Tag Archives: Italian troops

Italian Artillery.

 

The forces of the Powers landed in Crete in 1897 included not only marines and infantry, but a number of artillery units.  These consisted, in the initial stages of the Intervention, of ‘mountain guns’, small artillery pieces that could be easily dismantled and carried on the backs of mules or horses. The British contingent consisted of six guns from No 4 Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery, stationed in Candia, supplemented by a number of small naval guns, several of which were landed at Canea.

Photographic and pictorial evidence suggests that the Italian artillery contingent initially appeared to consist of at least four mountain guns.

Italian battery embarking from Naples en-route to Crete.

While the initial positioning of European troops, prior to the withdrawal of the German and Austro-Hungarian forces in 1898, called for the Italians to be based in Irapetra on the south coast of the island, the mountain artillery appears to have been located for the most part on the north of Crete, around Canea. This was in response to the threat to the town from Greek forces under Colonel Vassos and their Cretan Christian allies.

Italian troops with mountain guns, on parade in Canea

Italian battery in Canea, 1897.

Italian battery in Halepa, 1897.

Italian battery in Halepa, 1897.

As a consequence of the threat from the Greeks and Christians, two Italian guns were apparently stationed  at Fort Subashi, the fortress protecting the main water supply to Canea; these were joined at some stage by guns landed from H.M.S. Anson.

Italian guns at Fort Subashi. 1897.

Around the same time as the posting to Fort Subashi, April 1897, two Italian guns were stationed on the Akrotiri peninsula. These guns were under the command of Captain G.E. Egerton, Seaforth Highlanders. In spite of photographic evidence which would seem to suggest the Italians and the Highlanders got on well on at least one occasion, Egerton recorded that he  ‘…did not trust the Italians a yard …[although they] are very fond of the English and were ready to black our boots, and they have never forgotten how much we assisted towards a united Italy.’

It also appears that the Italian artillery was used to protect the western approach to Suda Bay, the main deep water port on Crete and base for the Powers’ navel forces.

Italian Gun, Suda Bay April 1897

In addition to the mountain guns in and around Canea, the Italian force in Irapetra clearly also had some artillery support.

1st battery, 36th Italian infantry in review in redoubt in Irapetra, 1897.

 

 

 

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Seaforth Highlanders – Akrotiri

On April 19th 1897, under command of Captain Egerton,  75 men of 1/Seaforth Highlanders were sent to join the existing  international detachment of 75 Austrians, 75 French, 90 Italians and 2 Italian guns, guarding the neck of Akrotiri peninsula, outside Canea. The force was placed there to prevent Christian insurgents from attacking the town form the north east, and remained there until June.

1/Seaforth Highlanders

1/Seaforth Highlanders. Location unknown.

Italian Gun, Suda Bay April 1897

Italian Gun, Suda Bay April 1897

According to Egerton:

“The orders given by the Council of Admirals …were to guard the neck of the Akrotiri peninsula and prevent a large body of insurgents encamped therein from breaking out, and equally to prevent any body of Turks or Bashi Bazouks from the mainland from breaking in and attacking the insurgents. The two chiefs of the insurgent bands on Akrotiri were Messers Fourmis [sic] & Venezelos [sic], both Athens’ educated natives of Crete, who spoke and wrote excellent French.”

Activity at this post was apparently limited and Egerton clearly had no great opinion of his allies, continuing his narrative in the first person he stated:

“Nothing serious ever happened, but for the two months that I was in command at Akrotiri Lt. Campion and myself, took it in turn every night to visit the sentries and patrol the neighbourhood, after 12 midnight.

I did not trust the Italians a yard, and had no great confidence in the French, but my Austrian detachment Officers and men, were reliable to the last degree. The Italians were very fond of the English and were ready to black our boots, and they have never forgotten how much we assisted towards a united Italy. The Austrians were on very friendly terms always, their Officers were nearly all gentlemen, which was not certainly the case with most of the other foreign Officers.

The Russians we saw little of, they were mainly kept outside of Canea, on account of their rowdy habits. Their Colonel was an ex-Guardsman exiled for St. Petersburg for his numerous crimes. He was often seen drunk.”

The (Italian ) Officers’ supplies arrive.

French and Italian sailors date unknown.

French and Italian sailors. Date unknown.

French and Italian Junior officers. Date unknown

French and Italian Junior officers. Date unknown.

Henry-Woodd Nevinson was a British journalist who covered the Greek – Ottoman War, the 30 Days War, for the Daily Chronicle in 1897. At the end of the war, in which Greece came third, he was sent to Crete, arriving there in early June 1897. He stopped in Canea for about 10 days during which time he made himself useful to the Cretan Christians by delivering secret letters to one of their leaders from supporters in mainland Greece. In his memoir of the war he offers the following description of the situation in Canea:

 
“That night [6 June 1897] Sigalas [his guide and interpreter] and I dined at a flimsy café, which had been built at the end of the quay by French and Armenian enterprise, and with some justice was called “Au Concert European.” To me it was always a place of special interest, for an Under-Secretary had recently roused laughter in the House of Commons by informing them that starving Crete was in reality doing a “roaring trade” and there can be no doubt that his statement must have been founded on the account books of that restaurant. For it was the one point of prosperity in the whole gloomy island, and what with the French and Russians drinking healths round its tables till they could no longer stand, and certain officers (chiefly French and Russian too) concluding commercial arrangements with feminine apparitions who sat in the corners and were wonderful linguists, the café did a trade which might fairly be described as “roaring.”

Those apparitions of golden hair and other decoration had undergone strange and varied fortunes. Originally there had been but three, but the economic law has stept in to curtail their monopoly, and one afternoon a steamer hailing from Smyrna had brought some fifteen or twenty more. They had first tried to settle at Candia and at Retimo, but the custom-house had refused them a landing as being contraband. With shame and defiant tears the poor things had been driven on to Canea, only to be met with a like refusal from the unbending austerity of the Turk. But is so happened that an Italian officer stood watching, and calling upon two Italian sections, he brought them at the double along the quay to the rescue of the distressed. With fixed bayonets, in two lines, he drew up his men on each side of the gangway, and between the lines the dainty shoes and chiffons and wayworn faces marched into the town in grateful security, to the eternal glory of the European Concert of the Powers. It was strange to see the mixture of derision, shame, and attraction with which the Cretans, both Christian and Mussulman, watched them passing to and fro. But from the moment of their arrival, the Under-Secretary certainly was justified in saying that starving Crete was doing a roaring trade; if indeed starving Crete may be identified with them and their restaurant.”

One wonders which one of these ladies could have been, or was, the model for Madame Hortense in Zorba The Greek?

While Nevinson’s account relates to Canea, by 1898, in an attempt to reduce the incidence of venereal disease among troops, the British Army in Candia had instituted a system of inspection and control of the local prostitutes. According to the Annual Parliamentary Reports from the Army Medical Department, this regime apparently worked well initially. However, it  broke down when the Cretan Christian administration took over the town; while apparently checking Christian prostitutes, they were reluctant to take similar steps to check Muslim prostitutes for fear of ‘offending the susceptibilities of the Moslem inhabitants.’

Henry W. Nevinson. Scenes in the Thirty days War between Greece and Turkey; 1897.
J. M. Dent. London, 1898. pp. 248 -250

Italian Bootblacks?

Itallian artillery, Suda Bay.

Italian artillery, Suda Bay.

The caption, in The Graphic, 17 April 1897, reads:

“The peninsula of Akrotiri occupied by Italian and Austrian troops.
The peninsula of Akrotiri, which lies between Canea and Suda Bay, has been blockaded. The insurgents on the peninsula are cut off from communication with their fellows. They have made several sallies. As the Turks felt themselves too weak to hold their position, a company of Austrian infantry and a detachment of Italian marines with two mountain guns were sent to occupy it.”

Italian mountain battery, 1898.

Italian mountain battery. Crete, 1898.

Writing in a ‘Diary of the detachment 1st BN. Seaforth Highlanders at Canea, Crete, during the early days of the international Occupation 1897’, Captain G. G. A, Egerton, D Company, 1st Seaforth Highlanders, sent to command a mixed force on the Akrotiri peninsula from 19th April to 10th June 1897, stated:
‘I did not trust the Italians a yard, and had no great confidence in the French, but my Austrian detachment Officers and men, were reliable to the last degree. The Italians were very fond of the English and were ready to black our boots, and they have never forgotten how much we assisted towards a united Italy. The Austrians were on very friendly terms always, their Officers were nearly all gentlemen, which was not certainly the case with most of the other foreign Officers. The Russians we saw little of, they were mainly kept outside of Canea, on account of their rowdy habits. Their Colonel was an ex Guardsman exiled for St. Petersburgh for his numerous crimes. He was often seen drunk.’
The French were all Infanterie de la Marine “Les Marsouines[?]”, riddled with Madagascar and Touquin [?] fever and undisciplined devils I thought.’

British artillery were represented by 4th Mountain Battery, Royal Artillery, on the island from 26th April 1897 to November 1897.

 

A minor mystery.

Kandanos 9 April 1905

Kandanos 9 April 1905

An interesting souvenir, but of what, and where was the photograph taken?

The photograph shows the flags of France and Italy flying above the ruins of some very large buildings. Included in the picture, along with French and Italian troops, are a number of British soldiers (extreme left of picture). There can also be seen what seem to be Cretan Gendarmes or members of the Cretan Civic Guards (on top of the wall top right).

The presence of the Cretan Gendarmes/Civic Guards would date the photograph as being taken sometime after 1899, and the arrival of Prince George of Greece as High Commissioner for the island in late 1898 and the subsequent setting up of these two Cretan law enforcement bodies. The problem is that the village of Kandanos is some 55 km south west of Canea and in 1905 was in the secteur controlled by Italian troops – the French and British would have no reason to be there, and judging by the weapons carried, they weren’t there for a holiday outing!

The other problem with the photograph is that Kandanos was, and is, a large village, not the sort of place likely to have three-story buildings.

The only place where French Italian and British troops are likely to have been in close proximity at around this time, and contained ruins of large buildings,  would have been Canea, which as the capital of the island was under the control of all of the four Powers.

Although Kandanos featured in the world’s press briefly in 1897 when a relief column consisting of international  marines and sailors was sent to rescue Ottoman troops and Cretan Muslims besieged in the town by Cretan Christians, no record of anything  significant happening there in April 1905 appears to exist – at least not in English. The Theriso Revolt lead by Eleftherios Venizelos had broken out the previous month, but by and large military activity was confined to the Russian secteur of the island, around Rethymnon; little of any import seems to have happened in Selinos, the province in which Kandanos is situated.

At the moment I’m completely baffled as to why such a souvenir should be have been produced showing as it does a specific date on which nothing much seems to have happened, and a very misleading location. Any suggestions as to what’s going on will be most gratefully received!