Tag Archives: European Intervention Crete

They came, they saw, they failed to conquer.

On 14th February 1897, some 1500 men of the Greek army, supported by artillery, landed in the Kolymbari/Platania area of Crete. The incursion of the Greek army into what was then legally Ottoman territory, was a culmination of an increasing amount informal support being given by Greece to Cretan Christian insurgents on the island. Upon the Greek troops’ landing, their commander, Colonel Timoleon Vassos, a former Military Attaché to King George I of Greece, read a proclamation declaring that the Island of Crete was henceforth annexed to Greece. The Ottoman response was, for once, measured, and rather than use the landing as an immediate casus belli, the Porte relied instead on the pressure put upon Greece it expected, and received, from the European Powers.

Monument to the arrival of Greek troops. Kolymbari.

Colonel Vassos and his son, Crete 1897.

For several weeks after their landing the Greek troops in Crete appeared to be in a position the threaten to take over either Canea or Candia, the two major towns on the island. However, the arrival in early February of Concert naval forces, which enforced a strict blockade of Crete thus denying Vassos food, supplies and reinforcements, followed in March by significant numbers of Concert ground troops, put an end to any such ambitions. In late March attempts by the insurgents to take the Ottoman held fortress at Kastelli-Kissamos, to the west of Canea, by mining the walls were thwarted by gunfire from H.M.S. Rodney and by the landing of 200 British and 130 Austrian sailors and marines who re-provisioned the garrison and pulled down houses near the fortress in order to prevent further mining attempts.

Meanwhile, Vassos’ attempts to move out from his base at Alikianos and on Canea were similarly blocked by the European guns and men occupying Fort Subachi to the west of the town, a force which included a field gun landed from H.M.S. Anson. Simultaneously, the effectiveness of the naval blockade on the Greeks in Crete by denying them food and supplies was illustrated when, during a visit to Vassos’ camp by Mrs Laura Ormistan-Chant, the leader of six English nurses who had gone to Greece intent on providing nursing services to the Greek army, food was so scarce that Mrs Chant offered to return to Canea and return with a cargo of flour, an offer declined by Vassos. ‘Finding the wounded in Colonel Vassos’ camp either well, dead or on the high road to recovery, Mrs Chant determined to return to Athens’. (Ironically, the well-being of the Greek soldiers was in part attributable to the Powers allowing the landing of Doctors and medical supplies under the flag of the Red Cross. )

Colonel Vassos receiving despatches at Alikianos. Illustrated London News 24 April 1897.

Colonel Vassos’ Head Quaters, Alikianos. Illustrated London News, 24 April 1897.

The threat from Greek troops to the European forces in Crete finally came to an end following the catastrophic Greek defeat in the ‘Thirty Days War’ which broke out on April 18th, when, following large-scale Greek incursions into Ottoman Macedonia, the Ottoman Empire declared war on Greece. The Ottoman army roundly defeated the Greek army and were in a position to march on Athens more or less unopposed before an armistice was imposed by pressure from the Concert. However, having won the war, the Ottoman Empire decisively lost the peace, it was not permitted to retain the land it had occupied; the Concert, still seeking to maintain stability in the region, dictated that Greece, though the initiator of hostilities, should not forfeit any significant territory and should pay a relatively modest indemnity. The terms of the armistice and eventual peace settlement did however, included the Greek renunciation of the annexation of Crete and the immediate withdrawal of all Greek troops and guns from the island.

Vassos and four of his officers left the island on 9th May, Greek forces finally being evacuated, with the assistance of the European navies who ferried Greek troops to waiting Greek merchant vessels, by the end of May. Over time, the presence on the island of the Greek troops, coupled with their impotence, had made them an embarrassment to many of the Greek population; on Vassos’ return to Greece ‘although received with respect and a mellow admiration for his romantic adventures in Crete, he was not … the popular hero he would have been a few weeks before.’
The evacuation appeared to have gone without too much difficulty. On 14th May Captain Sir Richard Poore R.N,, H.M.S Hawke, reported that the British embarked from Platania 445 men under the command of Colonel Zavellos, on board the Greek Transport steam-ship Era:

1 regiment of infantry (officers and men)………..120
1 regiment of engineers (officers and men)………250
1 detachment of Greek volunteers……………………. 75
(Also two horses and men’s accoutrements)

On the same date the Greek war-ship Paralos, under escort by the Russian war-ship Grosiastchy embarked a company of engineers, 74 men, from Atki. The Greek merchant ship Lauiron, which had to be filled with coal from H.M.S. Hawke, was sent under escort by the Austro-Hungarian Torpedo Cruiser S.M.S. Tiger, to Sphakia to collect a store of ammunition said to be there, it being deemed unwise to leave it in the hands of the local population. 20 engineers from Atki were sent to carry out this task.

The Commander of the Greek forces in Platania, Staikos (rank unknown),  initially declined to embark further men without authority from the Greek government. However, apparently after being shown a copy of the Greek translation renouncing the annexation, a document kept secret until the troops had embarked, he eventually agreed to do so.

On 18 May, the Laurion returned from Sphakia with one officer, 9 infantrymen, 800 cases of rifle ammunition, 14 cases of field gun ammunition and 42 bags of ‘boots and medical stores’. The following day boats from the Concert ships Hawke, Chazny, Re Umberto, Groziastchy and Tiger embarked more men to the Greek steamer Thespes. These numbered:

Artillerymen……………………………. 91
Greek volunteers……………………..150
Plus Six guns, 12 horses, 53 mules, 82 cases of field gun ammunition and 62 packages of pack saddles and harnesses.

Captain Poore indicated that some 400 Greek soldiers remained at Alikanos awaiting evacuation, and later the commander of the Greek forces had give his word to Poore that when the final evacuation took place, all artillery, including that supposedly owned by the Cretan Christian insurgents, would be removed from the island. However, the British archives are silent on exactly when the final men and guns departed.

French sailors evacuating Greek troops Platania. L’Illustration, 5 June 1897.

French troops evacuating Greek soldiers. L’Illustration, 5 June 1897.

Russian sailors evacuating Greek mules Platania. L’Illustration, 5 June 1897.

During the process of embarkation, the British commander, Captain Poore, became aware that the Greeks had some 40 or so Ottoman prisoners under guard, presumably those Ottoman soldiers captured at Malaxa and during other incidents, whom they wished to take with them to Greece. The demand to take them to Greece was refused and after a brief sojurn on the Thespes, the prisoners were released and transferred to European vessels.

Wounded Ottomans troops at Alikianos. Illustrated London News, 24 April 1897.

Ottoman prisoners from Malaxa at Alikianos. Illustrated London News, 24 April 1897.

In the end, the landing of the Greek troops on Crete did little to assist the cause of enosis. The Greek government had somewhat misguidedly sent sufficient men to nearly start a war with the Ottoman forces on Crete, but far too few to have any conceivable prospect of winning such a conflict. When the Powers had made their position of tentative support for the maintenance of some form of Ottoman presence on the island clear, the fate of Vassos’ expedition was sealed. Their only allies were Cretan Christian insurrectionists who, whoever good they may have deemed themselves to be in guerrilla warfare, were no match for trained European troops backed by overwhelming naval gunpower. With no prospect of reinforcement, outnumbered by superior Concert forces, let alone Ottoman forces, and suffering from the effects of the Concert embargo, the Greeks were in effect prisoners on the island and could play no significant part in the unfolding diplomatic efforts to find a resolution to the Cretan problem.


When Allies fall Out…

On 17th  July 1899, a number of British newspapers carried similar, if not identical, reports from Reuters:

‘European Affray in Crete

Two Soldiers Killed.

Canea July 15 [1899]

An affray occurred last evening between parties of French and Italian soldiers, in which two men were seriously wounded on each side. In the course of the night one of the Frenchmen died and one of the Italians. Two other less serious collisions occurred in which a third Italian soldier was injured. Owing to the cordial co-operation of the officers and the Consuls-General of the two nationalities order was promptly restored, and the Italian and French troops are now confined to their respective quarters.

Canea July 16 [1899]

The funeral of the French soldier killed in the affray on Friday last, took place last evening, and that of the Italian this morning. The Consuls and commanding officers of both countries were present. There was an exchange of wreaths and of sympathetic and regretful expressions. The wounded men are doing well.’[1]


The incident of July 1899 wasn’t the last time French and Italian troops came to blows on Crete. on 14th May 1903 the London Evening Standard reported under the headline Military Riot in Crete:

‘Canea May 6 [1903].

The brawl which took place in a café between French and Italian soldiers, and resulted in several men being wounded, has had no further consequences. At a Review of the International troops on Prince George’s fete-day, Colonel Destolle, the commander, formed the French and Italian contingents in a square, and addressed them as follows:-

“Two days ago I addressed you as your chief. Today I wish to speak to you as your father, for I really represent the absent fathers of all of you. The incidents which have occurred have caused me deep grief. I have nod doubt that you have all repented of a moment of misconduct, and that like good soldiers you will make a point of following and perpetuating the sentiments which have always formed a link between French and Italian soldiers. In the presence of your flags, which have often floated side by side on the field of honour, I appeal to you to promise me to live together henceforth on the terms of brotherly friendship which have always united you.”

The bugles then sounded and the French and Italian flags were crossed, and the men were dismissed shouting “Long Live France!” “Long Live Italy!”’[2]

Funeral of an Italian soldier killed in a fight (brawl) in Canea. Date unknown.

The illustration shows the funeral of an Italian soldier in Canea. While there is no date on the illustration, the flag of the Κριτικη Πολιτεια flying alongside the Italian flag indicates that the funeral took place after late December 1898. The caption states that the soldier being buried was killed in either a brawl or a fight, depending on the translation service used, in Canea. There’s nothing in the caption to indicate that he was killed as a result of any Cretan activity. All in all, this would suggest the illustration is of the funeral of the soldier killed in the brawl in 1899.

(A trawl through British archives suggests that only one Italian soldier was killed ‘in action’ on Crete; that incident occurring in Kampanos in January 1906 during mayoral elections.[3] This resulted in the Italians, having failed to receive an indemnity from the Cretan Government, seizing the Customs houses in Paleochora, Kastelli Kissamos and Kolymbari.[4])


[1] Morning Post Monday 17 July 1899, p.5.

[2] London Standard Thursday 14 May 1903, p.5.

[3] London Standard Thursday 18 January 1906, p.9.

[4] Morning Post. Monday 29 January 1906, p.9.

Birthday Souvenirs

While the European Intervention in Crete was carried out for serious political purposes, the seriousness of the situation did not preclude the Powers throwing the occasional party.

The British celebrated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee on 22nd June 1897 with a military parade in Candia, the principle British base, and a reception there in the evening. At the reception it was reported by Sir Alfred Biliotti, the British Consul, to Sir Philip Currie, his superior in Constantinople, that the Seaforth Highlanders ‘executed national dances’ to the apparent satisfaction of the audience.[1] Quite how satisfied the audience actually were at the sight of kilted Highlanders dancing is not recorded. Nor is it recorded that the British troops were given any souvenirs of the event.

Seaforth Highlanders ‘execut[ing] national dances.’ Undated photograph.

The Austro-Hungarian and German forces on the other hand did appear to produce mementoes of the celebrations held in honour of their Monarchs.  On 18th August 1897, a birthday party was held in Canea to celebrate the birthday of Kaiser and King Franz Josef I, his 67th, and on 27th January the following year a party held to celebrate the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II, his 39th. Souvenir cards were produced for both events, presumably to be given to those who participated. Unfortunately, it’s not known apparent whether or not the Austro-Hungarian and German troops were amongst the recipients.

K & K Franz Josef birthday party souvenir

As well as an image of the Monarch and an overview of Canea harbour, the Austro-Hungarian souvenir features photographs of the Austro-Hungarian Consulate at Halepa, barracks at Canea and Suda and the Armoured Cruiser S.M.S. Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia.

Kaiser Wilhelm birthday party souvenir.

In contrast to the Austro-Hungarian card which was clearly produced for the occasion and features images specific to the Austro-Hungarian presence on Crete, the German card has nothing specifically ‘German’ about it. It is apparently a generic commercial souvenir postcard, overprinted with the souvenir declaration. The only images which could be said to relate to the German presence on the island are of groups of International troops. The definition on the image of the troops is insufficient to allow identification of German troops, although Italian, Montenegrin and Scottish troops can be made out, albeit with difficulty.

Original version of Kaiser Wilhelm birthday party souvenir.

One hope the German Consulate, or whoever decided on the card, were congratulated on their thrift.



[1] National Archive, Foreign Office FO 195/1983, From Crete. Sir Alfred Biliotti to Currie 24 June 1897.

Austro Hungarian naval contribution

Rear Admiral Hincke and Djavad Pasha.

Admiral Hinke, shown in the photograph above, was the Rear Admiral in command of the Austro-Hungarian force which landed on Crete in February 1897. The force initially consisted of the battleship Kronprinzessin Stephanie, the armoured cruiser Maria Theresia, the torpedo cruisers Tiger, Leopard, and Sebenico, along with three destroyers and eight torpedo boats.[1]

The Austro-Hungarian contribution to the Intervention forces was withdrawn in March 1898.

Djevad Pasha (Ahmed Cevad Pasha).

‘Djevad Pacha’, also known as Ahmed Cevad Pasha, was the Ottoman Military commander of Crete from July 1897 to October 1898, so the photograph must have been taken between his arrival there and the Austro-Hungarian departure in March 1898.

SMS Kronprinzessin Erzherzogin Stephanie

SMS Tiger

SMS Tiger

SMS Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia

SMS Sebenico




[1] The Naval Policy of Austria-Hungary 1867 – 1918. Navalism, Industrial Development, and the Politics of Dualism. Lawrence Sonhaus, Purdue University Press, 1994.

The British army make a profit out of Crete!

In his report to the Foreign Office dated 16 June 1899,[1] Major General. H. Chermside, the British Commissioner in Crete, stated that:  “A successful postal service of three lines runs all over the province three times weekly, and twice weekly takes mail to and from the French secteur.” Similar services existed in the French, Italian and, for a brief period, Russian sectors of the island. It was a symptom of the failure of the Ottoman Empire to provide an adequate infrastructure on Crete that prior to the international occupation of the island, the most reliable postal serviced was operated by the Austrian Hungarian Empire which, according to one source, had “ … three post offices, in Chania, Heraklion and Rethymno, operat[ing] from 1890 until 1914, replacing earlier Austrian Lloyd postal agencies and official Austrian postal agencies which operated in turn in these towns starting in 1837 and 1845 respectively.”[2]

The origins of the British postal service are to be found in ‘Circular Memorandum No.6’ issued on 22 November 1898 on Chremside’s behalf to the District Commissioners within the British sector and calling for the setting up of six receiving offices, each one staffed by  a “…man of confidence, recommended locally”  who ‘…must be able , besides reading and writing Greek, to read European adresses.” For receiving the mail, despatching it and selling stamps, it was proposed to pay him a salary of either 30 or 40 francs* per month, depending on the location.[3] A few days later a further circular, No.9, made it clear that the British postal system was to make use of the existing Austro-Hungarian service, the Austrian post office in Candia (Iraklion) being the central office; the reliance on the Austrian service was to the extent that they would provide the new postmen with sealing wax, string, packing paper as well as a seal for the Postmaster.[4] The British service was shortlived running from November 1898 to July 1899 but at least for part of that period, up until 28 February 1899 (O.S.), it made a profit of £163.0.2d.[5]

The first British stamps were ordered from a firm in Athens but failed to arrive in time and so, as an interim measure, some 3000 bright violet, hand printed stamps, based on a design produced by the Austrian Director of Post in Candia, were produced.

British handmade stamp. c.1898

The definitive stamps eventually arrived in December 1898.[6]

Examples of British issued stamps.

As would be expected given that Crete was still technically Ottoman, the value of the stamps was defined the currency of the Ottoman Empire and the initial stamps were worth 10 or 20 ‘Parades’, the British spelling of ‘paras’; 40 paras making one piaster, and approximately 112 piastres making £1 sterling. An inland letter within the British sector cost 10 or 20 paras depending on its nature and an international letter, or one to another international zone of occupation, cost 1 piastre.

Some idea of the complexity of selling the stamps on an island occupied by four European countries yet still in 1898/1899, in theory at least, operating within the Ottoman Empire, can be seen from the fact that, presumably in order to avoid currency speculation, the British authorities found it necessary to lay down an official exchange rate for the purchase of stamps: 1 silver medjidie bought 20 piastres worth of stamps, £1 sterling  120 piastres and 1 Gold Napoleon (20 francs) bought 95 piastres.[7] (Given the level of poverty on the island at that time, it’s difficult to see that anyone other than a currency speculator would be interested in buying that many stamps or even in a position to do so.)

The British postal service, which delivered mail free for British, and latterly French, troops on the island, remained in operation until 24 July 1899, the stamps continuing in circulation and use until 1st March 1900. The other occupying Powers maintained their postal services for longer, the Italian service finishing only in 1914.[8]

A word of caution! If you are tempted to buy one of the many British stamps from this period that are on offer on the internet, be aware that many of the stamps alleged to have been issued by the British in Crete, and the other powers, that are offered for sale are fake! (The ones shown above are probably fakes also!)



www.fipfakesforgeries.org/fip/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Week-27.-Crete-Forgeries-of-British-Administration-issues-1898-99.pdf  (Opens as a pdf)

*Note on Currency.

Very approximate exchange rates in 1898

£1= 112 piastres

1 franc = 4.75 piastres (1 gold Napoleon = 20 francs)

40 Paras = 1 piastre

1 medjidie = 19 piastre

[1] 1899 [C.9422] Turkey. No. 2 (1899). Report by Her Majesty’s Commissioner in Crete on the Provisional British Administration of the Province of Candia.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austrian_post_offices_in_Crete

[3] 1899 [C.9422] Turkey. No. 2 (1899). Report by Her Majesty’s Commissioner in Crete on the Provisional British Administration of the Province of Candia.  Circular Memorandum No.6 in Inclosure 1

[4] Ibid. Circular memorandum No.9 in Inclosure 1.

[5] Ibid. Circular Memorandum No.39 in Inclosure 1.

[6] http://www.sandafayre.com/philatelicarticles/foreignposincrete.html

[7] 1899 [C.9422] Turkey. No. 2 (1899). Report by Her Majesty’s Commissioner in Crete on the Provisional British Administration of the Province of Candia.  Circular Memorandum No.9 in Inclosure 1.

[8] http://www.sandafayre.com/philatelicarticles/foreignposincrete.html

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 truth of Knossos revealed…… it’s all a fake!

In June 1909 British troops were preparing to leave Crete. In the midst of their preparations for departure at least one of them, quite possibly a member of 2/Devonshires, found the time to visit Knossos. Unfortunately for the future Cretan tourist industry, he was less tham impressed – as this postcard he sent to his father shows.

Knossos. Behaeddin photograph 201.

Knossos. Postcard 1909.

Dear Dad,

The ruins of Knossos are about 4 ½ miles from here. I have been over them but don’t think them very remarkable, but perhaps I am not a judge of such things. To me the greater part of it looked as though it had been faked up a lot. Hope you are all A1 at home. How are the Gardens now?