Category Archives: Ottomans in Crete

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.


The Ottomans leave

Following the riots in Candia in September 1898, the decision was finally taken to remove all Ottoman troops and officials from Crete. After an ultimatum issued by the Admirals controlling Crete was issued to the Ottoman authorities on the 4th October, the Porte prevaricated but on 23rd October the evacuation began, only to be halted by the 28th with some 8,000 Ottoman troops having left.[1] The price for this delay, brought about to avoid Ottoman embarrassment during by the Kaiser’s visit to Constantinople, was to be high in terms of lost Ottoman prestige. At the insistence of the British, in punishment for the delay in evacuation, the Sultan’s flag was to be hauled down in Canea and all troops were to leave the island by 5th November; in the event of them failing to do so the Powers would take steps to remove them and make the Porte pay indemnities for any damages caused in their removal.[2]

Although The British Commander Major-General Chermside had reported on 4th November ‘Have taken over the keys of the fortress and civil and military administration,’[3] and British Consul Sir Alfred Biliotti on the 5th that ‘This morning British Authorities have assumed civil administration taken over police prisons and taken possession of Customs indirect contributions and dime,’[4] on 6th November there were still some 500 Ottoman troops left in Candia and steps were accordingly taken to ‘turn them out.’

The  Northumberland Fusiliers took over the barracks without difficulty, although one elderly Ottoman Colonel ‘a grey haired old man, refused to clear out without [a] show of force, so eventually he was marched down in the middle of a party of the Rifle Brigade to the harbour.’ A similar  story was played out later that day in the Artillery barracks where they removed ‘60 Turks under another ancient Colonel about 65 years of age, who absolutely refused to budge and said he had received no orders.’[5] Eventually all Ottoman troops and officials, complete with wives families and baggage, were escorted to the harbour and by the evening of 6th November;

‘Thanks to the efforts of the Royal Navy, who worked all night, under the electric light, the Turks, their horses, their women, their children and all their extraordinary belongings, were all shipped off to Salanka [sic] in an incredibly short space of time.’[6]

Royal Navy sailors 'assist' the departure of Ottoman troops

Royal Navy sailors ‘assist’ the departure of Ottoman troops The caption reads; The Evacuation of Crete – British Bluejackets Clearing Out The Turks ‘Bag and Baggage.’

The Ottoman presence on Crete, which had commenced in 1645, was thus effectively terminated.

Ottoman Troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898.

Ottoman Troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898.

Ottoman Troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898

Ottoman Troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898


Ottoman troops departing (Suda bay?) November 1898.

French authorities lowering the Ottoman flag; Irapetra 1898. (The date on the postcard may be in correct; most of the Ottoman troops had left Crete by 6 November.)

French authorities lowering the Ottoman flag; Irapetra 1898. (The date on the postcard may be in correct; most of the Ottoman troops had left Crete by 6 November.)

Ottoman Troops departing Irpetra. 1898.

Ottoman Troops departing Irpetra. 1898.


In reality however, the Ottoman military presence did not finally come to an end until several months later; a few men stayed behind to supervise the shipping of Ottoman munitions, and arguments were still continuing up until December as to the rank of the most senior Ottoman officer the Admirals would allow to superintend the operation.


[1] Şenişik, The Transformation of Ottoman Crete, 227.

[2] Ibid. 224.

[3] ADM 116/93, Vol. 2. Telegram No. 30 Chermside – no addressee. 4 November 1898.

[4] Ibid. Telegram No. 107. Biliotti to Constantinople Embassy, 5 November 1898.

[5] NFRA. St. George’s Gazette, November 30 1898, p. 183.

[6] Ibid. December 31 1898, p. 199.

[7] Turkey No. 1, 1899. No. 102. Noel to Admiralty, 1 December 1898.

An Azerbaijani take on Crete.

The matter of Crete in the late 1890s wasn’t just of interest to the immediate players on the island, to Greece, the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe; it was also of interest to those within, and on, the borders of Iran and Russia.

The cartoon below, “No need to get too hot”, was published in the Azerbaijani satirical magazine “Molla Naasreddin.” The cartoon shows Britain, Russia and, possibly, Italy, forcing the Ottoman Empire to take a shower by a sign saying, Krid Melelesi,  which appears to translate from Turkish into the phrase ‘The Matter of Crete’. The image is undated but the magazine was set up in 1906 so it presumably relates to events post that date.

'No need to get too hot.'

‘No need to get too hot.’

Further details of the magazine, which apparently took a similar approach to the politics and religion of the era and area as French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, can be found at;


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.


Ottomans Evacuate Crete

On October 4th 1898 the Council of European Admirals, then effectively ruling Crete, gave the Ottoman authorities one month in which to evacuate all Ottoman troops from the island. The Porte having earlier the previous year, and with great reluctance, accepted that Crete was ultimately to be an Autonomous State, agreed to the evacuation in principle, but objected to both the time table and the detailed terms; the Sultan wanting to retain a small force to guard the Ottoman flag. From British records, it’s clear that the various European governments were prepared to compromise to some extent on the Porte’s response, provided that sooner rather than later, the Ottomans left.

However, the Admirals were adamant that if the Ottomans didn’t all evacuate by the given date, after an ultimatum issued forty eight hours beforehand, all ‘…Turkish authorities and forces [would] be considered as enemies.’ If compulsion should prove necessary, the Admirals would commence by attacking and destroying Fort Izzedin and sinking all Ottoman ships in Suda Bay. If the Porte did not immediately submit, ‘…operations will be continued at Canea, Hieraptra, Spinalonga, Kissamo, and Rethymo; but, in consequence of recent events at Candia [the riots of 6th September 1898] Admirals have not the same scruples, and consider that action there should take place at the same time as Suda.’

By way of preparation for an attack on Candia plans were drawn up which would involve the British forces outside the town, if not previously withdrawn into the town, to concentrate and, in a delicious irony, supported by Cretan Christian insurgents who the British had originally come to suppress, withdraw to the coast where they would be re-embarked. The action to be taken In Candia would include the bombardment of the town, and to this end, detailed maps were drawn up showing the likely fields of fire covered by the guns of the Royal Navy and the British infantry.

Map of Candia showing fields of fire.

Map of Candia showing fields of fire.

In the event, in spite of last minute delay and prevarications on the part of the Ottoman authorities, the evacuation in the British secteur took place on 5th and 6th November 1898, without the use of force being necessary – other than in the case of one elderly Ottoman Colonel ’… a grey haired man, [who] refused to clear out without a show of force, so eventually […] was marched down in the middle of a party of the Rifle Brigade to the harbour.’

Ottoman troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898

Ottoman troops departing Suda Bay. November 1898

The delay in meeting the November 4th deadline, albeit by a day or two, did however, have consequences. The Ottoman flag, which under the terms of the settlement granting Crete Autonomy was supposed to remain flying, was hauled down in Candia and wasn’t raised again until later that month. When it was finally reinstated, in a clear demonstration of where the power on the island actually lay, it was raised and protected by European troops, while, simultaneously, a proclamation was issued guaranteeing European protection to Cretan Muslims.
However, while technically, the last Ottoman troops left Crete on 6th November, a few men did remain behind to supervise the shipping of Ottoman stores and munitions and as late as December that year, arguments were still taking place as to the rank of the Ottoman soldiers who would be allowed to remain; the Ottomans wanting to send a Colonel, the Admirals insisting that no one over the rank of Captain be allowed to remain.

Ottoman Guns being removed from Candia. 1898/1899

Ottoman Guns being removed from Candia. 1898/1899

Inter-communal violence… good for chocolate sales.

Bashi-bazouks mutilating corpses. 7 March 1897.

Bashi-bazouks mutilating corpses. 7th March 1897.

Bashibazouks Akrotiri 1897 propaganda

Reverse of card.

Shown above are both sides of a trading card purporting to show Cretan Muslim Bashi – bazouks – irregular volunteers – mutilating the bodies of Cretan Christians in Canea in March 1897. The attacks on Cretan Christians which took place at the time, and subsequent the burning of a large part of the capital, Canea, were the incidents that lead to the beginning of the European Intervention on Crete; the landing of European sailors and marines.

Seemingly, in the late 1890s, graphic depictions of violence were deemed suitable for the selling of chocolate: The cards were issued by a French chocolate company; one originally founded by Trappist monks.

More rather violent chocolate cards, followed by some pretty birds, 1/3 down the page here.



Not so reliable allies

Upon arrival on Crete in February 1897, the International forces were, in effect, reluctant allies of the Ottoman Empire. The European objective at that time was to bring a halt to the inter-communal strife brought about by the Cretan Christian insurrection and to prevent the annexation of Crete by Greece.

While part of the European peace keeping strategy was to proclaim a blockade of the island to prevent both Greek and Ottoman reinforcements arriving, and hence exacerbating an already volatile situation, they still had to co-operate with the existing Ottoman garrison of the island. This garrison consisted to two elements, regular Ottoman Army units and locally raised volunteers; Bashi-bazouks, a term originally applied to irregular mercenary troops within the feudal Ottoman Empire.
The regular Ottoman soldiers on Crete, though often treated with disdain by the British, had at least a recognised, and recognisable, command structure. However, the Bashi-bazouks on Crete at this time, in part raised, armed and paid for by the Ottoman authorities as a sort of Muslim home guard, and formally on the ration strength of the Ottoman army, were much less formal and, apparently, nearly totally undisciplined.

Bashi Bazouks 1896. Note the regular Ottoman troops in the background giving the lie to the suggestion that bashi bazouks were merely groups of armed Cretan Muslims.

Bashi-bazouks 1896. Note the presence of regular Ottoman troops,  giving the lie to the suggestion that Bashi- bazouks were merely groups of armed Cretan Muslims.

Bashi bazouks, Fort izeddin

March 1897. Romanticised view of Bashi-bazouks. Fort Izeddin, Suda bay, in the background.

BazibazouksWith the events of 6th September 1898 any pretense that the Bashi-bazouks were in any sense allies of the British had gone, and the murders carried out by them in Candia, coupled with the failure of the regular Ottoman troops to take action to stop them, resulted in the Ottoman eviction from the island.