Reactions, complaints, dissatisfactions
From my narration, one can realize the size and the difficulties of the mission undertaken in the first years after our Liberation by those responsible for the reconstruction and the post-war organization of the Navy. To bring to a favorable end such an important task what is mainly needed is peace of mind. And this peace of mind was in short supply for the Head of the Navy who received the bulk of both visible and invisible attacks. I am not the appropriate person to evaluate the job done and I leave judgment to those who are the only infallible judges; the men who served the Navy during this period. If what we have realized has some value, this value mainly consists of the fact that whatever we realized was done with exceptional insistence and patience and that we reached our goals in spite of the reefs that we encountered in our every step.
There are many reasons that created these reactions, some inside the Navy and some outside, most due to personal matters. Those who were dismissed from the Navy were as expected chagrined and several of them turned against me, although the dismissal decisions were taken by many-member Committees. It may seem strange but, even those who were dismissed during a period when I didn’t have any involvement with the personnel matters of the Navy were showing an open-war attitude against me, while at the same time they were embracing those who had contributed to their dismissal! At the other end, while for the benefit of the career of the younger officers that had fought on the ships the purges had included officers valuable to the Navy but who hadn’t had the chance of war duty at sea, some were complaining that the purges hadn’t been more extensive. In reality, the majority of the officers had no personal endeavors, beyond the fair ambitions of any officer. However, there are always those who pursue the fulfillment of personal goals and who appear as supposedly representing the officers’ Corps and who the politicians listen with great attention.
In addition to the personal matters, the naval program presented an easy opportunity for cheap demagogy, as the common wish of all officers in all times was to have a mighty Navy. On the other hand the Naval Command didn’t have the possibility to explain in front of a wide audience how difficult was to succeed keeping the present structure of the Navy, when the economic conditions obliged us to exclusively rely on foreign aid.
Finally, the Naval Command had to take some measures of economy that always create discontent. I tried hard to secure credits for restructuring the naval facilities; approvals were only given for absolutely necessary works and any expenditure concerning the luxurious appearance of the buildings was rejected. It was quite difficult to persuade about this the Heads of the Services; some were even seized by some kind of megalomania. They were asking for luxury even for the School buildings, the sailor dwellings etc. which should rather be characterized by their solid construction and their simplicity, as was the case with the facilities of the British Admiralty. In a poor country as was then Greece, these measures ought to be the general rule imposed by the political leadership, or else their isolated application would appear as a perversity of the person who applies them. A similar situation had arisen with private cars. After liberation there were a large number of foreign officers in Greece who disposed a private car. Even junior officers had use of a jeep. As a result of this situation, similar demands were formulated from our own officers that were very difficult to contain. Finally, following a general outcry, limitation measures were taken that led to the other extreme.
Beyond these intra-navy reactions that some political parties were supporting, there was a generalized political reaction against the Admiralty institution, because it was considered that it abolished prerogatives of the political authority.
The Naval Command was thus the combined target of attacks by whoever had reasons for dissatisfaction. The general attacks concerned two issues, the Admiralty institution and the 1944 decongestion.
These were the annoyances we had from the two political Governments that governed from the beginning of 1945 to the elections of 1946. We dealt with them with relative ease because these Governments, having no parliamentary basis, didn’t intensively insist on their demands. Besides, vis-à-vis the second Government we had the support of Gotsis, Minister of the Navy and old politician, who in spite of his very old age knew how to distinguish what was right and fair. In between these two Governments, Admiral Voulgaris’ Government allowed us to continue our mission undistracted. There was no agreement on all matters with this Administration, especially on some personal maters, but there was consensus on the general issues.
Decongestion becomes once more central issue
The first parliamentary Government issued from the March 1946 elections, opened up all the pending issues of the Navy. I had the impression that priority would be given to the institution of the Admiralty that had created such upheaval. The new Government however, possibly influenced by the British Mission that wished the amendment and not the abolishment of this institution, didn’t dealt in priority with this matter. This issue was settled at the end of 1947 with a Law that abolished the name and some dispositions, but retained, altered and added other. The settlement of the personnel matters became a central issue and all measures taken up to then were revised. Many of those dismissed had appealed to the Supreme Court and favorable decisions were expected, because the relative decisions of the Supreme Naval Committees didn’t mention the reasons for the dismissals. It is true that for most cases it wasn’t possible to mention the reasons, since they were dismissed as redundant and not for some specific reason. It was decided at that time that since decongestion was a general measure it was preferable for the sake of those dismissed to avoid mentioning special reasons, even in cases were such reasons existed. Those simply dismissed as supernumerary were placed in a special category and were promoted to their next rank.
Evaluating the career of the leaders of the Navy
There was an important delay in drafting the relevant Law, which was published at the end of August 1946. According to the terms of this Law, a special Committee formed by 4 retired Admirals, 2 Supreme Court Judges and the Minister of the Navy would evaluate the career of all Rear Admirals and Captains who had served from the War outbreak to Liberation. Then the Admiralty in a new composition would evaluate the officers of other ranks. The new Law was re-establishing a very odd disposition existing in the pre-war Law, which surely didn’t exist in any other Navy. According to this disposition for a Captain to be promoted to Rear Admiral, besides the other qualifications and required sea service at each rank, a number of years of total sea service were required from the rank of Cadet to the rank of Captain. From the 5 serving Rear Admirals, one only satisfied the required total service condition. There was a term however that allowed a Rear Admiral that didn’t satisfy the total service condition to remain in active duty, in case the Committee with 5 votes out of 7 decided that the officer in question had “very exceptional qualifications”. I ignore who drafted this Law, because it was not done by the competent administration. The Minister of the Navy asked me to study the draft of this Law before its submission to Parliament and give him my personal feedback. In the report I submitted to him, I concentrated mainly on two points. First, I considered that the appropriate body to evaluate the career of the leaders of the Navy was the Supreme Committee of National Defense from which the 4 senior officers should be selected. These 4 officers and the Minister would then evaluate the careers of the other officers. Secondly, I considered that the disposition concerning total sea service was totally unfair, as it was giving primary importance to one type of service instead of the multiple effective qualifications that must be required for a leader of a Corps. My main objections were overruled and only some of my other suggestions were accepted.
According to the evaluation made by this special Committee, from the 5 Rear Admirals only 2 remained: P. Antonopoulos who satisfied the total sea service condition and I who was lacking 6 months of total sea service but was considered as disposing “very exceptional qualifications”!
From those that had previously been dismissed the Committee re-integrated as permanent officer a Captain that was then promoted to Rear Admiral and another officer who was placed in special permanence. After some disagreements among some members and the resignation of the Minister, the Committee adjourned and didn’t complete its mission. A period of six months of suspense followed, during which 3 Ministers were successively named but no progress was made in the settlement of the personnel matters issue. As a result, many officers from the rank of Captain and below were in doubt whether they will remain in the permanent personnel of the Navy. This situation was of course detrimental to the smooth functioning of the Services.
A very strange situation developed concerning my position. When the decongestion of Admirals was completed and remained in my position, the Minister of the Navy P. Mavromichalis informed me in mid October 1946 that the position of Admiral Chief would be abolished; I would be promoted to Vice Admiral and take the position of Inspector General of the Navy. This decision was taken a few months after the discussion I had with the Chief of the British Fleet of the Mediterranean and I have the impression that Admiral Talbot, the Chief of the British Naval Mission, had influenced it. It is characteristic that after I turned over the duties of Admiral Chief, the Chief of the British Naval Mission set up himself in the Ministry of the Navy and started to actively interfere in matters that shouldn’t have been of his competence. A Rear Admiral recalled by the decongestion Committee to active duty was due to assume the duties of Chief of the GSN. The Minister wished these changes to take effect immediately, but it was technically impossible without a new Law, because according the existing Law Chief of the GSN was the most senior Admiral. He asked me to facilitate the situation by taking a month off. During that period the officer destined for that position was to be named Deputy Leader and replace me during my leave. I considered it was my duty to comply with the request of the Minister, as I believed that a Government must have the right of choosing the Chief of the GSN. The monthly permit was extended to three months; a new Minister took over who didn’t succeed in passing a new Law arranging the matter. During that period I was based at the office of the Inspector General in the Ministry of the Navy, was not performing his duties but was participating at the meetings of the Supreme Naval Committee as Admiral Chief!
This grotesque situation ended at the end of January 1947 when a new Minister of the Navy took office. I was once more asked to assume the duties of Chief of the general Staff of the Navy and my provisional replacement was given other duties. The new Minister remained at office a short time and was replaced by Sophocles Venizelos. Under his administration all pending issues were resolved. The new Minister considered very correctly that the personnel matter should be settled as soon as possible. He asked me to draft a Law that would amend and clarify many of the dispositions of the 1946 Law. I was given full initiative to draft the Law as I considered fair and logical, under one condition. Because the new Government was a political alliance, the new Law had to be approved by the other party in the alliance that had voted the 1946 Law. This on one hand imposed not to deviate too much from the dispositions of the old Law and on the other to retain the decisions taken by the previous decongestion Committee. I finally succeeded a formulation accepted by all parties that granted freedom of choice to the new Committee and the draft became Law. The new Committee under the chairmanship of the Minister of the Navy consisted of 3 Admirals in activity and 3 retired chosen by the Government. The Committee worked smoothly and efficiently and completed its mission in May 1947. None of those dismissed in 1944 was re-integrated and 30 combat officers, mostly superior and 14 of them Captains were retired. They were no more supernumeraries but instead 1 out of the 5 Admiral positions and 5 out of the 15 Captain positions remained vacant, opening up the possibility of future promotions beyond the large scale promotions of recent years. This committee decisions were not overturned by the Supreme Court and the Ministry of the Navy communicated the new Navy list informing that the officer structure was final.
Unfortunately, the trend for advancement of younger officers has no limits. Some that had not even reached the age of 50 were starting to request the insignia of General officer. It was vain to point out to them that if the principle of advancement they were requesting was applied, one day it would detrimental to their interest. They were looking for examples of exceptional personalities of foreign mighty Navies with a fast track career and were asking these to become the rule in our own Navy. Thus, two years after the Ministry had announced that the Navy list was final, a new Law passed that allowed promotion to the rank of Captain by absolute choice and the ex-officio retirement of the officers passed-by. On the basis of this new Law 4 out of the 10 Captains that had remained were forced to retire.