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Τhe Labros Katsonis passage.


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While sitting here in Kea Island and planning my next project i remembered a piece of history well known to locals but unknown to most foreign visitors which come to the island for the hot sun and its crystal clear blue waters.

 

Lambros Katsonis was a Greek revolutionary hero of the 18th century; he was also a knight of the Russian Empire and an officer with the rank of colonel in the Imperial Russian Navy, decorated with an Order of  St George IV class medal. Born in Levadia he joined the Orlov Revolt in 1770, but not pleased by the result he built up a small fleet and began harassing the Ottomans in the Aegean Sea. In 1778 he assembled a Greek pirate fleet of seventy vessels, which harassed the Turkish squadrons in the Aegean and forced the Ottomans to abandon the island of Kastelorizo.

The Sultan, aware of his achievements tried to bribe him by offering an Island. Instead, Katsonis refused and continued  harassing the Ottoman's fleet and trying to inspirate the rest of the Greeks in an arm race against the Turks.

In August 3, 1789 his flagship was chased by  26 Ottoman ships near Makronisos Island. Katsonis managed to escape to Agios Nikolaos bay in Kea, where the central port of the island is located until today. The Ottomans anchored just outside the bay waiting for him.

However Katsonis came up with an idea. He sent his sailors ashore, they cut several tree trunks, spreaded all over them with pork fat and lay them down at a narrow piece of land, known as Koka Straight. Then he ordered his men to tow the ship over the trunks until it slipped to the other side , straight to the Aegean sea. By the next morning  and when the Ottomans realised that  Katsonis had escaped, they attacked the port of Kea burning it to the ground and killing hundreds of civilians.

In May 6 1790 Katsonis and his fleet of seven ships faced the Ottomans with 20 vessels. Before dark, Katsonis although outnumbered had gained a tactical advantage over his enemy. Then, a force of 11 Algerian pirate ships hired by the Sultan, joined the battle at the Ottomans side.  Katsonis  managed to escape but he had lost 5 of his ships and over 600 well trained men. Ottomans and Algerians lost over 3000 men while half of their force was sunk or put out of action. They attacked Kea again and in October they sailed to Istanbul where they celebrate their victory by hunging from the ship's masts  about 50 prisoners from Katsonis crew.

Katsonis was a unique ocassion who even defeated was decorated and promoted for his actions from Cathrine the Great of Russia. Later  Russian and Ottoman Empire signed a peace treaty. Katsonis was ordered to cease hostile activities but he denied.  His disobidience was the reason that he got banned from the Russian fleet. He returned to Greece dealing with the rise of the Revolutionary party. Then in June 1792 his fleet while anchored at Mani Bay was attacked by a joined force of Ottoman and French comprised of 30 vessels. After a 3 day battle Katsonis managed to escape to Ithaca then returned to Russia with his family where he rejoined the Russian Fleet until he retired.

 

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