Built in Livorno in 1910 the 10,000 ton RHNS Averof (pronounced Av-AIR- Off) was the Flagship, and by far the biggest warship, of the Royal Hellenic Navy until 1951. To this day she is still afloat and one of the few armoured cruisers still in existence in the world. Since 1984, when she was refurbished as a floating museum, she has been at Phaleron.
The book deals with the battles that she fought and the trials and tribulations of the Royal Hellenic Navy through her years of active service.
There are maps showing the disposition of the opposing fleets during battles such as ‘The battle of Cape Helles’ phase 1 and 2. ‘The battle of Limnos’ 1913. Then her travels during the 2nd WW as an escort, the role she carried out from 1941-1944. Which included time spent carrying out escort duties to and from the Indian sub-continent, from June 1941 to November 1942.
Though the basis of this book is the story of the Averof, I found that I became more fascinated by the political intrigues that were taking place, at the beginning of the 20th Century, in the Aegean Sea. The period that began the demise of the Ottoman Empire, and the resurgence of the Nationalistic endeavours of the Greek nation.
Since before the Trojan War, about 1200bc,The Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the islands of the Aegean had been the heartland of the Greek Empire. Greek city states had flourished on all the adjacent coasts. Things changed though and the Rise of the Ottoman Empire put a dent in what had been Greek territory. In the early 20th century though the Ottoman Empires powers were declining and as a result Greece started to once again think of regaining lost territory.
I myself have never followed the history of the region so I enjoyed filling a gap in my knowledge. I will openly admit that the biggest problem that I had reading this book was to remember the names of the characters involved. That is my failing, not the book's.
Describing the administration and workings of the Greek Navy made me realise how lucky we of the Royal Navy were not to be politicized as were the Greek Navy.
The ‘Averofs’ first official duty in May 1911 was to attend the Naval review to mark the Coronation of King George V. The Spithead Naval Review must have been a sight to see. The representative ships, from various countries, many of whom had a hatred of each other. Like the Russians and the Japanese, who had walloped Russia, six years before, in the Russo-Japanese war. The contempt that the Greeks had for the Turks, not to mention the enmity between the British and the Germans. (It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall of a Bar ashore when these various matelots met.)
After the Spithead Review the Averof sailed for a visit to Plymouth, where she had the misfortune to run aground on a mud bank and therefore had to be put into dry-dock for repair. This did nothing to help the crews morale. As a result of this accident, just 6 weeks after being commissioned, the crew mutinied. It seems that there had been discontent amongst the crew who thought that the ships complement of officers wasn’t doing its job. Considering that the Averof was the largest vessel in the R.H.N it wasn’t surprising that the crew were having a hard job learning how to sail and man her. Tempers must have been frayed at times.
This book not only tells the story of this exceptional ship, but places her in the midst of both world wars and gives us a glimpse into the history of the region. An apt sub-title…
‘Thunder in the Aegean’.
I give this book 3 anchors.