1935 Mutiny

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The coup of March 1, 1935 - Civil war

(source: G. Mezeviris  Vice- Admiral R.H.N.,
"Four decades in the Service of the R.H.N", Athens 1971)

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

The situation in the Hellenic Navy on the eve of the 1935 coup

 

“Since the period of the 1933 coup, in order to avoid new mutineer actions, it had been considered advisable to remove from the armed forces commands officers fanatically dedicated to the venizelist camp.  Although those that had assumed the commands had not, in their majority, any intention to overthrow by force the republican regime, those opposing the Government took advantage of these changes to proclaim in danger the Republic. They thus rallied in an organization that outwardly aimed at protecting the republican regime, but in reality – as it was proved with the 1935 coup – had as objective the seizure of power by force, eventually because it was considered that “attack is the best means of defense”.

 

The leaders of this movement tried to attract the largest number possible of active officers and especially those serving at combatant units. In the Navy, this effort found a very convenient ground because of the discontent and disappointment that the methods of command had created and the unsuitability of some superior commanders. This situation deteriorated since the destroyer Flotilla –the main combatant service that operated satisfactorily- was dissolved in July 1934 and its commander, Captain A. Sakellariou, was placed at the disposition of the Ministry of the Navy because -as it was said - was not enjoying the trust of the Minister.  At that time, a Captain serving for the last 3 years at the Meteorological Service was promoted to Rear-Admiral.  The Minister gave to this flag officer wide responsibility, naming him Commander in Chief of the Fleet and at the same time General Director of the Naval Base of Salamis, assumingly because he considered him as the most suitable to crack down any mutinous attempt.  Besides, in one of the combatant superior commands a Captain had been placed for his anti-venizelist feelings.  Deprived of seriousness and characterized by arrogance, he often expressed his contempt for the ability of his subordinates, many of who had an excellent professional experience. Most of them played a leading part in the coup of March 1, 1935.

 

From discussions I had with these officers, I had repeatedly the opportunity to see for myself their complaints and distress for the methods of command and considered it my duty to report to the Minister.  The Minister however considered that “these officers should consider themselves happy because they had been given such leaders”.

 

After the dismantling of the Flotilla, the Fleet maneuvers were interrupted and the ships remained in the Naval Base of Salamis. Thus, the officers had plenty of time to deal with politics. As rumors for an impeding coup were running in the streets, some preventive measures were taken. Security measures were tightened at the Naval Base of Salamis and the ships, traffic was forbidden at night, suspect officers were shadowed, the ships’ ammunitions were landed, etc. These measures increased discontent, while when the time came they proved ineffective. The Commanders and superior officers that realized that were being shadowed in their own unit, even if they had no intention to join mutinous actions, were taking contact with the coup organizers. They, knowing the mentality of the naval officers better than those in commands, were taking advantage of any mistake to attract fans.  Of course, taking some preventive measures was absolutely necessary in order to deal with those that were mutineers by profession.  How many would have refused to follow them if the measures were taken with circumspection and there was another command?  I believe that under different circumstances very few officers of the Navy would be willing to become mutineers to defend a regime that didn’t seem to be in danger.

 

The coup erupts

 

In the afternoon of March 1, 1935, a team of mutineer active officers and dismissed officers disembark at the Naval Base of Salamis.  Leaders of this group were 2 dismissed officers, Rear- Admiral I. Demestichas and Captain A. Kolialexis, which up to some time before were not in very good terms between them. Both had been past Commanders in Chief of the Fleet and officers disposing the qualities of a leader and commanding respect on other officers. That team in cooperation with other teams that were organized by officers serving in the Naval Base area, especially in the Submarines, and repair shops, succeeded in a very short time to seize the Naval Base. Commander A. Siokos, Chief of Staff of the Naval Base, was killed in action defending the Base and some junior officers showed excellent personal initiative.  All the remaining Cerberus of the regime surrendered everything without giving a fight.

 

The Commander in Chief of the Fleet and of the Naval Base was in his home at the Naval Base, was taken by surprise and arrested by the mutineers. The Supreme Commander of the Submarines was in Athens.

 

At the same time, with the help of officers serving on the ships, the mutineers seized the battleship “AVEROF”, the light cruiser “ELLI”, the destroyer “NIKI”, the submarines “KATSONIS” and “NIREUS” and the destroyer in reserve “LEON”.  From the active destroyers 4, the “PANTHER”, “IERAX”, “THYELLA” and “PSARA” resisted.   The destroyer “PSARA” later complied with the order of the Commander in Chief of the Fleet and joined the mutineers, while its commander and some officers left. Most of the remaining ships were in repair or reserve and couldn’t move at short notice. The mutineers took away some parts to prevent them from being used in the short run.

 

After the seizure of the Naval Base, the Commander in Chief of the Fleet accompanied by the leader of the mutineers went onboard the battleship “AVEROF”, from where he issued orders to the ships that were resisting to stop resisting in order to avoid a bloodshed.  The destroyer “PSARA” was the only ship that complied with this order. Finally, the C.i.C. himself didn’t follow the mutineers but boarded the destroyer “IERAX”.   

 

The destroyer Flotilla commander was onboard the destroyer “SPETSAI” lying on the floating tank of the Naval Base and remained a simple spectator of these events.  He even allowed some parts to be taken away from his flag ship and anyone wishing to join the mutineers.

 

The mutineers’ ships replenished with ammunitions and completed their personnel from other services and left the Naval Base early in the morning of March 2, 1935.  As they were sailing in the direction of the island of Psitalia they were shot at unsuccessfully from gun batteries installed by the Government authorities during the night at Perama and Drapetsona. As all the mutineers had boarded the ships that left, after their departure the Naval Base of Salamis was taken back by the legal authorities.

 

When all this was happening in the Navy, similar events were taking place in the main military Garrisons. However, the mutineers only succeeded to seize the military Garrisons of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace and the Commander of the 4th Army Corps became the leader of the coup.  The mutinous movements that took place in the Garrison of Athens were immediately put out with coordinated drastic measures.

 

The Fleet of the mutineers initially sailed to Souda, Crete and while in her way the ships were attacked without serious result by the Air force, who had remained united at the side of the Government.  In Crete this Fleet was placed under the auspices of El. Venizelos, the Chief of the Liberals, and the legal authorities of the island were abolished or joined the revolution.

 

It must be considered a certainty that the mutineers, based on their good organization and eventually on promises that were not kept, had no doubt concerning the immediate domination of their coup. Else, many wouldn’t have participated because by character were not volunteering for such actions.  The mutineers, after failing in the Old Greece and Western Macedonia, it became apparent that they were aiming at the division of the country, as it was done with the 1916 coup [see: “Beginning of problems – National division 1915- 1917” ], with base this time the island of Crete.  Thus, they could hope for a compromised solution with the “State of Athens”.

 

Although our people were used to coups and were not surprised when they erupted, this coup in particular caused surprise and indignation not only to the friends of the Government but in general all peaceful citizens. The evolution of the coup has surely contributed to this, because until then we were used to bloodless coups succeeding and less often failing to seize power.  Now, in the middle of Athens, cannonades were heard, news about bloody events in the Naval Base of Salamis were circulating, about seizure of the Fleet, mutinies in the Garrisons, etc. and apparently we were heading to a civil war.

 

The repression of the mutiny

 

When we heard the news, I went to the Ministry of the Navy with other colleagues serving in shore commands and we asked to be used for repressing the mutiny. It was not possible that night to get instructions because the Minister was in Perama were he was supervising the installation of gun batteries with which he hoped to prevent the departure of the mutineers’ ships.  The next day Admiral S. Dousmanis took over as Minister of the Navy and placed me at the “Office of repression of the mutiny” that he created to deal with the situation.  The Minister himself was heading the Office, assisted by Rear Admiral D. Economou who took over as Chief of Staff of the Hellenic Navy.  I was charged with general operations duties and was assisted by reserve Captain P. Leloudas who volunteered.   Active Captain K. Economou took over the intelligence service.

 

The Office was issuing orders for missions to be executed by naval forces that had remained faithful to the Government. Intelligence was operating as in war time. Air reconnaissance missions were executed, radio-bearings of the mutineers’ ships were taken, transmitted radiograms were seized, the observation posts network was activated, etc. The office of the Chief of Staff of the Hellenic Navy was transformed to telephone exchange for confidential telephone calls and specially chosen officers were used as telephone operators.  Retired Admirals and Captains had volunteered to offer their services as simple telephone operators. General Exadaktylos, an old staff officer of the Balkan wars disposing relative experience offered invaluable services as head of the service decrypting the mutineers’ telegrams.

 

During the whole period of these operations, Ioannis Metaxas, who had joined the Government as Minister in large, had chosen my Office as his base.  I was really very impressed by his quick perception of purely naval staff issues and his physical endurance. For ten days he didn’t lie down on a bed to rest.

 

The preparation of the Fleet

 

The destroyers “PANTHER”, “IERAX”, “SFENDONI” and “THYELLA” that had not been seized by the mutineers, re-supplied in ammunitions and fuel and were ready for immediate action.   The destroyers “SPETSAI”, “HYDRA” and “KOUNTOURIOTIS” were undergoing repairs and in addition the mutineers had removed from them various parts for which spares were not available.  The Naval Base repairs shops with superhuman efforts succeeded in 5 days only to fabricate the parts that had been removed and to assemble the engines in repair.  On March 7, 1935 these 3 destroyers were executing test sailing and firings and the following day had completed their ammunitions, battle torpedoes, fuel and all necessary supplies.  The submarines that could move were also activated.

 

The preparation by Minister’s request of the battleship “KILKIS’ that was abandoned for many years and had no crew was indeed extraordinary.  Thanks to the amazing vitality of our nation in critical situations, the mission was undertaken to prepare the battleship in only a few days when normally several months were required. Among other problems, the ship’s guns loading clips were missing and a technical study was required to fit those of the battleship “AVEROF”. On March 5, 1935, the “KILKIS” was towed from the island of Poros to the Naval Base of Salamis and her crew was completed by reservists. Technical officers that had served in the past offered their services.  On March 14 the ship reported ready to execute a test sailing and firing. I cannot confirm that the “KILKIS” could have sailed as far as Crete, as planned, but sailed by her own means to Keratsini.  With the repression of the mutiny the ship was again abandoned and left to die.

 

Because it was considered probable that the mutineers’ fleet will sail to Thessalonica, the shore fortress of Karabournou which was out of commission was urgently armed and executed test firing on March 8, 1935. The entrance of the gulf of Thermaicos was blockaded with mines on March 5 and we communicated this information by open radiogram, for the mutineers to be informed.

 

The possibility of attack of the Naval Base of Salamis by the mutineers’ ships could not be excluded. In parallel with the measures taken by the Army to prevent the landing of the mutineers on the Attica shores, all the seaways leading to the Naval Base were mined and the shore fortresses of the area were activated.

Manning the mobilized ships and the fortresses was one of the most difficult problems, because part of the personnel serving in other ships had boarded the ships of the mutineers. The shore services had to be striped of their personnel and partial mobilization was applied.

 

The 7 remaining destroyers were organized in a Flotilla.  Captain A. Sakellariou, placed at the disposal of the Ministry in July 1934, was once again named destroyer Flotilla Commander. Several other measures were taken, as in war period, for the movement of merchant ships, the sea transport of reservists, the switching off of the lighthouses, etc.  In this regrettable situation there was a pleasant indication: The impressive speed of mobilization of our Navy.

 

The movements of the mutineers’ ships

 

The main movements of the mutineers’ ships, after they arrived at Souda bay in Crete, were as follows:

 

The battleship “AVEROF”, the light cruiser “ELLI” and the destroyer “PSARA” arrived at the port of Kavala in Eastern Macedonia on March 5, 1935.  Only the “ELLI” remained in Kavala to be used for wireless communication with the 4th Army Corps.  The “PSARA” returned to Souda where she remained untill the repression of the mutiny, because of lack of fuel. The “AVEROF” went next to the island of Mytilene where she bunkered and then went to the islands of Chios and Samos.  The apparent objective of this trip was the adherence to the mutiny of the islands of the Archipelagos. From a seized telegram of El. Venizelos, the political leader of the Revolution, we can conclude that he proposed the seizure of the islands in order to confront the “State of Athens” on terms that allow “concluding an honorable peace treaty” .  Next, the “AVEROF” sailed to Agios Nicholaos, Crete where she stayed until March 11, and then returned to Souda.  The destroyer “LEON”, due to engine damage, remained at Souda for the whole duration of the mutiny. The destroyer “ΝΙΚΙ sailed from Souda on March 8 to transport to Kavala reserve officers and non-commissioned officers but, because of adverse weather conditions and damages had to find refuge in Chios, where she remained until the end of the mutiny.  The submarine “NIREUS” remained at Souda where she was used to patrol the bay at night.  The submarine “KATSONIS” stayed at Kavala between March 7 and March 11. From some seized telegrams we deducted that “KATSONIS” had been ordered to land a team of saboteurs instructed to interrupt the railroad Athens-Thessalonica.  This order was not executed.

 

From telegrams of the mutineers that had been decrypted their various plans were uncovered.  We thus learned that they were planning to transport reinforcements from Crete to Kavala, seize the island of Syros to secure telegraphic communications, the execution of a landing in an area that we couldn’t decipher.  Their military transports were executed at night without escort or were covered by the battleship “AVEROF” sailing at some distance and were directed to Alexandroupolis or Kavala in northern Greece, following routes east of the regular ones.

 

The repression of the mutiny

 

Until the 3 ‘HYDRA’ type destroyers were prepared, the remaining governmental destroyers were executing night missions to protect the Attica shores from eventual landing of the mutineers.  On March 7, the light cruiser “ELLI” had been spotted in the Kavala area and following intelligence that a convoy was sailing towards the same direction the Flotilla Commander was ordered to sail to the area with the 3 ‘HYDRA’ type destroyers with instruction to sink any ship of the mutineers that he would meet. After checking the area towards the Gulf of Orphanos, the Flotilla commander sailed towards Kavala where in the morning of March10 he spotted the “ELLI” accosted on the inside side of the breakwater.  He started executing runs in front of the “ELLI” and opened fire.  He fired a large number of shells causing small damages on the superstructures of the ship only, because of the breakwater.  Several long shots fell on the city and caused casualties and house damages. The light cruiser “ELLI” after receiving the first fires from the destroyers returned fire with her fore gun; she fired 11 times in total. At the same time Army batteries installed on the hills of the city fired against the destroyers. At around 8:30 an abandon ship order was given onboard the “ELLI” and a little later the destroyers departed to avoid the shore batteries’ fire.  No human casualties were reported on both sides.

 

The government controlled submarine “TRITON” was ordered on March 11 to execute an attack patrol aiming at hitting the battleship “AVEROF” that, according to mutineers’ telegrams, was planned to sail to Kavala. The weather conditions didn’t allow the immediate sailing of the submarine and when it was later determined by radio-bearings that the “AVEROF” was sailing towards Souda, she was ordered to sail there with the same objective.  The repression of the mutiny rendered unnecessary this mission to the great relief of those who issued the order and for those who had to execute it as well.

 

In parallel, air attacks were executed during which the battleship “AVEROF” suffered minor damages and some of those onboard were lightly injured. Shell fragments fell on the destroyers “PSARA” and the submarine “KATSONIS”.

 

The appearance in front of Kavala of the Government’s ships that the mutineers considered disabled and the adverse for them military situation brought the collapse of the mutiny. On March 10, a few hours after the bombing of the light cruiser “ELLI”, the Commander of the 4th Army Corps requested the immediate arrival at Kavala of the battleship “AVEROF” and informed the mutineers at the same time that he was under heavy attack on the Strymon front.  On the same afternoon he informed the chief of the mutineers’ fleet that at night he was planning to retreat on Nestos and was asking the b/s “AVEROF” to arrive at Porto Lagos and supervise the shore road.  On the morning of the next day he informed that the situation was desperate and asked the immediate arrival of the battleship at Alexandroupolis to take onboard the mutineer officers. The mutineers’ reply was that sending the “AVEROF’ was not possible and that a merchant ship would be sent.  However, neither this became possible because the relative telegram was decrypted and the Flotilla Commander ordered to seize that merchant ship, seized her in Mytilene.

 

On the morning of March 11, the non-commissioned officers of the light cruiser “ELLI” sent a telegram to the Ministry of the Navy informing that the combat officers had left the ship the previous night and were asking for a commander to be sent to take over the ship.  The “ELLI” was then ordered to sail to Kassandra commandeered by the boatswain and was there taken over by the Naval Commander of Thessalonica who brought her to Thessalonica.

 

On the night of March 11, 1935, the political leader of the revolution and other mutineers boarded the b/s “AVEROF” at Souda. The battleship sailed in the direction of the Dodecanese and landed the mutineers on a deserted shore of the island of Kassos.  From the combat officers, only the ensigns of the ship and one junior lieutenant remained onboard.  The later reported to the Ministry the exact position of the ship and asked for orders. The “AVEROF” was ordered to sail to the island of San Giorgio in the Saronic Gulf, where a Captain sent by the Ministry took over command and brought her to the Naval Base of Salamis.

 

The submarine of the mutineers “KATSONIS’ was in Kavala at the time of the bombardment of the “ELLI”, quickly submerged inside the port of Kavala and returned in the evening.  The same night she sailed for the Dodecanese and arrived at the island of Patmos on the morning of March 12. There the crew left the submarine. The Italian authorities towed the submarine to the island of Leros, from where the destroyer “PANTHER” was sent to take her over.

 

From the remaining ships controlled by the mutineers, the destroyers “PSARA” and “LEON” and the submarine “NIREUS” were stationed at Souda at the time of the repression of the mutiny.  After the mutineers left Crete, their command was taken over by 3 superior combat officers that had been kidnapped from the Naval Base of Salamis by the mutineers when they refused to join the mutiny.  The destroyer “NIKI” was finally placed under the orders of the Ministry and ordered to remain at the island of Chios, until the arrival of a new staff; she then sailed to the Naval Base of Salamis.  

 

The 3 ‘HYDRA’ type destroyers sailed on March 12 towards the islands of the Archipelagos and re-established the legal authorities. From there, the destroyer “SPETSAI” went to Alexandroupolis and Kavala and then to Thessalonica, where the 3 destroyers gathered. They stayed there until March 20 and then returned to the Naval Base of Salamis.  For similar reasons, the destroyer “IERAX” remained in Crete until March 18, 1935.

 

Thus ended the mission of gathering the Hellenic Navy ships which were dispersed in the Aegean Sea.  Damages in equipment were not important, fuel and ammunition consumption was however important.

 

These tragic events had taken the form of wide range strategic maneuvers of long duration, under conditions close to reality, which our Navy would not normally execute due to the high expenditures that they entailed.”