The first years after Liberation: 1945-46
(source: G. Mezeviris Vice- Admiral R.H.N.,
"Four decades in the Service of the R.H.N", Athens 1971)
‘The mission of our Navy is to secure the domination of the Greek Seas and to defend from sea the integrity of our national territory. That is what our Navy has also done recently, when our Country –sole among all small countries- didn’t hesitate to oppose two powerful Empires’
Athens, summer 1946, Rear-Admiral Mezeviris Chief of the
R.H.N. General Staff of the Navy, addressing
the British Admiral of the Mediterranean Fleet.
Gregory Mezeviris narrates:
“As soon as the December nightmare was over, officers were appointed to cover the organizational positions of the Services of the Ministry of the Navy and activate the mechanisms that were inactive for the last 4 years.
Those who had remained in occupied Greece had still the recollection of the old service traditions, but the hardships of the German Occupation and moral decay had left their traces. Those who had returned from the Middle East were full of vigor, but were negatively affected by the extremely different way of life in exhausted Greece compared to the one they had left behind in the Middle East. In addition, several of the younger that had only served on the ships and had benefited from quick rank evolution, completely ignored the operation mode of the Services of Central Command.
In the Middle East the operation of the Financial Services had been extremely simplified. The central cashier was paying for the expenses ordered by the Ministry of the Navy and was replenishing his treasury from the British cashier. During that period, there were neither limitations of approved credits of the Government Budget, nor preventive control of expenditures…
When, following my orders, the superior financial officers that had remained in Greece re-activated the above controls, there was an outcry against them because they were supposedly obstructing the smooth operation of the Services!
In the Middle East, the only responsibility of Logistics was to request from the British warehouses the quantities of supplies, ammunitions, foods and clothing that our Navy each time needed; there was no obligation to forecast the needs for the replenishment of the warehouses. In reality there was not even a Direction of Technical Services and there was no need for one. The Chief of the R.H.N. Fleet was applying to the British Authorities, each time there was need to repair a ship, and they were taking care of the repair.
Matters were becoming even more complicated after the Liberation, because the new institution of the Admiralty was creating many questions concerning the persons who were responsible to decide on various issues. We faced the same problems with the Services of the General Staff of the Navy that many younger officers even ignored its purpose of existence.
Thanks to the quick issuance of the Organizational orders that the new institution required and that I personally worked-out, all hazy points were clarified. With great insistence and patience we slowly succeeded in the beginning, but at a rate that was continuously accelerating, the smooth operation of the whole mechanism. However, we wouldn’t have achieved this smooth operation if the British assistance for ship repairs, supplies and operation of some Schools hadn’t continued till we became self-sufficient.
At the same time we dealt with the other shore facilities. A Rear-Admiral Chief with technical staff was placed at the Naval Base of Salamis. Because the Naval Base had been completely destroyed, before deciding its reconstruction from scratch, a feasibility study was made to decide whether another location should be chosen. A special British Mission 40 years ago had chosen a site next to the Skaramanga Ship Yard. However, the last war had shown that, even if the enemy didn’t occupy Greece, that area was very exposed to air raids. Souda Bay in Crete, a better choice, also presented serious shortcomings; it was extremely difficult to locally find the large number of skilled technicians needed for operating the Workshops. It was just as well that a more thorough investigation showed that several of the pre-war facilities of the Naval Base of Salamis could be repaired and many machines found under the debris were usable. On the basis of these thoughts, it was decided that the fastest and more economical solution was to rebuild the old Naval Base.
Among our first actions was the preparation of some dwellings for the personnel and the provisional installation of the equipment that had been recuperated in warehouses situated near the Submarine Base. The installation of this provisional Workshop was done very fast and very soon it was undertaking repairs for a small number of ships. As time went by, this provisional Workshop became a regular Workshop and remained in permanent operation. When the old Workshops were repaired, their aggregate performance surpassed the pre-war. In parallel, we started cleaning-up the port of the Naval Base from the many shipwrecks that blocked the approach of ships. This action was also carried-out very fast.
These first works were done with the naval personnel and with means that either the British provided or were found on the spot. However, large-scale projects required disposing large credits that would probably be impossible to secure that period. Nevertheless, at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister General Plastiras, I succeeded in getting approval for a very large credit for the reconstruction of the Navy. The argument I used in that respect was that if the Navy reconstruction did not materialize, we would be obliged to spend large amounts of foreign currency for ship repairs abroad and for keeping the naval Schools in Egypt. Another fact that helped in getting this favorable decision was the fact that we were the only Government Authority that had studied its reorganization and was able to submit concrete requests. An important part of the approved credits was earmarked to the Naval Base. It helped to progressively complete all the Naval Base facilities and those of the Submarine Base as well. By 1947, all pre-war facilities had been re-built and several new had been added. Improvements were also made in the following years and thus the Naval Base of Salamis became much better than pre-war. Among the first projects undertaken was the restoration of the Naval Hospital of Piraeus that started operating again the summer of 1945.
Another part of the credits was used to restore the pre-war facilities of the Skaramanga Schools where the first after–the–war draftees were called for training the summer of 1945. It was extremely urgent to train new sailors in order to dismiss the reservists who had been serving the Navy for many years. More credits were released the following years for the same objective and many new facilities were built for the Schools of the various specialties. Thus, the complex of the Schools had a rare growth for a small Navy. In parallel, the British supplied the Schools with new training material that had been used in the war and of which we even ignored its existence before the war.
All facilities of the Naval School of Cadets and the Central Training Unit of Poros were also repaired. As a result of all these actions, all Schools operating in Egypt were moved to Greece in the fall of 1945. The facilities of the Torpedo and Mine Command in Skaramanga were also restored and new fuel tanks were built near-by. The Naval School of War neat Thesion was so damaged that it was decided to abandon it and repair and use part of the buildings of the Radiotelegraphy Service of the Navy. It was decided not to do any repair work to the Naval Fortresses of the Shore Defense, because the few constructions that had remained had no value. Besides, modern warfare required reviewing the blueprints of their construction.
1945, Rear Admiral Mezeviris (3rd from right) at the Unknown Soldier
The 10 Naval Commands under a Rear-Admiral Chief based in 10 ports offered precious services during this first period after the Liberation. They were practically the only port services normally operating in these first months. They took over the restoration of the ports, the cleaning-up from the shipwrecks, the regulation of navigation, the port and shore police… To service all these needs a large number of men and officers were allocated to the Naval Commands. When the other public services started operating normally, it was necessary for the Navy to concentrate on its main mission. Besides, the British who were still supplying us were exercising pressure on us to reduce the personnel serving in the Navy. Thus, by the end of 1945, some Naval Commands were abolished and the personnel of the remaining were reduced. This reduction measure met political reaction when it was decided to apply it to the Naval Command of Piraeus that was employing a large staff. As elections were approaching, the lay-off of an important number of members of the staff was not desirable! Finally, the measure of staff reduction was also applied to Piraeus.
During this period and until the capitulation of Germany, our ships continued to execute war missions decided by the Chief of the R.H.N. Fleet in collaboration with the British Admiral based in Athens. An especially tough mission was executed by our minesweepers that along with British minesweepers had undertaken the task to clean up the Greek Seas from the numerous minefields. This dangerous task continued for several years and was an excellent opportunity for training the young officers that were serving on the minesweepers.
In April 1945, Vice Admiral P. Voulgaris became Prime Minister and he entrusted me with the duties of Admiral Chief. The new Prime Minister retained the three war Ministries and named Secretaries of State for two of them. For the Ministry of the Navy he didn’t name a Secretary of State but extended my responsibilities to practically cover this role. The position of Chief of the Fleet was not covered and the ships were allocated under the command of Captains Supreme Commanders. The main force of the Fleet was placed under the command of a Captain Supreme Destroyer Commander. After these changes, the British Admiral was collaborating with the General Staff of the Navy for the ship missions. The following year the ship missions came under our absolute authority and the British Admiral was renamed Chief of the British Naval Mission. This development coincided with the replacement of Vice Admiral Turner by Vice Admiral Talbot. With sincere regret we wished farewell to the departing Admiral, a real gentleman who really cared for the Greek Navy. I remember the following characteristic scene:
When after the oath giving ceremony of the first series of draftees the new sailors paraded in front of me soldierly and in perfect military discipline, nothing reminded of the skinny underfed youngsters that had experienced the hardships of the German occupation and had enrolled just 40 days earlier. The British Admiral who was standing next to me and had witnessed this transformation expressed his admiration and added: “I will report to the British Admiralty that the funds we are spending for the Greek Navy are put to good use”. I can’t express myself with the same enthusiasm for some of his successors!
1945, Rear-Admiral Mezeviris at the
oath giving ceremony of the first series
The incorporation of the Dodecanese
During that period I had an unforgettable few day respite. In May 1945, I accompanied with the battleship “AVEROF” the Viceroy of Greece Archbishop Damaskinos to his historical visit of the island of Rhodes. The Dodecanese hadn’t yet been officially delivered to Greece by the British command. It was the first visit by a Head of the Greek State after many centuries of slavery. The Military Commander, a British Brigadier, conferred exceptional honors on the Viceroy. It’s impossible to describe the enthusiasm of the inhabitants of Rhodes who were delirious with joy! On our way to the Cathedral, I accompanied the Viceroy on a convertible car; the people were throwing so many roses on him that we were completely covered. After the Te Deum at the Cathedral, the Viceroy delivered an enthusiastic speech to the assembled people that ended with the phrase: “Let’s kneel and thank God, the Almighty” and the he knelt. The British Brigadier and I, who were framing him on the balcony, did the same and so did all the people on the square who were deeply moved and crying.
May 1945, The Viceroy Archbishop Damaskinos
The ex- Admiral Chief governed the country for a period of 6 months, a very productive and free from political interferences period for the Navy.
After relieving the congestion of the officers of the Navy, we faced the difficult issue of the large number of non-commissioned officers who had remained in Greece and hadn’t followed the Navy to the Middle East. After the promotions that had taken place in Egypt, the re-establishment of all in their seniority would have resulted in the increase of the number of officers of Crews of the Fleet and of chief petty officers to twice their pre-war number. As an example, a third of the music band of the Fleet would have been officers! The first measure taken was to dismiss those who were professionally unfit, those who didn’t have a good conduct during the war and of course the mutineers of the Navy. In our evaluation no political criteria were used and the same measures were applied to the non-commissioned officers of all the categories. We had however to try hard in the end of 1945 to convince the Sofoulis Government that the dismissals were fair and we didn’t persecute those dismissed in 1935. It’s worth noting however that an important percentage of those dismissed in 1935 were anti-Venizelists dismissed for professional reasons (and not for political), now appearing as politically persecuted!
This last Government was especially opposed to the institution of the Admiralty. We had already prepared a Draft of Law correcting some shortcomings of the previous, on which the British Admiral had expressed his agreement. However, this Law was never issued. It appears that this was due to outside the Navy military consultants of the Government who were feeling that if the Law remained unchanged, it would be completely abolished by the future Parliament…
The structure of the R.H.N. Fleet
During this period the British Government transferred some more ships to the Hellenic Navy. Two destroyers of the ‘Hunt’ class were transferred, the delivery of which was delayed because of the mutiny of April 1944. One more ‘Hunt’ class destroyer was transferred to replace the destroyer “ADRIAS” who had hit a mine and its repair was uneconomical. Five more submarines were transferred to replace the same number of pre-war, of which 4 had been sunk and one was useless from intensive use. The main force of the Fleet was composed of 8 1050 tons escort destroyers built in 1941-42, two fleet destroyers of an older type that our own and 6 submarines of 540 tons, built in 1942-44. From the fleet destroyers, only the “NAVARINON” remained in service; the other one was not used because of his bad condition. In addition, the number of minesweepers was increased so as to dispose 2 fleets of minesweeping with the necessary auxiliary ships.
10 ‘Fairmile B’ class coastal patrol ships, 8 Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) ships and 12 landing ships for amphibious operations were also transferred. These ships together with the 4 corvettes, the anti-submarine “KING GEORGE”, the 3 American landing ship tanks and a few auxiliary composed the whole of the new acquisitions of our Navy after the war. From the pre-war ships, the floating repairs ship “HEPHAISTOS” was the only still useful unit.
This naval program was not prepared by us, but by the British Admiralty and our Fleet consisted as a result from ships that our allies had decided to transfer. This was not a program that served the needs of our Navy in war-time, but just our current needs. The destroyer and submarine flotillas offered the opportunity to continue training our personnel in operating these types of ships. We had in addition the means to clean-up our Seas from the mine fields and to cover the transport needs of the Army. We finally disposed of number of small ships for policing our shores, an activity that became an absolute necessity after the December 1944 events.
Until March 1947, when the British aid ended, and since the guerilla war had started presenting a serious threat, 6 more British landing ship tanks were transferred on a provisional base in the beginning and on permanent basis later plus a few more auxiliary crafts. Because of the guerilla war, there were not enough ships to patrol all shores, when the American aid started we succeeded in acquiring 6 American patrol boats. For the same reason we took delivery from the Greek Organization Managing Military Supplies (O.DI.SY.) of 4 large minesweepers that we equipped to become patrol boats. During the guerilla war we often interrupted the minesweeping tasks to police our shores.
To execute the special missions of the Navy during the guerilla war, the ships transferred for the policing of the shores and the transports for the Army were especially useful.
While we considered that the structure of our ships was only provisional, suddenly in the summer of 1946 the British side made some suggestions that opened-up bleak prospects: I received a telephone call from Rear Admiral Talbot, Head of the British Mission, asking me to pay him a visit because the British Admiral of the Mediterranean Fleet who was visiting Athens wished to discuss with me a very serious matter concerning the Greek Navy. Assuming that I was invited for a private meeting, I didn’t take with me anyone from my staff and when I was shown to the meeting room, was surprised to see that the Admiral was surrounded by several officers of his staff. The British Admiral of the Fleet explained that Greece didn’t need a powerful Navy, because it’s only destination was to satisfy the needs of the Army. Its structure therefore should consist mainly of amphibious units, a few escorts and some auxiliary ships. There was no need for large units, or fleet destroyers and submarines were useless for us. We would even have to deliver the torpedoes of the surface ships that had no use for us and close down our Torpedo Command. In short, the British Fleet Admiral was asking us to transform our Navy to an auxiliary weapon to cover the transport needs of the Army that will not dispose sufficient means of protection against enemy attacks. In case of enemy attack, our Navy would thus be obliged to ask our allies for help.
1945, Rear Admiral Mezeviris, Chief of General Staff of the RHN (center) welcomes
Lord John H.D. Cunningham Admiral of the Mediterranean RN Fleet
For a moment I remained speechless. I couldn’t believe that these proposals were made the next day of a war that our Navy had fought during 4 years at the side of the British, had offered invaluable services and had suffered very heavy sacrifices. Soon after, with indignation that I could barely conceal, I hurriedly answered that the mission of our Navy is to secure the domination of the Greek Seas and to defend from sea the integrity of our national territory. That is what our Navy has also done recently, when our Country –sole among all small countries- didn’t hesitate to oppose two powerful Empires. The Hellenic Navy accordingly, must dispose the necessary forces to satisfactorily execute its mission with its own means, at least in case of attack from a neighboring country. It is evident that the proposed structure doesn’t satisfy at all these objectives. I also added that taking a decision on this important matter is up to the Greek Government, to which I will transmit what has been said, but as far as I’m concerned as Chief of the General Staff of the Navy I will never propose measures that are equivalent to dismantling the Navy. I am in advance sure that also the Greek Government will never agree with your proposals, because else the Greek People who are proud of their Navy and had repeatedly in modern history deprived themselves to aid strengthen its forces, will never forgive them.
This discussion didn’t last long. The British Fleet Admiral realized that it was impossible to make me change my mind and ended the meeting. He then approached and in a very friendly tone said: “I upset you” and I answered “Admiral you carry out your duty and I mine”. In our discussion Admiral Talbot, Chief of the British Mission, had repeatedly intervened and seemed quite unhappy with my objections. Our excellent relationship became past history. He kept interfering with internal matters of our Navy and later found a proper moment to express his dissatisfaction. I was in no doubt that this would happen, but nothing could stop me from carrying out my duty.
March 1946, Rear Admiral Mezeviris sees-off
Admiral Lord John H.D.Cunningham
The Minister of the Armed Forces P. Mavromichalis completely agreed with my position on the matter and the British suggestions remained a simple proposal. Unfortunately in the years that followed, even after the internal order was re-established in Greece and the mission of our armed forces was to defend against external dangers, we were unable to obtain the required structure of our Navy with the American military aid.
Beyond the allied aid, the only source in our disposal for the renewal of our Fleet was the Italian war reparations. We didn’t make excessive demands, as the Greek Government had done after the collapse of Italy, but only logical requests. We were quite certain that the allies would transfer to us small ships, but there was no probability for transferring a large ship which, besides her war-time utility, was extremely useful for personnel training purposes in peace-time. We had no reason for being pleased with the destroyers we had ordered before the war in Italian shipyards. On the other hand the Italian light cruisers were famous form their construction quality. In addition, there was the fair demand of the Greek people that those who had sunk our only light cruiser “ELLI” replace it with an at least equivalent unit. We therefore submitted our request to the Allied Commission for the transfer of one large light cruiser or of two small. We had a preference for the smaller units, but the three available small light cruisers (3.500 tons, built in 1940-41) had been transferred to France. We succeeded in getting the “EUGENIO DI SAVOIA”, a 7.500 tons light cruiser that we renamed “ELLI”. This ship that had severe damage from having hit a mine, was completely repaired and in absolute good faith by post-war Italy. However, the obligations of Italy were limited to bring the ship back to the situation she was in when she was operating for the Italian Navy. There was no obligation to equip her with radar, or anti-aircraft weapons that modern light cruisers disposed. These had to be added by us with the means offered by the allied aid, for the ship to become a really useful unit in war-time. Unfortunately these necessary additions were never made, because our allies didn’t seem to approve our Navy disposing a large unit and the successive Greek Governments didn’t dispose the necessary credits in that end.”