The Battle of Lepanto – commemoration

The Battle of Lepanto – commemoration


The Battle of Lepanto was a naval engagement taking place on 7th October 1571.
The Christian fleet fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of Pope Pius V, Spain, Venice, Genoa, Savoy, Naples, the Knights of St John started from Messina on 16th September, crossing the Adriatic and creeping along the coast, arriving at the group of rocky islets lying just north of the opening of the Gulf of Corinth. Despite bad weather, the Christian ships sailed south and on 6th October, they reached the port of Sami, Cephalonia, where they remained for a while.

Early on 7th October, they sailed toward the Gulf of Patras, where they encountered the Ottoman fleet. While neither fleet had immediate strategic resources or objectives in the gulf, both chose to engage. The Christian fleet formed up in four divisions in a north-south line.

The coalition fleet consisted of 206 galleys and 6 galleasses, and was ably commanded by Don John of Austria (Don Juan). Galleys were contributed by the various Christian factions: 108 Venetian galleys and 6 Venetian galleasses, 13 from Habsburg Spain, 30 from Habsburg Naples, 6 from Habsburg Sicily, 3 from Genoa, 3 from Savoy, 3 from Malta, 12 Papal ships and 28 privately owned galleys.

The Ottoman fleet consisted of 57 galleys and 2 galliots on its Right under Mehmed Siroco, 61 galleys and 32 galliots in the Centre under Ali Pasha in the Sultana, and about 63 galleys and 30 galliots in the South off-shore under Uluç Ali. A small reserve existed of 8 galleys, 22 galliots and 64 fustas, behind the Centre body.

The wind was at first against the Christians, and it was feared that the Turks would be able to make contact before a line of battle could be formed. But around noon, shortly before contact, the wind shifted to favour the Christians, enabling most of the squadrons to reach their assigned position before contact.

The fierce battle lasted four hours, during which 73 Knights of Malta lost their life. The Knights fought very bravely,and among those who distinguished them selfs was the famous Romegus. The gallantry displayed by the knights forced the Venician Contarini to acknowledge that despite their insignificant numbers, their part in the victory almost surpassed that of Venice herself. In fact when one considers that Don John himself was a member of the Order we are bound to admit that their contribution towards this important victory is not sufficiently acknowledged by the historians.

The engagement was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans, who lost all but about 50 of their ships.

Despite the massive Turkish defeat, European disunity prevented the allied forces from pressing their victory or achieving a lasting supremacy over the Ottomans at this time. The Ottoman Empire immediately began a massive effort to rebuild their navy, and within 6 months was able to reassert Ottoman naval supremacy. The defeat at Lepanto did not prevent the Ottomans’ capture of Cyprus and the forts around Tunis either. However, Ottomans lost their control of the seas, especially in the western part of the Mediterranean.

The Holy League had suffered around 9,000 casualties but freed twice as many Christian prisoners. Turkish casualties were around 30,000.

The Holy League credited the victory to the Virgin Mary, whose intercession with God they had implored for victory through the use of the Rosary. Pope Pius V instituted a new Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Victory to commemorate the battle, which is now celebrated by the Catholic Church as the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Antoine Bonello

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