Greek Army uniforms

Greek Army uniforms

The modern Greek Army has a history of almost 180 years, during which has undergone dramatic changes and been involved in some of the major conflicts on the European continent. The modern Greek military throughout its history was closely following international developments in equipment and uniforms. With the notable exception of the elite Evzones units which based their uniforms on the indigenous traditional garments of the 18th century, the rest were quick to adopt the most up-to-date Army fashion of the influential Great Powers. The influence seemed to be roughly divided in three periods, the "French-style" until the WW1, the "British-style" during and after WW2, and the last 40 years, the "NATO or US-style". That saying, on any given model of uniform, clear influences of other major militaries can be identified to the details, making the result an interesting,unique amalgam.

Late 19th century (1868-1908)

The other ranks uniform of 1868 remained faithful to the French style, with a dark blue cloth tunic and a pair of straight, off-white pants, with branch colour pipings, shoulder boards and collars. The kepi was modernised to look closer to the French, in dark blue with a bullion cockade and a small plume of horsehair. The leather equipment was black and of French design, to compliment the fusil Gras rifle issued.

Conversely, infantry and artillery officers' uniforms adopted closely the current Austro-Hungarian design, with fly-hidden buttons and scalloped pocket flaps. There were no eppaulettes; rank was exhibited on the collar with tabs and bullion stars. The kepi was a high-quality version of the other ranks' with golden pipings and rank stripes. The main colour was dark blue, with riding breeches in white, grey or blue, worn with polished black high boots. French-style leather equipment and a sabre were carried in battle. There was a more elaborately adorned uniform for use in ceremony. The cavalry had an exceptional uniform of more traditional design, with traits of Hussar decoration. The pippings were purple and the metal stripes and buttons in silver. The wool cloth was a medium green. Breeches and black high boots completed the riding uniform.

Around the Balkan Wars (1908-1915)

Following the humiliating defeat of 1897 by the Ottomans, the urgent need for modernisation was felt by both the Government and the Staff of the Greek Army. The idea of khaki uniforms was introduced for the first time, just few years after the British had introduced their Service dress, making Greece one of the first countries to adopt a modern look for its military. The use of off-white and drab uniforms was already common for summer use of the officers, who traditionally had the option of choosing privately tailored items. It was soon expanded with the universal introduction of the 1908 model for other ranks.

This uniform included a near-copy of the British four-pocket tunic of the time, in olive green wool cloth or serge, with the addition of pipings and removable shoulder boards in branch-of-service colour cloth (Red: Infantry and Staff; Bright red-purple: Cavalry; Dark red-burgundy: Artillery; Light Blue: Engineers; Dark Blue: Gendarmerie). Brass-metal buttons were used for the majority of uniforms. The pants were straight with side pipings, designed to cover the ankle lace-boots, but in campaign the majority of soldiers found these cumbersome and used cloth puttees or stuffed them in their boots to hold them tight. A khaki single-breasted greatcoat was issued for winter.The black equipment was also replaced by a natural-brown leather set. The first type of headgear was a German-style peaked cap, but this was soon replaced by the older French-style kepi but now in khaki wool and leather chinstrap, adorned with branch-pipings and an embroidered Greek royal cockade. In periods of mobilization older stocks continued being used for auxiliary units, mainly older caps and items of black leather. Minor variations of the 1908 uniform and equipment were issued to specialist units, eg breeches, high-boots and bandoleers to cavalry troopers.

Similar developments followed with the officers' uniforms. After a period of unstandardized changes, these settled on the model 1910. The smart tunic was made in a higher quality olive-green wool, incorporating the internal scalloped pockets and standing collar of the Austrian army, but with branch pipings and Russian-style rank boards. The headgear was a khaki kepi with leather peak, gold-metal pipings (silver for Cavalry and Engineers) and a bullion-cockade, and the pants were piped riding breeches, usually worn with high boots or ankle boots and puttees. The equipment was brown leather, with a French-style pistol holster and a binocular case. During this period, all officers brought their sabres in campaign.

During WWI and Greco-Turkish War (1915-1922)

The years 1913 -1915 saw the introduction of many non-standard and transitional officer's uniforms, until finally, the new khaki wool model 1915 uniforms were introduced. These entailed minor changes to the other ranks' uniform, mainly simplification by removing most coloured decorations, introducing collar tabs in branch-colour and the standard issue of cloth puttees. Branch colours were revised to help easier identification (Green for Cavalry; Black for Artillery).

The officers' uniform changed though significantly, adopting the changes that were already implemented by King Constantine and his staff in their private tunics, plus a return to the German-style cap that Constantine preferred. The new tunic was more practical for campaign, closer to the modern French and British styles. Wider-cut, it had bigger, external pockets pleated on the breast, scalloped flaps and stand and fall collar. The pipings were replaced by a pair of branch-colour collar tabs with metal buttons and the Russian boards were replaced by smaller straps. The highly visible cap metal pipings were replaced with subdued rank stripes of brown colour. The old-style leather equipment was replaced by a fashionable Sam Browne and a Wembley revolver-style holster.

The only major change introduced to the above uniform with the entry of Greece to the war in 1917, was the return of the kepi by the revolutionary government of Salonika. The kepi thus came to represent the Venizelos' faction in the course of the National Schism against the Royalist government of Athens, and symbolised the alliance with the French-led Entente. When Constantine left in exile, the new government phased-in the kepi headgear for all the Army officers. Other items of French origin saw widespread use during these wars, including the Lebel rifle leather equipment and the Adrian helmet, painted dark olive. This uniform was used in Ukraine and Asia Minor and remained virtually unchanged until the late thirties.

WWII to the Seventies (1936-1974)

The 1908 pattern for other ranks in khaki wool remained virtually unchanged and was the uniform issued en mass to the troops that were deployed in the Greco-Italian war of 1940 and the brief battle of Greece. Changes were significant only in the equipment, which by this time was a motley collection of Austrian, German, French and British patterns, reflecting a similar vast variety in personal arms. In contemporary pictures it appears though that the front-line troops had a relative homogenous appearance. The majority were equipped with a new Model 1934 helmet, which was based on the contemporary Italian shell in field green colour, but without vents and with a locally produced leather liner. The main ammunition pouch was a Mauser twin type, but significant number of older Lebel stocks were still in use. A minority of front-line troops were issued with the 1915 Adrian helmet, as the newer pattern was not received in adequate numbers. Due to the heavy winter conditions, the outfit was for most of the campaign covered by a long woolen overcoat, single breasted, with turned down collar and rear semi-belt. In 1938 a new pattern of forage cap was also introduced which was similar to the contemporary British, but with the Greek Royal cockade in metal. The decorations on these uniforms were limited to a minimum. In contrast to regulations, only a minority of tunics and coats had the prescribed branch-colour collar tabs. These colours remained the same as in WW1, and expanded to include more specialist troops. A new pattern of NCO rank stripes similar to the British chevrons, did not see universal adoption before the outbreak of the war, and the older patterns were still seen.

The Officers' uniforms came in the thirties much closer to the British pattern of Service dress with the adoption of an open collar intended to be worn with shirt and woolen tie, again with riding breeches, boots and a Sam Browne belt. The headgear had since the early 30s returned for good to a British-type leather peaked cap in khaki, with subdued insignia, with the exeption of the Gendarme's and the Cadets, which kept their traditional kepi. By this time swords and sabres were limited to ceremonial use and a pistol was the main sidearm. The ceremonial uniforms nevertheless remained more or less the same as those at the start of the century, in navy-blue and colour and bullion decorations, and topped with the historical kepi in elaborate designs.

As the war progressed, much of the supplies were depleted and the Greek Army increasingly had to use new stocks of British military aid. At the last stages of the Battle of Greece, a significant number of troop was using battledress and the brodie helmet. The reconstituted free Greek Army in Egypt was completely reequiped with British uniforms and arms, which they kept throughout the Italian campaign and the first stages of the Greek civil war. During these years, the new Greek Army is virtually indistinguishable from the British allies.

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