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Military Archives under the Hellenic Ministry of National Defence

By Dr. Pigi P. Kalogerakou Historian-Archaeologist Head of 1st Dept. of Historical Archives Service – Army History Directorate

The Committee of Military Archives thanks our colleague Pigi Kalogerakou for her committment and her participation to this project after she presented the Hellenic military archives within the National Defence Ministry during the 2021 CAM meeting.

In Greece, military archives are the responsibility of specific services and institutions under the four General Staffs of the Hellenic Ministry of National Defence (Hellenic National Defence General Staff, Hellenic Army General Staff, Hellenic Navy General Staff, Hellenic Air Force General Staff). Each service is responsible for a different part of archive, which is original and unique, depicting and documenting the history, tradition and special characteristics of the Armed Forces Branch it represents.

1. Fireproof cupboards used for the storage of the historical archive of the Army History Directorate. ©Army History Directorate.

All services, apart from one, are not strictly archival institutions; maintenance and exploitation of the archive is only part of their mission, which also includes other activities, such as the compilation and publishing of military history and its promotion to the public. All military archives are being constantly enriched with new material: official documents coming from archive clearance, according to each Staff’s regulations, or private documents purchased from or mainly donated by individuals and institutions.

2. Handwritten document of the late 19th century. ©Army History Directorate.

Hellenic Army General Staff / Army History Directorate 

The richest archive is that of the Army and it is kept by two different services. The oldest is the Army History Directorate, which belongs to the 4th Branch of the Army General Staff. Its mission is the collection, cataloging and preservation of archival material related to the history of the Hellenic Army, the documentation of its participation in wars since the late 19th century, and the recording of its activities and structure in post war times. 

The directorate itself has a long history going back to 1887, when a department was first established under the General Staff assigned with the collection of war diaries and reports and subsequently with recording the Army war history. Over the years, it has been renamed and reorganized several times. Nowadays, it comprises two services, responsible for the publications and the archives, respectively. Since the late 1970s it is hosted in a listed building of the early 20th century, in Plaka, the oldest neighborhood of Athens.

The Directorate’s archive includes more than 2.5 million documents. It is divided chronologically in fonds, covering all war periods of the Hellenic state from 1897 onwards and the peace period from 1950 until today. 

The war period archive includes collections on the following: Hellenic-Turkish War (1897), Macedonian Struggle (1904–1908), Balkan Wars (1912–1913), World War I (1914–1918), Northern Epirus Struggle (1914), Campaign in Meridional Russia (1919), Asia Minor Campaign (1919–1922), Interwar period (1923-1939), World War II (1940–1945), German-Italian occupation of Greece and National Resistance (1941–1944), Hellenic Army in the Middle East (1941–1944), Civil War (1945–1949), Greek Expeditionary Corps in Korea (1950–1955). The archival material consists of reports, orders of battle, orders of the day, operational plans, war diaries, correspondence of units, maps, drawings, photographs, and personal archives of senior officers and politicians. These earlier collections are kept in iron fireproof cupboards for safety reasons and their old storage files are currently being replaced with new, antifungal, acid-free boxes.

The archive of the post war period includes annual reports and diaries of more than 2,500 Army formations, regiments and units, documents on the Army’s participation in Peacekeeping Missions, logs of the Army General Staff Operation Centre, documents on Army organization, structure and mobilization, data on the history of each unit and short biographical notes for almost 13,000 retired or deceased in war senior officers. 

The greatest part of the whole archive is paper documents, both handwritten and typed, and only the recent material comes exclusively in electronic form. There is also a database with the names of all officers and soldiers fallen in wars starting with the 19th century conflicts (available also in the Directorate’s website, in Greek).

The major part of the war archives has been digitized since the 1990s and is accessible to researchers at the directorate’s premises. Moreover, a small part is documented according to the International Standard Archival Description and is accessible in the directorate’s website. A few thousands of these documents are also included in the Europeana digital library and similar websites giving access to archival material on specific periods or subjects.

A very large number of documents are highly classified and not accessible to individual researchers. This is why, in 2020, all classified documents of the directorate’s archive issued by Army institutions until 1955 were declassified. Access to the more recent ones and those not issued by the Army still remains restricted. 

The Directorate has a library open to the public. It includes more than 18,000 books and journals on Military History, as well as a unique collection of more than 3,000 Army regulations dating from the 19th century. It also keeps laws, decrees and circulars issued for the Armed Forces from the 19th century onwards, and a series of Greek daily Press. 

The Army History Directorate has published more than 100 books on all war periods and keeps an average of 1 or 2 publications per year. For its contribution to the promotion of Military History in general, it has received two awards by the Athens Academy. 

3. Telegram announcing the occupation of the city of Kilkis by the Hellenic Army in 1913. ©Army History Directorate.

Hellenic Army General Staff / Service of Military Archives

The actual archival service of the Army is the Service of Military Archives, under the Registry and Linguistics Directorate of the Army General Staff. In its present form it was established during World War II, in 1941, in order to gather, preserve and essentially save the archives kept until then by all Army institutions which were dismantled after the German-Italian Occupation of Greece. A key point to the history of the service was the year 1966. It was then that it started receiving the official documents cleared, according to an annual program, by all units and services of the Army General Staff and the National Defence General Staff. It also became the official repository for personal documents of retired personnel, both military and civil. The service is located in the Hellenic Army Park, in Athens, and its archive is stored in impressive 19th century buildings.

The archive, in its physical form, is almost 36 kilometres long. The historical archive dates back to 1863, however it is incomplete for large periods of time until 1966, as the major part of documents covering the long war period until the late 1940s is kept by the Army History Directorate. Thus the Historical Archive of the Military Archives Service includes incomplete general military records from 1863 onwards, for the Balkan Wars (1912–1913), World War I (1918–1919), the Campaign in Asia Minor (1921–1922), and World War II (1940–1941), and complete records of military hospitals since 1920.

The general archive, dating from 1966 onwards, includes all the original official documents of the Army and is organized in fonds and files depending on the nature and subject of the documents: Administrative (personnel, judicial affairs, military service and conscription), information, operations – training – organization, health related (files of health status), management (inventory and supplies – finance and treasury), various issues and services (Army’s Geographical Service, military schools, peacekeeping operations). 

The Service, after receiving the archive, proceeds to inspections of completeness, sorting, classification, listing, indexing and temporary storing. Following the practice of public archives in Greece, it microfilms all documents and preserves them mainly in this form – today, the archive extends to almost 20 kilometres of microfilm. 

The Archives Service has recently undertaken a major digitization project financed by the European Union. More than 15 million pages have already been digitized and thanks to the hardware obtained, the digitization continues on a regular program. In this way, it aims at the creation of a complete digital library of all Army archives, available to both the General Staff institutions and the public.

6. Officers of the Hellenic Army during the Campaign in Asia Minor. ©Army History Directorate.

Hellenic Navy General Staff / Naval History Department

The Naval History Department is an independent service coming directly under the Chief of the Navy General Staff. It is responsible for the collection, classification and preservation of official documents referring to the history of the Hellenic Navy and for its promotion to the public. Since 1952 it is housed in the installations of Votanikos Naval Fort, in Athens.

It was established in 1917 and its initial mission was closely connected with the publication of the “Naval Review”, a popular journal which is still one of its main responsibilities (all issues are available in its website). In parallel, its History Department started collecting and classifying the naval archive. 

Today, the Naval Historical Archive includes general documents dating between 1821 and 1938, documents on the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), World War II minutes and reports, war diaries, Civil War archives, personal archives of general officers of the Hellenic Navy donated to the Department. It also includes the official archives of warships and services of the Hellenic Navy, which are delivered to the Department on a regular basis. Moreover, it possesses more than 40,000 photographs of services, warships and Fleet Command, audio, video and cinematographic material, as well as microfilmed documents since 1900. It also preserves every other piece of data that comes to its possession through its activities or is donated by individuals and other organizations. In general, every year, the Department receives almost 2 million pages, while the already stored archive exceeds 1 billion documents.

The archive delivered every year by the naval units and warships is catalogued and classified and after 20 years it is microfilmed. Because of its great importance and the necessity for its availability to researchers and individuals, the historical archive as well as a large part of the recent general archive was documented and digitized through a project financed by the European Union, starting in 2015. As a result, the digitized unclassified material is easily available to researchers in the service’s premises as well as in its website.

10. Logbook of the Greek destroyer “Adrias”, entry of October 22, 1943. On this day, during operations in the Dodecanese, along with the British destroyer “Hurworth”, the ship survived a mine explosion, which tore off its bow, while “Hurworth”  was sunk by another mine. Despite its missing bow, “Adrias” managed to reach Alexandria, a few weeks later. ©Naval History Department.

The Naval History Department also includes a library accessible to the public. It possesses more than 4,500 titles and participates in the naval library network. It also has its own printing house and, apart from the Naval Review journal, publishes books on naval history. It participates in innovative activities, such as the location of shipwrecks, and for its contribution to naval history and culture, it has also been awarded twice by the Athens Academy. 

11. Greek soldiers leaving for the front in 1940. ©Army History Directorate.

Hellenic Air Force General Staff / Hellenic Air Force History Museum

The Hellenic Air Force History Museum is a service of the Hellenic Air Force General Staff. Its mission is to collect, classify and preserve the archival material of the Air Force Staff, as well as to record, document and promote its history and tradition. It was first established in 1950, assigned to collect Air Force unit logs and reports compiled by officers having participated in World War II. In the following decades it was reorganized several times resulting to a History Directorate, which included a distinct Archives Service. Since 2005, it is incorporated as a unit under the Air Force History Museum. It is housed in a listed 19th century building in Palaio Faliro Delta, an area south of Athens closely linked to the history of the Hellenic Air Force since the Balkan Wars period. 

The historical archive is organized in chronological periods: 1908-1918, 1919-1929, 1930-1940, 1940-1944, 1945-1949, 1950-1967, 1967-1974, 1974-1989, 1990-2001. It includes official documents, operational orders, unit logs, lists of fallen in war and peace time and also photographs, films and videotapes. There are also some individual flight books of World War II pilots, Squadrons’ flight books and reports, operational reports of various periods, a few personal archives and an original draft of the tour of the Mediterranean. 

The service also collects all documents issued by the Air Force services and units, and preserves them by microfilming. It also keeps a collection of laws and decrees published by the Air Force General Staff, and a number of Air Force magazines and publications. It maintains a library available to researchers, that includes over 1,000 books on military history. It also has a website and produces its own publications on Air Force history in Greece.

War Museum

The War Museum is an independent institution supervised directly by the Minister of Defence. Apart from its numerous exhibits, it keeps an important collection of historical documents and a library with many rare books on war history.

16. Royal Decree announcing the general recruitment of the Hellenic Army on October 28, 1940. ©Army History Directorate.

The historical archive contains various items purchased by the museum or mainly donated to it by individuals. It includes personal records, unit reports and logs, warriors’ interviews, and newspapers of the 19th and 20th centuries. More specifically, it covers the following periods: Greek Revolution (1821), King Otto reign (1832-1862), King George I reign (1863-1913), Hellenic-Turkish War (1897), Balkan Wars (1912–1913), Northern Epirus Struggle (1914), World War I (1914–1918), Campaign in Asia Minor (1919–1922), Interwar period (1923-1939), Hellenic-Italian and Hellenic-German War (1940-1941), German-Italian occupation – National Resistance (1941–1944), Participation of Greece in Middle East operations (1942-1944), Civil War (1945–1949), War in Korea (1950-1953), Post war period. 

The museum has a unique photographic and video archive. The first includes more than 35,000 original photographs covering all war periods since 1897. The video archive is in fact one of the largest in the Balkans and includes filmed views of all war periods of the Hellenic Army since 1897, films on Greece for the years 1897-1935, videos produced by the Armed Forces television network and private videos donated to the museum by individuals.

17. Documents from the collection of National Resistance (1941-1944). ©Army History Directorate

Hellenic National Defence General Staff / Hellenic Commission on Military History

Last but not least, among the ministry’s institutions on military history is the Hellenic Commission on Military History, under the Hellenic National Defence General Staff. It was founded in 1980, and since 1985 it is a regular member of the International Commission of Military History. It has issued editions on several subjects and on several occasions, mainly as part of military cooperation programs and major events. However, it does not systematically collect or maintain archives; it does so only in order to present them in Congresses held by the International Commission or on other special occasions. For example, it gathered the documents referring to the contribution of the Hellenic Armed Forces in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and presented a special edition based on it. In 2021, this archive was handed over to the Army History Directorate.

18. The collection of Greek daily Press kept in the Army History Directorate. ©Army History Directorate.
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