History of the Greek Evzone: From Kings Guard to Heroes to Guardians of the Republic

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Evzones landing at Smyrna, May 1919

From a long heritage of fighting the Turks the Evzones formed the Royal Guard and fought two world wars to earn the right to become Greece’s elite protectors.

Forming a Royal Guard in 1868 they continued in that role until 1973 when the monarchy was abolished. During the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 they had expanded to a full regiment and served in the front lines. By 1912 they formed five full regiments (numbered and referred to as the 38th-42nd Evzones Infantry) in the regular Hellenic Army. They fought the Turks in the Balkan Wars and then the Austro-Bulgar forces on the Salonika front in World War One. Subsequent service in the Greco-Turkish and Greco-Italian Wars solidified their reputation as elite fighters.

Evzone Heroics in World War Two

On April 27, 1941 as the German forces occupied the Acropolis Evzones Konstandinos Koukidis was ordered to lower the Greek flag and raise the Nazi one. Koukidis hauled down the Greek flag, but instead of turning it over to the Germans as a trophy he wrapped himself in it and leaped to his death over the side of the mountain. No less a monster than Adolf Hitler praised the Greek courage by saying “For the sake of historical truth I must verify that only the Greeks, of all the adversaries who confronted us fought with bold courage and highest disregard of death. ” after this incident. During the German occupation in World War Two members of the Evzones served with the resistance and with the Free Greek forces under the Allies.

The Modern Evzone Guards

After WWII reformed Evzoni units served with the monarchist Greek Army against the communist backed Democratic Army of Greece during the three year long Greek Civil War. After 1950 the Evzones were reduced to a ceremonial Royal Guard only of 120 men whose sole duties were in guarding the Royal Palace and the Tomb of the Unknowns. In 1973 with the abolition of the monarchy the Evzones were renamed the “Proedriki Frouna” or Presidential Guard as the Royal Palace they had formerly secured became known as the Presidential Mansion.

In 2001 an anarchist threw a Molotov cocktail firebomb at the wooden guard shack in front of the Presidential Mansion to which the Guard on duty did not quit his post but stood at the ready while his post burned to the ground only feet from him. In January 2010 when a bomb threat was called into the Parliament, two Evzoni guards and their sergeant refused to leave their post at the nearby tomb of the Unknown Soldier and they stood fast as the windows of their guard shack exploded from the subsequent explosion. These elite men were decorated for their bravery and will certainly not be the last.

Sources:

  1. Hellenic Army General Staff , A Concise History of the Participation of the Greek Army in the First World War 1914-1918 Hellenic Army General Staff Press 1999
  2. Paxinou, Barbara and Mylonas,Yannis The Evzones Strategic Publishing 1997
  3. Sarafis, Maj. Gen. Stefanos Elas: Greek Resistance Army St Martin 1981
  4. Thomas, Nigel and Pavlovic, Darko Armies in the Balkans 1914-18 Osprey 2001