Greek general and military dictator Theodoros Pangalos — the architect of the 1925 War of the 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 impoverished residents from both countries were routinely crossing the border into the neighboring territory to plunder property or livestock from local inhabitants. In one of these raids, as many as 17 Bulgarians were killed. And this growing animosity was only exacerbated by Greece’s suspicions that Bulgaria was covertly supporting a shadowy Macedonian independence movement that laid claim to territory within the Hellenic border.
The 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 into Bulgarian territory to retrieve a dog. A keen-eyed Bulgarian sentry took aim and shot the intruding Greek soldier dead. The incident would 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 n 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.
Unfortunately for Bulgaria, when Greece’s recently installed military dictator learned of the shootings, he saw it as just more evidence of Bulgarian treachery. Pangalos, who ruled Greece with an iron fist and enforced everything from press censorship to the length of women’s skirts, chose to respond to the shooting incident with a show of force. 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 handily pushed through the enemy defences and quickly drove deep into the heart of Bulgaria, looting and 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 blow to the separatist movement. Rather than risk 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 became bogged down. 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, they’d need allies. Accordingly, Athens looked to Serbia to help punish Bulgaria. And to sweeten the deal, Greece would offer the Serbs a railroad corridor to the Hellenic port city of Thessaloniki as well as a zone of control in the region.
Bulgaria sought assistance too — it went to the newly formed League of Nations for protection.
The league quickly 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 punishment, the Greek dictator was humiliated by the censure. 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. Pangalos quickly vanished from public life. He was briefly imprisoned in the 1930s following an alleged corruption scandal and following the German occupation of Greece, Pangalos resurfaced to endorse the pro-Nazi collaborationist regime. He died in 1952.