Escape

 

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The Escape to Egypt
February 16  - March 3, 1943

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

In May of 1941 Captain Mezeviris was released from the hospital “EVANGELISMOS”
where he had been recovering from his wounds following
the sinking of “HYDRA”.  
He then immediately started thinking about escaping to the Middle East.

Most Greek officers remaining in Greece wished to flee from the German occupa-
tion to continue fighting for their country from outside its borders. Escaping was
extremely difficult, especially during this early period when clandestine groups
that helped organize such escapes had not yet been formed. It wasn’t an easy ma-
ter to find small boats that would undertake such perilous trips. Furthermore, the
funds requested for the passage where not easy to raise. The recommended esca-
pe route to Egypt via Turkey was found in many cases closed, as that country didn’
t wish to jeopardize its neutrality.

In spite of these difficulties, a few escapes did take place. Most early escapees
who managed to reach their final destination had a very difficult time, either during
the trip by sea or on their arrival to Turkey. After the end of 1941 these escapes
were better organized and became easier. The conquerors however took draco-
nian measures to stop that activity once they realized it was taking place. Those
who were arrested while trying to escape where condemned to heavy prison
terms, even to death. Especially tragic was the fate of some 40 men who were
caught on two boats that had just sailed. Some of the men were held as hostages
and executed when a sabotage against the enemy took place in Athens. Among
those executed were the crews of the two boats. After that it became even more
difficult to find crews ready to risk their lives in such operations.

In the first year of the German occupation Captain Mezeviris’ health had deteriora-
ted to the point that his family doubted that he would live long enough to see the
Liberation Day. But by the end of 1942, when he felt that he was recovering his
strength, he decided that the time had come to resume his war duties. He asked
lieutenant Neofytos, his first secretary aboard the destroyer “HYDRA”, to contact
an organization dealing with escapes.

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

“To organize the escape was time consuming. Some plans were abandoned as not
realistic. We succeeded in contacting an old comrade who operated a small ship of
the British secret service that was used to evacuate British operatives that remai-
ned in Greece. Unfortunately, before he could help us, he was denounced and had
to escape himself. Finally, his replacement was found in the person of Captain
Valassakis R.H.N.  Being very smart in dealing with such adventurous situations
and willing to help, he organized our escape to the last detail. While extremely
active and operating in the occupied city of Athens under the nose of the security
forces of the enemy, he had repeatedly avoided being arrested. Whenever I asked
to meet him, he would propose a different meeting point. Our last meeting took
place in an apartment room, next to the bedroom of some German officers. It was
the best way for our meeting not to be considered suspicious!

A very active officer of the Coast Guard and a non-commissioned officer of the
Navy, who would be our skipper, trusted collaborators of Captain Valassakis, were
willing to take any risk to help us escape. Our departure date was fixed for Febru-
ary 16, 1943. The previous day we went to a police station to get forged identifica-
tion cards. The officer of the Coast Guard and another man witnessed our new
identity. With barely concealed rage, I heard the policeman give strict instructions
to the witnesses regarding the accuracy of their depositions.  As we were leaving
the police station that same policeman approached me and whispered: “Farewell,
have a safe trip and God be with you”!

According to the plan, Lieutenant Neofytos and Lieutenant Panagiotopoulos, who
had served many years under my command, would accompany me. The morning of
our escape finally came. As planned, I left my home unrecognizable, unshaved for
several days, wearing dirty clothing, carrying a backpack as my only luggage. We
were supposed to be small black-market traders on our way to get wood coal. I met
my two comrades and our assigned driver at the point of departure of the truck
that was used as public transport, serving some Attica villages.

When, after a two-hours delay, our truck finally left, we realized that the features of
many of the passengers did not correspond to their dress. We thus got thus the
suspicion that the objective of their trip was similar to ours. Indeed, as we found
out later, they were comrades of the Army in another mission traveling with us by
pure coincidence. We were stopped at an Italian control point at Bogiati on the out-
skirts of Athens. We were lucky that the control was limited to our luggage and we
were not subjected to bodily search. We later learned that our army comrades
were carrying their revolvers on them…

From the end of the truck’s route, we walked to a point on the beach near the
village of Kalamos. We stayed until nightfall inside a church and then with our army
comrades we boarded a small boat. Towards midnight, we landed on the near-by
island of Evia. We split with our Army comrades and each team followed a different
trail. We climbed the cliffs and reached a trail that we would follow through the
mountain peaks to the east side of the island. I was really relieved to meet there
our guide with two mules, one for me and one for our luggage. I was surely not in
good enough physical condition for a non-stop four-hour walk. Our escape organi-
zer had thought out every detail with great precision. My two companions walked
the whole trail, impressing with their alpine skills. We finally reached our destina-
tion, a small farmer village, about one hour away from the bay where we would
board our escape boat to Turkey. In the village we waited for the arrival of our
boat coming from Piraeus. We were notified that, due to engine trouble, the boat
would arrive the following night. That was the most stressful part of our whole
adventure. Before us, several escapees had to wait in vain for days, as the boat
that they had paid for so dearly never showed up. During our wait at the village,
we were invited to stay at the house of some relatives of our guide. They had pre-
pared for us a splendid dinner the like of which that we had not enjoyed since
before the Occupation.

At nightfall the next day we were still with no news concerning the arrival of our
boat. To avoid jeopardizing the safety of our hosts, we decided to leave the hospi-
table house and go to our meeting point.  At the small bay below the village we met
our military friends ready to board a rather large boat and saw a smaller boat
waiting for an Aviation team. Our own boat was nowhere to be seen. After a long
wait, distressed that we would not be sailing that night, we went to sleep on the
floor of a fishermen’s cabin. At around one o’clock in the morning one fisherman
who had stayed awake came to tell us that our boat had arrived. After a while we
were leaving the Greek coast on a 1½ ton boat, heading for Turkey. In the morning
we were sailing in the straits of Kafireas, the weather was good and the German
boat that used to patrol that region was nowhere to be seen. In the afternoon the
wind became stronger and it was soon impossible to remain on the deck. We all
had to squeeze into the small cabin.

According to the instructions that were given to us in Athens before our departu-
re, we were to pass at a distance of at least 10 miles south of the island of Chios in
order to avoid meeting the German boat patrolling in the straits between Chios
and the Turkish coast. Such an encounter would have been extremely dangerous,
as not only our boat’s documents were not in order, but we were also carrying
British mail. But the weather had by then become stronger, and it became imperati-
ve to reach our destination as soon as possible. Our skipper decided to shorten
the trip by sailing close to the coast of Chios, claiming that “in such a weather the
German patrol boats don’t get out...”.

Indeed, we changed course and didn’t encounter the Germans. At around midnight
we finally arrived at the Gulf of Agrelia, close to the Turkish town Tsesme. Our boat
had taken in so much water that our cabin was half-submerged. As we docked our
skipper whistled, and a Greek Cypriot appeared who guided us to the only habita-
ble house in a dilapidated neighborhood. In that house we found everything that
people in our shipwreck-like condition could wish: A heated room, warm under-
wear, mattresses to sleep on and plenty of excellent food. We stayed in that room
the following day, as we were requested, so as not to be noticed by the customs
officers that were supposed to ignore our presence. However, a higher-ranking
Turkish officer paid us a visit. We introduced ourselves to him with our real identi-
ties. He was very friendly, showed philhellenic sentiments and wished to us to
quickly return to our freed Country. We also received the visit of the British vice-
consul of Smyrna. He was accompanied by two Greeks who were serving at the
British consulate at Tsesme, and who gave us instructions for our next moves.

We were then driven by car to the entrance of the town of Tsesme. We walked to
the police station and we presented ourselves as refugees from Chios. In the
police officer’s office we came upon one of the Greeks we had met earlier. He
pretended that he knew us from Athens; he confirmed our false identities and said
that we hadn’t met since before the Occupation.

I was supposedly the lawyer Moschos who had suffered considerably under the
German Occupation and escaped to Turkey in search of a job. My two comrades
were supposed to be a merchant and an industrialist, who also escaped for the
same reasons. The Turkish policemen were asking lots of questions concerning
our jobs in Greece and the reasons for our leaving the country. When this
“comedy” ended, we were taken by car and with police escort to Smyrna. We
stayed at the British consulate building as guests and from the evening of
February 19 we enjoyed the protection of the British Empire. That same day our
relatives, the appropriate persons in Athens and the Greek authorities in Cairo
and London were notified of our arrival. We stayed at the British consulate till
February 24, waiting the issuance of our passports. We had been asked not to go
out to town to avoid being recognized by the enemy’s secret agents.

In the morning of February 24 we boarded the train to Aleppo, Syria, were we
arrived on the night of February 27. We were traveling in the same train, to the
same destination with a large group of comrades from various divisions of the
Greek Armed forces. At Aleppo, a British Army lieutenant of Greek origin was
waiting for us and took us to a hotel for the night. The instructions given by the
British authorities of Smyrna and the Vice-President of the Greek Government in
exile, Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, ensured us a comfortable continuation of our trip.

The following morning a British Army major came to our hotel and put at our
disposal his car to drive us to Beirut, where the Greek submarines base was
located. As soon as they learned of our arrival, several of the Greek Navy officers
serving at the Naval Base rushed to meet us and welcomed us in a touching way. I
was thrilled to be again among comrades with a brilliant war record.

I was also pleased to learn that, as soon as my arrival in Smyrna was confirmed, the
Superior Naval Council was restructured on the recommendation of the Minister of
National Defense. In its new form the five-member Council consisted of the
Minister of National Defense P. Kanellopoulos, the Secretary of State for the Navy
Rear-Admiral Kavadias, the Chief of the Fleet Rear-Admiral Sakelariou, Vice-
Admiral Voulgaris, and myself. During my stay in Beirut I met the Minister of
National Defense who had come to help reestablish order following a mutiny that
had erupted among some military units stationed there. The Minister remained
optimistic concerning the evolution of the situation, and asked to see me again in
Cairo after three days.

We left for Haifa the next day in a British car and from there by train to Cairo,
where we arrived on March 3. Since our departure from Athens, only 15 days had
elapsed: a very short time for such a trip, thanks to the multiple means put to our
disposal. That same night, Radio Cairo was emitting a covert message to inform
our relatives that we had safely reached our destination…”

Captain Mezeviris in Egypt