August 4, 1936, Dictatorship

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The August 4,1936, Dictatorship

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

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“Until then, the number of ships in activity was limited for economic reasons. After the events of October 1935 [see: the aftermath of the 1935 coup- Overthrow of regime" ] however, all the ships that could float from the old battleship “AVEROF” to the small torpedo boats were included in the Fleet.  Under usual conditions the full manning of all the ships was difficult, without having recourse to reservists, but after the massive dismissal of cadres following the March 1935 coup manning the ships could be considered a real achievement.  It became possible with drastic reduction of personnel serving on the ships, with the interruption of all officer and non-commissioned officer schools and with almost completely stripping shore services.  Many explications were given for the reasons of this movement, I don’t know which of them is correct.

 

During the same period, a new service was inaugurated that was to become the predecessor of what later became Supreme Shore Defense Command [see: Building coastal defenses 1938-1939” ].  Until 1935 there were many studies and plans for shore defense, with only practical result the construction of 2 anti-aircraft batteries in the area of the Naval Base of Salamis.  A Committee consisting of a small number of able and efficient technician officers was formed to draw up a report on a practical base that would be in line with our capabilities.  This study was rapidly completed and the necessary legal measures were taken.  A reserve Rear Admiral was placed as head of the new service and some foreign technicians were invited to offer their know-how.  Honor is due to those that have taken that initiative and to the pioneers who founded this new branch of the Navy.

 

As one could expect, with the re-establishment of the Kingdom those who had been condemned for the March 1935 coup were granted amnesty and were included in the cadres in reserve.  This measure was considered necessary, especially after the recent developments.  Some of us saw in it the possibility of future re-establishment in the active cadres of at least the junior of those that had been dismissed, in spite of the fact that the massive promotions that had taken place made it quite difficult.  Certain reactions against any such thought didn’t allow this to happen before World War II.

 

After the return of the King, I was recalled from suspension towards the end of December 1935 and I was given the Chair of a Committee that was set to examine the offers submitted following a new call for bids for the construction of destroyers.

 

Chairman of a Committee to evaluate offers for the construction of destroyers

 

When I reported for duty to the Minister of the Navy, Triantafyllakos, he smiled and said: “and from now on you must behave well”.  I was surprised by this phrase coming from a distinguished jurist and I replied expressing my astonishment that my law-abiding stand was characterized as mutiny.  After complementary explanations he seemed to have changed his opinion and added that during the anomalous periods that we gone through we have all been in a difficult situation.  He wished me to never again in the future be involved in a similar situation.

 

After the cancellation of the order for the destroyers, following the March 1935 coup, the new call for bids included conditions concerning the type of the ships that could satisfy all opposite opinions.  Offers had to satisfy the specifications that we had drawn–up for ships of a displacement between 950 and 1,500 tons, at the choice of the shipyards, as well as for ships of similar sizes but of the type that the foreign Admiralties were building.  The idea of building destroyers in Greece had provisionally been abandoned and the issue of creating shipyards in Greece was left to be examined later, independently of this ordering procedure.

 

Fifteen offers had been submitted by British, French and one German firm.  Each offer concerned 2 to 3 types of ships.  A detailed comparison of so dissimilar technical offers would have normally required many months of work to choose the best.  The General Staff of the Navy (G.S.N.) was in such a great hurry to pass the order that the Committee had to work over-intensively -often till late at night- to be able to submit its conclusions after only two months. None of the offers was completely satisfying the requested specifications. The firm that came closer to them was the same British firm that had been chosen in the previous round of submission of offers.  For the construction of destroyers of a type used by foreign Admiralties, only British firms had submitted offers and were offering very few details for reasons of confidentiality.  A very interesting offer was made by the German shipyard offering many innovations.  However these innovations required extremely skilled engine personnel and were thus considered premature for our Navy.

 

The report of the Committee had to be submitted to the Supreme Naval Committee (S.N.C.) who, after taking into account the financial conditions, was going to take the final decisions.  I participated as adviser in the first meeting of the S.N.C. and after a short verbal introduction I started reading the report. Before long, some members asked me how many pages long was the report and when they heard that it was 30 they said that my verbal presentation would be enough. Then the economic conditions of the offers were unsealed and the S.N.C. was accordingly informed.  They came up with a solution that was not in line with the invitation to tender.  They decided to order a specific type of destroyer used by the British Admiralty to which some specific detailed modifications had to be made, as this was imposed by conditions prevailing in the Hellenic Navy.  It was thus necessary to repeat for a third time the call for bids, among British firms only this time.

 

The decision taken was eventually the best. Ordering a type of ship identical to one used by the British Navy, we could be sure that it would be a successful type.  Wouldn’t it have been wiser to have taken into account the S.N.C. opinions before issuing the invitation to tender, avoiding thus losing precious time and being exposed to foreign firms?   The Technical Services of the Ministry of the Navy had worked many months to draw-up the specifications, 7 superior officers had left their positions for 2 months to examine the offers and to finally be informed that all their work was completely unnecessary.  In addition the members of the Committee had not had even the moral satisfaction that those who rule the Navy had been informed of their hard work and had expressed their appreciation.  Von Tirpitz is right, I think, when he says that those in command must realize how much mental work and toil entail technical matters.

 

Since my recall to active duty, the Chief of the G.S.N., Vice Admiral D. Economou, had informed me that recognizing my good faith in my stand during the events of October 10, 1935, he would be pleased to see me serving under his orders in a position to be created as Deputy –Chief and Director of the 3rd Direction of the G.S.N. That proposal pleased me indeed and I eagerly accepted it, as it was coming from the officer that had represented the Navy in the three members Committee.

 

Director of the 3rd Direction of the G.S.N.

 

In April 1936, I took over my new duties in the 3rd Direction. I have not however been named Deputy –Chief of the G.S.N., because of the reaction of some members of the Supreme Naval Committee that hadn’t allowed the promotion of a relative Bill to the Parliament.

 

In my new Service I was lucky enough to have as collaborators two excellent staff officers [out of which Commander Petropoulos had resigned after the events of October 1935 and had been recalled as reservist] among the most able of the Navy. Thanks to their help and the unreserved support of the Chief of the G.S.N., a really important mission was successfully completed.  Our main duties were the organization of shore defense, new constructions and the ordering war equipment and supplies.

 

The most difficult problem for a rapid realization of the shore defense plan was to find solutions combining the perfection demanded by our technicians with available funds in the Budget.  Thanks to the spirit of understanding that prevailed among interested parties, solutions were found with no important delay.  Similar practical solutions were also given to the issue of organization of the observation posts network, for which several plans had been drawn-up since many years but none had yet been applied because the expenditures needed went beyond our Navy’s capabilities.

 

Concerning the order for new destroyers, we complied with the new directions given by the S.N.C., which inevitably entailed important delay.  The shipyards were obliged to draw-up new plans. Some of them got tired of these long negotiations and finally retired. Anyway, towards the middle of the summer of 1936 we had reached our conclusions and we had hoped that the order would be placed.  The seizing of the Government by I.Metaxas, who also personally took over as Minister of the Navy, brought-up new delays because the Prime Minister, acting as the regulator of the economic policy of the country, was rejecting the economic terms of the shipyards. It was finally decided to order 2 only -instead of 4- destroyers to the British firm that had been selected, under the condition that gunnery would be ordered to Germany to benefit from the possibility of paying by product exchanges. In counterpart of the reduction of the number of destroyers ordered, the Prime Minister approved a line of credit for the creation of shipyards in Greece that would build 2 more destroyers in the future. The new conditions meant new negotiations and as a result the 2 new destroyers, the “KING GEORGE” and the “QUEEN OLGA”, were only ordered in the beginning of 1937.

 

The proclamation of the Dictatorship of August 4, 1936, was the cause for new worries and hesitations about what is to be done for those wishing to remain law-abiding.  I shared these thoughts with the Chief of the G.S.N. , who replied that this development was imposed because of the rising communist threat.  He added that the initiative for this measure was not taken by the armed forces, but by the King at his own responsibility.  I had already served under several other dictatorial regimes that were no better than the new; there was no reason not to continue offering my services to the new one.

 

With the changes that took place in the Navy, we acquired a Deputy Minister who was to hold that position for almost 5 years. He was an old staff officer of the Army who had all the good intentions, was fair and was promoting order and discipline. His command of our Navy was to prove very difficult.  Commanding the R.H.N. required a tough person that could check the proposals made to him, settle personal disputes and impose that all be limited to their responsibilities. For the heavy mission he was undertaking he was too old and was often falling victim of bad proposals.

 

The transport in October 1936, of the mortal remains of King Constantine was the only event of the multitude of shows and celebrations organized by the Dictatorship that created real feelings of emotion.  He represented a page of an era in which passions were not due to low personal motives, but to pure ideological differences.  Especially moving was the ceremony at sunset of the transport of the mortal remains from the railroad station to the Athens Metropolis church. As I had no official position, I followed the procession from the home of old, loyal inconspicuous friends of the Royal Family.  How moving was the sight of old generals, co-fighters of the Commander in Chief, dragging themselves along under the weight of the years, and of old servants of the Royal Court that grew old serving an ideology wearing their faded uniforms!  On the other hand some old opponents of the new regime now trying to flatter it shouldn’t have been taking part to this procession!

 

At the end of 1936, the Chief of the G.S.N. and the Chief of the Fleet mutually changed positions and I momentarily had hoped that I would continue my interrupted service as Commander of the destroyer Flotilla under Vice Admiral Economou, the new Chief of the Fleet. Unfortunately, in accordance with the new dispositions on qualifications, a minimum of one year service in that position was an obligatory qualification for the promotion of captains and that qualification had to be acquired by 3 senior of me captains.  Seniority in the naval list was from then on the only criterion for getting a position in sea commands.  Although that qualification hadn’t been required from al that had been promoted up to then, defining it as criterion for promotion to Flag officer was eventually correct because with the present organization of our Navy it was the best means to check the professional abilities during maneuvers at sea.  Under the condition however that satisfying this criterion was not only a matter of form for those supporting the one or the other regime!

 

Commander of the Flotilla in reserve

 

In the absence of a better proposal, I accepted to be placed as Commander of the Flotilla in reserve that had been formed from 5 destroyers in reserve, most of which were undergoing a general overhaul.  Never in my life had I assumed a more ungrateful task. From an organizational point of view the ships in reserve must be in such a condition of readiness so that as soon as their personnel are completed to be able to take up service in the Fleet.  For that reason they were supposed to have a reduced but sufficient for that reason crew.  The new Chief of the G.S.N. however applied correct measures, but exactly contrary to those he demanded when he was Chief of the Fleet, by reducing to a minimum the personnel of the Fleet so as to allow the simultaneous functioning of all Schools of the Navy.  The practical result was that the ships in reserve were completely striped from cadres. Superior officers placed in other services in Athens were serving as virtual commanders.  Some of the ships were without executive officers and other had executive officers that were unfit for any other service.  The situation was even worse as far as non-commissioned officers were concerned.  In general, there was an understanding in the navy that reserve meant abandonment and those serving in ships in reserve considered it sufficient to come to the Naval base of Salamis once or twice per week.

 

Under such conditions, most would have resigned from any effort and would have considered this service as period of rest.  Being one of the most senior Captains and considering for that reason my placement somewhat humiliating, I decided to follow the opposite way.  I decided to create a precedent and prove that one who wishes to work hard can produce useful work, even in the worst position.  With only 1 or 2 real collaborators working under my orders I decided to execute myself the duties of the absent commanders, even of the executive officers’.  As there were not enough instructors, I applied under my immediate supervision a limited training program of ships by groups.  Finally, the limited but difficult objective was achieved.

 

The monotony of this service had an interesting intermission. In the prospect of executing combined landing maneuvers on some Attica shore, I was charged with the preparation and manning of the troop-transport ships with personnel from my ships and then with the command of the convoy.

 

During this period the Ministry of the Navy charged me and two other officers to draw-up a new Ship Internal Regulation manual that was used for many years.

 

On the occasion of the annual mutations done each fall, the Deputy Minister of the Navy proposed me the position of commander of the training ship “ARIS” that would allow me to complete my sea qualifications. I replied that for a captain of my seniority the formal completion of qualifications on a non-combating unit was of secondary importance asked that my completion of qualifications be postponed, until the time the central command judges that I can again be entrusted with the position of Commander of the active destroyers that I was holding 2 years ago. A long debate followed, with the Deputy Minister insisting that from that particular position all my senior captains must pass to complete their qualifications, but in case of war he knew well who he would be placing at that position. I took advantage of this opportunity to argue that in my opinion it would have been preferable to completely abolish this compulsory promotion qualification. It is not right, I argued, the very few sea commands to be used for the completion of formal obligations, but they should rather be used to prepare those who are planned to take them over at war time.  My position enraged the Deputy Minister who answered that above all he is interested in order and the preservation of the hierarchy and that this was the only means to create a small but good Navy.  I couldn’t control myself and had the bad inspiration to reply that “I wish that from the bottom of my heart, but I don’t believe it”.  This changed completely the stance against me of the Deputy Minister; until then he seemed to really appreciate me.

 

Commander of the Naval School of War

Thus, in December 1937, I was placed as Commander of the Naval School of War. The Flotilla in reserve was dismantled and the ships were placed under the Commander of the active Flotilla, renamed Supreme Destroyer Commander.

 

As soon as I took over my new duties, the first matter that I considered that had to be settled was the relative responsibilities of the Greek Commander and the British Director of Studies.  Until then, both were of the same rank (commanders) and the direction of studies was in reality given by the British. This situation had to change, since now the Commander of the School was one of the most senior captains. The matter was quite delicate because the present regime had lasted many years and according to the Contract of the Director of Studies he was responsible to the Minister of the Navy for the education program of the School. However, thanks to good will of the British officer the matter was settled according to my wish and a spirit of close and truthful collaboration prevailed.  In addition, in the new Contract the relative wording changed accordingly.

 

On the occasion of my inaugural speech to the students, in the presence of the Deputy Minister and the Chief of the G.S.N., I drew the general lines of the directions I wished to give to the naval education. As I recalled the period I was myself a student at the Naval School of War [see: Four years of relative calm 1928-1932" ], I stressed some points on which I didn’t agree with the directions followed at that time.  I thus argued that while the discipline of thought is one of the aims of the school, another one is the development of a research spirit, because the motto “believe but don’t search” has no place in a School of War.  Being however aware of our inherent stubbornness, I added that it isn’t characteristic of men of superior intelligence.

 

I had taken the unbending decision to innovate on another basic matter, concerning the substantial application of a disposition of Law that had recently been issued on the basis of which, in a much more clear way that in previous legislation, those who failed in their studies were not promoted to the higher rank.  Till then, this disposition hadn’t been applied because although unfavorable evaluations existed for several officers, it had never been written that they had failed in their studies.  The Chief of the G.S.N. and Rector of the School who was completely supporting my views had made it clear to me that “if the new Law is not applied under your Command, it will never be applied”.  As we tried to apply our decision we met the reaction of the Deputy Minister.  Since the middle of the educational period it had become obvious that, in spite of any possible leniency, 1 at least out of the 8 students was getting behind and would be impossible to let him succeed, if we didn’t wish to ridicule the School.  For that particular student the Deputy Minister had expressed special interest, asked me to report to his office at the Ministry of the Navy before submitting the results and asked me “what’s going on with Mr….” I replied that the only thing that’s going on is that according to the letter and to the spirit of the Law, that the Deputy Minister himself had introduced, that officer would fail because the contrary would be a flagrant violation the dispositions of the Law. He then started arguing that it was not right that the Scholl regulates the future of officers and added that “loyalty should not be taken into account Captain?”.  I had often heard this word under the various regimes and knew well what it implied.  I left the Deputy Minister understand that I had no intention to modify my proposals and rushed to inform the Chief of the G.S.N. He was enraged and assured me that he would do everything within his power to impose the decisions of the School. 

 

The results were submitted along with detailed evaluations for every student and in agreement with the British Director of Studies the protégé of the Deputy Minister had to remain at the same rank.  In spite of the violent reaction of the Chief of the G.S.N., the Deputy Minister found a solution.  He modified the Law and those who failed had the right to follow the same studies a second time. However, in spite the fact that both the Commander and the Director of Studies of the School had changed, he failed again. Thus the Deputy Minister despaired that he could find instruments willing to satisfy his wishes among those able to serve in the School; he found an even simpler solution: By a new modification of the Law he instituted that the evaluations of the Naval School of War only constitute an additional element for the judgment of officers by the Supreme Naval Committee. After some time the officer that had twice failed at the School was being promoted, following a favorable evaluation by the S.N.C.

 

Towards the end of the educational period, the School moved to Thessalonica to work on a joint project with the students of the Army School of War that was based there. There we had the opportunity to work with distinguished staff officers of the Army and we formed the best impressions of our collaboration.

 

In July 1938 I was invited to take over the Supreme Command of Shore Defense, when the reserve Rear –Admiral that was in charge asked to take his leave.”