French military mission to Greece (1911–14)

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The French mission prior to its departure from Greece, July 1914

The 1911–1914 French military mission to Greece was called to Greece by the government of Eleftherios Venizelos to reorganize the Hellenic Army, parallel to a British naval mission for the Royal Hellenic Navy. The French mission arrived in January 1911, under the command of General Joseph-Paul Eydoux, replaced in April 1914 by General Étienne de Villaret (who had also served in a mission to Japan earlier in his career). It remained in the country until the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, when it was repatriated.

Greece's defeat in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 had highlighted the many deficiencies of the Greek military. Successive efforts to modernize and reorganize the Greek army were undertaken by the Georgios Theotokis cabinets in the 1900s, but the heightening of tensions in the Balkans after the Bosnian Crisis made a thorough reorganization imperative. Ever since its establishment during the Greek War of Independence, the Greek Army had followed French models, and there had even been a prior French military mission in 1884–1887. The choice however was contested between the French and the Germans, the latter favoured by the Army's Inspector General, Crown Prince Constantine, and the mostly German-trained officers of the General Staff. The French were favoured by many of the officers who had partaken in the 1909 Goudi coup, as well as by Prime Minister Venizelos himself, for political reasons.

The French mission was given extraordinary powers, with French officers placed as department heads and in charge of Greek military formations, while Eydoux himself, a Major General in the French Army, was given the rank of Lieutenant General in the Greek Army; at the time, a rank held only by the Crown Prince. The mission revised training and organization structures, leading to the highly successful May 1912 field exercises. Despite their work being incomplete, the changes brought by the mission had a measurable effect on Greek performance in the Balkan Wars, which began in October 1912. Critically, the strength of the mobilized army was increased from 60,000 to some 100,000 men, with a further 135,000 in reserves, and the new triangular division scheme was adopted, well ahead of the major Western European armies.

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