The end of the 19th century brought with it the end of an illusion. Greece, apart from being already bankrupt in financial terms, also went bankrupt from a political and military point of view after the unfortunate war of 1897. At the beginning of 1897, the atmosphere in Greece was very tense because of the Cretan revolt and the slaughters of the Turks.
In Europe, many sides demanded that the Powers intervene in favour of the Cretans, and public opinion in Greece called for the dispatch of military forces to the island. The limited activity of the Greek fleet was reinforced when the king's adjutant, Timoleon Vasos, was sent to the island with a force of 1,500 men. The Greek forces disembarked at Kolybari Bay on 3rd February and tried to create a fait accompli of occupation and annexation of the island to the Greek state.
The Powers did not decide on the embargo of Piraeus or on any other dynamic movement against Greece asked for by the Kapi and the Kaiser. The disembarkation of European military forces on Crete created an atmosphere of direct conflict, but the sympathy of European public opinion for Greece prevented England and France from adopting a stricter attitude. Diligiannis's government probably wanted an embargo, similar to the 1886 one, in order to free itself from the dilemma and secure some diplomatic gains for Crete. The ultimatum note of the Powers on 18th February-2nd March led to the withdrawal of the Greek fleet. The fleets of the Powers shut the island off and occupation troops disembarked, forcing the island to relinquish its autonomy.
But at the Greek-Turkish borders, tension had risen dangerously. The successor, Konstantinos, took over the position of Commander-in-Chief on 15th March, causing enthusiasm and the rekindling of agitation for liberation. The majority of the people, the intellectuals and the army officers wanted a national war, which they were hopeful they would win with some ease. After the intrusion of the armed forces of the National Committee into Macedonia, the Greek government tried to shake off its responsibilities. But on 5th April the Kapi announced its decision to break off diplomatic relations with Athens.
Athens was dragged into the war, but Diligiannis's words to an enthusiastic Parliament ('We had to accept it and so we did') hid the provocative attitude of the interventions of the National Committee, and of the war fever over the Cretan issue. The war had begun long before its official declaration and before the start of organized battles at the borders, from 6th to 11th April.
The Greek troops, unprepared and inexperienced in war, were defeated and had to withdraw from their initial positions. The Ottoman forces started to advance into Greek territory. On 12th April they took Tyrnavos and on the next - Easter Day - Larissa.
The Greek forces retreated to Farsala where they regrouped. Only one brigade, under Colonel Konstantinos Smolenskis, reformed at Velestino in order to maintain control of the road and rail links with the city of Volos. The battles at Velestino continued until 24th April, and Smolenskis gained the distinction of a hero. The colonel of the artillery dissuaded his men from taking undisciplined flight and deserting the army, and kept his position for as long as the rest of the forces needed to withdraw from Farsala to Domokos.
The rest of the Greek forces under Konstantinos, after having fought at Farsala for one day (23rd April), retreated to the more fortified position of Domokos on 24th April. Two days later, Ottoman troops conquered Volos.
The last battle took place at Domokos on 5th May where volunteers - supporters of Garibaldi and Amilcar Cipriani - also participated. Their defeat and pursuit by the Turks led the Greek troops to the North of Lamia; by the time they got there, a truce had already been agreed on. The battlefront of Thessaly did not end up in the same way as the one at Epirus, since after the battle at the Five Wells (11th-17th April), and Gribovo (1st-3rd May), Major General Thrasivoulos Manos's men retreated slightly from the 1881 borders.
Within one month, the Greek army in Thessaly had lost most of the land which diplomacy had given to Greece fifteen years before. The truce declared after the Tsar's intervention on 5th May did not put an end to Thessaly's occupation by Ottoman troops, who only retreated in May 1898, after having perpetrated much destruction and many acts of violence.
The loss of land was relatively small. The most important wounds of the unfortunate war hurt Greece's pride and prestige. Nobody ultimately assumed clear responsibility for all this; the initial anger of the throne and the successor became attenuated as time went by.
For reasons of 'national dignity', pehaps, the Greeks were content to adopt an anti-German attitude and the conspiratorial interpretation of history, neglecting, until recently, to examine more calmly what the Cyprian Salpix called 'our noble blinding'.