The battle for the Malaxa blockhouse.

In early 1897 one of the few lengths of properly paved road on Crete was the stretch between the then capital, Canea, and Suda Bay, the only large and safe deep water anchorage on the island. Commanding both the road, the main approach to Canea from the east, and the entrance to the harbour, was Fort Izzedin and its associated outworks.

British map of Suda Bay, April 1897.

While realistically  the Christian Cretan insurgents were never going to be able to take over the Fort Izzedin, the capture and occupation of the outlying blockhouses would put pressure on the Ottoman forces, both within the fort and in Canea. Accordingly, several attempts, some more successful than others, were made to capture these positions.

The first assault was on the Malaxa blockhouse.   An initial attack on Sunday 28th February was forced back by fire from the Ottoman iron-clad Mukaddami Khair. (In illustration of how little control the Ottoman authorities actually had over the events unfolding at that time, the Mukaddami Khair was obliged to seek, and was eventually given, the permission of the European Admirals to open fire on the insurgents. She eventually fired three shells, ‘…the first a well-directed one, which had the effect of rapidly clearing the hillsides.’[1])

The insurgents were more successful when they attacked again three weeks later.

Cretan Christians assaulting the Malaxa Blockhouse

While the illustration above is from the French magazine Le Petite Journal, the original appeared in the Illustrated London News of 10th  April 1897 with a text which reads;

“Early on the morning of March 25th a large force of Christian insurgents took up its position, with three guns, for an attack upon the Turkish blockhouse at Malaxa, a village near Canea. After prolonged artillery firing, the insurgents advanced on the blockhouse. The Turkish garrison eventually raised a white flag, and the Christians entered the blockhouse with a rush. The first of the insurgents to enter the fort was a young Cretan, Manos, who was recently an undergraduate at Oxford and is now the leader of a band of young patriots. Thanks to his intervention, the lives of most of the garrison were spared, forty-three prisoners being taken to Kontopoulo by the insurgents when their bombardment by the war-ships of the Powers obliged them to evacuate the blockhouse.”

The Illustrated London News drawing is described as being ‘[d]rawn by R. Canton Woodville R.I., from a Sketch by our Special Artist, Mr. Melton Prior’, and has Canton Woodville’s initials on the bottom left hand side and what appears to be an engraver’s mark on the bottom right. The identical illustration  published in Le Petite Journal contains no attribution to the artists.

From other contemporary reports in the Illustrated London News it would appear that in addition to the intervention a British educated insurgent, the assistance of an American journalist and a Greek Army officer were instrumental in preventing a massacre of the Ottoman defenders and facilitating the transfer of the Ottoman prisoners to the Greek Army HQ in the nearby village of Alikianos.

“When the Cretan insurgents had stormed the blockhouse of Malaxa and rushed forward to occupy the stronghold, the first men to enter the fort was the young insurgent leader, Manos, who was but latterly and undergraduate at Oxford. He was closely followed by Mr Benn an American correspondent and these two between them prevailed on the victorious forces to spare the lives of most of the garrison, and rest content with taking them prisoners. Forty-three of the Turkish soldiers were taken as prisoners to [Kastropoulo/Kontopoulo?] under fire of the war-ships of the Powers.”

Not all of the garrison were captured or killed, some managed to make their way down the steep hill-side to safety.

The fall of the Malaxa Blockhouse; The flight of Ottoman troops

In spite of having captured the Malaxa blockhouse, the insurgents were not to remain there for long. The Illustrated London News reported;

‘One heavy shell from the Combined Fleet passed through the blockhouse, demolishing one of its main walls. Some hundred shells fell around the position, doing considerable damage in the villages of Malaxa and Kontopoulo. The Christians fired the ruined blockhouse before withdrawing from this bombardment, and carried forty-three of the garrison with them as prisoners.’

European forces bombard Malaxa Blockhouse.

Again according to the Illustrated London News, below;

‘[During] the Christian attack upon the blockhouse (…..) Turkish war-ships in Suda Bay kept firing upon the attacking force at intervals throughout the fight, with the object of relieving the garrison, and after the occupation of the blockhouse the war-ships of the Powers fired upon the victorious Christians, and forced them to evacuate the now ruined stronghold.’

The fall of Malaxa blockhouse.

A handwritten note on the illustration describes the figures in the foreground as ‘Turkish troops from roofs of houses in Nerokouron. The smoke from the Malaxa  blockhouse is shown in the top right hand corner of the illustration.

The Ottoman prisoners were taken to the headquarters of the Greek invasion force at Alikianos and kept there until the evacuation of the Greek army a month or so later.

Ottoman prisoners from Malaxa.

Malaxa Insurgents

The date of the above photograph is unknown and the caption might refer simply to the location of the shot. However, it is possible that it may contain images of some of the Cretan Christians who fought at Malaxa.

 

 

 

 

[1] Command Paper No Turkey No.9, 1897. No1. Admiral Harris to Admiralty, 24 February 1897.

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One thought on “The battle for the Malaxa blockhouse.

  1. Pingback: The Aptera Blockhouse | The British in Crete, 1896 to 1913.

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