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The torpedoing of the light cruiser ELLI

Gregory Mezeviris narrates:

On August 15, 1940, while I was in Athens, I was informed by the Director of the
Radio -Telegraphy Service of the Navy (D.R.Y.N) of the torpedoing of ELLI by
an unknown submarine. I rushed to the Naval Port of Salamis to meet the Chief
of the Fleet, who had just been informed. He was frenetic and full of indignation
against the Secretary General of the Ministry of the Navy. In spite of the
previous sudden bombardments of our ships, one of the larger ships of our
Fleet had been ordered to remain for hours at anchor in a completely open Gulf.
The Ministry didnt wish to discontinue the tradition of the good peace-time
periods of the participation of our Navy to the religious celebrations of the 15th
of August on the island of Tinos! The General Staff of the Navy had proposed to
send the destroyer AETOS instead of ELLI, to avoid taking unnecessary risks
for the light cruiser. The Secretary General of the Ministry of the Navy had
unfortunately insisted on sending ELLI, for a more grandiose participation of
the Navy to the celebration. When the murderess torpedo was hitting ELLI, her
officers were wearing their official uniforms to participate in the celebration and
the detachment was preparing to go to shore to attribute the honors. It was an
old tradition for thousands of pilgrims to gather on Tinos for the annual
celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin; they could not imagine the many
serious dangers that the sea was hiding.

As it was natural, all these pilgrims were agonizing over their safe return. It was
therefore decided pilgrims to return with a convoy escorted by the destroyers
KING GEORGE and QUEEN OLGA. The destroyers sailed from the Naval Port
of Salamis the next morning, to allow time for the belligerents to be informed of
this movement and avoid.a new misunderstanding. The Chief of the Fleet was
on board the QUEEN OLGA and me on the KING GEORGE. While under
way, we were applying the usual war-time measures. By the island of Syros we
spotted an airplane, with no nationality identification signs, flying at a 2.000
meters altitude towards KING GEORGE. I ordered the artillery officer of the
ship, the anti-aircraft shooters to closely watch the aircraft and the guns to get
ready for fire. In a while, eight small bombs were falling in a distance of a few
hundred meters from the KING GEORGE. Immediately we started fire against
the airplane and the ship was ordered to zigzag at full speed to avoid the enemy
fire. Two more eight bomb loads fell, the last a few tenths of meters from the
ship. Unfortunately, the rough sea made even more difficult our machine gun
shooting and the plane was not hit, but disappeared in the horizon flying at high
altitude.

When we reached Tinos, the QUEEN OLGA anchored while, for protection
purposes, the KING GEORGE was moving at high speed around the
anchorage. None of our ships disposed at that time submarine localization
equipment. As it was determined, the enemy submarine had fired three
torpedoes; one had sunk the ELLI, while the other two had hit the breakwater.
The torpedo splinters found proved that the torpedoes were made in Italy. The
only trace that remained of our light cruiser was the top of her mast that was
sticking out of the sea

The pilgrims convoy, escorted by the two destroyers, sailed from Tinos in the
afternoon. After an uneventful voyage we arrived at the Port of Piraeus, where
crowds of people and members of the Government were anxiously waiting the
arrival of the convoy.

After this last hostile action, it became at last evident that our desire to keep our
neutrality was not by itself sufficient to protect us from tragic hostile surprises.
It was necessary to take preventive measures of security. The R.H.N. ships were
ordered to change anchorage from the Naval Port of Salamis to the Gulf of
Elefsis; the size of the latter allowed the ships dispersion in the anchorage, to
avoid group destructions in case of air attack. In addition it was decided to place
anti-submarine nets for the protection of the harbors of Piraeus, of the Naval
Port of Salamis and of some internal sea-ways; the anti-aircraft defense
measures were completed, the destroyer task forces were recalled from the
island of Melos and from Nafpaktos and the ships of the reserve force were
mobilized.

As the Supreme Commander of the ships in harbor, I set the modalities of their
operation, as per war-time, especially in regard of their anti-aircraft defense. I
was also assigned the responsibility to examine with the General Staff of the
Navy an action plan for the fastest possible execution of the laying of the
planned mine fields, as soon as the relative order was given. Because in that
operation all the destroyers fitted with the proper installations would be used, I
intensely requested these ships to participate in a mine-laying exercise since
such exercise was not made in the previous training period. When, after two
months I was ordered to immediately proceed to mine-laying, this was done
without prior exercise.

The first convoys in war-time conditions

In the beginning of September 1940 I undertook an interesting mission in the
form of a martial operation in an undeclared war; the transportation to the port
of Alexandroupolis in northern Greece of military troops of the Archipelagos
Brigade. For this operation 4 destroyers, the KING GEORGE and 3 of the
HYDRA class, 5 troops transport ships, 1 tanker for refueling and a squadron
of 12 modern DORNIER hydroplanes of naval cooperation, were placed under
my command. I choose as our base the wide Gulf of Geras on the island of
Lesvos, which offered excellent protection from enemy submarines and was
convenient for the installation of a hydroplane base. I remained at Geras a few
days, waiting the reservists to assemble in the embarkation ports and organizing
the forces at my disposal. In this operation I received valuable help from
Reserve Captain R.H.N. K. Panagiotou, named transport ships Commander.

The lack of previous Navy- Air Force cooperation was evident. Most of the pilots
were not naval officers and had great difficulty to adapt to the Navy mentality,
concerning the way missions were executed. Since there was no Air Force
School of War, the principles of operation of the air force of naval cooperation
that we were taught in the Naval School of War had not reached those who were
supposed to apply them. In addition the airmen were just then learning to use
the cryptographic code of the Navy. However, soon most difficulties were
overcome, a spirit of sincere cooperation was established and in the report I
submitted at the end of this mission I praised the efforts of our airmen.

The whole operation was quite original. We were formally in peace period but
the enemy was lying in wait and had already given sufficient samples of his
wretched intentions. At any time, we could meet in our course enemy
submarines or mines or unidentified airplanes could attack us. These risks were
dealt with as in real war-time; with the important difference that even if we
located a possible enemy we had to wait for him to attack us first, before we
retaliate. An additional particularity that further complicated this situation was
that we were deprived of the secrecy of our movements, one of the main means
of defense for convoys. And this was because, in order to avoid any real or
supposedly misunderstanding concerning the nationality of our ships, the
belligerents were informed before hand and with every detail of our planned
movements. Two days before the sailing of each convoy we had to notify the
date and hour of departure, the composition of the convoy, the course that
would be followed, the speed and the expected arrival time at the port of
destination. Once this notification made, I was not allowed to make any changes.
In practice this meant that the reservists had to be assembled at the
embarkation ports exactly as planned and that no delays were allowed at
embarkation, disembarkation or while at sea. If for combat reasons I wished to
change course, as in the case of a submarine appearance, I wasnt allowed to do
so. Everything had to be calculated with mathematical precision to avoid
unpleasant anomalies, as it was planned to form partial convoys from three
islands, which then had to assemble at a meeting point and from there be
directed to the port of Alexandroupolis as a single convoy. Thanks to the
brilliant cooperation of the local military and naval authorities and the excellent
organization of the transport ships, everything developed exactly as planned.
The transports were executed in three series and the whole operation lasted
three weeks. During these operations there was no enemy manifestation;
however an excellent opportunity was given to our destroyers, transport ships
and the naval air force to cooperate and prepare for the combat work that they
were soon destined to undertake.

Once assembled in the Gulf of Elefsis, the R.H.N. ships were often ordered to
sortie under the orders of the Chief of the Fleet for maneuvers in the Saronic
Gulf. In spite of my objections, the maneuvers didnt include intensive training
in the use of weapons but were limited to fire exercises and to day and night
zigzag courses. The small destroyers of the THYELLA class and the torpedo
boats had completed their mobilization and were assigned to the needs of the
local defense. The 10 large destroyers remained under my command, organized
in 3 squadrons. The first was formed from 2 KING GEORGE class destroyers,
the second from 4 HYDRA class and the third from 4 LEON class. These
squadrons formed the main combat force of the Fleet, after the sinking of ELLI
and since the battleship AVEROF was destined to remain in the Gulf of Elefsis
as floating anti-aircraft battery.


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