Ottomans Evacuate Crete

On October 4th 1898 the Council of European Admirals, then effectively ruling Crete, gave the Ottoman authorities one month in which to evacuate all Ottoman troops from the island. The Porte having earlier the previous year, and with great reluctance, accepted that Crete was ultimately to be an Autonomous State, agreed to the evacuation in principle, but objected to both the time table and the detailed terms; the Sultan wanting to retain a small force to guard the Ottoman flag. From British records, it’s clear that the various European governments were prepared to compromise to some extent on the Porte’s response, provided that sooner rather than later, the Ottomans left.

However, the Admirals were adamant that if the Ottomans didn’t all evacuate by the given date, after an ultimatum issued forty eight hours beforehand, all ‘…Turkish authorities and forces [would] be considered as enemies.’ If compulsion should prove necessary, the Admirals would commence by attacking and destroying Fort Izzedin and sinking all Ottoman ships in Suda Bay. If the Porte did not immediately submit, ‘…operations will be continued at Canea, Hieraptra, Spinalonga, Kissamo, and Rethymo; but, in consequence of recent events at Candia [the riots of 6th September 1898] Admirals have not the same scruples, and consider that action there should take place at the same time as Suda.’

By way of preparation for an attack on Candia plans were drawn up which would involve the British forces outside the town, if not previously withdrawn into the town, to concentrate and, in a delicious irony, supported by Cretan Christian insurgents who the British had originally come to suppress, withdraw to the coast where they would be re-embarked. The action to be taken In Candia would include the bombardment of the town, and to this end, detailed maps were drawn up showing the likely fields of fire covered by the guns of the Royal Navy and the British infantry.

Map of Candia showing fields of fire.

Map of Candia showing fields of fire.

In the event, in spite of last minute delay and prevarications on the part of the Ottoman authorities, the evacuation in the British secteur took place on 5th and 6th November 1898, without the use of force being necessary – other than in the case of one elderly Ottoman Colonel ’… a grey haired man, [who] refused to clear out without a show of force, so eventually […] was marched down in the middle of a party of the Rifle Brigade to the harbour.’

Ottoman troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898

Ottoman troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898

The delay in meeting the November 4th deadline, albeit by a day or two, did however, have consequences. The Ottoman flag, which under the terms of the settlement granting Crete Autonomy was supposed to remain flying, was hauled down in Candia and wasn’t raised again until later that month. When it was finally reinstated, in a clear demonstration of where the power on the island actually lay, it was raised and protected by European troops, while, simultaneously, a proclamation was issued guaranteeing European protection to Cretan Muslims.
However, while technically, the last Ottoman troops left Crete on 6th November, a few men did remain behind to supervise the shipping of Ottoman stores and munitions and as late as December that year, arguments were still taking place as to the rank of the Ottoman soldiers who would be allowed to remain; the Ottomans wanting to send a Colonel, the Admirals insisting that no one over the rank of Captain be allowed to remain.

Ottoman Guns being removed from Candia. 1898/1899

Ottoman Guns being removed from Candia. 1898/1899


1 thought on “Ottomans Evacuate Crete

  1. Pingback: The Ottomans leave | The British in Crete, 1896 to 1913.

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