From World War I to the Asia Minor disaster
1919 - 1921
(source: G. Mezeviris Vice-Admiral R.H.N.,
"Four decades in the Service of the R.H.N.", Athens 1971)
Gregory Mezeviris narrates:
“After the signature of the peace treaty, the Ministry of the Navy asked by circular the submission of applications by those wishing to be trained in specialty schools of the British Navy. I also submitted a request, being sure a priori that I had no chance of being chosen. At that time the prospects for officers of our camp were bleak and I had to think about my future. Thus in my application I was requesting, in case my request was not granted, a yearlong academic permit for Belgium to obtain an electrical engineer diploma. As I expected, only officers of the mutiny were sent to England. I received no answer to my application and in July 1919 I was assuming new duties as Deputy Commander of the Torpedo School, based at the Submarine Defense Command at the Naval Base of Salamis.
Deputy Commander of the Torpedo School
As it usually happens in Greece, the functioning of the Schools during the war had been neglected and the British Mission had accepted to help with their re-organization. The Torpedo school consisted of two or three rooms – classes and an old crew officer was the staff and teaching personnel at the same time. As Commander of the School was named one of the senior commanders who apparently considered his appointment degrading and came over just once, gave full authority to act and asked me to send him home his salary! Under these conditions, the mission to create a school from scratch relied on me and on my assistant, a crew officer of the British Mission. In parallel, as a result of my old specialty [ex- Commander of the submarine “DOLPHIN”, [see: “Period of work and calm – Happy days 1913-15” ], I was assigned the supervision of the Submarine Command, a Service under liquidation.
The mission was demanding and realizing that I was being passed-over it would have been natural to be missing enthusiasm. I decided however that the best way to react was to work intensively and prove that even if I had been opposed to the mutiny [see: "Beginning of problems- National division 1915-17"], I was able to present creative work. I therefore decided to work hard, probably as at no other period of my life, from dawn to midnight and only on holidays was returning to my home in Athens. I was at the same time acting as Commander of the School, Deputy Commander, Director of Studies, teaching electricity and at night writing a textbook for electrical engineers used for many years by the Navy and repeatedly issued [see: "Books"].
Before anything else it was necessary to find a suitable building and laboratories for practical training, to obtain the use of floating means, torpedo boats for launching torpedoes, mine sweepers etc. Whoever serves in the Navy knows however too well that all this cannot be obtained by simply submitting a report. Many personal actions are required; their outcome may be positive if the person who requests is sympathetic to those in power. This was not however true in my case. It was just as well that I found valuable support in the person of the torpedoes section head of the Ministry of the Navy who was interested in the creation of a real School and had accepted to act in my place in necessary personal contacts, following a simple telephone notice.
My other assignment as Commander of the Submarines also proved very useful for the School. Possibly by urging of the British, aiming after World War I to condemn the submarine as war weapon, our leaders had decided to sell our submarines and dissolve the Submarine Command. I therefore took advantage of the occasion and - as there was no objection- used for the needs of the Torpedo School the shore installations of the Submarine Command and even instruments and equipment removed from these ships. I assigned to the British officer who was my assistant the task of practical teaching under my direct instructions and was very satisfied by the performance of this eager to please and frank collaborator.
Unfavorable transfer to the island of Chios
Soon, my efforts and hard work started producing results. Unfortunately however, in the minds of those in power matters concerning the regime had absolute priority. The General Director of the Naval Base of Salamis, watchful Cerberus of the regime, ignored the creative work done in the School and did not find a nice word to praise it. He was aware of any public discussion and knew who praised more every action of the Government. I was not really surprised therefore when at the beginning of November 1919, I received at my Athens home an extremely urgent order to report to the Naval Base the next day -a Sunday- to get my orders for the island of Chios, where I was going to serve under the orders of the Naval Commander. What have happened?
It seems that there were rumors that a coup d’état was about to be erupted under the leadership of an old general, one of the many coups really planned or imagined during that period. In all the military units at that time, there were persons that had as only task to monitor such movements. In the Navy, this task was assumed by a Captain that had taken part in the mutiny, based at Headquarters since Greece’s entrance in the War. If my information is correct, this officer had submitted to the Minister of the Navy a list with the names of many officers that according to him should be removed from the Navy, being supposedly initiated to the coup. When the Chief of the British Mission was informed of this action, he indicated to the Minister of the Navy that taking such a measure would completely jeopardize the functioning of the naval services. After this intervention, the list was re-drawn and finally the names of only three officers remained. I was one of them! I never learned the reason of this choice. Anyhow, it was finally proved that the coup was planned only in the imagination of the Hercules of the regime.
When I reported to the Naval Base of Salamis to get my orders, the Deputy Director of Submarine Defense received me and I expressed to him my sorrow for having to interrupt my work for the School. He answered: “When the monastery prospers, monks will be found”.
When I landed in Chios, I reported to Captain Malikopoulos, Naval Commander of the islands of the Archipelagos, and asked his orders for the kind of service I would be assuming. He smiled -his assignment was also due to the disfavor of the regime- and said: “My daily work for the Navy takes no more that a quarter of an hour; if you wish we can share, but I think that it makes more sense for you to abstain from any work.”
My stay in Chios was not pleasant at all because, with the exception of the Naval Commander and a few civil servants also in disfavor, I couldn’t socialize with anyone. All the local people were fanatical supporters of the regime and were avoiding me, as they were suspecting the reasons of my presence on their island. Having no other work to do, I decided to work intensively to finish writing the ‘Textbook for Electrical Engineers’.
I was fortunate that my exile didn’t last long. In December 1919, Athanassios Miaoulis, an old officer of the Navy who had spent many years in politics, was taking over as new Minister of the Navy. The new Minister cancelled several measures taken by his predecessor in a spirit of political fanaticism. I was thus recalled at the Torpedo School.
Back to the Torpedo School
Back to the Torpedo School, I found new conditions very different from those prevailing when I left. The commander of the School had in the mean-time settled in a Naval Base dwelling and had decided to change many of the measures taken by me that had proved very beneficial for the School. What was worse was that when he realized that my sudden departure from the School was due to political disfavor, he considered that he should withdraw the absolute trust he had shown on my behalf, assumingly to avoid worsening his own troubled career-wise position. Respecting his age and his position and realizing the difficult position he was in I tried hard to avoid unpleasant frictions. In the general promotions of March 1920, I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, while the Commander of the School who was in-line for promotion, was not. While he was expecting such development, when this happened he asked the Command Director of the Ministry of the Navy the reasons for his omission. The Director told him that the reason was that for months he wasn’t going to his office at the School, as it was apparent from the fact that all School reports were signed by the Deputy Commander. From that point on he lost control of his actions and took an action that was not compatible with his well-known honest character. He punished me with the maximum penalty within his authority for exceeding my authority. In vain I reminded him that I simply made use of the authority that he had given me and that he couldn’t have imagined that for a period of four months he abstaining from work there would be no official reports. As I couldn’t accept such blame, I officially submitted a report explaining in detail the facts. When the Minister received this report he gave a solution that formally respected hierarchy, but in reality gave the best possible outcome for me. He didn’t annul the punishment but transferred the Commander to the island of Poros and named me Commander of the School. I thus received full satisfaction, but was sad feeling that my ex- Commander would consider me responsible for his vows!
In August 1920, an unexpected transfer put an end to that service. The Chief of the General Staff of the Navy informed me that the Director of the Radiotelegraphy Service of the Navy, who I only knew from sight, had proposed that I be sent to Paris to the Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité to obtain the diploma of engineer radio-electrician and then serve at the Direction of Radiotelegraphic Service of the Navy (D.R.Y.N).
Under different conditions I would think twice before accepting this interesting and pleasant offer, but that would take me away from the basic naval profession. At that time however this offer was for me a welcome change for the future, in case the present political situation would become permanent and those of us that hadn’t participated in the mutiny would remain in disgrace.
The fact that for this mission an officer was chosen that was not a supporter of the regime was not strange, because since the new Minister took-up office excesses stopped and a more moderate assignments policy was followed. The ship commands and the important shore commands were destined to those that inspired political trust, while those on the opposite camp that had been judged by those in power as disposing professional skills were destined to scientific missions, missions abroad or similar positions that were interesting or pleasant.
Thus, a few days before the national elections of 1920 I was leaving for Paris, after having turned-over the command of the School to two able and active colleagues educated in England, which continued the work I had started and contributed to the gradual development of the School to one of the best of the Navy.
Change of Regime- The other side of the coin
When I arrived to Paris, along with the feelings of astonishment and admiration that one has when he first visits the city of light, I had the unexpected pleasure to learn from the French newspapers the results of the Greek elections. I also believed then that with the abolishment of the tyrannical regime, a new period of freedom, justice and prosperity was starting for our country.
The Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité was then the only existing worldwide superior school of electricity. French officers of all weapons, civil engineers and graduates of the ‘Grandes Ecoles’ were mainly attending this school; foreign students were also accepted and out of 60 students half were foreigners from about ten nationalities. The functioning of the Radiotelegraphy School was odd. It was formally part of the ‘Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité’, but in reality depended from General Gustave-Auguste Ferriè, Inspector of the Military Signals Corps, a distinguished scientist and pioneer of the telegraph in France.
The previous studies of the French students were adapting to the program of studies of the School, because those coming from the Army were mainly graduates of the ‘Ecole Polytechnique’, while those of the Navy had a theoretical background –especially in mathematics- of superior level compared to the one of the Greek School of Naval Cadets. In addition, many of the French students had a long career in wireless. Most of the foreign students had not such background and thus the School was more lenient for them.
1921, Gregory Mezeviris student at the 'Ecole Supérieure d' Electricité', Paris France
The officers of the radiotelegraphy service that were supervising the studies, untiring pioneers of science, were giving the example of hard work. The foreign students who were hoping to dispose time for the pleasures of the Parisian life had to adapt to a demanding work load. The daily afternoon three-hour laboratory work was especially tiring -often requiring manual work- especially for the few superior officers studying at the School.
I had also to face these difficulties because, even if I had dealt for many years with electricity, this was my first contact with the wireless. I decided to work hard, so as to take as much advantage as possible from my studies.
The calm of my student life was being disturbed by the news of what was happening in Greece. With enthusiasm I read in the French newspapers the unprecedented demonstrations of the Greek people celebrating the return of King Constantine. I had hoped that the victory of the royal camp would bring the end of our national division [see: Beginning of problems- National division 1915-17 and Greece enters World War I - extensive purges 1917-19], that the new Government acting with prudence and moderation would restore injustices without creating new ones and that our opponents accepting the new situation would collaborate truthfully for the benefit of our Country. Unfortunately, as soon as the initial enthusiasm was over, thick clouds started appearing in the horizon, more perceptible to those living abroad. On one hand the attitude of some of the victorious Powers –and especially of France- vis-à-vis Greece was becoming more and more hostile and on the other our military operations in Asia Minor were not developing favorably. I had also the opportunity to realize how political passions can misguide even those for whom History reserves a very special position. I served at the criminal court of Paris as defense witness of a colleague on the Navy that had participated in a murder attempt against Eleftherios Venizelos. I testified that the motivation of this officer was purely ideological and his action was not due to some personal interest. I was really amazed when I heard that great political man that had governed Greece for many years to maintain in front of foreigners, the sympathy of whom fighting Greece needed in that precise moment, that the Chief of the Greek State and his attendants were germanophiles! I realized that even the French lawyers present were shocked by this declaration of a political man so famous in France.
I had also a small opportunity to form a first personal opinion on the management methods of the new regime; the very one I had so fervently wished to be restored, since events had thrown me in one of the political camps. I was mid-way in my studies when the Embassy of Greece notified me an order of the Ministry of the Navy instructing me and a colleague -civil engineer of the D.R.Y.N.- to abandon our studies and return to Greece because the Royal Decree of our mission was annulled. The formal reason for our recall was that the decree of our mission was among a number of Royal Decrees that had been published unsigned during the illness of King Alexander and had remained unsigned after his death. To correct such formal anomaly was of course quite possible; all that was needed was issuing a new Decree that would legalize ex-post our mission. This is what happened finally after the intervention of my ex-Commander of the battleship Squadron, to whom I complained for this injustice. As I realized after the completion of my studies, the real motives of this Ministry action were much deeper and were due to two reasons. On one hand to the rivalry of several of the royalists officers who were re-established and who were angered against all who had served under the venizelist Government, even if they shared the same ideology. On the other, to the wish of the new Director of the D.R.Y.N. to send to the same School the following year instead of us his protégé a young junior lieutenant.
Although this mater was finally settled, this action of my colleagues in the Headquarters had deeply saddened me, because this action had not the character of general political measure, as those taken by the previous Government, but had a clearly personal aspect. For that reason, as soon as the educational period was over and I acquired my diploma I resigned from the offered two-month practical training period in a wireless Station and asked to be immediately recalled to Greece. The war in Asia Minor was continuing and I didn’t wish to be far from my Country. In addition I didn’t wish to owe not even one more day on mission, beyond the absolutely necessary, to those that among the first measures of re-establishment of the situation had decided the interruption of my studies.”
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