Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Meanwhile, on Malta — Part II

Looks like a good day to be a Knight!
On this week of September 1565, on the tiny island nation of Malta, the massive Turkish army was at their wits end.  The goal had been to take the island and create a staging point for invasion of the rest of Europe.  With the entire might of the Ottoman Empire behind the machine that was their army, they aimed at the island.  It was believed the defenders would fail in a matter of days, if not a few weeks.  Some 48,000 Turkish soldiers landed on the island arrayed against the 8,000 defenders.

Although they’d met with some early successes, the combined Knights Hospitaller and Maltese soldiers had proved to be a nearly immovable obstacle to Turkish success.  Morale on both sides was tenuous at best, but at the end of August, the Turkish attempt to seize control of Fort St. Michael failed due to the skill and courage of Maltese engineers.
Victory, for both sides, was still far from certain.  Vincenzo Anastagi, one of the Knights Hospitaller, wrote:

Our men are in large part dead, the walls have fallen, it is easy to see inside and we live in danger of being overwhelmed by force.  But it is not seemly to talk of this.  First the Grand Master, then all the Order have determined not to listen to anything [negative] that is whispered outside.

C'mon bro, let us crash on your couch!
With the coming of September, the weather turned.  As a Mediterranean island, Malta is subject to sudden and torrential downpours throughout its winter.  The Ottoman army had already suffered heavily from disease during the campaign, and without proper shelter, they would be devastated.  There were also increasing rumors of a rescue fleet being mounted on the mainland, willing to stand toe-to-toe with the Turks and defeat them utterly no matter the cost.  The Turkish commanders, the pashas, turned their eyes toward the ancient city of Mdina.

Mdina sits roughly in the center of Malta on a rocky outcropping.  Its medieval fortifications had been reinforced and improved since the last time the Ottomans had attempted to take it some 14 years earlier in 1551.  With a larger, more determined and now desperate force, the Turkish pashas saw the city as the perfect refuge to winter and potentially win the rest of the island.  The alternative was to leave Malta without the victory they’d been ordered to secure.  Reports were that Mdina, while structurally strong, was not well-defended.  This was true.  Almost all of the men, cannon, powder and shot had been removed from the city for use by the defenders in other places.

Pasha Mustapha ordered the march on Mdina.  The city’s defenders knew they were in
Well there's your problem, right there!
trouble, and only had powder for a few shots from their cannons.  Not enough against Turks.  But if the Mdina was taken, the Ottomans would be able to weather the winter, regain their strength and strike out across the island at will.  As the Turks approached the walls, the city punted and fired their cannons as if they were fully armed and fully stocked for a full siege.  It was a complete bluff.  They were exhausting what meager supplies they had, but the effects of three and a half months of bloody siege warfare and disease, coupled with the recent losses and the looming winter months with no shelter had taken their toll.  The pashas believed Mdina had the capacity to withstand a sustained assault.  New information made the rumored reinforcements from mainland Europe a reality, and by the end of September 8, 1565, the Ottomans loaded their cannons onto their ships and began the process of retreating their army to leave the island.