Roll Over and Play Dead – The Ridiculous War of the Stray Dog

The Greek Army was a spent force in 1925 when it inaugurated a war against Bulgaria.

The Greek Army was a spent force in 1925 when it inaugurated a war against Bulgaria.

So far on this blog, we’ve heard about military standoffs caused by dead pigs, wooden buckets, bird droppings and a destroyed pastry shop. In this latest edition of Wars You Never Heard Of, we’re going to explore a war that started over a stray dog.  

In 1925 tensions between Greece and Bulgaria were reaching the breaking point. The two countries had been rivals for years. And for much of the early 1920s, small bands of peasants from both countries routinely crossed the border into the neighboring territory to plunder property or livestock, often with deadly consequences. In fact, as many as 17 Bulgarians were killed in one of these raids. [1] The mounting animosity was only exacerbated by Greek suspicions that Bulgaria was covertly supporting a shadowy Macedonian independence movement that laid claim to territory within the Hellenic border.[2]

The proverbial spark that touched off this powder keg came on Oct. 18, 1925. That’s when a Greek soldier manning a border post at the Demir Kapou Pass wandered a few paces into Bulgarian territory to retrieve a dog. A keen-eyed sentry took aim and shot the intruding Greek soldier dead. It would prove to be the first shot of what would go down in history as the War of the Stray Dog.

Immediately following the shooting, both sides exchanged volleys of rifle fire. During a lull in the skirmish, a Greek captain crossed into the no man’s land under a white flag to appeal for calm. The Bulgarians shot and killed him too, along with a private who had accompanied the officer.

Things might have ended there, where it not for Greece’s recently installed military dictator, Theodoros Pangalos. When the hot-tempered 47-year-old lieutenant-general  learned of the killings, he saw it as just more evidence of Bulgarian treachery. Pangalos, who ruled Greece with an iron fist, chose to respond to the shooting incident with a show of force. [3] The despot, who had just weeks before installed himself to power in a coup d’état, ordered an entire army corps sent to the area. He also issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Sofia demanding an apology for the shootings, prosecution of the soldiers involved and compensation for the families of the fallen to the tune of six million Greek drachmas. And just to back up his threats, Pangalos ordered his troops to invade Bulgaria anyway for good measure.

The Greek army breezed through the enemy defences and quickly drove deep into the heart of Bulgaria, looting, pillaging and leaving a trail of burned villages in their wake. The Greeks also used the occasion to strike at Macedonian enclaves in Bulgaria, hoping to deal a crippling blow to the separatist movement. Rather than risk further bloodshed, the Bulgarians withdrew in the face of the invaders, favouring evacuation and retreat over confrontation.

Despite their initial successes in opening days of the war, the Greek army soon bogged down. After all, it was still recovering from its crushing defeat in the 1919 to 1922 war with Turkey and found it a challenge to sustain its operations in Bulgaria. In order to press home their attack, Pangalos decided that Greece need allies. Accordingly, Athens looked to Serbia to help punish Bulgaria. In exchange for entering the war on the side of Greece, Athens would offer the Serbs a railroad corridor to the Hellenic port city of Thessaloniki as well as a zone of control in the region.

But the Bulgarian sought assistance too — it went to the newly formed League of Nations for protection.

The league intervened in the war diplomatically and pressured Greece to cease and desist its invasion. General Pangalos reluctantly complied with the ruling and pulled his troops back, but not before 50 Bulgarians were killed. By way of compensation, the league demanded Greece pay a modest £45,000 to Bulgaria. Despite this relatively lenient ruling, the Greek dictator was none the less humiliated by the rebuke in the eyes of his countrymen. With his reputation as a strongman in tatters, the following summer the same cadre of officers who installed Pangalos to power, overthrew him and replaced him with the country’s former president.[3] The general quickly vanished from public life. He was briefly imprisoned in the 1930s following an alleged corruption scandal and following the German occupation of Greece, he resurfaced to endorse the pro-Nazi collaborationist regime. He died in 1952. His grandson, also named Theodoros Pangalos, was recently made deputy prime minister of Greece.[4]


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3. Ibid


3 comments for “Roll Over and Play Dead – The Ridiculous War of the Stray Dog

  1. 7 September, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Those Greeks had fallen a long way since thermopylae!!

    • 7 September, 2012 at 10:36 am

      I’d never say that to a mob of angry Greeks. :o)

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