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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.


Another vanished Cretan flag.

As recorded elsewhere, flags, and the use and misuse of them, were a reoccurring motif throughout the period immediately prior to, and during, the European Intervention in Crete.

According to the “San Fransisco Call”, Volume 80, Number 75, 14 August 1896, the ‘Provisional Government of Crete’ had chosen their new flag. Ignoring the fact that body in question was probably the one called ‘The General Revolutionary Assembly of the Cretans’ and that they didn’t have a state for the flag, it does illustrate  the fluid nature of the Cretan Christians’ political claims during this era.

The Central Political Committee of Crete, set up in 1895 which morphed into ‘The General Revolutionary Assembly of the Cretans’ in 1896, was NOT seeking enosis, union with Greece, but rather autonomy within the Ottoman Empire. (Had they been seeking enosis, there would have been no call or need for a flag other than that of Greece, since Crete would not have been a state in its own right.) In the end, the abortive uprising of 1896 petered out with the usual atrocities being committed by both sides. It did however, result in the replacement of the existing, Christian, Governor by a more hard-line Muslim It also brought forth  a proposed new Constitution for the island as well as guarantees of more public jobs for Cretan Christians and the re-organisation of the Gendarmerie under European officers.

By early 1897 though, the proposed settlement had collapsed amid accusations of bad faith by both Christians and Muslims, resulting in a further insurrection by Cretan Christians, the attempted annexation of Crete by Greek troops, and the Intervention by the European Powers.

In the turmoil that followed, the proposal for this new flag was quietly forgotten.


A New Flag for Crete

san fransisco-call-1898

A New Flag for Crete. “San Fransisco Call”, Volume 80, Number 75, 14 August 1896,

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.

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.

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.

The Powers withdraw

In July 1909, the last of the International troops in Crete withdrew amid scenes of much rejoicing on the part of all parties concerned… other than the Ottoman Empire and probably the remaining Cretan Muslims. The British troops, 2/Devonshires, appear to have left Candia (Iraklion) on 24th July, stopped for a day in Suda Bay, and then finally departed the island on 26th July, en route for Malta on board S. S. Rameses, in a move timed to occur simultaneously with those of the other three Powers; France, Italy and Russia.

2/Devonshires lowering the British flag for the last time in Candia

2/Devonshires’ lowering the British flag for the last time in Candia

Departure of British troops from Candia. Illustrated London News, 14th August 1909.

Departure of British troops from Candia. Illustrated London News, 14th August 1909.

Meanwhile, in Canea.

International Troops departing from Canea

International Troops departing from Canea

International, mostly Italian, troops departing from Canea. 26 July 1909.

International, mostly Italian, troops departing from Canea. 26 July 1909.

The departure of International troops from Canea, the last goodbye? 26 July 1909

The departure of International troops from Canea, the last goodbye? 26 July 1909

However, International forces were soon to return to the island, as the wording under the photograph from the Illustrated London News of 14 August 1909, above, hints at:

“Since the evacuation by the four Powers there have been decided signs of trouble in Crete, most of it caused by the fact that the Greek flag has been flown there, despite the Turkish suzerainty. Greece made a definite reply to the Turkish charges a few days ago.”