868.00/7–445

No. 458
The Ambassador in Greece (MacVeagh) to the Secretary of State
secret
No. 1282

Subject: Developments in the North of Greece: Frontier Incidents and Anglo-Russian Relations.

Sir: Following my despatch No. 1213 of June 231 entitled “Report on Developments in the North of Greece”, I have the honor to enclose herewith a copy of a recent secret report (No. R 125–45 of July 2) rendered to the War Department by the Assistant Military Attaché of this Embassy whom I have caused to be stationed temporarily in Salonika as a special political observer. This report discusses recent incidents, beginning with the 20th of May and ending with the 20th of June, occurring along both the Yugoslav and Bulgarian borders of Greece, most of which have been, as the report states, insignificant in themselves but which in the total are undeniably impressive, and which must be considered as having at least a psychological [Page 671]importance in connection with the present international situation in the Balkans.

In an appendix attached to the report the Department will find a list of the incidents treated, three of which Captain McNeill singles out for special consideration as having been particularly disturbing to the British authorities. Two of these occurred early in the period under consideration, and are credited by Captain McNeill with altering the British attitude toward the Russians in the entire area under consideration. “Up to that time they had regarded the frontier incidents more or less as pin pricks due to irresponsible guards”, the irresponsibility being evinced on both sides. After May 30, however, “General Boucher decided to treat the Russians in the same way that they treated his own troops. The frontier was closed; and only upon prior notice and authorization from the ACC in Bulgaria, or the British Embassy in Belgrade, will Russians be admitted in the future …2 and to avoid further incidents, British troops were forbidden to approach nearer than one mile from the frontier, without special permission.”

Captain McNeill notes activity on the part of the Communist Party in Greece aimed apparently at intensifying this distrustful situation. This activity, he says, takes the form of spreading disaffection among the Indian troops in the North, even going so far as “bribery, in the form of offers of money in exchange for weapons and ammunition”. When he adds, however, that “British officers generally believe that the policies of the local Communist Party, as well as its monetary resources, stem from Russian sources, probably through the mediation of Bulgarian and Yugoslav agents”, he should not be understood to mean more than he says. The fact reported is pertinent so far as it goes, since the belief of the British officers must be considered a psychological element in the situation. But, according to secret sources both British and American, no direct evidence has yet been found to prove financial connection between the Soviets and the KKE. It seems more likely that the latter, which together with its democratic “front”, the EAM, undoubtedly continues to constitute the richest political organization in Greece, still derives its monetary resources from the gold contributed by the British to the resistance movement during the Greek occupation. The question of the extent of Russian influence on KKE policies is, of course, another matter, but even here “stemming from Russian sources” may be taken to mean too much. Captain McNeill’s final words in this connection are, “KKE couriers between Bulgaria and Greece have been intercepted on two occasions, but the documents in their possession were both times of a relatively innocuous nature.” Possibly the Russians, [Page 672]who are showing themselves in these days to be supreme realists, do not feel it necessary, in order to keep the leftist pot here boiling merrily, to do more than fan the flames with a sympathetic press and radio and keep the local communists in a constant state of hopeful expectation of more definite assistance to come.

In conclusion Captain McNeill shrewdly suggests that the Russians, “unaccustomed to the subtlety of a free press” may suspect the British of backing present Greek agitation for territorial revision (see my despatch No. 1228 of June 16 entitled “Continuing Agitation regarding Greek Territorial Claims”3). But he adds with wisdom that “the behavior of the Bulgarian and Yugoslav frontier guards, and of the Russians in Bulgaria, has certainly not been such as to inspire confidence on the part of the Greeks and British, and, under present circumstances, the Northern Greek frontier is a constant irritant, not only to Greco-Bulgar and Greco-Yugoslav, but also to Anglo-Russian relations.”

The Department will note that Captain McNeill’s report does not cover the situation on the Greek northwestern frontier with Albania. This situation, which has evoked excited allegations on the part of the Greeks of a definite plan to exterminate the Greek population of northern Epirus, is more difficult to appraise from here because most of the alleged trouble is located on the Albanian side of the border. Also the lack of military forces in the area has so far kept this trouble from touching directly on the British nerve. But that it may eventually become a problem necessitating attention by the Great Powers seems only too likely and separate despatches will be forwarded shortly in its regard.

Respectfully yours,

Lincoln MacVeagh
[Enclosure]
secret
No. R 125–15

1. During the past two months, British officers stationed in Northern Greece have felt a growing impatience and distrust of Russian behavior toward them. This irritation has arisen chiefly from a series of frontier incidents in which British and Greek troops were treated more as enemies than as allies. In retaliation, British authorities decided early in June not to admit any future Russian parties which might wish to visit Greece unless such visits were authorized by Allied Control Commission, Sofia. … A further index of worsening relations lies in the fact that, about a month ago, the Communist Party in Northern Greece began a campaign of propaganda, rumors, [Page 673]and bribery designed to demoralize the British and especially the Indian troops which are stationed there.

The Frontier Incidents:

2. Most of the clashes on the northern frontier of Greece are, in themselves, quite insignificant. (See list for 1 month period, 20 May–20 June, Appendix A.) They seem to arise chiefly from cockiness on the part of the Bulgarian frontier guards (due to real or imagined Russian support); and involve nothing more serious than smuggling and cattle rustling. There have been, however, three incidents during the past six weeks which have disturbed the British authorities. These incidents are: Capt. Gill’s loss of a jeep north of Komotiní; the arrest and interrogation of a patrol which blundered into Bulgaria; the arrest and detention of Mr. King, the British Consul in Salonika when he stepped across the Yugoslav frontier.

3. On 15 May 1945, Capt. Gill, an Indian of the 2/11 Sikhs, was detailed to supervise a Boy Scout picnic, which was transported in British army vehicles to a picnic place within sight of the Bulgarian frontier post on the road North of Komotiní, Thrace. He drove ahead in his jeep to tell the Bulgar guard that his party was only a Boy Scout picnic, not the advance guard of an invasion; but when he came up to the Bulgar post (perhaps 30 yds beyond an unmarked frontier line), he found himself covered by rifles, was ordered to fold his arms and wait. After five hours a Russian officer arrived at the frontier post and released Capt. Gill, but kept the jeep. Repeated representations to the ACC in Sofia have not yet secured the return of the jeep.

4. On 29 May a mixed British-Greek patrol in 3 carriers misread their map and crossed over into Bulgaria (at Topoinitsa, NE of Serres). About 100 yards across the boundary, the patrol was surrounded by a Bulgarian force, and after some delay was escorted to a Bulgarian barracks in Petritsi [Petrich?]. On the following day a Russian colonel and another officer came from Sofia, and proceeded to interrogate the members of the patrol separately. Questions were asked about British and Greek troop distribution and strength, unit identifications, morale, equipment, whether or not British troops were going to the Far East, economic conditions in Greece, the strength of ELAS, etc. With the exception of the Greek interpreter, all the members of the patrol refused to give any information, despite some threats directed against the Greek soldiers. Following the interrogation, the Russian officers left, and two days later (1 June) the patrol was brought back to the frontier and released (with the carriers). Before release, however, the interpreter was required to sign a statement to the effect that he had not been interrogated and had been well treated. Note: It appears that the Bulgarian frontier guard [Page 674]reported the three carriers as tanks, and thought the patrol was the spearhead of an invasion. They were most surprised to find the carriers unarmed, and believed at first that the armament had somehow been jettisoned before capture.

5. On 17 June, Mr. King, the British Consul in Salonika, went picnicking north of Ardea. He and two Red Cross nurses walked up toward the frontier, stopped short of a barbed wire entanglement which they took to be the boundary mark, and fell into conversation with some Yugoslav frontier guards. When Mr. King prepared to leave, the guards told him that he was inside Yugoslavia (by about 20 yards) and refused to permit him to retire without approval from higher authority. High enough authority for Mr. King’s release was not found short of Bitolj, and he and the two nurses were not finally returned to Greece until a week later. Having walked the distance from the frontier to Bitolj (the nurses rode on requisitioned mules), Mr. King and his party rode back to the frontier in a broken down civilian car. They were not interrogated; saw but had no dealings with a Russian mission in Bitolj.

British Retaliation:

6. The turning point in the British attitude toward the Russians came after the interrogation of their patrol on 30 May. Up to that time they had regarded the frontier incidents more or less as pin pricks due to irresponsible guards. Russian parties had been allowed to cross the Greek frontier on several occasions upon the presentation of identification papers, and Russian deserters had not been interrogated, but were handed over to the Russian mission in Athens.

7. As soon as the details of the interrogation of the patrol were known, General Boucher decided to treat the Russians in the same way that they treated his own troops. The frontier was closed; and only upon prior notice and authorization from the ACC in Bulgaria, or the British Embassy in Belgrade, will Russians be admitted in the future. (Despite this order, a party of 4 Russian officers and a driver bluffed their way across the Bulgarian frontier 24 June, and “disappeared” as far as the British knew until they turned up in Athens two days later.) …

8. To avoid further incidents, British troops were forbidden to approach nearer than 1 mile from the frontier, without special permission.

Policy of the Communist Party in Greece toward British troops:

9. A further factor which disturbs the British in their relations with the Russians is the current effort of the Communist Party to demoralize British troops. The effort has been directed especially toward the Indians, and takes the form (a) of rumors (e. g., the British [Page 675]will not allow Indian soldiers to return to India, having sunk the last three ships which were carrying Indian troops home); (b) of propaganda against the British Raj, advocating immediate independence for India; and (c) of bribery, in the form of offers of money in exchange for weapons and ammunition. British officers generally believe that the policies of the local Communist Party, as well as its monetary resources, stem from Russian sources, probably through the mediation of Bulgarian and Yugoslav agents. KKE couriers between Bulgaria and Greece have been intercepted on two occasions, but the documents in their possession were both times of a relatively innocuous nature.

Comment:

10. It must be borne in mind that Greek newspapers of the Right constantly speak of frontier revisions, and of a Greek-British campaign against Sofia. Doubtless the Russians, unaccustomed to the subtlety of a free press, suspect that the British back such a scheme. The interrogation of the British patrol came, in fact, only a few days after a leading Salonika newspaper had announced under banner headlines that British and Greek troops were about to invade and occupy Bulgaria, so that the Bulgarian frontier post had some slight excuse for regarding the patrol as a spearhead of invasion.

11. Nevertheless, the behavior of the Bulgarian and Yugoslav frontier guards, and of the Russians in Bulgaria has certainly not been such as to inspire confidence on the part of the Greeks and British, and, under present circumstances, the Northern Greek frontier is a constant irritant, not only to Greco-Bulgar and Greco-Yugoslav, but also to Anglo-Russian relations.

William H. McNeill
,
Captain, C. A. C., Asst. Military Attaché.

Approved and forwarded.
Sterling L. Larrabee ,
Lt. Colonel, G. S. C., Military Attaché.

[Appendix A]
secret
20 May Eight Bulgar soldiers occupied the Greek frontier post at Tsingeli (north of Alexandroupolis). Greek National Guard protested to Bulgarian Captain, who withdrew his men.
22 May Patrol of 167 Greek National Guard (1 officer, and 10 men) wandered into Bulgaria north of Komotiní by mistake. They were arrested, but released when mistake was explained.
[Page 676]23 May National Guard patrol was ambushed by Bulgarians North of Komotiní at a point within Greek territory. Patrol was searched, interrogated and then released. Bulgarians said they had mistaken the Greek soldiers for smugglers.
29 May Patrol of Camerons (10 British OR’s and 5 Greek National Guard) were captured by Bulgars when they crossed frontier by mistake northeast of Serres. Patrol was escorted to Petritsi, interrogated by Russian officers, released 1 June.
30 May Patrol of First Royal Sussex fired on from Bulgarian territory by light machine gun. No casualties. Bulgarians explained that they had not seen troops in that area previously, and thought they were about to cross into Bulgaria.
30 May Yugoslav border guards seized a Greek civilian and his donkey near Gevgeli, in a place which Greeks claim to be part of Greece and Yugoslav guards say is in Yugoslavia. Man has not been returned.
31 May National Guard reports that two Bulgarian soldiers crossed Greek frontier north of Xánthi, kidnapped two Greek civilians, and took them to Bulgaria.
1 June Bulgars scuttled back across Greek frontier upon approach of British patrol. Claimed they had been seeking water.
4 June Patrol of Greek National Guard fired on by Bulgars in area north of Drama, about 4 kms. inside Greek territory. Bulgars withdrew when fire was returned. No casualties.
9 June Seven Bulgarian soldiers crossed Greek frontier north of Ano Parroia, beat a Greek shepherd and stole a few of his sheep.
10 June Several armed Bulgars crossed the Greek frontier north of Potomoi, asked a Greek cowherd about British troops in neighborhood. When told there were British close by (falsely) they moved off northwards.
10 June Bulgarian civilian crossed Greek frontier in northern tip of Evros province. When Greek told him to get back to Bulgaria, Bulgarian frontier guard came across the line and beat up the remonstrating Greek.
13 June One officer and 7 men of the Greek National Guard crossed Bulgarian frontier north of Potomoi to the Bulgarian frontier post. The patrol was sent out to reclaim 700 goats which had been stolen by Bulgarians some days before; and arrangements had been made[Page 677]with Bulgaria frontier post to effect the return. But when National Guard patrol had just crossed the line, Bulgarians ambushed them, killed two of their horses, and took the patrol prisoner. One of the men was released on the night of 14 June, and release of the rest was promised. But neither men nor goats have yet been returned (27 June).
17 June Mr. King, British Consul in Salonika, was taken prisoner by Yugoslav border guards North of Ardea when he crossed over the frontier inadvertently. Held for a week, he was returned to Greek frontier post north of Florina on 24 June.
18 June Three Bulgarians (2 soldiers and 1 civilian), crossed Greek border near Koula, attacked a Greek shepherd and stole some clothing from him. Greek frontier guard opened fire, and Bulgarians escaped across the border.
20 June Six Greek civilians were kidnapped near Albanian frontier, and taken to Bileshte in Albania (south of Lake Mikra Prespa).
  1. Document No. 454.
  2. Ellipsis in the original.
  3. Not printed.