Skip to comments.The Naval Battle of Lepanto
Posted on 10/08/2001 9:56:52 AM PDT by marshmallow
The Gulf of Lepanto is a long arm of the Ionian Sea running from east to west and separating the Pelloponnesian peninsula to the south from the Greek mainland to the north.
Jutting headlands divide the Gulf into two portions: the inner one, called the Gulf of Corinth today , ends with the isthmus of the same name , and the outer one is an irregular , funnel-shaped inlet now called the Gulf of Patras. For six weeks Ali Pasha's ships had been anchored inside the fortified harbor of Lepanto located in the gulf's inner portion, and on October 5 they began to move slowly westward past the dividing headlands into the outer Gulf of Patras. Still unsure of the enemy's position , Ali Pasha ordered his fleet to drop anchor for the night in a sheltered bay fifteen miles from the entrance to the inlet, where it remained all the next day anxiously awaiting the return of the scouting vessels. Around midnight Kara Kosh reached the anchorage with the news that the Christian fleet was then at Cephalonia , an Ionian island almost directly opposite and parallel to the mouth of the Gulf of Lepanto. With the first light of dawn the following morning , October 7 , 1571 , lookouts stationed high on a peak guarding the northern shore of the gulf's entrance signaled to Kara Kosh that the enemy was heading south along the coast and would soon round the headland into the gulf itself. The signal was relayed to Ali Pasha , who gave the order to weigh anchor. Everyone scrambled to battle stations and , as the fleet advanced , strained for the first sight of the enemy force.
The Christian fleet had started to move southward toward the Gulf of Lepanto. Now only fiteen miles of open water separated the forces of Islam and those of Christendom. The Turkish fleet , which numbered over two hundred and thirty galleys and one hundred auxiliary vessels , Ali Pasha commanded the center squadron , which faced the one commanded by Don Juan of Austria.
According to naval practice in those days , the moment two rival fleets finally assumed their respective battle formations , the leader of one would fire a piece of artillery as a challenge to fight , and the opponent would answer by firing two cannon to signify that he was ready to give battle. This day it was the Turks who made the challenge , and the sharp report from Ali Pasha's flagship was quickly followed by double round from Don Juan's artillery. At this time a large green silk banner , decorated with the Moslem crescent and holy inscriptions in Arabic , was hoisted on the Turkish flagship.
Now the setting was complete. The cross and the crescent fluttered aloft , symbolizing the two religions and the two hostile Civilizations of Christendom and Islam , whose forces were about to meet in the decisive battle of their long and bitter holy war. With the very first barrage many Turkish galleys were sunk and over a score badly damaged. After an hour of heavy fighting it was captured , the first Christian prize of the battle. The Christians were more than a match for them. In fact , they fought with such incredible ferocity that the battle soon became a slaughter. The defeat of the Turk's right wing was complete. Not one galley escaped. Those that were not sunk , burned , or grounded ashore were captured by their Christian opponents. The whole battle was over by four o'clock that afternoon , even though many of the Christian galleys were still giving chase to the Turkish ships and other solitary escaping Turkish vessels. The waters of the gulf for miles around were stained red from the great amount of blood shed that day and the sea was strewn with the bodies of both victors and vanquished. At sunset there were signs of approaching bad weather , Don Juan ordered the fleet to regroup quickly and head for a sheltered bay near the northwestern limits of the gulf. Around midnight they anchored in the bay and immediately all the fleet's leaders , with the exception of those badly wounded , came on board.
Don Juan's galley gatherd to congratulate him and celebrate the victory. The losses suffered by the Holy League fleet were between seven and eight thousand killed and about twice that number wounded , and only ten or fifteen ships had been sunk during the battle. These losses were comparatively light. Of the three hundred and thirty Turkish ships , fewer than fifty managed to escape and most of them were burned because they could not be made sufficiently seaworthy for further use; one hundred and seventeen Moslem galleys were captured intact and the rest were sunk or destroyed after they had been run ashore by the fleeing Turks. A large majority of the seventy-five thousand men who had entered the battle on the Moslem side were killed , five thousand were taken prisoner (with at least teice that number of Christian galley slaves liberated) , and only a few were able to escape either by ship or by swimming ashore.Turkey , for the first time in several centuries , was left without a navy.
Word of the fleet's splendid victory at Lepanto preceded Don Juan's return and quickly spread throughout Europe. The Republic of Venice was the first allied state to receive the happy news. The Doge quickly ordered a week of public celebrations and the seventh of October was declared a perpetual holiday in memory of the Battle of Lepanto. Hundreds of poems , songs , and paintings were produced all over Christendom in commemoration of the victory. All of Christendom took heart.
The famous Spanish writer , Miguel de Cervantes , who himself was wounded in the Battle of Lepanto , serving in the Spanish infantry , and who had also been a captive of the Barbary pirates until ransomed , recounted many of his experiences in the novel Don Quixote. The Battle of Lepanto marked the end of Turkish naval supremacy and the beginning of the Ottoman Empire's decline on both land and sea. Perhaps the most important result of the battle was its effect on men's minds: the victory had ended the myth that the Turks could not be beaten.
The Turkish fleet had 208 Galleys, 66 small ships; The Christian fleet about the same number. The crusaders lost 17 ships and 7,500 men; 15 Turkish ships were sunk and 177 taken, from 20,000 to 30,000 men disabled , and from 12,000 to 15,000 Christian rowers, slaves on the Turkish Gaileys, were delivered. Though this Victory did not accomplish all that was hoped for, since the Turks appeared the very next year with a fleet of 250 ships before Modon and Cape Matapan, and in vain offered battle to the Christians, it was of great importance as being the first great defeat of the infidels on the sea.
Held by the Venetians from 1687 to 1689, and thence by the Turks until 1827, it became in the latter year part of the new Greek realm. Today Nafpaktos (Naupactus,) chief town of the district in the province of Arcarnania Aetolia, has (12,000 inhabitants), all Orthodox Greeks.
Now, over 400 years later, may the battle begun yesterday, Oct. 7, be once more a decisive victory over militant Islam.
White founts falling in the Courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard;
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips;
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.
Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young.
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain--hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.
Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri's knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunsets and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees;
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.
They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From the temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be,
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,--
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, "Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done.
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces--four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not 'Kismet'; it is he that knows not Fate;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey at the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth."
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still--hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.
St. Michael's on his Mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift And the sea-folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes,
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,--
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.
King Philip's in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John's hunting, and his hounds have bayed--
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man's house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plume graved lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings' horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign--
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate's sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
Don Juan himself is buried in the crypt, in an enormous sarcophagus with the inscrption Fuit homo missus a Deo cui nomen erat Iohannes. [John i:6] (I love the Latin Vulgate, whyever did the Church stop using it??)
I suggest that on 12 October we all pause for a few minutes, and remember the enormous debt we owe to Spain.
I too have visited his tomb in the Alcazar. Although it is splendid, it is also rather simple compared to the other royal tombs. And it is set apart, because as a bastard the hero of Lepanto did not qualify to be buried alongside the rest of his family.
Those are some of the reasons why Chesterton calls him the Last Knight of Europe and has some pretty withering things to say about the monarchs who should have been protecting Christendom against its mortal enemy.
- words of Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Dominic.