustafa Kemal issued his famous order to the Turkish army: "Armies, your first goal is the Mediterranean, Forward!"[35]

Turkish advance on Smyrna

On September 2, Eskisehir was captured and the Greek government asked Britain to arrange a truce that would at least preserve its rule in Smyrna.[37] Balikesir and Bilecik were taken on September 6, and Aydin the next day. Manisa was taken on September 8. The government in Athens resigned. Turkish cavalry entered into Smyrna on September 9. Gemlik and Mudanya fell on September 11, with an entire Greek division surrendering. The expulsion of the Greek Army from Anatolia was completed on September 14. As historian George Lenczowski has put it: "Once started, the offensive was a dazzling success. Within two weeks the Turks drove the Greek army back to the Mediterranean Sea."[38]

The vanguards of Turkish cavalry entered the outskirts of Smyrna on September 8. At the same day, the Greek headquarters had evacuated the town. The Turkish cavalry rode into the town around eleven o'clock on the Saturday morning of September 9.[39][40] On September 10, with the possibility of social disorder, Mustafa Kemal was quick to issue a proclamation, sentencing any Turkish soldier to death who harmed non-combatants.[41] A few days before the Turkish capture of the city, Kemal's messengers distributed leaflets with this order written in Greek. Kemal said that Ankara government can't be held responsible in the case of an occurrence of a massacre.[42]

During the confusion and anarchy that followed, a great portion of the city was set ablaze in the Great Fire of Smyrna, and the properties of the Greeks and Armenians were pillaged. Most of the eye-witness reports identified that troops from the Turkish army set the fire in the city.[43][44] Moreover, the fact that only the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city were burned, and that the Turkish quarter stood gives credence to the theory that the Turkish troops burned the city.[45]

Chanak Crisis

After re-capturing Smyrna, Turkish forces headed north for Bosporus, the sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles where the Allied garrisons were reinforced by British, French and Italian troops from Constantinople.[37] The British cabinet decided to resist the Turks if necessary at the Dardanelles and to ask for French and Italian help to enable the Greeks to remain in eastern Thrace.[46] The British government also issued a request for military support from its colonies. The response from the colonies was negative (with the exception of New Zealand). Furthermore, Italian and French forces abandoned their positions at the straits and left the British alone to face the Turks. On September 24, Kemal's troops moved into the straits zones and refused British requests to leave. The British cabinet was divided on the matter but eventually any possible armed conflict was prevented. British General Charles Harington, allied commander in Constantinople, kept his men from firing on Turks and warned the British cabinet against any rash adventure. The Greek fleet left Constantinople upon his request. The British finally decided to force the Greeks to withdraw behind Maritsa in Thrace. This convinced Kemal to accept the opening of armistice talks.


Map of Turkey with its western borders as specified by the Treaty of Lausanne.

The Armistice of Mudanya was concluded on October 11, 1922. The Allies (Britain, France, Italy) retained control of eastern Thrace and the Bosporus. The Greeks were to evacuate these areas. The agreement came into force starting October 15, 1922, one day after the Greek side agreed to sign it.

The Armistice of Mudanya was followed by the Treaty of Lausanne, a significant provision of which was an exchange of populations. Over one million Greek Orthodox Christians were displaced; most of them were resettled in Attica and the newly incorporated Greek territories of Macedonia and Thrace and were exchanged with about 500,000 Muslims displaced from the Greek territories.

Factors contributing to the outcome

The first year of the war, the Greeks together with its allies occupied the straits and Constantinople, which stayed under joint occupation until the end of the war. Initially the British and then the French occupied Cilicia. The Italians occupied southwestern Anatolia and the Armenians occupied northeastern Anatolia. In the first years of the war, the wars against the French and Armenians diverted significant Turkish troops from the front against the Greeks. There were also revolts during the war which dispersed troops. After the victories against the French and Armenians the Turks could turn their energies on the Greek intrusion.

The Greeks estimated, despite warnings from the French and British not to underestimate the enemy, that they would need only three months to defeat the already weakened Turks on their own.[47] Exhausted from four years of bloodshed, no Allied power had the will to engage in a new war and relied on Greece. During the Conference of London in February 1921, the Greek prime minister Kalogeropoulos revealed that the morale of the Greek army was excellent and their courage was undoubted, he added that in his eyes the Kemalists were "not regular soldiers; they merely constituted a rabble worthy of little or no consideration".[48] Still, the Allies had doubts about Greek military capacity to advance in Anatolia, facing vast territories, long lines of communication, financial shortcomings of the Greek treasury and above all the toughness of the Turkish peasant/soldier.[49][50] After the Greek failure to rout and defeat the new established Turkish army in the First and Second Battle of İnönü the Italians began to evacuate their occupation zone in southwestern Anatolia in July 1921. Furthermore the Italians also claimed that Greece had violated the limits of the Greek occupation laid down by the Council of Four.[50] France, on the other hand, had its own war in Cilicia with the Turkish nationalists. The French had already sustained high casualties and were looking for a cause to leave Anatolia.[51] After the Greeks had failed again to knock out the Turks in the decisive Battle of Sakarya, the French finally signed the Treaty of Ankara (1921) with the Turks in late October 1921 ending their war in the south. Mustafa Kemal Pasha and his Turkish National Movement were also aided by the split in the Allied camp.[52] The imperial powers, in the scramble for control over the spoils of the dissolved Ottoman Empire, would come into conflict with each other.[52] In addition, the Allies did not fully allow the Greek Navy to effect a blockade of the Black Sea coast, which could have restricted Turkish imports of food and material. Still, the Greek Navy was allowed to bombard some larger ports (June and July 1921 Inebolu; July 1921 Trabzon, Sinop; August 1921 Rize, Trabzon; September 1921 Araklı, Terme, Trabzon; October 1921 Izmit; June 1922 Samsun).[53] The Greek Navy was able to blockade the Black Sea coast especially before and during the First and Second İnönü, Kütahya–Eskişehir and Sakarya battles, preventing weapon and ammunition shipments.[54]

Having adequate supplies was a constant problem for the Greek Army. Although it was not lacking in men, courage or enthusiasm, it was soon lacking in nearly everything else. Due to her poor economy, Greece could not sustain long-term mobilisation. According to a British report from May 1922, 60,000 Anatolian native Greeks, Armenians and Circassians served under arms in the Greek occupation (of this number, 6,000–10,000 were Circassians).[55] In comparison, the Turks had also difficulties to find enough fit men, as a result of 1,5 million military casualties during World War I.[56] Very soon, the Greek Army exceeded the limits of its logistical structure and had no way of retaining such a large territory under constant attack by initially irregular and later regular Turkish troops fighting for their homeland. The idea that such large force could sustain offensive by mainly "living off the land" proved wrong. Although the Greek Army had to retain a large territory after September 1921, the Greek Army was more motorized than the Turkish Army.[57] The Greek Army had in addition to 63,000 animals for transportation, 4,036 trucks and 1,776 automobiles/ambulances,[57] whereas the Turkish Army relied on transportation with animals. They had 67,000 animals (of whom were used as: 3,141 horse carts, 1,970 ox carts, 2,318 tumbrels and 71 phaetons), but only 198 trucks and 33 automobiles/ambulances.[57]

As the supply situation worsened for the Greeks, things improved for the Turks.[citation needed] After the Armistice of Mudros, the Allies had dissolved the Ottoman army, confiscated all Ottoman weapons (rifles, machine guns, artilleries, aeroplanes and warships) and ammunition,[58] hence the Turkish National Movement which was in the progress of establishing a new army, was in desperate need of weapons. In addition to the weapons not yet confiscated by the Allies,[59] they enjoyed Soviet support from abroad, in return for giving Batum to the Soviet Union. The Soviets also provided monetary aid to the Turkish National Movement, not to the extent that they promised but almost in sufficient amount to make up the large deficiencies in the promised supply of arms.[citation needed] One of the main reasons for Soviet support was that Allied forces were fighting on Russian soil against the Bolshevik regime, therefore the Turkish opposition was much favored by Moscow.[52] The Italians were embittered from their loss of the Smyrna mandate to the Greeks, and they used their base in Antalya to arm and train Turkish troops to assist the Kemalists against the Greeks.[60][page needed]

A British military attaché, who inspected the Greek army in June 1921, was quoted as saying, "more efficient fighting machine than I have ever seen it."[61] Later he wrote: "The Greek Army of Asia Minor, which now stood ready and eager to advance, was the most formidable force the nation had ever put into field. Its morale was high. Judged by Balkan standards, its staff was capable, its discipline and organization good.".[62] Turkish troops had a determined and competent strategic and tactical command, manned by World War I veterans. The Turkish army enjoyed the advantage of being in defence, executed in the new form of 'area defence'. At the climax of the Greek offensive, Mustafa Kemal commanded his troops:[63]

There is no such thing as a line of defence. Only an area to defend. That area consists of the entire Motherland. Not one inch of our country can be abandoned unless drenched with the blood of its people.

Regardless of other factors, the contrast between the motives and strategic positions of the two sides contributed decisively to the outcome. The Turks were defending their homeland against what they perceived as an imperialist attack. Mustafa Kemal was an intelligent politician who could present himself as revolutionary to the communists, protector of tradition and order to the conservatives, patriot soldier to the nationalists, and a Muslim leader for the religious, so he was able to recruit all Turkish elements and motivate them to fight. In his public speeches, he built up the idea of Anatolia as a "kind of fortress against all the aggressions directed to the East". The struggle was not about the Turks alone but "it is the cause of the east", he added. The Turkish National Movement attracted sympathizers especially from the Muslims of the far east countries, who were living under colonial regimes (particularly British and French) and they perceived the Turkish National Movement as a hope against imperialism.[64] The Khilafet Committee in Bombay started a fund to help the Turkish National struggle and sent both financial aid and constant letters of encouragement:[64]

Mustafa Kemal Pasha has done wonders and you have no idea how people in British India adore his name.... We are all waiting to know the terms on which Angora offers peace to the Greeks.... May the Great Allah grant victory to the Armies of Gazi Mustafa Kemal and save Turkey from her enemies...

Not all of the money arrived, and Mustafa Kemal decided not use the money that was sent by the Khilafet Committee. The money was restored in the Ottoman Bank. After the war, it was later used for the founding of the Türkiye İş Bankası.[65]

Atrocities and claims of ethnic cleansing by both sides

Greek massacres of Turks

Turkish medics arrived at a town to rescue wounded on the way to Izmir after Greek forces abandoned the town (August 1922).

British historian Arnold J. Toynbee wrote that there were organized atrocities since the Greek occupation of Smyrna on 15 May 1919. Toynbee also stated that he and his wife were witnesses to the atrocities perpetrated by Greeks in the Yalova, Gemlik, and Izmit areas and they not only obtained abundant material evidence in the shape of "burnt and plundered houses, recent corpses, and terror stricken survivors" but also witnessed robbery by Greek civilians and arsons by Greek soldiers in uniform in the act of perpetration.[66] Toynbee wrote that as soon as the Greek Army landed, they started committing atrocities against the Turkish civilians, as they "laid waste the fertile Maender (Meander) Valley", and forced thousands of Turks to take refuge outside the borders of the areas controlled by the Greeks.[67] Historian Taner Akçam noted that a British officer reported as follows:[68]

"The National forces were established solely for the purpose of fighting the Greeks..,. The Turks are willing to remain under the control of any other state.,.. There was not even an organized resistance at the time of the Greek occupation. Yet the Greeks are persisting in their oppression, and they have continued to burn villages, kill Turks and rape and kill women and young girls and throttle to death children."

James Harbord, describing the first months of the occupation to the American Senate, wrote that[69] "The Greek troops and the local Greeks who had joined them in arms started a general massacre of the Mussulmen population in which the officials and Ottoman officers and soldiers as well as the peaceful inhabitants were indiscriminately put to death." [70] Harold Armstrong, a British officer who was a member of the Inter-Allied Commission, reported that as the Greeks pushed out from Smynra, they massacred and raped civilians, and burned and pillaged as they went.[71] Marjorie Housepian wrote that 4000 Smyrna Muslims were killed by Greek forces.[72] Johannes Kolmodin was a Swedish orientalist in Smyrna. He wrote in his letters that the Greek army had burned 250 Turkish villages.[73] In one village the Greek army demanded 500 gold liras to spare the town; however, after payment, the village was still sacked.[74]

The Inter-Allied commission, consisting of British, French, American and Italian officers,[lower-alpha 1] and the representative of the Geneva International Red Cross, M. Gehri, prepared two separate collaborative reports on their investigations in the Yalova-Gemlik Peninsula. These reports found that Greek forces committed systematic atrocities against the Turkish inhabitants.[75] And the commissioners mentioned the "burning and looting of Turkish villages", the "explosion of violence of Greeks and Armenians against the Turks", and "a systematic plan of destruction and extinction of the Moslem population".[76] In their report of the 23rd May 1921, the Inter-Allied commission stated as follows:[77]

A distinct and regular method appears to have been followed in the destruction of villages, group by group, for the last two months... there is a systematic plan of destruction of Turkish villages and extinction of the Muslim population. This plan is being carried out by Greek and Armenian bands, which appear to operate under Greek instructions and sometimes even with the assistance of detachments of regular troops.

The Inter-Allied commission also stated that the destruction of villages and the disappearance of the Muslim population might have as its objective to create in this region a political situation favourable to the Greek Government.[77]

Arnold J. Toynbee wrote that they obtained convincing evidence that similar atrocities had been started in wide areas all over the remainder of the Greek-occupied territories since June 1921.[66] Toynbee argued that "the situation of the Turks in Smyrna City had become what could be called without exaggeration a 'reign of terror', it was to be inferred that their treatment in the country districts had grown worse in proportion."[78]

Greek scorched-earth policy

According to a number of sources, the retreating Greek army carried out a scorched-earth policy while fleeing from Anatolia during the final phase of the war.[79] Historian of the Middle East, Sydney Nettleton Fisher wrote that: "The Greek army in retreat pursued a burned-earth policy and committed every known outrage against defenceless Turkish villagers in its path."[79] Norman M. Naimark noted that "the Greek retreat was even more devastating for the local population than the occupation".[80]

James Loder Park, the U.S. Vice-Consul in Constantinople at the time, who toured much of the devastated area immediately after the Greek evacuation, described the situation in the surrounding cities and towns of İzmir he has seen, as follows:[81]

Manisa... almost completely wiped out by fire... 10,300 houses, 15 mosques, 2 baths, 2,278 shops, 19 hotels, 26 villas... [destroyed]. Cassaba (present day Turgutlu) was a town of 40,000 souls, 3,000 of whom were non-Muslims. Of these 37,000 Turks only 6,000 could be accounted for among the living, while 1,000 Turks were known to have been shot or burned to death. Of the 2,000 buildings that constituted the city, only 200 remained standing. Ample testimony was available to the effect that the city was systematically destroyed by Greek soldiers, assisted by a number of Greek and Armenian civilians. Kerosene and gasoline were freely used to make the destruction more certain, rapid and complete. Alaşehir, hand pumps were used to soak the walls of the buildings with Kerosene. As we examined the ruins of the city, we discovered a number of skulls and bones, charred and black, with remnants of hair and flesh clinging to them. Upon our insistence a number of graves having a fresh-made appearance were actually opened for us as we were fully satisfied that these bodies were not more than four weeks old. [the time of the Greek retreat through Alaşehir]

Consul Park concluded:[81]

  1. The destruction of the interior cities visited by our party was carried out by Greeks.
  2. The percentages of buildings destroyed in each of the last four cities referred to were: Manisa 90 percent, Cassaba (Turgutlu) 90 percent, Alaşehir 70 percent, Salihli 65 percent.
  3. The burning of these cities was not desultory, nor intermittent, nor accidental, but well planned and thoroughly organized.
  4. There were many instances of physical violence, most of which was deliberate and wanton. Without complete figures, which were impossible to obtain, it may safely be surmised that 'atrocities' committed by retiring Greeks numbered well into thousands in the four cities under consideration. These consisted of all three of the usual type of such atrocities, namely murder, torture and rape.

Kinross wrote, "Already most of the towns in its path were in ruins. One third of Ushak no longer existed. Alashehir was no more than a dark scorched cavity, defacing the hillside. Village after village had been reduced to an ash-heap. Out of the eighteen thousand buildings in the historic holy city of Manisa, only five hundred remained."[82]

It is estimated some 3,000 lives had been lost in the burning of Alaşehir alone.[83] In one of the examples of the Greek atrocities during the retreat, on 14 February 1922, in the Turkish village of Karatepe in Aydin Vilayeti, after being surrounded by the Greeks, all the inhabitants were put into the mosque, then the mosque was burned. The few who escaped fire were shot.[84] The Italian consul, M. Miazzi, reported that he had just visited a Turkish village, where Greeks had slaughtered some sixty women and children. This report was then corroborated by Captain Kocher, the French consul.[85]

Turkish massacres of Greeks and Armenians

Rudolph J. Rummel notes that from 1900 to 1923, various Turkish regimes killed from 3,500,000 to over 4,300,000 Armenians, Greeks, Nestorians, and other Christians.[86][87] Rummel estimates that 440,000 Armenian civilians were killed and 264,000 Greek civilians were killed by Turkish forces during the Turkish War of Independence between 1919 and 1922.[88] British historian and journalist Arnold J. Toynbee stated that when he toured the region[where?] he saw numerous Greek villages that had been burned to the ground. Toynbee also stated that the Turkish troops had clearly, individually and deliberately burned down each house in these villages, pouring petrol on them and taking care to ensure that they were totally destroyed.[89] There were massacres throughout 1920–23, the period of the Turkish War of Independence, especially of Armenians in the East and the South, and against the Greeks in the Black Sea Region.[90] There was also significant continuity between the organizers of the massacres between 1915–1917 and 1919–1921 in Eastern Anatolia.[91]

A Turkish governor, Ebubekir Hazim Tepeyran of the Sivas province, said in 1919 that the massacres were so horrible that he could not bear to report them. He referred to the atrocities committed against Greeks in the Black Sea region, and according to the official tally 11,181 Greeks were murdered in 1921 by the Central Army under the command of Nurettin Pasha (who is infamous for the killing of Archbishop Chrysostomos).[92] Some parliamentary deputies demanded Nurettin Pasha to be sentenced to death and it was decided to put him on trial although the trial was later revoked by the intervention of Mustafa Kemal. Taner Akçam wrote that according to one newspaper, Nurettin Pasha had suggested to kill all the remaining Greek and Armenian populations in Anatolia, a suggestion rejected by Mustafa Kemal.[92]

There were also several contemporaneous Western newspaper articles reporting the atrocities committed by Turkish forces against Christian population living in Anatolia, mainly Greek and Armenian civilians.[93][94][95][96][97][98] For instance, according to the London Times, "The Turkish authorities frankly state it is their deliberate intention to let all the Greeks die, and their actions support their statement."[93] An Irish paper, the Belfast News Letter wrote, "The appalling tale of barbarity and cruelty now being practiced by the Angora Turks is part of a systematic policy of extermination of Christian minorities in Asia Minor."[98] According to the Christian Science Monitor, the Turks felt that they needed to murder their Christian minorities due to Christian superiority in terms of industriousness and the consequent Turkish feelings of jealously and inferiority. The paper wrote: "The result has been to breed feelings of alarm and jealously in the minds of the Turks which in later years have driven them to depression. They believe that they cannot compete with their Christian subjects in the arts of peace and that the Christians and Greeks especially are too industrious and too well educated as rivals. Therefore from time to time they have striven to try and redress the balance by expulsion and massacre. That has been the position generations past in Turkey again if the Great powers are callous and unwise enough to attempt to perpetuate Turkish misrule over Christians."[99] According to the newspaper the Scotsman, on August 18 of 1920, in the Feival district of Karamusal, South-East of Ismid in Asia Minor, the Turks massacred 5,000 Christians.[94] There were also massacres during this period against Armenians, continuing the policies of the 1915 Armenian Genocide according to some Western newspapers.[100] On February 25, 1922 24 Greek villages in the Pontus region were burnt to the ground. An American newspaper, the Atlanta Observer wrote: "The smell of the burning bodies of women and children in Pontus" said the message "comes as a warning of what is awaiting the Christian in Asia Minor after the withdrawal of the Hellenic army."[95] In the first few months of 1922, 10,000 Greeks were killed by advancing Kemalist forces, according to Belfast News Letter.[93][98] According to the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin the Turks continued the practice of slavery, seizing women and children for their harems and raping numerous women.[93][98][101] The Christian Science Monitor wrote that Turkish authorities also prevented missionaries and humanitarian aid groups from assisting Greek civilians who had their homes burned, the Turkish authorities leaving these people to die despite abundant aid. The Christian Science Monitor wrote: "the Turks are trying to exterminate the Greek population with more vigor than they exercised towards the Armenians in 1915."[96]

Atrocities against Pontic Greeks living in the Pontus region is recognized in Greece and Cyprus[102] as the Pontian Genocide. According to a proclamation made in 2002 by the then-governor of New York (where a sizeable population of Greek Americans resides), George Pataki, the Greeks of Asia Minor endured immeasurable cruelty during a Turkish government-sanctioned systematic campaign to displace them; destroying Greek towns and villages and slaughtering additional hundreds of thousands of civilians in areas where Greeks composed a majority, as on the Black Sea coast, Pontus, and areas around Smyrna; those who survived were exiled from Turkey and today they and their descendants live throughout the Greek diaspora.[103]

Greek victims of the Great Fire of Smyrna.

By 9 September 1922, the Turkish army had entered Smyrna, with the Greek authorities having left two days before. Large scale disorder followed, with the Christian population suffering under attacks from soldiers and Turkish inhabitants. The Greek archbishop Chrysostomos had been lynched by a mob which included Turkish soldiers, and on September 13, a fire from the Armenian quarter of the city had engulfed the Christian waterfront of the city, leaving the city devastated. The responsibility for the fire is a controversial issue, some sources blame Turks, and some sources blame Greeks or Armenians. Some 50,000[104] to 100,000[105] Greeks and Armenians were killed in the fire and accompanying massacres.

According to the population exchange treaty signed by both the Turkish and Greek governments, Greek orthodox citizens of Turkey and Turkish and Greek Muslim citizens residing in Greece were subjected to the population exchange between these two countries. Approximately 1300 thousand Orthodox Cristians, being ethnic Greeks and ethnic Turks from Turkey and about 800 thousand Turks and Greek Muslims from Greece were uprooted from their homelands. M. Norman Naimark claimed that this treaty was the last part of an ethnic cleansing campaign to create an ethnically pure homeland for the Turks[106] Historian Dinah Shelton similarly wrote that "the Lausanne Treaty completed the forcible transfer of the country's Greeks."[107]

Larger part of the Greek population was forced to leave their ancestral homelands of Ionia, Pontus and Eastern Thrace between 1914–22. These refugees, as well as the Greek Americans with origins in Anatolia, were not allowed to return to their homelands after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne.

See also


  1. General Hare, the British Delegate; General Bunoust, the French Delegate; General Dall'Olio, the Italian Delegate; Admiral Bristol, the American Delegate.


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