Navy at Civil War

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The R.H.N. during the Greek Civil War 1946-47

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

 

“I am not the appropriate person to evaluate the job done and I leave judgment to those who are the only infallible judges; the men who served the Navy during this period. If what we have realized has some value, this value mainly consists of the fact that whatever we realized was done with exceptional insistence and patience and that we reached our goals in spite of the reefs that we encountered in our every step.” 

                        Rear Admiral Mezeviris, Admiral Chief and

                        Chief of the General Staff of the R.H.Navy

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

The Mission of the R.H.N.

 

“After the spring of 1946, with the intensification of the civil war, our Navy undertook a new and escalating fight that became for a long period of time the main occupation of the Naval Command. In parallel it was necessary to continue the reconstruction and reorganization effort, the minesweeping and complete the arrangement of personnel matters.

 

The lack of enemy in the sea rendered the mission of the Navy purely auxiliary. However the requests for missions were so numerous that the means at our disposal were quite insufficient to satisfy them, in spite the fact that our ships were continuously on the move. This situation was especially critical in the first year of the civil war, when the additional means provided by our allies for this precise reason hadn’t yet been transferred. [See: “The first years after the Liberation”].

 

Practically all the sea transports of the Army were executed with the landing crafts and for many years these ships were continuously on the move. The continuous watch of the shores was a must in order to prevent the landing of guerrilla ammunitions.   Whenever our seaside cities were threatened our ships were sent to help. Sometimes, even their presence was sufficient to prevent a guerrilla attack. In some other instances, as in the case of the seaside town of Itea (on the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth) which was seized by guerillas, the invaders retreated and left town as soon as the war ship that was patrolling in the area arrived and started bombarding. Continuous naval patrols were executed along the shores of North Greece, Attica, Epirus and East Peloponnesus. The watch of the Gulf of Corinth, especially, was occupying an important number of ships because of the frequent appearance of guerillas on the northern shores of the Gulf.  The appearance of guerilla troops, or intelligence on possible landing of weapons, required the disposal of a large number of ships to patrol the areas around the islands of Samos and Crete, along the Evoikos Gulf and several other areas. The Navy had the responsibility to prevent the escape by boat of the communists that had been displaced in concentration camps on the islands of Ikaria, Agios Efstratios, Gioura and Makronissos.  When anywhere in Greece seaside populations were threatened, they were asking for a war ship to station-by permanently.

 

Watching continuously -day and night- such extended shores as ours, required hundreds of patrol boats.  All the ships of the Navy that could move were used for that mission: Destroyers, corvettes, minesweepers, coastal patrol ships, HDML ships, armed auxiliary crafts, landing ships, even submarines patrolling on the surface. Nevertheless it was impossible for the Navy to be present everywhere. For this kind of war it was required to apply the dogma about economizing forces.

1946, Rear Admiral Mezeviris reviewing the 2nd series of new draftees

 

1946, Rear Admiral Mezeviris watching the Regattas at Paleon Faliro

When in the beginning of 1947 I was back from a permit, I found out that by order of the Minister of the Navy 3 ships were permanently patrolling around the island of Aegina, because there was some information that guerillas would attempt to land and free inmates of the local prisons. If for every piece of intelligence, often groundless or intentionally misleading, we were applying similar measures, even the American Navy wouldn’t have been able to dispose the required number of ships…

 

I came up with a simple solution… We installed inside the prisons a mobile wireless station of the Navy to report every suspect movement, while a patrol ship was standing by in Piraeus for immediate departure. This ship could intervene in less than an hour since receiving notification and in the mean time the relatively numerous prison guard could effectively resist. Our system was actually tested when a mutiny erupted in the prison. In less than an hour a ship arrived and its presence acted soothingly. Soon after two more ships arrived and order was re-established.  However, for political reasons and to oppose the new Minister of the Navy, the Press accused us that we showed indifference to the anti-communist struggle by withdrawing the 3 ships from their permanent patrolling!

We also installed naval wireless stations in other areas were we considered that a ship’s presence was necessary, realizing that way a relative economy of forces.

 

In several instances, following a request from the Army, our destroyers bombarded guerilla formations in seaside areas. The first bombardments took place in the spring of 1946 in the area of Pelion. So many ammunitions were consumed that if such operations were frequently repeated very soon the ships’ magazines would empty. The results of these bombardments were as expected poor because the guerillas were dispersing with the first shot and ship ammunitions on the other hand were not appropriate for such operations.  In addition we had to persuade the British Admiral responsible for the replenishment of our ammunitions, who was intensively protesting, on the advisability of their use.  I had therefore to issue orders requiring my own authorization for the execution of similar bombardments. With the granting of the authorization I was also defining the number of shots allowed.

 

Part of the ships earmarked for these operations were placed under the orders of the Naval Commands of North Aegean, South Aegean, West Greece and Corfu that were responsible for regulating their movements.  The General Staff of the Navy (GSN) ordered the missions of the remaining ships.  The Operations Command of the GSN had therefore to be organized as in a war period. There was no time for respite all these years for the officers serving at the Operations Command and for the Chief of the GSN.

 

 

Easter 1947, Rear-Admiral Mezeviris visiting the Landing Craft squadron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When in April 1947 the big Army campaign that ended in failure was decided, following a suggestion of the British Mission, an important part of our naval forces headed by one of our most active Captains were placed under the orders of the Army Commander based at Volos.  These forces remained permanently at Volos and the Army Commander arranged their movements, without the interference of the GSN.

This allocation of forces was creating additional difficulties to the mission of the GSN because the Army Commander was responsible for operations taking place in a limited area, while the guerillas were also appearing in many other areas of Greece. The GSN was responsible for many other missions that was unable to execute with the few units that remained under its command, while at several occasions some ships of those that were earmarked to the Army remained idle at Volos.  I was therefore obliged, in spite of protests by the Army, in order to cover our other needs to gradually reduce the naval forces that were permanently at the disposal of the Army.

 

An especially worrisome situation could arise when some ships reported attempts of sabotage, without unpleasant results. This was proof that in spite of the repeated purges and the exceptional measures taken when hiring new personnel, some maleficent elements had succeeded to bypass our controls. Rigorous interrogations were repeatedly ordered and those who could be considered suspect were dismissed from the ships, while no hard evidence had turned-up for the culprits. Those responsible for the sabotages were finally unveiled in 1947, when we discovered traces of a communist network. The court-martial that followed and the sanctions imposed cleared the Navy from this infection.

 

 1947, Rear Admiral Gr.Mezeviris Chief of Naval Staff R.H.N.(second from left), Pan. Kanello-poulos Minister of Air (3rd from left), Rear Admiral R.E. Jennings Commander Carrier Division FOUR (3rd from right) and Sofokles Venizelos Minister of the Navy (2nd from right)  onboard  the American aircraft carrier "USS LEYTE" commanded by Captain E.R. Peck(1st from left)

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 1947, Vice Admiral Gr.Mezeviris (right) and Sofokles Venizelos onboard the American aircraft carrier "USS LEYTE", confer with the American Admiral (?), while Pan. Kanellopoulos (1st from left) is watching 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

Reactions, complaints, dissatisfactions

 

From my narration, one can realize the size and the difficulties of the mission undertaken in the first years after our Liberation by those responsible for the reconstruction and the post-war organization of the Navy.  To bring to a favorable end such an important task what is mainly needed is peace of mind.  And this peace of mind was in short supply for the Head of the Navy who received the bulk of both visible and invisible attacks. I am not the appropriate person to evaluate the job done and I leave judgment to those who are the only infallible judges; the men who served the Navy during this period. If what we have realized has some value, this value mainly consists of the fact that whatever we realized was done with exceptional insistence and patience and that we reached our goals in spite of the reefs that we encountered in our every step. 

 

There are many reasons that created these reactions, some inside the Navy and some outside, most due to personal matters. Those who were dismissed from the Navy were as expected chagrined and several of them turned against me, although the dismissal decisions were taken by many-member Committees. It may seem strange but, even those who were dismissed during a period when I didn’t have any involvement with the personnel matters of the Navy were showing an open-war attitude against me, while at the same time they were embracing those who had contributed to their dismissal! At the other end, while for the benefit of the career of the younger officers that had fought on the ships the purges had included officers valuable to the Navy but who hadn’t had the chance of war duty at sea, some were complaining that the purges hadn’t been more extensive.  In reality, the majority of the officers had no personal endeavors, beyond the fair ambitions of any officer. However, there are always those who pursue the fulfillment of personal goals and who appear as supposedly representing the officers’ Corps and who the politicians listen with great attention. 

 

In addition to the personal matters, the naval program presented an easy opportunity for cheap demagogy, as the common wish of all officers in all times was to have a mighty Navy.  On the other hand the Naval Command didn’t have the possibility to explain in front of a wide audience how difficult was to succeed keeping the present structure of the Navy, when the economic conditions obliged us to exclusively rely on foreign aid.

 

Finally, the Naval Command had to take some measures of economy that always create discontent. I tried hard to secure credits for restructuring the naval facilities; approvals were only given for absolutely necessary works and any expenditure concerning the luxurious appearance of the buildings was rejected. It was quite difficult to persuade about this the Heads of the Services; some were even seized by some kind of megalomania. They were asking for luxury even for the School buildings, the sailor dwellings etc. which should rather be characterized by their solid construction and their simplicity, as was the case with the facilities of the British Admiralty. In a poor country as was then Greece, these measures ought to be the general rule imposed by the political leadership, or else their isolated application would appear as a perversity of the person who applies them. A similar situation had arisen with private cars. After liberation there were a large number of foreign officers in Greece who disposed a private car. Even junior officers had use of a jeep.  As a result of this situation, similar demands were formulated from our own officers that were very difficult to contain. Finally, following a general outcry, limitation measures were taken that led to the other extreme.

 

Beyond these intra-navy reactions that some political parties were supporting, there was a generalized political reaction against the Admiralty institution, because it was considered that it abolished prerogatives of the political authority.

 

The Naval Command was thus the combined target of attacks by whoever had reasons for dissatisfaction. The general attacks concerned two issues, the Admiralty institution and the 1944 decongestion.

 

These were the annoyances we had from the two political Governments that governed from the beginning of 1945 to the elections of 1946. We dealt with them with relative ease because these Governments, having no parliamentary basis, didn’t intensively insist on their demands. Besides, vis-à-vis the second Government we had the support of Gotsis, Minister of the Navy and old politician, who in spite of his very old age knew how to distinguish what was right and fair. In between these two Governments, Admiral Voulgaris’ Government allowed us to continue our mission undistracted. There was no agreement on all matters with this Administration, especially on some personal maters, but there was consensus on the general issues.

 

Decongestion becomes once more central issue

 

The first parliamentary Government issued from the March 1946 elections, opened up all the pending issues of the Navy.  I had the impression that priority would be given to the institution of the Admiralty that had created such upheaval. The new Government however, possibly influenced by the British Mission that wished the amendment and not the abolishment of this institution, didn’t dealt in priority with this matter. This issue was settled at the end of 1947 with a Law that abolished the name and some dispositions, but retained, altered and added other.  The settlement of the personnel matters became a central issue and all measures taken up to then were revised.  Many of those dismissed had appealed to the Supreme Court and favorable decisions were expected, because the relative decisions of the Supreme Naval Committees didn’t mention the reasons for the dismissals. It is true that for most cases it wasn’t possible to mention the reasons, since they were dismissed as redundant and not for some specific reason. It was decided at that time that since decongestion was a general measure it was preferable for the sake of those dismissed to avoid mentioning special reasons, even in cases were such reasons existed. Those simply dismissed as supernumerary were placed in a special category and were promoted to their next rank.

 

Evaluating the career of the leaders of the Navy

 

There was an important delay in drafting the relevant Law, which was published at the end of August 1946. According to the terms of this Law, a special Committee formed by 4 retired Admirals, 2 Supreme Court Judges and the Minister of the Navy would evaluate the career of all Rear Admirals and Captains who had served from the War outbreak to Liberation. Then the Admiralty in a new composition would evaluate the officers of other ranks. The new Law was re-establishing a very odd disposition existing in the pre-war Law, which surely didn’t exist in any other Navy. According to this disposition for a Captain to be promoted to Rear Admiral, besides the other qualifications and required sea service at each rank, a number of years of total sea service were required from the rank of Cadet to the rank of Captain.  From the 5 serving Rear Admirals, one only satisfied the required total service condition. There was a term however that allowed a Rear Admiral that didn’t satisfy the total service condition to remain in active duty, in case the Committee with 5 votes out of 7 decided that the officer in question had “very exceptional qualifications”. I ignore who drafted this Law, because it was not done by the competent administration. The Minister of the Navy asked me to study the draft of this Law before its submission to Parliament and give him my personal feedback. In the report I submitted to him, I concentrated mainly on two points. First, I considered that the appropriate body to evaluate the career of the leaders of the Navy was the Supreme Committee of National Defense from which the 4 senior officers should be selected. These 4 officers and the Minister would then evaluate the careers of the other officers. Secondly, I considered that the disposition concerning total sea service was totally unfair, as it was giving primary importance to one type of service instead of the multiple effective qualifications that must be required for a leader of a Corps. My main objections were overruled and only some of my other suggestions were accepted.

 

According to the evaluation made by this special Committee, from the 5 Rear Admirals only 2 remained:  P. Antonopoulos who satisfied the total sea service condition and I who was lacking 6 months of total sea service but was considered as disposing “very exceptional qualifications”!

 

From those that had previously been dismissed the Committee re-integrated as permanent officer a Captain that was then promoted to Rear Admiral and another officer who was placed in special permanence. After some disagreements among some members and the resignation of the Minister, the Committee adjourned and didn’t complete its mission. A period of six months of suspense followed, during which 3 Ministers were successively named but no progress was made in the settlement of the personnel matters issue. As a result, many officers from the rank of Captain and below were in doubt whether they will remain in the permanent personnel of the Navy. This situation was of course detrimental to the smooth functioning of the Services.

 

A very strange situation developed concerning my position. When the decongestion of Admirals was completed and remained in my position, the Minister of the Navy P. Mavromichalis informed me in mid October 1946 that the position of Admiral Chief would be abolished; I would be promoted to Vice Admiral and take the position of Inspector General of the Navy. This decision was taken a few months after the discussion I had with the Chief of the British Fleet of the Mediterranean and I have the impression that Admiral Talbot, the Chief of the British Naval Mission, had influenced it.  It is characteristic that after I turned over the duties of Admiral Chief, the Chief of the British Naval Mission set up himself in the Ministry of the Navy and started to actively interfere in matters that shouldn’t have been of his competence. A Rear Admiral recalled by the decongestion Committee to active duty was due to assume the duties of Chief of the GSN. The Minister wished these changes to take effect immediately, but it was technically impossible without a new Law, because according the existing Law Chief of the GSN was the most senior Admiral. He asked me to facilitate the situation by taking a month off. During that period the officer destined for that position was to be named Deputy Leader and replace me during my leave. I considered it was my duty to comply with the request of the Minister, as I believed that a Government must have the right of choosing the Chief of the GSN. The monthly permit was extended to three months; a new Minister took over who didn’t succeed in passing a new Law arranging the matter. During that period I was based at the office of the Inspector General in the Ministry of the Navy, was not performing his duties but was participating at the meetings of the Supreme Naval Committee as Admiral Chief!

 

Decongestion completed

 

This grotesque situation ended at the end of January 1947 when a new Minister of the Navy took office.  I was once more asked to assume the duties of Chief of the general Staff of the Navy and my provisional replacement was given other duties. The new Minister remained at office a short time and was replaced by Sophocles Venizelos. Under his administration all pending issues were resolved. The new Minister considered very correctly that the personnel matter should be settled as soon as possible. He asked me to draft a Law that would amend and clarify many of the dispositions of the 1946 Law. I was given full initiative to draft the Law as I considered fair and logical, under one condition. Because the new Government was a political alliance, the new Law had to be approved by the other party in the alliance that had voted the 1946 Law.  This on one hand imposed not to deviate too much from the dispositions of the old Law and on the other to retain the decisions taken by the previous decongestion Committee. I finally succeeded a formulation accepted by all parties that granted freedom of choice to the new Committee and the draft became Law. The new Committee under the chairmanship of the Minister of the Navy consisted of 3 Admirals in activity and 3 retired chosen by the Government. The Committee worked smoothly and efficiently and completed its mission in May 1947.  None of those dismissed in 1944 was re-integrated and 30 combat officers, mostly superior and 14 of them Captains were retired. They were no more supernumeraries but instead 1 out of the 5 Admiral positions and 5 out of the 15 Captain positions remained vacant, opening up the possibility of future promotions beyond the large scale promotions of recent years. This committee decisions were not overturned by the Supreme Court and the Ministry of the Navy communicated the new Navy list informing that the officer structure was final.

 

Unfortunately, the trend for advancement of younger officers has no limits. Some that had not even reached the age of 50 were starting to request the insignia of General officer. It was vain to point out to them that if the principle of advancement they were requesting was applied, one day it would detrimental to their interest.  They were looking for examples of exceptional personalities of foreign mighty Navies with a fast track career and were asking these to become the rule in our own Navy. Thus, two years after the Ministry had announced that the Navy list was final, a new Law passed that allowed promotion to the rank of Captain by absolute choice and the ex-officio retirement of the officers passed-by. On the basis of this new Law 4 out of the 10 Captains that had remained were forced to retire.

 1946, Rear Admiral Mezeviris (3rd from right) among other officers of the Naval Command

 

The institution of promotion to the top ranks by absolute choice is a sound principle. However its application is quite difficult because besides professional qualifications many other qualities have to be considered.”