Ten years after the Greco-Turkish War (1897), the Hellenic Navy possessed a handful of outdated torpedo – ships and three battleships that had been built in 1889.
At the end of 1908, the need for a combat worthy fleet led to its reinforcement with four brand new English and German destroyers (torpedo – ships).
Amongst them was the armored cruiser «G. AVEROF», the Hellenic Navy’s crowning glory.
In its effort to renew the fleet, the re-elected government of Mavromichalis approached the Orlando Shipyards, in Livorno, Italy, where at that time a battleship was under construction.
It had initially been ordered by the Italian Navy but the order was then canceled.
Greece seized the opportunity by immediately depositing one-third of the total cost and was thus able to acquire the battleship.
The deposited amount of 8.000.000 gold drachmas came from Georgios Averof’ s will.
The rest of the money to buy the ship, approximately 15.650.000 gold drachmas, was put up by the National Fleet Fund (N.F.F.).
The government paid a total of 23.650.000 drachmas for its acquisition broken down as follows: 8.000.000 drachmas came from 20% of Georgios Averof’s will which he donated to the National Fleet Fund in 1889 (year of the publication of the will).
The will stated that 1/5 of his wealth was to be used for the construction of a mighty cruiser which would bear his name and be retrofitted so that it could be used by the naval academy as a training ship for cadets both in theory and practice.
The entirety of the remaining amount, about 14.300.000 was put up by the National Fleet Fund. It’s worth noting that the Turks had also expressed an interest in purchasing the battleship but were late in depositing the amount .A,also the price paid by then Greek Government it was 2.000.000 drachmas less than what the Royal Italian Navy had paid for “PIZA, tons sister ship“.
The definitive purchase agreement was ratified on the 30th of November, 1909.
The 10.000ton, steel-plated Navy battleship had 19.000 HP Italian engines, 22 French boilers, German generators and 8 English Armstrong type 190mm and 234mm cannons. Its top speed was 23 knots. “G. Averof” was launched on 27 February 1910, and arrived in Faliro Bay on 11 September 1911 where the Greeks welcomed it with great enthusiasm.
It didn’t take long for the Navy battleship to receive its baptism of fire.
When the First Balkan War broke out in October 1912, it set sail for the Dardanelle Straits at the head of the Aegean Fleet under the command of Rear Admiral Pavlos Kontouriotis. It took over Limnos and established the anchorage of the fleet in Moudros bay.
Mount Athos and the Eastern and Northern Aegean islands (Thasos, Samothraki, Tenedos, Agios Efstathios, Mytilini, Chios) were liberated shortly after that.
Engagement with the Turkish fleet was inevitable. Rear Admiral Kountouriotis’ plan was to stage an offensive.
He ordered the fleet to sail from north to south, where the Ottoman fleet had made its appearance at the exit of the Dardanelle Straits.
Kountouriotis dispatched his famous signal to the Greek ships accompanied by «G. Averof». “God willing, in the name of Righteousness and after having received the good wishes of our King, we set sail with unstoppable force and the conviction of gaining victory over the enemy of our Nation.”
The successful result of the battles of «Elli» and «Limnos» that followed, shattered the Sultan’s and the Sublime Porte’s aspirations to control the Aegean.
The Ottoman Fleet would never attempt another exit to the Aegean again.
The Balkan Wars of 1912 – 1913 were undoubtedly years of glory for Battleship «G. Averof». When hostilities commenced in October 1912, the Hellenic Fleet was called upon to accomplish a set of very difficult objectives: to prevent the Ottoman Fleet from entering the Aegean, to take over the Northeastern Aegean Islands, to stop the transfer of Ottoman troops and supplies to the Epirus front, and also to protect the naval convoys of Greece and its Allies.
The successful outcome of Greece’s endeavors was due to three factors:
1) the increased operational capabilities of the newly built Navy battleship,
2) the courage and undisputed leadership of Pavlos Koudouriotis and the high morale of the crew members on all the ships of the Greek Fleet and
3) the superiority of the Greek weapons in the naval battles of «Elli» and «Limnos». This is how «G. Averof» came to be a symbol in the minds of the Greek people.
A legend was born.
Greece remained neutral during the greatest part of World War I. The Eleftherios Venizelos government decided to participate in 1917 on the Allies’ side.
At the end of World War, I in October 1918 Turkey capitulated and signed the Moudros Treaty while Greece found itself on the winners’ side. «G. Averof» sailed to Constantinople and raised the Greek flag as one of the winners of the Great War.
In conclusion, the complete control the allied navy gained of the Mediterranean and the success of its strategy to exclude the Central Powers from the Adriatic sea and the Turks from the Bosporus Strait were largely due to the decisive blows dealt by the Greek Fleet and «G. Averof» in Constantinople.
The actual raising of the Greek flag was the moral reward for the courage and self-abnegation shown by the Hellenic Naval Fleet in the struggle for national reunification, a symbol of naval might and heroism, which conjured up visions Hellenism and let the imagination of the Greek people run wild.
After the signing of the peace treaties, «G. Averof» with the rest of the fleet carried the Greek troops to Ionia.
The operations in Minor Asia soon took a turn for the worse leading to the Destruction of Asia Minor in 1922′. «G. Averof» found itself again on the shores of Asia Minor, this time to assist in the evacuation of the troops and people of Greek extraction who were forced to leave the area.
With the outbreak of World War II, the Navy battleship «G. Averof» was once again placed at the head of the Hellenic Fleet as its flagship.
However, after the front collapsed, in April 1941, the Ministry of Merchant Marine ordered the scuttling (self-sinking) of the battleship so that it would not fall into the hands of the enemy.
However, in the hearts and minds of the Greek sailors, the remaining fleet could only travel to Alexandria in the company of Uncle “Georgios“, the legendary battleship «G. Averof», as it was fondly called by the crew members.
Thus, after the battleships had arrived safely in Alexandria, the vessel set course for Bombay for general repairs and inspections. In the beginning, «G. Averof» sailed in the Indian Ocean with a mission to protect convoys going from Bombay to Anden.
At the end of 1942, the «G. Averof» departed for Port Said, taking part in the protection of ports. With the departure of the Opposing German Forces at the end of September 1944, after a 4-year absence, the legendary «G. Averof» returned to Greece in the afternoon of 16th October carrying on board the then exiled Hellenic Government It anchored in Faliriko Bay amid great pomp and celebration.
From 1947 to 1949 the Navy battleship became Fleet Headquarters in Keratsini.
However, the vessel was getting “old” and in 1952 the order came for it to be decommissioned.
From 1952 until 1983, the Navy battleship found itself bow-anchored in Poros.
In 1984 the Hellenic Navy decided to restore it.
After lying idle for thirty years, the battleship was given a new lease on life.
The same year the vessel was towed from Poros to Faliro, where restorations were to commence.
The restoration work, from 1985 up to the present day, was extremely expensive and a large part of the cost was covered by donations from individuals, most importantly from the Cyprus Government, the Latsis family and the Onassis Foundation.
Today the Floating Naval Museum «G. Averof» is a monument in honor of those who served on it and fell in the line of duty during its glory years.
It also helps keep alive things that are intangible yet of vital importance, for example, the legacy of the seas, the importance of maritime transport and the attractiveness of seafaring professions, where dignity, morale, a democratic way of thinking and an open mind are qualities shared by all sailors.
The Navy battleship «G. Averof» has been an active educational community for many years with daily visits from schools, institutes, organizations, as well as groups or individuals.
These visits help achieve something else that the donor had asked for, ie that the ship serves not only the country but also play an educational role.
I really doubt whether one could find another warship like this one in world naval history, so closely connected to the history and destiny of a nation for almost half a century.
The Navy battleship «G. Averof» may well be the only such case.
Thanks to the sterling personality and patriotism of Admiral Pavlos Koudouriotis, its name became inextricably linked to historical events of a national scale without it ever suffering defeat or being dishonored.
Even when at the end World War II its role changed and became peaceful, the soul of “Uncle Georgios” continue to live on, always ready for the final battle.
The fundraising event organized by the Hellenic Navy to pay for the cost of restoration of the vessel was very successful, showing how important a symbol the battleship had been for decades in the collective conscience of the Greeks.
As a Navy battleship “in service“, the «G. Averof» stands proud, a model of Greek Seamanship and heroism.
In its final battle of keeping the historical memory alive «G. Averof» has emerged victorious once again.
*This article was originally published at http://www.averof.mil.gr/