Mutiny

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The Greek Navy in the Middle East- The mutiny
April 1944

(source: Vice Admiral G. Mezeviris,"Four Decades in
the Service of the Royal Hellenic Navy", Athens 1971)

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

“In the evening of April 4, 1944, I learned that serious events were taking place
in the military facilities in Cairo, in the Brigades and in the Fleet. I rushed to the
Ministry where I was informed of the unprecedented events happening in our
Navy. In the ships and the naval shore establishments, sailors Revolutionary
Commissions had been formed and were circulating for signing among the staffs
and crews, p
etitions
asking for a reshuffling of the Greek Government-in-exile
in Cairo to include the Revolutionary Committee of EAM (the National Resistance
Organization controlled by communists) from Greece. The Navy Command had
not reacted to this mutiny. Under the pressure of the sailors Revolutionary
Commissions, all crews signed the pe
titions
. Some of the officers signed also;
those who didn’t were arrested by members of their crews.

After the eruption of these cases, the Chief of the Fleet invited the ship
commanders to a meeting to assess the situation. The commanders declared
that the situation was not under their control any more. The Chief then decided
to appear as heading the movement so as to avoid the interruption of the ship
missions. The following order was issued by the Chief of the Fleet Rear-Admiral
Alexandris:

    “Following the announcement of the creation in Greece of a commission
    representing resistance organizations fighting against the conqueror, I was
    pleased to realize the unanimous wish of everyone in our Navy, from the
    Commander and the ship commanders to the last sailor, that our Government
    here cooperate  effectively with the above-mentioned commission with the
    objective of joining forces for the continuation of our fight to free our Home
    Land. I have officially transmitted today this unanimous wish to the
    Government. I was re-assured that all the necessary measures will be taken
    immediately for the formation of a Government with pan-Hellenic
    characteristics. I therefore believe that this effort will soon end to the
    unanimous satisfaction of the Navy, which is also the wish of the entire
    Nation. I now invite you all to continue united and concentrated the beautiful
    task that our Navy is performing for more than three years, in order to achieve
    soon the supreme satisfaction of bringing with our ships the liberation to our
    Home Land.”


Next, a general signal announced that four senior officers were sent to Cairo to
present officially to the Government the position of the Fleet and to cooperate
for its implementation.

On the above, I can observe that it is not true that it was a unanimous wish of
the whole Navy. Most officers strongly disagreed and they proved it when they
used their hand weapons to repress the mutiny. It is characteristic that all the
officers of the destroyer “PINDOS”, with the exception of an Ensign, refused to
sign the protocol. The crew arrested the commander, the brilliant Lieutenant
Commander Fifas, disembarked him and put him under shore arrest.  Then, they
threw all the officers in the harbor! They reserved the same treatment to the
executive officer Lieutenant Kogevinas, an officer very dear to the crew since
he had thrown himself in rough seas to save a sailor that was wiped over-board
by a wave! What was more astonishing, was that “PINDOS” was ordered to
execute a new mission with a new commander and Staff, but with the same crew
and their Revolutionary Committee. The consequence was that the ship was
assumingly obliged to pass from Malta to disembark an officer who claimed that
he was in need of a surgical operation. The “PINDOS” crew came into contact
with the crews of the Greek ships mooring in Malta and contributed thus to their
revolt. Next, the “PINDOS” reached an Italian port where the crew contacted the
Italian communist party, declared that the War was over and refused to continue
the war effort.

Very few of the officers, especially some junior and non-commissioned officers,
shared the revolutionary beliefs of the crews. What was strange was the attitude
of some senior officers, even of some Captains, that hadn’t realized the
seriousness of the situation and believed that the re-establishment of the order
could only be done by soft measures.  They considered that the first measures
taken by the British against the mutineers –cut-off of food and water - should be
relaxed. In my opinion, these officers were very much influenced by the
enthusiastic radio emissions of the B.B.C. that praised EAM, as the only real
resistance movement fighting in occupied Greece.

When, after the outbreak of the mutiny, the Minister of the Navy came to
Alexandria, I met him and placed myself at his disposal for the repression of the
mutiny. I considered that that was only possible by using force. He must have
remembered then, what I have been telling him for several months, gave me a
warm handshake and thanked me for my contribution. A new Chief of the Fleet
was named on April 21, 1944; a reservist once more, Rear-Admiral Voulgaris, was
appointed with the mission to crush the mutiny. The new Chief was trusted by
the King and the Greek Government and was followed by the 1935 re-
established officers, with the exception of a few that were sympathetic to the
demands of the mutineers. However, without the help of the officers of the
opposite political movement, who were more numerous, he wouldn’t have
succeeded in his mission. When the new Chief asked me if I was disposed to
help him, I replied that, in my opinion, violent measures should be used and that
I would be supporting his actions.

The repression of the mutiny in Alexandria and Port Said

The first operation for the seizing of the mutinous ships was set for the night of
April 22, 1944. Some senior officers, who, from their general attitude, did not
inspire trust to the officers participating in the operation, were moved away from
Alexandria. In the operation participated mixed armed teams of officers of all
ranks, cadets, non-commissioned officers and even some Army officers who
volunteered. The operation targeted initially 3 rebellious ships: the destroyer
“IERAX”
and the corvette “SACHTOURIS” that were coasted to the same side of
the British cruiser “H.M.S. PHOEBE”, the other side of which was coasted to the
dock and the corvette “APOSTOLIS”, laying in anchor far from the other two. We
boarded the British cruiser just before 2:00 in the morning of April 23. On the
deck we were given the side towards the Greek ships. On the other side armed
British detachments were ready to intervene. On the docks, stretcher bearers
and ambulances were waiting. The attack set for 2:30, started simultaneously
against “APOSTOLIS” and the sea-side of “IERAX” and “SACHTOURIS”. The attack
from the cruiser was delayed somewhat. The mutineers were not surprised and
responded immediately using heavy fire. The attacking detachments
successfully and with self-sacrifice executed the orders. The mutineers on
“APOSTOLIS” reacted very strongly in the beginning, then their defense was
weakened and in half an hour they gave in.   On the other two ships resistance
was stronger and it took almost an hour to force them to surrender. Some 250
volunteers participated in the operation. Seven were killed in action: three
officers, Lieutenant Roussen, Junior Lieutenant Repas and Junior Lieutenant
(Army) Kavadias, one non-commissioned officer and three sailors. About twenty
were injured, among which Captain Kyris and Lieutenant Commander
Theofanidis. There was about the same number of injured on the side of the
mutineers. This successful operation was followed in the next 24 hours by the
bloodless surrender of all the other mutinous ships in Alexandria, the floating
repair shop “HYPHAISTOS”, the destroyer “CRITI”, minesweepers and auxiliary
ships. Bloodlessly also surrendered in Port Said the battleship “AVEROF”, six
destroyers in reserve and the submarine “PAPANICOLIS” who was seized with
great difficulty on April 29, 1944. Finally the rebels that had seized the Central
Recruit Center located in a central district of Alexandria surrendered, thus
ending the very unfavorable comments on our behalf.

The repression of the mutiny in Malta

Serious disturbances had taken place on our ships based in Malta, three
submarines, the submarine escort ship “CORINTHIA”, the reserve destroyer
“SPETSES” and two auxiliary ships. All these ships were under the command of a
Captain, the Superior Submarine Commander (S.S.C.). The Chief of the Fleet
ordered me to go to Malta, provisionally assume the duties of Supreme Naval
Commander, re-establish order and install the new S.S.C., Captain Antonopoulos.
The previous S.S.C., having refused to serve under the orders of the new Chief
of the Navy, was arrested by the British Admiral and sent under escort to
Alexandria. I flew to Malta on April 26, 1944. At the airport I was expected by the
British Vice-Admiral and Supreme commander of Malta who, very upset by what
had happened, drove me directly to his office to brief me. The previous day, as
soon as the S.S.C.’s arrest was learned, most of the crews went ashore and
refused to return to their ships. They were arrested by the British and confined
in a camp. From a total of 456 men, 172 only remained on their ships either from
their own initiative or ordered by their revolutionary committee. The destroyer
“NAVARINON” had previously sailed from Malta to Bizerta for repairs. About 100
of her crew had refused to sail and remained on Malta. The ship had sailed
without them and the British Admiral asked me to convey his congratulations to
her commander, Commander Neofytos.

Soon after my briefing, I organized a meeting with Commander Iatridis (the First
Secretary of the S.S.C.), the ship commanders and Commander Baker of the
British Naval Mission in Greece, now serving in the S.S.C. I declared to them that
I wished to be informed of the situation, before issuing my orders. I realized that
I was dealing with loyal men in a state of complete confusion. Being far from
Central Command, they were seeing the situation under the prism presented to
them by their ex-commander. They were under the impression that the order of
the ex-Chief of the Fleet was adopted by the whole Fleet. They had signed the
p
etitions presented by the sailors’ revolutionary committees, but were not able
to explain the reason. Commander Iatridis, an officer of right wing political
affiliation that had distinguished himself as commander of the submarine
“PAPANICOLIS”, after the arrest of the S.S.C. had issued a day order that showed
complete confusion. For that reason I had to order his replacement by
Commander Zepos, who came with me from Alexandria, and send him to
Alexandria. I made it clear to the commanders that their ships should return to
legality and that the period of the revolutionary committees was over.  They
should be aware that in the future the officers will have to protect their honor
with their guns. Whoever disagreed with the above had to tell me right then.
Next morning, I decided to officially review the officers and remaining crews on
board of the “CORINTHIA”, in spite of the scruples of the British Admiral who
took exceptional safety measures on shore during the review. No anomalies
were noticed during my review and I received the honors according to the
regulations. After reviewing the men, my strict order of the day was read and
another one concerning the installation of the new S.S.C. I then met separately
with all the officers and repeated the instructions given to their commanders. I
asked if there was any objection; there was none and I announced that I
considered that their silence was an unconditional acceptance of my orders.

Next, we tried to bring back to their duties those that were arrested and
imprisoned in the camp. Commander Baker split them in three groups; one
consisting of the men of the destroyer “NAVARINON”, one of the assumingly
“good” and one of all the others. We then tried to read to the “good” group
through the loudspeakers my order of the day and another one of the new Prime
Minister Georges Papandreou. They refused to listen and were shouting that
they didn’t recognize the new Government. Our effort to distribute these orders
by pamphlets, also failed. In my report to the British Admiral I stated that these
men should be considered mutineers and be moved to Egypt, as the Admiral
didn’t wish these men to remain in Malta. Commander Baker undertook a last
effort to persuade some men, he knew personally and considered good
elements, to return to their duties. Thanks to his efforts and eventually because
in the mean time they were informed of the pitiful end of the mutiny in Egypt,
many of them accepted to return to their ships.

Following a request of the British Admiral, I flew to Bizerta on April 29,1944 to
examine the situation that had developed on the destroyer “NAVARINON”. Her
commander, Commander Neofytos (my First Secretary aboard the
destroyer
“HYDRA” at the time of her sinking) explained to me with tears in the eyes that
he was forced to order his officers to sign the protocol after receiving the
general signal of the ex- Chief of the Fleet. He declared ready to follow the new
orders and continue the war missions as soon as his crew was completed. My
same order of the day was read and all the officers agreed with all I said. I
returned to Malta, after turning in to the British authorities a small number of
men that I considered suspicious.

The British Fleet Commander, Mediterranean, had the intention to send to Malta
the RHN destroyers “PINDOS”, “THEMISTOCLIS” and “MIAOULIS” to be cleaned-
up from mutinous elements. The British Admiral of Malta asked me whether the
men that had remained in the Supreme Submarine Command were to be trusted
for undertaking such operation. I studied the situation and reported that I didn’t
consider these crews good for repeating a similar operation to the one in
Alexandria. He then asked me to fly to Algiers report the Malta situation to
Admiral John Cunningham, Naval Commander in Chief, Mediterranean and then
transmit his instructions to the RHN Chief of the Fleet in Alexandria. Admiral
John Cunningham was quite enraged and I sensed that he was determined to
sink any of our ships that would revolt in the future. He ordered that the
mutineers in Malta should remain provisionally in the camp, hoping that several
will change their minds while the rest would later be moved to a prisoner camp
in Africa. He also decided that the three destroyers do not approach Malta,
unless they refused to execute their missions. In such a case they would go in
reserve and their concession to the RHN would end.
The three destroyers and three tank landing ships continued their war missions
in spite the fact that, in most of them, remained mutinous cores. With great
difficulty we finally succeeded in cleaning-up their crews.”