New political anomalies

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

New political anomalies - The 1933 coup

 Part A'

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

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“In September 1932 was the end of the four-year parliamentary period and elections were proclaimed.  The outcry provoked by the opposition against the Government gave the impression that most probably the people would not renew their confidence to her.  Since the beginning of summer they were rumors concerning the existence of a Military League formed at the initiative of extremist republican militaries who considered that if the ruling party of the Liberals were voted out, the overthrow of the Republic would follow.

 

Commander of the destroyer “LEON” and Commander of the destroyer Flotilla

 

Towards the middle of the summer at Faleron Gulf, the Commander in chief of the Fleet convoked the ship commanders, informed them about these rumors and of his decision the Fleet not to interfere with such actions and to intensively continue its mission.   As a contingency, he proposed the commanders to remain on their ships at night. With real relief I head these announcements that corresponded to my own beliefs and agreed with the proposed actions.

 

Since then, training went on as usual, unperturbed from the political situation.  Before the ship dispersion week was over, however, we were ordered to urgently re-assemble at the island of Syros, were the battleship “AVEROF” was anchored.  At the reception given onboard the “AVEROF” in the evening of our arrival, the Commander in Chief asked me to remain after the end of the reception for a private discussion with me. I was amazed to hear form his lips that, according to existing information, the royalists and other members of the opposition had the intention to stage a coup to overthrow the Government.  Because in such a case the Fleet would react by force and use of weapons and this would eventually place me in a difficult position due to my political beliefs, it would be advisable to leave at my own request the Fleet for a period of time.  These words seemed quite bizarre to me.  The opposition had no reason whatsoever to launch revolutionary actions on the eve of elections from which it was expecting to legally come to power.  If they were dangers of anomalies, they could only come from the illegal Military League organization that had the exact opposite objectives.  What was more puzzling was that the Commander in Chief seemed for the first time to doubt about my loyalty, while in our long service together in the last 15 years he had always honored me with absolute trust.  I then attributed his attitude to negative suggestions coming from his close environment; I later learned that that he had also been influenced by the Ministry.  I immediately replied that I considered these rumors completely unfounded and that in any case I would as always do my duty and was surprised that there were doubts about that.  I added that I was not willing to take the initiative to ask for my removal from the Fleet and that if I had a case of conscience I would frankly report it to my Chief.  After my reply he didn’t insist on his proposal and the mater was considered closed for the time being.  The commander of the destroyer “PANTHER” had been convoked before me and assumingly similar arguments were advanced, because he left on a permit and was immediately replaced by an officer close to the ruling political camp.

 

Next, the Fleet arrived to Petalious where he stayed on Election Day.  As Election Day was approaching some officers were more and more mixing service with politics. Some commanders were openly declaring that if the elections result was not favorable for the Government, authority would not be transferred and were suggesting that they would support such decision.  As far as I was concerned, I made it clear that was not planning to take part to actions that would prevent people from exercising their free will.  Everyone in the Fleet knew that all serving on the destroyer “LEON” would follow me as a single man.

 

The commander of the battleship “AVEROF” who seemed to be supporting the League had sent some of his juniors officers to the Ministry of the Navy because, as it was said, they hadn’t given satisfactory answers to questions asked by their commander.  On that same day I was asked to come to the battleship “AVEROF” where, strangely enough, I didn’t meet the Commander in Chief (C.I.C.), but his Chief of Staff.  He informed me that by instruction of the C.I.C. the right moment had come to take my leave, as it was discussed in Syros.  I repeated to him that I couldn’t see any reason to ask such leave of absence and that if my transfer was ordered I would pass over command to my replacement upon receiving such order.  As soon as I was back on my ship I was once more called to report to the flag ship where this time I met the C.I.C. personally.  He asked me to report my exchange with his Chief of Staff and he then informed me that he had no intention to replace me, if I was not wishing so.  I thus realized that the Chief of Staff had probably exceeded his instructions.  While these discussions were taking place, my replacement was waiting at the port of Raphina for a transport to come to Petalious and that after my meeting with the C.I.C. he was ordered to return to Athens.

 

I thus kept my position. I was displeased when I saw my name mentioned in an opposition newspaper main article, asking the Government to explain the reasons of the transfer of the commander of the destroyer “PANTHER” and the commander of “LEON” and the destroyer Flotilla commander being under transfer.

 

After the elections the Fleet went to the Naval Base of Salamis and a really fruitful training season ended.  This period would have left excellent memories if towards the end wasn’t marked by the usual political anomalies.

 

The Government resigned a few days after the negative for the ruling party results and the ‘Popular’ party who had obtained relative majority came into power.  The armed forces didn’t dare any illegal action.  Two politicians of the Republican Party joined the new Government, General Kondylis and Admiral Hatzikyriakos who once more took over the ministry of the Navy.  Their presence in Government was considered as a guarantee that there will be no attempt to overthrow the republican regime

 

The 2 first destroyers built in Italy, “KOUNTOURIOTIS” and  “HYDRA”, arrived in Greece towards the end of 1932.  The Captain Commander of the destroyers that I had provisionally replaced arrived on the first of them and thus took over his command from me.  I kept my duties as commander of the destroyer “LEON”. This Commander was replaced a few days later, in the context of general mutations.

 

The new Minister of the Navy dissolved the existing composition of the Fleet, abolished the position of Commander in Chief of the Fleet and formed a destroyer Flotilla.  The Flotilla was composed of all the destroyers from only 6 were active, 2 of each type ‘HYDRA’, ‘LEON’ and ‘THYELLA’.  A. Sakellariou, one of the most able captains of the anti-venizelist camp, took over as Commander of the Flotilla and “KOUNTOYRIOTIS” became his flagship.  At the same time most commanders were replaced. I took over command of the destroyer “HYDRA”.

Commander of the destroyer “HYDRA”

 

General mutations following a governmental change would have been unreasonable under different circumstances.  However, movements observed in the Fleet in the period immediately preceding the elections rendered this action a necessary measure of prudence, as proved by the events that took place in the next years.

 

For the first time in the last 10 years sea commands were entrusted exclusively to senior officers considered belonging to the anti-venizelist camp.  The new Flotilla Commander, as soon as he took over, issued an order of the day criticizing his predecessors and expressing the view that nothing was done in the Fleet during their tenure. This order, turned against officers under the orders of which the Commander himself had served until recently, caused an unfavorable impression.  He was absolutely right in criticizing officers’ involvement in politics but was unfair in not recognizing what was accomplished in the Navy in these last years.  This offended all officers that had served in the Fleet and many of which, especially the junior, were still serving and their experience and knowledge gained during training would be helpful to the mission of the new Commander.  Due to our friendship, I considered it my duty to communicate to the Commander these impressions.

 

With the order of the day I issued when I took over command of the destroyer “HYDRA”, I called upon my subordinates to help me bring this new unit of the Fleet to the same exemplary degree of organization and training as the older units and was suggesting working towards that end with all our forces, in harmony and not to get busy with maters outside our military duties.

 

When the new commanders took over, intensive preparations started to as soon as possible execute training at sea.  A lot of work had to be done especially for the organization of the 2 new units, because their equipment differed from the one used in the Navy and the task was further complicated by the changes in the staff that had taken delivery of the ships in Italy.

 

Before a month was over the Government was overturned in Parliament and the new Government annulled the transfers made by the previous one, on the principle that each officer should return to the position he occupied before the last mutations.

Commander of the destroyer “AETOS”

 

This principle was not applied in my case because, instead of returning to the destroyer “LEON”, I was placed as Commander of the destroyer “AETOS”, in reserve and long overhaul.  Assumingly, because of the prospect of new elections, it was once more decided commanders of the absolute trust of the Government to serve on the active ships.  My new duties lasted only 10 days.  I was ordered to report to the Ministry to follow as auditor a course at the newly established, at the Ministry of the Air force, Superior School of Aviation.  Judging from the events of March 1993, I can conclude that my presence on elections day was not desirable even on a ship immobilized at the Naval Base. For the abrupt and unexplained interruption of my service I complained with a written report and a visit to the Minister.  As it was to be expected, my complains remained unanswered.

At the Superior School of Aviation

 

Since, unwillingly, I had to follow the course offered at the Superior School of Aviation, I decided to make the most out of this opportunity that was useful for the general staff education of a superior officer.  The School operated initially under a very peculiar organization. Formally, Commander of the School was a superior officer of the Air force who happened – at the same time- to be following that same course.  In reality, directors of studies were the two chiefs of the French and British Air force Missions, the former of the army aviation and the later of the naval one, who were not really collaborating between them.  All the students of the School, except and a staff officer of the Army and myself, were aviators.  Some of them gave me the impression that they lacked sufficient qualifications from their previous education and career to follow such studies.  The lectures given by the foreign organizers were indeed quite interesting and I was also asked to give some lectures on naval tactics.

 

The day after the elections of March 5, 1933, a new military coup erupted under the General Plastiras, the chief of the 1922 Revolution, aiming at preventing the Laiko (popular) party that had had won the majority to access to power.  Following public outcry, the coup quickly lost all popular support and the party that had won the majority came to power.  The Ministry of the Navy was once more taken over by the same Admiral who was co-operating with the party. His first action was to restore to their previous positions the officers that the previous Government had removed from their commands.

 

Commander of the destroyer “HYDRA” (again)

 

On March 11, 1933 I was thus taking over again as commander of the destroyer “HYDRA”.  The Superior School of Aviation was dissolved a month later and was never re-established again.   The momentary rise to power of the mutineers had not given apparently the opportunity to the Navy to get involved.  It has been said however that several ships and the Naval Base of Salamis joined right from the start the coup or at least didn’t show any willingness to react against it.  This resulted in the premature interruption of the careers of Captain L. Theoharis, General Director of the Naval Base and previously Commander in Chief of the Fleet, and of a Captain placed just after the coup erupted as Commander of the destroyer Flotilla.  In addition, the Minister of the Navy decided that not only sea commands but all superior commands should only be entrusted to officers that enjoyed the absolute trust of the governing party.  The destroyer Flotilla under the same Commander adopted its January 1933 composition.

 

In principle, the training season of the Fleet started in January, after the holidays, and lasted till October.  It was divided in progressive phases that started with training at anchor.  However, because of the political events that took place, two months of training were lost and training at sea started before completion of the previous phase.  In this phase the personnel of the two new destroyers faced many difficulties, because of lack of sufficient time to familiarize with the new equipment but also because it was defective.  Frequent damages of some pieces of machinery were a big nuisance, especially failures at the helm of the destroyer “HYDRA” happening while zigzagging with the other ships of the Flotilla.  It later appeared that some of the damages were due to the inexperience of the engine personnel and those progressively stopped; for other, deficient equipment had to be replaced.

 

The Flotilla Commander was a workaholic who knew how to motivate his subordinates.  Sailing lasted 24 hours and was only briefly interrupted for meals.  Thus, the best possible use of fuel was made and at the same time the physical endurance of personnel was tested under war-like conditions. The absence of a big ship in the role of target for torpedo attacks was noticeable.  I ignore the reasons why the battleship “AVEROF” and the light cruiser “ELLI” did not take part in the maneuvers, as they have done in previous years.  Most probably it was because of intra- naval personal reasons.  If the Flotilla Commander was boarding a big ship he should have been carrying the title of Commander in Chief of the Fleet and this would have created complaints because he was very young in hierarchy.  It is possible that similar reasons prevented the execution of joint maneuvers with the submarines.  The Supreme Commander of the Submarines belonged to the opposite political camp, was the only one that had kept his position long enough and was senior to the Commander of the destroyer Flotilla.  From such details depended the training of the Fleet in this period!    On the contrary, a very good cooperation was achieved that year with our small naval aviation.

 

While such good work was done in the Flotilla and the officers were exclusively dedicated to their mission, the Commander was manifesting his political ambitions.  At a dinner party given in Aidipsos in honor of the officers, he once more delivered a speech that was insulting for his predecessors and maintained that only during the few months of his command his subordinates had the opportunity to obtain naval experience.  In another instance he added in his order of the day a passage referring to… “Mischievous hordes of corrupt individuals administering favors and of even more corrupt favored persons”.   Independently of political beliefs, this kind of speeches provoked uneasiness to the officers that had served in the Fleet and were casting a shadow on the very good work being done.

 

In October 1933, a small number of officers were invited on the British Fleet that had arrived in Phaleron Bay. We stayed 5 days on British ships observing their training at sea from Phaleron to Navarinon.  I was onboard a battleship that executed fire and torpedo launches against another battleship with special hitting cones that were destroyed when they hit the target, while the torpedo floated and could be recovered.  One of the torpedoes didn’t float and was lost. The commander of the battleship was not disappointed and expressed his joy that the sinking of the torpedo was a sure indication that she had hit the target.  In our poor Navy the loss of a torpedo was considered major misfortune!

 

The period from October to January was usually spent to repair the ships and to allow the crews to rest. But that year, among the various organization measures ordered by the Commander, a Committee under my chairmanship was assigned to write various Books for the new destroyers, including the Combat and the Mobilization Books. With intensive work this assignment was completed during this period and these Books were used as example to draft similar for the older ships that were using very rudimentary ones.”