New political anomalies B

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

New political anomalies Part B'

1933- 1935

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

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“In the autumn of 1933, the Hellenic Navy was the subject of a very intensive criticism by the Opposition. Several clumsy actions of the Central Command and the political actions of the Commander of the destroyer Flotilla [see: “New political anomalies – the 1933 Coup Part A” ], gave plenty of ammunitions to the critics. A newly edited newspaper published a series of articles on the applied naval system of command.

 

A prosecution for libel

 

In an article published on November 15, 1933 in the newspaper “Dimokgratikos Agon”, names of superior naval officers were mentioned who, by assumingly misleading the previous Governments concerning their political beliefs, had obtained honorable and confidential positions. These same officers were now –according to this article- presenting themselves as party officials of the new regime.  Copies of this newspaper were sent to the services were the officers mentioned were serving, with the clear objective to discredit them to their subordinates.  I was thus informed that my name was also included in that list.  I requested from the Ministry of the Navy the penal prosecution of the newspaper editor and in spite of the initial objections of the Minister who considered that I should disregard what was published, the case was finally brought to trial in front of the criminal court of Piraeus.  The defence presented as proof the order of the day of the Flotilla Commander on the occasion of his taking over his duties [see: “New political anomalies – the 1933 Coup Part A” ].

 

The jury unanimously returned a guilty verdict for the newspaper editor.  He expressed his regret for what was written in front of the Court, declared that my name shouldn’t have been mentioned in the article, promised to repeat this declaration in his newspaper and I accepted to withdraw the charge.  The newspaper respected its editor’s promise and published a declaration of apology in its issue of April 28, 1934.

 

Unfortunately, whenever the crews were back from training at sea to the Naval Base of Salamis to rest, they were facing the repercussion of the renewed political passions.   Rumors of imminent coups were circulating and some persons were reporting them magnified to the Minister of the Navy, either in good faith or to serve personal interests. The Minister, having a long personal experience of coups, was ordering strict measures of vigilance that resulted in almost permanent state of alertness for those serving on the ships.

 

Nervous reactions to military coup rumors

 

This disagreeable situation was sometimes taking a comic turn. Once, the General Director of the Naval Base of Salamis, a party official and a character who loved to ridicule everything, urgently convoked the ship commanders.  He announced that a coup was expected to erupt on the battleship “AVEROF”, that had received the order to hold in custody the ship’s officers on duty and that the destroyers should turn their guns against the b/s “AVEROF”!  We were amazed and wondering if the General Director was sane!  The commander of “AVEROF”, an officer ideologically leaning to the ruling party but carefully avoiding political disputes, who was present was even more surprised.  He remarked that there was absolute calm on his ship and that only a small number of members of the crew and 2-3 peaceful officers, of the same ideology as the Government, were on duty. The General Director answered in his usual ironic way: “Minister’s orders”.  As we were expecting the Minister’s visit, thanks to the intervention of the other commanders, the officers of the b/s “AVEROF” were provisionally accommodated in the other ships and the application of any other measure was postponed.

 

When the Minister arrived we presented to him the situation and he appeared convinced that there was no immediate risk of a coup. He ordered however to land as soon as possible the venizelist officers.  The staff of my ship, the destroyer HYDRA”, consisted mainly of venizelist officers dedicated to duty and from whom I was completely satisfied. I therefore informed the Minister that, although I ignored the political beliefs of my subordinates because I was not discussing politics with them, I personally guaranteed their loyalty. I thus avoided the disbanding of the excellent staff of my ship.

 

When I returned to my ship, realizing the extend of the responsibility I had undertaken, I decided to once more hear from the mouth of my officers what I had guaranteed on their behalf.  I therefore informed them on what was said and added that, even if I considered that rumors for a coup were groundless, they should be aware that in the event of a coup I had the intention to resist with the guns.  I asked them finally to speak with all sincerity and tell me their opinion on this subject.  As I expected, they all assured me that all my orders would be accurately executed.  My executive officer, a peaceful officer that did not mix up with politics, differentiated and said:  “Commander, experience has taught me that in such cases it is preferable not take sides neither for nor against coups”.  I was of course not satisfied by the answer of my executive officer given in front my officers.  Although what he said was unfortunately true for those wishing to secure a calm career, I was expecting from my executive positive action to protect legality and not neutrality. I was thus sorry to tell him that I congratulate for his frankness, but a passive stance in the event of internal disputes was not proper for an executive officer and was thus obliged to ask for his replacement.  By coincidence, his transfer to a shore service was pending and had been postponed at my request. I asked the transfer to be executed.

 

During my whole service as commander of the destroyer “HYDRA”, I had never regretted for the trust I put on my staff. Many of these same officers however before long, when the composition of the Fleet changed and some commands were taken over by unsuitable officers, were drawn into the more serious coup of our Navy.  It was impossible for me to imagine at the time I served as commander the destroyer “HYDRA” that one day I from the position of the Public Prosecutor I would be asking severe punishments for my ex-subordinates that had won my absolute esteem!

 

Promotion to Captain – Interruption of service at sea

 

In February 1934, I was promoted to Captain. This pleasant event had as a result the interruption of my service in the Fleet. Although the position of destroyer commander was not compatible with my new rank, I submitted the request to remain in that position and be named at the same time commander of the second Flotilla and thus typically justify my staying. My request was not accepted with the argument that the co-existence of two Captains in the destroyer Command was not correct and that I should take over a position in line with my rank. I may be wrong but I got the impression that the Central Command didn't approve of my impartial stand face to the politically opponents and, under the pressure of the intolerant, preferred to give me a position for which complete political orthodoxy was not necessary. I also came to this conclusion following the proposals that were made to me by the Ministry. First, I was offered the Direction of the Meteorological Service of the Ministry of the Air force that presented several material advantages. I refused with indignation the offer, declaring that if I had the intention to continue my career away from the active Navy I would have remained at the DRYN [Direction of Radiotelegraphic Service of the navy]. I was then placed as Commander of the Naval School of War, an important position quite honourable for a new Captain. I knew however that certain senior officers that were commanding the Navy at that time, that had not been satisfied from their studies at this School, had a very low consideration for the Naval School and considered it good for the politically unwanted. In that category belonged the acting Commander of the School with the rank of Commander, an able 'venizelist' officer that was to remain as my second in command. I insisted in assuming my duties after the end of the educational period in order to avoid giving different educational directions. As a result of my insistence, it was decided that I take a leave until the end of the period.

 

When I was passing-over command of the destroyer “HYDRA” the Flotilla Commander communicated an order to the ships thanking me “for the precious contribution and the devotion with which I worked for the perfect functioning of the Flotilla”, adding that “he would be pleased to work with officers that can show the hard work and the good faith that I had shown”.  Before long and in spite of these goods words I was in conflict with my ex-commander.  Such were the conditions of Greek reality…

 

Finally, I didn’t take over the command of the Naval School of War in that period.  After four months of unemployment, in June 1934, I took-over the re-established position of the Director of the Technical Services of the Ministry of the Navy. 

 

Director of the Technical Services of the Ministry of the Navy – The Naval Program

 

The Direction of the Technical Services was responsible in older times for all the technical equipment and supplies of the Navy and was therefore considered as very important. The most senior Captains disposing the more extensive technical knowledge were assuming its command. In later years its importance had been ignored and suitable for this position Captains were avoiding her, preferring sea commands or shore commands that offered many fringe benefits, were more relaxing and had fewer responsibilities.  Thus, these important duties ended up being entrusted to less suitable officers. It was said for one of them that he was boasting for his honesty because during his service he hadn’t signed any order for new supplies! Finally, these duties were provisionally taken-over by a Captain Ship architect and this provisional situation had been extended significantly. The presence of a combative officer having personal experience of the Fleet’s needs was again considered necessary and the recent promotions to the rank of Captain helped choose a suitable candidate.

 

When I assumed my new duties, important orders of war equipment were pending. My most important mission was to deal with the execution of the 1931 Naval Program.  According to this program in the first 6 year period four 1,400 tons destroyers, a flag ship of 2,000 tons and a submarine minelayer had to be built, in addition to the four ‘HYDRA’ type destroyers already delivered. In parallel, shore defence had to be organized and all kinds of needs in war supplies and installations had to be completed. Three years had gone by without any progress being made in the application of this Program.  Especially, concerning the placement of orders for the new destroyers, our usual interfering resulted in none to be entered in a six year period.

 

Some suggested the destroyers to be build in Greece. The Minister, who liked radical and progressive solutions, accepted this proposal with enthusiasm.  The idea presented several advantages. New work positions would be created, technical personnel would be formed and exported funds in foreign exchange would be limited.  The ship yards that would be created would be useful in war for extensive ship repairs. Those who were supporting this idea were over-emphasizing these advantages. In reality, only the assembly of the ships could be made in Greece because engines, equipment, weapons, all spare parts and supplies, even steel plates had to be imported from abroad.  Thus the savings in foreign currency would only amount to one fourth of each ship’s value. For this reason, the advantage that we would be acquiring a war industry was only imaginary.  On the other hand, at least in the first years, construction in Greece would cost more than ship building abroad and even more important, it would require more time, because of lack of sufficient experience.  For this reason, because we had delayed so much, it was necessary that at least the first part of the Naval Program not to be combined with the establishment of Shipyards.

 

As if the inherent difficulties of the mater were not enough, the habit of the Minister to consult without reason incompetent and irresponsible persons created even more.  Many years before, a British Mission who had especially been invited to study the creation of a new Naval Base in Skaramanga, after a long study of the local conditions had found a suitable site to build shipyards; at this same site the shipyards were finally built.  The Minister on the other hand had been persuaded from his incompetent consultants that the shipyards should be built near the Repair shops of the existing Naval Base of Salamis.  Following my proposal, a multimember Committee was created and decided by majority that the choice of the site should be based on the study of the foreign specialists.

 

Finally, a compromise was reached and a relative time advantage in the application of the Program was gained.  It was decided to ask foreign ship construction firms to submit offers for building the first 2 destroyers abroad and the remaining in Greece, in shipyards to be created by these same firms.  The bigger delay in placing the order was due to endless discussions concerning the displacement of the destroyers.

 

It had been suggested that instead of the classic destroyer type, a smaller by 400 tons type that had been studied by us would bring savings of the order of 25%.  Part of the officers was opposed to this type, as they didn’t trust the specifications drawn by our own ship-building service. I must however point out that the foreign engineers that came to Greece for the order had expressed their approval for this type. A third opinion was added by retired Admiral S. Dousmanis for an even smaller type of about 800 tons. This type had been proposed 25 years before when Dousmanis was Chief of Staff of the Navy.

 

When I took over the Direction of the Technical Services, the relative decisions had been taken and the invitation to tender was ready for the 1,000 tons type.  In parallel offers were requested for the classic 1,400 tons type. I launched the invitation to tender and reserved my judgment after the receipt of the offers, when it would be possible to evaluate the real saving from the displacement reduction.

 

When we received the offers, a British firm proposed an intermediate type between the classic and the one we had designed that combined many technical advantages and relatively satisfactory financial terms. That type was chosen by the Committee and I agreed with its opinion. Unfortunately many months went by until the final decision was taken by the Committee, because supplementary information was required from the various firms and endless discussions took place. A large part of the delay was due to the usual methods followed by the foreign firm representatives that when they sensed that the order would be given to a competitor, they fabricated endless reasons to wreck the deal.

 

By the end of February 1935, the final decision was finally taken and we were expecting the Director of the firm that had been chosen to sign the contract. We had not however taken into account an unforeseen… the coup of March 1st, 1935.

 

It was of course not possible when we were dealing with its repression to sign such contracts and we thus asked the Director of the shipbuilding firm to postpone for a few days his arrival.  The coup was repressed but the new ships order was annulled and two more years passed before 2 destroyers were finally ordered.

 

Admiral Dousmanis, the new Minister of the Navy, chose the 800 ton type. He thus ignored the work done and the opinion of the competent service and the whole mater had to be examined from the beginning. The deceleration of the war preparation of the Navy was one of the many side-effects of this coup.

 

As far as other, besides ships, war supplies are concerned many orders were placed during the 8 month period I directed the Technical Services.  I also dealt with the internal organization of the Direction that was characterized by extreme bureaucracy.  For the simplest matters that were falling under the responsibility of several sections and could be resolved by verbal communication a long mail was exchanged, always bearing the signature of the same Director!  Sometimes these documents signed by the same person were taking the aspect of recriminations!

 

One of the disagreeable aspects of my position was the creation of frequent friction with heads of various services that would not understand that the central Service was obliged to operate in the context of the State Budget.  Each demand for expenditure, even unreasonable, that was rejected for budgetary reasons was considered by some as personal reaction against them. Their complaints were often reaching the Minister”