The Cretan Gendarmerie was a gendarmerie force created soon after Crete gained its autonomy from Ottoman rule in the late 19th century. It later played a major role in the coup that toppled the government of King Constantine in 1916.
The police in Crete before autonomy
During the second half of the 19th century the Cretans revolted several times against Ottoman rule. In 1878, at the Convention of Halepa, the Sultan agreed that in future only Cretans would police Crete. It was agreed that a new body of Gendarmerie would be formed and recruited only from Cretans. In 1889, however, ignoring the promises made at the Convention, the Sultan appointed Colonel Taxin as chief of police in Crete at the head of a body of two hundred men recruited in Macedonia. In 1896, with riots continuing, the Sultan, under pressure from foreigner powers, accepted the creation of a body of one hundred Montenegrin constables under the command of the British Major Bohr. These men remained on the island until February 1899. The slaughter of Christians organized by the Turks in Heraklion in August 1898 led the admirals of the Great Powers in the Mediterranean to press the Turks to leave the island. The Turkish Gendarmerie withdrew with the Turkish army, while the admirals undertook the administration of the island, with Prince George of Greece arriving to serve as temporary governor in December 1898. The British administered the prefecture of Heraklion, the Russians the prefecture of Rethymno, the French the prefecture of Lasithi, and the Italians the prefectures of Chania and Sfakia. The public safety situation on the island was far from ideal. Everybody was armed, and apart from the national problems there were also personal feuds and endemic problems, such as cattle stealing and vendettas. Many people abandoned the countryside and flocked to the cities for protection. The foreigner governors were forced to organize units of gendarmerie from Cretans to supplement their own police and military forces, and a separate force was formed in each prefecture. Naturally the organization and system of operation of every one of these units was different and reflected the national origins of the governor. As a result Crete was policed by four independent units of Gendarmerie, which were organised on completely different models.
The foundation and organization of the Cretan Gendarmerie
When Prince George of Greece undertook his duties as High Commissioner, one of his fundamental objectives was to restore law and order. He wanted to prove to everyone that Cretans were worthy of autonomy. So it was decided that all residents should be disarmed and a central body of Gendarmerie should be created. The core of the new Cretan Gendarmerie were the small units that the powers had created. In January 1899 the Prince called the commanders of the four Gendarmerie units to Chania to hear their proposals on the way the Cretan Gendarmerie should be organized. An this meeting it was realized that the only commander who was expert and had serious proposals on the subject was the Italian representative. Thus, the Italian proposal was accepted and it was decided on the organization of a unit of gendarmerie similar to the Italian Carabinieri, which was considered one of the best such units in Europe. In the summer of 1899, Carabinieri Captain Federico Craveri was named commander and organizer of the new Cretan Gendarmerie. Craveri, with the help of a team of 140 Carabinieri officers and non-commissioned officers, undertook the organization of the new force, using as a core the personnel of the four forces created by the international governors. In the achievement of this objective he was helped by two particularly favourable factors. First, was the fact that many young Cretans, inspired by love for their country, hurried to enlist in this new paramilitary unit of the independent Cretan State. This meant that Craveri could choose the best. Enlistment in the Gendarmerie, which also had military duties (the foundation of Militia having been postponed permanently due to lack of funds), was considered an honorable service to the nation. Georgios Vouros, for example, abandoned his studies in the Law Faculty of Athens University in order to enlist as a simple constable, and Evangelos Sarris, who had previously abandoned his studies in order to participate in the revolution of 1898, immediately enlisted in the Gendarmerie. Both were later to be among the first Cretans commissioned into the Gendarmerie. The other factor that helped Craveri to enforce law and order in the island was his excellent relationship with the government and Prince George, as well as the fact that the island's authorities had the right to deport all persons who were considered dangerous. This measure was initially applied by the international authorities and the constitution of 1899 and was extended for two years as a privilege of the Prince. None of the people deported by the admirals or the Prince had the right to return in Crete unless the Prince decided so. The Cretan Gendarmerie consisted of a single battalion of five companies. Although the official establishment was 1,600, under Italian command the total was never more than 1,275. One company was assigned to each nomos (prefecture). The company commanders were Carabinieri lieutenants, who in Crete were given the local rank of captain. In June 1900 Craveri was replaced by Valduino Caprini, who created a sixth headquarters company. The first company commanders were: Ferdinando Mensitieri (HQ Company), Luigi Bassi (Chania Company), Ettore Lodi (Sfakia Company), Arcangelo de Mandate (Heraklion Company), Edigio Garrone (Rethymno Company), and Filiberto Vigliani (Lasithi Company). The uniform was dark blue in winter and white in summer. The constables wore the traditional Cretan vraka (voluminous breeches) and the officers wore trousers. The constables wore a round hat and the officers wore a hat similar to that worn by officers of the Greek Army. Both officers and constables wore black boots. The constables were armed with rifle, bayonet, and revolver, while some also carried the traditional Cretan knife on their belts. Each company was divided into three or four ipomirarchies (subcompanies), each also under the command of an officer. Each ipomirarchia had six enomoties (stations) commanded by a non-commissioned officer. Initially all officers and non-commissioned officers were Italian Carabinieri, but gradually the non-commissioned officers were replaced by Cretans. The Cretans, many of whom were well educated, were promoted rapidly after three months training at a military school operating at the headquarters, at the end of which they took examinations. Some of the Italian officers slightly changed their signatures to look Greek: Valduino Caprini, for instance, signed himself "Kaprinis".
The Cretan Gendarmerie in an autonomous Crete
In a very short period of time, the Cretan Gendarmerie managed to gain the trust of the Cretans and the foreigners, although the latter had initially been prejudiced against the Cretans, largely through their training and courage. For instance, the following account was published in a police magazine by Ioannis Vlahakis. Vlahakis, who was commanding the police station at Vlattou, went with two constables to the village of Papadjana Kissamou in order to arrest somebody accused of cattle stealing. While they were in the house of one V. Falaggari they were surrounded by forty armed men. The constables, thanks to their training and bravery, not only managed to scatter the armed men, but also found and confiscated the stolen animals. Ipenomotarchis (staff sergeant) Evangelos Sarris saved an old man from drowning in the harbour of Chania. In a similar case, in the harbour of Heraklion on 2 April 1910, when the anchors of the Italian sailing ship Etras were cut during a storm, Enomotarhis Ioannis Vlahakis with other colleagues entered in the sea and saved the five Italians and two Austrians who constituted the ship's crew. During the revolt of Theriso, the Cretan Gendarmerie remained faithful to Prince George. In this difficult period the Cretan population had been divided (in the 1906 elections the pro-Prince parties took 38,127 votes while pro-Venizelos parties took 33,279), but the Gendarmerie managed to execute its duties objectively. Finally, British diplomats brokered a settlement and in September 1906 Prince George was replaced by Alexandros Zaimis, whose arrival was greeted as the herald of union with Greece. With the retirement of Prince George, the consuls of the powers wrote: "The Consuls of the Protectors Forces of Crete on the departure of His Royal Highness Prince George of Greece express their complete confidence in the military spirit and tested patriotism of the Cretan Gendarmerie...The Consuls desire to express to the Cretan Gendarmerie all the goodwill of the Protectors Forces".
From the departure of Prince George until the Balkan Wars
On 16 December 1906 Eugenio Monaco, third and last head of the Italian mission, delivered command of the Gendarmerie to Artillery Major Andreas Momferratos, head of the Greek mission. The first objective of the Greek mission was the creation of a militia and the equipping of the Gendarmerie with new rifles of the Mannlicher–Jenauer type. They also tried to introduce more intensive military education. The creation of battalions of militia released the Gendarmerie from certain military duties. The Greek mission immediately began to promote of Cretans to commissioned officer rank. The first Cretans to be commissioned as lieutenants on 14 January 1907, in order of seniority, were: Evangelos Sarris, Dimitrios Kokkalas, Andreas Androylakis, Alexandros Hatzioannou, Nikiforos Nikiforakis, Zaharias Mprillakis, Ilias Mourginakis, Minos Mylogjannakis, Emmanouel Vogiatzakis, Georgios Vouros, and Ioannis Souris. On the eve of the Balkan Wars in 1912 there were 45 officers, 50 senior non-commissioned officers, and 1,371 junior non-commissioned officers and constables serving in the Cretan Gendarmerie. Of the officers, five second lieutenants were physicians and one a pharmacist, while another pharmacist was a senior NCO. Some of the officers were attached from the Greek Army, including the commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Andreas Momferratos. Army officers constituted the entire Greek mission that replaced the Italians in December 1906. As a direct result of the Cretan Gendarmerie's success in its duties, the organization of the Greek Gendarmerie was also assigned to Italian officers in July 1911. Some of them, like Arcangelo de Mandate, had also participated in the organization of the Cretan Gendarmerie.
The Balkan Wars
On 4 October 1912 the Christian countries of the Balkans (Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia) declared war on the Ottoman Empire. The advance of the Greek Army was rapid and on 26 October the Turks surrendered Thessaloniki (Salonika). Eleftherios Venizelos, forecasting the problems of law and order that would be presented after the liberation of the city and knowing that the Bulgarians and other European nations would like to promote a picture of anarchy and a Greek state incapable of imposing order, ordered Cretan Gendarmerie units to be transported to the city. Thus, on 24 October 1912 the commander of the Cretan Gendarmerie with four officers, two senior non-commissioned officers and 150 constables left from Chania for Athens and thence to Thessaloniki aboard the steamer Arcadia. This force was strengthened and eventually almost the whole of the Gendarmerie was shipped to Thessaloniki. On the 14 October 1912, the Governor-General of Crete Stefanos Dragoumis mobilised the reservist non-commissioned officers and constables enlisted in the 1880s and 1890s. Thessalonica was then an international city. Apart from the Greeks, it was also inhabited by many Turks and Western Europeans, a very large Jewish community, and a substantial Bulgarian minority. Most of them did not welcome the Greek flag flying over the city. The Western Europeans considered that they would lose their commercial privileges; the Jews for commercial reasons would have preferred an Austrian administration or the internationalization of Thessalonica; whilst the Bulgarians, Turks and Austrians wanted the city for their own countries. The composition of population of Thessalonica, according to Turkish authorities a short time before its liberation, was:
Jews - 61,000
Turks - 43,000
Greeks - 40,000
Bulgarians - 6,000
Other nationalities - 5,000
However, to these numbers of permanent citizens there should also be added others. Because of the war the population of the city almost had been doubled. Also present were the Greek army, the Bulgarian army, gangs of komitatzides (Bulgarian irregulars), the crews of British, Russian, Austrian and French warships that were in Thessalonica in order to protect their nationals, and the Turkish troops, who according to the treaty had freedom of movement. There were also the Turkish Gendarmerie and police, who according to the treaty were not disarmed, and a large number of Turkish deserters, many of them also armed, who were wandering the streets begging for food and money. Finally, there were Muslim refugees who had been gathering in the city as a result of Bulgarian atrocities against the unarmed population. These were assembled in Panes, cemeteries and squares creating unacceptable hygiene conditions and the immediate danger of a spread of epidemics in the city. The British correspondent of The Times, Crawford Price, reported: "Eloquent proof of the size and gravity of the Turkish defeat lies in the thousands of the refugees, who come to Salonika like swarms of locusts. Terrified and panicked leave to save their lives from the Servo-Bulgarian advance...ask shelter and protection from the cold behind walls and wear various rags...One can see pregnant women lying in the mud, and the complete absence of all elementary sanitary precaution, and not having a single blanket...one can see women and children starving not having a single piece of bread." The policing of the city was very difficult, with a varied population, with explosive racial and religious prejudices, with the economic problems that were created by the change of rule, with the consequences of the recent battles, but also with the lack of any infrastructure for solving these problems. Initially, the Cretan Gendarmerie took care of the refugees by organizing them in settlements in the suburbs of the city, thus allowing the municipal workers to clean the city. They then tried to create a climate of calm and order in the city, so that all the citizens, regardless of their nationality, could feel safe. The gendarmes immediately gained the confidence and admiration of population, as it appears from the following comments in newspapers and magazines on their actions in Thessalonica: From the French paper L' Illustration, in an article by the military correspondent Jean Len: "There is something that occasionally draws the attention of the crowd. The passage of a Cretan Gendarmerie patrol, dressed in their national uniform: boots, vraka, shirt and toca hat on their heads. They are handsome men with dark hair, tall with a steady step...pride lights their faces. What a dream they live, these man who were for so long the slaves of the Turks in their poor island, when they realize that they are entrusted to keep order in Thessalonica which they liberated from the Turks and which is still inhabited by so many of the previous conquerors, who now have to obey them! The presence of this Gendarmerie might calm the Bulgarian soldiers a little. Every evening they drink too much, creating problems wherever they pass." From Morning of Thessalonica: "The Cretan Gendarmes impose equally the law on civilians, partisans and soldiers, regardless of race or religion, everybody obeys to everything they impose, because everyone respects and fears them." From New Truth of Thessalonica: "The Cretan Policeman – man of duty, disciplined and decent, managed from the first days to impose order...So in a short period of time Thessalonica had the fortune to see a peace and order that during the last years of Turkish occupation could not even be dreamt of. What men, what great lads. How handsome, decent and strong these Cretan Gendarmes...There is not soil in the world able to give birth to men better and braver than Cretans." From Time of Athens (C. Chairopoulos): "Excellent in their carriage, discipline, organization, every man chosen with the serious sight of American or British policemen, they patrol the city inspiring respect in all citizens regardless of nationality. Trained well, military by nature, brave of character, strengthened by exercise, they are a formidable force." From Time of Moscow: "Unfortunately not all countries have the brave men of Crete in order to create such a Gendarmerie." The Bulgarians did not cease their efforts to make Thessalonica seem like a city in anarchy or to make it appear that they were also in control. On the night of 31 October, only five days after the liberation, a group of Bulgarian irregulars blow up a big Turkish ammunition dump in the suburb of Zeitelik. As a result some Turkish prisoners and a few Greek cavalry troopers were killed. Soon afterwards, the Bulgarian irregulars started lighting fires and slaughtering the Turkish non-combatants. The Cretan gendarmes attacked them and forced them to stop their actions and retreat to the Bulgarian army barracks to seek protection. This was the first in a series of incidents involving the Bulgarians. In the following days they started occupying mosques and turning them into Bulgarian churches, insulting the religious feelings of the Muslim citizens, who protested to the Greek authorities. The Cretan Gendarmerie, with the help of the Greek Army, intervened to protect the Muslims. Interestingly, most of these mosques had been converted from Greek Orthodox churches when the Turks first captured the city five centuries before. In another case, Ipenomotarchis John Petrakis, who with ten other gendarmes was guarding the railway station, discovered a Bulgarian plot to blow up the station. He arrested the Bulgarians and confiscated 100 kilograms of gunpowder and some rifles. Elsewhere, the French post office was closed after a Bulgarian officer shot the clerks because they would not accept Bulgarian banknotes. According to the report of the French military correspondent Jean Len, the whole population of Thessalonica disliked the Bulgarians. The only exception was the Jewish community, which initially, following the orders of the Austrian counsellor, gave to the Bulgarian army buildings that they refused to give to the Greek Army. Later, however, the Jewish community changed their point of view
The captivity of Bulgarian units in Thessalonica
On 17 June 1913 the Bulgarians, without any declaration of war, attacked the Greek Army. The Second Division and the Cretan Gendarmerie were given the task of neutralising the Bulgarian units in Thessalonica. The Cretan Gendarmerie was ordered to capture the various small Bulgarian units scattered around the city, while the Second Division was to capture the larger units of Bulgarian Army. Later the same day General Kalaris sent the following message to the commander of Bulgarian forces in Thessalonica :
Sir, Since Bulgarian troops began hostilities in the countryside against our Army, I have the honour to request you to leave the city of Thessalonica one hour after the delivery of this letter. The arms of your men must be delivered to our officers, while your officers may keep their swords. A train will transport your men to the front and measures will be taken to allow them to safely pass the front line. After this deadline expires I must, to my regret, give orders that your troops will be considered hostile.
As expected, the Bulgarians ignored the ultimatum and plans for their disarmament were initiated. The operations began in the afternoon of the same day and lasted until the morning of the next day. Bulgarian units were located in the Rotonta, in the building of the Faculty of Public Employees, in the church of Santa Sofia, in the buildings along the Hamidje road, in the Turkish school on Kassandrou Street, and inside the Ioannidion School. The Bulgarian headquarters were located in a large house that belonged to the banker Samouel Mouson. Soldiers and Cretan gendarmes encircled the Public Employees building and firing from the houses opposite forced the Bulgarians to surrender. The Bulgarian units that were located in the buildings on Hamidje road surrendered after a hard battle. Gendarmes and soldiers positioned in the houses opposite continued firing at them until the Bulgarians surrendered. The bullet holes in the facades of the buildings could still be seen until their destruction during the earthquake of 20 June 1978. In the Turkish school Ticaret Mectebi on Kassandrou Road and in the Bulgarian consulate there were about one hundred Bulgarian irregulars (komitatzides), who were be used to attack the Greek headquarters. The komitatzides were always causing problems, walking provocatively in the streets, and they often attacked Turkish refugees housed nearby. On the afternoon of 17 June a unit of gendarmes commanded by Ipenomotarchis Emmanuel Tsakonas encircled the building and called on the Bulgarians to surrender. When they refused, heavy firing began that lasted into the next morning. Then Tsakonas resorted to a trick. He entered the courtyard of the school carrying a "bomb" and threatened to blow up the building unless they surrendered in one hour. The Bulgarians surrendered without realising that the supposed bomb was actually a bottle of mineral water. Lieutenant Hatzeoannou with his unit attacked, neutralised and arrested the guard of the Bulgarian post office and bank in the Grant hotel. The fighting was hard in Santa Sofia, where Ipenomotarchis Avatzos's unit had the task of capturing the Bulgarians who were holed up in the church. At one point in the battle the Bulgarians raised a white flag. As soon as the Cretans advanced in order to arrest them the Bulgarians started firing again, wounding two gendarmes. Then the Cretans assaulted with fixed bayonets and captured all the surviving Bulgarians. At the Roman monument of Rotonta, the Greek soldiers, taking positions in the terraces of the surrounding houses and aided by many citizens, fired at the tents of the Bulgarians located in the courtyard and against the windows of Rotonta until they surrendered. In total, 1,300 Bulgarian soldiers were arrested, including seventeen officers and General Hesapsjev, who was transported aboard the steamer Marietta Rialdi to Piraeus, where he was held until the end of war. In July 1913 the Cretan Gendarmerie was incorporated into the Greek Gendarmerie. However the majority of its personnel remained in Macedonia, and the distinctive uniform was retained. In 1914 a "Battalion of Gendarmerie of the Expeditionary Army" was created, consisting of four companies, mainly reservist gendarmes of the Cretan Gendarmerie. Unfortunately, peace did not last long. On 22 September 1915, ignoring Greek neutrality, Allied forces occupied of Thessaloniki to further their plans for a Macedonian front. In December 1915 Italian and French forces occupied the Greek island of Corfu, where they gathered the remnants of the Serbian Army and Government. King Constantinos wanted to keep Greece neutral and did not wish to participate in a war that might end in economic and/or military disaster for Greece. After all, Greece had doubled its territories after the Balkan Wars. The soldiers wanted to return at their homes and there were many economic problems as a result of the Army's mobilisation. Also many Greeks were angry with the Italians and French, who after the Balkan Wars did not support the Greek claims on the liberated lands of Macedonia and Northern Epiros. On the other hand, Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos believed that Greece had an obligation to help Serbia and enter the war with the Allies against the Central Powers. The main thrust of his policy was that Greece, as a maritime nation, should always follow Britain's lead. He hoped that Greece again had the chance to liberate the many Greeks still living under Turkish rule. The King was accused of being pro-German due to his relationship to the Kaiser. However, he was also a cousin of the Tsar and the British King. By the end of 1915 it was obvious that neutrality could not be maintained and that Greek sovereignty was being eroded day by day. A group of influential Greek Macedonian citizens and officers, believing that the Allies may give Greek Macedonian grounds to the Serbs, decided on a coup d'etat in order to force King Constantinos to abandon neutrality and enter the war in favour of the Allies. This group, the Committee of National Defence, was led by D. Ligas, P. Argiropoulos, A. Zannas, K. Aggelakis, N. Manos, Pazis, Grekos, P.Zimvrakakis, Th. Koutoupis and others. The leadership was offered to the now ex-Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, who strongly believed that Greece should enter the war in favour of the Allies. Venizelos agreed on condition that military units should be committed on all fronts and not only in Macedonia. In March 1916 the German and Bulgarian forces started occupying Greek territories in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. Bulgarian forces, intent on expelling the Greek population from the area, started a campaign of terror, slaughtering civilians, burning villages, raping women and children, and robbing the population. The Germans objected to these atrocities, but did not wish to displease their allies too much. Once again refugees, Greeks this time, began flooding into Thessaloniki. Cretans and other Greek soldiers who could not tolerate the occupation of Greek soil by the Bulgarian army started volunteering for the Allied armies in order to fight against the Central Powers. The Greek high command started transferring units from Thessaloniki to Southern Greece in order to maintain discipline and avoid provocative actions against the Allied forces who were in Thessaloniki.
Greece in the Balkan Wars, 1912-1913, Athens, 1970 (in Greek language)
Abridged History of the Balkan Wars (in Greek language)
Greece and the War in the Balkans (in Greek language)
The History of National Division (in Greek language)
Constabulary in Greece and Crete, Athens, 1912 (in Greek language)
History of the Greek Nation, Volumes 11 and 15
The Story of the Salonica Army, London, 1918
The Liberation of Thessalonici (in Greek language)
History of the Cretan Constabulary, Athens, 1963 (in Greek language)
History of the National Amynis Coup, (in Greek language)
Political and Military History of the Balkan Wars in Macedonia, 1915
Cretan Affairs (in Greek language)