The Molossian Naval Academy

The Battle of Lepanto

The naval Battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 at the northern edge of the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth (then the Gulf of Lepanto), off western Greece. A galley fleet of the Holy League, a sometimes-flimsy coalition of Pope Pius V, Spain, Venice, Genoa, Savoy, Naples, the Knights of Malta and others, defeated a force of Ottoman galleys.

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.

Ali Pacha (Ali Pasha), supported by the buccaneers Chulouk Bey of Alexandria (also called Scirocco, Mehmet Shuluk or Suluk Pasha) and Uluj Ali (also known as Uluch Ali or Kilitch Ali), was at the head of approximately 220-230 galleys, 50-60 galliots and some smaller vessels belonging to the Ottomans.

Events and details of the battle

The Christian fleet formed up in 4 divisions in a North-South line. At the northern end, closest to the coast, was the Left Division of 53 galleys, mainly Venetian, led by Agustino Barbarigo, with Marco Querini and Antonio da Canale. The center Division consisted of 62 galleys under Don Juan himself, along with Sebastian Veniero and Marcantonio Colonna. The Right Division to the south consisted of another 53 galleys under Giovanni Andrea Doria. Two galleases were positioned in front of each main division. A further Reserve Division was stationed behind (that is, to the west of) the main fleet, to support wherever it might be needed. It consisted of 38 galleys - 30 behind the center Division commanded by Alvaro de Bazán and 4 behind each wing. A scouting group was formed from 2 Right and 6 Reserve galleys. As the Christian fleet was slowly turning around Point Scropha, Doria's Right Division at the off-shore side was delayed at the start of the battle, and the Right's galleases did not get into position.

The Battle of Lepanto

The Turkish fleet consisted of 54 galleys and 2 galliots in its Right, or northern, division, under Chulouk Bey, 61 galleys and 32 galliots in the center under Ali Pasha and about 63 galleys and 30 galliots in the South off-shore, under Uluj Ali. A small reserve existed of 8 galleys and 22 galliots and 64 fustas behind the Center body.

The Left and center galleases had been towed half a mile ahead of the Christian line, and were able to sink 2 Turkish galleys and damage some more before the Turkish fleet left them behind. As the battle started, Doria found that Uluj Ali's galleys extended further to the south than his own, and so headed south to avoid being out-flanked. This meant he was even later coming into action. He ended up being out maneuvered by Ali, who turned back and attacked the southern end of the center Division taking advantage of the big gap that Doria had left.

In the North Chulouk Bey had managed to get between the shore and the Christian North Division with six galleys, and early on, the Christian fleet suffered. Barbarigo was killed by an arrow, but the Venetians held their lines. The Christian Center also held the line and caused great damage to the Muslim Center. In the South off-shore side, Doria was engaged in a melee with Uluj Ali's ships taking the worse part, meanwhile Uluj Ali commanded 16 galleys in a fast attack on the center, taking 6 Christian galleys, between them the Capitana of Malta, from the Knights Hospitallers, killing everybody on board. The arrival of Alvaro de Bazán with the reserve was able to turn the battle, both in the center and in Doria's South wing. Uluj Ali was forced to flee with 16 galleys and 24 galliots, abandoning his captures. The Turkish fleet suffered the loss of about 180 galleys and 60 galliots. However, only 117 galleys and 13 galliots were in good enough condition for the Christians to keep. On the Christian side 15 galleys were destroyed and 30 damaged so much they had to be scuttled.

During the course of the battle, the Ottoman commander's ship was boarded and the Spanish tercios from 3 galleys and the Turkish janissaries from 7 galleys fought on the deck of the Turkish Sultana. Twice the Spanish were repelled with great loss, but at the third attempt, with reinforcements from Alvaro de Bazán's galley, they prevailed. Müezzenzade Ali Pasha was killed and beheaded, against the wishes of Don John. However, when his head was displayed on a pike from the Spanish flagship, it contributed greatly to the destruction of Turkish morale. The battle concluded around 4 pm.

Aftermath of the battle

The engagement was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans, who lost all but about 50 of their ships. It was one of the most decisive naval defeats in the Mediterranean between the Battle of Actium (31 BC) and the Battle of the Nile (1798).

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.

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