The Rifles of Greece 1876-1976 


 
 
by Dan Reynolds

The first breechloader officially adopted by Greece in the early 1870's was the native designed single shot blackpowder Mylona rifle which used a dropping breech block.  It was not successful and Greece decided circa 1876 to purchase a copy of the French M1874 11mm Gras single shot rifle from the Austrian Arms Factory of Steyr in Austria. This rifle is marked with a Steyr cartouche on the left side of the stock.  It is reported that 57,000 rifles and 6,000 carbines as well as short rifles were purchased. 
In the early 1890's this design was obsolete with the advent of magazine repeater somkeless powder rifles adopted by Turkey and Bulgaria, potential enemies of Greece. Financial limitations prevented adoption of a new rifle on a large scale. Quantities of the 5 shot turnbolt 8x50mmR were purchased from Steyr, cited by one source as the Model 1894. Small numbers of the improved Mannlicher Model of 1895 in 8x50mmR may have been purchased in the later 1890's. 

In 1903, a new design based on the Mannlicher action, the M1903 with a rotary spool 5 shot magazine in 6.5x53mm (sometimes called the 6.5x54mm) was adopted as standard rifle. The rifles were supplied by Steyr in Austria. Carbines were purchased as well as the long rifles. This Mannlicher Schonauer design was modified slightly when additional rifles were ordered in 1914. This was designated M1903/14. 

The reason more rifles were ordered was due to losses sustained in the First and Second Balkan Wars. During these conflicts Greece lost many rifles to damage and capture. It also acquired as spoils non-standard 7.65x53mm Mauser rifles from Turkey such as the M1890, M1893, and M1903 as well as Mannlicher M1888/90 8x50mmR rifles and carbines from Bulgaria. These were placed in service with support and reserve troops. 

The production of the new variation at The Austrian Arms Factory in Steyr (whose German initials OEWG were stamped into the wooden buttstocks) was ongoing when WW1 started in August 1914. Deliveries stopped as the rifles on hand at the factory were taken over by the Austro-Hungarian Government for use by it's own forces. Among the troops isssued with these Mannlichers were the Polish Legion serving the Empire. 

During the course of WW1 Greece entered the war on the side of the Allies. It sustained heavy losses of the M1903 and M1903/14 Mannlichers and was supplied with French M1907/15 8mm Lebel rifles and carbines to help arm its forces. At war's end it received stocks of Mannlicher M1895 and M1888/90, M1903 Bulgarian Mannlichers with enbloc clip magazines, and Turk and and German Mausers as booty. 

It then engaged in a war with Turkey in which it lost additional quantities of M1903 and Model 1903/14 Greek rifles and carbines. In 1921, Greece purchased 3,500 M1903/14 rifles from its ally France. Circumstances suggest that these may have been the remnant of those issued to the Polish Legion during WW1. About 1922 it began rebuiding some of its damaged and worn out 6.5x53mm M1903 and M1903/14 long rifles into a short rifle pattern. 

The Italians, on the winning side in WW1, received large numbers of rifles as war booty from the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. These included quantities of the Greek M1903/14 rifles taken over in 1914 by the Empire. Italy kept many rifles of the M1895 pattern and issued them up through WW2. It sold off the odd types. The Greeks, through arms dealers learned of the availability of these well used rifles. It desired to acquire enough M1903/14 pattern rifles to replace many odd non-standard rifles such as the French M1907/15 models. 

It was arranged for SOCIETA ANONIMA ERNESTO BREDA of Brescia in Italy to rebuild these rifles. It is believed that Breda then arranged to buy new commercial actions from Steyr in order to produce entirely new rifles of the M1903/14 pattern. Greece purchased 100,000 rifles. 

In 1930 Greece purchased 25,000 M.1903/14 "Systems 30" Mannlichers including short rifle and carbine pattern directly from STEYR.  Greece now had about 225,000 Mannlicher Schonauer 6.5mm Mannlichers of various patterns. 

Despite these acquisitons, the Greeks were still short of enough serviceable 6.5mm Mannlichers to arm all their forces. They decided to adopt 7.92X57mm Mauser as their substitute standard rifle calibre ammunition and had Mannlicher M1888/90, M1894, and M1895 converted to use this cartridge. The M1895 became the 7.92mm M95/24 short rifle. They also purchased F.N. Model 1930 short rifles in 7.92mm. 

In 1939, the final order was placed for 6.5mm Mannlichers from Steyr. These were short rifles marked "Systems 30" and 15,000 were bought for the National Police. 
  

Note: The Greek Crest found on Greek Mannlicher Schonauers and possibly other weapons may be found with and without a Crown on top of the Cross within the shield.  If it lacks the crown it was marked in a period when the King was not head of state. 

World War 2 

In late 1940 Greece was invaded from Albania by Italy.  The Greeks were able to check the Italians and advance against them, inflicting 100,000 casualties.  Turkey sold the Greek Government ex-Greek small arms and ammunition it had captured from Greece during the War of 1921-22.  Turkey had converted some of the captured Mannlicher Schoenauers to 7.92mm and it kept these. 

the Italians needed help and on April 6, Germany attacked Greece from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia causing the collapse of the Greek Government. The King and his government fled to Egypt under British protection. Germany occuppied Greece with Italy and Bulgaria being given large spheres of control. 

Eventually, resistance groups formed.  The largest was called "ELAS", a front of the EAM controlled by the KKE (the Greek Communist Party).  The largest non-Communist movement was called "EDES" which was loyal to the exile government.  Both of these had ex Greek Army officers in prominent positions.  Both used rifles of the type described previously in initial operations while acquiring Axis rifles in active operations.  The British began supplying .303 Enfields No.1 Mk3 by air drop to support these groups.  When Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943, most of the Italian forces in Greece turned all their small arms over to the Communist ELAS partizans along with large stocks of ammunition.  This made the Carcano rifle in 6.5x52mm the principle rifle and carbine of the the REDS and gave it a decisive advantage over EDES.  The 6.5x52mm would fit the chambers of Greek 6.5x53mm Mannlichers and could be used as an expedient if proper ammunition was not available (WARNING: this is not a safe practice and should not be attempted). 

When the Germans withdrew from Greece, ELAS began assuming control of the country, clashing with non-communist groups and British troops which landed in country to take control of key areas.  In keeping with the Churchill-Stalin agreement dividing sphere's of influence in the Balkans, a Soviet officer with the writ of Stalin was flown in and advised ELAS to co-operate in a postwar plebescite and election.  An agreement was reached and ELAS was to surrender its weapons and disband.  By this time it had acquired additional Enfields and large numbers of German Karabiner 98K 7.92 rifles.  It turned over about 70,000 rifles consisting of the worst condition and least desireable rifles on hand and it bunked the rest it had along with ammunition for them. 

In 1945 conflict continued between right wing and communist elements in the period leading up to the election/ plebescite.  The KKE was a legal political party, but ELAS officailly no longer existed.  Some of its elements had moved into Yugoslavia, Albania or Bulgaria.  The rest had gone underground or inactive.  Eventually, a partizan war began as the right wing won the elections and martial law was proclaimed.  The KKE remained legal and did not accept responsibility for the new partizan movement based on the old ELAS organization.  By the fall of 1946 a civil war was underway. 

The conflict was between the left and right with partizans known as the "Democratic Army of Greece" representing the Communists and other "pink" elements and the government "Greek National Army " representing right wing and moderate republican elements.  The KKE was still legal and had members in the legislature. 

The DAG was armed chiefly with Carcanos, 98K Mausers and Enfields but had almost all types of rifles previously mentioned in service.  The mainline mobile bands of the DAG were engaged in hit and run raids on government units, police stations and other targets which would supply weapons, ammo and necessary supplies or money at this phase.  These units usually tried to have the best rifles and to standardize on one type in a given unit if possible. 

The DAG controlled remote areas and some villiages where a form of goverment was in place.  An auxillary support organization was in place in these areas and also covertly in government controlled areas to provide intel, securitry, logistics and other support as well as to provide static defense of bases, caches, etc.  These people would have second line rifles of less desireable type if not enough of the above mentioned rifles were availably.  Any type from Gras rifles to Berdans might be found. 

The GNA was armed mainly with No.4 Enfields and No.1 Mk3 in .303 provided by the British who were supporting the government, as well as with 6.5x53mm Mannlicher Schonauers and 98K Mausers. 

The DAG had the initative and by 1947 Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania were providing arms, food, sanctuary, and other forms of support to bring victory to the Communists.  Tito of Yugoslavia was the main backer of the KKE/DAG insurrection.  By mid 1947 the British were unable to continue support of the Government and the KKE went over to open support of the rebels.  The USA took over from the British with the "Trumman Doctrine" bringing support to the Greek Government along with American advisers and arms for the GNA.  The first .30 M1 Garands, in small numbers, arrived in 1948 but did not play any significant role in the civil war. 

By 1948 the DAG attempted to go over convential warfare, converting partizan units into regular platoons, companies, battalions, etc.  This was unsustainable and a fatal error.  Stalin, alarmed that in his view a sideshow might escalate into a direct conflict with America before he was ready, "suggested" to Tito that support for the DAG be ended. Stalin was already concerned about the nature of Tito's ambitions and a conflict was already simmering between the two.  Tito disregarded this order and continued his support of KKE/DGA until 1949 when the KKE publicly sided with Stalin against Tito.  At that time Yugoslavia sealed the border with Greece and the DGA insurgency faded out rapidly. 

Foreign support was absolutely necessary to sustain the DAG.  It had been provided overland through the mountainous border regions with Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania and by sea.  The Yugoslavs used three small submarines from small harbors near Split and the Albanians used small trawlers to move supplies to coastal areas of Greece under nominal Government control.  The sea lift effort was not very viable and was terminated.  The Greek Navy was too efficent.  To cite one example, on the night of September 6, 1948, the Royal Hellenic Navy Ship Polemistis destroyed an Albanian supply vessel carrying 2,000 98K Mausers, 100 Machine Guns, 3000 mines and large quantities of 7.92mm ammo in the Bay of Fokianos.  This load was fairily typical of such shipments. 

Most supplies came over the mountains to the DAG controlled areas along the borders with the supplying Communist regimes.  From here, material was transported by mule trains of up to a 150 animals to the designated units in active service.  One Yugoslav source lists 5500 machine guns of several types, 35,000 rifles, chiefly Carcanos and Mausers (VZ24, 98k, others), 7.92mm and 6.5x52mm ammunition, 10,000 Panzerfaust (the original RPG), 10000 land mines, food, uniforms, supplies of all sorts as the aid supplied by Yugoslavia. Albania supplied unknown numbers of Carcano and Mauser 98K rifles and ammunition for them.  Bulgaria supplied 98K Mausers, Mannlicher M95/24 7.92mm short rifles and 8x50mmR, 8x56mmR, and 7.92mm ammunition. 

In August 1948 , one unit of the GNA in its area of operation captured the following rifle types from the DAG : 97 Carcanos, 21 98K, 14 Enfields, 11 6.5mm Mannlichers, 3 Bulgarian M1903 Mannlichers,3 M07/15 Berthiers, 3 Turkish Mausers, 1 M1891 Mosin Nagant.  This would be representative of what could be found in a typical DAG unit. Some very well armed units might have only one or two types in issue, these being 98 Mausers, Enfields, and Carcanos.  The Carcanos being less desired than the previous two types, where Mausers and Enfields available with adequete ammunition, the Carcanos would be passed on to arm other mobile troops or static support units. 

After the war ended, U.S. aid continued to upgrade the arms of the Greek Army.  By 1950 159,990 American small arms including Garands, Thompsons, Carbines, Browning M1917A1, M1919A4 and A6, BAR's and M1911A1 pistols had been supplied.  In 1953 the M1 Garand became more common and eventually was the standard rifle of the Regular Army for many years.  The No.4 Enfield remained in active service at least through the 1970's with the Army and Reserves, and into the 1980's with Police.  The Mannlicher Schonauers were withdrawn and sold off circa 1959 by which time all other types except the M1 and No.4 were out of service. 

Greece was late in adopting a NATO standard rifle, but eventually adopted the Heckler & Koch G3A3 in 7.62x51mm in 1979 as made in Greece at Anjion by "EBO" . 

Any additional information or corrections on Greek rifles is welcomed, especially photographs. Credit will be gladly given.