Category Archives: European Intervention Crete

The Seaforths go forth.

On April 18th, following Vassos’ ‘annexation’ of Crete and large-scale Greek incursions into Ottoman Macedonia, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Greece. In Canea, on April 19th an international detachment under command of Captain Egerton consisting of 75 Seaforths, 75 Austrians, 75 French, 90 Italians and 2 Italian guns, was sent to be part of a guard at the neck of Akrotiri peninsula, remaining there until June.

According to Egerton:

‘The orders given by the Council of Admirals …were to guard the neck of the Akrotiri peninsula and prevent a large body of insurgents encamped therein from breaking out, and equally to prevent any body of Turks or Bashi Bazouks from the mainland from breaking in and attacking the insurgents. The two chiefs of the insurgent bands on Akrotiri were Messers Fourmis [sic] & Venezelos [sic], both Athens’ educated natives of Crete, who spoke and wrote excellent French.’

Activity at this post was apparently limited and Egerton clearly had no great opinion of his allies, continuing his narrative in the first person he stated:

‘Nothing serious ever happened, but for the two months that I was in command at Akrotiri Lt. Campion and myself, took it in turn every night to visit the sentries and patrol the neighbourhood, after 12 midnight. I did not trust the Italians a yard, and had no great confidence in the French, but my Austrian detachment Officers and men, were reliable to the last degree. The Italians were very fond of the English and were ready to black our boots, and they have never forgotten how much we assisted towards a united Italy. The Austrians were on very friendly terms always, their Officers were nearly all gentlemen, which was not certainly the case with most of the other foreign Officers. The Russians we saw little of, they were mainly kept outside of Canea, on account of their rowdy habits. Their Colonel was an ex-Guardsman exiled for St. Petersburg for his numerous crimes. He was often seen drunk.
The move to Akrotiri coincided with the European takeover of the Izzedin fortress overlooking Suda Bay and of a number of smaller blockhouses in and around the Bay. Command of the fortress and the outlying posts was given to Major Bor, who ‘to give him the necessary authority over his foreign colleagues [was given] the honorary rank of Colonel.’

The Illustrated London News of April 24th 1897 reported: “Captain Granville Egerton, of the Seaforth Highlanders, who is in command of one of the detachments of British troops now in Crete, has seen some years of active service. He received his commission in 1879, and proceeded at once to Afghanistan, where he was seriously wounded before the year was out in the operations around Cabul. He subsequently took part in the advance on Candahar, and distinguished himself in the battle there fought. In the Egyptian Campaign of 1882 he was Adjutant to the Ist Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, and took part in the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir.”

On leaving Crete with in November 1897, the Seaforths, including Egerton, went on, via a spell in Malta, to take part in the campaign in The Sudan. Here, Egerton was mentioned twice in despatches, his first such mention having been during the campaign in Afghanistan in 1880. He eventually went on to command the 52nd Lowland Infantry Division at Gallipoli, surviving the war and retiring from the army with the rank of Major General in 1919. He died in 1951.

Major General Granville George Algeron Egerton.

H.M.S Nymph in Sitia. February 1897.

The confused state of inter-communal relations on Crete in February 1897 was illustrated by the situation faced by Commander C. L. Ottley, Captain of H.M.S. Nymphe, a composite screw sloop.
Arriving off Sitia on 11th February 1897 he was informed by both the Kaimakam, the Ottoman appointed town governor, and the Italian Eastern Telegraph Company operator that the town was in a state of panic; Christian insurrectionists surrounding the town and its inhabitants, both Christians and Muslims, each fearing that the others were about to attack them. Ottley initially interviewed Muslim leaders, finding:

“[I]n some ways remarkable as a complete reversal of the very prevalent idea, that it is only the Christians in Crete, who have reason to dread the indiscriminate massacre of their men, women and children at the hands of Musselmens.”

At a later interview with Christian chieftains, it was they who expressed their fear of massacre. Ottley eventually arranged for women and children of each religion to be placed in separate caiques moored alongside H. M. S. Nymphe, under the protection of her guns.[1]On the 14th February, landing under a flag of truce and delivering a message to the insurrectionists from the consuls in Canea to the effect that they would be held responsible for any unlawful acts committed by their men, Ottley arranged for Christian and Muslim chiefs to meet in his cabin to organise a 48 hour armistice. His justification for the breach of orders ‘not to get involved as an intermediary’ [2], was that there was considerable British and foreign property at risk in the town, and there were no European consuls present:

“Several of the principal local functionaries have fled, including the Kaimaken,[sic] and so far as I am aware, the Captain of the Port. The Head of the judicial branch of the government here has, I am informed, gone mad (he yesterday murdered a Mussleman woman).”

His efforts to broker a cease fire were successful and the situation within the town remained calm pending the arrival of Ottoman and European (French in this case) troops to keep the peace.[3]

H.M.S. Nymphe c. 1896.

Foot notes.
[1] National Archive, Admiralty Papers. ADM 116/89, Crete – Letters from C. In C. Mediterranean. No. 32. Commander Otley to Rear Admiral Harris, 14 February 1897.
[2] ]bid.
[3] National Archive, Admiralty papers. ADM 116/89, Crete – Letters from C. In C. Mediterranean. No. 33. Commander Otley to Rear Admiral Harris, 16 February 1897.



The Royal Welsh Fusiliers arrive

The first tranche of 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers, consisting of HQ and four other companies, arrived in Candia on 8th April 1897, the remainer of the batallion arriving in August that year. They remained on Crete until August 1898, when they departed for Egypt. However, they returned again to the island the next month as part of the British reinforcements sent after the riots of 6th September; finally departing for good in December 1898.

Their arrival in 1897 was witnessed by a correspondent sent by the London newspaper, the Standard:

From our own correspondent. Candia Friday [9 April 1897]

I arrived here at dawn to-day on board the transport Malacca, conveying a company of the Seaforth Highlanders and a battalion of the Welsh Fusiliers. The disembarkation of the Highlanders was begun at once, with the assistance of the Bluejackets from the Bruiser and the launches of the Trafalgar. The work was favoured by perfectly calm weather, and all arrangements had, as far as possible, been made beforehand, even to the building of ovens and the preparation of kitchens by fatigue parties of the Highlanders already here. The Company of the Seaforths marched up to the barracks about four o’clock, but the Welsh Fusiliers will probably remain on board until to-morrow. The Malacca has brought five hundred tons of extra regimental stores, and as another canteen ship arrived simultaneously, the men need not be afraid of running short of personal comforts, although they have plenty of work before them. The Fusiliers will be camped along the ramparts to the north-west of the Highlanders, and will take over almost one-half of the ground hitherto patrolled and guarded by the latter.
Admiral Canevaro came over here this after noon, in consequence of exaggerated reports that the Turks had attempted to pillage the Catholic Church, during the fire that occurred recently close by, notwithstanding that the building was guarded by Italian sailors. It is so difficult in this part of the world to get at the truth of things, save by making exhaustive personal inquiries, that it is only with the utmost reserve that I give what are, lam told, the actual facts. It seems, then, that an Italian sailor dropped a revolver while engaged in extinguishing the flames, and that it was picked up by a Turkish soldier. The action was misconstrued, and gave rise to a short dispute, which, however, was speedily settled by the Italian and Turkish officers.
Yesterday nearly the whole of the Turkish garrison turned out, after requesting the Foreign troops to patrol the town while they engaged the Insurgents. A tremendous fusillade was kept up till sunset, resulting in the loss of a single horse on the Ottoman side. Meanwhile, Captain Grenfell landed all the Bluejackets that could be spared, and marched them round the ramparts.
The small-pox is, I am sorry to say, on the increase, and the streets are full of people in various stages of the disease. Most of the Seaforth Highlanders have been vaccinated afresh, but comparatively few of them “took.” The men are now fairly comfortable, though it is rather provoking to see the Turks fighting, or pretending to fight, every day, while they themselves are confined to barracks — not a man being allowed to go into the town except on duty, nor even the officers, unless they go in twos and threes.
Sir Alfred Biliotti arrived here about noon. Colonel Chermside, the British Commandant, has so far recovered from his recent indisposition as to be able to resume his outdoor duties.


Working party of 2/RWF entrenching camp on ‘Canea bastion’ Candia. April 1898.

RWF throwing up new earthworks on Venetian Ramparts, Candia. April 1897.


Canea on Fire. 23 February 1897

On Tuesday 23 February 1897, fire broke out in the Konak, the Governmental buildings, in Canea. The following report was made in one of the more sensationalist British newspapers of the time: the Penny Illustrated Paper.

“The Services of British Marines and Bluejackets at the Great Fire in Canea. illustrated on our front page, exemplified the general smartness of all our services. Again, did the Daily News Special Correspondent at Canea distinguish himself in being the first to send home details of this gallant achievement.

On Tuesday evening, Feb. 23, a fire broke out at the Government Palace at Canea, which resulted in the entire destruction of the Palace buildings. The fire was discovered next morning, at five o’clock, in a room in the centre of the building, next door to the bedroom of the Italian Commandant. It was already so fierce that the Commandant was unable to dress, and was forced to escape in a blanket. The flames spread rapidly, and the entire building, which was of wood, was speedily ablaze.

The British Marines quartered at the Greek School close to the palace were immediately marched to the square by Major Brittan, who with Lieutenant Nelson (good name) proceeded to attempt to extinguish the fire; but the palace being a Turkish Government institution, of course neither pumps, hose, axes, buckets, water, nor other appliances were available. The difficulties, therefore, were immense. Major Brittan and Lieutenant Nelson, seeing the impossibility of otherwise saving the quarter, then set to work with their men to insulate the fire, tearing down the buildings abutting on the palace literally with their hands, having no other means.

The Marines worked splendidly, displaying infinite pluck and indefatigable energy. The struggle lasted three hours before success appeared even possible. Ultimately the efforts of the Marines prevailed, and the quarter was saved. During the progress of the fire, bands of sailors from the war-ships, British and foreign, arrived to take part in the work of salvage, but although the British sailors did excellent work, it is not too much to say that the chief credit in saving the town from another appalling disaster rests with Major Brittan and Lieutenant Nelson and their men.

While the fire was in progress at the palace, the Moslem rabble profited by the confusion to set fire to several houses in the town and suburbs. Major Bor and the Montenegrin police force patrolled the streets, extinguishing the flames where possible, but three large houses in the suburbs, the property of absent Christian merchants, were burned to the ground.”[1]

[1] The Penny Illustrated Paper. 6 March 1897


Marines and Bluejackets fighting Canea fire. Penny Illustrated Paper. 6 March 1897.

The Great Fire of Canea: Ruins of the Market. The Penny Illustrated Paper, 13th March 1897.

Canea Ruins. The Graphic 6th March 1897

Canea Ruins. The Graphic, 6th March 1897.

Canea Ruins. The Graphic, 6th March 1897.


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.

HMS Revenge arrives in Canea, 9 February 1897

On 24th February 1897, Rear Robert Admiral Harris reported to the Admiralty from his flagship, H.M.S. Revenge, in Canea:[1]


I have the honour to report that at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, the 9th, I arrived at Canea from Smyrna, and took over charge of affairs here from Captain Custance of Her Majesty’s ship “Barfleur.”

On the following day (10th) I consulted with her Majesty’s Consul [Sir Alfred Biliotti] as to the state of affairs, and received a telegram from Her Majesty’s ship ”Trafalgar” at Candia, that the situation there had suddenly changed for the worse.

I found that the arrival of Greek war-ships on the coast, ostensibly to make provision for Greek refugees, had created much excitement on both sides, the Mussulmans apprehending actual assistance to the revolutionists, the Christians being fortified by rumours of the same nature. The idea was fostered by the Greek officers, and the actual landing in a Greek transport of arms at the Greek Consulate here.

From what I can gather, the Greek Consul appears to have committed himself to the policy of fostering the revolution, which is not surprising considering the attitude of the ships of the Greek Royal Navy.

The action of the Greek ships is condemned by all the foreign naval officers, not excepting the Russian and French…”

HMS Revenge

HMS Revenge 1897

Prior to Harris’ arrival, the Royal Navy had been present off Crete on an ad-hoc basis, visiting as necessary to provide assistance to British subjects and British business. However, the situation changed following the outbreak of inter-communal violence on 6 February 1897. With the increasing involvement of the Greek Navy in support of the Cretan Christian insurrection threatening to overturn the status quo on the island, the European Powers took the decision to intervene; an intervention that would result in the granting of autonomy to the island* and the presence of European naval forces in the waters off Crete until 1913.


*Shortly after the arrival off the European naval forces, on 11th February 1897 Rear Admiral Harris was one of the signatories to the document proclaiming the taking over control of Crete by the Powers in order to ‘…pacify [the island] and restore tranquillity as a preliminary to a satisfactory solution of the Cretan question by an agreement of the Powers whom they represent[ed].’ [2] On 20th July 1897, questions were subsequently asked in parliament in London over the French translation of the document stating that Rear Admiral Harris was in command of the English Naval Division, rather than the British Naval Division; one M.P. going so far as to suggest this mistranslation rendered the document illegal.[3]

[1] 1897 [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. No.1 Harris to Admiralty 24 February 1897.

[2] Ibid. Inclosure 1 in No.2.p11.


The Fall of the Tower of Voukolies

Heading south from Chania, shortly after the junction with the National Road at Tavronites, the road to Paleochora passes through the village of Voukolies, on the outskirts of which is located the ‘Tower of Voukolies’; one of a series of guard posts created by the Ottoman authorities to protect and watch over the Cretan countryside following the Cretan Insurrection of 1866. Standing on a hill overlooking Voukolies, in 1897 the tower was the base for an Ottoman garrison of some 300 troops located there in order to dominate the road to Chania, disrupt any attempt by Cretan rebels to move forces from the south west of the island to the cities on the north coast and to provide security for the large Cretan Muslim population of the Voukolies area.

Current Tower at Voukolies

On 13/14th February 1897, a Greek force of some 1500 men, complete with artillery, under the command of Colonel Timothy Vassos landed at Kolymbari and proceeded to declare the union of Crete with Greece. By 17th February the force had moved inland and, having established their headquarters in Alikianos, a mixed detachment under the command of Major Konstantinidis and including an artillery platoon and an engineer platoon, was ordered to Voukolies to capture the tower: also with the force were many Cretans and the company of students under the command of Captain Em. Zimvrakakidon.[1]

The British Consul in Chania, Sir Alfred Biliotti, described the fall of the tower as follows in a telegraphed despatch to the Foreign Office:

“Two companies, about 300 men. Turkish troops garrisoned during last four months Voukoulies to afford protection to the Turkish emigrants, who returned to their village in that commune; their block-house was destroyed by Greek regular artillery; the garrison sallied out at night, but was afterwards surrounded. Major and many killed, over 100 taken prisoners, about 80 found their way back; no sortie was made from Canea in connection with Voukoulies affair…”[2]

However, the capture of the tower was not as straight forward as Biliotti implied. After surrounding the village and calling on the garrison to surrender, the Cretan troops made an initial attempt to storm the position but were beaten off with some loss. According to one contemporary account:

“The Cretans suffered heavily by their own fault. They disobeyed the order to withhold their musketry fire until the work of the artillery had been completed. They wasted 50,000 cartridges and lost thirty men in maintaining a foolish fire, advancing to within 100 yards of the redoubts while the Turks fired splendidly, wasting few bullets. The Cretans were obliged to send to Platonica for more ammunition which arrived on Thursday night, with four guns. The Cretans at this time surrounding the fort disobeyed orders and dispersed in search of food, the Turks profiting by the position evacuated by the Cretans.”[3]

Food was eventually provided by the local Cretan Christians, including by monks from a local monastery, though ammunition appears to have been in short supply, poorly made and expensive.[4] Following the initial rebuff, Greek artillery fire was then concentrated on the tower. On the night of 6/7 February, the garrison, under the command of a Major Fouad,[5] attempted to break out. However, during the course of the sally the major was killed and subsequently 100 or so of the garrison who had failed to get through the Greek/Cretan lines surrendered and were taken prisoner.[6]

“On Friday morning, when the guns had been placed in position, and they were about to resume the bombarding, the troops were surprised to see the Cretans plant their flag upon the deserted fort. Thirty-two dead Turks were found inside the fortifications, which were blown up with dynamite. The Greek troops were all young men who had never before been under fire, and they displayed coolness, courage and enthusiasm. The Greeks took ten Turkish soldiers prisoners.” [7]

Ottoman losses were in the region of 35 killed: Cretan losses, depending on the account read, amounted to 15 or 30 dead and nearly 40 wounded; while the Greek army lost one man killed and two wounded.

The tower itself was destroyed prior to the Greek/Cretan withdrawal; the one to be seen today is a modern replica. Though militarily of minor significance, the action demonstrated to the Cretans that Greek forces landed on the island were there in sufficient numbers and suitably equipped to be able to engage and defeat the entrenched Ottoman forces and in doing so a Voukolies, provided a significant boost to Cretan Christian morale.

Plaque on current Tower at Voukolies

Cretan commemorations of the fall of the Tower took a slightly different view of events.

The fall of the Tower of Voulokies. The Cretan version.

The fall of the Tower of Voukolies. Date unknown.

Note that the European naval forces are shown in the background of this illustration. In reality one cannot see the sea from Voukalies and the Tower was out of range, and thus out of the protective field, of European naval guns; one of the reasons for its downfall to the Cretan/Greek forces.

(The dates given above are given in Gregorian calendar as used by most of Europe in 1897.  Crete, and Greece, were using the Julian calender thus the anniversary of the fall of the Tower of Voukoulies is often given as being on 8th February.)


[1] History of the Tower of Voukolies. Information from the work of pupils of the Lyceum Voukolies, as the professors epivlexi Alysavaki Kiki and Kouroupou Anastasia, presented in February 2005. 

[2] House of Commons debate 26 February 1897. Vol. 46. cc.1264-6

[3] The Chania correspondent of the Daily News. Reported in The Penny Illustrated Paper, 27 February 1897.

[4] History of the Tower of Voukolies. Information from the work of pupils of the Lyceum Voukolies, as the professors epivlexi Alysavaki Kiki and Kouroupou Anastasia, presented in February 2005. 


[6] House of Commons debate. 26 February 1897. Vol.46 cc.1264-6

[7]The Chronicle from Athens . Reported in The Daily Colonist, Victoria, British Columbia.Tuesday 23 February 1897.