The Venetian Republic’s efforts to remain liquid in the eighteenth century spawned a number of interesting actions, and mercenaries, indeed mercenary armies, were much employed. This allowed the smaller European states to defray the costs of the prestigious armies, while allowing Venetian citizens freedom not to indulge in anything as low class as fighting.
One of the last examples of this was the invasion of Crete by the Landgraviate des Erzgebirgskreis. The Landgrave was currently at war with the Ottoman Empire, as part of those obscure and interminable wars that characterized “The age of enlightenment” and appears to have seized the opportunity to have his military operations subsidized by the Most Serene Republic by agreeing to a contract for the invasion of Crete. it is not clear what was to happen if the effort were successful; records are spotty from both sides, and even what survives is tainted by mendacity. Suffice it to say that both parties were out for what they could get.
The transport of the Landgrave’s forces went without a hitch, as would be expected with the venetians doing the sailing. The army was disembarked across the beach at Panormo without serious issues.
As the force advanced east along the coast to Cania, the first bad news has received. It appears that the Sanjak of Avlonya, along with the ottoman field army, under the command of Valantine Baker Pasha, an English émigré had beaten the Landgriavate forces to the island and was forming up for battle to contest their advance.
The Landgrave and his officers consulted, and formed a plan of assault. They were clearly au fait with the doctrine for fighting the Turk; they formed up massed, resting one flank on the sea, and with their superior cavalry on the open flank. The artillery was placed in front of the lines, in order to bombard the suburbs. The ottoman forces put forward a screen of a mass of irregulars, with the core of their regular troops and artillery forming up around the outskirts of Candia.
The field, however did not favor the Landgrave; along with some rolling hills, both in front of their lines, and on the ottoman right flanks there was patches of rough ground, a marsh and a wood obstructing their line of advance.
At eleven o’clock the Landgrave’s guns commenced fire into the mass of horse opposite. No effect was seen; and the horse moved forward toward the guns, along with a general surge forward toward the invading force. In response, the Landgrave’s infantry advanced, masking their guns, slowly picking their way through the marshes, and indeed, discovering a patch of quicksand that was not obvious from the initial survey of the field.
Firing broke out along the line, with the honors about even, but once more forcing the Landgrave’s troops to rally, slowing the advance further.
The stately advance began to reveal staff work lacking in the Landgrave’s army; twice during the day officers in command of battalions misinterpreted their orders and advanced or even fell back into difficult positions. Even more time had to be spent to rectify the line.
Rather to the surprise of the westerners, the Ottoman irregulars were standing up under the sporadic fire that was brought on them; Baker managed to maneuver his command so that none of his bands were particularly exposed,
although at the cost of having some of the cavalry screen the suburbs of Candia, and their janissary garrison, being driven from the field.
Losing patience with the advance of the infantry, which the dubious terrain and the Ottoman sniping seemed to have reduced to a crawl, the Landgrave loosed his cavalry on the
few ottoman irregulars obstructing them. One band was destroyed, and another retired. However, the Landgrave’s cavalry now began to suffer from sniping from piece of rocky ground. Baron von Swalnaki, commander of the elite Thum Kavallerie decided to advance his regiment into the bad ground to chase off what he declared to be “a handful of bulgarian banditti”. He was rather horrified to find on advancing his regiment into the bad terrain that every rock seemed to conceal a croat with a musket, and the cavalry regiment fled the field.
Musing on this, the Landgrave returned to pushing his infantry forward, probably making a mistake in not exploiting the advance of his cavalry. And here Baker made an error in turn. Seeing that he Landgrave’s forces were beginning to spread out, he pushed his irregulars forward. While they had stood against a desultory fire, face to face combat was beyond them, and two bands departed to the rear in short order.
The Landgrave’s left wing had reached musketry range of the village, and were now rather unsuccessfully exchanging shots with the Janissary garrison. Seeing no hope for immediate success here, and feeling the onset of evening approaching and the pressure of being on an exposed foreign coast, the Landgrave ordered a charge on the weakened irregular line in front of the central wood. This proved fatal. The elite first battalion of the Amtsberg regiment surged forward confidently, followed closely by their supports, in order to exploit the inevitable breakthrough. Much to the horror of the assembled staff the irregulars held, driving the attackers back through their supports, and dispersing them toward their landing place. Almost at the same time the battalion which had been exchanging fire with the village garrison broke, leaving the Erzgebirgskreish line in 4 separate pieces.
Encouraged by Baker, the irregulars surged forward, taking the Landgriaviate troops in the flank and rear. Routed battalions streamed toward the ships, as night fell, allowing the remainder of the dispirited army to retire.
Almost half the Erzgebirgskreis units were broken; Although a large number of the ottoman irregulars were dispersed, the Landgriave immediately boarded ships and returned to the much more congenial surroundings of the lagoon. The attempted reclamation of Crete had been defeated.
C. M. Turnbull. “18th Century Amphibious Operations” RUSI Vol. XLVIII