Greece`s Park of Maritime Tradition
The Hellenic Navy Museum, also known as Greece`s Park of Maritime Tradition, is located at Faliron (Phaleron) Bay, a few kilometres east of Piraeus and easily reached from Athens or the coastal resorts of Glyfada and Vouliagmeni by tram. There are several vessels on display but the centrepiece of the museum is the Greek warship Georgios Averof.
Although described as a battleship, she is actually an armoured cruiser, a powerful vessel with the ability to take on and destroy any enemy warship apart from a battleship, in which case she would rely on her superior speed to `outrun` her adversary. G.Averof is the only armoured cruiser still in existence. Built in Italy, she was launched in 1910 and commissioned in September of the following year.
Averof was the flagship of the Royal Hellenic Navy during most of the first half of the 20th Century and served in the Balkan Wars and the two World Wars. She was finally decommissioned in 1952 but it wasn`t until 1984 that the Navy decided to restore her as a floating museum which would also act as a memorial to the Greek Naval personnel who lost their lives while on active service. Visitors can explore the vessel above and below decks and most of the exhibits have English captions in addition to Greek. All armament with exception of the main Armstrong 234mm and secondary 190mm guns has been removed. The ship was also equipped with 8 x 76mm guns, 4 x 76mm anti-aircraft guns, 6 x 37mm anti-aircraft guns and 3 torpedo tubes. Her wartime compliment of 1200 personnel was reduced to 670 in peacetime.
Unlike the rest of Europe, in 1912-13 the Balkan region had effectively just completed two dress rehearsals for the Great War and was already an armed camp in a state of political and military tension. Although WW1 overshadows much of the region`s military history, the First and Second Balkan Wars previewed the technology and tactics of the 1914-18 conflict.
The First Balkan War (9.10.1912 - 30.05.1913) was waged between the Balkan Alliance (Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro) and the Ottoman Empire.
In the second (29.06.1913 - 10.08.1913) the belligerents altered sides, with Bulgaria ranged against Greece, Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania. It was during the Balkan Wars that Averof, serving as the flagship of the Hellenic Navy, took part in the liberation of the islands of the northern and eastern Aegean.
During naval engagements at Elli ( 3 December 1912) and Lemnos (5 January 1913) against the Ottoman Navy, she almost single-handedly defeated the enemy fleets and ensured that the waters of the Aegean remained firmly under Greek control.
During both battles, the Averof suffered only slight damage, while inflicting severe damage on several Turkish ships. These exploits propelled the ship and her Admiral, Pavlos Kountouriotis, to legendary status in Greece. After Lemnos, the Averof`s crew affectionately nicknamed her "Lucky Uncle George", while the Turks called her the "devil ship". Kountouriotis was a clever and daring tactician and his prowess earned him the status of a national hero.
A statue of Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis stands nearby on the Phaleron quayside. Born on the island of Hydra, on 9 April 1855, many of his ancestors had taken part in the Greek War of Independence and following family tradition he had joined the navy and quickly rose through the ranks to become the Averof`s most famous commander.
Greece remained neutral during most of World War I but in 1917 the government decided to join the Allies. The conflict ended in November 1918 and when Turkey capitulated the Averof sailed into Constantinople Harbour and raised the Greek flag as a symbol of victory.
In 1941, during the Second World War, with Greece about to be overrun, the Averof led other warships of the Greek fleet to Alexandria in Egypt to prevent them falling into the hands of the Germans. From there, the battleship was dispatched to Bombay to patrol the Indian Ocean. At the end of the war the Averof returned to Faliron Bay at the head of the Fleet having brought back the Greek Government who had been in exile. The cartoon below shows what the Greeks thought of Mussolini and his Navy, The G.Averof is still regarded as being in active service and every Hellenic Navy vessel entering or sailing in Faliron Bay honours her while passing by. Every man on deck stands to attention, and officers salute, giving an `eyes left` or `eyes right` as appropriate.
Visitors can explore much of the warship, both above and below decks. Certain areas such as the ammunition, shell storage and engine rooms require an escort from one of the naval personnel on duty as access is via a steep stairway and potentially difficult. It`s easy to appreciate the amount of work that has gone into the Averof`s restoration and the iconic warship still appears to be in excellent condition. The Averof retains most of her original equipment, fixtures and fittings. Many of the compartments below deck contain museum exhibits showing the history of the vessel and detailing events which occurred during her long career. There is obviously a marked contrast between the officers` quarters and those of the junior ratings.
HNS Velos (D16) is a WW2 era ex-US Navy Fletcher-Class Destroyer and is also open for inspection. Launched in 1942 as the USS Charrette (DD-581), she saw action with the Pacific Fleet at various locations including at Tarawa in the Marshall Islands when she joined the Task Group providing cover for the Marines involved in the amphibious assault on the atoll.
During the night of 4–5 February 1944, Charrette engaged a Japanese submarine, thought to be I-175, and pressed home a depth charge attack while directing the Destroyer Escort USS Fair towards the target which was successfully sunk by the `hedgehog` anti-submarine mortar, the weapon system`s first kill against a Japanese sub. The USS Charrette continued to play an active role against the Japanese as the invaders were cleared from the various Pacific island groups including the Marianas and Iwo Jima in addition to Formosa and the Philippines where she took part in the decisive Battle for Leyte Gulf which ended the effectiveness of the Japanese Navy as a major fighting force. In December 1945 Charrette returned to the USA and was later placed in reserve at San Diego, California.
In July 1959 USS Charrette was transferred to the Greek Navy who renamed her HNS Velos. On 25 May 1973, Velos, then participating in a NATO exercise, famously anchored at Fiumicino, Italy, and Commander Nikolaos Pappas and crew refused to return to Greece, protesting at the dictatorship which was running the country at that time. Pappas was opposed to the regime in his homeland and suspected that he would likely have been tortured had he returned home. Along with six officers and twenty-five petty officers he hastily arranged to give a press conference to highlight the political situation in Greece. They then requested political asylum. The remainder of the crew were instructed to remain on board and return to Greece to prevent reprisals against them and their families.
Velos returned to Greece a month later with a replacement crew, and the refugees continued the struggle against the dictatorship. This newspaper cartoon of the time recognises the warship`s contribution in toppling Georgios Papadopoulos, the head of the military coup d'état, from power. After the fall of the junta in July of the following year, all of the officers and petty officers returned to the Navy. Commander Pappas went on to attain the rank of Vice Admiral and became Chief of the Hellenic Navy General Staff. Velos was decommissioned on 26 February 1991, having sailed 362,622 nautical miles (671,576 km) in a career spanning almost fifty years.
Other vessels include a small sailing boat and the steamship Thalis o Milissions (Thales of Miletos). The steamship is named after the first known Greek philosopher, astrologer and mathematician. She was built in the USA as cable laying vessel for the War Department and named the Joseph Henry. In March 1909 she was delivered to the Submarine Cable Service of the U.S. Army and, over a hundred years later, remains virtually unchanged.
Her initial duties included laying cable for the Army`s fire control systems at coastal fortifications in New York Harbour and other locations along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico. The vessel`s namesake, Joseph Henry (1797-1878) was an American scientist who aided Samuel Morse in development of the telegraph.
In 1947 the vessel was sold to the Greek Goverment and renamed. She became the country`s first cable ship and during her time with the State-owned Greek Telecommunications Company (OTE) she not only helped maintain a network of inter-island submarine cables but laid over 140 new cables in the Aegean Sea.
And finally, the Olympias, a superb modern reconstruction of an ancient trireme naval ship. She was built by a Piraeus shipbuilder from Oregon pine and Virginia oak to a classic design after consultation with historians and reference to evidence gained from underwater archeology. Olympias has taken to the water on numerous occasions and during sea trials in 1987 her volounteer crew of 170 oarsmen and oarswomen achieved a speed of 9 knots (17 km/h) and was able to execute 180 degree turns within one minute, in an arc no wider than two and a half (2.5) ship-lengths. These results, achieved with an inexperienced crew, suggested that the ancient writers were not exaggerating about the trireme`s formidable capabilities.
Below: Comparing ancient and modern. The battering ram on Olympias and in the background, the 127mm gun on Velos - both primary weapons could potentialy deliver catastrophic damage to an enemy vessel. The trireme`s cast bronze bow ram envelope weighed 200 kg and she would have carried a compliment of ten sailors and 14 Marines; 10 spearmen and 4 archers. Below decks were 170 oarsmen ready to provide power as required.
Olympias was transported to the United Kingdom in 1993, to take part in events celebrating the 2,500 years since the beginning of democracy and in 2004 the trireme used to transport the Olympic Flame from the port of Keratsini to the main port of Piraeus in the final stages of the Olympic Torch Relay prior to the Summer Olympic Games opening ceremony in Athens that year.
Pictured here at Piraeus is Hellas Liberty, one of only several surviving WW2 Liberty Ships. Liberty Ships were large cargo vessels of British conception adapted and built in the USA during the Second World War. They were relatively cheap to build and could be put together quickly which made them ideal to replace the massive amount of Allied shipping lost to German U-Boats during the first few years of the conflict. Individual sections were constructed, assembled and then welded together as opposed to traditional rivetting which took far longer. During the course of the conflict, eighteen American shipyards built a total of 2,751 Liberty Ships, by far the largest number of ships ever produced to a single design. After the Second World War, Greeks bought or were given about 100 Liberty ships to help them rebuild their merchant marine fleet. Approximately 2,000 of the nation`s sailors had died during the conflict.
This huge vessel, which was built in 1943, was towed across the Atlantic in January 2009, rescuing her from the so-called `ghost fleet` of abandoned ships moored on Virginia’s James River. Hellas Liberty started life as the Arthur M. Huddell and was acquired by Greece with the intention of converting her into a floating museum dedicated to the history of the Greek merchant marine. The plan was to display her alongside the Battleship Averof, however, she still sits looking rather neglected at Greece`s busiest port, and with the country in a deep financial crisis, restoration looks a very long way off.
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