During a banned left-wing demonstration of approximately 250.000 people in central Athens, an outbreak of shooting of co-commanded X and LOK (Lochos Oreinon Katadromon, the Greek stay-behind) troop members, British troops, and police forces with machine guns positioned on the rooftops of Syntagma square, resulted in 28 deaths (including that of a six-year-old boy) and 148 wounded people.
Greece’s western allies tried to stay neutral at first, but when the battle escalated they intervened with artillery and aircraft fire. During the outbreak of violence, the government deployed only a few policemen and a brigade without heavy weapons. By December 12, ELAS forces were in control of most of Athens and Piraeus.
The outnumbered government forces and its western allies flew in the 4th Infantry Division from Italy as reinforcements. Conflicts continued all through December, with the government forces slowly gaining the upper hand.
As the end of the year was approaching, British PM Winston Churchill attempted a peace initiative. He arrived in Athens on December 25, 1944, and presided over a conference, in which Soviet Union representatives participated, to bring about a settlement.
The peace conference failed because the ELAS demands were considered excessive and ultimately rejected. Soviet Union’s position during the conflict, deliberately unclear as it was, played a crucial part in the final outcome.
By early January ELAS forces had been driven from Athens. As a result of Churchill’s intervention, centrist Prime minister Georgios Papandreou resigned and was replaced by General Nikolaos Plastiras, a firm anti-Communist.
On January 15, 1945, a ceasefire was agreed upon, in exchange for ELAS’ withdrawal from its positions at the cities of Patras and Thessaloniki and its demobilization in the Peloponnese. It was a severe defeat for ELAS forces, but not the end of their campaign.
After the Athens fighting, Communist party support declined sharply, and as a result, most of the prominent non-Communists in ELAS left the organization.
The Communist party had an opportunity to reconsider its strategy and its forces were to resume their campaign four years later, in the final chapter of the bloody Greek civil war.