Tag Archives: Crete 1897

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.

The only Cretan in London in 1897?

In early 1897, following the attempted annexation of Crete by Greece, the subsequent involvement of British military in the island’s affairs and the outbreak of the Thirty Day’s War between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, recieived a very large amount of coverage in the British newspapers of the time. However, not all of it dwelt on the serious aspects of the situation. At least one paper attempted to find some humour, albeit satirical, in what was going on by explaining to their readers how the events in Crete and Greece were having consequences on at least one ex-patriate Cretan in London. 


Freeman’s Exmouth Journal Saturday  17th April 1897.


There is a Cretan colony in London. It is not a very large colony, but it exists. He stands (remarks writer in the Daily Mail) in Bishopsgate-street, and sells bootlaces and collar-buttons. He—for, not to deal in mystery, the Cretan colony consists of but one man—occasionally goes in for umbrella-rings and pipe-cleaners, and once he tried hokey-pokey; but Italian and a Greek, descendants of two mighty races, came along and coerced him into retiring from the business they regarded their own by right of birth. So Elioin Matapa, London’s solitary Cretan, sells bootlaces and collar-buttons, and sniffs the battle from afar.

At present be resides—that is to say, the headquarters of the Crete in London are—at the Victoria doss-house in Commercial-road, E, but so many people are after M. Matapa just now that he will be obliged to change his habitat by the time these lines are in print. For instance, when the Greeks who assembled at the Baltic [Exchange] became aware that the thin, shabby, old man in Bishopsgate-street was Cretan, they decided to annex him bodily. But M. Matapa has resisted all their overtures, and remains faithful to the Turks. Even the entreaties of M. Messinesi, the Greek Consul-General, have left him cold.

The rumour that he is followed by crowd of circus and music hall agents, who want him to appear at the Alhambra, the Palace, the Tivoli, Earl’s Court and Moore and Burgess Minstrels at are fabulous salary is devoid of foundation. Nor is there any truth in the story that there is another Cretan in London. M. Effendi, the Consul-General for the Ottoman Empire, in Old Broad-street, was most positive to me on this point. M. Matapa is unique.

……….I had meant to devote some space to a description of the Turkish colony in London. First, because they are very agreeable gentlemen, both of them, and, secondly, because Turkey is on the tapis just now. But l can find nothing to say them that I would not say of a Frenchman, for while the Ambassador in Bryanston-square lives precisely like a Parisian of the faubourg, the Consul-General, in Union-court, looks and acts like a Parisian of the boulevards, even to what Mr. Gus Elen calls “the window in his eye.” And the councillor and the naval attaché are both out of town.



A few words of explanation for my Greek, Cretan, and probably English, readers.

Hokey-Pokey….a type of ice cream popular in England in the late 19C. Usually made and sold by Italian immigrants.

[Victoria] doss-house… a place where for a penny or two, homeless men could spend the night.

Baltic Exchange…one of the business and meeting places of merchants and ship-owners, particularly those involved in trade in the Baltic.

The Alhambra, the Palace, the Tivoli, Earl’s Court and Moore and Burgess Minstrels…music halls and places of cheap entertainment.

A Parisian of the faubourg….a Parisian of the suburbs; an unfashionable man.

A Parisian of the boulevards…one who fancies himself a fashionable man given over to strolling and leisure.

Gus Elen calls “the window in his eyeGus Elen was a very famous music hall entertainer of this period; a”[Piccadilly] window in his eye” was a monocle worn for affectation by those who fancied themselves to be members of the aristocratic elite, but weren’t.

HMS Revenge arrives in Canea, 9 February 1897

On 24th February 1897, Rear Robert Admiral Harris reported to the Admiralty from his flagship, H.M.S. Revenge, in Canea:[1]


I have the honour to report that at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, the 9th, I arrived at Canea from Smyrna, and took over charge of affairs here from Captain Custance of Her Majesty’s ship “Barfleur.”

On the following day (10th) I consulted with her Majesty’s Consul [Sir Alfred Biliotti] as to the state of affairs, and received a telegram from Her Majesty’s ship ”Trafalgar” at Candia, that the situation there had suddenly changed for the worse.

I found that the arrival of Greek war-ships on the coast, ostensibly to make provision for Greek refugees, had created much excitement on both sides, the Mussulmans apprehending actual assistance to the revolutionists, the Christians being fortified by rumours of the same nature. The idea was fostered by the Greek officers, and the actual landing in a Greek transport of arms at the Greek Consulate here.

From what I can gather, the Greek Consul appears to have committed himself to the policy of fostering the revolution, which is not surprising considering the attitude of the ships of the Greek Royal Navy.

The action of the Greek ships is condemned by all the foreign naval officers, not excepting the Russian and French…”

HMS Revenge

HMS Revenge 1897

Prior to Harris’ arrival, the Royal Navy had been present off Crete on an ad-hoc basis, visiting as necessary to provide assistance to British subjects and British business. However, the situation changed following the outbreak of inter-communal violence on 6 February 1897. With the increasing involvement of the Greek Navy in support of the Cretan Christian insurrection threatening to overturn the status quo on the island, the European Powers took the decision to intervene; an intervention that would result in the granting of autonomy to the island* and the presence of European naval forces in the waters off Crete until 1913.


*Shortly after the arrival off the European naval forces, on 11th February 1897 Rear Admiral Harris was one of the signatories to the document proclaiming the taking over control of Crete by the Powers in order to ‘…pacify [the island] and restore tranquillity as a preliminary to a satisfactory solution of the Cretan question by an agreement of the Powers whom they represent[ed].’ [2] On 20th July 1897, questions were subsequently asked in parliament in London over the French translation of the document stating that Rear Admiral Harris was in command of the English Naval Division, rather than the British Naval Division; one M.P. going so far as to suggest this mistranslation rendered the document illegal.[3]

[1] 1897 [C.8429] Turkey. No. 9 (1897). Reports on the situation in Crete. No.1 Harris to Admiralty 24 February 1897.

[2] Ibid. Inclosure 1 in No.2.p11.

[3] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1897-07-20/debates/f65502a4-a66e-4a50-a815-686ec6168c6e/Crete

The Fall of the Tower of Voukolies

Heading south from Chania, shortly after the junction with the National Road at Tavronites, the road to Paleochora passes through the village of Voukolies, on the outskirts of which is located the ‘Tower of Voukolies’; one of a series of guard posts created by the Ottoman authorities to protect and watch over the Cretan countryside following the Cretan Insurrection of 1866. Standing on a hill overlooking Voukolies, in 1897 the tower was the base for an Ottoman garrison of some 300 troops located there in order to dominate the road to Chania, disrupt any attempt by Cretan rebels to move forces from the south west of the island to the cities on the north coast and to provide security for the large Cretan Muslim population of the Voukolies area.

Current Tower at Voukolies

On 13/14th February 1897, a Greek force of some 1500 men, complete with artillery, under the command of Colonel Timothy Vassos landed at Kolymbari and proceeded to declare the union of Crete with Greece. By 17th February the force had moved inland and, having established their headquarters in Alikianos, a mixed detachment under the command of Major Konstantinidis and including an artillery platoon and an engineer platoon, was ordered to Voukolies to capture the tower: also with the force were many Cretans and the company of students under the command of Captain Em. Zimvrakakidon.[1]

The British Consul in Chania, Sir Alfred Biliotti, described the fall of the tower as follows in a telegraphed despatch to the Foreign Office:

“Two companies, about 300 men. Turkish troops garrisoned during last four months Voukoulies to afford protection to the Turkish emigrants, who returned to their village in that commune; their block-house was destroyed by Greek regular artillery; the garrison sallied out at night, but was afterwards surrounded. Major and many killed, over 100 taken prisoners, about 80 found their way back; no sortie was made from Canea in connection with Voukoulies affair…”[2]

However, the capture of the tower was not as straight forward as Biliotti implied. After surrounding the village and calling on the garrison to surrender, the Cretan troops made an initial attempt to storm the position but were beaten off with some loss. According to one contemporary account:

“The Cretans suffered heavily by their own fault. They disobeyed the order to withhold their musketry fire until the work of the artillery had been completed. They wasted 50,000 cartridges and lost thirty men in maintaining a foolish fire, advancing to within 100 yards of the redoubts while the Turks fired splendidly, wasting few bullets. The Cretans were obliged to send to Platonica for more ammunition which arrived on Thursday night, with four guns. The Cretans at this time surrounding the fort disobeyed orders and dispersed in search of food, the Turks profiting by the position evacuated by the Cretans.”[3]

Food was eventually provided by the local Cretan Christians, including by monks from a local monastery, though ammunition appears to have been in short supply, poorly made and expensive.[4] Following the initial rebuff, Greek artillery fire was then concentrated on the tower. On the night of 6/7 February, the garrison, under the command of a Major Fouad,[5] attempted to break out. However, during the course of the sally the major was killed and subsequently 100 or so of the garrison who had failed to get through the Greek/Cretan lines surrendered and were taken prisoner.[6]

“On Friday morning, when the guns had been placed in position, and they were about to resume the bombarding, the troops were surprised to see the Cretans plant their flag upon the deserted fort. Thirty-two dead Turks were found inside the fortifications, which were blown up with dynamite. The Greek troops were all young men who had never before been under fire, and they displayed coolness, courage and enthusiasm. The Greeks took ten Turkish soldiers prisoners.” [7]

Ottoman losses were in the region of 35 killed: Cretan losses, depending on the account read, amounted to 15 or 30 dead and nearly 40 wounded; while the Greek army lost one man killed and two wounded.

The tower itself was destroyed prior to the Greek/Cretan withdrawal; the one to be seen today is a modern replica. Though militarily of minor significance, the action demonstrated to the Cretans that Greek forces landed on the island were there in sufficient numbers and suitably equipped to be able to engage and defeat the entrenched Ottoman forces and in doing so a Voukolies, provided a significant boost to Cretan Christian morale.

Plaque on current Tower at Voukolies

Cretan commemorations of the fall of the Tower took a slightly different view of events.

The fall of the Tower of Voulokies. The Cretan version.

The fall of the Tower of Voukolies. Date unknown.

Note that the European naval forces are shown in the background of this illustration. In reality one cannot see the sea from Voukalies and the Tower was out of range, and thus out of the protective field, of European naval guns; one of the reasons for its downfall to the Cretan/Greek forces.

(The dates given above are given in Gregorian calendar as used by most of Europe in 1897.  Crete, and Greece, were using the Julian calender thus the anniversary of the fall of the Tower of Voukoulies is often given as being on 8th February.)


[1] History of the Tower of Voukolies. Information from the work of pupils of the Lyceum Voukolies, as the professors epivlexi Alysavaki Kiki and Kouroupou Anastasia, presented in February 2005. 

[2] House of Commons debate 26 February 1897. Vol. 46. cc.1264-6

[3] The Chania correspondent of the Daily News. Reported in The Penny Illustrated Paper, 27 February 1897.

[4] History of the Tower of Voukolies. Information from the work of pupils of the Lyceum Voukolies, as the professors epivlexi Alysavaki Kiki and Kouroupou Anastasia, presented in February 2005. 


[6] House of Commons debate. 26 February 1897. Vol.46 cc.1264-6

[7]The Chronicle from Athens . Reported in The Daily Colonist, Victoria, British Columbia.Tuesday 23 February 1897. http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist18970223uvic/18970223#mode/1up/search/Crete


Saving the Greek flag – an alternative view.

The story of how Spyros Kayales used his own body as a flagpole to raise the Greek flag after the flagpole had been knocked down during a bombardment by the European Powers on 21st February 1898 is well known in Crete. Kayales is considered a hero of the insurrection; many illustrations exist depicting this incident and a statue has been erected in his honour near the spot where the event occurred.

Spiros Kayales in later life.

Spiros Kayales’ statue, Halepa.

However, there was another contemporary view of the events which suggested a different motive for Kayales’ actions. Intriguingly, though a British rather than a Cretan source, it uses an illustration very similar to many of those often seen in Crete.

Hauling down the Greek flag.

‘ A correspondent on board on of the British men-of war lying off Canea writes: “ The men-of -war lying off Canea opened fire on the insurgents’ position as a result of the conference between the senior offices of the warships. Whilst the shells from the German, Austrian, Russian, and English ships were bursting all round the insurgents’ position on the heights above the village of Halepa, outside Canea, one of the men went to the flagstaff and hauled down the flag of Greece. This was regarded as a sign of submission and the men-of-war ceased firing. It is believed that the man who hauled down the flag was killed by the bursting of a shell on the left side of the position. No more firing from the insurgents took place that day, though they re-hoisted the flag shortly afterwards.”’


While the date of the report is not given, it appears to coincide with most of the details of the bombardment on 21 February and the time of publication would seem to indicate that it is describing this event. It would appear then that, at least to this British obsever, Kayales’ actions represented submission rather than defiance.

One final point, the flag in question, as shown by the statute and in the Graphic’s illustration would appear to be the then state flag of the Kingdom of Greece.

Royal Navy’s presence – 1897

Among the documents held at the National Archive in Kew is a file catalogued as ADM116/88. This is an Admiralty file containing telegrams to and from the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean and the Admiralty in London, relating to the Royal Navy’s involvement in Crete between February and November 1897.  In an indication of the scale of the British involvement in Crete in this relatively short period, a handwritten note on the inside of the file lists all the Royal Navy’s ships that are referred to in the correspondence. The list shows that in a ten-month period at least 26 RN vessels, ranging from state-of-the-art Battleships to Store ships, were active in Cretan waters. This list does not include troop ships. However, while the commitment of 26 vessels to operations in Crete may seem a large number, many of them were on station for a matter of days only, and  it needs to be remembered that in June 1897 at the time of the Spithead Review celebrating Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, the Royal Navy had some 212 ships in commission[1]; it currently has 75.


List of ships referred to in ADM 116/88.

Royal Navy ships.

HMS Anson                               Admiral Class Battleship

HMS Ardent                             Ardent Class Destroyer

HMS Banshee                          Banshee Class Destroyer

HMS Barfleur                           Centurion Class Battleship

HMS Boxer                               Ardent Class Destroyer

HMS Bruiser                             Ardent Class Destroyer

HMS Cambrian                        Astraea Class Protected Cruiser

HMS Camperdown                 Admiral Class Battleship

HMS Dragon                            Banshee Class Destroyer            Lieutenant William F. Blunt

HMS Dryad                               Dryad Class Torpedo Gunboat

HMS Fearless                           Scout Class Torpedo Cruiser     Commander Charles E. Gladstone

HMS Harrier                             Dryad Class Torpedo Gunboat

HMS Hawke                             Edgar Class Protected Cruiser

HMS Nile                                  Trafalgar Class Battleship

HMS Nymphe                           Nymphe Class Composite Screw Sloop

HMS Revenge                           Royal Sovereign Class battleship

HMS Rodney                             Admiral Class Battleship

HMS Royal Oak                        Royal Sovereign Class Battleship

HMS Scout                                 Scout Class Torpedo Cruiser

HMS Scylla                                 Apollo Class Second-Class Cruiser   Captain Percy M. Scott

HMS Trafalgar                          Trafalgar Class Battleship

HMS Tyne                                  Store Ship

Torpedo Boat 90                      TB88 Class

Torpedo Boats 94, 95 & 96    TB94 Class

Civilian vessels

SS Clyde (Transport)

SS Samaria (Transport and billeting)


HMS Anson. Admiral Class Battleship.

HMS Ardent. Ardent Class Destroyer.

HMS Banshee. Banshee Class Destroyer.

HMS Banshee in heavy weather.

HMS Barfleur. Centurian Class Battleship.

HMS Boxer. Ardent Class Destroyer.

HMS Bruizer/Bruiser. Ardent Class Destroyer.

HMS Cambrian 1910. Astraea Class protected Cruiser.

Astraea Class cruiser

HMS Camperdown. Admiral Class battleship.

HMS Dryad. Dryad Class Torpedo Gunboat.

HMS Dryad after conversion to minesweeper

HMS Dryad. Dryad Class Torpedo Gunboat.

HMS Fearless. Scout Class Torpedo Cruiser.

HMS Hawke. Edgar Class, First Class Protected Cruiser.

HMS Hawke. Edgar Class, First Class Protected Cruiser.

Edgar Class Protected Cruiser.

HMS Nile. Trafalgar Class Battleship.

HMS Nymphe. Nymphe Class Composite Screw Sloop.

HMS Revenge. Royal Soverign Class battleship.

HMS Rodney. Admiral Class Battleship.

HMS Royal Oak. Royal Soverign Class Battleship.

HMS Royal Oak. Royal Soverign Class Battleship.

HMS Scout. Scout Class Torpedo Cruiser.

HMS Scout.  Scout Class Torpedo Cruiser.

HMS Scylla. Apollo Class, 2nd Class Protected Cruiser.

Apollo Class Cruiser

HMS Trafalgar. Trafalgar Class Battleship.

Trafalgar Class battleship.


[1] https://www.naval-history.net/xGW-RNOrganisation1897.htm

British medical aid for Crete.

In April 1897, Mrs Ormiston Chant journeyed to Crete from Britain to offer aid to the Greek forces on the island. In her rationale for going to Crete, Mrs Ormiston Chant stated that one of her reasons was that she had heard that “…the sisters of the Greek Red Cross brigade had been unable to effect a landing in Crete owing to the blockade.”

In fact, Mrs. Ormiston Chant’s information on the situation in Crete was wrong in one vital aspect: While the European embargo on Crete did indeed prevent Greek, and Ottoman, vessels landing for the purposes of assisting either side in the fighting, it did not prevent the landing of either Doctors or medical supplies under the flag of the Red Cross, as British naval records show.[1]

The offer of European medical assistance to the Cretan Christian insurgents was also reported in the Penny Illustrated Newspaper which stated that that “ On the 11th March three doctors – English, French and Russian – paid a visit to the “insurgent” position, and operated on a badly wounded “insurgent,” giving medical treatment to others wounded.”[2]

This was followed two weeks later by a more detailed report: “Our Doctors labour to alleviate physical pain in the darkest slums of London, our philanthropic readers are well aware. British naval surgeons, with the same splendid devotion to duty, have, we rejoice to learn, landed at various stations in the Island of Crete, not without considerable risk to their lives, braving the danger of being shot at, as plucky Admiral Harris was in Suda Bay; and those valiant disciples of Esculapius have been fortunately enabled to dress the wounds of the “insurgents” particularly after the much-to be regretted engagement at Akrotiri, which was followed by the prompt disarming of the Bashi-Bazouks, we were glad to learn.”[3]

British naval surgeons offering aid to Cretan Christian insurgents. Penny Illustrated Paper. 17 April 1897.

On a less specific and more general level, British forces were active throughout their stay in Crete in promoting the welfare of the local population; albeit mostly as a by-product of maintaining and improving the health of British troops. (However, there were other occasions when British naval surgeons were more interested in describing ailments than curing them!)

[1] ADM 116/89 Despatch dated 19 March 1897. Inclosure No.59. Captain Coustance to Rear Admiral Harris, 28 February 1897.

[2] The Penny Illustrated Paper 3 April 1897.

[3] Ibid. 17 April 1897.