The Armored Cruiser Geórgios Avérof
Starting with the so-called “Duel of the Ironclads” in the American Civil War, military planners everywhere gave their attention to the development of armored fleets. Naval engineers continually advanced the state of the art, discovering how to construct steel vessels that would stay afloat, power them with ever more efficient and speedy engines, and arm them with guns that became larger and more accurate with every new model. While big nations like Britain and Germany conducted the most furious arms race, smaller nations also struggled to keep up. Geography demanded that Greece be a naval power; the country would never be able to defend itself (let alone extend its dominion to the many Greek islands still under foreign rule) without a first-class, well-equipped navy.
Greek battleship Spétsai, built in 1892
As the 20th century began, the Greek government realized that it needed more than a few ancient torpedo boats and three ironclad battleships that, although less than ten years old, were already obsolete. (The picture shows one of them, the Spétsai.) Destroyers were the latest thing, and comparatively affordable; between 1905 and 1907 Greece bought four from England and four from Germany. But big ships, as befits superweapons, came with high price tags, and Greece was far from rich.
Geórgios Avérof, 1815–1899
However, a lucky chance came up in 1909. A few years earlier, Italy had begun building three large warships that they classified as ‘second-class battleships’ (although by more generally accepted international standards the proper classification was ‘armored cruisers’). As the second of these ships was being finished, the Italian government suddenly decided that it couldn’t afford the third. The Greek government, acting quickly, offered Italy a one-third down payment to ensure that they and no one else would get the third ship.

Most of the money came from a bequest made by Geórgios Avérof, a public-spirited Greek millionaire who had died in 1899. He had actually left the money for the purpose of acquiring a training ship for naval cadets, but the government instead put it down on the armored cruiser, to which (perhaps to appease the benefactor’s spirit) they gave his name.
Armored cruiser Geórgios Avérof
The Geórgios Avérof was finished in 1910 and delivered to the Greek navy in May, 1911. She was quite a cosmopolitan vessel, having Italian engines, French boilers, German generators, and English guns (190 and 234 mm, or in terms better understood by Americans, 7½ and 9¼ inches). Under the command of her first captain, Ioánnis Damiános, the Avérof sailed to England in June, 1911 to take part in the festivities surrounding the coronation of King George V—and also to pick up her first load of ammunition.

This maiden mission was hardly a triumph. Here’s Wikipedia’s account. (I've changed the punctuation very slightly to improve clarity, but haven't edited the text in any other way.)
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 Damiános was inadequate, so he was replaced by the highly esteemed Captain Pávlos Koundouriótis, who quickly reimposed discipline and set sail for Greece. During the journey, Koundouriótis took care to train the crew, with the notable exception of gunnery practice, since ammunition was limited.
However, the ship returned to Greece in good condition. To quote Wikipedia again, “[The] Avérof was at the time the most modern and powerful ship in the navies of either the Balkan League or the Ottoman Empire.” As the first Balkan war broke out, Koundouriótis was promoted to admiral and put in charge of the fleet. The Avérof became its flagship and remained under his effective command, although like other flagships, she also had a captain.

In the battles of Élli and Lémnos, the two major conflicts between the Greek and Ottoman fleets, the Avérof took advantage of her superior speed to inflict significant damage on the Turks’ more antiquated battleships, and she deserved most of the credit for both victories. According to Wikipedia, Élli marked the first time the Avérof’s guns had been fired, so limited was the supply of ammunition for them. But the Greek navy, in response to the recommendations of a British mission that Venizélos had invited, had been working hard on gunnery practice, and perhaps the Avérof's crew had been assigned temporarily to other ships for training. (Or perhaps they were the navy’s toughest old salts, who needed no instruction in gunnery.)
Celebratory lithograph, about 1913
When the Balkan wars ended in victory for Greece and its allies, the triumphant Avérof was a primary object of national pride. This popular lithograph pulls out all the stops: the flag-draped ship backlighted by a doubtless rising sun; portraits in the corners of (clockwise from the upper left) King Constantine, late benefactor Geórgios Avérof, Admiral Pávlos Koundouriótis, and Prime Minister Elefthérios Venizélos; a border of laurel leaves (symbolizing victory) bearing the names of the islands and seaside towns the navy had liberated, and at the top two shields inscribed with the dates (pre-Gregorian calendar) of the battles of Élli and Lémnos.
Steaming past Constantinople, 1919
The Avérof mostly sat out World War I, because Greece maintained neutrality through the first years. After a violent conflict in Athens between Allied troops and Greek army units loyal to King Constantine (who favored neutrality), the French seized the Greek fleet, and didn’t return it until Constantine left the country and Venizélos brought Greece into the war on the Allies’ side. There was no significant naval activity in the eastern Mediterranean before the end of the war, at which time the Avérof joined an Allied fleet that sailed to Constantinople. The sight of her thrilled the many Greeks who lived in that city, and warmed Greek hearts in other places as well. I found several paintings of the event on the Internet (though the reproduction quality of most was unfortunately low).

But although the cruiser took part in the Greco-Turkish war that followed, she was unable to stave off the military disaster that developed on land, and her last mission in that war was helping to evacuate the defeated Greek army.
Anchored at Fáliro
Refitted and updated in the 1920s, the Avérof remained on active duty. In 1941, when Greece collapsed suddenly in the face of a German invasion, the captain and crew ignored orders to scuttle the ship, and sailed her first to Crete and then to Alexandria—where Greece’s government in exile was set up—despite a serious probability of being sunk by the Luftwaffe before they got there. During the rest of the war she did escort duty for Allied convoys in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

The Avérof had won such a high place in Greek hearts that she was never retired, let alone scrapped. Like the U.S.S. Constitution, she is still in the water, serving as a floating museum at Fáliro Bay, near Athens, where she had been first handed over to the Greek navy in 1911.