I Was There! - Behind ELAS Lines in Dissension-Torn Athens

The War Illustrated, Volume 8, No. 197, Page 537, January 5, 1945.

Political differences in Greece, partly submerged during the fight against the common enemy, flared into open fighting after Athens had been freed of the German yoke. On December 8, 1944, B.U.P. correspondent James Earl Roper sent this dispatch from the Greek capital, where the insurgent ELAS (Greek partisans) were being dealt with by Greek Government and British troops.

With a group of American war correspondents (our armbands served as safe-conduct passes) we moved through ELAS "territory" for three hours. I saw well-armed men, well supplied with ammunition, manning German-built pillboxes and putting the finishing touches to air-raid shelter trenches and firing points. The ELAS soldiers were carrying a variety of rifles, all had bandoliers and seemed to have plenty of ammunition, including German "potato masher" hand grenades.

I saw one woman guerilla. She was about 23, and was proudly carrying a red-snapper concussion grenade of the Italian type. The rattle of small arms fire sounded almost continuously, except when we reached points deep in the ELAS positions in the rebel-held part of Athens. Sitting at a street corner on a camp stool with stretchers near him was a Greek doctor, waiting for casualties.

House windows were shuttered, but there were people living in those houses. Sometimes the shutters flew back suddenly and suspicious faces peered out and down at us. Suspicion thawed when the Greeks made out the armbands of the war correspondents.

Most of the ordinary civilians I saw looked very tired. Many of them seemed hungry and some seemed nervous. It was easy getting into the ELAS lines. I walked out towards the ELAS strongholds, shook off a British soldier who warned me not to go farther, and then ran into an ELAS guerilla, who passed me back to another trooper, and so on.

Getting ouot again was not so easy. As we started to infiltrate back to the British lines, a volley of rifle bullets slammed suddenly down the boulevard. I made a dash for it, racing across the open street with the rifle bullets speeding my progress. I ran on until I reached the middle of the next street, when a pretty Greek girl flagged me down with a wave of the hand and a laugh.

Bullets were still flying around, and the position looked none too happy until a British armoured car rolled up to the scene with British soldiers on the look-out for trouble. Then a jeep came along and we got a lift back to central Athens.

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