The Land Forces on Crete 1897/98

Crete (Greek: Kriti, Turkish: Kirid, Italian: Candia) one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea was in the last half of the 19th century an area of  permanent troubles. The majority of inhabitants were of the Christian religion and rebelled against the Muslim minority which was supported by the local Ottoman government. After the great mutiny in 1866/67 the major powers advised the Ottoman Sultan to pass the authority over Crete to Greece to avoid any further bloody hostilities. The Ottoman government however refused but gave extensive autonomy and granted amnesty for the rebels. But the situation between the hostile members of the different religions didn't calm down especially because the Greek authorities permanently sent money, weapons and agitators to the island, ignoring the international agreement of 1869. Again In 1878 a major mutiny had to be put down by the legal Ottoman authorities under Mutkhtar Pasha, followed by more concessions to local self government in 1879 and again in 1889. This was good for the local people but of course not satisfying for the Greek government. They continued to stir the thorny situation by supporting the rebels with money and weapons. Again a critical point was reached when the Greek government started to transport armed soldiers of fortune to Crete in 1896 to support a new mutiny against the local government. In January 1897 the whole island was on fire, the majority (about 60%) of the inhabitants started to fight and kill the Muslim minority with the dedicated goal of joining Crete to the Greek Kingdom - a war between the Ottoman Empire and Greece was imminent. On the 15th of February 1897 2000 Greek soldiers, commanded by Colonel Vassos, landed at Crete to proclaim the union with Greece. In this situation the European major powers agreed to calm down the situation by blockading the island with ships to prohibit any troop transports, from whom ever, to Crete. Also an international peace force landed and took over control of several important places and ending any hostilities. Especially Russia, France and Italy were interested in weakening the Ottoman Empire and so they enforced their troublesome compromise to appoint the Greek Prince George as commissioner-ruler (Harmostes) of Crete but leave the island under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Sultan. The gendarmerie was newly formed under Italian control and the small local militia was put under control of foreign, mainly British, officers. No wonder that such a compromise against more than 30% of the inhabitants who were of Muslim religion and defacto deprived of their rights, could not work. After more mutinies, the largest in 1905, huge numbers of Cretan Muslims fled to the Ottoman mainland and at the end Crete became a part of the Greek Kingdom in 1913. 


Austro-Hungarian Land forces and their uniforms on Crete

The European Major Powers agreed to land infantry forces on the island to separate the fighting opponents. For this purpose the 2nd battalion of the k.u.k. infantry regiment number 87, at this time garrisoned at Trieste, was transported by the Navy to Crete because the infantry regiment of the navy was disbanded in 1870. It was formed of 1 commander, 18 officers, 2 medical doctors, 656 NCOs and men and 7 horses. (see Order of Battle) A section of the Sanitätstruppe (medical branch) formed by 1 NCO and 4 men was attached to the battalion.

The unusual tropical climate of the island made it necessary to create new types of uniforms for these troops. The NCOs and men received 2 complete sets of white uniforms of the same look and made of the same Zwilich fabric of the regular working jacket and instead of the field cap white pith-helmets were prescribed for wear. As there were no such pith helmets available in the k.u.k. army they were simply bought from the private company P.&C. Habig, no cockades or other badges were worn on these helmets. No dark blue full-dress was taken with the troops but the dark blue Bluse (field-jacket) with white trousers was allowed for wear. The officers also wore white uniforms and the use of the dark blue Bluse (field-jacket) with white trousers was also allowed but not often seen. As headgear special officer's caps of white worsted fabric (Kammgarn) with chin straps of white leather and white lacquered peak were manufactured and issued to the officers before leaving Trieste. The fabric utilized had the official term "naturlfarben" which means uncoloured so the shade could be from light beige up to bright white.

Officer's of the 8th company at Canea wearing the special uniform and headgear. (The officer on the left with stick is from the Navy.)

NCOs and men of the 7th company with new uniform at Suda.

The Dislocation of the international peace-keeping forces


Location Unit
Suda 2 companies incl. battalion-staff of the 2nd Bat./Infantry Regiment number 87
Canea 1 company of the 2nd Bat./Infantry Regiment number 87
Akrotiri 1 company of the 2nd Bat./Infantry Regiment number 87


Location Unit
Sitia 2nd Bat./4th Navy-Infantry-Regiment and 200 sailors
Spinalonga 175 sailors
Canea 2 companies of the 2nd Bat./8th Navy-Infantry-Regiment
Halepa 1 half-company of the 2nd Bat./8th Navy-Infantry-Regiment
Fort Subaschi 1 company of the 2nd Bat./8th Navy-Infantry-Regiment
Akrotiri 1 half-company of the 2nd Bat./8th Navy-Infantry-Regiment


Location Unit
Canea 1 Navy-Detachment (1 officer and 10 sailors)
Suda-Fort 5 sailors

Great Britain

Location Unit
Candia 2 companies of the Seaforth-Highlanders and 1 battalion of the Welsh-Fusiliers and 6 mountain guns artillery
Canea 2 companies of the Seaforth-Highlanders - 80 men from this companies sometimes attached to Akrotiri


Location Unit
Hierapetra 2 companies of the 2nd Bat./36th Infantry Regiment
Candia 2 companies of the 2nd Bat./36th Infantry Regiment
Canea 8th battalion of Bersaglieri
Akrotiri, Tschikalaria and Fort Subaschi 1 company of sailors from the "Sicilia" with 2 guns and 6 guns from the 8th mountain battery

The Italian forces includes 30 carabinieri located at Canea, Candia and Hierapetra.


Location Unit
Rhetymno 2 companies of the 1st Bat./56th Infantry Regiment, 4 companies of the 14th rifle battalion and 6 guns of the 13th artillery brigade
Canea 2 companies of the 1st Bat./56th Infantry Regiment

The Russian forces includes 80 Montenegrin volunteers at Canea and Rhetymno.

International group of officers at Canea

International group of soldiers and sailors at Fort Izzeddin

The dislocation of the Greek and Ottoman Forces

This international peace keeping force should separate about 30000 men of the insurgents and 10827 men of the Ottoman Army. The irregular rebel forces had mainly surrounded the cities along the shore where the Muslim inhabitants of the island had fled for shelter, their presumed strength and dislocation was as follows:

Canea about 3000 men
Rhtymno nearly 4000 men
Candia about 10000 men
Sitia 2000 men
Spinalonga 2000 men
Hierapetra 2000 men
Kissamo about 3500 men
Penisular of Akrotiri 800 - 1000 men

The units and dislocation of the regular Ottoman Army is shown at the following table-sheet:

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