Category Archives: Cretan Rebels

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.

 

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The fall of the tower of Voukolies

The capture by Cretan Christian insurgents supported by Greek troops, of the watch towerat Voukolies, to the west of Canea, on the night of 1/2 February 1897, while giving the insurgents a needed boost to their morale, also demonstrated the relatiive ineffectiveness of any Eurropean military response to the insurrection. While the European Powers could, and did, by virtue of their naval forces, command the littoral, once out of the range of the naval guns, there was little that could be done to support Ottoman positions. This dilema was to occur again when, in 1897, British troops occupying Candia were forced to confine their operatioins to within six miles of the town.

The fall of the Tower of Voulokies. The Cretan version

The fall of the Tower of Voulokies. The Cretan version

Further details of the capture of the tower can be found here: http://mickmctiernan.com/history/the-tower-of-voukolies

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 10th March 1897 European troops completed the evacuation 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, Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul, who although he was present throughout, was less than clear in his dispatches; particularly when it came to putting dates in his narrative! The date 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, this date. 10th March, is 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

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.

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.

For the most part the evacuation went without difficulty.

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.

Many thanks to Bob Tait for supplying the illustration of the Spaniakos mosque.

God’s revenge

On a number of occasions the European fleet opened fire on Cretan Christian insurgents. On one occasion, on 21st February 1897, shells from a Russian warship hit a Greek church, Profitis Ilias, which was near the base Cretan Christians had been using for a threatened bombardment of Canea.

Although the Russian government later paid for the rebuilding of the church, the Cretan Christian propaganda machine wasn’t slow to make the link between the ‘desecration’ of a Christian church and the, purely accidental, explosion on board the Russian battleship ‘Sissoi Veliky‘ on 15th March that year.

 

Greek/Cretan Christian postcard - the divine consequences of the European bombardment.

Greek/Cretan Christian postcard – the divine consequences of the European bombardment.

The caption on the postcard reads; The bombardment of Cretans on Akrotiri: The Crime and the Divine Punishment.

The propaganda plea that didn’t work

Cretan propaganda

Cretan propaganda leaflet 1897.

The leaflet was distributed to British sailors in Canea; it didn’t appear to have any effect, they still fired.

On 26th March 1897, after Cretan Christians had opened fire on Fort Izzedin, the fortress guarding the southern side of the anchorage in Suda bay, H. M. S. Camperdown was one of the ships that drove the insurgents off. A sailor on board the Camperdown, Fred Blomley [? the writing is unclear so the name might be mis-spelled] wrote to his grandmother describing the events:

‘The battle started about 7 p.m. as soon as the Greeks started firing the small ships fired shell at them it was a splendid sight to see at 8.30 we got orders to fire we fired at a distance of 4 miles the battle finished at 10 p.m. for the night but started in the morning again at 9 a.m. we received orders to fire our heavy guns at them as well as the others our heavy guns weigh 67 tons each & throw a shell weighing 1250 lbs which bursts at any distance you like from ½ mile to 15 miles we fired 4 rounds from these guns at them & a lot from the others.’

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H. M. S. Camperdown bombarding Cretan Insurgents

Graphic 24 April 1897 Camperdown firing main armament

H. M. S. Camperdown bombarding Cretan Insurgents.

Meanwhile, making the most of the opportunity to advance medical science, in May 1897, Staff-Surgeon Biden, a Doctor on HMS Scout, one of the warships present at Selino-Kastelli during the Candanos evacuation, published an article detailing the effects on the human body produced by a 5-inch Shrapnel Shell Mark III fired at a range of 2,500 yards; the victim being one of Cretan fighters who had attacked the international force. The Doctor regretted that his ship had been ordered to sea before he was able to visit the other Cretan injured and thus he was denied the opportunity to make further observations on the effects of British shrapnel shells.

E. J. Biden. ‘The Fighting in Crete.’ British Medical Journal. 8 May 1897. 1184.

Gentlemen who lunch

Pachides Meeting. 13 November 1989

Pachides Meeting. 13 November 1989

The text beneath the illustration reads:

“A meeting convened by the British Military Commissioner, Sir Herbert Chermside, was held on Crete on November 13, in a large tent at Pachides, on the outpost line, at which Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul was present. Representatives of Christians of the province of Candia accepted with acclamation the conditions for the disarmament of the population, and urged that British officials and troops should be used to administer and safeguard their districts. Later Sir Herbert Chermside entertained about seventy headmen to a champagne lunch. Some 300 (?) rifles were brought into Candia on the following day.”
The Graphic 20 December 1898.

No details have been found of the quantity or quality of champagne consumed.

 
Cretan Muslims within Candia by the British had been disarmed within days of the Candia massacre of 6th September, a process that produced some 5,356 firearms of which 1,576 were deemed to be the property of the Ottoman Government, and the final Ottoman troops had been thrown off the island by 5th November. The problem remained with the Cretan Christians whose leaders had made it clear to Chermside that infighting within the Christian community could preclude disarmament taking place. The mistrust between the political factions of the Christian community, and the suspicions of the Christian leaders that any Cretan Christian administrators would act in a partisan fashion, was so great that only the presence of ‘neutral’ British troops in the countryside could induce the chieftains to instruct their followers to surrender their arms.

On 6th December 1898, following the Pachides meeting, Chermside was able to report to Rear Admiral Noel, the Senior British military commander in Crete and one of the ruling ‘Council of Admirals’, that British troops and officers previously confined within a ‘cordon’ around Candia within the range of naval guns, had started administering the towns and villages within the British secteur. By that date they had collected 16,000 firearms, ‘exclusive fowling pieces and revolvers’ from the civilian population.*

 
*National Archive. FO78/4969. Page 230. Chermside to Rear Admiral Noel, 6th December 1898. Inclosures 1 & 2 in No. 1.