R.H.N. Destroyer “HYDRA”
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.
R.H.N. Destroyers HYDRA (#97) and PSARA (#98)
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.”