Greece becomes a Republic

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

Greece becomes a Republic - Series of coups

1924- 25

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

 

The suppression of the counterrevolutionary coup [see: Asia Minor disaster, Revolution, Counterrevolution] was followed by a long agitated period during which coups d’états were alternating with brief periods of relative calm.

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“When elections were proclaimed, it became possible for serving military personnel to get involved in politics and stand for Parliament.  My Director was one of those that went into politics.  Thus, I was provisionally entrusted with his duties and a few months later I was named as the definitive Director of the Direction of the Radiotelegraphic Service of the Navy (D.R.Y.N.).

 

Director of the Direction of the Radiotelegraphic Service of the Navy (D.R.Y.N.)

1924, Lieutenant Commander Gr. Mezeviris and his staff at the D.R.Y.N. 

 

Assuming command of an important Service of the R.H.N. with the rank of Lieutenant Commander was for me a very satisfactory development that had also an unpleasant side.  Many at headquarters considered that those in charge of the Radiotelegraphic Service should inspire total trust from the political ideology point of view.  This was rendering my position very delicate.  Some low level personnel that had close ties with the Revolution considered themselves as having special privileges and often presented provocative demands to my ex- Director, who was immediately rejecting them.  After his departure they became even more daring because they believed that the Ministry of the Navy would intervene in their favor. Once more their demands were rejected but this matter created an additional annoying workload for me.

1924, Director Gr. Mezeviris & staff at the Votanicos Wireless Station

 

The proclamation of the Republic in March 1924 brought new reasons for stirring-up political passions and created new problems of conscience to royalist officers.  Unfortunately these were not resolved by the referendum that followed, the way it was carried out having left many doubts on its fairness. People were not showing any enthusiasm for the new regime, as could be expected in the case the outcome of the referendum was truly the result of the free will of the citizens. On the other hand there were no indications of the opposite.  The anti-venizelist camp that was supporting the Kingdom was missing their leaders, was disappointed and disintegrating.  In the middle of this upheaval I continued offering my services, as most of the royalist officers did.  This, in some cases, entailed some very tough obligations as the following:

 

An order was issued to all services requiring the personnel -assembled in review- to remove the crown from their caps  and then the person in command to develop the advantages of the republican system of government.  With emotion that I could hardly hide I supervised the execution of the first part of the order, but couldn’t execute the second.  I couldn’t find arguments to support opinions that I didn’t share.  I have no doubt that the Ministry was informed of my omission, but was not blamed for my attitude.

 

When the referendum for the Republic day was approaching, the Minister of the Navy, Admiral A. Chatzikiriakos, summoned me and informed me that my Deputy Director was to be transferred because he didn’t trust his political beliefs.  I smiled and answered that the Minister was not well informed.  My deputy was a type of philosopher who didn’t care about political disputes and who firmly believed in democratic principles. The Minister didn’t comment my answer but added: “I would also like to ask you to take a few days off until the end of the referendum”. And that’s what I did.  During my weeklong absence my ex-Director, elected Member of Parliament, was provisionally recalled to duty to replace me. 

 

I don’t know whether being forced to take a leave of absence was the result of an order I had issued in connection to the referendum.  Two stations were created for the military personnel voting, although one would have been enough.  To avoid double voting, by written order I had determined that half of the personnel would vote under the supervision of officers in the first voting station in the morning and the other half similarly in the afternoon at the second voting station.

Officer promotions ‘by absolute choice’ leads to political crisis

 

When a relative calm period came after the upheaval caused by the change of regime, a serious turmoil was caused in the Navy in June 1924 that finally lead to governmental change.  The principle of  ‘by absolute choice’ promotion had never been applied in the Navy, with the exception of certain specific cases immediately after the Balkan wars.  From the period of the Thessalonica coup many officers had alternatively been dismissed from the ranks or passed-over for political reasons and at very rare cases only officers had been passed-over for other reasons. 

 

Unless their career was interrupted prematurely for political reasons, almost all officers were promoted with their graduating seniority from the School of Naval Cadets.  Officers lucky enough to enjoy the favor of those governing in the right period of their career, were promoted to the top positions. Things changed in June 1924, when Admiral A. Chatzikiriakos, Minister of the Navy and one of the leaders of the 1922 Revolution, decided to innovate and apply the principle of promotions ‘by absolute choice’ on the occasion of some promotions to the ranks of captain and commander.

 

Especially in a small Corps it can be debated whether it is advisable to apply such correct in theory measure, with the exception of cases of promotion to the rank of Flag officer.  On the other hand, the measure of passing over is a necessity in the case of those who lack the necessary qualities for the superior rank.

 

A fundamental condition for fair ‘by absolute choice’ promotion is that it will not depend on the evaluation of a single person, especially a politician, but of a Committee comprising the heads of the hierarchy of the Corps. This was not however the case.

 

I don’t wish to give my opinion concerning the promotions to the rank of commander, because I was among those promoted ‘by absolute choice’.  An uproar erupted, especially following the promotion ‘by absolute choice’ of the undeniably very able Commander A. Kolialexi, apparently destined by the Minister for future Commander in Chief of the Navy.  With this promotion many able officers who hadn’t played a leading part in the establishment of the Republic, but who on the other hand were not in disfavour, were passed over.

 

The political opponents of the Minister of the Navy, especially those belonging to the venizelist camp from which he had seceded, exploited the huge unrest created in the naval circles by this new measure.  A large number of officers were misled to collectively submit their resignation, an act undermining the foundations of military discipline and unprecedented for a military Corps.

 

The Minister reacted actively against that movement of insubordination.  He accepted some of the resignations, ordered some arrests and entrusted the commands to officers that hadn’t participated in this movement.  I was then asked to assume command of a ‘LEMNOS’ type battleship but asked to keep my post at the D.R.Y.N., because I was among those promoted and didn’t wish to give the impression that I was taking advantage of this sad opportunity to take a position much higher than my seniority.

 

In spite of the measures taken, it was impossible for the naval services to function because the officers that had resigned were the majority and were not withdrawing their resignations.  Thus, the Minister of the Navy was forced to resign and with him the whole Government.

 

The new Government with great difficulty re-established order in the Navy, having first promoted all the officers that had been passed over.  During this period, the actions of these officers were not only aiming the Minister but also their colleagues that had been promoted. They even used the Press to express their resentfulness.

 

 I was also attacked by some of my colleagues, although I had no contact whatsoever with the anterooms of the Ministry of the Navy and my promotion ‘by absolute choice’ came as a real surprise.  I was especially saddened because colleagues with who we shared for many years a common ideology attacked me.  It was the peak of disappointment that I felt in the last eight years, serving under various regimes alternating in power.  I considered that the time had come to leave the Navy.  To complete the few months missing to acquire the right to retire, I decided to ask my permanency at the D.R.Y.N.  Thus, I would be excluded from the ranks and wouldn’t take up any colleague’s position at the hierarchy.  My request was immediately accepted in August 1924. With great regret I considered that my naval career was over.  It was quite impossible for me at that time to imagine that, thanks to the political volatility in my Country, one day I would return to active duty in the Navy and would have the honour to lead in war the R.H.N. destroyers.

 

Mission to England to take delivery of wireless stations

 

In October 1924, I went to England to take delivery of the new wireless stations of our destroyers that were being overhauled in English shipyards and of some portable ones.

 

I hesitated a lot before deciding to leave Greece at a time when there were movements to dismantle the D.R.Y.N., that had become a very large Service coveted by many.  Several naval officers were aiming at detaching some of her duties and put them under the Service they were heading.  The Ministry of Transports foreseeing the increasing importance of a civil wireless service was trying to establish her own Service, directly reporting to the P.T.T. Department, while the Merchant Marine - lacking of any specialist- was interested in assuming responsibility of the wireless installations of merchant ships.  All these tendencies were fuelled by the personal aims of some officers serving under my command.

 

It was however indispensable that I myself take delivery of the new stations that, being new equipment completely unknown to us, had been ordered with my personal responsibility.  Disregarding therefore the dangers overhanging the D.R.Y.N., I left for England after getting the assurance from ‘Marconi’ that everything will be ready for final testing and thus my absence would not exceed one month.

 

Upon arriving in England, I unfortunately realized that reality was not as promised and was very distressed till persuaded that the equipment I had ordered was suitable.  The equipment was installed on only one destroyer and initial tests hadn’t been performed. The ‘Marconi’ company engineers that had undertaken the installation were handling this equipment for the first time and were waiting my arrival to start testing.  The first tests were disappointing because of wrong tuning.  Much time and the intervention of the engineer that had designed the stations were required, to tune-up the equipment and make it work.  I was greatly relieved when finally the station worked because I had heard some negative comments about choosing wirelesses of this type, from members of the mission that supervised the ships’ overhaul.

 

Testing the stations at sea was still pending and I had doubts whether their delicate instruments, compared to the robust spark transmission stations used up to then,  were really suitable for light war ships operating in rough seas.  While testing this equipment at sea, I also asked the stations to be tested while executing salvo with real fire. The company engineers accepted my request with unease, reminding me that there was no such provision in the contract and expressed their reserve in case of adverse results.  With real agony I was thus expecting to see the results of the first salvo; happily everything went smoothly and I finally took delivery of the station.

 

In spite of the successful final testing, I had still doubts reflecting on the fate of these stations in the hand of our personnel that will be handling them, when the Company’s engineers themselves faced so many difficulties to initially put them into operation.  These doubts didn’t prove unjustified because for a period of time the stations were having frequent damages exclusively due to wrong handling; such damages stopped only when the personnel learned well how to use them and gradually all the ships of the Fleet were equipped with similar stations.

 

After taking delivery of the second installation, as my absence from Greece had been greatly prolonged beyond my initial forecast, I asked permission from the Ministry of the Navy the destroyers’ mission to take delivery of the remaining installations.

 

Before leaving Greece for England, I had sent to our Naval Attaché in Paris a draft contract for ordering similar wireless stations to equip our new submarines “KATSONIS” and “PAPANICOLIS” being built in France. This contract, fortunately not signed as yet, along with the destroyers’ contracts were the first I had drafted and from lack of relative experience presented several shortcomings, as I realized during the tests in England.  Thus, before returning to Greece I went to Paris to replace the draft contract with a new one taking into account all the conclusions of my recent experience.

 

When two years later I was taking delivery of the last stations ordered, was told by the ‘Marconi’ Company engineers that they had been never asked before to perform such demanding tests!

 

I returned to Greece in February 1925, after a 4 month absence.  During this period, as I was afraid, actions for dismantling the D.R.Y.N. had been actively promoted from various sides. Fortunately it was not fait accompli and the Minister of the Navy was waiting for my return before taking any decision.  I struggled hard to provisionally succeed to overturn the plans of those undermining the D.R.Y.N. and postpone the application of measures that had in principle been decided.   However, my final removal from the D.R.Y.N. some time later has finally given satisfaction to those interested in her breaking up.

 

The coup d’état of General Pangalos

 

In the summer of 1925, the coup d’état of General Pangalos erupted and seized power. One of its leaders, Admiral A. Chatzikiriakos, once more took over the Ministry of the Navy.

 

I had personally no reason to be against the new regime. Those in charge of the Navy in the last year were treating me with characteristic coldness because I hadn’t participated in the collective submission of resignations.  Admiral A. Chatzikiriakos on the other hand, in spite of my opposite ideology, had shown his appreciation by promoting me ‘by absolute choice’.  But in this case also I kept the decision I had made.

 

The leaders of the new movement were not taking at all seriously those in power and had been publicly announcing its imminent eruption.  Following these rumours I had once more taken the necessary security measures.  I was especially concerned with the suspect movements of some telegrapher officers serving under my command. When the coup erupted everything remained calm in the Votanicos Station where I was staying awake, while the head of the Thisseion Station with an open telegram informed that he was joining the mutineers.  I was indignant, but this case had a very comic and also didactic aspect…

The Votanicos Station of the Direction of the Radiotelegraphy Service of the Navy

 

From a long time I had proposed to the Minister the replacement of this person for serious professional reasons that had nothing to do with politics. The Minister of the Navy politely but coldly had asked me not to insist on my proposal, because he considered that position very important and wished to be entrusted to a person of his absolute trust. When the coup erupted and this person had to make proof of the trust placed on him by the Minister, he refused to execute his telephonic order to transmit to Poros a cryptographic telegram declaring that he only executed orders of the revolutionaries. The Administration Director of the Ministry immediately informed me with anger that my subordinate at the Thisseion Station was not executing a Minister’s order.  I could have of course answered that this wouldn’t have happened if the Minister had accepted my proposal to replace him.  However, I just answered that I was taking it upon myself to transmit the telegram from the Votanicos Station wireless and asked permission to seize the Thisseion Station with personnel I trusted.  Thus, I supervised the telegram’s transmission but my request to seize the Thisseion Station was never answered.

 

Towards new, more important duties

 

As soon as the new Government was installed, I was convoked to the Ministry of the Navy and with surprise I heard being offered positions of my own choice, when as permanent Director of the D.R.Y.N. I was not allowed to serve at another position.  As I learned later, it was a demand of my subordinates who wishing my removal had joined the coup.

 

The positions I was offered were positions of honor and tempting; it was clear that the Ministry wished my new assignment to have my approval.  Eventually, if I insisted, I would have finally succeeded retaining my current job.  However, I grew weary fighting towards all directions and was disgusted by the recent attitude of some of my subordinates.

 

Some of the positions I was offered were at Headquarters and among them was included the Submarine Section created on the occasion of re-establishment of that Command.  Having taken the decision to soon withdraw from the ranks of the Navy, I didn’t wish to accept a position at Headquarters.  On the other hand, the positions I was offered of Naval Attaché in London or Paris were not only pleasant per se but presented also the advantage for me that I would be working in an environment unfamiliar with the political disputes of Greece, that had tired me so much.

 

I thus decided to accept the position of Naval Attaché in Paris and at the end August of 1925, I left Athens to take up my new duties.

 

Soon after my departure, the position of permanent Director of the D.R.Y.N. was abolished by Decree, a new wireless Section was being created at the Ministry of Transport and later the remaining demands of those aiming at limiting the responsibilities of the this important naval Service were also being realized.”