Reconstruction of the RHN

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The Reconstruction of the R.H.N.

April -October 1944

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

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“As one could expect, the ships and shore facilities were in a state of disintegration, after the repression of the mutiny. A period of reconstruction and intensive purges from suspect elements followed. After careful selection, new crews were organized from men who had either participated in the mutiny acting in good faith or didn’t have any real involvement. It was a job well done, a title of honor for those who undertook it.

 

In parallel with the reconstruction, a series of interrogations, investigative committees and trials had started for the punishment of those who were responsible for the mutiny. There were so many accused, that there were not enough investigators, naval court judges and members for the investigative committees; in spite of using the help of the Greek lawyers of Egypt that were named assistant ensigns.

 

I was named chairman of some of the investigative committees. One of them decided to discharge the young junior lieutenant who during the collapse, in April 1941, had taken the initiative to drive his ship to Megara Bay to join the Fleet. This same officer had become president of the revolutionary committee of his ship! Contemplating his old brilliant behavior, I thought how regrettable are for the officers the results of their petty-ambitions and their interfering with politics.

 

The issue of penalties was complex. There was no doubt that the axe of Justice should heavily fall on the ringleaders of the mutiny, for the horrible crime committed in a period of war. There should be no leniency for the officers who followed the mutineers and accepted with sympathy their demands. It was further necessary to take disciplinary measures against those who, even if they hadn’t participated in the mutiny and were completely against, had not taken the proper preventive measures, as expected by their rank and position. However, the strict formal application of the Military Regulations would result to the disintegration of the Navy, as so many officers and non-commissioned officers under the pressure of the mutineers had signed the protocols and had sent telegrams requesting governmental change etc., believing that it was the only way to contain the situation…

 

Everyone agreed that the Navy should get rid of those who could not to be trusted anymore and that measures should be taken against those who had shown a lukewarm attitude in dealing with this regrettable situation. In the evaluation of the degree of application of these principles there were however important differentiations: the old political divisions between the officers dismissed in 1935 and those who opposed them. Those who were sympathetic to the dismissed urged that sanctions be applied only to those who clearly supported the mutineers. The opposite side was aiming at extending the sanctions to as many dismissed officers as possible. Finally, there were some officers who considered that it was the right moment for a parallel professional purge that would include even those who stayed in Greece.

 

As I was not holding an official position, I didn’t have the opportunity to express a responsible view on these problems. However, following a circular of the Ministry of the Navy that was asking the opinion of the officers concerning the reasons of the mutiny, I presented my opinion in a lengthy report. In this report I included what I had verbally or in writing reported since the beginning of the turmoil. I was of the opinion that the few communist cells would not have found such favorable response in the crews, if a favorite climate for mutinies hadn’t developed.  The tolerance and the satisfaction of collective objectives had given the impression that, beyond the authority of laws and ranks, there was the force of the mass of the many. And when the few privy to the deeper objectives of the mutiny launched the deceptive slogan “Union of all Greeks”, the big mass of the naives and opportunists rushed to adopt it. Having easily succeeded till then acceptance of their personal requests, they couldn’t imagine that they would face reaction for the acceptance of a request that they presented as of national interest!

 

When A. Mylonas, the new Minister of the Navy, assumed his duties, I met him and presented to him the need to reestablish the General Staff of the Navy (GSN); The need was becoming more pressing as the Day of Liberation was approaching. The Minister was much in favor of my proposal because, as a professional politician, he realized that his jurisdiction was limited and by creating a Supreme Naval Authority in his Ministry that would co-exist with the Chief of the Fleet, his authority would be reinforced. He was however facing important reactions, eventually related to the large officers purges that some high-ranking officers were planning, given that if there was a Chief of the GSN he would have had the responsibility to draft the relative law. I therefore continued being unemployed until the end of August 1944 when, suddenly, the Chief of the Fleet informed me that a new organization of the Navy was being prepared, in which I would take a position in line with my rank. The Minister of the Navy, who obviously disagreed with this new organization, had resigned and the Prime Minister had assumed his duties.

 

The new Organization of the RHN

 

On August 31,1944 a compulsory law was published in the Government Gazette “On the Organization of the Royal Navy” that revolutionized the existing pre-war legislation. The new law provided for a collective body of Naval Command, similar to the institution of the British Admiralty. I believe that the Chief of the Navy was forced to propose the issuance of that Law, as a way out to the situation prevailing in the Naval Command since the arrival of the Fleet in the Middle East, when the standing institutions in Greece stopped being applied and all authority was concentrated in the person of the Chief of the Fleet. The simplest solution was of course to go back to the institutions existing before the war and if some improvement was needed, this could be the task of a post-war Government. I have the impression that some senior officers were reacting to this natural solution, because they didn’t wish to see the top administrative positions being attributed to the officers heading the Corps. From that point of view the new organization had favorable consequences, because old experienced officers could get involved in the Naval Command.

 

However, such serious innovation required serious research work by officers disposing profound experience on staff and organizational matters, while this law was drafted by an officer dismissed in 1935 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. As noted in the introductory report of the law, the British Admiral of Alexandria had been asked to express his opinion on the draft of the law and he had agreed on its general principles.  However, the Admiral was only aware of the curious organization of the R.H.N. in the Middle East and ignored the pre-war, so as to make a judgment on the need for such a drastic change as Liberation day was approaching. After the Liberation, I had the opportunity to further discuss the matter with the Chiefs of the British Missions in Greece and came to the conclusion that the institution of the British Admiralty is mainly based on unwritten traditions and only those who served it for a long time know well the details of its operation.

 

The first shortcoming of the new law was that it attempted to include the Charter of the Navy in just ten articles and was thus full of vagueness that caused problems in every step of its application. While it significantly differed from what was in force in Britain, it was also contrary to the general dispositions in force in our Navy and practically abolished the Minister of the Navy. According to the introductory report, with the new institution the catastrophic involvement of politics in maters of personnel would be avoided. However, according to what was in force before the war, The Supreme Naval Commission decisions on personnel matters were compulsory for the Minister. The problem had nothing to do with institutions, but rather with the way they were functioning. If the political leadership wishes to interfere with the Naval Command, they can always find a way to replace the members of the Supreme Naval Commission that react to their wishes. The Command of our Armed Forces will only become truly independent, when the political breeding in our country will reach the level of the British.

 

When I later assumed the first position of the Navy, I repeatedly tried with the help of the Chiefs of the British Missions to improve the dispositions of the institution of the Admiralty. The reaction of all political parties against this institution was so strong that they wouldn’t accept any improvement, till the day it was finally abolished.   

 

However the Law had been published and it had to be applied. It offered a way out to the situation, even if not the best. According to the new Law, the so-called Admiral Chief had the rank of Vice Admiral and was at the same time Chief of the Navy, Chief of the General Staff of the Navy and Inspector General of the Navy. In addition, by special Government order he could also assume the duties of Chief of the Fleet…

 

Admiral Voulgaris was thus named Admiral Chief, keeping at the same time his duties as Chief of the Fleet, and I was named Deputy Chief and second member of the Admiralty. In practice, because the Chief was busy with the Fleet, I was given full initiative on General Staff of the Navy matters.

 

I immediately dealt with the organization of the Central Services of the Ministry that had slackened since the Navy moved to the Middle East. The new Law on the Admiralty provided that all regulations concerning the operation of all the Support Services would be settled by Organizational orders. It was a time consuming job that necessitated intensive work. It was quite urgent to issue these orders because those who were serving at the Central Command didn’t know anymore what were their duties and authorities. We succeeded in issuing most of these orders before the Admiralty was moved to Greece; the remaining was issued after the Liberation. I had to personally carryout this job, because I couldn’t get any help, since several of the senior officers that disposed the necessary experience and staff training had remained in Greece, those who were in Egypt were serving in the Fleet, while some had been placed out of service because of their attitude during the mutiny. It was an especially tiring job, but for me a real relief after the long period of idleness I had been condemned to in the Middle East.

 

We also studied the necessary administrative measures to be taken for the purging of the senior staff, following the mutiny. The Greek Government had already taken a serious decision: Because Liberation day was approaching, any penal prosecution against those involved in the mutiny would be postponed. Only administrative sanctions would be imposed, not by the usual Investigative Committees but on the basis of a law in force in the Middle East that gave the authority to the Minister of the Navy to dismiss officers for reasons of order and discipline. This law would be applied following the formal opinion of the Supreme Naval Council that would convene under the chairmanship of the Admiral Chief, especially authorized to sit-in for the Minister of the Navy. The chairman of the Committee conveyed the wish of the Government sanctions to be limited to those who have actively participated in the mutiny and those that could cause problems to the Navy in the future. In fact, responsibilities for the present were not to be attributed, but the wish was to secure the future.

 

Until this Government decision was taken, several had been sentenced by the Naval Courts, or had been dismissed by the Investigative Committees. Several officers were dismissed following a decision of the Supreme Naval Council and among them, two Captains. I was of the opinion that this measure should be extended to some additional officers, but I was a minority. However, these particular officers were dismissed at some later purges.

 

The relative few dismissals didn’t satisfy those who were asking for a general reduction of the number of officers in the Middle East and the dismissal of practically all the officers that had stayed in Greece. In addition they were asking the dismissal of most officers of the supporting branches, economic and health, the majority of which had remained in Greece; they were not taking into account the fact that the re-functioning of these services couldn’t be done with only those who had served in the Middle East.

 

We finally agreed that any additional purge should be postponed for after the Liberation and I was charged with drafting the relative law.

 

Thus, provisionally undistracted from personnel maters, those serving in the Fleet started preparing the necessary actions relating to Liberation and those serving at the Ministry started working on the Organization of the Central Command Services. One of the main tasks of the Fleet during this period was the preparation of the necessary supplies and personnel for the installation of Naval Commands in the main Greek ports.

 

On October 13,1944, it’s with great emotion that we saw the battleship “AVEROF”, the ships of the Naval Commands and some other units under the Chief of the Fleet, leaving Alexandria for our liberated Homeland. The remaining members of the Admiralty were ordered to provisionally remain in Alexandria to continue there our tasks.”