grand harbour

Military Monday: Siege of Malta 1565

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Siege of Malta Image One
Image Credit: The Museum of the Order of St. John

There is a LOT of data on this siege and I’m not re-writing history. This will serve as a highlight, only. I will provide links to more information, below. ~Vic

Four hundred, fifty-five years ago, today, the island of Malta was attacked and nearly invaded by the Ottoman Empire, it’s second attempt.

If it had not taken place, the Great Siege would no doubt have been dreamt up for the screenplay of an epic film. Few other historic episodes rival it for sheer heroism, the bloodshed of war and military strategy. The story of the siege is interwoven with the tale of two adversaries, the ageing Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, and his contemporary, the Barbary Corsair Dragut Reis who commanded the fleet of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It is also the story of thousands of lives of Maltese Islanders, men at arms to the Knights of St. John.

The years leading up to the siege saw the Islands under constant threat from the Ottoman Turks […]. The Knights knew they were vulnerable in Malta despite the harbours and their two forts […]. Grand Master La Valette had done his best to build defences and had requested extra forces from the Emperor Charles V, the Pope and the Viceroy of Sicily. But, no help came. In May, 1565, a vast Ottoman fleet, some 40,000 men, lay siege to the Islands.

The Knights were heavily outnumbered with a mere 700 or so men and around 8000 Maltese regular troops. The Islanders took refuge in the fortified towns [..] destroying crops and poisoning wells as they fled.

The Siege of Malta Image Two
Image Credit: medievalists.net

The Ottomans first decided to attack isolated Fort St. Elmo […]. Repeated assaults were launched over 36 days but, the small garrison of Knights held on to the fort for far longer than Suleiman‘s men anticipated. After four weeks, they finally overran St. Elmo but, at a heavy price […]. The Turkish commander Dragut was fatally injured during the taking […].

It is the battle for [Fort] St. Angelo which saw some of the bloodiest episodes of this Holy War. It was to [be] the basis of legends for centuries to come. [Some] 10 attacks [were launched] on [its] walls [and], when a huge part of the defences were breached, the Ottomans failed to take the Fort.

At one point in the battle, the Ottomans floated the headless corpses of captured Knights across Grand Harbour. The act was returned in kind [as] Valette ordered all Ottoman prisoners to be executed and their heads used as ‘cannon balls’ to fire back toward their compatriots in St. Elmo.

[Valette]’s long-awaited relief forces [finally] appeared […] and took control of high ground inland. [The] Ottoman troops retreated […].

The Turks fled to their ships, and from the islands, on September 13 (almost four months had passed). Malta had survived the Turkish assault, and throughout Europe, people celebrated what would turn out to be the last epic battle involving Crusader Knights.

Malta’s magnificent capital, Valletta, was founded by and named after Grand Master Jean de la Valette. Valette, himself, was buried in the city some three years later.

Additional Reading & Sources
Siege of Malta (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
Siege of Malta 1565 (Military Wiki)
The Whole World Was About to Explode (PJ Media)
The Great Siege 1565 (Visit Malta Site)
Great Siege of Malta (Wikipedia)