Category Archives: Cretan Rebels

The battle of Livadia, 19 February 1897.


Colonel vassos. ‘Round the World’ American magazine 25 March 1897

Livadia battle

Following the fall of the Tower of Voukolies on 19 February 1897, the Greek forces prepared to return to Platanias. However, news of a sortie of Ottoman troops and Bashi-Bazouks from Canea brought about a change in orders. The Daily News* reported what happened next:

“The morning [Friday 19 February] was spent in burying the dead, and the afternoon the fort was blown up, after which the force started to return Platania. Meanwhile the Cretans had advanced and surrounded a portion of the Turkish force, which had taken refuge in a strong position an inaccessible hill. Here they still remain. The rest have apparently dispersed in various directions.

In the afternoon the main body of the Greek troops arrived at Platania. There they learned that a strong force of Moslems — about five hundred Turks and as many Bashi-Bazouks – were advancing from Canea towards Voukoulies. The news was sent by the Cretans, two hundred of whom were holding the Turks in check in a narrow place, and now begged assistance. Colonel Vassos ordered battalion of infantry and a company of Chasseurs to go in support of the Cretans.

The country is very difficult, much wooded, and greatly broken up, and it is possible to see only a short distance ahead. Thus the troops suddenly found themselves the middle an olive grove occupied by the Turks.’ The Moslems abandoned the wood in five minutes, the troops followed up and severe fight ensued, lasting near three hours. The Turks took up positions on the heights, thus forcing the Greek enemy to fight up them.

The young Greek soldiers fought admirably. They drove the Turks from one position after another, capturing first the Tower of Ayah, then the Tower of Monkundro, and finally the barracks of Livadia, which were burned about five o’clock. This last position having fallen into the bands of the Greeks the Moslems retreated, taking with them three guns which had been stationed at the barracks, but which had done no execution. The Greeks pursued the retiring columns to within mile the fortifications this town, and then fell back to Platanias.

The Turkish loss in this engagement is unknown, but I have seen number of wounded brought into the lines on donkeys. The Greeks suffered severely. They had three officers killed, and one severely wounded. Two sergeants were killed, and eight privates and men were wounded. The Greek troops are all young soldiers who have never before been under fire. They displayed courage, coolness, and enthusiasm, and their general behaviour is highly creditable. Fighting side by side with the regular troops were the Students’ Corps under Captain Zimbarkakis, with which I came from Athens. The Greeks took ten Turkish prisoners of the regular troops. Three are now prisoners in camp at Platanias.”[1]


The same incident was described rather more briefly by Rear Admiral Harris, the ultimate commander of the newly landed British forces:

Today [ 19 February] a Greek force of about 9,000 Regulars and insurgents, with five guns, advanced from the westward against Middle Age Fort and attacked it. The Turks, after firing, evacuated the fort, falling back on the town [Canea] outposts. The insurgents are now advancing their guns. The Admirals are unanimous that any further advance must be stopped. This step is necessary to prevent loss of life among our men in temporary occupation of Canea, which would be very likely to occur should investment become closer.[2]

This despatch was transmitted on 20 February but drafted on 19 February, presumably shortly after Vassos men moved on from Voukolies towards Livadia. The decision of the Admirals was to assume greater significance in the following weeks when the Admirals carried out their threat, and, on several occasions, opened fire upon Greek and insurgent forces to prevent them advancing on Canea.

*This article appeared in the Sheffield Independent and is credited to the Canea Correspondent of the Daily News.

La Tribuna Illustrata della Domenica. 28 Fwebruary 1897. (According to one source, this was apparently meant to illustrate the fight at Livadia.)

Route taken by Colonel Vassos’ forces.

[1] The Daily News, Canea Correspondent, reported in The Sheffield Independent 23 February 1897.

[2] C.8437. Turkey No. 10 (1897) Further Correspondence respecting the Affairs in Crete. Item No. 169, Rear Admiral Harris to Admiralty, 19 February 1897.

Saving the Greek flag – an alternative view.

The story of how Spyros Kayales used his own body as a flagpole to raise the Greek flag after the flagpole had been knocked down during a bombardment by the European Powers on 21st February 1898 is well known in Crete. Kayales is considered a hero of the insurrection; many illustrations exist depicting this incident and a statue has been erected in his honour near the spot where the event occurred.

Spiros Kayales in later life.

Spiros Kayales’ statue, Halepa.

However, there was another contemporary view of the events which suggested a different motive for Kayales’ actions. Intriguingly, though a British rather than a Cretan source, it uses an illustration very similar to many of those often seen in Crete.

Hauling down the Greek flag.

‘ A correspondent on board on of the British men-of war lying off Canea writes: “ The men-of -war lying off Canea opened fire on the insurgents’ position as a result of the conference between the senior offices of the warships. Whilst the shells from the German, Austrian, Russian, and English ships were bursting all round the insurgents’ position on the heights above the village of Halepa, outside Canea, one of the men went to the flagstaff and hauled down the flag of Greece. This was regarded as a sign of submission and the men-of-war ceased firing. It is believed that the man who hauled down the flag was killed by the bursting of a shell on the left side of the position. No more firing from the insurgents took place that day, though they re-hoisted the flag shortly afterwards.”’


While the date of the report is not given, it appears to coincide with most of the details of the bombardment on 21 February and the time of publication would seem to indicate that it is describing this event. It would appear then that, at least to this British obsever, Kayales’ actions represented submission rather than defiance.

One final point, the flag in question, as shown by the statute and in the Graphic’s illustration would appear to be the then state flag of the Kingdom of Greece.

They came, they saw, they failed to conquer.

On 14th February 1897, some 1500 men of the Greek army, supported by artillery, landed in the Kolymbari/Platania area of Crete. The incursion of the Greek army into what was then legally Ottoman territory, was a culmination of an increasing amount informal support being given by Greece to Cretan Christian insurgents on the island. Upon the Greek troops’ landing, their commander, Colonel Timoleon Vassos, a former Military Attaché to King George I of Greece, read a proclamation declaring that the Island of Crete was henceforth annexed to Greece. The Ottoman response was, for once, measured, and rather than use the landing as an immediate casus belli, the Porte relied instead on the pressure put upon Greece it expected, and received, from the European Powers.

Monument to the arrival of Greek troops. Kolymbari.

Colonel Vassos and his son, Crete 1897.

For several weeks after their landing the Greek troops in Crete appeared to be in a position the threaten to take over either Canea or Candia, the two major towns on the island. However, the arrival in early February of Concert naval forces, which enforced a strict blockade of Crete thus denying Vassos food, supplies and reinforcements, followed in March by significant numbers of Concert ground troops, put an end to any such ambitions. In late March attempts by the insurgents to take the Ottoman held fortress at Kastelli-Kissamos, to the west of Canea, by mining the walls were thwarted by gunfire from H.M.S. Rodney and by the landing of 200 British and 130 Austrian sailors and marines who re-provisioned the garrison and pulled down houses near the fortress in order to prevent further mining attempts.

Meanwhile, Vassos’ attempts to move out from his base at Alikianos and on Canea were similarly blocked by the European guns and men occupying Fort Subachi to the west of the town, a force which included a field gun landed from H.M.S. Anson. Simultaneously, the effectiveness of the naval blockade on the Greeks in Crete by denying them food and supplies was illustrated when, during a visit to Vassos’ camp by Mrs Laura Ormistan-Chant, the leader of six English nurses who had gone to Greece intent on providing nursing services to the Greek army, food was so scarce that Mrs Chant offered to return to Canea and return with a cargo of flour, an offer declined by Vassos. ‘Finding the wounded in Colonel Vassos’ camp either well, dead or on the high road to recovery, Mrs Chant determined to return to Athens’. (Ironically, the well-being of the Greek soldiers was in part attributable to the Powers allowing the landing of Doctors and medical supplies under the flag of the Red Cross. )

Colonel Vassos receiving despatches at Alikianos. Illustrated London News 24 April 1897.

Colonel Vassos’ Head Quaters, Alikianos. Illustrated London News, 24 April 1897.

The threat from Greek troops to the European forces in Crete finally came to an end following the catastrophic Greek defeat in the ‘Thirty Days War’ which broke out on April 18th, when, following large-scale Greek incursions into Ottoman Macedonia, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Greece. The Ottoman army roundly defeated the Greek army and were in a position to march on Athens more or less unopposed before an armistice was imposed by pressure from the Concert. However, having won the war, the Ottoman Empire decisively lost the peace, it was not permitted to retain the land it had occupied; the Concert, still seeking to maintain stability in the region, dictated that Greece, though the initiator of hostilities, should not forfeit any significant territory and should pay a relatively modest indemnity. The terms of the armistice and eventual peace settlement did however, included the Greek renunciation of the annexation of Crete and the immediate withdrawal of all Greek troops and guns from the island.

Vassos and four of his officers left the island on 9th May, Greek forces finally being evacuated, with the assistance of the European navies who ferried Greek troops to waiting Greek merchant vessels, by the end of May. Over time, the presence on the island of the Greek troops, coupled with their impotence, had made them an embarrassment to many of the Greek population; on Vassos’ return to Greece ‘although received with respect and a mellow admiration for his romantic adventures in Crete, he was not … the popular hero he would have been a few weeks before.’
The evacuation appeared to have gone without too much difficulty. On 14th May Captain Sir Richard Poore R.N,, H.M.S Hawke, reported that the British embarked from Platania 445 men under the command of Colonel Zavellos, on board the Greek Transport steam-ship Era:

1 regiment of infantry (officers and men)………..120
1 regiment of engineers (officers and men)………250
1 detachment of Greek volunteers……………………. 75
(Also two horses and men’s accoutrements)

On the same date the Greek war-ship Paralos, under escort by the Russian war-ship Grosiastchy embarked a company of engineers, 74 men, from Atki. The Greek merchant ship Lauiron, which had to be filled with coal from H.M.S. Hawke, was sent under escort by the Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Cruiser S.M.S. Tiger, to Sphakia to collect a store of ammunition said to be there, it being deemed unwise to leave it in the hands of the local population. 20 engineers from Atki were sent to carry out this task.

The Commander of the Greek forces in Platania, Staikos (rank unknown),  initially declined to embark further men without authority from the Greek government. However, apparently after being shown a copy of the Greek translation renouncing the annexation, a document kept secret until the troops had embarked, he eventually agreed to do so.

On 18 May, the Laurion returned from Sphakia with one officer, 9 infantrymen, 800 cases of rifle ammunition, 14 cases of field gun ammunition and 42 bags of ‘boots and medical stores’. The following day boats from the Concert ships Hawke, Chazny, Re Umberto, Groziastchy and Tiger embarked more men to the Greek steamer Thespes. These numbered:

Artillerymen……………………………. 91
Greek volunteers……………………..150
Plus Six guns, 12 horses, 53 mules, 82 cases of field gun ammunition and 62 packages of pack saddles and harnesses.

Captain Poore indicated that some 400 Greek soldiers remained at Alikanos awaiting evacuation, and later the commander of the Greek forces had give his word to Poore that when the final evacuation took place, all artillery, including that supposedly owned by the Cretan Christian insurgents, would be removed from the island. However, the British archives are silent on exactly when the final men and guns departed.

French sailors evacuating Greek troops Platania. L’Illustration, 5 June 1897.

French troops evacuating Greek soldiers. L’Illustration, 5 June 1897.

Russian sailors evacuating Greek mules Platania. L’Illustration, 5 June 1897.

During the process of embarkation, the British commander, Captain Poore, became aware that the Greeks had some 40 or so Ottoman prisoners under guard, presumably those Ottoman soldiers captured at Malaxa and during other incidents, whom they wished to take with them to Greece. The demand to take them to Greece was refused and after a brief sojurn on the Thespes, the prisoners were released and transferred to European vessels.

Wounded Ottomans troops at Alikianos. Illustrated London News, 24 April 1897.

Ottoman prisoners from Malaxa at Alikianos. Illustrated London News, 24 April 1897.

In the end, the landing of the Greek troops on Crete did little to assist the cause of enosis. The Greek government had somewhat misguidedly sent sufficient men to nearly start a war with the Ottoman forces on Crete, but far too few to have any conceivable prospect of winning such a conflict. When the Powers had made their position of tentative support for the maintenance of some form of Ottoman presence on the island clear, the fate of Vassos’ expedition was sealed. Their only allies were Cretan Christian insurrectionists who, whoever good they may have deemed themselves to be in guerrilla warfare, were no match for trained European troops backed by overwhelming naval gunpower. With no prospect of reinforcement, outnumbered by superior Concert forces, let alone Ottoman forces, and suffering from the effects of the Concert embargo, the Greeks were in effect prisoners on the island and could play no significant part in the unfolding diplomatic efforts to find a resolution to the Cretan problem.

The Ottoman Navy steps in.


The Graphic. 27 March 1897. Turkish ships bombarding Cretans in Suda bay.

The Graphic. 27 March 1897.

Heavy firing took place in Suda Bay on March 10 when, for once, the Turks were the aggressors. As a general rule the Cretans begin the attack and have an hour or two of fun before the supine Turk rouses himself to reply. Then the Cretans from behind rocks and Turks in their blockhouses keep up a desultory fire until the former think it time to go home, or until they are interrupted by a shell or two from a Turkish man-of-war.


The ‘Turkish’ ship referred to appears to be the Ottoman casement ironclad Mukaddeme -i- Hayir. If so, this was probably the last time the vessel saw action. Laid down in 1870 and launched in 1872, she saw action in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 before being laid up in Constantinople. With the outbreak of hostilities in Crete in 1897 and the threat of war with Greece, the Mukaddeme -i- Hayir was inspected with a view to her re-joining the Ottoman fleet. However, the ship was in such a poor state of repair that she was never going to be able to face up to the Greek Navy and consequently her active duties were apparently limited to ‘morale boosting’ tours around the Aegean. It was presumably as part of that tour that she ended up in action off Suda Bay. In 1911 she was converted to a training ship and later into a barracks ship. She was scrapped in 1923.[1]


European views of Cretan Christians

It’s unlikely that too many of the British and other European enlisted/conscripted troops sent to Crete in 1897 had much idea about who they would be involved with on their arrival on the island. However, British and European civilians, and presumably some of the Officers, were being ‘informed’ about the parties involved in the fighting on Crete – albeit the information given often had to do more with the fanciful thinking of the journalists and illustrators rather than what was actually happening.

The massacre in Canea. as imagined by Le Petite Parisien, 1897.

(It may safely be assumed that the illustrator of the above had never been to Canea, the city isn’t in the middle of impossibly tall mountains, furthermore, turbans were banned throughout the Ottoman Empire in 1829. )

Cretan Christian Insurgents as seen by Le Petite Parisien 14 March 1897.

Insurgents lighting signal fires in the mountains. Illustrated London News, 23rd March 1897.

A band of Cretan Insurgents at Tsiliphe. Illustrated London News, 6 March 1897.

Insurgents. Illustrated London News, 1897.

The illustrator above was clearly using his imagination when it came to the armament carried by the Christians.

Cretan Christian Insurgents at Acrotiri – outside Canea.

The above group could have been some of those described by Capt. Egerton 1/Seaforths:

“……I took out about 25 men, and we marched through Halepa to the extreme Turkish outpost below Akreterion. The Insurgents showed much interest in our movements, and we were all very anxious that they should send a shot or two at us when I should have smacked in two volleys at them for firing on the British Flag, which we carried in front of us.

But though we trailed our coats all along the front of our position they were too wise to let off their “bundooks[?]”. We had to put in 4 hours out of door somehow, so we loafed about under the olive groves, passing the time of day to Turkish Officers on the outpost, and generally had rather a good time of it.”

Cretan Christian Insurgents 1897.

The uniformed soldiers on the right hand side appear to be Russians, possibly indicating that the photograph was taken in the Rethymnon  area; the Russian Secteur of the island.

Cretan Christian Insurgents 1897.

The legend on the flag reads: Enosis H Thanatos – Union (with Greece) or Death.


RN Kidnapping?

Towards the end of 1911 Cretan and Greek politics were in somewhat of a turmoil … plus sa change. Cretan Christians were agitating for enosis, and insisting that they be allowed to send the Christian deputies elected to the Cretan Assembly to the Greek parliament – a move which would have created a casus belli with the Ottoman Empire, and the last thing either the Cretan- born Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos or the European Powers wanted, or, in the case of the latter, were prepared to tolerate. While Venizelos was prepared, in spite of the obvious political difficulties, to bar the Cretans deputies from taking their seats in the Greek parliament, with Italy effectively at war with the Ottoman Empire following the Italian seizure of Tripoli (Libya), it was left to the three remaining Powers, Britain, France and Russia, to assure the Porte that Cretan deputies would not be allowed to leave Crete.

Accordingly, in December 1911, a group of Cretan deputies, en route for Greece, were intercepted and detained by the Powers.

The British plan, to keep them all on Malta, proved impractical when the Governor of Malta refused to take them, so they were kept on board European warships until “…On 3 January 1912, they were dumped – according to Captain Parker of H. M. S. Minerva, a ‘rather forlorn and depressed company’ – back on Cretan soil, though not before having been charged two shillings per diem for their upkeep.”[1]

Cretan delegates on board European war ship, 1911

Cretan delegates on board French war ship, 1911. Probably H. M. S. Minerva.

Cretan deputies on board European ship 1911

Cretan deputies on board European ship 1911. Probably H. M. S. Minerva.

HMS Minerva in 1895.

HMS Minerva in 1895.

In the end, it took the immanent outbreak of the First Balkan War to facilitate the entry of the Cretan Deputies into the Greek Parliament; Venizelos admitting them on 10th October 1912, War officially being declared, at least by Greece, on 18th October. *



*In an apparent attempt to keep Greece out of the War, the Ottoman Empire not only did not declare war on Greece when doing so on Bulgaria and Serbia on 17th October 1912, but also offered to abandon its claim to Crete if Greece stayed neutral…a case of too little too late.[2]


[1] Capt. Hyde Parker (Senior Naval Officer, Crete) to C-in-C Med Fleet, 16. Feb. 1912, FO371/1352. Quoted in: Holland R. and Markides D. The British and the Hellenes. Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850 – 1960. OUP. p.154.

[2] Lord Grey minute, 20 Oct. 1912, Fo371/1358. Quoted in Holland R. and Markides D. The British and the Hellenes. Struggles for Mastery in the Eastern Mediterranean 1850 – 1960. OUP. p.157.


The evacuation of Kandanos, 1897

On 7th March 1897 a force consisting of 200 British sailors and marines, 100 French , 100 Austrian and 75 Russians, landed  on the south west coast of Crete. Accompanied by Sir Alfred Biliotti, the  British  Consul, their task was to evacuate some 1600 Cretan Muslims and 450 Ottoman soldiers from the village of Kandanos in south west Crete, then under siege by Christian Cretans supported by Greek manned artillery. (It should be noted that the actual dates on which the events in the evacuation occurred are somewhat difficult to determine. The main source of information is Sir Alfred Biliotti who although he was present throughout, was less than clear in his dispatches; particularly when it came to putting dates in his narrative! The dates given here was obtained from various accounts, including the log of  H. M. S. Rodney; in deference to the log keeping traditions of the Royal Navy, these dates are preferred to those given by Biliotti. Similarly, the numbers of evacuees varies from account to account.) The base for the operation was the then semi-derelict village Selino Kastelli, modern Paleochora.

Selino Kastelli ( Paleochora) Gerola

Selino Kastelli c 1900-1902

Landing at Sellino Kastelli (Paleochora) ILN 10 April 1897.

Midshipmen from HMS Rodney who took part in the evacuation of Kandanos. Penny Illustrated Press 10 April 1897

Landing at Sellino Kastelli (Paleochora) ILN 10 April 1897.

En-route to Kandanos the European troops stopped overnight in the hamlet of Spaniakos and evacuated the garrison from the Ottoman fortress above the village.

Ottoman Fortress, Spaniakos

Ottoman Fortress, Spaniakos

The French troops are reported as having spent the night in a local notable’s harem; the British in the local mosque.

Spaniakos Mosque

Spaniakos Mosque.

Royal Navy Guard at Spaniakos (ILN 10 April 1897.

The Spaniakos mosque was eventually destroyed after the evacuation of Cretan Muslims from the area. (Further details of the area around Spaniakos can be found here.)


Kandanos 3 April 97 ILN

British sailors leading column of refugees from Kandanos. Illustration by Melton-Prior.

The Ottoman Governaor of Kandanos. Penny Illustrated Press 10 April 1897.

For the most part the evacuation went without difficulty and the refugees arrived in Canea aboard the various European vessels. Some would stay in Canea, some went to the Turkish mainland, but few ever returned to Kandanos, and those who did were uprooted again in the 1923 population exchange.

Cretan Muslim refugees from Kandanos arriving in Canea. March 1897.

Sailors from HMS Rodney who took part in the Kandanos evacuation.

However, in the final stages, when the column reached the sea at Selino Kastelli, Cretan insurrectionists opened fire on the International troops. Given the overwhelming superiority in fire-power of the European forces, not to mention the presence of a considerable number of  European warships in the immediate vicinity, it’s not difficult to predict the outcome of the engagement.

During the operation several maps and sketches of the area were produced, apparently by French naval officers.

Area of Operations. 5th to 10th March 1897.

International troops landed at Selino Kastelli and then proceed to Kandanos via Spaniakos and Kakodiki.

Disposition of International troops Selino Kastelli, 10th March 1897.

View of the hills above Selino Kastelli and the disposition of International troops on their return from Kandanos. 10th March 1897.

The outline of the hills above the village appears to suggest that the sketch was made from a viewpoint in the south west bay.

Hills above Paleochora, February 2016.

Hills above Paleochora, February 2016. The route to Kandanos and Spaniakos is through the valley on the right hand side of the photograph.

Evidence of the use of Gras rifles, the type used by the Cretan insurgents, has been found near the site of the final encounter.

Gras bullet found in Paleochora near the site of the engagement.

Gras bullet found in Paleochora near the site of the engagement.

More details of the bullet can be found here.

The evacuation marked the effective end of the Ottoman presence in south west Crete, an event marked on a plaque erected on the wall of the old castle in Paleochora in 2020.

Plaque marking the end of the Ottoman presence in Selino.

The text in English reads:

“After 374 years of Venitian slavery and 244 years of Turkish, here on 1 March 1897 at the end of the revolution of 1896-1897 in Selino, the revolutionary liberation flag of Selino was raised. Here on 1 December 1913 with the union of Crete with Greece, the Greek flag was raised.”

Many thanks to Bob Tait for supplying the illustration of the Spaniakos mosque, and to Michalis Adamtziloglou for the translation of the plaque.