Category Archives: French troops

The French in Canea

Although for the most part based in and around Sitia, the easternmost of the four secteurs into which the Europeans divided Crete, French troops were initially involved in military action around the then capital, Canea. As with the British intervention, the first French forces were Marines, landing in March 1897.

French troops arriving at Suda Bay, 1897

Arrival of French Marines. Canea, March 1897.

French troops with mountain guns. International parade, Canea, 1897.

In one particular instance in early 1897, French troops were responsible for providing assistance to the local Ottoman forces to repel attacks by Greek troops and Cretan Christians on Fort Subachi, the fortress guarding the main source of water to Canea.

Fort Subachi/Butsunaria/Perivolia.

However, the British/ Scottish troops, had a rather low opinion of their allies as the following account from 1/Seaforth Highlanders indicates:

Monday 30 March  “ This morning an international expedition marched to Sebachi, a fort s.w. of the town and about 3 miles distant, to protect the watering place. There were, so B[ea]uman (a correspondent) informs us 5 shots fired in the air  as signals by the Insurgents – this appears to have much excited the Froggies – who with many ejaculations of [?] – Sacre Blue etc. etc. entered the fort and immediately sent an official report saying that they had been fired on – poor excitable little men, no doubt they imagined they had fought to gain an entrance – these French paraded with I should say no less than 40 lbs on each mans back, with them went wine to refresh them – and after the wine they had feather beds on which they couchied – they seem to do the thing with some idea of comfort.” [Campion]

[11 April] Last night at 6.30 p.m. the International Force at Soubaschi fired 5 shots from the 9 pdr. The fire –eating Perignon[?] who commands will someday if he irritates these fellows too much, bring Vassos about his ears – Vassos’ outposts are only about a mile away. –G.E. “

12 April “Fire –eater Perignon much in evidence on Fort Soubachi – where he delights in annoying the insurgents by firing on them, whenever he sees a man appear- We don’t want the force there to get a licking, but we should be glad to see Perignon kicked by Col. Vassos:- We are told that this excitable little Frenchman spends his days at Soubachi, penning an official tissue of lies to Amoritti, who luckily I believe does not believe all of them.”

French troops and Fort Subachi.



Artillery on Crete, 1897-1898

While one of the main focuses of the Governments of the European Powers in seeking to pacify Crete was the provision of sufficient naval forces and infantry to keep the warring factions apart, they were also faced with the fact that the Cretan Christians also had artillery at their disposal. This was highlighted when Rear-Admiral Harris, the then Senior British Naval Officer on Crete, referring to the evacuation of Greek troops from Crete in May 1897, reported:

‘The question of artillery has given much trouble. It was obviously most undesirable to have guns left behind in the hands of the insurgents when the whole object of the Powers is to pacify the island. After much trouble and insistence on the part of the Admirals, four of the six guns stated by the Greeks to belong entirely to the Cretans are to be embarked with the Greek troops, the other two are said to be on Akrotiri, and the Admirals have made a peremptory condition that they also shall be taken away.

The western end of the island will then, I believe, be free from insurgent artillery; though we know that there are four to six 7-centim. Krupp guns to the eastward, we cannot immediately connect them with the Greek troops or Government, though there is not much doubt that they indirectly or otherwise provided them.’[1]

In the end, the Royal Navy oversaw the evacuation of 6 field guns, 12 horses, 53 mules and 233 cases of artillery ammunition.[2]

(An internet search suggests that although described by the British as 7cm (70mm) there wasn’t a 70mm Krupps gun at this time: the pieces in question could possibly either have been 65/66mm guns or 60mm mountain guns. To add to the confusion, the Ottoman Empire was, at this time, the world’s largest importer of Krupp guns, purchasing 3,943 Krupp guns of various types between 1854 and 1912.[3])

To counter the threat of Greek/Cretan Christian artillery, in the early stages of the Intervention, both the Powers and the Ottoman military supplied artillery to the island.

Ottoman field artillery beneath what appear to be an Italian flag.

Ottoman field artillery beneath what appear to be an Italian flag.

An illustration from an Italian magazine shows Ottoman artillery beneath what is apparently an Italian flag.



Italian Guns Suda Bay April 1897

Italian Guns Suda Bay April 1897


It would appear that the French forces also had access to artillery, whether their own, Ottoman or that landed from H.M.S Anson. Captain Egerton recorded that:

“Last night [10th April 1897] at 6.30 p.m. the International Force at Soubaschi fired 5 shots from the 9 pdr. The fire–eating Perignon[?] who commands will someday if he irritates these fellows too much, bring Vassos about his ears – Vassos’ outposts are only about a mile away. – G.E. “[4]

In addition to the Royal Artillery Mountain Battery stationed in Crete in the early stages of the Intervention, following the events in Candia in September 1896 the Royal Navy reinforced the town, landing field artillery.

Royal Navy field guns being landed at Candia October 1898

Royal Navy field guns being landed at Candia October 1898




[1] ADM 116/92 Rear-Admiral Harris, Suda Bay, to Admiral Sir J. Hopkins, C in C Mediterranean Fleet, Malta. 23 May 1897

[2] ADM116/116 Captain Sir R. Poole, HMS Hawke, to Rear-Admiral Harris. 20 May 1897.

[3] Donald J. Stocker, Jonathan A. Grant. Girding for Battle: The Arms Trade in a Global Perspective, 1815-1940. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, pp.31-32.

[4] NAM 6807-171. Diary of the detachment 1st BN. Seaforth Highlanders at Canea Crete During the early days of the international Occupation 1897.


Canea, 15th April 1897. The International Parade.

In ‘Diary of the detachment 1st BN. Seaforth Highlanders at Canea Crete During the early days of the international Occupation 1897′,[1] for 15 April 1897, the following entry occurs:

“This International review was a sight that will probably never be seen again for a 1000 years.”[2]

The parade in question was a review by the Admirals then commanding Crete, of the International garrison of Canea; an event held with the purpose of impressing the inhabitants of Canea, both Christian and Muslim, with the might of the European Powers who had been landing over the past weeks. Presumably it was intended to impress Muslim population of the determination of the Europeans to protect them, and convince the Christians that the Insurgents, even backed by the 1500 or so Greek troops on the island, had no chance of military success. It also coincided with the recent repulse of a number of Greek troops and irregulars who at one stage, threatened to attack the town, only to be driven back by the guns of the International Fleet and field guns landed by the French Army and Royal Navy. Whatever the motive, the parade appears to have been somewhat spectacular; particularly, one assumes, by Cretan Standards.

The British troops stationed in Canea at this time consisted of D and G Companies 1/Seaforth Highlanders commanded by Major S. B. Jameson, and 184 men of No. 4 Battery Mountain Artillery, Royal Artillery, the latter recently arrived from Malta and about to be transferred to Candia [Iraklion].[3] (The bulk of the British troops, 390 men of 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the remaining 650 men of 1/Seaforths plus auxiliary personnel, were stationed in Candia.[4])

The provenance of the photographs below is difficult to ascertain, but there is some indication they come from an Austro-Hungarian source.

Ottoman troops on parade. Note the bastion in the background with the flags of the European nations flying.

Ottoman troops on parade. Note the bastion in the background with the flags of the European nations flying.

Ottoman Cavalry

Ottoman Cavalry



Italian Troops

Italian Troops

French troops (?) on parade.

French troops (?) on parade.

French troops (?) with mountain guns/telegraph laying equipment.

French troops (?) with mountain guns/telegraph laying equipment.

Both the French and the Italians were recorded as having some artillery in Canea at this time. Shortly after this parade, on 26th April, a battery of mountain artillery, 4th Mountain Battery , Royal Artillery, were landed in Candia..

Russian troops

Russian troops

Seaforth Highlanders on parade 12th April 1897.

Seaforth Highlanders on parade 15th April 1897. The mounted officer is possibly Major Jameson

Seaforth Highlanders

Seaforth Highlanders

The Seaforth Highlanders apparently made a good impression; at least they impressed the British Senior Naval Officer, Admiral Rear Admiral Harris, who reported that: “Our detachment of the Seaforth Highlanders made a most creditable appearance, and their smartness was much noted by the foreigners, including my colleagues.”[5]

The parade ground in Canea no longer exists; it is now a football pitch.


[1] National Army Museum 6807-171.

[2]  Later on the page, in a different hand, is written: “Not so sure – This International occupation may be the first of a series, marking a new epoch in the history of the world – for the prevention of war between two nations.” While on the page opposite appears: “Three years after this was written by Lieut. Gaisford came the International Occupation of China, which up to date has hardly been a great success. G. Egerton [?] Jany 1901 “

[3] WO 33/149. No. 30. Secretary of State for War to Commander in Chief Malta, 29 March 1897.

No. 43. Adjutant General to Commander in Chief Malta, 2 April 1897.

[4] WO 33/150. Correspondence Relative to the Occupation of Crete. No. 1. Chermside to Secretary of State for War, 14 April 1897

[5] ADM116 Vol.2. Telegram No.476. Rear Admiral Harris to Admiral Sir John Hopkins 23 April 1897.

Keeping them happy?

The World War 1 description of warfare as ‘months of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror’* could have applied in Crete during the British stay…if one restated it as ‘years of boredom etc.’

Fortunately, one of Britain’s allies in the Intervention came up with a partial solution: amateur theatricals.

That's the stuff to give the troops! Possibly.

That’s the stuff to give the troops! (Or possibly not.) Source: La France, 21 August 1898.

However, judging by the look on the face of the British soldier on the right of the illustration, the attempted solution was not an overwhelming success.

* A phrase allegedly first put in print in a letter dated October 27, 1914 by an unnamed British cavalry subaltern, published by The London Times on 4th November, 1914, p. 979, col 1.

All pals together…for a while

International forces in Canea. April 1897.

International forces in Canea. April 1897.

The British army  troops are from 1/Seaforth Highlanders, in Crete from March 1897 to November that year. It’s difficult to make out from the photograph but given the number of Naval officers in the background, it’s more than likely that there are British marines and sailors in the shot.

German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman troops. Crete c.1897.

German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman troops. Crete c.1897.

The postcard is stamped as being posted in 1904 in Canea. The Germans and Austro-Hungarians left Crete in early 1898 and the Ottomans were evicted in late 1898, so there’s a good chance the photographs date from 1897/1898. probably taken in the Canea/Suda Bay area.


The (Italian ) Officers’ supplies arrive.

French and Italian sailors date unknown.

French and Italian sailors. Date unknown.

French and Italian Junior officers. Date unknown

French and Italian Junior officers. Date unknown.

Henry-Woodd Nevinson was a British journalist who covered the Greek – Ottoman War, the 30 Days War, for the Daily Chronicle in 1897. At the end of the war, in which Greece came third, he was sent to Crete, arriving there in early June 1897. He stopped in Canea for about 10 days during which time he made himself useful to the Cretan Christians by delivering secret letters to one of their leaders from supporters in mainland Greece. In his memoir of the war he offers the following description of the situation in Canea:

“That night [6 June 1897] Sigalas [his guide and interpreter] and I dined at a flimsy café, which had been built at the end of the quay by French and Armenian enterprise, and with some justice was called “Au Concert European.” To me it was always a place of special interest, for an Under-Secretary had recently roused laughter in the House of Commons by informing them that starving Crete was in reality doing a “roaring trade” and there can be no doubt that his statement must have been founded on the account books of that restaurant. For it was the one point of prosperity in the whole gloomy island, and what with the French and Russians drinking healths round its tables till they could no longer stand, and certain officers (chiefly French and Russian too) concluding commercial arrangements with feminine apparitions who sat in the corners and were wonderful linguists, the café did a trade which might fairly be described as “roaring.”

Those apparitions of golden hair and other decoration had undergone strange and varied fortunes. Originally there had been but three, but the economic law has stept in to curtail their monopoly, and one afternoon a steamer hailing from Smyrna had brought some fifteen or twenty more. They had first tried to settle at Candia and at Retimo, but the custom-house had refused them a landing as being contraband. With shame and defiant tears the poor things had been driven on to Canea, only to be met with a like refusal from the unbending austerity of the Turk. But is so happened that an Italian officer stood watching, and calling upon two Italian sections, he brought them at the double along the quay to the rescue of the distressed. With fixed bayonets, in two lines, he drew up his men on each side of the gangway, and between the lines the dainty shoes and chiffons and wayworn faces marched into the town in grateful security, to the eternal glory of the European Concert of the Powers. It was strange to see the mixture of derision, shame, and attraction with which the Cretans, both Christian and Mussulman, watched them passing to and fro. But from the moment of their arrival, the Under-Secretary certainly was justified in saying that starving Crete was doing a roaring trade; if indeed starving Crete may be identified with them and their restaurant.”

One wonders which one of these ladies could have been, or was, the model for Madame Hortense in Zorba The Greek?

While Nevinson’s account relates to Canea, by 1898, in an attempt to reduce the incidence of venereal disease among troops, the British Army in Candia had instituted a system of inspection and control of the local prostitutes. According to the Annual Parliamentary Reports from the Army Medical Department, this regime apparently worked well initially. However, it  broke down when the Cretan Christian administration took over the town; while apparently checking Christian prostitutes, they were reluctant to take similar steps to check Muslim prostitutes for fear of ‘offending the susceptibilities of the Moslem inhabitants.’

Henry W. Nevinson. Scenes in the Thirty days War between Greece and Turkey; 1897.
J. M. Dent. London, 1898. pp. 248 -250

The games people played.

By 1908, The Cretan Assembly having ineffectively declared ‘enosis‘, union, with Greece –  in spite of Greece not wanting to be united with Crete at that time – and the Theriso Rebellion being over, there was relatively little to do for the British troops on the island. Clearly the answer was to keep them occupied with sporting activities, and if these could be combined with a bit of ‘friendly’ competition with the other European troops on the island, so much the better.

Since football and rounders competitions probably had the potential of becoming too violent, the obvious answer was to give them ammunition for their rifles and let them shoot it out.

Spectators at the International Rifle Tournament, Crete 1908

Spectators at the International Rifle Tournament, Crete 1908

Though the detail is difficult to make out, from the uniforms, the British contingent are on the left of the picture, the French and Italian in the middle, Russian on the right, with a group of Cretan gendarmes on the extreme right. Since this was May 1908, the British troops would have been members of 3/Kings Royal Rifles.

Competitors. International shooting competition, Crete 1908.

Competitors. International Rifle Tournament, Crete 1908.

No British competitors appear to be shown in this postcard, but at least one British officer seems to be taking some notice of the activity.

International Rifle Tournament, Crete 1908.

International Rifle Tournament, Crete 1908.

Apparently taken later in the day than the photograph above, at least judging by the state of the sand, a British competitor is shown second from the left in the line of participants.

Officers’ shooting competition.

Lest it be forgotten, Officers are human also and they too needed some relaxation – albeit not with nasty heavy rifles, but with handguns! The photo, undated and uncaptioned, would also appear to show the 1908 competition.

While the location of the competition is not stated, Canea was the most likely venue since the town was nominally occupied by troops from all four occupying countries at this time; Britain, France, Italy and Russia. Furthermore, a War Office map of the town drawn up in 1905 shows a firing range on the sea shore in the area about 3Km west of the town.

British military map Canea 1905/1910.WO33 2720 Military report 1905 Addendum 1910.

(The duel dating on the captions of the postcards was because both Crete and Russia were still using the Julian calendar at this time, the rest of Europe being on the Gregorian.)


A minor mystery.

Kandanos 9 April 1905

Kandanos 9 April 1905

An interesting souvenir, but of what, and where was the photograph taken?

The photograph shows the flags of France and Italy flying above the ruins of some very large buildings. Included in the picture, along with French and Italian troops, are a number of British soldiers (extreme left of picture). There can also be seen what seem to be Cretan Gendarmes or members of the Cretan Civic Guards (on top of the wall top right).

The presence of the Cretan Gendarmes/Civic Guards would date the photograph as being taken sometime after 1899, and the arrival of Prince George of Greece as High Commissioner for the island in late 1898 and the subsequent setting up of these two Cretan law enforcement bodies. The problem is that the village of Kandanos is some 55 km south west of Canea and in 1905 was in the secteur controlled by Italian troops – the French and British would have no reason to be there, and judging by the weapons carried, they weren’t there for a holiday outing!

The other problem with the photograph is that Kandanos was, and is, a large village, not the sort of place likely to have three-story buildings.

The only place where French Italian and British troops are likely to have been in close proximity at around this time, and contained ruins of large buildings,  would have been Canea, which as the capital of the island was under the control of all of the four Powers.

Although Kandanos featured in the world’s press briefly in 1897 when a relief column consisting of international  marines and sailors was sent to rescue Ottoman troops and Cretan Muslims besieged in the town by Cretan Christians, no record of anything  significant happening there in April 1905 appears to exist – at least not in English. The Theriso Revolt lead by Eleftherios Venizelos had broken out the previous month, but by and large military activity was confined to the Russian secteur of the island, around Rethymnon; little of any import seems to have happened in Selinos, the province in which Kandanos is situated.

At the moment I’m completely baffled as to why such a souvenir should be have been produced showing as it does a specific date on which nothing much seems to have happened, and a very misleading location. Any suggestions as to what’s going on will be most gratefully received!

Oh dear…The French got there first.

On 24th March 1897, the first detachment of the British army landed in Crete – British sailors and marines having arrived on the island the previous month. Once the political decision to send British troops had been taken, the troops allocated the task were the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, then stationed in Malta. After some logistical difficulties – shortages of gaiters and helmets were  reported, steps were taken to minimise the cost of the expedition by hiring local transport rather than bringing army mules and requests were   made for smallpox vaccine – on 22nd March they left Malta for Crete on the steamer S.S. Clyde, arriving at Canea on the 24th. The troops were disembarked from their ship in Royal Navy cutters, an experience which was not always straightforward given the difficult seas off the northern coast of Crete and which in at least one case later in the Intervention, resulted in the loss of a British battalion’s two Maxim guns.

Moreover, to add to their difficulties, according to the unofficial unit diary kept by Captain Egerton, ‘D’ Company, 1/Seaforth Highlanders:

“Canea Tuesday 24 March 1897.
Landing after French: 8th Regiment of French Marine Infantry patrol harbour.”

French Troops landing. 1897

French Troops landing. 1897

Egerton’s reaction, and that of his men, to having to come ashore after, and be protected by, French troops is not recorded.

After a brief stop in barracks shared with both Ottoman and French troops, the Seaforths moved to tented accommodation in the Canea Municipal Gardens; a move greeted with some pleasure by at least one Seaforth Officer who recorded: ‘… It has been a great relief to be out of the Nazimen Barracks – and clear of the dirty Turk soldiers – also clear of the French who might in time prove a great nuisance; but as it was we got on with them very well – and the men fraternised with them immediately.”

(As if landing after the French wasn’t bad enough, the pride of the British army was again dented when, shortly after their arrival on Crete, it was discovered that the smallpox vaccine provided to the Seaforths was ineffective against the strain of the disease on the island. While waiting for a  supply of the correct strain to be sent out from London, the army was obliged to ‘borrow’ suitable vaccine from their most bitter enemy – the Royal Navy.)