Ali and Don John had each directed his helmsman to steer for the flag-ship of the enemy.
Continuing The Battle of Lepanto and the Destruction of the Turkish Navy,
our selection from Don John of Austria by Sir William Stirling-Maxwell published in 1883. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Battle of Lepanto and the Destruction of the Turkish Navy.
Place: Gulf of Patras
The combat between the Turks and the Venetians seemed inspired by the intensest personal hatred; the Turks thirsting for fresh conquests, the Venetians for vengeance. That they might the more effectually use their weapons, many of the soldiers of St. Mark uncovered their faces and laid aside their shields. No quarter was given, and the slaughter was very great on both sides. One of the Sultan’s galleys near the shore being very hard pressed, the Turks jumped overboard and escaped to land. Some of the Venetians followed and slew them as they ran to the cover of some rocks. One of these pursuers, being armed only with a stick, contrived with that simple weapon to pin his victim through the mouth to the ground, to the great admiration of his comrades.
As the centre divisions of the two fleets closed with each other the wisdom of Don John in retrenching the fore-peaks of his vessels became abundantly apparent. The Turks had neglected to take this precaution; the efficiency of their forecastle guns was therefore greatly impaired. Their prows were also much higher than the prows of their antagonists. While their shot passed harmlessly over the enemy, his balls struck their galleys close to water-mark with fatal precision. The fire of the Christians was the more murderous because many of the Turkish vessels were crowded with soldiers both on the deck and below.
Ali and Don John had each directed his helmsman to steer for the flag-ship of the enemy. The two galleys soon met, striking each other with great force. The left prow of the Pacha towered high above the lower forecastle of Don John, and his galley’s peak was thrust through the rigging of the other vessel until its point was over the fourth rowing-bench. Thus linked together the two flag-ships became a battle-field which was strongly contested for about two hours. The Pacha had on board four hundred picked janissaries — three hundred armed with the arquebus and one hundred with the bow. Two galliots and ten galleys, all filled with janissaries, lay close astern, the galliots being connected with the Pacha’s vessels by ladders, up which reinforcements immediately came when wanted. The galley of Pertau Pacha fought alongside. Don John’s consisted of three hundred arquebusiers; but his forecastle artillery was, for reasons above mentioned, more efficient, while his bulwarks, like those of other Christian vessels, were protected from boarders by nettings and other devices with which the Turks had not provided themselves. Requesens, wary and watchful, lay astern with two galleys, from which he led fresh troops into the flag-ship from time to time. Alongside, Vaniero and Colonna were each hotly engaged with an antagonist. The combat between the two chiefs was on the whole not unequal, and it was fought with great gallantry on both sides. From the Turkish forecastle the arquebusiers at first severely galled the Christians. Don Lope de Figueroa, who commanded on the prow of the flag-ship, lost so many of his men that he was compelled to ask for assistance. Don Bernardino de Cardenas, who led a party to his aid, was struck on the chest by a spent ball from an esmeril, and in falling backward received injuries from which he soon expired. Considerable execution was also done by the Turkish arrows, with which portions of the masts and spars bristled. Several of these missiles came from the bow of the Pacha himself, who was probably the last commander-in-chief who ever drew a bowstring in European battle. But on the whole the fire of the Christians was greatly superior to that of the Turks. Twice the deck of Ali was swept clear of defenders, and twice the Spaniards rushed on board and advanced as far as the mainmast. At that point they were on each occasion driven back by the janissaries, who, though led by Ali in person, do not appear to have made good a footing on the deck of Don John. A third attempt was more successful. Not only did the Spaniards pass the mast, but they approached the poop and assailed it with a vigorous fire. The Pacha led on his janissaries to meet them, but it seems with small hope of making a successful resistance, for at the same moment he threw into the sea a small box which was supposed to contain his most precious jewels. A ball from an arquebuse soon afterward struck him in the forehead. He fell forward upon the gangway (crucija). A soldier from Malaga, seizing the body, cut off the head and carried it to Don John, who was already on board the Turkish vessel, leading a fresh body of men to the support of their comrades. The trophy was then raised on the point of a lance, to be seen by friend and foe. The Turks paused for a moment panic-stricken; the Christians shouted victory, and, hauling down the Turkish standard, hoisted a flag with a cross in its place. Don John ordered his trumpets to sound, and the good news was soon proclaimed in the adjacent galleys of the League. The Turks defended their flag-ship but feebly after the death of their Pacha. The vessel, which was the first taken, was in the hands of the Spaniards about two o’clock in the afternoon — about an hour and a half after the two leaders had engaged each other. A brigantine which had been employed in bringing up fresh troops, surrendered almost at the same time. The neighboring galleys of the Sultan had themselves been by this time too severely handled to render much assistance. Only one serious attempt was made to recover the ship of Ali or to avenge its loss. Several galleys from other parts of the line bore down at once upon Don John. The movement was perceived by Santa Cruz, whose vessels of reserve were still untouched. Dashing into the advancing squadron, he had the good-fortune to sink one galley by the force of his fire; and he immediately boarded another and put all the janissaries to the sword. Don John himself dealt with the remaining assailants.
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