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Sea-Wolves of the Mediterranean

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Sea-Wolves of the Mediterranean
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Author(s): E. Hamilton Currey
Date Published: 2011/03
Page Count: 280
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-470-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-469-1

Sword against scimitar at sea

The expulsion of the Moors from Iberia following the victory of the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand of Castile and Queen Isabella of Aragon in 1492 heralded a new age. Now there was a clear line between the Christian European world and the Orient of Islam. The void that separated these perpetually warring cultures was the Mediterranean Sea and its blue waters would boil red with the blood of soldiers, sailors and the innocents of both sides for a century of unresolved conflict as the Cross struggled for dominance with the Crescent. This was the time of the Muslim Corsairs, savage, ruthless men who were at once freebooting pirates sailing for plunder and slaves and essential naval vanguards of the forces of the 'Grand Turk' who waged his holy war from his palace on the Bosphorus. Great and terrible men became the scourge of the Christian coast for decades. The Barbarossa brothers, Dragut and others fought their sworn enemies of the seagoing European states of the period, each side pitted against the other in fast lethal war galleys. In the pages of this book readers will find the compelling story of these turbulent times. The exploits of the corsairs are told in detail as are those of their implacable enemies including the equally resolute and ruthless men of 'The Religion,’ otherwise known as the Knights of St. John. This is an account of violent raids, of towns stormed and sacked, of sea battles, of the great siege of Malta and the destruction of Islamic sea power that was the great Battle of Lepanto. Highly recommended. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket.

Soon after sunrise the Turkish fleet was descried sailing towards the Christians, in such apparently overwhelming force that several of the Spanish commanders represented to Don John that it would be imprudent to risk a battle. To his honour be it recorded that he replied he had come out to fight the Turks and that the time for talk was now over. He then hoisted all his banners, and the executive signal for the combat to begin was given by displaying at his mainmast head the sacred banner blessed by the Pope. As this standard floated out upon the breeze there went up a great shout in unison from all that were under the command of Don John. The scene of the combat was that area of the Ionian Sea which is enclosed on the east by the coasts of Albania and Morea and on the west by the islands of Ithaca and Cephalonia, Just to the northward, at the entrance to the Gulf of Arta, sixteen hundred years before had been fought the battle of Actium between Antony and Octavius; the same spot had witnessed, in 1538, the memorable battle of Prevesa between Andrea Doria and Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa.<br>
From the point of view of the seaman, who is naturally anxious to discover the dispositions of their fleets made by the rival Commanders-in-Chief, Lepanto is an almost hopeless puzzle. As far as can be gathered, however, it was that the two armadas approached one another in what is known as “line ahead,” each ship being immediately astern of its next ahead in one long continuous line; and that, when they got within striking distance, these lines turned so that they formed “line abreast,” when each ship, having turned at right angles, simultaneously the line advances abreast, the ships forming it being broadside to broadside.<br>
When the Turks discovered the allies they were issuing from between the islets and the shore. Seeing John Andrea Doria moving to the right, they judged that he was executing a turning movement with the object of escaping to the northwards, from whence he had come; they were, at the time, unable to see the rest of the fleet, which was hidden by the land. With sound tactical judgment they accordingly advanced to attack the allies before they should have time to issue from the strait. They were, however, too far off to accomplish this, and, by the time they arrived within striking distance, the Christian fleet had cleared the strait and was ready for them, “drawn up for battle,” says Monsieur Daru, which is somewhat vague in describing the disposition of a fleet. What is certain, however, is that in advance of the galleys of Don John were six great galeasses, which were armed with guns of immensely superior power to anything which could be mounted in galleys. As the Turks advanced to the attack these vessels opened fire, and did so much execution that Ali, the Turkish Commander-in-Chief, ordered his line to open out and thus avoid their fire. Whatever formation the fleet was in at the time—which was, as far as we can gather, “line abreast”—this opening-out process, to avoid the galeasses, threw it into hopeless confusion. The Turkish right wing, which was hugging the coast, and was the first to come into action, passed on in an endeavour to turn the left wing of the allies. While this manoeuvre was in progress Ali, the Capitan-Basha of the Turks, arrived in his vessel opposite to the royal galley of Don John. At the masthead of the galley of the Capitan-Bashaw floated the sacred standard of the Ottomans. This, the ancient banner of the Caliphs, was covered with texts from the Koran, and had upon it the name of Allah emblazoned no less than twenty-eight thousand nine hundred times in letters of gold. “It was,” says Prescott, “the banner of the Sultan, having passed from father to son since the foundation of the dynasty, and was never seen in the field unless the Grand Seigneur or his lieutenant was there in person.”<br>
Ali, the Commander-in-Chief, a favourite of the Sultan, had been entrusted with this most precious of all the possessions of the Padishah, as an incentive to him and all under his command to fight their hardest to do honour to the Prophet, and to prevent this symbol of their religion from falling into the hands of the Christian. Ali, like Don John, was young, and burning to distinguish himself; accordingly, as soon as the ships of the two leaders came opposite to each other neither regarded any enemy save his rival Commander-in-Chief. Ali drove his great galley straight on board of the vessel of Don John, and a most obstinate conflict ensued. Veniero and Colonna hastened to the assistance of their chief, who was sore beset. <br>
The combat now became general, and, as has been said, was for the most part nothing but a melee, in which each ship sought out the nearest of her foes and closed with her. For some time the fight went hard with Don John; time and again the galley of the Moslem leader was boarded, but on each occasion the Spaniards were hurled back upon their own decks. Loredano and Malipier, two Venetian captains, fell upon seven Turkish galleys which were hastening to reinforce the attack on Don John, and sank one of them. They then fought with such fury and resolution with the six that remained that, although both captains were killed, it was conceded that they had saved their general, entirely altered the complexion of the battle in their neighbourhood, and facilitated the capture of the Turkish admiral. The determined conduct of the two Venetians allowed the Spanish division to close in on the Turkish flagship, which, after an heroic resistance, was captured, principally because there were practically none left alive to fight. The head of Ali was struck off by a Spanish soldier, the banner of the Moslems was replaced by the flag of the Cross, the head of Ali on a pike being exhibited in derision above it. The conquerors seem to have seen no incongruity in this performance. The lowering of the sacred standard of the Capitan-Basha had a disheartening effect upon the Turks; they knew by this that their Commander-in-Chief was dead and his ship captured, the result being that the resistance of the Ottomans began to weaken. Then thirty galleys took to flight from the neighbourhood of the Christian flagship; so hotly were they pursued that they ran on shore, the crews swimming or wading to the beach and making off inland.