Georgios Averof (Greek: Θ/Κ Γεώργιος Αβέρωφ) is a Greek warship which served as the flagship of the Royal Hellenic Navy during most of the first half of the 20th Century. Although popularly known as a battleship (θωρηκτό), it is in fact an armored cruiser, (θωρακισμένο καταδρομικό), the only one of its type worldwide still in existence.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Greece decided to reinforce its fleet, whose ships were fast becoming obsolete due to the fast-moving naval arms race of the era. The authorities procured four destroyers (then a relatively new type of ship), but the most important addition was Averof. The vessel, belonging to the Pisa class, like her Italian sisters Amalfi and Pisa, was being built at Orlando Shipyards at Livorno in Italy. When the Italian government cancelled the third ship of the class due to budgetary concerns, the Greek government immediately stepped in and acquired the ship with a 1/3 down payment (ca. 300,000 gold pound sterling), paid with the help of a wealthy Greek benefactor, George Averoff, whose name she consequently received. The ship was fitted with an extraordinary combination of Italian engines, French boilers, British artillery and German generators. Such was the earnestness of the Greek Navy to acquire and put the ship into operational use that she was delivered with a known deficiency in the barrel of one of her 7.5 inch guns, [a gouge in the barrel produced by a slipping of the rifling cutting tool] and hastily accepted for service on the [totally informed, as it turned out] opinion of Armstrong's chief ordnance Engineer, who judged the defect as inconsequential to the gun's safety and performance. The ship was launched on March 12, 1910. Her first captain was Captain Ioannis Damianos, who took command of the ship on May 16, 1911. Averof sailed for Britain, in order to participate in the festivities for the coronation of King George V and to receive her first load of ammunition. The stay in Britain was troubled, however, including running aground at Spithead on June 19, forcing the ship to be drydocked for repairs, brawls with locals and a near-mutiny resulting from the unfamiliarity of the Greek sailors with blue cheese. It was clear that Captain Damianos was inadequate, so he was replaced by the highly esteemed Captain Pavlos Kountouriotis, who quickly reimposed discipline and set sail for Greece. During the journey, Kountouriotis took care to train the crew, with the notable exception of gunnery practice, since ammunition was limited. Averof finally sailed into Faliron Bay, near Athens, on September 1, 1911. Averof was at the time the most modern and powerful ship in the navies of either the Balkan League or the Ottoman Empire.
The Balkan Wars With the outbreak of the First Balkan War, Kountouriotis was named Rear Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the Hellenic Royal Navy. Averof, under Captain Sofoklis Dousmanis, served as the flagship of the fleet, and she took part in the takeover of the islands of the northern and eastern Aegean. During the naval battles at Elli (December 3, 1912) and Lemnos (January 5, 1913) against the Ottoman Navy, she almost single-handedly secured victory and the undisputed control of the Aegean Sea for Greece. In both battles, due to her superior speed, armor and armament, she left the battle line and pursued the Turkish Fleet alone. During the Battle of Elli, Kountouriotis, frustrated by the slow speed of the three older Greek battleships, hoisted the Flag Signal for the letter Z which stood for "Independent Action", and sailed forward alone, with a speed of 20 knots against the Turkish fleet. Averof succeeded in crossing the Turkish fleet's "T" and concentrated her fire against the Ottoman flagship, thus forcing the Ottoman fleet to retreat in disorder. Likewise, during the Battle of Lemnos, when the older battleships failed to follow up with Averof, Kountouriotis did not hesitate to pursue independent action. During both battles, the ship suffered only slight damage, while inflicting severe damage to several Turkish ships. These exploits propelled the ship and her Admiral to legendary status in Greece. After Lemnos, the crew of the Averof affectionately nicknamed her "Lucky Uncle George". It is a notable fact that, due to the aforementioned delays in the delivery of ammunition, Averof fired her guns for the first time during the Battle of Elli.
World Wars and aftermath During World War I, Averof did not see much active service, as Greece was neutral during the first years of the war, and in deep internal turmoil (see National Schism). After the Noemvriana riots of 1916 however, she was seized by the French, and returned only after Greece's formal entry in the war, in June 1917. After the war's end, Averof sailed with other Allied ships to Constantinople, receiving an ecstatic welcome from the city's Greeks. She continued as the flagship of the RHN under Rear Admiral I. Ipitis, participating in landings in Eastern Thrace and bombardments of the Turkish Black Sea shore during the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) and helped in the evacuation of the refugees after the Greek Army's defeat. In 1925-27 she underwent major reconstruction in France, in which she received modern anti-aircraft armament, a new foremast and improved fire control equipment, while the obsolete torpedo tubes were removed.
After Germany's attack against Greece in 1941 and the collapse of the front, the ship's crew disobeyed the orders to scuttle the ship to avoid capture by the Germans, and sailed to Souda Bay, Crete, under the constant threat of German air strikes (which had sunk HMS Kelly, the ship commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten, and many other Greek and British warships during the evacuation of Greece). The Commanding Officer embarked from a rope ladder when the ship was already underway. Thence the ship sailed to Alexandria, arriving there on April 23. From August 1941 to the end of 1942, the ship was assigned to convoy escort and patrol duties in the Indian Ocean, based at Bombay. After that, she was anchored at Port Said. On October 17, 1944, once again as the flagship of the exiled Hellenic Navy, under the command Captain Theodoros Koundouriotis (the Admiral's son), she carried the Greek government-in-exile back to liberated Athens. The ship continued to serve as Fleet Headquarters until she was decommissioned in 1952. She remained anchored at Salamis until she was towed to Poros, where she remained from 1956 to 1983.
The Averof today
In 1984, the Navy decided to restore her as a museum, and in the same year she was towed to Faliron Bay, where she is anchored to this day and functioning as a floating museum, seeking to promote the historical consolidation and upkeep of the Greek naval tradition. Free guided tours are provided to visiting schools and on holidays. She is anchored at the Trocadero quay, next to the Faliron Marina and the Resteion swimming pool and park. The ship is regarded as in active service, carrying the Rear Admiral's Rank Flag a square blue flag with white cross, like the Greek jack, with two white stars in each of the two squares on the flagstaff side (see photo at right, also see and) on the top of the mainmast with the Masthead Pennant (a long triangular blue flag with a white orthogonal Greek cross) displaced downward. Every Hellenic Navy ship entering or sailing in Faliron Bay honours the Averof while passing. The crew are ordered to attention (with the "Still to" order) and from the relevant Boatswain's pipe (or bugle call) every man on decks stands to attention, officers saluting, looking to the side where the Averof is in sight until "Continue" is ordered (this link is an mp3 sound recording of the order in Greek "Still to port side", the boatswain's pipe call and the order "Continue"). In June 2010 the ship was involved in a scandal after being used as the stage for a lavish wedding party by Greek shipowner Leo Patitsas and TV persona Marietta Chrousala. The publication of photos from the party by the Proto Thema tabloid caused major political uproar, resulting in the dismissal of the ship's commander, Commodore Evangelos Gavalas.