Gregory Mezeviris narrates:
“The period between the end of the Balkan Wars and the day Greece was drawn in the maelstrom of World War I, was for the Royal Hellenic Navy a period of growth, intensive work and calm. A few years back there were some that maintained that the R.H.N. should take second place in the benefit of the Army. The agony with which Athenians were waiting the results of the naval battles [see: Balkan Wars- Days of Glory Part A] and the upheaval that caused the escape of the Turkish light cruiser “HAMIDIEH”, were enough to persuade everyone that without supremacy at sea we couldn’t live as a free nation. Besides our opponent, even after having lost the war, had not abandoned his claims on the islands of the Aegean Archipelago and was proceeding to naval orders of such amplitude that we were obliged to take similar measures.
The structure of the R.H.N. – New orders
In addition to the ships that had been acquired on the eve of Balkan War I, the R.H.N. was strengthened with 6 torpedo boats ordered in German shipyards in 1912 and the small cruiser “ELLI”, initially built for China. The 3 old battleships were not counted as fighting force anymore and as an offset the building of the battleship “SALAMIS”, ordered in 1912 as a 12.000 tons displacement ship had started in Germany. It was later decided to convert it in a 19.000 ‘Dreadnought’ class ship.
The prospect of further strengthening the Navy under the pressure of need was much greater. There was a forecast that the Turkish ‘Dreadnought’ class “RESSADIEH”, under construction in English shipyards, would be ready at the end of 1914. In addition the Turkish Government had outpaced the Greek in purchasing the ‘Dreadnought’ class “RIO DI JANIERO” under construction in England for the account of the Brazilian Government. Many months were still needed for completion of her construction; this purchase however had caused great excitement especially in the naval circles and to confront the situation the Greek Government bought 2 relatively old American battleships, the only available for sale, the b/s “KILKIS” and the b/s “LEMNOS”. These acquisitions could not solve the problem in case both of the heavy battleships under construction would be added to the Turkish Navy, before the arrival in Greece of the b/s “SALAMIS”. In any case the addition of the 2 American battleships strengthened significantly our Navy, these ships disposing relatively modern installations. Along with the b/s “AVEROF” they offered the possibility of training of their personnel in the modern equipment of war ships.
Other important ship orders were given in 1914. In the eve of the eruption of World War I, 2 light cruisers and 4 destroyers were under construction for our account in England. A contract had be signed for the construction in French shipyards of a ‘Dreadnought’ class ‘Lorraine’ type battleship and an order was pending in French shipyards for two 600 tons submarines. Finally, a mission of personnel to be sent to Germany was being organized to take delivery of 4 submarines built for the account of the German Government and transferred to the Greek Navy.
The anticipated development of the Hellenic Navy to an important and appreciable force was sufficient to increase to the extreme the zeal and enthusiasm of our naval staff. Even before the arrival of these new reinforcements, with great pride our people admired each summer the assembly of our Fleet in the waters of Phaleron Bay.
The R.H.N. Fleet
3 heavy ships, 1 light cruiser, 14 destroyers, 6 torpedo boats, 1 re-supply ship, 2 submarines and their support ship, formed the active Fleet on which 3 Admiral flags and 1 Squadron flag were streaming! Those serving the Navy could not imagine that 30 years later and after winning two wars the Hellenic Navy would be reduced to her poor post-War structure.
In parallel measures were taken to improve training in the Fleet and the naval Schools. A large British Mission was invited including officers of all specialties who, with the assistance of Greek colleagues, undertook the mission to reorganize the main services of the Navy. Especially the light ships often executed at sea training, while training at anchor with the new equipment became much more interesting.
This period was by far the best from all peacetime periods between 1910 and 1950 and the prevailing internal smoothness contributed to the personnel remaining undistracted to deal with their job. The officers remained away from politics and were not dealing with issues outside their duties. For our Nation two great figures were watchful: King Constantine and Eleftherios Venizelos, cooperating in unity to render Greece “strongest at war, respected by friends and redoubtable to her enemies”, as mentioned in the Order of the King Commander In Chief addressed to the armed forces on the occasion of the signing of the Bucharest protocol.
World War I period
The first months of World War I had no negative influence on the work done in the Navy. Of course an event of such importance was not indifferent to us and in this struggle between the mighty of Earth each one of us had his own sympathies, limited however to purely ideological grounds.
Most were sympathetic to France and this was the natural result of our upbringing. Others, educated in Great Britain or associated to the British Missions, wished victory of the same allied camp because of the involvement of the British Empire. Sympathies towards the one or the other opponent had not the meaning of enmity towards the other. We had simply learned to know and appreciate one side, while there was no psychic association to the other. There were very few officers wishing victory of the other side and those were the German speaking who had had the opportunity to visit and spend some time in Germany. Independently of personal sympathies however, the interest of our Greek fatherland was the only that mattered for all Greek officers. The entrance in the Dardanelles Straits of the battle cruiser “GOEBEN” and the small cruiser “BRESLAU” and their raising of the Turkish flag created a commotion to the Greek Navy. There was no question, however, of isolated attack against us because in such a case automatically we would have joined allies that were mighty at sea. We considered thus, more that ever, that our mission was to intensively prepare for any eventuality. The decision-making however concerned our strong leaders that were looking after our destinies.
When I returned from Alexandroupolis to Athens [see: “The Navy operates ashore -May- September 1913”], I served for a short time on the b/s “HYDRA” and then on the destroyer “AETOS”.
Executive officer in the submarine “DOLPHIN”
In November 1913, an old dream came true, a wish that couldn’t be realized earlier because of the war. I had requested to serve in the submarines, where service was voluntary. This new Command was at her beginnings and in the phase of organization. From the 2 small 300 tons submarines “DOLPHIN” and “XIFIAS” that had been ordered in French shipyards, the first had arrived in Greece on the eve of the Balkan War and had participated in some operations, while the second arrived later. Thus, although our submarines had not many opportunities of action during the Greek-Turkish war, it appeared that submarines would probably become the weapon of the future.
[The construction of the first Greek submarines “DOLPHIN” [or “DELFIN”] and “XIFIAS” was a result of the reorganization of the Greek army, which followed the military coup in Goudi (August 15, 1909) and was one of the main demands of the Military League under Colonel Nikolaos Zorbas. The order for the construction was given by the Dragoumi government to the French shipyards Schneider in September 1910. The construction of the “DOLPHIN” began in 1911 and was completed in the summer of 1912. She was received on August 21, 1912 at the naval base of Toulon by Lieutenant Commander Stefanos Paparigopoulos, who was also its first commander. The “DOLPHIN” – a “Laubeuf” type submarine – had a displacement of 310/450 tons, developed a speed of 8.5 / 13 knots and its armament consisted of 4 torpedo launchers of 45 cm outside the boat under the wooden deck. It had a crew of 18 men.]
During my whole career I was always happy when I had the opportunity to serve in newly established services that were offering a wider range of action and conditions for development of personal initiative. Besides, from a professional training point of view, serving in the submarines presented many advantages for a young officer. In contrast to the equipment of all the other ships of that period, the technical facilities of these submarines reflected the latest discoveries of science. Their officers ought to completely possess the details of their sensitive equipment, personally take care of their maintenance and train the crews. In addition, the submarines offered the opportunity to young officers to serve as executive officers or even commanders, much faster than on surface ships. This was especially so when the Service was first created, when the only specialized officers were those that had been sent in France to follow the construction of the submarines. I was the only one after them that had asked to specialize, since at that time other officers didn’t show any interest.
In ulterior periods, submarine officers before assuming the duties of executive officer or commander were trained in special Schools to obtain the corresponding degree. There were no such Schools then and submarine officers were learning their duties by themselves with the help of their seniors and with the study of technical books and descriptions of facilities. I have then realized that the theoretical studies at the School of Naval Cadets, in which I had excelled, had insufficiently prepared me for practical applications of electricity and I therefore decided to complete my knowledge with the use of specialized foreign textbooks. In parallel to my personal education I was assigned the task to teach electricity to the non-executive submarine officers School that was created. I accepted with pleasure these duties, believing that a teacher learns by teaching. As there was no textbook available I decided to write one, the first of a series of technical books I wrote in my time of leisure during my whole career. A characteristic of the conditions under which we were then working, is the fact that the Deputy Commander of the Service refused to assign for my assistance a clerk and a draftsman to help me with the editing of the book. I had to personally take care of the mimeographing and drawings working late at night, often till sunrise.
Five months after joining the submarines the Service considered that I was sufficiently prepared and following the proposal of the Service Commander -officer of the British Mission- was named in April 1914 Executive Officer of the submarine “DOLPHIN”.
1914, Junior Lieutenant Gr.Mezeviris Executive Officer of the submarine “DOLPHIN”
Until that period submarine training was independent from the other ships’ of the Fleet. The submarines were permanently based in Salamis Naval Base and were executing training at sea in the Saronic Gulf. As there was no escort ship available and living conditions in these small submarines were quite tiresome, operating away from their base presented difficulties. When the ex-Royal yacht “AMPHITRITI” was later assigned as escort ship, the submarines started participating with the other ships at the at sea training of the Fleet in all the Greek Seas. Thus, the only drawback of serving in the submarines disappeared at the great satisfaction of their crews.
In parallel, officers serving on surface ships had the opportunity to get acquainted with submarine service. This was important as the submarine force was expected to grow with new orders under negotiation. As many advantages had been granted to those serving in the submarines, when a ministerial circular requested the voluntary enrolment of officers and non-commissioned officers many applications were submitted and the number of those serving increased significantly. Among the new colleagues were some funny characters with which we spent pleasant, unforgettable relaxing hours in the luxurious saloons of “AMPHITRITI”.
Commander of the submarine “DOLPHIN”
In February 1915 I was promoted to Lieutenant and in April 1915 at the age of 24 was named Commander of the submarine “DOLPHIN”.
1915, Lieutenant Gr.Mezeviris Commander of the submarine “DOLPHIN”
It was with great enthusiasm that I assumed my new duties and my service as commander started under the most favorable auspices. The maneuvers executed in the first month were very successful. Luck didn’t favor me for a long time and a small accident that caused minor damages, but could have had catastrophic consequences, had as a result the premature interruption of my service in the submarines.
An accident that could have had serious consequences
It was May 1915 and the two submarines had been out for maneuvers in the Saronic Gulf, escorted by the torpedo boat “NIKOPOLIS” with onboard the new Commander of the Service Captain S. Paparigopoulos. Near the island of Aegina the Commander ordered the submarines to hold and cruise in submersion. On board the “NIKOPOLIS” they were timing the speed of execution of the movements and thus the two submarines were competing with each other. On board the submarine “DOLPHIN” the Executive Officer had reported the ship ready to submerge. However, they had forgotten to turn on the switch of the speaking tube that transmitted orders astern. This was noticed with a small delay that was enough for the prow seawater ballasts to fill faster and as a result the ship to take a negative tilt of 12°, while it was then believed that tilt was not allowed to exceed 3° and depth 30 meters. Thanks to the orders I issued the ship surfaced quickly, but the operator of the central ballasts didn’t open them on time – when it was ordered to empty them with pressurized air- and the increased pressure that was generated resulted in partial pinning and slight deformity of the exterior plates. The ship returned to her base by her own means, as she hadn’t suffered any organic damage, but repairs lasted two months.
This accident was the first and last of my naval career. As you can expect it caused me great disappointment. I was under the impression that I hadn’t done any personal mistake but in such accidents the Commander has always moral responsibility. The Command didn’t put the blame on me and I remained Commander for two more months until the completion of the ship repairs. In July 1915 I was suddenly being moved to the battleship “LEMNOS”. I asked both the Submarines Commander and the Chief of the Fleet to postpone this move till completion of my training as submarine commander but my request was turned down on the grounds that I had to move for naval service needs. I do believe that my transfer was the result of the accident. It is a fact that even before this accident, several of my colleagues didn’t approve such young officer becoming commander. Their thoughts must have reached Central Command which must have realized that they were assuming great responsibilities. And maybe they weren’t wrong. Independently of this event, service in the submarines requires long naval experience and for this reason in subsequent years a prerequisite to assuming the duties of commander was a long service to junior positions.
Assistant to the Director of the Artillery Department of the battleship “LEMNOS”
My new duties were quite different; it took me some time to get used to them and for me at least they were much less interesting. For some time I was hoping that I will return to the submarines but unfortunately the events that followed gave different turn to my career. Having specialized in electricity, I would have wished at least to assume the duties of the Electricity Department of the b/s “LEMNOS” that disposed an important electrical installation. However I was entrusted with the duties of Assistant to the Director of the Artillery Department, duties completely unrelated to any prior service. This strange alternation of duties was usual at that period when there were no specialization degrees and this was not of course for the benefit of the service. The only advantage was the training of the officers in various specialties of the naval art.
For once more I entered a phase of research because the Lieutenant Commander Director of the Department, while conscientious and with a vast general knowledge, had no specialty in Artillery. There was no one to give us guidelines; we were both trying to organize the Department on the basis of user guides of the American Navy found onboard. And we succeeded as far as the good operation of the equipment is concerned. Results concerning training of personnel were not as good. I became persuaded about that when I later served aboard the b/s “AVEROF”. The Artillery officers of this ship that had been serving since the Balkan wars had advanced training to a very good point.
In the summer of 1915 the R.H.N. Fleet executed a number of trainings at sea, close to the near-by shores. In autumn started the tragic adventure for Greece that preceded the official participation of our country in World War I and the ships remained almost permanently in the Naval Base of Salamis.”