Return to Homeland

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

Return to Homeland

November - December 1944

 

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

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“Towards the end of November 1944, we were ordered to move from Egypt to Greece the Services of the Ministry of the Navy and the Hellenic Admiralty.  A Captain, bearing the title of Supreme Naval Commander of Alexandria, provisionally remained in Alexandria to oversee our ships, the Schools and the Logistics still operating in Egypt.

 

The transport to Greece was made with the requisitioned submarine escort “CORINTHIA”; we even had to take with us to Athens the furniture of the Ministry, following the information that the building of the Ministry in Athens was completely stripped of all furniture. In addition, because of the general situation prevailing in Greece, we took a preventive measure that proved precious during the events that followed our arrival: For the safety of the Ministry in Athens we took with us a garrison of trusted men of the Naval Police and a large number of guns and machine guns.

 

The sight of the destructions of the port of Piraeus was the first pitiful picture that we came across. We were prepared for that. But we were not prepared to face the sight of the billboards on the garrison headquarters of E.L.A.S. (the military arm of the communist led resistance organization E.A.M.), as we were entering Athens. The slogans of the mutineers of Alexandria hanging in downtown Athens!

 

Next morning I went to the building of the Ministry of the Navy in Klafthmonos Square to assume my duties, at last, in Greece. The building, lately used by the Germans as quarters for the sailors, was dilapidated and its luxurious furniture had vanished. A few gendarmes guarded the building and inside some non-uniformed non-commissioned officers and sailors –from those who had remained in Greece- were hanging around.   A general clean up was ordered, the guarding of the building was entrusted to the Naval Police brought over from Alexandria and entrance without permission was forbidden. Many of the furniture were found, some in the suburb of Kifissia where the Germans had taken them, other in neighboring houses. Because the old Naval Command of the Ministry still existed, operating during the occupation in another building, we ordered the transfer of these Services to the building of the Admiralty, as was the new name of the Ministry of the Navy.

 

The Fleet Command was relocated to the building of the School of Naval Cadets. Some repairs had already started but this building hadn’t been badly damaged. The state of most of the other installations of the Navy was desperate. The Naval Base of Salamis and the Skaramanga shipyards were in ruins. Severely damaged were the buildings of the Naval Schools of Skaramanga. The Naval School of War near Thission was also in ruins. In a relative better shape were the Torpedo and Mines Command and the Radio-Telegraphy Command of the Navy near Votanikos. The installations of the Shore Defense Command, for which the Navy was so proud [see: "Building Coastal Defenses"], were almost completely destroyed. Whatever hadn’t been destroyed by us before the collapse, was blown-up by the retreating Germans. In short, with the exception of the Fleet that came organized from the Middle East, nothing remained from the pre-war Navy. The re-organization from zero-base of the Central Command and the other shore Commands as well as the re-construction of the ruins were major challenges for us.  The first, more pressing and delicate problem to solve was however the re-unification in a single Corps of the senior and junior regular personnel of the two Navies, the one who came from the Middle East and the other who had stayed in occupied Greece.

 

The de-bottlenecking

 

The Chief of the Fleet had already invited to report for duty the few senior officers that had worked in the national interest during the Occupation and an important number of officers of the support branches. A significant number of active reservist officers had also reported for duty. Career non-commissioned officers and volunteer sailors that had served in Greece were also reporting for duty. These measures, however, couldn’t address a difficult issue that had become extremely complicated with the promotions of the career officers that fled Greece and served in the Middle East and the re-integration in Egypt of the 1935 dismissed officers [see: "The Greek Navy in the Middle East"]. Especially acute was the problem of the senior officers that had remained in Greece and had been passed-over in the Middle East by their juniors.   Those who had remained in Greece were asking rehabilitation to their seniority and equivalence to those that had escaped because, with a few exceptions, they hadn’t remained in Greece by their own will. In addition, even if they had escaped, they wouldn’t have been used in war duty, due to the special conditions under which the R.H.N. was operating in the Middle East. There was no doubt, that several of these officers could still offer valuable services to the Navy. However, this opinion was creating vivid protests among those that pursued the war effort in the Middle East, because the fast evolution of their career was obstructed. These protests, presented with logical arguments, couldn’t be overlooked, especially for those that had served on the ships and had taken part in war operations. Besides, everywhere and always after winning a war, those who had the chance to fight and had fulfilled their duty enjoy some advantages. It was thus very difficult to find a solution to satisfy the fair requests of all and at the same time the needs of the Navy. If all were to remain in the Corps and their seniority re-established, the number of Captains would had been three times more than the real needs, while if those in excess were to remain as supernumerary their presence would have condemned the evolution of the younger officers.

 

The solution that mostly served the needs of the Navy was to determine by rank the really necessary organizational positions and choose from all sides the most qualified, giving special weight to their war activity. It’s the solution that we chose, striving to remain close to the pre-war organizational numbers. However for some specific support branches, following the promotions of young officers in Egypt, an increase of the number of senior officers beyond the real needs was necessary, otherwise needed officers with long experience would be dismissed.

 

The selection was made by the Supreme Naval Committee and wasn’t ideal. It was the result of a compromise of various opinions. This first de-bottlenecking was fiercely criticized and several amendments were made. From a total number of 124 officers dismissed, 83 of which were combat officers, only 2 were re-integrated. Several more were dismissed with the decongestions that followed and the selection was thus made fairer.

 

Judgments were also made for a certain number of promotions to the ranks of Captain and Rear-Admiral, as promised by the Admiral Chief. However the timing was bad and the Navy was severely criticized for dealing with promotions when the events of December 1944 were taking place, when hostages were being abducted and thousands of national-minded Greeks -and among them several colleagues- were being executed. 

 

The December Events (the “Dekembriana”)

 

We were barely starting the actions to re-organize the Navy, when the communist mutiny known as the “Dekembriana” was erupting. Fortunately, this time the attitude of all serving in the Navy was totally law-abiding and we had the proof that the personnel purges [see “the Reconstruction of the R.H.N ”] that followed the crushing of the mutiny of the Navy in Egypt had been successful. No case of insubordination was recorded on the ships, in spite the fact that the Fleet had taken acting part in crashing the mutiny by bombarding communist strongholds in Piraeus. There were three main sites of resistance of the shore naval facilities: In Piraeus, the Fleet Command in the building of the School of Naval Cadets under the control of the Admiral Chief and the building of the Naval Command under Captain Georgoulopoulos; In Athens, the building of the Ministry of the Navy, under my supervision.  The Naval Base of Salamis and the Skaramanga facilities, guarded by small garrisons, were taken over by the communist mutineers. When they left, whatever had been saved from German destruction was either stolen or destroyed. The Fleet Command and the Naval Command at Piraeus were fiercely attacked by the forces of the mutineers but they put-up a sturdy resistance and were not seized.

 

The resistance of the Admiralty

 

The building of the Ministry of the Navy in Athens was turned into a real fortress. More than 300 naval personnel of all ranks had manned the building. Many career and reserve non-commissioned officers and sailors had rushed since the start of the events to offer their services. In addition, many officers who lived in neighborhoods occupied or threatened by the mutineers had taken refuge in the Admiralty building. For our defense we disposed some 150 guns, 40 machine-guns and their ammunitions and grenades, everything brought from Egypt. To complement the defense of the building, we occupied some buildings in the side-streets to hold in-check the attacks. Finally, no attack was attempted against the Admiralty. One evening, the situation had become quite critical when about 300 armed mutineers gathered at a small distance and erected a barricade near the Klafthmonos garden.  I visited the British brigadier responsible for our part of the city and asked him to dispose that coming night a tank for the protection of the building of the Ministry. He admitted that he had only 17 tanks and it was impossible to dispose one all night long for our protection, since there were not enough soldiers available for its protection. He then proposed to send one tank before nightfall to destroy the barricade. And so was done. During all this period, the building of the Ministry had been the target of the mortars of the mutineers that had broken many window panes and had left their traces on the walls. Many civilians, casualties of the mortars, were being brought to the first aid station that our medical officers had set-up at the Ministry. Since the beginning of the mutiny a machine-gun installed at the near-by Korai street garrison headquarters of E.L.A.S., had been firing against the armed positions of the Ministry and as a result, a sailor was killed. Following my request, a tank was sent and after a few shots the machine-gun was silenced and the mutineers in the E.L.A.S. headquarters were arrested. The soldiers saved the mutineers from being lynched by the gathered enraged civilians.

 

I named the active Commander E. Zarpas head of the Ministry garrison. He extended his actions in cleaning-up operations of near-by communist resistance pockets. One day he made a serious mistake that could have been fatal. Dressed in his uniform, he went to his home in the neighborhood of Pangrati. Leaving his home, he was arrested by armed men and was taken to the Pangrati E.L.A.S. garrison building. After being subjected for several hours to communist propaganda, he succeeded in being authorized to leave. He was also given back his revolver, as of course the mutineers ignored what were his duties!

 

Especially moving was the Christmas liturgy celebrated by the priest of the Naval Base in the office of the Minister of the Navy Panagiotis Kanellopoulos, while the building was shaking from mortar shells. After the liturgy the Minister delivered a speech full of national pride and we all sung our National Anthem.

 

With the Varkiza agreement  this first period since our return from Egypt, came to an end. The exceptional measures were relaxed and the re-organization of the Navy effort started again”