Greece Splits Into Rival Factions

Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 253rd installment in the series.

October 18, 1916: Greece Splits Into Rival Factions

Like a growing vortex, the First World War sucked in more and more countries as the conflict spiraled ever further out of control. From 1915-1916 first Italy then Bulgaria, Portugal, and Romania abandoned neutrality to throw in their lot with one of the two opposing coalitions – and this was only the beginning.

After refusing to help its erstwhile ally Serbia when hostilities broke out, as the fighting dragged on Greece – one of the last neutral states in the Balkan Peninsula – gradually edged closer to war, motivated in part by irredentist claims to ethnically Greek areas of Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, and even more by unrelenting pressure from the Allies. 

The pressure became literally overpowering in October 1915, when the French and British occupied the northern Greek port city of Salonika in a belated attempt to aid Serbia, doomed by the Central Powers’ autumn offensive. Their arrival in violation of Greek neutrality (nobody seemed to worry about respecting the neutrality of small states anymore) precipitated a dramatic falling out between the country’s pro-German King Constantine and its most powerful politician, the pro-Allied Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos, a popular elder statesman who invited the Allies to occupy Salonika (top, the view from a British battleship in Salonika harbor).

After being forced to resign for overstepping his authority, Venizelos went into open opposition and began plotting with his powerful foreign patrons to bring Greece into the war. Meanwhile, after their conquest of Serbia the Central Powers invaded northern Greece in May 1916, citing the Allied presence in Salonika. For their part the Allies reinforced their position with troops withdrawn from Gallipoli, despite British misgivings (in diplomatic terms the occupation of Salonika was always a French project, reflecting France’s senior role in the alliance as well as the political connections of General Maurice Sarrail, the French commander in Salonika, who had the support of the powerful socialist bloc in Parliament; above, Allied troops in Salonika).

For the Allied troops their time in the ancient polyglot city, which also played host to the provisional governments of Serbia and Albania, was a colorful experience to say the least. One observer, the British war correspondent Vincent O’Connor, described the scene in the marketplace: “Frenchmen, Englishmen, Canadians, Australians, Servians, Greeks, Jews, Turks, all are here in bewildering variety, and there are others to come. Generals, colonels, subalterns, corporals, rank and file; little boys and girls who go to and fro selling papers and furtively collecting those left behind sell again…”

A Forgotten Front

Greece somehow maintained a precarious neutrality through the mounting tension, but in May 1916 the Greeks surrendered the key fortress of Rupel to the Bulgarians without a shot, spurring Allied suspicions that the Greeks might be about to go over to the enemy. They responded by ratcheting up the pressure with a naval blockade of the country, followed by an ultimatum to King Constantine demanding that he demobilize the Greek Army in June 1916. The following month the Allies expanded their occupation of northern Greece with the arrival of the Serbian Army, revived after its disastrous retreat through Albania with six months of rest and resupply on the Greek island of Corfu. 

Click to enlarge

In August 1916 the Central Powers clashed with Allied forces in northern Greece, where the Bulgarians captured Florina and forced Sarrail’s French Armée d'Orient back in the Vardar River Valley, before the Allies eventually halted the offensive; the Bulgarians were also briefly distracted by the entry of Romania into the war on the side of the Allies. Then in September the Allies launched a counteroffensive in a futile attempt to help the beleaguered Romanians, pushing the Bulgarians and German Eleventh Army back and threatening the Central Powers’ control of Monastir (now Bitola, Macedonia).

While the fighting in this region is often viewed as a sideshow or “forgotten front” of the First World War, it certainly didn’t seem that way to the ordinary soldiers stationed in the mountainous foothills and plateaus of southern Macedonia, and indeed the Monastir Offensive from September 12-December 11, 1916, was no less bloody than other theatres, with hardships amplified by primitive terrain, disease and harsh weather. As elsewhere, misery was general. Ruth Farnam, an American woman volunteering as a nurse in the Allied armies, visited a recently captured area just behind the Serbian-held portion of the front near Florina:

Everywhere were rolls of cruel barbed-wire, neatly stacked shell cases and the baskets in which they are handled, broken rifles, scraps of metal and all the various debris of battle. The earth looked like rudely plowed land, so pitted and torn with shell holes was it, and everywhere were the rude earthworks which had been thrown up by Serb and Bulgar. Sometimes these were a long line of mud embankments behind which many men could shelter; but more often the earth was scooped out in a tiny nest like a hare’s “form.” Some of these faced North and some South. There were many into which the earth had been roughly shoveled back and we knew that these held Bulgarian dead.

A correspondent, G. Ward Price, recorded similar impressions of the Bulgarian retreat:

All the rubbish that a hastily retreating army leaves behind were scattered right and left. Bullet-pierced caps and helmets, greatcoats, broken rifles, ammunition pouches, marked the trail of the retreating enemy, and from the top of the hill at Banitza, where the roads steeply down to the plain, you could see the Serbian infantry spread out on the green turf, each in his little individual shelter-trench, while the enemy shrapnel burst above and among them; and beyond, right away in the distance, loomed faintly the white minarets and walls of Monastir, their goal on the threshold of Serbia, gleaming faintly through the haze, like the towers of an unreal fairy city.

The stark beauty of the natural surroundings only highlighted the horrors of the battlefield, also described by Price:

You came upon little piles of dead in every gully; behind every clump of rocks you found them, not half-buried in mud or partly covered by the ruins of a blown-in trench or shattered dugout, but lying like men asleep on the clean, hard stones… Not only for days but for weeks after dead Bulgars lay there, preserved in the semblance of life by the cold mountain air, looking with calm, unseeing eyes across the battleground…

An Open Split

As the fighting intensified along the frontier between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, the Allies once again sought to bring their host country into the war on their side, with the increasingly aggressive French taking the lead. After landing on the island of Crete and announcing the formation of a provisional government in September 1916, on October 9 Venizelos returned to Salonika from Crete with his supporters on Allied ships, proclaiming that they were taking over the duty of national defense from the passive monarchy.

On October 18, 1916 Venizelos formally installed his new provisional government in Salonika, completing the split with King Constantine in Athens. The Allies also forced Constantine’s new prime minister, Nikolaos Kalogeropoulos, to resign while issuing fresh demands that Constantine withdraw the portion of the Greek Army which remained mobilized south to Thessaly, thus reducing the threat to their own troops. In the crowning humiliation, French marines surrounded the Royal Palace in Athens, and the Allies demanded that Constantine give up the ships of the Greek Navy, which he duly turned over to French control.

By November 1916 the Allies were effectively in control of northern Greece, while the new government organized by Venizelos was drawing support away from King Constantine. But the country remained divided, with two governments ruling in parallel from their respective capitals, in a chaotic period that became known as the “National Schism” or “Greek Vespers” (referring to a dark time in the nation’s history). It would have to endure several more upheavals before unity could be restored.

See the previous installment or all entries.

Netflix Is Testing Commercials, and Subscribers Aren't Happy

iStock
iStock

Save the occasional "Are you still watching?" message popping up between episodes, it's possible to watch an entire Netflix series in one sitting with little to no distractions. Now, the streaming service is testing something that could upend that: As CNN reports, Netflix has quietly started sprinkling advertisements into its programming, something the subscription-based service has been able to avoid up to this point.

The promotional content Netflix is experimenting with differs from conventional cable commercials in some fundamental ways. The promos won't be advertising third-party brands, Netflix promises: Rather, they'll exclusively show off Netflix original content, like seriesGlow and Stranger Things (though one Reddit user did report seeing an ad for Better Call Saul, which Netflix licenses from AMC). And instead of inserting ads throughout the program, as some non-subscription streaming services do, Netflix will only include them at the end of some episodes with a "skip" button similar to the one that allows viewers to bypass a show's opening credits. And each promo subscribers see will be personalized based on their viewing habits, hopefully turning them on to new shows and not just annoying them in the middle of their binge-watching sessions.

Despite these assurances from Netflix, viewers aren't happy. Many customers have taken to social media threatening to cancel their service if the promos become the norm, which likely may not happen: They've only been shown to a select number of test viewers so far, and based on user response, Netflix may decide to pull the plug on the experiment.

The good news is that as long as the ads are still in the test phase, you can choose to opt out of them. Just go to Netflix.com/DoNotTest and toggle off the switch next to the words "Include me in tests and previews." Now you're ready to resume your binge-watching marathon without interruption.

[h/t CNN]

10 Things You Might Not Know About Columbo

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

For more than 40 years, Peter Falk entered living rooms around the world as Lieutenant Columbo, an unconventional L.A. homicide detective known for his ruffled raincoat and trademark cigar. The actor would go on to win four Emmys for the role, while the series itself remains a benchmark for television crime dramas. But if series creators William Link and Richard Levinson went with their initial choice, the iconic role of Columbo would have gone to a syrupy-smooth crooner rather than the inelegant Falk. Get familiar with one of TV's most unique heroes with facts about Columbo.

1. BING CROSBY WAS ORIGINALLY EYED FOR THE ROLE.

Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link's first choice to play their low-key detective was crooner Bing Crosby. Der Bingle loved the script and the character, but he feared that a TV series commitment would interfere with his true passion—golf. It was probably providential that Crosby turned the role down, since his death in 1977 occurred while the series was still a solid hit on NBC. 

2. PETER FALK WAS AN UNEXPECTED SEX SYMBOL.

Peter Falk in 'Columbo'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Character actor Lee J. Cobb was also considered for the role, until Peter Falk phoned co-creator William Link. Falk had gotten a copy of the script from his agents at William Morris and told Link that he’d “kill to play that cop.” Link and Levinson knew the actor back from their days of working in New York, and even though he was the opposite of everything they’d originally pictured for Lt. Columbo, they had to admit that Falk had a certain likeability that translated to both men and women. Falk was described by a certain female demographic as “sexy,” and males liked him because he was an unthreatening, humble, blue-collar underdog who was smarter than the wealthy perps he encountered.

3. FALK WAS A GOVERNMENT WORKER BEFORE BECOMING AN ACTOR.

Peter Falk wasn’t too far removed from the character he played. In real life he tended to be rumpled and disheveled and was forever misplacing things (he was famous for losing his car keys and having to be driven home from the studio by someone else). He was also intelligent, having earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University, which led to him working for the State of Connecticut’s Budget Bureau as an efficiency expert until the acting bug bit him. He was also used to being underestimated due to his appearance; he’d lost his right eye to cancer at age three, and many of his drama teachers in college warned him of his limited chances in film due to his cockeyed stare. Indeed, after a screen test at Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn dismissed him by saying, “For the same price I can get an actor with two eyes.”

4. COLUMBO'S DOG WASN'T A WELCOME SIGHT AT FIRST.

Columbo's dog
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

When Columbo was renewed for a second season, NBC brass had a request: they wanted the lieutenant to have a sidekick. Perhaps a young rookie detective just learning the ropes. Link and Levinson were resistant to the idea, but the network was pressuring them. They conferred with Steven Bochco, who was writing the script for the season opener, “Etude in Black,” and together they hatched the idea of giving Lt. Columbo a dog as a “partner.” Falk was against the idea at first; he felt that between the raincoat, cigar, and Peugeot his character had enough gimmicks. But when he met the lethargic, drooling Basset Hound that had been plucked from a pound, Falk knew it was perfect for Columbo's dog.

The original dog passed away in between the end of the original NBC run of the series and its renewal on ABC, so a replacement was necessary. The new pup was visibly younger than the original dog, and as a result spent more time in the makeup chair to make him look older.

5. FALK'S REAL-LIFE WIFE PLAYED A ROLE IN THE SERIES.

Falk first met Shera Danese, the woman who would become his second wife, on the set of his 1976 film Mikey & Nicky. The movie was being filmed in Danese’s hometown of Philadelphia, and the aspiring actress had landed work as an extra. They were married in 1977, and she was able to pad out her resume by appearing on several episodes of Columbo. Her first few appearances were limited to small walk-on parts—secretaries, sexy assistants, etc. By the time the series was resurrected on ABC in the early 1990s, she was awarded larger roles.

She originally auditioned for the role of the titular rock star in 1991’s “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” but her husband adamantly refused, since the role included a scene of her in bed making love to a much younger man. She instead played the role of a co-conspiring attorney, and was also allowed to sing the song that was the major hit for the murdered star.

6. THE CHARACTER'S TRADEMARK RAINCOAT CAME FROM FALK'S CLOSET.

The initial wardrobe proposed for Columbo struck Peter Falk as completely wrong for the character. To get closer to what he wanted for Columbo, the actor went into his closet and found a beat-up coat he had bought years earlier when caught in a rainstorm on 57th Street. And he ordered one of the blue suits chosen for him to be dyed brown. The drab outfit would become one of the trademarks of the character for decades.

7. STEVEN SPIELBERG GOT AN EARLY BREAK ON COLUMBO.

“Murder by the Book” was the second Columbo episode filmed, but it was the first one to air after the show was picked up as a series. Filming was delayed for a month, though, when Falk refused to sign off on this “kid”—a 25-year-old named Steven Spielberg—to direct the episode. Finally he watched a few of Spielberg’s previous credits (all of them TV episodes) and was impressed by his work on the short-lived NBC series called The Psychiatrist. Once filming was underway, Falk was impressed by many of the techniques employed by the young director, such as filming a street scene with a long lens from a building across the road. “That wasn’t common 20 years ago,” Falk said. He went on to tell producers Link and Levinson that “this guy is too good for Columbo."

8. COLUMBO'S FIRST NAME WOUND UP THE SUBJECT OF A LAWSUIT.

Fred L. Worth, author of several books of trivia facts, had a sneaking feeling that other folks were using his meticulously researched facts without crediting him. He set a “copyright trap” and mentioned in one of his books that Lt. Columbo’s first name was “Philip,” although he had completely fabricated that so-called fact. Sure enough, a 1984 edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game listed the “Philip” Columbo name as an answer on one of their cards, which led to a $300 million lawsuit filed by Mr. Worth.

The board game creators admitted in court that they’d garnered their Columbo fact from Worth’s book, but the judge ultimately determined that it was not an actionable offense. By the way, years later when Columbo was available in syndicated reruns and HD TV was an option, alert viewers were able to freeze-frame a scene where the rumpled lieutenant extended his badge for identification purposes in the season one episode “Dead Weight” and determine that his first name was, in fact, “Frank.”

9. THE SERIES DIDN'T FOLLOW A STANDARD MYSTERY FORMAT.

The premise of Columbo was the “inverted mystery,” or a “HowCatchEm” instead of a “WhoDunIt.” Every episode began with the actual crime being played out in full view of the audience, meaning viewers already knew “WhodunIt.” What they wanted to know is how Lt. Columbo would slowly zero in on the perpetrator. This sort of story was particularly challenging for the series’s writers, and they sometimes found inspiration in the most unlikely places. Like the Yellow Pages, for example. One of Peter Falk’s personal favorite episodes, “Now You See Him,” had its genesis when the writers were flipping through the telephone book looking for a possible profession for a Columbo murderer (keep in mind that all of Columbo’s victims and perps were of the Beverly Hills elite variety, not your typical Starsky and Hutch-type thug).

A page listing professional magicians caught their eye, and that led to a classic episode featuring the ever-suave Jack Cassidy playing the role of the former SS Nazi officer who worked as a nightclub magician. When the Jewish nightclub owner recognized him and threatened to expose him, well, you can guess what happened. But the challenge is to guess how Lt. Columbo ultimately caught him. 

10. THERE WAS A SPINOFF THAT KIND OF WAS BUT THEN WASN'T.

The 1979 TV series entitled Mrs. Columbo was not technically related to the original Peter Falk series. In fact, Levinson and Link opposed the entire concept of the series; it was NBC honcho Fred Silverman who gave the OK to use the Columbo name and imply that Kate Mulgrew was the widowed/divorced wife (the series changed names and backstories several times during its short run) of the famed homicide detective. The “real” Mrs. Columbo was never mentioned by her first name during the original series, but actor Peter Falk possibly slipped and revealed that her name was “Rose” when he appeared at this Dean Martin Roast saluting Frank Sinatra and asked for an autograph.

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