Navy ashore

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The R.H.N. operates ashore

May- September 1913

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

 

With the prospect of a war conflict with the Bulgarians and because, in the absence of an enemy Navy, the contribution to the war effort of the R.H.N. fleet would have been relatively minor,  it was decided that the Navy would participate in the new war both on sea and ashore.

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“Since the middle of May 1913, a landing force was formed initially with 2 battalions and later with 3.  The first battalion was made-up of the landing forces that were used to conquer the islands during the Greek- Turkish war and the second of the personnel of war ships in long overhaul, of auxiliary ships that were out of commission and of the reservists that had been mobilized since the declaration of the previous war and had remained unutilized in the naval Base of Salamis.

 

I was placed at that second battalion and assumed the command of a company consisting of 2 platoons of a total force of 80 men.  Since June 2, 1913, on the occasion of general promotions, I was promoted to Junior Lieutenant.  There was an important shortage of lower level officers in the landing force and most of the non-commissioned officers were reservists who had left the Navy a long time ago.  In my company I had as assistants a petty officer that had served in the coast guard and an old leading seaman bugler.  But even the career officers of the navy had only a vague idea of war on land, since our training in infantry exercises was aiming at the preparation of parades.

 

What was needed was intensive training of the landing force.  However, as soon as we had started platoon exercises in the beginning of June 1913, we boarded on transport ships and were sent to Thessalonica to participate in operations against an army with war experience.  Happily, the Supreme Command of our Army realized the limited capabilities of the landing force and, with the exception of a limited participation in one of the battles near Gevgeli, was used in auxiliary missions only.  Even thus, the officers that have served in this landing force know too well the mental distress we went trough to bring to a satisfactory conclusion the missions we were entrusted with.

 

Our training went on intensively in Thessalonica, where officers and men were dressed in khaki.  The sailors retained their white hats and this bizarre attire leaded to a tragic misunderstanding, as we will see later.  Towards the middle of June the landing force moved to the heights above Thessalonica.  When war erupted on June 17, 1913 and operations started to capture the Bulgarian troops stationed in the city, the landing force took-up proper positions to stop eventual fleeing of enemy troops. Such occasion didn’t arise, since the enemy surrendered.

 

Mounting guard on a railroad bridge

 

We were then sent towards Gevgeli where an important part of our landing force participated in the battle that took place there, while the rest was used to guard the railway tracks Kilindir- Karassouli.  The force I commanded was entrusted with the guarding of a bridge of that line.  To our Army colleagues this mission would have appeared very simple. Things were quite different for us who were completely ignorant for the assigned mission and in addition were used to the comforts of ships, even in war time.  It was noon with unbelievable heat wave when we arrived at an elevated area with no vegetation and water and with only a week’s supply of ship’s biscuits and cheese.  But sailors know how to economize from what is available.  In a few hours two sheds were erected from wood and dry grasses found in the area, one for the men and the other for me.  Boxes of ammunitions were used as tables and containers for transporting water.  At a near-by abandoned village my men found pack-animals hanging about which they used to transport water.  In the mean time I studied the military regulations on double guards, patrols etc.

 

The railroad line was of great importance for the re-supply of the fighting troops and a few days ago the military guard of the bridge that we were now guarding had suffered heavy losses from Bulgarian guerillas attack.  I had many doubts whether my men realized the importance of our mission. For many of the reservists the long stay in the Naval Base with no work had a very bad effect on their understanding of their military obligations.  For this reason, that same day before nightfall, I assembled them and informed them about the attack a few days ago against the guard of the bridge and explained that their own safety as well as the bridge’s depends on the vigilant alert of the guards.

 

Indeed, on the first night I observed that my words have had a great effect and the almost all of the men at their own initiative remained awaken holding their guns.  When the first night passed uneventfully, they relaxed and when I made my rounds the following night I found a guard fast asleep.  I therefore decided that it was more prudent that I stay awake myself all nights and sleep during the day.

 

At a neighboring bridge guarded by another naval garrison, a misunderstanding had tragic consequences. A patrol of that garrison came face to face with a Greek Army platoon which ignoring the strange uniform of the landing force men, took them for Bulgarian guerillas.  They exchanged fire from both sides and finally the soldiers attacked the sailors with fixed bayonets. They recognized each other when they came at close contact, after both sides had suffered losses.

 

Escorting a convoy from Kavala to Nevrokopi

 

Following the retreat of the Bulgarian army, the landing force returned to Thessalonica and then our battalion was sent to Kavala. There I was assigned a mission that was completed successfully, but could have resulted in very unpleasant consequences.  I was ordered to escort with my company to Nevrokopi a convoy of the 7th Division and request at arrival further orders from the military commander to give a chase to guerillas. The convoy was scheduled to depart from Kavala at noon of July 9, 1913 and should reach Nevrokopi on July 11 at the latest.  My attention was drawn to the security of the convoy, because it was quite probable that guerrillas would attack us. The transports of this convoy consisted of over 100 pack-animals, about 10 four-wheel vehicles and some ox-carts. Turkish mule-drivers of doubtful feelings in our regard were assigned to the convoy.  The convoy was to be assembled under the responsibility of the Garrison in front of the Garrison Headquarters of Kavala and the time of departure was fixed at noon, so that we could arrive at Drama before nightfall and spent there the night before continuing the next day our march towards Nevrokopi

 

 

July 1913, Junior Lieutenant Mezeviris in Army uniform riding his horse

 

Ahead of the agreed hour, I was arriving with my men at our meeting point riding a small horse put to my disposal a few days before and on which I tried hard to keep my balance.  When I reached the meeting point, with real distress I realized that a part only of the transports were present, while the rest had departed with their mule- drivers for Drama hours ago unescorted.  I rushed to the Garrison Commander to ask for instructions but all I got was: “You are the only responsible, do as you wish”!  I thus decided to entrust the command of my men and the remaining part of convoy to the petty-officer of the coast guard with orders to head to Drama and I galloped, as fast as my riding skills could allow me, to meet the transports going in front and order them to stop and wait the rest of the convoy.  I reached them after a few hours at a distance of several kilometers from Kavala and the convoy was assembled.

 

More unforeseen by me difficulties appeared after a while. The transports were advancing at different speeds and it was practically impossible to keep the cohesion of the convoy.  The stubborn animals that were pulling the ox-carts were not only moving slower than the mules but often refused to move, stopping at the same time any traffic on the road.  I therefore decided to order the trans-load of the items transported on the ox-carts to the remaining transports and to send them back to Kavala.  However the problem was not solved because we were obliged to follow the speed of the four-wheels and at that rate we could expect to arrive at Drama in the morning.  In such a case there would not be enough time to rest for my men and the animals. I hesitated but finally decided to entrust the four-wheels and part of the escort to my coast guard petty-officer assistant and went ahead with the rest.  I arrived at Drama at around midnight. I dismounted after continuously riding for 10 hours and couldn’t walk. I hadn’t eaten anything since morning. I remained awaken until the arrival of the part of the convoy under the petty-officer and we then continued our march towards Nevrokopi without the four-wheels destined to stay at Drama.

 

As we were approaching the battle fields the risks of attack were increasing and a higher level of alert was necessary.  However my men, not used to such marches, were exhausted from the previous day and without enough rest at night started neglecting their duties. Most had taken off their shoes and were dragging themselves barefoot. The men of the advance guard, whenever I was not seeing them, were sitting on the side of the road and leaving the convoy unprotected.  With men and animals slow moving the convoy length was continuously increasing and I was obliged in order to inspect all to gallop from head to tail of the convoy.  We had reached the limit of exhaustion when we reached a village were I decided we should spend the night.  The priest of the village who was taken hostage by the Bulgarians gave me shelter for the night. I was sorry to realize that the wife and the children of this Greek patriot could only speak Bulgarian.

 

We reached our destination early in the evening of the following day.  We had respected the deadline and have succeeded without suffering any losses.  You can of course realize what would have happened if we were attacked….

 

At Nevrokopi we were received with great joy, because the Division was in absolute need of the ammunitions we were transporting. The military commander congratulated me for the safe and timely arrival of the supplies. When I informed him that I had orders to be used for chasing guerrillas, realizing the kind of force I was commanding, he answered: “My child, with the men you were given to command I feel sorry for you to assign such mission. You better return to your base…”.

 

Our return was much easier, especially because we were not anymore responsible for the safety of the supplies. My men and the mule-drivers were riding the mules alternatively and when this strange Greek-Turkish riding troop arrived at the Drama Garrison Headquarters the Garrison Commander received me laughing loudly.  He confessed to me that he saw us returning with relief because, having seen our departure, had many doubts if we would ever return.

 

On the last part of our ride to Kavala a comic event took place that could have had tragic consequences.  As we were going downhill the men of the advance guard heard a shot and started shooting aimlessly. I dismounted and run in their direction, while the rest of the men believing that they have been attacked opened fire over my head to the direction of the advance guard.  When with great difficulty I succeed stopping them shooting, I realized that the cause of this agitation was a poor hunter that I saved from the hands of my men.  An Army Captain of the Army Headquarters passing-by at the time of this incident had heard the shooting and rushed holding his revolver. He expressed to me his astonishment for the sight he had witnessed!

 

When everything had finished satisfactorily, I was pleased that at my young age I had the opportunity to feel emotions so different from the usual of the naval profession.

 

The naval regiment was next assembled in Alexandroupolis, from which the Bulgarians had left, and we were assigned guarding the border line of Ainos that they had abandoned. While serving at the vanguard after the signing of the armistice, I had the opportunity to meet the officer in charge of the Bulgarian troops on the other side, to arrange the issue of water supply of both sides from the only well in the area.  He was a reservist, he spoke Greek and the coincidence was that his company was also made up of men of the small Bulgarian Navy. While we were discussing we heard gunfire celebrating peace. When he heard them he became upset, asked me what was going on and when I informed him he said: “I hope we will now go home”.

 

Chief of Police at Alexandroupolis

 

Upon my return to Alexandroupolis I was destined to be assigned some more bizarre duties. Because there were no police authorities, I was named Chief of Police of Alexandroupolis and the men of my company and some more officers and non-commissioned officers were placed under my orders. We issued special armbands and whistles to the best of my men and named them policemen. The officers were placed in charge of police stations. Issuing market regulations were part of their duties.  Houses abandoned by Bulgarians were sealed and measures were taken for their protection. At night men were patrolling in the city and the suburbs and I was often executing inspections. What was quite unpleasant was that all night long one could hear the sailors’ on duty whistles; they were blowing their whistles for fun!  During the 2 months that I executed these duties, there was not any report of theft.

 

An Arabian horse kick gave an inglorious end to my service in Alexandroupolis.  This Arabian horse, the only disposed by my company, sent me to Athens for medical treatment…”.