Sinking HYDRA

 

 

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

The Chronicle of the sinking of HYDRA
April 22, 1941

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

Destroyer "HYDRA" R.H.N.

From the night of April 6, 1941, the War entered into a new phase. Our Navy had to
face a foe with a vastly superior military force. Possessing of no adequate means
of defense, our fleet was condemned to a passive role and incurred heavy losses.
At the same time, our Navy showed many acts of heroism.

The first heavy bombing of the port of Piraeus by German aircraft on the night of  
April 6 and the early hours of April 7, showed the inefficiency of our anti-aircraft
defense. Our anti-aircraft batteries surrounding the Naval Station of Salamis and at
Elefsis had succeeded to repulse the rather feeble attacks of the Italian airplanes.
Although reinforced by a British anti-aircraft battery stationed in Elefsis, by the anti-aircraft battery of the battleship "AVEROF" and by a few British attack airplanes,
the anti-aircraft defense was completely insufficient to repulse a vastly larger
German attack.

In addition our destroyers had minimum anti-aircraft weaponry and were not
equipped with multi-barrel anti-aircraft machine guns, as were the British, the only
effective weapons against the German dive bombers. Even more serious was the
scarcity of anti-aircraft ammunition, as a result of which the destroyers were
ordered not to fire unless directly threatened.

The frequent air attacks endangered the anchorages of the Naval Station, of
Elefsis and Megara. From the night of April 13 the destroyers were ordered to
scatter in pairs in the Saronic Gulf. The destroyer "KING GEORGE", on which
destroyer fleet Superior Commander Captain Mezeviris had set his command,
having been hit by a German dive bomber, was steered to the Naval Yard for
repairs. The necessary immediate repairs took longer than originally expected and
the decision was taken to sink her. Unfortunately after a few days the Germans
occupied the Naval Yard. The "KING GEORGE" was subsequently repaired and
operated in the service of the enemy!

After the serious damage inflicted by the German air force to the"KING GEORGE",
Captain Mezeviris raised his banner onboard  the destroyer "AETOS" on April 18
and on April 21 on the destroyer "HYDRA".

During the whole day of April 21, because of the continuous air-raid alerts, the
destroyer "HYDRA" along with the other destroyers were continuously sailing on
the Saronic Gulf, trying to hide behind the small islands west of the island of
Aegina. Only whenever there was need to fuel they would do so at night in the port
of Megara.

In the early hours of April 22, 1941, the enemy air activity was more intense than
ever. The main part of the Greek fleet had already sailed to Souda Bay on the
island of Crete and only four large destroyers remained in the Saronic Gulf - the
"QUEEN OLGA", with the Chief of the fleet onboard, the "HYDRA", the "PANTHER"
and the "IERAX". These four ships were continuously sailing in order to evade the
enemy.

The "HYDRA" was ordered to rendezvous at Fleves at 19:00 of April 22, 1941, with
the submarine "PAPANICOLIS" and the cargo ship "MARIMESK" carrying
ammunition for the Navy and to accompany them to Souda Bay. From Souda Bay,
the "HYDRA" would sail to Alexandria, Egypt.

Early in the afternoon of the same day, while the "HYDRA" was anchored near the
Peloponnesus Coast in the area of the Isthmus of Corinth, she was informed by the
"QUEEN OLGA", anchored near-by, that there was strong probability of an enemy
air-raid. It was imperative to change position once more…

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

"Since morning we had changed positions several times, but nowhere could we
become invisible. I asked the commander of the "Hydra", Commander Pezopoulos,
if he had any ideas about what to do until the time would come to sail to the
rendezvous point. He replied, phlegmatically, “Commander, whatever is destined
to happen will happen, I propose we sail at low speed to the meeting point”. I
accepted his suggestion, as I couldn’t think of something better. At about 17:30,
while we were sailing north of Aegina next to Lagossa Island, an enemy
reconnaissance aircraft appeared. To confuse it, I ordered to change course
towards Methana. When the plane disappeared, we returned to our previous
course. After twenty minutes, about 70 airplanes were sighted heading south in a
course crossing ours a few miles distance. When the planes overflew the "Hydra",
some 35 of them separated from the remaining and were directed towards the
"Hydra". From the upper bridge I ordered full speed and continuous zigzags and
then fire, when the first squadron entered our firing range. The planes were
diving, releasing their bombs from low altitude and at the same time machine
gunning, aiming at the bridge.   At that precise moment the commander of the ship
came up from the lower bridge, without head-cover as was his habit, and took up
his usual position on the front screen of the bridge. Soon after, I saw him slip and
sit on deck. His eyes were closed, a slight smile on his lips and all over his face
the peace of a man who has to the last moment completed his duty. Commander
Pezopoulos, that brave soldier and valuable companion had, first, paid the tax of
blood on his ship. A machine gun bullet had hit him in the head. It was raining
bombs around the ship and water jets were flooding her up to the upper bridge.
Two anti-aircraft batteries went out almost immediately and the third one jammed.
In the course of a few minutes from the start of the attack, the light portable
“Hotskins” submachine guns were only operating on the lower bridge. The ship at
the beginning of the attack was sailing at 30 knots. After a while first one engine
then the other stalled. Weaponless and immobilized the ship was at the mercy of
the foe. Attack aircrafts were not to be seen, although Athens Wireless had
announced just before the attack started that two were flying over Athens. No
bomb fell on the ship but several fell and exploded near the ship and caused many
holes in the bilge.

The ship was taking in water from every side and the draught was increasing very
fast, especially at the aft. Many of the steel plates of the deck had taken a wavy
shape. The deck, the floors of the long toms (guns) and the bridges were covered
with dead and heavily injured who had been hit by the enemy machine guns and
especially by bomb fragments falling on the ship. Executive Officer, Lieutenant
Commander Vlachavas, was horribly mutilated and so was Maniarezis, the ship’s
doctor. I myself was wounded from bomb fragments.

When the enemy aircrafts realized that the "Hydra" was sinking, they stopped the
attacks and, for some time, they kept flying over the ship.

When I realized that there was no hope of saving her, I ordered Lieutenant
Neofytos, the senior surviving officer to abandon ship. The lifeboats were
destroyed, except a small boat that was used to take aboard the mutilated. All
others swam for several hundred meters to near-by Lagossa Island. The ship’s
officers supervised that the heavily injured wear lifejackets and be thrown in the
sea. The passage of the deck was difficult, as at each step we had to walkover
mutilated corps. Some men having not heard the orders were still standing on the
stern hesitating to abandon ship, although the deck had reached sea level. I
ordered them to fall in the sea and I descended the right ladder, the top stair of
which was at sea level. Less than 30 hours ago I had ascended that same ladder to
take-up command in my new flagship!

A few moments, after the last surviving man had abandoned ship, her stern sunk,
she took a vertical position and disappeared under the water, taking with her to
her watery tomb the heroic dead. Only some fourteen minutes have passed from
the start of the attack to her sinking. When the water was covering her, a cheer
was heard from the sea and was repeated by tenths of mouths, "HIP-HURRAH, HIP-
HURRAH, and HIP-HURRAH for the "HYDRA"".

As was reported by the Naval Commander of the Island of Melos, when the
Germans occupied the Island a German pilot that took part in the attack told him
that he was impressed by the heroic attitude of the "Hydra"’s crew that were
waiving their hats cheering while the ship was being bombarded and sinking.

We remained on the small rocky Island of Lagossa for about an hour, waiting the
arrival of help. I had the opportunity, during that time, to better understand the
psychological qualities of the men. During the attack I had already appreciated
their excellent behavior and their complete self-control. Around me laid several
gravely injured men and from time to time one could hear them with difficulty  
containing their moaning. No one expressed the least complaint.  Those who were
still conscious were asking with anguish to learn about the fate of their
commander, whom they had adored. A sailor with an amputated leg lying nearby
continually asked me "How do you feel Commander?".

The sinking of the "Hydra" was observed from Athens and the islands of Aegina
and Salamis. Several boats rushed to pick us up. The injured were taken to
hospitals on Aegina and Athens.

That same night the destroyers "QUEEN OLGA", carrying members of the
government, "IERAX" and "PANTHER" left for Souda Bay. The submarine
"PAPANICOLIS", having not met  the "HYDRA" at Fleves, continued her voyage. So
did the cargo ship "MARIMESK" which arrived safely at Souda Bay. Those were the
last war ships to leave the Saronic Gulf to pursue the battle outside  Greece's
borders.

From the Athens hospital "Evangelismos" were I was recovering from my wounds,
I heard in the calm of the night of April 26, 1941 the passing of the armored troups
of the enemy. The next morning the conquerors’ flag was raised on the holy rock
of the Acropolis."