Greek Navy in WW1

The Greeks at sea in WW2

Birth of the Greek Navy

Ancient Greece has been the cradle of naval power in the Mediterranean, inventing most of warships types of the antiquity like the diere and famous triere and the first naval tactics were codified. The Hellenistic states founded by the Diadochi, successors of Alexander the Great would also built the largest galleys ever put at sea. However the country was subjected to Rome, before getting its revenge through the Byzantine Empire up to 1453.

Athenian Trieris
A classic Greek Triere. The great thallassocracies (the terms is greek) were Hellenistic and Carthaginian, before Rome stepped in with unconventional solutions.

After the fall of Constantinople, Greece passed under Ottoman rule. An embryo of Greek Navy emerged from the Independence war of 1821-29, official in 1828. This was a hotchpotch of converted ships, Xebec-like bricks and wooden gunboats, but nothing up to the scale of a Turkish 3-decker. Against ships of the line, Greek sailors used fire ships, with heroes like Andreas Miaoulis. However only the help from western powers and in particular Russia (and its traditional links to the Byzantines through Orthodox Christianity) turned the tables entirely at the Battle of Navarino in 1827, the last with massive numbers of sailing ships of the line and one of the most decisive.

Growth until the Balkan war

But the navy really began its buildup from 1850 onwards. Its flagship was for long a Frigate, the Hellas. A second phase of growth began under King George I of Greece, especially after the 1878 nearby Russo-Turkish war. A large naval base was established at Faneromeni of Salamis and a Naval Academy founded, soon under strong influence from the french doctrine. In 1889 indeed, Greece’s first battleships Hydra, Spetsai, and Psara were ordered from France. This new fleet was seriously tested in the Greco-Turkish War of 1897. It helped establishing its dominance in the Aegean Sea, despite the situation on land. In 1907, the Hellenic Navy General Staff (Γενικό Επιτελείο Ναυτικού) was founded. In response to the Ottoman Fleet own acquisitions and purchased, a new naval race began, Greece ordering from Italy the cruiser Georgios Averof, for long its most potent asset. By 1910, the English style of management, organization and training was adopted, under supervision of Admiral Tuffnel.


Elli (Hellas), a Cruiser built in the USA, initially for China. By 1941 she has been reclassified as a destroyer

From a Balkan war to another: The drama of Greek Navy

Facing his old enemy the Ottoman fleet, the Greek fleet was of little weight. Too weak in 1821-29, it was still weak in 1866-68, and during the first crisis of the Balkans in 1885. In 1897 during the war of Thessaly, it was reinforced and now enjoyed the advantage of the canal of Corinth, a cyclopean trench cut from the rock, inaugurated in 1893. The Turkish navy this time did not intervene, as its own state of disrepair condemned it to inaction. With the help of the Europeans, the Greek fleet was considerably reinforced in 1906, France doing a large part of it. From 1911, foreign consultants were employed and the British were preferred for the navy, shaping it.

Battleship Psara
Battleship Psara

The navy thus became considerably stronger as tensions in the Balkans became more acute. So it was the millionaire Giogios Averoff who provately ordered and purchased a powerful ship in Italy on behalf of the Navy (a rare feat in the annals of navies), which gave the Greeks a serious asset against any potential opponent. Meanwhile the three Hydra-class cruisers were rearmed, 6 destroyers were acquired, 2 submersibles and 6 torpedo boats started, 9 cargo freighters were converted into auxiliary cruisers. During the first Balkan war, Admiral Kondouriotis was forced to lead an active defense against the Dardanelles, and to support the troops fighting the Turks in Epirus. Another squadron commanded by Damianos attempted a landing against the Preveza forts in the Gulf of Arta. On October 21, 1912 Kondouriotis’ fleet invaded the island of Lemnos, commanding the entrance of the Dardanelles. Other islands of the Aegean Sea were thus occupied without opposition on the part of the Turks.

The Greeks in particular transported the troops of their Bulgarian allies to Thrace and supported them, but the December 3rd armistice with Bulgaria and the other Balkan states allowed Turkey to extend its forces to the Straits. A meeting took place that lasted 40 minutes but was indecisive. Other meetings were held without convincing results (see “the Balkan war”). An ambitious program, with the order of construction at the Vulkan shipyards of a 20,000-ton dreadnought, the Salamis, but also two other battleships (finally bought in the US) and two twins at the Averof was started, but the armistice May 1913 put an end to its developments.

The head of the British Naval Mission became the Director of the Greek Naval Staff, Sir Mark Kerr, and defined a new plan consisting of 3 light cruisers, 34 destroyers, 20 submersibles, 2 airships, 12 seaplanes and naval vessels. support. With the new Turkish ambitions and the purchase of the Rio for the Brazilians then under construction, a new emergency plan on the eve of the war included two 23,000-ton dreadnoughts, 1 cruiser, 4 destroyers and a submarine.

Salamis class battleship final design
Salamis class battleship final design

Finally, to save time, the Greek government ordered a unit of the type of the Bretagne-class in France, a cruiser bought in the USA and an option on two others. Finally, two battleships were bought in the USA in June 1914, giving Greece a complete naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean, especially against the Turkish fleet. In 1914, its numbers were important. Here is the detail:

5 Battleships: 2 class Kilkis (1905, purchased in the USA in June 1914), and three battlecruisers class Hydra (1889). Project: Dreadnought Salamis commissioned in Germany in 1913, launched in November 1914, but whose construction was stopped in December 1914 due to constant design changes of its sponsors. It was never completed and demolished in 1932 after a long trial.

Lemnos 1919
Lemnos 1919

The Greek Navy in the Balkan War

In 1912, conflict erupted again and Rear Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis conducted operations to secure at Moudros and Lemnos the Dardanelles straits. The the Aegean Sea followed soon. In 1913, the situation escalated so much that the Greek government ordered more ships, taking delivery of two pre-dreadnoughts, battleships Lemnos and Kilkis from the US Navy and the light cruiser Elli also built in the USA for China first, a 2,600 ton Greek protected cruiser later reclassified as a destroyer. But most importantly the government ordered its first two dreadnoughts, the Bretagne class Vasilefs Konstantinos and the German-built Salamis, conventional design from AG Vulcan, Hamburg. None of them were delivered because of the Great War.

Psara
Hellenic ironclad Psara (1888)


Battle of Elli, 16 December 1912, decisive Greek victory

The Greek Navy at the eve of WW1

In August 1914, Greece remains neutral, exhausted from the Balkan war and weary of a possible takeover of the central powers. At that time, the Hellenic Navy was strong enough to take on the Ottoman navy, by a margin, despite the not receiving its numerous orders.
The head of the British Naval Mission that became the Director of the Greek Naval Staff, Sir Mark Kerr, defined a new plan consisting of 3 light cruisers, 34 destroyers, 20 submersibles, 2 airships, 12 seaplanes and naval vessels. Turkish ambitions has been then clearly shown by the attempted purchase of the Rio de Janeiro for the Brazilians then under construction, and a new emergency plan on the eve of the war in this summer of 1914 included two 23,000-ton dreadnoughts, 1 cruiser, 4 destroyers and a submarine.
By the time the two Kilkis class battleships bought in the USA arrived in June 1914, they gave Greece a complete naval superiority in the eastern Mediterranean. Here are the detail of this fleet:

-5 Battleships: 2 class Kilkis (1905, purchased in the USA in June 1914), three armoured cruisers class Hydra (1889). Projects: Salamis (Germany, 1913, launched November 1914, construction stopped in December 1914), purchase aborted of a Provence class sistership.
-3 Cruisers: Armoured cruiser Giorgios Averof (1910), cruiser Helle (1913).
-14 Destroyers: 4 class Niki (1906), 4 class Thyella (1906), 4 class Aetos (1911), 2 class Keravnos**.
11 TBs: 6 Class Aigli***, 5 class NF11 (1885).
32 Miscellaneous: 2 submersibles class Delfin (1911), Minelayers Tenedos (1906), 3 class Aigialeia (1881). 4 Gunboats class Achelaos (1884), 2 class Ambrakia (1881), 2 class Kissa (1884), 3 class Alfa (1880), 2 class Plixavra (1858), training ship Basilissa Olga. And the RHN Nauarchos Miaoulis* (1879).
Also planned later: dreadnought battleships Basileus Konstantinos, Katsonis class cruisers.
*The old Nauarchos Miaoulis (1879) in 1914 he served as a training ship for gunners.
**of the 14 Destroyers, the Keravnos class were purchased from the Germans 1912.
***Among the 11 TBs, the Aigli class were of German construction in 1912


Tonnage 1914: Battleships 5 – Cruisers 2 – Destroyers 14 – Miscellaneous 32

The Greek Navy during the First World War:

Naval operations

With the beginning of the war it became clear that the orders started in Germany and France would never see the light of day. Sir Mark Kerr, tried to get the British to finance a Valiant-type battleship and a Southampton cruiser, with a deferred payment at the end of the war, but without much success. Greece stayed neutral at the beginning of the Great War, but constantly solicited by Churchill to assist the Royal Navy and the French Navy at the Dardanelles, even while Bulgaria was on his side. But internal political turmoil between a pro-German faction in the court of Constantine I and sympathizers of the Allied caused eventually the French to seize the entirety of the Greek fleet on 19 October 1916 to guarantee this neutrality. Some units passed under the French flag and control but with limited crew for maintenance.


Armoured cruiser Giorgios Averoff, named after the Tycoon that financed her for the Greek Government.

After French troops landed at Salonica, a new provisional government hostile to the Monarchy was established, and Alexander I eventually abdicated in favor of his more liberal son Georges II. On July 2, 1917, Greece entered the war against the triple alliance, lending its ports to allied ships. With the surrender of Turkey in 1918, the Greek government saw the means of appropriating lands of the Ottoman Empire. On May 15, 1919, the fleet deployed and Greek troops landed in Asia Minor, seizing Western Anatolia and Izmir. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 confirmed the possession acquired in the Aegean Sea, but the Turkish counter-offensive finally forced the Greeks to leave Turkey at the end of 1922.


Averoff in the Bosporus, 1919


RHS Lemnos in 1919, a 1914 acquisition for the US. Both ships would still be in service by 1941.

With the beginning of the war in August 1914, it became clear that dreadnoughts started in Germany and France would never see the light of day. The government, through the voice of the naval minister Sir Mark Kerr, tried to get the British to finance a Valiant-type battleship, and a Southampton cruiser, with a deferred payment at the end of the war, without success. Left neutral at the beginning of the Great War, Greece was constantly solicited by Churcill to assist the Royal Navy and the French Navy, even while Bulgaria was on his side, against the Tuque fleet to open the dardanelles the second expected front. But internal political disturbances between a pro-German faction in the court of Constantine I and sympathizers of the Allied cause led to a forcing of the French who unceremoniously seized the entire Greek fleet on October 19, 1916. The legions passed under the French flag and control while the heavy units saw their crew reduced to little.


Giorgio Averoff, now preserved at Pireus.

After the disembarkation of the French troops at Salonica and aided by a fringe of the population hostile to the Monarchy, a provisional government was established, and the internal disturbances helped by the allied army made Alexander I to leave his throne, abdicating in favor of his son Georges II. On July 2, 1917, Greece entered the war against the triple alliance, lending its ports to allied ships. With the surrender of Turkey in 1918, the Greek government saw the means of appropriating landless important plots of the Ottoman Empire. On May 15, 1919, the fleet deployed and Greek troops landed in minor Asia, seizing Western Anatolia and Izmir. The Treaty of Sèvres in 1920 confirmed the possession acquired in the Aegean Sea, but the Turkish counter-offensive finally forced the Greeks to leave Turkey at the end of 1922.
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Greek Projects

Salamis class dreadnoughts.



First and second designs of the 20,000 tons Salamis, built in Germany, by Vulkan AG. The ship would eventually be launched in November 1914 but only partially completed when all construction stopped in December. She would never receive her US-built guns, and after a long postwar procedure because the Greek government refuse the incomplete ship, she was awarded to the Shipyard, which eventually have her broken up in 1932.

Basileus Konstantinos and Katsonis class cruisers.

Read More/Sources

Conway’s all the worlds fighting ships 1860-1905 and 1906-1921.

Nomenclature of Hellenic ships in WW1

Kilkis class battleships (1914)

Armoured Cruiser RHN Giogios Averof (1910)

Hydra class ironclads (1885)

Cruiser RHN Helle (1913)

2nd class cruiser Nauarchos Miaoulis (1879)

Destroyers class Niki (1906)

Destroyers class Thyella (1906)

Destroyers class Aetos (1911)

Destroyers class Keravnos (1912)

Aigli class TBs

NF11 class TBs

Delfin class Subs (1911)

Tenedos class minelayers (1906)

Aigialeia class minelayers (1881)

Achelaos class gunboats (1884)

Ambrakia class gunboats (1881)

Kissa class gunboats (1884)

Alfa class gunboats (1880)

Plixavra class gunboats (1858)

Basilissa Olga training vessel (1852)