Asia Minor disaster, Revolution, Counterrevolution

ADMIRAL MEZEVIRIS

Asia Minor disaster, Revolution, Counterrevolution

1921 -1923

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

 

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

 

“When I left Paris [see: "From World War I to the Asia Minor disaster" ] and was back to Greece, I met with a situation far worse than what I had imagined.  It seems inevitable that those who criticize the mistakes of others, repeat exactly the same when they come to power.  Imposed measures of justice would have been the recall in active duty of all officers that had been removed from service for political reasons, the annulment of the administrative measures of suspension etc. and the re-establishment of the hierarchy.  These measures were necessary to prove that the new situation was a national regime and not one of a particular political camp, to forget political ideologies and render professional ability the only criterion of evaluation.  The resignation of the leaders and several of the more senior officers that participated in the coup [see: “Beginning of problems-National division 1915-17” ] facilitated the re-establishment of order.  As far as the remaining officers of the venizelist camp were concerned, it was most probable that they would serve scrupulously, as most of us royalists had done during the previous regime.

 

The previous Government had included in the general measure of purges, in addition to those that were considered undesirable for purely political reasons, several officers that belonged to the royalist camp and were lacking professional skills.  Equality could thus be re-established to the benefit of the Navy if this measure was extended to the professionally unfit of the venizelist camp.  Unfortunately this was not done and whoever was dismissed for whatever reason acquired the aureole of being drawn away for his political beliefs and returned with pretensions that he could never had advanced in case the national division had not taken place.  These pretensions were being accepted, often against the interests of other officers that had the misfortune of not having been sufficiently victimized to obtain the title of national hero.

 

Those that had been promoted by the previous Government to the rank of Admiral had resigned, with the exception of an officer that had not participated in the coup and who was suspended.  Being a flag officer it would have been more logical for him to retire also, if  judged non desirable, instead of promoting all his senior officers and thus the R.H.N. acquiring a dozen Rear Admirals.

 

One of my classmates at the School of Naval Cadets, an ideologue, the aviator Aristides Moraitinis, had been promoted in 1917 by ‘absolute election’ for exploit to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. This officer had since been killed during an air mission, but his worthy promotion was used as pretext for all his seniors to be promoted retroactively on the same day to the same rank.  As a result it was considered that I hold the rank of Lieutenant Commander two and more years before my actual promotion. 

 

In a more general way, officers had been distributed in three categories. Those who had returned from dismissal and were destined to obtain the more important positions, the venizelists who were transferred to the category of subordinates and the royalists who had served under the previous Government who were placed in the intermediary category.  By transposition of persons, this was an exact copy of what had happened in the past three years.

 

When I returned from Paris to Athens, I reported for duty at the Ministry of the Navy.  The Administration Director asked me in what position I wished to serve.  I answered that the R.H.N. had sent me to be trained for the wireless, but I was ready to serve in whatever position my services were needed.  The Director replied that at the Direction of the Radiotelegraphic Service of the Navy (D.R.Y.N.) were already serving enough officers and that my presence there was not indispensable.  It is noteworthy however that none of the naval officers serving at the D.R.Y.N. had any relation to the wireless!  Next, the Director  proposed to me to assume command of a requisitioned merchant ship transformed to minelayer, which had few probabilities to be used.  I accepted the offer although I had no specialty for that kind of ship.  As I was leaving the Director’s office, I met a reserve officer waiting at the anteroom who had specialized in mines and who informed me that he wished to be recalled to duty and assume that particular position.  He asked me not to insist on getting the command of the minelayer.  I assured him that I was not after this assignment and that I had simply declared that I would assume whatever mission I was entrusted with.  It seems that this officer’s lobbying was successful because Headquarters decided suddenly that my presence in the radiotelegraphy service was not superfluous and the next day I was informed that following more recent decisions I had to report for duty at the D.R.Y.N.

 

When I reported for duty at the D.R.Y.N., the Votanicos installations were almost complete.  An important mistake however had been made: The main wireless station installed, which was ordered before the war, was completely obsolete That station was destined for communicating as far as England, an objective that was never fulfilled.  The station had been used very little and the expenses incurred proved pointless.  If the D.R.Y.N. had followed-up the technical progress done during World War I and had considered proposals made by interested firms, a solution would have been found and instead of a worthless station a modern system would have been installed.

 

The venizelist Director of  the D.R.Y.N., specialized in wireless in England, was replaced by a non-specialized Captain.  Soon the new Director was transferred to the Direction of Wireless of the Ministry of Transports, where he remained until the position was abolished by the Revolution of 1922.  A Lieutenant Commander, my senior, was serving as Deputy Director.  He was also not specialized in wireless and was dealing exclusively with administrative matters.  Initially, I took over the direction of the Technical Department, the organization of the Radiotelegraphy School and teaching at the School.  Then, after the transfer of the Director, the Deputy Director took over as Director and thus the duties of the Deputy were added to mine.   In spite of the small difference in seniority, my relationship with the new Director was friendly; there was mutual politeness and no problems with the running of the service.   I couldn’t help wondering though –and with me many other colleagues- since the R.H.N. considered that this important Service could be run by a Lieutenant Commander, why it’s direction was not entrusted to the only specialist?  The answer to this question can probably be found in the categorization of officers mentioned here-above…

 

Used to the pettiness of politics, I decided to ignore them and to devote myself to the complicated task I had in front of me.  The central service, the scientific laboratory and the warehouses had to be organized.  The new Votanicos Station had to be tested and the planned network of Greater Greece had to be completed with about 20 new stations from Eastern Thrace to Smyrna.  All existing ship and shore spark transmitter stations had to be gradually replaced with the new type vacuum-tube transmitters.  Personnel had to be systematically trained for the new equipment and relative textbooks issued.  In addition, during that period, the D.R.Y.N. covered the wireless communication needs of merchant ships and airplanes.

 

To execute this important program I needed a specialized assistant, but had none.  The civil engineer trained in France with me [see: "From World War I to the Asia Minor disaster 1919-21" ] was pursuing his studies in Germany.  With intensive, hard work and with willingness to succeed I nevertheless responded satisfactorily to the challenge.  In addition, working at night, I wrote the book “Elements of wireless telegraphy” [see: “Books” that for many years was used as the only textbook of wireless of the Royal Hellenic Navy.

 

In November 1921, I visited Smyrna to take delivery of the wireless station installed there.  The station was immediately put in operation and offered important services during the military operations.  During my stay in Smyrna, I was the guest of Rear Admiral Kalamidas, Commander of the Greek Naval forces of Smyrna, on board the battleship “LEMNOS”.  Rear Admiral Kalamidas was in 1916 Squadron leader of the out-of-commission Battleship Squadron [see: “Beginning of problems- National division 1915-17” ].  With emotion I returned to my old ship and my ex- Commander under so different conditions!  Instead of the miserable looking faces of those serving 5 years earlier in the battleship command, those now serving were happy and full of optimism for the future. No one seemed to sense the catastrophe that was coming. In this atmosphere I felt for a while deep sorrow, because my new duties were keeping me away from the unforgettable hours that those serving on the ships were living.  But I had to leave Smyrna and return to my technical duties…

 

A new director had been named in the mean time, a Captain retired by the venizelist Government and recalled to active duty, that had also never dealt with the wireless.  As it became known, his placement was due to his request to be assigned to a service offering a dwelling for his family because having returned from abroad he was in need of a home for his family.  This dwelling, the only that the Navy disposed in Athens, often became the apple of discord of candidate directors.

 

Because of my rank, the change of Director formally facilitated my position. The new director was a very gallant person. The only unpleasant thing was that, as soon as he read a book popularizing the wireless, he considered that he possessed the matter, was interfering with technical details and asking analytical explanations for which I didn’t have the time to spare. Especially at that time, when I was writing another book the “Wireless telegraph theory” in the prospect of the operation in the very near future of a School for the senior personnel.

 

In June 1922, I visited again Smyrna to review the radiotelegraphy station.  From various discussions I formed the opinion that the fatal end of the Asia Minor expedition was approaching. When I returned to Athens, I made the suggestion to my director to issue preliminary orders to avoid the station falling intact in the hands of the enemy, in case the war was lost.  It was of course a minor issue, but that was all I could suggest from my position.  My director advanced some objections in the beginning, as he was very optimistic and not willing to create panic. Finally he was persuaded and a top-secret order anticipating 3 stages of action was issued. Each of these stages was to be implemented following a special telegraphic instruction.  These instructions were given in time on the basis of the progress of the enemy attack and when the Turks were entering Smyrna the buildings of the station were on fire and the antennas were blown-up.  All the equipment was salvaged and later installed in the Rio station (near Patras) in Greece.  This equipment was among the very few salvaged from the Asia Minor disaster. In the middle of such a huge national tragedy, this small contribution was the only one that we –serving at Votanicos- could offer.

 

The 1922 Revolution

 

Since August 1922, when the Turkish attack started in Asia Minor, they were rumors that in case of a military disaster mutinies would erupt to overthrow the regime. Rightfully, it was considered that the Athens wireless stations, safer for transmitting governmental orders than telegraphic cables that could be cut-off, would be among the main targets of the mutineers. It was therefore decided to adopt exceptional security measures to protect the stations from external attacks and to secure their functioning from internal sabotage by eventual collaborators of the mutineers.  I did not have at that time the special experience needed, but have acquired it since then during the endless period of coups to such degree that the mutineers by profession considered the Votanicos wireless Station as one of the most difficult targets.  For several days I had to stop any other work and deal exclusively with the defense of the site.  Several nights I remained in the area surrounding the Station supervising the men of the guard standing behind the barbed wires that we had installed.

 

On the night of September 11, 1922 I was standing by the receiver of the Station when the duty telegrapher informed me that a telegram with an important content was being received from the battleship “LEMNOS”. I immediately realized that it was a revolutionary proclamation and waited impatiently to see who was signing it.  Two Colonels -unknown to me- and a naval Commander were the names at the bottom of the message. I was surprised reading the name of the Commander because he was a disciplined and lawful officer.  As we later learned, many of the more junior officers that had not participated in the Thessalonica movement had now joined the Revolution.  One can explain this phenomenon by the size of the national disaster that the revolted officers had experienced and the administration methods applied in the period following the elections.

 

In spite of the patriotic content of the revolutionary telegram and no matter who was signing it, from the very beginning I opposed this revolutionary action, as well as any other that followed.  I absolutely respected the King, but was not satisfied with the actions of those that governed our Country in this last period.  I considered however that after a national disaster of such size, only our national unity could save Greece.  I was of the opinion that national unity could not be achieved by the abdication of the King, who a large part of our people still adored, neither by adopting violent measures that would again result in the dominance of one of the two camps and thus in the perpetuation of national division.

 

I therefore remained loyal to my beliefs and my decision that to the last moment I will execute orders of the legal Government.  As soon as the requests of the Revolution were accepted, the Director of the D.R.Y.N. went to Athens and left me as his cover.  I maintained the existing measures of vigilance and refused entrance to anyone not serving at Votanicos.  When I learned that some dismissed venizelist telegrapher officers were coming by their own initiative to take-up service, I informed them not to insist because I would use violence and they complied.  I had decided to turnover command only to a person presenting a written order of the new Government.  And that’s what happened; thus, order was absolutely maintained during the days of transition.

 

Having done my duty as soldier towards the abolished regime I took the decision, if asked, to continue serving my Country under the new regime no matter who were the persons in charge.  My new Director made this task easier.  My ex-commander of the destroyers “LONGHI” and “KERAVNOS” as soon as he took over as the new Director of the D.R.Y.N., asked me to stay on as his Deputy.  I was persuaded a priori from our past service with him [see: "Greece enters World War I- extensive purges 1917-19" ] that there will be no adverse consequences on the personnel and that I will be able to continue unhampered my work.

 

Two new duties were added to the many duties I already had in the context of the D.R.Y.N.: Teaching Electricity at the Naval School of Cadets and the Military Academy, where this course was taught for the first time.  I had to write a new book for the Naval School of Cadets, adapted to the level of knowledge that naval officers should have.  However, I tried hard to maintain this level because the Commander of the School insisted that it should be downgraded to adapt to the level of some students that shouldn’t have been admitted to the School nor named officers.  I had to accept teaching at the Military Academy after the insistence of its Commander, because at that time there was no wireless specialist in the Army.  Many students of the Academy were serving in the Army on the basis of a special law and the level of their education was very low for a course requiring a sound knowledge of mathematics.  Although the teaching material used was my ‘Electro-technology’ destined to the non-commissioned officers of the Royal Navy, at the exams about a quarter of the students didn’t get a passing grade.  At the end of the year I found as pretext that I was overworked and asked to be released from my teaching obligations at the Military Academy.  In reality, I was not satisfied with the results of my teaching.  The Commander of the School accepted my resignation with regret and kindly expressed his thanks in writing for the “excellent services” provided.

 

My main task in the period following the Asia Minor disaster was to secure perfect functioning for the wirelesses of the Fleet and the shore stations.  This was done successfully.

 

While many of the actions of the Revolution can be criticized, an impartial judge cannot deny the important services offered on the military level in the aftermath of the disaster.  The Army troops at the northeastern borders were restructured and at the same time our naval forces were reorganized.

 

Unfortunately, the Revolution did not limit their actions to the military field but proceeded to actions that increased the chasm that already existed, instead of bringing a much-wanted national unity.  With the adopted measures all the militaries, that had not joined the revolutionary movement but had accepted to help in the reorganization of the armed forces effort, were put in a very difficult position.  Very grave mistakes had been committed by the previous regime but there was absolutely no reason to doubt about the patriotism of those who governed our Country and the Commander in Chief, put in charge at the last moment, which were driven to the firing squad for high treason.  We had to press ourselves to continue serving after this tragic event.

 

Although working under these adverse conditions, my work was appreciated to such a point that the Revolution awarded me an honorable distinction: Since the period of the Thessalonica movement [see: "Beginning of problems- National division 1915-17" ] a new medal of ‘military valor’ had been created destined to those showing an exceptional professional ability. This purpose was however never implemented. First it was awarded to absolutely all those that participated in the mutiny, then to all sharing that same ideology. The regime that followed ignored this medal –assumingly because of the political aspect given to it’s award- and proceeded with awarding plenty of  ‘distinctions of bravery’.  This same camp in the following years considered expedient to award the medal of ‘military valor’ to all that had not acquired it and thus this medal became a simple accessory of the uniform, showing seniority in service.  For this reason I wouldn’t have mentioned being awarded that medal in July 1923, if I wasn’t the only officer from those not belonging to the Revolution that were honored with this distinction.  I was awarded this medal following a report filed by my Director who proposed this award for: “excellent abilities, rare military virtues, dedication to his duty and zeal and hard work that can serve as example”.

 

The internal actions of the Revolution and especially the execution of the 6 had increased reaction against her, even among many of those that had initially agreed with the principles that had been announced.  Thus, gradually, a military movement was being organized especially in the Army to overthrow the regime.  Timing seemed good after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, when the external danger receded.

 

The 1923 Counterrevolution

 

The counterrevolutionary movement erupted on October 22, 1923 and initially it appeared massive and prevailing. However, after the drastic measures taken by the Revolution the coup lasted only 5 days. In the period prior to its eruption they were many rumors and many considered it imminent.  I had no inside information concerning the plans of the mutineers and the day their movement would erupt.  No one had tried to get me involved in these plans.  Besides, in spite of the friendly relation I had with several of the counterrevolutionaries, trying to involve me would have been pointless.  Based on my experience, I had come to the conclusion that I would never agree with several of the actions taken by the political camps that were alternating in power and often creating a worse situation than the one they were replacing.  I remained constant in these beliefs till the end of my career. In fact, as time passed by they were further re-enforced.

 

Therefore, the counterrevolution found me loyal to my position, ready to defend lawfulness in my Service. We took measures similar to those taken at the outbreak of the 1922 Revolution to secure the functioning of the Stations.  No one tried to put them to test.

 

As it was to be expected, the repression of the counterrevolution was followed by purges that thank heaven didn’t include executions.  Many officers and among them some especially able were dismissed.  Although the Navy didn’t seem to have participated in the counterrevolution, the repercussion of the measures reached me. An evening, my director informed me that it was absolutely necessary that I remain in, until he comes to the D.R.Y.N.  The next morning he informed me that an order for my arrest had been issued and thanks to his personal efforts the order was provisionally suspended.  I was accused of participation to the counterrevolutionary coup!  A chief petty officer, head of the small wireless station of Fassi on the island of Andros, had accused me of being one of the mutineers because I had left on purpose his station without fuel in order to deprive the Government of an important means of communication.  In reality, in the last month there was a series of reports and memos of the D.R.Y.N. addressed to the Ministry of the Navy requesting the fuel supply of this station in order to avoid  interruption of its operation. The fuel had not been sent and the Fassi station had reported operation interrupted.  A Captain with close ties with the Revolution charged with the investigation refused to pursue interrogations, as soon as he read the relative documents, and thus  this comic matter ended.  Next, the Director of the D.R.Y.N. sued the chief petty officer with as only result an administrative penalty for having reported not according to rule but directly to the Chief of the Revolution.  Of course nothing was done to punish those that on the basis of an irregular report of a non-commissioned officer ordered the arrest of a senior officer!

 

Such are the results of mutinies that give the opportunity to low level officials for wrongdoings in the name of and to supposedly protect the regime!

 

During this period the first order was placed with the ‘MARCONI’ factories in England for a new type of wireless with vacuum-tube transmitters destined to equip 4 ‘LEON’ type destroyers that were being modernized in British shipyards and some shore stations.  The modernization of those 4 destroyers was the first serious post-war effort of renewal of the Fleet’s equipment that had been seriously downgraded.  With the outbreak of World War I the R.H.N. was deprived of all new units that were under construction and the only post-war strengthening came from 6 ex-Austrian torpedo boats and the destroyer “SMYRNA” (ex-Austrian “ULAN”) transferred to the R.H.N. in replacement of the destroyer “DOXA” seized by the French during the November 1919 events and sunk with all hands on board by a German submarine on June 17, 1917, while sailing with a French flag and crew, near the island of Melos.  The ‘LEMNOS’ type battleships where now outmoded, the destroyer “NAFKRATOUSA” was sunk following a naval accident, the 2 ‘KERAVNOS’ type destroyers and the 2 submarines were out of commission. The remaining light ships had worked intensively during the wars and were badly in need of major overhaul”