Category Archives: Greek Army in Crete

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.

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.

 

Well, someone got a medal.

Despite British soldiers, sailors and marines being involved in the European Intervention in Crete for nearly 15 years, and in doing so suffering considerable casualties albeit overwhelmingly from disease, no medal was issued to the British military personnel involved. However, a medal was struck and apparently issued to the Greek military. The one shown was up for sale in 2007 and described as being a ‘Service Medal (for revolution in Crete)’.

Greek Service medal: Revolution in Crete 1898

Greek Service medal: Revolution in Crete 1898

Translated, the obverse has the words ‘For Faith and Country’ set around a cross bearing the date 1898; the reverse the word ‘Freedom’.

No details were given as to who would have received the medal and there seems to be some doubt as to whether or not it was officially recognised by either the Greek or Cretan Governments. (Although given the less than brilliant efforts by the Greek Army during the short period it was on Crete, this is not unsurprising.)

Some British soldiers did, however, received medals while in Crete, albeit for the Sudan Campaign; participants being eligible for The Queen’s Sudan Medal and/or The Kedive’s Sudan Medal, the latter coming with up to 15 additional clasps. Colour Sergeant Archer, 2/Rifle Brigade, received his medal in early 1899. In March that year he wrote to his mother telling her that he was getting the [Queen’s?] Sudan Medal and “[hopes] to get an International Star for this place.” On 8th April 1899, in an obviously underwhelmed state of mind,  he wrote to his brother that that: “We received our [Sudan] medals, got them last Monday, they are though in a very crude condition having no bar nor the names on.” [1] Unfortunately for Archer, no International Star was awarded for service in Crete.

[1] Liddle Hart Collection, Kings College London. ARCHER.