Democratic Army of Greece

The Democratic Army of Greece (DAG; Greek: Δημοκρατικός Στρατός Ελλάδας - ΔΣΕ, romanizedDimokratikós Stratós Elládas - DSE) was the army founded by the Communist Party of Greece during the Greek Civil War (1946–1949). At its height, it had a strength of around 50,000 men and women.

Democratic Army of Greece
Δημοκρατικός Στρατός Ελλάδας
LeadersNikos Zachariadis (Gen. Sec. of the KKE)
Markos Vafiadis (military leader, President of the Provisional Government)
Dates of operation1946–1949
Democratic Government (from 1947)
Left-wing nationalism
Hellenic nationalism
Minorities rights
AlliesSoviet Union
Eastern Bloc
Yugoslavia (until July 1949)
OpponentsKingdom of Greece, Hellenic Army, Hellenic Gendarmerie, Britain, British Army, America, American Army
Battles and wars

The DSE was backed up by the Popular Civil Guard (Λαϊκή Πολιτοφυλακή - ΛΠ), the Communist Party's security police force.


After the liberation of Greece from the Axis occupation, the Dekemvriana and the Varkiza Agreement (in which ELAS, the main Partisan Army in Greece, agreed to a disarmament), the persecution of left wing citizens, communists and officials of EAM, started. There were 166 different anti-communist groups, such as those of Sourlas and Kalabalikis in Thessaly, and Papadopoulos in Macedonia. Archives of D.S. National Solidarity indicate that by 31 March 1946, nationwide, 1,289 suspected communists had been killed, 6,671 had been wounded, 84,931 had been arrested, 165 been raped, and the property of 18,767 was looted. Imprisoned suspected communists numbered in excess of 30,000. Those responsible for the murders, according to the DSE, were collaborationist groups, national guards, rural police, and members of the British armed forces.

One of the flags used by the Greek Democratic Army during the Greek Civil War, from 1946–1949.[1]

After the second party congress of KKE in February 1946, approximately 250 leftist self-defence militias, known as Groups of Democratic Armed Persecuted Fighters (ODEKA), were formed across Greece, totaling some 3,000 men. Most of the militiamen were former ELAS fighters.[2] By April, ODEKA membership had grown to 4,400 fighters, reaching 5,400 fighters by August. Between April and June 1946, ODEKA fighters took part in 72 clashes, mainly targeting the Greek Gendarmerie and right wing paramilitary squads. The first coordinated attack by ODEKA took place on the night of 30/31 March 1946 when a band of 33 guerillas struck the Gendarmerie station at Litochoro, killing 13 gendarmes. The Battle of Litochoro marked the beginning of the third phase of the Greek Civil War.[3]

Organization and military bases of the "Democratic Army", as well as entry routes to Greece (legend in Greek)

The Communist Party of Greece led the armed struggle, through the General Partisan Command, which was created on 28 October 1946, and headed by Markos Vafiadis. Order number 19 of the General Command, issued on 27 December 1946, renamed the guerilla groups to the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE). The relevant order[4] included the following comment regarding the DSE: "It is the national people’s revolutionary army of the new Democratic Greece and fights with gun in hand for our National independence and for People's Democracy."

In 1947, KKE and the Democratic Army formed the "Provisional Democratic Government" ("Mountain Government") under the premiership of Markos Vafiadis. After this, KKE turned illegal.

As well as issues regarding the war effort, the Provisional Government had to deal with issues regarding the "People's Law" in the territories controlled by the DSE. These had to do with the judicial, financial, and political systems. As the Provisional Government was based on political forces which aimed to establish a socialist state, its decisions were driven by this political agenda. The self-determination of national minorities living in Greece was one priority. The Provisional Government and the KKE intended to establish a People's Republic of Greece in which all nationalities would work together in a Socialist state.[5] An article written by Nikos Zachariadis expressed the KKE's strategy after the envisioned victory of the Democratic Army of Greece regarding what was then known as the "Macedonian Issue": "The Macedonian people will acquire an independent, united state with a coequal position within the family of free peoples' republics within the Balkans, within the family of Peoples' Republics to which the Greek people will belong. The Macedonian people are today fighting for this independent united state with a coequal position and is helping the DSE with all its soul...."[6] The policy of self-determination for Macedonia within a People's Republic was reiterated during the 5th KKE Central Committee meeting held in January 1949, which declared that the "Macedonian people participating in the liberation struggle would find their full national re-establishment as they want giving their blood for this acquisition... Macedonian Communists should pay great attentions to foreign chauvinist and counteractive elements that want to break the unity between the Greek and Macedonian people. This will only serve the monarcho-fascists and British imperialism...."[7] This statement can be explained due to the large number of Slavic Macedonian fighters (~ 60%) amongst the DSE fighters.[citation needed]

Fighters of the Democratic Army of Greece
Markos Vafeiadis, commander-in-chief of DSE
Democratic Army deployment in 1948
Fighters of the Democratic Army

The Provisional Government never achieved international recognition. During the first two years, from 1946 to the beginning of 1948, it managed to control large rural areas but no major town. At the same time, the Hellenic Army, advised by the British up to 1947 and afterwards by US military delegation led by General James Van Fleet, US Army, established the Greek government's position in the rest of the country as well as internationally.[8]

After the fatal blow in early 1948, when DSE's III Brigade numbering 20,000 men and women was completely wiped out, DSE lost support in southern Greece as well as the political and economic control of a huge area. That was the beginning of the end of the Greek Civil War. At the same time, the efforts of the HQ of DSE to capture and hold a major town in the North such as Konitsa or Florina led to catastrophic defeat of the partisan army, which never recovered. On the other hand, the DSE did manage to achieve some military victories in 1948 and early 1949, in the battles of Karpenisi, Naousa, and Karditsa. At the same time, DSE had a huge problem regarding reserves. Most of the men and women capable and willing to join its ranks were imprisoned or unable to reach areas controlled by DSE.

One of the biggest battles of the three-year Greek Civil War took place in the Grammos mountains in 1948. The operation took place after the Hellenic Army had secured the Peloponnese, where it managed to defeat the DSE's III Division, numbering 20,000 fighters. In the battle of Grammos, forces of the Hellenic Army, with the codename Operation Koronis, deployed 70,000 troops, while the DSE had 12,000 fighters.[9] The battle lasted from 16 June until 21 August 1948. On that day, DSE forces, after hard fight, retreated into Albanian territory and reformed towards Vitsi.[10] The maneuver from Grammos to Vitsi is considered one of the most important tactical actions of DSE during the war, from a military point of view.

Towards the end of August 1949, the Hellenic Army, under the leadership of Alexander Papagos, deployed 180,000 troops, and achieved the defeat of the DSE army of about 7,000 fighters on the Grammos-Vitsi front. After this defeat, the DSE fighters crossed the border into Albania and scattered to camps all over the newly founded Socialist Republics, with the main body of the fighters camped in Taskent, the capital of Uzbekistan in the USSR.

The post-Civil War era left a country in ruins. Many of the nation's youth were either killed on the battlefield, imprisoned or became political refugees. The political situation was quite unstable for most of the next two decades – the decisive factor leading to the Greek military junta of 1967–1974. The ghost of the Civil War haunted Greece for many years after. In 1981, when the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) party came to power in Greece following a long period of right-wing dominance, the political refugees of the DSE were finally given permission to return to their homeland (Slavic Macedonians excluded) by the new Interior Minister, George Gennimatas. Markos Vafiadis also returned to Greece and supported the PASOK government, and was elected a Member of Parliament for PASOK.

In 1989, the Greek Parliament voted unanimously a law that declared the three-year war of 1946–1949 as formally having been the "Greek Civil War" and accepted the former "Communist Bandits" as "Fighters of DSE", giving some of them privileges of pension.

Awards and DecorationsEdit

On 4 April 1948, the Provisional Democratic Government's Law Number 13 established awards and decorations in order to mark extraordinary bravery and courage, as well as distinguished service during times of war by individual DSE soldiers and well as units. The aforementioned law established the following awards and decorations:

  • Medal of Military Valor Grade A and B
  • Electra Medal
  • Sniper Distinguished Service Medal
  • Saboteur Distinguished Service Medal
  • Distinguished Service in an Occupied City Medal
  • Artillery Distinguished Service Medal
  • Navy Distinguished Service Medal
  • Distinguished Service in the Monarchist-Fascist Army Medal
  • Aircraft Destruction Medal
  • Tank Destruction Medal
  • Distinguished Scouting Service Medal
  • Wound Badge
  • Distinction for Past Service in ELAS
  • Seniority Distinction[11]

Α Provisional Democratic Government decree dating to 24 March 1949, awarded 33 participants of the Battle of Litochoro with the Medal of Military Valor which bore the inscription "LITOCHORO".[12] A total of 970 DSE members received medals during the course of the civil war, including 557 men and 413 women.[13]

The Oath of the DSE fighterEdit

The following text was the oath that DSE members must swear and abide by. During enrollment, the member would swear:

I, a child of the Greek people and a DSE fighter, swear to battle with gun in hand, to shed my blood, and give even my life to banish from the soil of my motherland every last foreign occupier. To banish every trace of fascism. To secure and defend the national independence and territorial integrity of my motherland. To secure and defend democracy, honor, work, fortune, and progress of my people.

I swear to be a good, brave and disciplined soldier, to carry out all the orders of my superiors, to observe all regulations, and not betray any secrets of the DSE.

I swear to be a good example to the people, to encourage popular unity and reconciliation, and to avoid any action that reduces and dishonors me, as a person and as a fighter.

My ideal is a free and strong democratic Greece and the progress and prosperity of the people. And in the service of my ideal I offer my gun and my life.

If I ever prove to be a liar, and with bad intent violate my oath, let the vengeful hand of the nation, and the hate and scorn of the people, fall upon me implacably. [original text][14][15][16]


  1. ^ Βραζιτούλη, Γιώργου Μ. (10 June 2010). "Στρατηγοί και αντάρτες του Δημοκρατικού Στρατού στην Ανατολική Γερμανία". Ιχνηλατώντας την Ιστορία (in Greek). Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  2. ^ Kamarinos 2015, p. 101.
  3. ^ Kyritsis 2012, pp. 98–102.
  4. ^ Daily Orders General Command, DSE, 28 December 1946
  5. ^ Study on the History of KKE.
  6. ^ Δημοκρατικός Στρατός magazine, edited by Ριζοσπάστης, 1996, vol. I, pp. 408-412.
  7. ^ KKE, Official Documents, vol. 6, pp. 356, 338.
  8. ^ Δοκίμιο Ιστορίας του ΚΚΕ
  9. ^ Timothy Boatswain and Colin Nicholson: A Traveller's History of Greece, The Windrush Press, Gloucestershire, 1989, p. 240
  10. ^ Shrader, Charles R. (1999). The withered vine : logistics and the communist insurgency in Greece, 1945-1949 ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Westport, Conn.: Praeger. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-275-96544-0.
  11. ^ Kyritsis 2012, pp. 298–299.
  12. ^ Kyritsis 2012, p. 102.
  13. ^ Kyritsis 2012, p. 301.
  14. ^ Πολιτική επιτροπή για την Ανασύνταξη του ΚΚΕ 1918-55
  15. ^ ΡΙΖΟΣΠΑΣΤΗΣ : Ο χαρακτήρας του και η βασική του στρατηγική επιδίωξη
  16. ^ Flag of the Greek Democratic Army


  • ^ «Εγώ, παιδί του Λαού της Ελλάδας και μαχητής του ΔΣΕ, ορκίζομαι: Να πολεμήσω με το όπλο στο χέρι, να χύσω το αίμα μου και να δώσω την ίδια μου τη ζωή, για να διώξω από τα χώματα της πατρίδας μου και τον τελευταίο ξένο καταχτητή. Για να εξαφανίσω κάθε ίχνος φασισμού. Για να εξασφαλίσω και να υπερασπίσω την εθνική ανεξαρτησία και την εδαφική ακεραιότητα της πατρίδας μου. Για να εξασφαλίσω και να υπερασπίσω τη Δημοκρατία, την τιμή, την εργασία, την περιουσία και πρόοδο του λαού μου. Ορκίζομαι να είμαι καλός, γενναίος και πειθαρχικός στρατιώτης, να εκτελώ όλες τις διαταγές των ανωτέρων μου, να τηρώ όλες τις διατάξεις του κανονισμού και να κρατώ τα μυστικά του ΔΣΕ. Ορκίζομαι να είμαι υπόδειγμα καλής συμπεριφοράς προς το λαό, φορέας και εμψυχωτής στη λαϊκή ενότητα και συμφιλίωση και να αποφεύγω κάθε πράξη, που θα με εκθέτει και θα με ατιμάζει σαν άτομο και σα μαχητή. Ιδανικό μου έχω τη λεύθερη και ισχυρή Δημοκρατική Ελλάδα, την πρόοδο και ευημερία του λαού. Και στην υπηρεσία του ιδανικού μου θέτω το όπλο μου και τη ζωή μου. Αν ποτέ φανώ επίορκος και από κακή πρόθεση παραβώ τον όρκο μου, ας πέσει πάνω μου αμείλικτο το τιμωρό χέρι της Πατρίδας και το μίσος και η καταφρόνια του λαού μου».


  • Kamarinos, Aristos (2015). Ο εμφύλιος πόλεμος στη Πελοπόννησο 1946-1949 [The Civil War in the Peloponesse (1946-1949)] (in Greek). Athens: Syghroni Epoxi. ISBN 9789602248720.
  • Kyritsis, Nikos (2012). Δημοκρατικός Στρατός Ελλάδας. Ιδρυση - Μονάδες - Αξιωματικοί - Δυνάμεις - Απώλειες - Κοινωνική Σύνθεση [Democratic Army of Greece. Creation – Units – Officers – Strength – Casualties – Social Structure] (in Greek). Athens: Syghroni Epoxi. ISBN 978-960-451-146-4.