Navy in Egypt


The Greek Navy in the Middle East- The turmoil
March  1943 - March 1944

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


The Royal Hellenic Navy (RHN) escaped from occupied Greece in April 1941 and
continued its war action by the side of the Allies. Following a first period of
adjustment, the war performance and organization of the Fleet had significantly
improved. This improvement was especially noticeable from May 1942 under the
Command of the new Chief of the Fleet Rear-Admiral Sakellariou.

The situation of the Greek Fleet in the Spring of 1943

All the surface ships that had escaped from Greece were in active service: The
destroyer “QUEEN OLGA”, the two “HYDRA” class destroyers and the three
“AETOS” class destroyers were carrying out convoy escorts. The battleship
“AVEROF” remained at Port Said acting as floating antiaircraft battery and siege of
the Chief of the Fleet and his staff. The three small destroyers were used for
auxiliary services in the Suez Canal. None of these ships had incurred any human
losses or damages from enemy action.

On the contrary, from the submarines only two were still in action: “TRITON” had a
glorious end in the Greek waters after a brilliant record of war action, “GLAFKOS”
was sunk in Malta following an enemy air raid and “NIREFS” was in long overhaul.

During the same period, the Greek Navy was strengthened with five escort ships
of the Hunt class, two of which were still under delivery in England and a corvette.
The British Admiralty had furthermore allocated to the Greek Navy a British
submarine, still under delivery in England and an Italian submarine that had been  
seized by the British and was undergoing a long overhaul.

The ships that escaped from Greece had initially undergone much-needed repairs
for long months. Their antiaircraft weapons were modernized and were fitted with
anti-submarine equipment. Two of their major shortcomings were thus fixed.

The entire organization of the naval services was completely different from the
one in Greece: The Superior Destroyer Command, commanded by Captain
Mezeviris, was suppressed.  The destroyer “QUEEN OLGA” along with the new
units was integrated in British naval commands and the old destroyers were
executing missions ordered by the British authorities. The submarines based in
Beirut were under Greek command. The duties of the Chief of the Fleet were
limited to administrative maters, all ship movements being ordered and related
expenses covered by the British Chief of the Fleet. As required by the British, the
commanders of the RHN ships that cooperated with British ships could not have a
rank above Lieutenant Commander or else in all mixed escorts the commanders
would be Greek. As a consequence, officers with the rank of Captain and most
Commanders were excluded from sea duty. The General Staff of the Navy was
abolished and its jurisdiction was transferred to the chief of the Fleet. The Ministry
of the Navy had a shadow power and dealt with a few general personnel matters.

Agitation and nervousness in the Navy

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

“The Minister of National Defense Panagiotis Kanellopoulos after failing to
reestablish order in the brigades stationing near Beirut, resigned beginning of
March 1943. The situation was getting worse. Pamphlets were secretly being
distributed inside the military units and the ships, in which officers were accused
as being fascists. The ships nevertheless continued their missions, in spite some
agitation among the crews caused by mobilized sailors from the Merchant Marine.
Fears were expressed that order in the ships would be jeopardized.  Those who
favored a change of situation in the Navy exaggerated these fears.

my arrival in Egypt, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet the officers serving
in the fighting Navy, since their ships were busy with their missions. From the
contacts I had with officers serving in Alexandria and Beirut, I realized that there
was a diffuse dissatisfaction. Several of these officers considered that the applied
management methods were extremely strict and sometimes cruel and unfair. I
ignore whether these accusations were objective, as these judgments were
coming from officers that had personal reasons to be dissatisfied. These
complaints were reaching the Government and were targeting to exercise
pressure to the political authorities to take measures against the Naval Command.

Rumors were circulating at that time that the Government was preparing to resign
and a government reshuffling was expected with the participation of purely
republican elements. The departing Secretary of State for the Navy announced to
me the Government reshuffling, in the evening of March 24, 1943. Lawyer Roussos
from Alexandria, a fanatic republican that had served as Minister in a previous
Government in Greece, was appointed Minister of the Navy. The Government
announcement of the reshuffling also included the acceptance of the non-
submitted resignation of the Chief of the Fleet, giving thus a political character to
that office.

Reservist Captain K. Alexandris Naval attaché in London was appointed Chief of
the Fleet. An officer with many qualifications he was removed from the Navy with
the rank of Commander in 1935, following his participation in a failed coup d’état,
had never exercised a superior command and had not participated in the war in
Greece. His nomination came as a big surprise to the naval circles with the
exception of those that were introduced to the mysteries of the political behind
scenes. A comrade that had not participated in the 1935 mutiny, but had close ties
with those that had, unveiled to me that these developments were being prepared
for a long time and added
“you must realize that the 1935 mutiny has now prevailed”.

The new situation was a heavy draw back for me. The appointment of an officer
that was my junior to the first naval position, excluded my placement in any
service. After the removal of the two admirals it was natural for me to expect to be
named Chief of the Fleet, as I was not only senior to all the other officers but also
had an important war record in Greece. The majority of the officers serving in
Egypt recognized this unfair treatment.

When the next morning I paid a visit to the new Minister and intensely complained
for the unfair treatment, he replied that his predecessor informed him of my war
record and I would surely have been the appropriate Chief of the Fleet. However,
having served as prosecutor in the Extraordinary Naval Tribunal in 1935, I wouldn’t
be acceptable as Chief from those that I had condemned! The Minister suggested
that I meet the Prime Minister and the King. Prime Minister Emmanuel Tsouderos
praised my personality and said that I was the most appropriate to be appointed
Chief of the Fleet. He was
“surprised how that thing happened”. He referred me
back to the Minister of the Navy to fix the matter…

King Georges II favorably received me and asked detailed information about the
situation in Greece. Concerning my personal problem he said, as one could
expect, that it was clearly an issue for the Government. For reasons of etiquette,
Crown Prince Paul received me next and, with the spontaneity that characterized
him, said that he completely disagreed with all that happened. In a new common
meeting with the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Navy, they both repeated
their praises but didn’t give a solution. In a new meeting with the Minister I was
appalled hearing him propose to me the position of Naval Attaché in Ankara,
Turkey, a position that he considered very important. I declared to him that I would
submit by writing my position on the matter. In my report I outlined my career, I
strongly protested for the recent developments and made several proposals for
positions entailing war duty. More specifically, I proposed to be retired and
recalled as reservist. That way, I would automatically become junior in seniority to
the new Chief of the Fleet and could therefore serve under his orders in my old
position of Supreme Destroyer Commander. I received a rude reply to my report
that persuaded me that it was useless to pursue my efforts. Besides, the
appointment of a new Minister of the Navy was expected.

In May 7, 1943 a new sudden development took place. The new Chief of the Fleet
was promoted to Rear-Admiral, before even taking up his new position. The 8-year
career in peace and war of his senior officers was thus erased, while during this
period he was removed from the Navy. This governmental decision had a very bad
impact among the Officers and those with the rank of Captain strongly protested
for this second injustice. The new Chief of the Fleet, himself, and the Director
General of the Ministry submitted a request asking my promotion and
rehabilitation to my seniority. The new Minister of the Navy, Sofoklis Venizelos,
informed me that he would take action to correct the injustice that was made to
me. Indeed, two weeks later I was informed of my promotion to Rear-Admiral
effective from the day my junior Chief of the Fleet was promoted. In addition I was
honored with the War Cross for my successful war service and for being injured at
the sinking of the destroyer “HYDRA”. My promotion didn’t however solve the
problem of getting a position entailing active war duty. I was just named member of
the Supreme Naval Council that was re-established. The Minister said that he
wished to re-establish and place me in charge of the office of the General Staff of
the Navy but that however he has been prevented from realizing his project.  
Finally, he proposed to me the position of Naval Attaché in London. In spite of
continuous pressure to accept the position, I once again refused. Besides, I
considered ridiculous for the small Greek Navy to have an Admiral as Naval

The war action of the RHN ships

In spite of the turmoil caused by the administrative changes, the fighting ships
continued unobstructed their missions. Their officers were dedicated to their
duties, were continuously on the move and didn’t have the time or mood to talk
politics. However, subversive actions taken to change the previous situation and
the publication of illegal newspapers that defamed several of the superior officers
could not leave untouch the ships crews. The acceptance of the demands of the
agitators of the Brigades didn’t lead to the re-establishment of order. In the
contrary, the gate to anarchy had opened and the events of April 1944 were in
preparation. Soon appeared the first cases of indiscipline, the more serious being
the ones that took place onboard the destroyer “IERAX”. Order was re-established
in the short run by the drastic measures that were taken.

In July 1943, the RHN ships took active part in the landing in Sicily. The Ministry of
the Navy gave me the authorization to board the first destroyer leaving for Sicily. I
boarded the destroyer “KANARIS” as a simple passenger, a war correspondent as I
joked. I had thus the opportunity to get acquainted to every detail of these new
ships of the British Admiralty, the Hunt class destroyers. These escorts proved
quite successful because they combined satisfactory speed with the most up-to-
date anti-aircraft and anti-submarine weapons and were equipped with the then
unknown to us radars. Four destroyers of that same class “ADRIAS”, “KANARIS”,
MIAOULIS” and “PINDOS” were participating in the Sicily operations.

The destroyer “KANARIS” commanded by Lieutenant Commander Damilatis was
participating in the first wave of the landing operation and had the opportunity to
demonstrate a brilliant action. It was a great honor for our Navy that “KANARIS”
was the first allied ship that entered the port of Augusta before the occupation of
the city and had received the fire of the coastal defense. For two weeks she was
sailing almost all the time. These days were for me the best since my arrival in the
Middle East. From the very beginning I realized how different were the war
conditions that we had known in Greece, especially during the period of the
German attack. To protect themselves from enemy submarine attacks, the escorts
didn’t have to rely on zigzags or pure chance but to the perfect localization
instruments with which they were equipped. We landed troops and supplies on
Syracuse and Augusta. The, up to a few days earlier, enemy ports were now allied
bases. The people of Sicily were watching with indifference our movements. The
almost undamaged coastal gun batteries were the real proof of the eagerness of
their surrender.

In Augusta we met the destroyer “ADRIAS” bearing the traces from her recent
clash with German torpedo boats. The commander of this ship, Commander
Toumbas, with skilful handlings had succeeded in sinking two of the three torpedo
boats and cause severe damages to the third. The enemy boats had machined-
gunned “ADRIAS”, had wounded several members of the crew but had not inflicted
any serious damage to her. On our way back to Alexandria we approached Malta,
were several heavy-armored British ships were waiting for the Italian Navy to

Towards a new mission

Back in Alexandria, with deep and reciprocal regret I left the Commander and staff
of the destroyer “KANARIS”. As soon as I returned to our base, I was convened by
the Minister of the Navy who, once again, asked me to undertake a mission to
London to negotiate the concession of new ships to replace the old ones that
would soon become useless. Recognizing the importance of this mission for the
RHN, I accepted a special mission to London that would end when the objectives
would be met and refused the position of Naval Attaché or the title of Chief of
Naval Mission that were proposed to me.

Since the government reshuffle of March 1943, the two RHN admirals serving in
Egypt had been ordered to move out of Egypt. Rear-Admiral Sakellariou had
already moved to the U.S.A., while Rear Admiral Kavadias had received permission
to remain in Cairo. Admiral Kavadias suggested to me that I shouldn’t go to
England, as he did, because the intention of the authorities was to send us away
from Egypt.  I replied that I didn’t consider correct in war time to refuse any
service that was requested from me, if that service was not incompatible with my

On August 20, 1943, I was flying from Cairo to London aboard a R.A.F. bomber.”

    Rear-Admiral Mezeviris’ mission to London lasted five months and was quite
    successful. The new ships that were granted by the British Admiralty along
    those that were offered by the American Navy compensated for the war losses
    and allowed the replacement of the old and useless ships.

The Greek Navy in turmoil

“On January 17, 1944 I was, once again, back to Egypt. The first information I was
getting in Alexandria was especially worrisome.  There was an apparent calm
among the crews, a calm that comes before the storm. The officers serving on the
ships, who raised the main weight of the war effort, were very worried. The Navy
Command, on the contrary, was completely satisfied with the situation and did not
share these fears.

It is possible that some of the measures taken by the previous Command were too
strict, even hard, and for this reason many were dissatisfied. The new Command,
on the other hand, considered that by satisfying all kinds of demands the crews
would stop complaining. Plenty of promotions were made, salaries were increased,
permits for absences were easily given and there was extreme lenience in
punishing offences. A ship commander had once complained to me that the naval
authorities had not accepted his request to prosecute as deserters men from his
crew that had refused to board his ship, leaving for a mission. The excessive
benefits and the continuous satisfaction of the crew demands had jeopardized

The measures taken to the benefit of the officers were similar. They satisfied
those who benefited from them but angered most of the officers corp. Under the
conditions that the RHN was operating and especially with the limitations imposed
by the British, concerning the rank of ship commanders, officers from the rank of
Commander could not serve on ships in war missions. In addition, the number of
Captains and Commanders already serving in Egypt were more than sufficient to
cover the limited needs of shore facilities. The promotion of an officer to the rank
of Captain rendered him in reality useless and a lot of ingenuity was needed to
find for him a position of relatively small importance. Before my mission to London,
in the rare occasions that the Supreme Naval Council was in cession, I used to
disagree with any proposal to increase the number of positions and such
proposals were always rejected. Unfortunately, during my absence to London
plenty of promotions were awarded thoughtlessly.

Since the government reshuffle of March 1943 more officers removed from the
Navy after the 1935 mutiny, came to the Middle East. All these officers were re-
established to their seniority and several among them were awarded two
additional ranks to the rank they had when they retired. These promotions,
however, were not really beneficial even to the promoted officers themselves.
With a lower rank they would have got more important positions on the ships and
would have had the opportunity to distinguish themselves in action. Furthermore,
in order appease the permanent officers, the 1935 re-established officers were
integrated as supernumeraries!  Soon, the supernumerary Captains reached the
number of twelve on a total number of twenty three positions in the organization

Believing that I could help in facing the critical situation that had developed, I
submitted once more to the Minister of the Navy my old proposal for the re-
establishment of the General Staff of the Navy. Some Staff Offices were already in
operation with limited responsibilities under the Captain, General Director of the
Ministry. The Minister was favorable to my proposal but wished to have the
agreement of the Supreme Naval Council. Unfortunately, all the other members of
the Council considered that the situation in the Fleet was brilliant and that there
was no reason to create new institutions that could create problems to the smooth
functioning of the Navy. One member of the Council added that
“There is no room
in Alexandria for an Admiral senior to the Chief of the Fleet”
. After this, I interrupted any further effort to participate in the command of the Navy and stopped visiting the Ministry. The only information I was getting of the developments was from officers that have served in the past under my orders.”