While Don John, baffled by the winds and waves, was beating off the Curzolarian Isles, the Pacha was sailing down the gulf before a fair breeze.
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
As the two fleets approached — the Christians wafted gently onward by a light breeze, the Ottomans plying their oars to the utmost — the Turkish commander, who like Don John sailed in the centre of his line, fired a gun. Don John acknowledged the challenge and returned the salute. A second shot elicited a second reply. The two armaments had approached near enough to enable each to distinguish the individual vessels of the other and to scan their various banners and insignia. The Turks advanced to battle shouting and screaming and making a great uproar with ineffectual musketry. The Christians preserved complete silence. At a certain signal a crucifix was raised aloft in every ship in the fleet. Don John of Austria, sheathed in complete armor, and standing in a conspicuous place on the prow of his ship, now knelt down to adore the sacred emblem, and to implore the blessing of God on the great enterprise which he was about to commence. Every man in the fleet followed his example and fell upon his knees. The soldier, poising his firelock, knelt at his post by the bulwarks, the gunner knelt with his lighted match beside his gun. The decks gleamed with prostrate men in mail. In each galley, erect and conspicuous among the martial throng, stood a Franciscan or a Dominican friar, a Theatine or a Jesuit, in his brown or black robe, holding a crucifix in one hand and sprinkling holy water with the other, while he pronounced a general absolution, and promised indulgence in this life, or pardon in the next, to the steadfast warriors who should quit them like men and fight the good fight of faith against infidel.
In the night between October 6th and 7th, 1571, about the same hour that the Christian fleet weighed anchor at Cephalonia, the Turks had left their moorings in the harbor of Lepanto. While Don John, baffled by the winds and waves, was beating off the Curzolarian Isles, the Pacha was sailing down the gulf before a fair breeze. Every Turk on board the Sultan’s fleet believed that he was about to assist in conveying the armament of the Christian powers to the Golden Horn, in obedience to the commands of the Padishah. The soldiers and sailors, lately recruited by large reinforcements, were many of them fresh from quarters on shore. Officers and men were in the highest spirits, eager for the battle which they knew to be at hand, and in which they supposed their success to be certain. For although Ali was well informed as to the position and movements of the fleet of the League, he was no less mistaken as to the strength of the Christians than the Christians were as to his own. He had been more successful in pouring fictions into the ear of Don John than in obtaining accurate intelligence for himself.
The Greek fishermen, in reporting to each leader the condition of his enemy, had, as we have seen, taken care to please and deceive both. Karacosh had indeed been present at the review of Gomenzia, but he had erred considerably in his reckoning of the numbers of the Christian fleet. Either by accident or design, he computed the vessels at fifty less than the real number, and he, besides, greatly underrated the weight of the artillery. Ali was still further deceived by the reports of three Spanish soldiers, captured on the shore near Gomenzia, where they had strayed too far from their boat. These prisoners assured the Pacha that the Christian fleet had not as yet been joined either by the great ships or the galleass, and that forty galleys, sent under Santa Cruz to Otranto for troops, and two galleys with which Andrade had gone on a cruise of observation, had not yet returned. This story confirmed the accounts both of Karacosh and the Greek fishermen. The Pacha was naturally no less anxious to meet Don John with Santa Cruz than Don John had been to meet the Pacha without the Viceroy of Algiers. It was no wonder, then, that the chiefs of the Turkish fleet led their galleys down the gulf in the ardent hope of speedily meeting with an enemy in whom they made certain of finding a rich and easy prey. The three hundred sail of the Sultan moved, as already described, in the form of an immense crescent, stretching nearly from shore to shore.
When the Christian armament first came in sight, nothing was seen of it but the small vanguard of Cardona’s Sicilian galleys, and a portion of the right wing under Doria. The rest was hidden by the rocky headlands at the north of the gulf. For a while this circumstance buoyed up the Turks in their belief that the force of the enemy was greatly inferior to their own. As, however, the long lines of the centre under Don John of Austria, and of the left wing under Barbarigo, came galley after galley into view, they began to discover their mistake. The men posted aloft were eagerly questioned by the officers as to the result of their observations, and their answers, always announcing accessions of strength to the Christians, led to misgivings, and to vehement denunciations against Karacosh for the inaccuracy of his report from Gomenzia. When Ali perceived that the Christians had adopted a long straight line of battle, he also caused his fleet to take the same order, drawing in the horns and advancing the centre of his crescent. As the fleets came nearer to each other, the leaders of the League were encouraged by observing that the enemy’s rear was not covered by anything that could be called a reserve, but only by a number of small craft. Ali, on the contrary, was surprised to see the galleass which had been pushed forward by the Christians. He inquired what these mahones were, and was told that they were not mahones, but galleass; the very vessels, in fact, which he had been led to believe had been separated from the enemy, and whose formidable artillery he did not expect to encounter.
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