Naval Attache in Paris

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

Naval Attaché in Paris

 1925- 1928

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

 

 

At the end of August 1925, Commander Gregory Mezeviris turned over his duties as Director of the Radiotelegraphy Service of the Navy and departed for Paris to assume the duties of Naval Attaché.

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“When I was accepting my new position, I considered that I was being offered an unbelievable opportunity for a pleasant stay in the spiritual and artistic center of the world.  I was imagining that my professional duties would be limited to ceremonies and receptions and didn’t like this shift in comparison to my previous assignments.  Fortunately, my assignment corresponded with the only period that the duties of Naval Attaché in Paris were serious and meaningful.

 

Generally speaking, this period was prolific for the Navy and those who assumed its command using unorthodox ways to gain power could at least boast that they took care of its development. 

1925-28, Commander Gregory Mezeviris Naval Attaché in Paris

 

Manifold duties

 

In addition to the general overhaul done to many ships in Greece, important measures were taken to renew equipment.  Because of the favorable exchange rate of the French franc it was decided new ship construction orders to be placed with French shipyards.  In addition to the 2 submarines initially ordered, 4 more were ordered. The construction of the training ship “ARES”, the general overhaul of the battleship “AVEROF” and of the light cruiser “ELLI” were also contracted to French shipyards. Other military supply orders of secondary importance were also given to French factories.

 

Greek naval authorities took equally special care for personnel training.  In parallel to the intensive training of the maneuvers Squadron, an important number of officers were sent for specialization in France and England.  Naval officers destined to serve naval aviation were sent to French schools.  They initially trained as pilots and then as observers in Navy and Army schools.  Officers destined to serve in the submarines under construction received their training in the corresponding school of the French Navy.  Other officers followed technical studies to acquire the degree of artillery engineer, radio electricity engineer and aviation engineer. Several health officers were being trained to specialties of their branch. Thus, a significant part of the Hellenic Navy was transferred to France and numerous new duties were added to the usual ones of the Naval Attaché.

 

The supervision of the construction and overhaul of our ships was assigned to special missions. For many matters the involvement of the French Ministry of the Navy was necessary and I was responsible for the relative negotiations.  As soon as the first contracts were drawn up in Athens, I was receiving an endless series of questions by telegram concerning the regulations and organization of the French Navy.  There was always a request for immediate answer, as there was ignorance of the required formalities. In addition the Technical Services of the Hellenic Ministry of the Navy, taking advantage of my old specialty, were asking me to take delivery of wireless stations and electrical equipment.  At that end only, during my 3 years stay in Paris I had to repeatedly visit various French cities and make 3 trips to England.

1926 Nantes, France, Greg. Mezeviris at the launching of a Greek submarine

 

The officers being trained in France were under my orders, thus creating for me a constant source of occupation. First, they had to be admitted to the schools; this was not always an easy task because there was a quota for foreign students and our demands were often exaggerated.  Then, I had to follow up their studies and submit relative reports. To do that I had to visit the cities were these schools were based. I should point out here that, except one or two cases, the behavior and studiousness of our students was giving me full satisfaction. I was very proud when the French Ministry of the Navy made a very honorable evaluation of some of our officers trained in the submarine school.  With real interest I was following up the hard work of the officers being trained at the superior technical schools, as I had personal recent experience of the difficulties they were being faced with.

 

During this period I represented the Hellenic Navy to the Stockholm Conference for on shallow waters survey and shore lightning and the Ministry of Transport and Communications to the Geneva Radio Conference.

1926, Gregory Mezeviris participates at the International Conference of Stockholm

 

At the Geneva Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations

 

In 1926, I participated in Geneva as observer to the first Disarmament Conference of the League of Nations. This Conference had created at that time worldwide interest and the issue of disarmament was considered to be the main mission of the League of Nations, if this organization was to prove that those criticizing her utility were wrong. 

In reality, this Conference consisted of a Preparatory Commission for disarmament that had as mission to issue general principles to be used by the General Conference as basis for a general limitation of armaments. To that end the Commission had to answer to a series of questions that had been formulated. Participating countries were those that had a seat at the Conference of the League of Nations, as well as some more that had been chosen. Greece was not among them. Countries that were not participating in the Commission had the right to be represented by technical experts as observers, having the right to submit memoranda with their Government position but not to participate in the discussions. With the Greek Army expert we prepared and submitted such a memorandum.

 

I attended the first sessions with real interest and had the opportunity to admire the rhetorical skill of some heads of mission, distinguished statesmen of the Great Powers.  However, as time passed, I started believing that convergence of opinions would never become possible. All participants wished the limitation of expenses for weapons but there was mutual mistrust and every nation was demanding the general principles to be issued to serve their own interests.  It’s quite possible that some of the politicians present, famous pacifists, really believed what they were maintained. It was not the case with the militaries, used to face by profession the practical side of issues.  The Preparatory Commission had convened many times since, followed by the General Conference.  However, with the exception of a few specific agreements for limiting naval only weapons, we reached World War II without having succeeded a general armaments reduction.

 

Independently of the difficulties that the Commission had to face, the seriousness of the sessions which were attended by so many personalities sometimes turned to comic, as a result of her composition.  For example, some nations that had no sea borders were represented in the naval sub-committee by Army officers that had an opinion and right to vote, while the naval representative of Greece had no right to take part in the discussions!  In one such case, wishing to make a point that was of interest to our Navy, I took advantage of the gallant offer of an Army officer with who I maintained friendly relations from Paris and ask him to present our position on my behalf.  In other instances the air of importance of some representatives of nations disposing insignificant Navies, when refuting the arguments of Admirals of the Great Powers trying to impose their own views, was creating general hilarity.

 

After staying a month in Geneva, foreseeing that the proceedings of the Commission will be greatly extended and because as observer could not offer any service and on the other hand having many other matters pending in France, I asked and obtained permission to return to Paris.

 

The case of the semi-finished battleship “SALAMIS

 

My most serious assignment in Paris with which I had to deal during my whole stay in France, was the case of the semi-finished in a German shipyard battleship “SALAMIS”. This case was pending both in front of the Joint Greek-German Tribunal of Paris and the Conference of Ambassadors.

1925, Hamburg, Germany, battleship "SALAMIS" Arbitration

 

When the construction of the battleship was interrupted because of World War I, it had already reached an advanced stage and the Greek Government had made an advance payment of about 500,000 British pounds. After the end of the war the various Greek Governments were not deciding concerning the fate of this ship until 1923, when they filed a suit in front of the Joint Tribunal requesting annulment of the contract and restitution of the advance payment. The suit was mainly based on two arguments: (a) the Treaty of Versailles forbade the export from Germany of the ship and (b) after so many years the battleship was obsolete from the technical point of view and couldn’t satisfy our Navy’s needs.  The German shipyards on the other hand refused to return the advance payment and were asking either the annulment of the contract and an additional payment of about 750,000 British pounds that represented the value of works done beyond the amount of the advance payment, or finishing the construction of the ship for the Greek Government.

 

The Joint Tribunal rejected our argument relative to the Treaty of Versailles and ordered an expertise to be carried out in Hamburg by a Dutch Admiral, concerning the technical suitability of the ship. The expertise was scheduled to take place just after I assumed my duties in Paris.  The Greek Government was represented by a technical committee in which my predecessor Naval Attaché and I were participating.

 

The expertise was unfavorable for us and we asked the Tribunal to order a new one to be carried out, because in our view the arguments on which the first one was based were not valid.  To persuade the Court, we decided to strengthen our petition with expert opinions of some foreign distinguished naval personalities.  I undertook to find suitable persons in France and succeeded getting very favorable for our views expert opinions of a retired Admiral and ex- Minister of the Navy and of a Chief Naval Architect. Similar results were obtained in England, thanks to the efforts of a superior Greek naval officer sent from Greece who replaced in the technical committee, my predecessor in Paris who had asked to be placed in suspension.

 

Following these actions, we succeeded finally in March 1928 to get an order for a new expertise.

 

In parallel, actions were taken towards the Ambassadors Conference aiming at a favorable to our views interpretation of the particular term of the Treaty of Versailles concerning the prohibition of export of armaments from Germany.  Our Embassy in Paris was responsible for the official handling of the case and I was her technical advisor. Given that the case was handled by the military experts of the Conference, negotiations with them and the whole follow-up of the case was left to me. This case kept me quite busy until finally the Conference referred the case to the Conference of the League of Nations.

 

In the first year of my duties as Naval Attaché I was very pleased because the Ministry of the Navy seemed to appreciate very much my services.  From the second month already the Ministry expressed the warmest gratification for successfully and speedily completing confidential missions in two countries outside France.

 

It seems unfortunately fatal that whoever undertakes a public service either in Greece or abroad, is not left in peace for long to carry out his duties.  In the beginning of 1926, the Minister of the Navy disagreed with the dictator General, resigned and was replaced by another retired Admiral. The new Minister was for the last 12 years permanently living in Paris and for almost 8 years had periodically assumed the duties of Naval Attaché, alternatively resigning and being recalled to active duty.

 

I had developed friendly relations in Paris with this naval officer and thanks to his long experience had been very helpful for me during my first steps as Naval Attaché. He continued to honor me with his friendship even after he became Minister. He would often send me private letters for professional matters, instead of ministerial orders.  I was therefore quite surprised when in July 1926 I received a letter from the Minister informing me with regret that for reasons of economy the position of Naval Attaché in Paris was being abolished and that his duties would be added to those of the Naval Attaché of London.  It was very puzzling because this Minister in particular knew better than anyone else how indispensable was right then the presence of a Naval Attaché in Paris, at least for the case of the battleship “SALAMIS”.  I didn’t have to wait long to learn the reasons that lead to this measure. Soon after sending this letter the Minister resigned and a person in Athens that was in a position to know exactly what had happened informed me that the Minister was aiming at taking up  this position sometime in the future as honorary (without pay) Naval Attaché.

 

Greeks permanently living abroad were often striving to take up honorary diplomatic positions to benefit from the tax allowances that went with these jobs. This may be understandable for purely decorative positions but not for the position of Naval Attaché in Paris at this particular period.

 

A new coup by General Kondylis that followed, didn’t give enough time for these plans to take effect. For the Hellenic Navy however the overthrow of the previous regime was cause for a new upheaval.  The maneuvers Squadron that was performing so well was dismantled by force, following the refusal of its commander to execute the orders of the new Government. Sad events took place and some ships exchanged fire, with no human casualties fortunately. As a result, once more, some officers’ career was prematurely interrupted.  One of them was the Squadron Commander, a very able and extremely active officer, whose political passions and extreme ambition had often created problems in the past.  It is noteworthy that, as opposed to other officers that had been dismissed from the Corps for political reasons and re-established in active duty when their political camp returned to power, those dismissed in this case were never re-established as they had been removed by their own political party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1926, Paris, France, Gregory Mezeviris with his wife Marguerite

Soon after the new Government took over, I was notified that the position of Naval Attaché in Paris would be maintained and that I would continue carrying-out my duties.  In addition my remuneration was increased to better exercise my duties.  I therefore imagined that with the new political Government, whose ecumenical composition ruled out petty political party aims, I would be able to pursue my mission undistracted. It didn’t take me long to recover from this illusion…

 

Towards the end of December 1926, I received an order instructing me to assume the duties of Naval Attaché in London, on top of my duties of Naval Attaché in Paris.  Although my continuous presence in Paris was necessary, considering that my new duties were a provisional measure, I replied that I was ready to go to London as soon as the British Admiralty will approve my nomination.  By a new order however received in February 1927, I was informed of the abolition of my own position in Paris and that my predecessor Naval Attaché in Paris, who at his own request had been suspended from active duty, was being named Naval Attaché in London and also taking over my own duties.  This new order caused amazement not only to me but also to our Embassy.  The Greek Ambassador sent a report to the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that it considered necessary that I remain in Paris, especially for dealing with the battleship “SALAMIS” case.  For unknown reasons the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not transmit this report to the Ministry of the Navy.

 

Time passed by and I was not receiving the final order to turn over my duties.  This order finally came in August 1927 and my successor came in Paris to take over In November 1927.  It seems that he wasn’t in a hurry to assume his responsibilities concerning the case of the battleship “SALAMIS”, as there was no hope that this issue would be settled anytime soon.

 

My chagrin for my unfair treatment was somewhat tempered by the friendly manifestations of the Embassy personnel, of my Greek judge colleagues in the case of the battleship “SALAMIS” and the nice farewell address at the French Navy General Staff where I was awarded the Légion d' honneur [see: Decorations].

 

According to my orders I was going to turn over my duties and return to Greece.  Once more plans changed. As soon as my successor took over, he handed me an order to remain in Paris and continue to deal with all matters, as previously, with the exception of the purely staff issues that were to be dealt by the new Naval Attaché.  To that end I was fictitiously placed at the Submarine mission. One could thus assume that these changes were due to an effort to reduce public expenses, since in my new position my allowance was reduced to one fourth. However, economy could not be the reason: In a report I had submitted I had declared that if my services were considered useful and changes were only due to budgetary reasons, I was accepting to continue providing my services under whatever financial terms till completion of the missions I was entrusted with by the Ministry.

 

The solution to the enigma was to be found elsewhere. My replacement and predecessor established in Paris since many years and wishing to enjoy a diplomatic status had succeeded, thanks to his family ties with the Minister of Finance, completely erasing from the Budget the credits for the Naval Attaché in Paris.

 

This new order had put me in a really difficult situation because my diplomatic status was necessary in order to continue acting for the case of the battleship “SALAMIS”, in front of the Ambassadors’ Conference.  I submitted a report to the Ministry of the Navy explaining the problem and requested to be released from any further service in Paris and be placed in suspension from service.  My request was not accepted, but following my insistence my successor took over the file of the battleship “SALAMIS”.

 

I then actively worked on the remaining cases I had been dealing with, taking delivery of the wireless stations of the Greek ships in France, various arbitrations on matters that had arisen during the construction or repairs of our ships, etc.

 

The new Naval Attaché had taken over the “SALAMIS” file since several months, when an active Rear Admiral was sent from Greece as representative of the Greek Government to assist in the second expertise by a Norwegian Captain, ordered by the Tribunal.  Two days before he left Athens for Hamburg I received an order from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs to escort him.

 

The Admiral was completely ignoring the details of this case and as he had not enough time to study the whole file he was relying on me. I, on the other hand, had stopped dealing with this case for the past 5 months and ignored what had happened in the meantime. I had thus to get from the Naval Attaché’s file the most important documents and study them on my way to Hamburg.  We arrived on the eve of the day of the expertise and I had to spend the whole night working to prepare a short memorandum for the expert.

 

This second expertise was more favorable than the first. The expert agreed in principle with our views concerning the technical shortcomings of the battleship.  Exceeding the Tribunal’s order he suggested various amendments following which, according to his opinion, the ship would satisfy modern requirements.

 

After the end of the expertise, the Admiral went back to Greece and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave new instructions.  I was asked to submit my opinion on the expert’s report, to get a favorable expertise from a French specialist on the amendments proposed by the expert and draw a technical memorandum challenging the arguments of the Norwegian Captain to be used in front of the Tribunal.

 

I complied with these instructions. The French Chief Naval Architect that had already provided a first expertise, offered with gallantry to draw a complementary. I worked for more than a month to draw a detailed technical memorandum challenging one by one all the arguments of the expert. Then, having completed all my other pending missions, I considered that I had the right to ask once more to be recalled to Athens.

 

As far as the case of the case of the battleship “SALAMIS” is concerned, its final solution took very long; the tribunal issued its final decision in 1932.  The decision was a compromise approving the annulment of the contract with the payment of an insignificant indemnity.

 

After repeatedly reminding my request, I was finally recalled to Athens in November 1928.

 

The three-year period of my service in Paris was one of the most interesting of my career. It could have also been one of the most pleasant, if it wasn’t disrupted by the two suitors of the position of Naval Attaché in Paris who claimed to alternate in this position, excluding anyone else”.