Category Archives: Royal Navy in Crete

HMS Bruizer and the blockade runner.

In early February 1897 the Cretan crisis came to a head. With the dispatch of Colonel Vassos and 1500 Greek soldiers to Crete, the firing by the Greek navy on the Ottoman steamer Fuad, en route from Canea to Sitia with troops and gendarmes, and the imminent arrival in Cretan waters of a Greek torpedo boat squadron under Prince George of Greece, the Powers determined to act to prevent the Greek annexation of the island.

On 13 February 1897 the Admiralty issued instructions to Rear-Admiral Harris, Senior British naval officer off Crete, that, if the commanders of the European ships in Cretan waters were in agreement, the Royal Navy could, ‘oppose by combined action, if necessary, and after employing all means of persuasion and intimidation in their power, an aggressive action by Greek ships of war.’[1] This combined action was interpreted to include the prevention of any further build up of Greek forces on the island.

The British Ardent Class[2] torpedo-boat destroyer H.M.S. Bruizer (sometimes shown as H.M.S. Bruiser) under the command of Lt. Commander A. Halsey was directed by Rear-Admiral Harris, commander of British forces on Crete:

‘…to act under the orders of Rear-Admiral Gualterio [Italian navy] who was watching the western end of Canea Bay in the “Francesco Morosini” on the evening of 20 February to prevent disembarkation of troops, stores &c.

The “Bruizer” observed a steamer creeping up under the land, and accordingly made a preconceived signal to the “Morosini,” who closed, and ordered the vessel to heave-to. The Read-Admiral sent an officer to the “Bruizer” with the request that the vessel might be taken by her to Canea; in the meanwhile, the steamer went ahead and apparently attempted to run down the “Bruizer,” which would have inevitably sunk her. By going full speed astern this was just avoided, and the ship attempted to run. Having speed up for only 10 knots, and the steamer going about 14, the Lieutenant and Commander Halsey fired under her stern, when she stopped. She was then convoyed round to Canea Bay by the “Bruizer,” and a guard placed on board. She was found to contain 300 tents and poles, empty rifle chests, a few rifles and a small quantity of biscuit; examination subsequently proved that a large quantity of biscuit had been recently landed, and the empty arm chests had probably been cleared at the same time.

The steamer was taken to the inner harbour at Canea and her eccentric removed.[3] 

HMS Bruiser arresting Greek ship ILN 13 March 1897

“On the night of 20th February the British torpedo-boat destroyer ‘Bruiser’ received orders to patrol the coast off the Greek position. Observing a Greek vessel endeavouring to land military stores, Commander Halsey fired a shot over her bows, whereupon she attempted to sink the ‘Bruiser,’ but was taken prisoner and placed under a guard from the British flag-ship.”

Italian Ironclad ‘Francesco Morosini’ c.1900

HMS Bruizer. c.1900.

[1] 1898 [C.8664] Turkey. No. 11 (1897). Correspondence respecting the affairs of Crete and the war between Turkey and Greece. Inclosure No.92. Admiralty to Rear-Admiral Harris. 13 February 1897

[2] The Ardent class Torpedo-Boat Destroyers were fitted with two torpedo tubes amidships. Their immediate predecessors, the Daring and Havelock classes, had a third torpedo tube mounted in the bow of the ship. This design was subsequently changed when it was found that having fired the torpedo from the bows, the TBD would often overtake the torpedo and risk sinking itself.

[3] 1897 [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. Rear Admiral Harris to Admiralty. Canea February 24 1897.

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The Surgeon’s Report.

Writing in The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1897 (May 8, 1897), p.1184, Surgeon E. J. Biden, R.N., H.M.S. Scout, wrote as follows:

The Effects of Shrapnel Shell Fire.

During the disturbances in Crete of the last three months I have seen many cases of bullet wounds, chiefly Martini Henry and Chassepot, in the persons of both Greeks and Turks, but have nothing new to remark in connection with these. On March 9th the relief of Candamos [Kandanos] was effected by the Powers, and the next day two Turkish outposts had to be relieved; but the position of the insurgents on the hills was so threatening that the ship’s guns were used to disperse them. The same evening I saw the effect of our last shell on one poor man, about seven hours later. He had been brought into Selino [Paleochora] in an unconscious condition, suffering from concussion, a scalp wound over the right supraorbital region caused, I think, by falling on the rocks, a contusion of the back, a flesh wound of the right thigh, and compound fracture of both legs.

The wound of the thigh was a contused wound, round, and penetrating all the tissues down to the deep fascia; a probe passed freely in all directions for some 2 inches beneath the superficial tissues. In the right leg there was a small cut like wound, with gaping edges over the crest of the tibia at the junction of the middle and lower thirds, from which there was free venous haemorrhage, and fracture of the tibia at the same site. In the left leg there was a large irregular wound with contused edges at the same level as in the right leg, situated rather to the outer side of the crest of the tibia, and both bones were broken; from this there was also free venous haemorrhage.

The shell causing these injuries was a 5-inch shrapnel, Mark iii, fired at a range of 2,500 yards: the shell is charged with 236 round bullets made of 4 parts lead and 1 part antimony, and weighing 14 to the pound. A charge in the base of the shell blows off the head and discharges the bullets in a forward direction. From the shape of the bullets and the nature of their discharge it is of course not to be expected that their penetration would be so great as from a rifle. We were told four men were killed and many injured by our shell fire, and I had arranged to go to Spaniaco [Spaniakos] and Candamos to see them, but the ship was suddenly ordered to join the Admiral at Suda Bay or I should doubtless have had some further observations to make regarding the effects of our shellfire.

 

The events Biden was referring to took place on 10th March 1897 during the evacuation of Cretan Muslims from Kandanos, via Paleochora, by sailors and marines from the European fleet.

Evacuation of Cretan Muslims from Kandanos. “San Franscisco Call.” 7 Marxch 1897

British Naval 5 inch shrapnel shell Mk. III. c.1898. (Illustration based on https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BL_5_inch_Mark_V_shrapnel_shell_diagram.jpg)

H.M.S. Scout c.1900.

Edward James Biden was appointed Surgeon in August 1881 and served aboard H.M.S. Opal during the Niger Expedition in 1883, under Captain A. T. Brooke, in the affair with the Igah and Aboh natives, and at the punishment of the Solomon Islanders in 1886. He was appointed Staff Surgeon in August 1893 and served aboard Scout in the Red Sea during the Dongola Expedition in 1896 (Khedive’s Medal). He served in China during 1900 as Staff Surgeon of Orlando (Medal), and retired in December 1904. https://www.dnw.co.uk/auction-archive/special-collections/lot.php?specialcollection_id=691&lot_id=61027 In retirement he served on the Council of the British Medical Journal. He is recorded as receiving a Greenwich Hospital pension of £50 per. annum on 14 November 1922, and shown as having achieved the rank of Surgeon Captain. https://digital.nls.uk/british-military-lists/archive/92714430?mode=transcription

The Aptera Blockhouse

In spite of the failure of the Cretan Christians and their Greek allies to capture and hold Fort Malaxa, the insurgents continued to threaten the outposts of Fort Izzedin; the Ottoman fortress that dominated the entrance to Suda Bay, the main anchorage of the European Fleet.

Fort Izzedin viewed from Blockhouse. Fort Suda is across the Bay. (Photograph courtesy of Fred Rodgers.)

Austro-Hungarian Army map. Fort Izzedin and Aptera Blockhouse 1897

While realistically there was never any chance of them capturing the main fortress, the threat to it, and to the European naval forces using Suda Bay, was such that any move on Fort Izzedin was taken very seriously. Matters came to a head when in March 1897, the insurgents attempted to storm the blockhouse at Aptera, immediately above Fort Izzedin. The initial assaults were repulsed by fire from European ships

HMS Camperdown shelling insurgents above Fort Izzedin; view from HMS Revenge.

“On March 28th the insurgents made a second attempt on the Aptera blockhouse, near Fort Izzedin, which commands the entrance to Suda Bay. They were repulsed by the fire of the English, Italian and Russian warships, but resumed their attack two days later. “

A British sailor on board H. M. S. Camperdown described events in a letter to his mother:

Well last Tuesday [29th March] we heard that the Greeks were going to try and take the fort at the entrance to the harbour, The admiral sent all the small ships down to the mouth of the harbour near where the Greeks would come we also got orders to open fire. The battle started about 7pm 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 10pm for the night but started in the morning again at 9am 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 1250lbs 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 The Greeks retreated then in the afternoon the Admirals visited the place we had shelled & they were astonished at the damage they had done they said the damage was inconceivable They couldn’t say how many were killed but it must have been a lot. We have quite a record what with sinking the Victoria & and being the only ship in the British Navy that has fired a modern heavy gun in action [1]

The Turkish garrison in the fort responded with its artillery, and the war-ships in the bay kept up a constant fire upon the besieging forces. At daylight next day the fight was resumed, but the Cretan Christians failed to storm the fort. In light of its strategic importance, the blockhouse commanded the water supply to Fort Izzedin, it was eventually determined that the outpost would be occupied by a force from the European Powers under the command of Colonel Bor, Royal Marine Artillery, who, for the purposes of this expedition, was awarded the ‘honorary’ rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Major Bor’s sketch map of Fort Izzedin and the Aptera Blockhouse. 30 March 1897.

Lt Col. Bor RMA

On 18 April at about 6p.m., Bor’s command occupied both Fort Izzedin and the Aptera blockhouse.

Austro-Hungarian and Russian troops in Fort Izzedin.

Ottoman and Russian flags over Fort Izzedin

Bor reported that he placed the Austrian and Russian contingents within the Fort, ordering them to hoist their flags to alert the insurgents to the European presence, while he went with the French and British contingents to the blockhouse; similarly hoisting their respective national flags. Both buildings apparently suffered from bad latrines and the accommodation in the blockhouse was so ‘indifferent’ that the French detachment requested, and were granted, permission to camp outside the building.

Izzedin Blockhouse February 2017 (Photograph courtesy of Fred Rodgers)

Shortly after his arrival firing broke out between Ottoman troops and insurgents to the east of the block-house, but following Bor’s instruction to the Ottomans to cease fire, the insurgents also stopped. The next morning the insurgents renewed their attack on the eastern outposts and their reinforcements could be seen advancing towards the firing line. Believing that the Cretan Christians could not see the French and British flags on the block-house from their firing line, Bor “ …marched out the French and British contingents with their flags to a conspicuous place, and, having previously sent to the Turkish outposts to cease firing, […] sounded the English ‘retire’ three times in order to attract the attention of the insurgents. They at once ceased firing and soon afterwards dispersed and went away, leaving slender guards for the rest of the day with two Greek flags which they planted along their line.”[2]  For the next few days there was little insurgent activity and the locals resumed working in their fields.

On 20th April, a group of 30 or so insurgents approached the abandoned village of Megalo Chorafia and planted a further Greek flag. No shots were fired by either side, and Bor issued strict instructions that the Ottoman and European troops were not to open fire unless a serious attack was threatened. The following day the Greek flags by the eastern outposts disappeared and more people, ‘very few of [whom] are armed’ appeared working in the fields within 1000 yards of the Ottoman lines. There were also indications that a few people were taking up residence in the Megalo Chorafia.[3]

The lull in the fighting was not to last and on 23 April Lt Col. Bor sent the following report to his superiors on H.M.S Revenge:

“…shortly before 11pm last night the insurgents commenced an attack on the eastern outposts of this position which lasted about an hour and a half and only ceased when some Krupp guns and Nordenfelts came into action from the Fort and Blockhouse. Reinforcements of uncertain strength were at this time coming down the valley as could be seen by a number of lights they were carrying but they had not come under fire when the attacking force fell back. In the meantime another, though lesser, attack had been made on the southern outposts which lasted about half an hour. At one o’clock as all appeared to be over, the garrisons of the Fort and the Blockhouse went to bed but an hour later a second and more determined attack was made on the same outposts and on two of the western outposts. The main attack this time was on the south side where the enemy closed to within 500 yds of the defence but retreated under heavy rifle fire.

On the east the attackers were crossing the river in considerable numbers when I again ordered the Krupp and Nordenfelts that side of the Blockhouse to open fire with the result that the attack fell back almost immediately.

About 2p.m. nearly all firing ceased and at 2.40 a.m. the garrison again lay down to sleep. Up to 5.30 a.m. occasional shots were exchanged between the outposts and the insurgents by which time most of the latter had got away over the hills out of sight. The total strength of the attacking force must have been at least 300 men and in this was included one company of about 40 men which appeared to be well trained and under good control as I saw it fire repeated good and well timed volleys. Two well trained buglers were also with the force.

The force in action holding the position numbered about 500 men including the Russians and Austrians in the Fort and the French and English in the Blockhouse. No casualties occurred probably owing to the fact that the outposts are very well defended by loopholed stone walls and that the bullets of the attackers were fired very high. The ammunition expended by the defence was as follows:

3 rounds from 15 cm Krupp gun

4 rounds from 6cm Krupp gun

10 from light field guns

56 from Nordenfelts

About 1800 rounds rifle ammunition.

There was a great deal of unnecessary and useless firing from the Turkish outposts which I was unable to control personally as I felt bound to remain close to the Blockhouse where the French and English were manning the battlements and which was central. At daybreak I visited all outposts and informed officers and men of the folly of wasting their ammunition.

There are no grounds for forming any opinion as to whether the attack will be renewed during the next few nights or not. But the position is quite strong enough even without the from the ships near the coast.[4]

As far as can be determined, this was the last serious attempt by the Cretan Christians to take over the Blockhouse and with the evacuation of Greek troops from Crete in May 1897, the situation quietened down.

 

[1] National Maritime Museum MS86/074 Letter dated 5 April 1897 from Fred (Blomeley?) to his grandmother describing firing on Greek attack on the Aptera outpost of Fort Izzedin. The reference to ‘sinking the Victoria’ relates to the fact that H.M.S. Camperdown had accidentally sunk the battleship H.M.S. Victoria, while on manoeuvers on 22nd June 1893.

[2] National Archives. ADM 116-92. Inclosure 183, Major Bor to Flag captain H.M.S. Revenge. 20 April 1897.

[3] National Archives. ADM 116-92. Inclosure 184, Major Bor to Flag captain H.M.S. Revenge. 21 April 1897.

[4] National Archives. ADM 116-92. Inclosure 192. Major Bor to Flag captain H.M.S. Revenge. 23 April 1897.

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.

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.

 

August 18 1909, the Powers return

On 23 July 1909, two days before the evacuation of all British and International troops from Crete, the Admiralty issued the following instructions to the Commander of the Royal Navy force in Crete concerning the future role of the stationnaires, the ships that were to remain on station off Crete representing the four Powers:

“The stationnaires will protect the Turkish Flag and the flags of the four Powres (sic) on the Island at Suda bay. In case of disturbances which the local authorities are unable to suppress, the Commanders of the stationnaires will take the necessary steps to restored tranquillity in accordance with the recommendations of the Consuls General…. The foregoing instructions include authority for the Commanding officer of the British Stationnaire to join his colleagues in the use of force in case of need without special instructions in an emergency …”[1]

Similar instructions were issued by their governments to the naval commanders of the other Powers.

Following the departure of the land forces on the 26th July, as had been anticipated the Greek flag was raised above the Firka (Fortress) in Canea and also in Candia.

Flags of Powers Fort Suda July 1909. ILN 28 Aug 1909

Flags of Powers Fort Suda July 1909. Illustrated London News, 28 August 1909.

Text below photograph reads: Much excitement has been aroused in Crete over the question of flags. The Cretans flew the Greek flag at Canea, contrary to the wishes of Turkey, to whom they owe suzerainty, and, on their refusing to lowered it, a combined force from the international squadron landed and hauled it down. It was afterwards raised again but lowered by the Cretans themselves. The five flags in the above picture are those of Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, (the Protecting Powers) and Turkey. [The photograph appears to show the flags flying on Fort Suda.]

Greek flag flying above the Firka, Canea. July 1909

Greek flag flying above the Firka, Canea. July 1909

Diplomatic efforts by the Consuls General of the Powers failed to persuade the Cretan authorities to lower the flags and in the face of strenuous Ottoman complaints, and the threat of an Ottoman fleet returning to Crete to enforce the removal of the Greek Flag, the Powers agreed to take the matter in hand.

On 15th August Captain Cecil Thursby, H. M. S. Swiftsure, arrived off Crete and the following day, as Senior Naval Officer in Cretan waters, assumed command of all the Powers’ ships. An unsuccessful attempt had been made that morning to lower the flag in Canea but the gendarmes given the task had withdrawn in the face of armed Cretan Christian opposition.  Having discussed the situation with his naval counterparts and with the Consuls General, Thursby ordered that the flag in Canea would be removed, by force if necessary.

At 5am on Wednesday 18th August accompanied by Thursby, sailors and marines from the Powers, the British contingent being men from either H. M.S. Swiftsure or H. M. S. Diana, the  report is unclear, landed at Canea. Here, according to Thursby,[2] they were “… received on landing by the representative of the Colonel commanding the  [Cretan] Troops, who reported the Town quiet and being patrolled by the Gendarmarie while the gates were held by the Militia to prevent armed villagers coming in. he placed himself at my disposal. I therefore informed him that I would relieve the Guard over the Flagstaff, and accompanied by him I proceeded with the mixed Company (under the command of Lt. Boulain (?) of ‘Jules Michelet’  to do so. As soon as the gendarmarie had withdrawn, the Company was fallen in opposite the Flagstaff – the flag had not yet been hoisted. The Staff was then removed, together with the iron fastenings and clamps, so that if could not be put up again. At this time the remainder of the landing Parties were fallen in outside the Fort.”

After about half an hour, there being no reaction from the town, the landing parties were withdrawn, with the exception of a party left to guard the remains of the flagpole.

International force at the Firka, Canea. August 1909

International force at the Firka, Canea. August 1909. British contingent at the front on right.

The Firka, Canea, after the flagpole removed.

The Firka, Canea, after the flagpole removed.

British guard party at the Firka, Canea, after flagpole removed.

British guard party at the Firka, Canea, after flagpole removed.

Italian guard party at the Firka, Canea, after the flagpole removed.

Italian guard party at the Firka, Canea, after the flagpole removed.

Cretan gendarmarie guard party at the Firka, Canea.

Cretan gendarmarie guard party at the Firka, Canea.

Meanwhile, in Candia, the Greek flag had also been raised; only to be lowered after the Power’s actions in Canea, and then raised again. It was finally lowered for good when Captain Thursby made it clear to the Cretan Assembly, via the Consuls General, that the combined naval forces under his command were quite prepared to use force to remove the flag.

In the end, the remains of the flagpole in Canea remained under International guard until 1st September when Thursby and his colleagues came to the conclusion that their point had been made sufficiently forcefully, and the detachment was withdrawn.

The next time the Greek flag was flown on Crete, at least semi-officially, was on 13th February 1913 when the Ottoman flag was removed from it’s last flying place on Suda Fortress by the crew of  H. M. S. Yarmouth. The first time it was ‘legally’ flown was on 1st December 1913 when, at a ceremony on the Firka, Crete formally became part of Greece.

 

Foot Note. That the matter of whose flag should be flown was a serious one is shown by the fact that when the Greek flag was raised in July 1909, the Ottoman empire threatened to send forces to remove it; a threat which was taken sufficiently seriously for Captain Thursby to draw up instructions for the ships of the Powers under his command, making it clear that any attempted Turkish landing would be forcibly opposed.

[1] National Maritime Museum NOE 10/1. Admiralty to Rear Admiral ‘Duncan’ Canea.

[2] This and subsequent details of the operation in National Maritime Museum NOE 10/1. Ships Copy of Reports of Proceedings Nos 1,2 & 3. Captain Cecil Thursby. H, M. S. Swiftsure, Canea to Senior Naval Officer Malta.

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.