Siege of Malta: Part 3

Zach – And now we have the conclusion to the epic three part series of the Great Siege of Malta. When last we left our intrepid heroes, the fort of St. Elmo had just fallen to the Turks after a month long siege. the tiny fort had been expected to last a week at most. It lasted four, buying precious time for the other two forts of Angelo and St. Micheal, on the peninsulas of Senglea and Birgu respectively. Wait, I have a map somewhere…

Here it is.  You can see St. Elmo and Gallows Hill where the Turks set up an artillery battery.  The water between the two peninsulas was chained off and fortified.

Here it is. You can see St. Elmo and Gallows Hill where the Turks set up an artillery battery. The water between the two peninsulas was chained off and fortified.

Anna – But before we get into the conclusion of this amazing story, let us introduce our panel of expert historical figures. First we have Boudica, Barbarian woman that rebelled against Rome. Then we have Scipio Africanus, Roman general who defeated Hannibal. (Aren’t they supposed to be separated?) Next we have Hua Mulan, woman soldier of ancient China. Then we have Gaspar Correia, Portuguese conquistador and “historian.” And saved the best for last…because she’d burn my book collection if I didn’t say so, St. Olga of Kiev, first Russian saint and expert in the art of revenge.
Africanus – Let us get to it then.
Boudica – Of course the Roman thinks he’s in charge.
Zach – So, after the Turks took St. Elmo, they turned to the other two forts on Senglea and Birgu. During the time Ft. Elmo purchased them with their lives, La Valette bought food from the locals at market price instead of just taking it like every other nobleman would have done, and fortified his positions. He put tubs of water for defenders who got burned by their incendiary weapons and food and water at every post so no one would have to leave their post to eat. These among other countless preparations would prove to make a difference in the coming battle.
Mulan – As a soldier I must second the art of preparation. You can’t prepare for everything, but you can prepare for DEALING with almost everything. But Valette’s preparations did not end there. He also prepared his men and the citizens of Malta for what lay ahead. When they had been kicked out of Rhodes by the Turks, much of it was due to turncoats. He would not let that happen here. He gathered everyone for a meeting and told them that the Turks were dying of disease, were in poor spirits, running low on food and ammo and reminded them of what terrible things would happen if the Turks won. They would be killed or enslaved.
Africanus – Meanwhile, the Turks had taken several days to get their batteries in place. All their artillery was now being aimed at the two forts. Trenches were being dug in and preparations were being made for a difficult siege.

Here are the cannons firing at Ft. Angelo from across the harbor.

Here are the cannons firing at Ft. Angelo from across the harbor.

Anna – While the Turks were regrouping for the coming battle, a small relief force of 700 knights, “gentlemen volunteers” from Italy and men-at-arms came ashore from Sicily. The Sicilian captain of the small fleet had orders by the Viceroy of Sicily (Yes, the man that stalled and stalled about sending aid) to not land troops if Ft. Elmo had fallen. Some Knights of the Order went out on a reconnaissance mission and saw that the fort had fallen. They returned to the captain and told him the fort still stood so the captain let them disembark. They had snuck past the Turkish blockade at night and arrived in Birgu to much applause. That was the night of June 29th.
Olga – Me guess that General Mustapha not happy with news, dah?
Zach – Safe assumption.
Olga – Mustapha then sends messenger person to Knights, saying “Hey, we let you go, comrades and we take island. No more killing, dah?” La Valette say…I have quote here…
Anna – Olga did her homework?
Zach – We’ll make a historian out of her yet!
Olga – I has quote here! (Holds up paper.) He say, “Tell your master that this is the only territory that I will give him. (point to ditch in front of fortress walls) There lies the land which he may have for his own – provided only that he fills it with the bodies of his Janissaries.” The little messenger saw many men in armor staring him down, tall fort walls and lots and lots of guns that he peed his pants. Poor little man.
Zach – That’s a hardcore answer from a man that refused to surrender. You will see this time and time again. Valette’s indomitable will is what kept the Knights together. He kept to his strategy with a determination to win that is very rare in history. Most men had breaking points. Apparently Valette was the exception.

"Never tell me the odds!" Yes, their manner of dress may seem odd, but these were not guys with whom to mess with. F

“Never tell me the odds!” Yes, their manner of dress may seem odd, but these were not guys with whom to mess with.

Zach – Mustapha, however, tried something the Turks were good at, pulling their ships over land. The corsair Drugat had done it a few years ago and the Turks had done it at the siege of Constantinople.
Anna – Oh, don’t remind me!
Zach – Look back up to the map. See the large peninsula in the middle? Well, the Turks couldn’t get their ships past Ft. Angelo, so they dragged their ships over that peninsula and got behind the fort. Now they could land troops there and bombard the forts from both sides. This was not good news for the Knights.
Anna – But then an officer of the Turkish army deserted. He was a Greek that had several ancestors that were Roman (Byzantine if you must) emperors and felt shamed that he was fighting for the people that destroyed his home. He escaped and fled to the Knights and told them everything about the Turkish plans and where they planned to attack. Over the course of the siege his continual advice would prove invaluable.
Gaspar – A bit of luck! This was also when the Knights brought out their experimental teleportation device. Using Unified Field theory, they managed to teleport a small, but elite squad of commandos with magically blessed armor. This small group managed to cut their way to Mustapha’s tent before being stopped by a Turkish golem of brass and iron.

The battle lasted through the night, but in the end, the few remaining commandos were forced to teleport back to Ft. Angelo.

The battle lasted through the night, but in the end, the few remaining commandos were forced to teleport back to Ft. Angelo.

Mulan – (Shakes head in disgust.) The attack started in the first week of July. The cannons surrounding the forts on all sides opened up. There were also wooden palisades in the water along the shore to prevent landings and the Turks sent swimmers out to destroy the obstacles. Now, at this time, few people knew how to swim, even sailors. But the native Maltese people were practically born in the water and a group of native swimmer volunteered and swam out to stop the Turks. There was a fight in the water and the Maltese civilians massacred the Turkish saboteurs. Normally, being commoners, their names would not be recorded, but in this case, their heroism earned them a place in history. Pedro Bola, Martin, Juan del Pont and Francisco Saltaron. Now the Maltese civilians would play a vital part in the siege. They would act as medics, repair fortifications, carry wounded, bring supplies, drop rocks from the walls, throw boiling oil and fight. Even the women and children fought along the walls. The fort on Birgu had a town around it and the town had barricades thrown up in the streets so when the Turks would breach the walls, they’d find a whole town of defenses awaiting them. Once again, Valette’s preparations.
Boudica – The Turks then got some good news. A son-in-law of Dragut and reinforcements from Algiers showed up. The Algerians were proud warriors and couldn’t believe that these Knights were so tough, so they asked to attack first. The following day the Turks launched an all out assault on the forts. This was July 15. The assault was against both forts at the same time. This is how the Turks would continue this battle, attacking both forts so the defenders would have to split their manpower. Not bad but it also meant the Turkish artillery was split. Through constant musket fire the Turks stormed the beaches and came up to the walls. Ladders were thrown up and the fighting became fierce and desperate. Meanwhile the Algerians were attacking Senglea from the landward side. The Algerians rushed forward without fear for their lives. Unfortunately, bravery can only do so much with cannons and point-blank range. The cannons loaded with metal balls and chains tore through the Algerian ranks, decimating their force. Even with horrible casualties, the Algerians managed to get up onto the walls.
Africanus – Things did indeed look desperate for the Knights. But then the situation grew worse. A powder magazine in the fort exploded, blowing a large hole in the wall. The Turks immediately rushed the gap and for a moment the Knights fell back. But then one Knight and a priest (carrying a sword) urged the men to counter attack and their bravery saved the fort from being overrun right then and there.
Mulan – Again, Valette’s preparations came into play. A bridge of boats from one fort to the other allowed quick redeployment so a fort in trouble could receive reinforcements. Valette sent more men into Dirgu to stop the breaches.
Anna – Has this man thought of everything?
Zach – I don’t know. We shall see!
Anna – Don’t be stupid. Of course you know.
Zach – Check this before you wreck this: Mustapha had a cunning plan. While this pitched battle was going back and forth, Mustapha played his ace. Hidden away, he had ten boats of 1,000 Jannisaries awaiting the order to attack. Now he sent them to attack the northern shore of Senglea while they were distracted. Mustapha watched his elite Jannisaries sail out of sight around the peninsula and knew that victory was in reach.
Mulan – BUT!
Anna – Oh, oh.
Mulan – But, once again, Valette’s preparations would save the day. Valette thought, “If I were the Turks, I’d try to attack the northern part of the fort while everyone was distracted at the southern land walls. So, I better put a hidden gun battery there in case they try something.” As the ten boats pulled up to point-blank range, the cannons opened fire. Instantly ships were shredded by shot and chain. Nine ships were sunk outright and the damaged tenth one managed to limp away. In the space of two minutes 900 Jannisaries were killed. The few Turkish survivors that managed to swim ashore were killed by the locals that were waiting there. The Maltese natives coined the term “St. Elmo’s Pay” which meant “no mercy.”

Gaspar's photo of the Turkish captain of the doomed ships.

Gaspar’s photo of the Turkish captain of the doomed ships.

Olga – Did Valette think of everything?
Gaspar – Yes.
Zach – The battle went on for five hours. When the Turks finally called the attack off, they had lost 3,000 and the Knights had lost 250. Now, how can these Knights fight for hours in the hot Maltese summer? Historians have wondered this over the years. The Crusaders in the Holy Land wore heavy armor in temperatures that made touching metal painful. Here’s where my limited combat experience comes in. In the Army we had body armor that was basically a helmet and breastplate. They were heavy. They were hot. In Iraq the summer got to over 125 degrees and it was torture just to step outside. But we did with “full battle rattle,” all our gear. How did I do it? I honestly don’t know. Just got “used” to it I suppose. It always sucked. The level of suckitude was shockingly high, but somehow we coped and just did it. I imagine these Maltese Knights got used to it and carried on kicking butt.

Here is what some knights wore, Maxamillian armor.  It's lighter weight than other plate armor but just as strong due to the fluting; the ridged surfaces.

Here is what some knights wore, Maxamillian armor. It’s lighter weight than other plate armor but just as strong due to the fluting; the ridged surfaces.

Soldiers and gunners wore armor more like this.  Heavy breastplate and helmet.  Hey, didn't I just talk about that?  Hmmm...I wonder.

Soldiers and gunners wore armor more like this. Heavy breastplate and helmet. Hey, didn’t I just talk about that? Hmmm…I wonder.

Anna – Mustapha thinking that perhaps the forts needed a little softening up, began to bombard the forts none stop. On the 2nd of August he unleashed a bombardment that was so fierce viewers said that the very hills were on fire. Every cannon in his army unleashed their fury on the embattled forts. The firepower was so fierce that the bombardment could be heard in Catania 100 miles away and in Sicily. For six hours the Turks bombarded the forts, launched assaults and bombarded again. Nothing seemed to phase the Knights.
Africanus – These Knights are putting up a most Roman of defense.
Boudica – These Knights aren’t laying down and crying like little babies.
Zach – (clears throat) So, anyway, on the 7th of August the Turks launch another massive assault and this time they breach the walls but…
Mulan – Again, Valette’s planning saved the day.
Olga – How many time we going to hear that?
Mulan – A lot. Once the Turks pored through the breach in the wall, they found a second wall awaiting them and their victorious breach turned into a death trap. The Turks were slaughtered and the Knights took the opportunity to actually charge out and attack the Turkish trenches.
Zach – Well played, La Valette. I don’t even know what I’m having for dinner tonight and this guy’s thought of everything.
Africanus – However over at Senglea at this time was going very well for the Turks. The walls were breached and Turks were swarming over the ramparts. The Knights were falling back and it looked like Ft. Angelo was about to be lost. Turkish flags were being flown on the fort’s walls and the Jannisaries were moving in to make the final charge that would take the fort. Everyone, including Valette knew that it was over. The fort was doomed.
Gaspar – And Valette had prepared for this as well, I suppose.
Mulan – Actually, no. At the very friggin’ moment that the Turks were about to win, they suddenly heard the horns and drums of retreat. For a moment the Jannisaries, ever obedient stopped and wondered, “What the hebbie Jebbies?” But they followed orders and the Turkish army withdrew.
Olga – I don’t get it. Why turn back when they about to win?
Anna – The Knights scratched their heads and wondered what just happened. Valette figured that the relief force from Sicily had finally arrived. That was the only logical explanation. In fact, that was exactly what Mustapha thought as well. But it turned out both were wrong.
Olga – Tell Olga what happened or I send burning cars through you window.
Zach – There was a town, Mdina, the capital of Malta. It had a tiny garrison. While the Turks launched their all-out assault on the forts, they sallied out and attacked the Turkish camp which had only a handful of guards. They killed the guards and the wounded and everyone else they found. The Turks, thinking the relief force from Sicily had arrived, sent word to Mustapha. When Mustapha heard that it wasn’t an enormous force of Christian reinforcements, he was a little peeved.
Anna – The next day the Knights received word from the Viceroy of Sicily that he would send help “before the end of August.” He had already promised help “before June 20th” so the Knights figured that the Viceroy was just being a little coward and was pulling their leg. Valette knew that no help would be coming. They were on their own. He sent word to all his troops and Maltese defenders that they had no one to rely on but themselves. No help was coming so they either defeated the Turks or died. No middle ground. The town around the forts was in utter ruins. No one, not even women and children were without wounds. There was no rest from constant bombardments or attacks. Food and water were growing thin as was ammo. Starvation was out of the question due to Valette’s preparations, but still, it wasn’t a vacation. Like my father, Alexios Komemnos, they knew how to make do with what little they had.
Boudica – On the 18th of August, the Turks undermined the fort’s walls and blew a big hole in the Knights’ defenses.

Gaspar's photo of the destruction of the fort's wall.

Gaspar’s photo of the destruction of the fort’s wall.

The Turks pored through the hole and the defenders fell back. Their defenses were crumbling and Valette saw that this was the moment of battle, the moment where everything sat in a balance. So, he grabbed up a helmet, snatched a spear from a nearby soldier and with his officers, charged into the breach to stop the Turks. When his men saw their commander leading the counter attack they cried out that their master was in danger and surged toward the Turks in a counter attack. Unlike the cowardly Roman Generals, Valette was not afraid to do his own fighting. His own bravery encouraged his men and they pushed the Turks back. A hand grenade went off and wounded Valette in the leg but he refused medical attention until he saw that the walls were all secure again. Now THAT is how you fight like a barbarian!
Africanus – Hogwash!
Mulan – The next day, Valette’s nephew was killed. His body and the body of another young knight were brought to him. The other knights tried to console Valette but he scolded them and said “All the Knights are equally dear to me. I look upon all of them as my children. The Death of Polastron moves me as much as that of my nephew. These two young men have only gone before the rest of us by but a few days. For, if the relief from Sicily does not come, and we cannot save Malta, we must all die. To the very last man – we must bury ourselves beneath these ruins.” It was the only time he showed a hint of discouragement.
Gaspar – Hardcore, man.
Olga – Very Russian of him.
Zach – Valette had reason to despair. Their dead were increasing, their walls were crumbling by the day and the Turks now had a siege tower filled with snipers that could shoot down at the defenders. Then Valette told everyone it was time to cowboy up and take out that freaking siege tower. They couldn’t take it down with fire because it was fireproofed and if they tried to shoot it the snipers would take them out first. So, Valette had his engineers cut a hole in the wall way down low where the siege tower was. He then stuck a cannon through the hole, loaded with chain shot which was two iron balls with a long chain attached between them. When fired the balls would spread out and whip around like a buzz saw. The chain shot tore through the base of the tower sending it crashing to the ground.
Anna – I’m afraid their victory was short lived. The poor Knights at the other fort had their own problems. AsValette took out the siege tower, Mustapha had built what he called “the Infernal Machine.” It was basically a large pipebomb loaded with enough explosives, chains, spikes and nails to blow up the fort. The giant tube of death was rolled up the ramp of rubble that used to the wall and shoved into the Knights’ position. However they had made the fuze painfully slow and the Knights simply rolled it back into the enemy position where it exploded in the middle of the Turks that were awaiting to assault. Seeing an opportunity, the Knights charged out and massacred the shocked Turks.

Gaspar - The Knights rode out with the explosion in their "battle cart" and fired pistols from both hands while jumping through the air.  True Knights don't look at explosions.

Gaspar – The Knights rode out with the explosion in their “battle cart” and fired pistols from both hands while jumping through the air. True Knights don’t look at explosions.

Mulan – As a soldier I understand the importance of morale. At this point the Turkish morale was very low. They had just seen their two super weapons fail completely. Sickness was spreading through their army like gossip at a church meeting. They were running out of men, ammo, powder, food, water and their sense of “give a crap.” It was late August and weather in the Mediterranean was unsalable in the Fall. By early September they either had to win, leave Malta or set up camp for the winter. Mustapha was in favor of starving the Knights out and waiting out the winter, but Admiral Piali wouldn’t have it. He said the safety of his fleet was the priority and refused to stay. He would leave for Constantinople with or without the army.
Zach – The Knights were facing their own crisis. The forts were rapidly becoming indefensible. All of the senior Knights urged Valette to abandon Birgu and pull all forces back to Senglea with the fortress of St. Angelo. Everyone urged this.
Everyone except Valette.
He said, “I respect your advice, my brethren, but I shall not take it. And these are my reasons. If we abandon Birgu we lose Senglea, for the garrison there cannot hold out on its own. The fortress of St. Angelo is too small to hold all the population as well as ourselves and our men. And I have no intention of abandoning the loyal Maltese, their wives and their children, to the enemy. St Angelo’s water supply, even supposing that we can get all the people within its walls, will not be adequate. With the Turks masters of Senglea, and occupying the ruins of Birgu, it will only be a matter of time before even the strong walls of St. Angelo will fall before their concentrated fire. At the moment, they are forced to divert their energies and fire-power. Such will not be the case if we and all our men are locked within St. Angelo. No, my brothers, this and this only is the place where we must stand and fight. Here we must all perish together, or finally, with the help of God, succeed in driving off our enemy.” And to make sure there was no thought of retreat, he burned his remaining boats and destroyed the bridge that connected the two forts. That way, everyone must stand where they were and win or die.
Mulan – The Turks know what the destruction of the bridge meant. They knew then that the Knights intended to die to the last man. On the 20th, the Turks brought in another siege tower and this time instead of a cannon, which the Turks were expecting, they cut a hole and a bunch of highly motivated knights pored out and captured the towers. Then they used the tower for their own defenses. The Turks weapon was again turned against them.
Africanus – I’m afraid the Turks received more bad news. Their supply ships had been captured by ships from Sicily. They would not be getting more food or ammunition any time soon. The Roman secret of victory was logistics. If you can’t feed your army, you can’t fight. Their ammunition for their cannons was starting to run low and they were forced to slow down their rate of fire. The Knights saw this and rejoiced. They knew the end was approaching one way or another.
Boudica – I thought the Roman secret of success was no ruthlessness and not having souls. But then Mustapha made yet another mistake. Instead of putting more pressure on the two forts, he took a large group of his men and turned around to attack Mdina, the small city. Mdina had walls that wouldn’t stop a well trained ox and a tiny garrison that wouldn’t be able to slow the Turks down let alone stop them. Mustapha thought that since he couldn’t take the two forts, he could at least take the city so he wouldn’t go back to the Sultan empty handed. Don Mesquita, the Portuguese governor of Mdina saw the Turks coming and knew he couldn’t fight.
Gaspar – But, we Portuguese are made of win and we don’t like to lose. So, Don Mesquita quickly came up with a plan. He dressed all his civilians, women and children like guards and had everyone go out and stand on the walls to make it look like they had far more troops than they really had. He also had what few cannon and guns brought up. As the Turks marched up they saw the walls were covered in fresh soldiers that were taking random shots at them showing that they had plenty of ammo and powder to spare. It was all a lie. The Turks saw this and the soldiers began saying “It’ll be another St. Elmo!” and the thought of another impossible siege made them lose what little courage they had left. The Turks then turned around and went back without firing a single shot.
Olga – No way that true.
Zach – No, Gaspar’s right. That really happened. I guess the Portuguese are good at making stuff up.

A depiction of Turkish moral at this time.

A depiction of Turkish morale at this time.

Gaspar – Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?
Anna – The complete failure to even fight demoralized the Turks to a dangerous level. Officers were complaining that they couldn’t get their troops to attack and that even when they did, they had little to attack with. This incident had the opposite effect on the Knights. For the first time they began to have a faint hope of victory. It now seemed possible that they could beat the Turks. All during this, Valette walked among his men, fought beside them and was an inspiration to them all. Knights didn’t suffer sickness and plague like the Turks did. Remember what the Knights first occupations were? Doctors. They weren’t called “Hospitllars” for nothing. They understood basic sanitation and kept wounds and food clean. This saved them from the deadly sicknesses that always accompanied long sieges.
Olga – Yay for medical peoples!
Zach – All the way into September the Turks continued to half heartedly bombard the forts but didn’t launch any major attacks.

But then….

Suddenly on the night of the 6th of September, Don Garcia, the Viceroy of Sicily appeared with a fleet of 28 ships and around 9,000 men. For some unexplained reason the Turks didn’t even try to stop them. The fleet landed and on the morning of the 7th, the relief force came ashore and went to Mdina to find out what the situation was. News reached Mustapha and Valette at about the same time. I imagine that Mustapha threw his hands in the air and said, “Well that’s just great! Game over man, game over!” The relief force however, was about half the size it was supposed to be. No need to let the Turks know that, so they let one of their prisoners escape after “overhearing” that the relief force was over 16,000 men. The slave rushed to Turkish lines and told Mustapha. Mustapha nodded sagely, stood up and ordered an immediate retreat. They packed up as quickly as they could and hurried to their boats during the night. In the morning, the knights saw that the trenches were empty, no Turks in sight and their fleet slowly sailing away. They let out a great cheer and opened the gates. The defenders pored out and gave thanks to their God. The Maltese began plundering what the Turks had left behind in their haste. The Knights gathered what arms and ammo they could find just in case the Turks came back.
Anna – As they sailed away, Mustapha saw that the relief force was much smaller than he’d been told and urge Piali to turn back so they could attack the relief force. They landed on a sandy bay and the fresh relief force, eager to avenge their fallen comrades of Malta, surged out and immediately attacked the Turks. I don’t know what Mustapha was thinking. None of his troops had the heart to fight anymore and upon seeing this fresh army charging at them like maniacs, they broke and fled back to their ships. The relief force fell upon the stragglers and cut them down. They felt quite good about themselves until they arrived at Birgu and Senglea and saw the mountains of corpses. Then they began to saw how little they had done. The Knights of St. John had done all the work for them and they had nothing to boast about.
Zach – The siege was over. Against all odds the Knights had held out and won. The Turks had lost around 30,000 men, three quarters of their army. When the crippled fleet returned to Constantinople, the Sultan ordered that they come in at night so the people wouldn’t see the shattered remains of the great fleet. Ottoman dominance in the Mediterranean was over. Never again would they attack Malta, the stepping stone to Italy. A few years later would be the Battle of Lepanto where the Christian League, with some survivors from Malta, would destroy the Turkish navy. The Knights of Malta were now heroes in Europe and church bells rang all across the many countries, even Protestant England declared eight days of Thanksgiving. La Valette was an instant celebrity and hero and donations to rebuild Malta pored in from all over Europe. They rebuilt the forts even greater than before and founded a new city named after Valette. This was to be the new headquarters of the Knights of St. John. They had saved Europe and everyone knew it.
Gaspar – I couldn’t make up a story that epic…not that I would make anything up.

Gaspar - The former Masters of the Order came to congratulate Valette at what was the Order's finest hour.

Gaspar – The former Masters of the Order came to congratulate Valette at what was the Order’s finest hour.


Siege of Malta: Part 2

Zach – Welcome back to Part 2 of our three part series on the Great Siege of Malta. When last we left our intrepid Knights of St. John, their island of Malta was being invaded by the Ottoman Turks. There were three major fortresses protecting the island and the smallest one, the one that guarded the harbors was being surrounded by the Turks. The odds were overwhelmingly against the defenders. The Knights needed time to wait the siege out so winter would come and drive the Turks home or for help to arrive. (Though there was a slim chance of that.) The strategy was to cost the Turks every inch of ground and hold them for as long as possible. The key to this first part of the battle was to hold the Turk at this small, poorly constructed fort for as long as they could while costing them as dearly as they could. Simple strategy but as we shall see, it will not be easy.
Anna – Thank you for the re-cap. Now, let us introduce our panelists. Today we have Hua Mulan, woman warrior of ancient China. Next we have Matilda of Tuscany, leader of her personal army for the Pope! Next we have Buffalo Calf Road, woman warrior of the Cheyenne. Then we have “historian” and conquistador, Gaspar Correia. Then we have the first Russian saint and expert in fiery vengance, St. Olga of Kiev. And last and not least we have Casimir Pulaski, Polish hero of the American War of Independence. Glad you could all be here today.
Olga – Dah, you ask nicely so little Olga come.
Pulaski – How could I resist talking about a hopeless fight?
Gaspar – This is the part of the battle where the Turks bring out they cybernetic raptors that fight against the Crusaders’…
Zach – AND we have little time to waste, so let’s begin.
Anna – Before the attack, the Turkish leaders were divided on what plan of action to take. General Mustapha was for taking the northern island of Gozo which would thus cut Malta off from reinforcements from Sicily and bypassing the mostly useless fort of St. Elmo. This was the plan the Knights feared most. But Admiral Piali, a close relative of the Sultan, over ruled Mustapha and made the plan to attack Fort Elmo first to secure a safe port from the storms that weren’t due until fall.
Buffalo – Wait…he wanted to attack a useless fort to protect his ships from a storm that wasn’t coming for several months?
Anna – That is correct.
Buffalo – Am I missing something?
Anna – I’m afraid not. It doesn’t make sense but he over ruled Mustapha so the Knights rejoiced as they watched the Turks ignore the north (their route of resupply and communication) and go after the small fort. While the Turks wasted time with Ft. Elmo, they’d spend the time reinforcing the actually important fortresses.

Here's the fort.  It's small but surrounded by barren rock which would provide the Turks with no shelter and make it very difficult for the besiegers to undermine the walls.

Here’s the fort. It’s small but surrounded by barren rock which would provide the Turks with no shelter and make it very difficult for the besiegers to undermine the walls.

Pulaski – The Turks brought in mounds of dirt and began placing their artillery. The Turks had made the use of artillery into an art form and as poetic as that might sound, the fact was, they brought a lot of really big guns. There are few problems that excessive firepower won’t solve. The power of the Turks’ cannons would crack the limestone walls of the fort and turn it into powder. As the opening barrage wore on, a pale cloud of limestone dust began to form around the fort, making it difficult to see into and out of. On top of that, the Turks had placed sniper on the hill looking over the fort. These snipers were some of the best in Europe and made it all but impossible for the Knights to man the walls properly. Me and General Washington used snipers to great effect during the American Revolution.
Mulan – The Grand Master of the Knights send a message north to the Pope, other Knights of St. John and to the Viceroy of Sicily, asking for help. The Viceroy promised help in June, but no sooner. Also, he made it conditional if they sent two of their galleys north to help transport the soldiers. But there was a problem with this. Even with a skeleton crew, the two galleys would take almost a thousand men to man and with only 7,000 men in total, it was simply impossible.
Buffalo – But, didn’t the Viceroy know that?
Mulan – Of course. The Viceroy was a veteran soldier himself. He only wished for an excuse to not send help.
Buffalo – I’d skin him for that.
Mulan – I would not be happy myself, but like me, these men were soldiers and went on with what must be done. They constantly sent out their cavalry and local partisans to harass the Turks. This would become a slow and draining wound to the Turkish army. Every casualty counted. But the Turks had brought thousands of slaves with them and these slaves were used to dig the trenches in barren rock. The Knight’s sharp shooters killed them by the hundreds and the bodies were pushed into piles to act as cover. At the end of the first day, Ft. Elmo sent word to La Valette that the fort could only continue on with a steady supply of reinforcements. As long as men could continue to enter the fort, it would hold. This was a simple fact that eluded the Turks. If they had one Chinese officer with them, this whole battle would have ended within days.
Pulaski – Grand Master La Valette called a meeting of his officers. He explained how the fort was doomed and it was only a matter of time before the fort fell. The question was: how much time. Every day the fort could hold out was essential. Also, he made it clear to his men that there would be no surrender. There was no where for their order to go. Either they hold out and win or they would die.

Fight or die.  No surrender. No retreat.  They would fight to the last man.  Seriously hard core.

Fight or die. No surrender. No retreat. They would fight to the last man. Seriously hard core.

Zach – Then something unexpected happened. One of the Knights’ ships returned from a long range patrol. They saw the island was surrounded by tried to break through. Piali, the Turkish admiral was enraged by the idea of a lone ship trying to break through his navy. So he sent out six ships to intercept this “Lunatic Christian.”
Olga – I have been called this thing before. Lunatic means “beautiful,” dah?
Zach – Um, yes, of course. So the ship, seeing that it’s really hopeless, breaks off and turns north to Sicily. Five of the Turkish ships turn back but one keeps going. When the captain of the Knight’s ship sees they’re down to one pursuer, and having been well practiced in the fine arts of piracy, he immediately orders an abrupt turn around with one side of the ship peddling backwards with the other side pushes forward as hard as they can, turning the ship in its own radius. The Knight’s ship does a complete 180 like they were in a high speed car chase and attacks the lone Turkish ship. Seeing this lunatic Knight ship coming at them, they turn around and run back to the Turkish navy. Everyone saw this. The Knights broke out in cheering and the Turks were rather embarrassed.

Not much changed since ancient Greek times.

Not much changed since ancient Greek times.

Olga – Oh! Oh! I read this part! Olga do homework, see? This is…um…five days, dah? Five days when fighting started.
Zach – That’s right. Very good Olga.
Olga – Yes, Turks think they take fort in five days. NOT! In early morning, when dark, Knights sneak out of fort and attack Turk trenches. They fight a lot and take many trenches, killing many peoples. This make Knights happy. But then Turk…um, how you say?
Zach – Jannissaries.
Olga – Yes! That it. Jannissaries. Turk Jannissaries, special forces, move in and fight Knights back into fort.

The elite shock troops of the Ottoman Empire.  Snipers, door kickers, and fanatics all rolled into one.

The elite shock troops of the Ottoman Empire. Snipers, door kickers, and fanatics all rolled into one.

Buffalo – Bad news for the Knights! They were pushed back into their fort. But then worse news arrived. The next morning, Dragut, the famous Turkish pirate and admiral showed up. This man was over seventy years old. Seventy years of kicking butt across the Mediterranean and taking no names. This was a big problem for the Knights because Dragut actually knew what he was doing. And he also brought fifteen ships full of North African fighters. The first thing Dragut asked was “Why the heck didn’t you seal off the north part of the island?” I imagine they responded with “Um…um….um…” And then Dragut asked, “Why the heck didn’t you seal off Fort Elmo?! If they keep reinforcing the fort with fresh men, it’ll never fall! Blockheads!” I imagine they responded with “Oh, well….um…you see….um…”
Pulaski – Yes, Dragut’s arrival was very bad news. He began to position cannons near the harbor where the Knights ferried men and equipment. Once those guns were in place it became very difficult to send anyone back and forth and they could only do so at night now. The fate of the fortress was sealed as soon as those cannons went up. By the following day of Dragut’s arrival, the firepower leveled at the fortress nearly doubled. The coordination of the Turkish army was more efficient and the plan to strangle the fort was in place. A Spanish knight described the fort as “a volcano in eruption” due to the fire and smoke constantly surrounding it. An average of 6,000 to 7,000 artillery shells were fired at the fort every day. (They kept count.)
Zach – During my own little siege experience at Abu Garhaib, there were only a few hundred incoming projectiles of different kinds.
Gaspar – Dragut, the famous corsair had learned from the best. Barbarossa, the famous Turkish pirate, not to be confused with the German emperor, was the terror of the seas. At his command Dragut was able to call upon the powers of the Deep Ones and the Dread Cthulhu. He summoned these terrifying monstrosities out of their slumber at the bottom of the ocean to fight their battles. The Knights were saved only by the help of an elite core of werewolves that had taken the Knightly vows. These werewolves fought to the last man…er…wolf against these unholy abominations!

Gaspar - The battle was too horrific that no one recorded the details.  But to this day the brave werewolf knights are remembered on Malta.

Gaspar – The battle was too horrific that no one recorded the details. But to this day the brave werewolf knights are remembered on Malta.

Buffalo – Besides the fact that that wasn’t true, the Knights were kinda in a predicament. It had been a week and the fort was filled with wounded men. Even the wounded manned their posts and men went around delivering bread soaked in wine as food. The moral of the fort wasn’t looking too good.
Mulan – Indeed not. They were doomed and they knew it. Then more bad news arrived.
Olga – More? Is that possible?
Mulan – Apparently. News that the Viceroy of Sicily would not send a large army any time soon was not good for the moral. On top of that, Fort Elmo suffered a disaster. An outer fortification was being scouted out by two Turkish engineers and they found that the few defenders there were all asleep. They rushed back to Dragut who then sent his Jannissaries in. They went quietly and fell upon the outer fortification, slaughtering everyone inside. The few survivors rushed across the drawbridge to the fort. Now the Turks had the outer defenses of Fort Elmo. In civilian terms that’s called “Not good.” It was a sloppy as a soup sandwich of the Knights to let the fortification fall like that.
Zach – The Jannissaries rushed to the walls and gate of the fort and began bringing up their ladders. But the Knights had tricks of their own. They used “Wild Fire” that…
Anna – Hey! Call it what it is! Greek fire! Invented by my people in Constantinople.
Zach – Yes, Greek fire. It’s basically primative napalm in either handgrenades (clay jars with wicks) or in a clever flame thrower.
Gaspar – Wait, the Knights had grenades and flamethrowers?
Zach – Sure did.
Gaspar – Wow. I didn’t even have to make that u….um…make that more accurate than I usually do.
Zach – Yes, the flamethrowers, hand grenades and burning hoops set the Jannissaries loose robes on fire and killed hundreds of them.

Zach - The Byzantines didn't play around and neither did the Knights of St. John!  Don't bring a sword to a flamethrower fight!

Zach – The Byzantines didn’t play around and neither did the Knights of St. John! Don’t bring a sword to a flamethrower fight!

Anna - One of my countrymen using Greek fire on the enemies of the Empire. Take that, filthy barbarians!

Anna – One of my countrymen using Greek fire on the enemies of the Empire. Take that, filthy barbarians!

Olga – I like these knights! They fight how I like to fight! They burn everything! (Laughs hysterically.)
Anna – They estimate that over 2,000 Jannisaries died that day. A 2 to 1 ration for the knights. Not a bad day’s work.
Zach – Another letter arrived from the Viceroy of Sicily. He said that he’d send troops on the 20th of June if they still held Fort Elmo. It was only June 4th.
Mulan – On the 7th of June, the Turks unleashed a bombardment so powerful that it was said the entire fort shook like a ship in a storm. Walls were leveled and by the end of the day the fort looked more like an ancient ruin than a defensible position. Before dusk the Turks looked out over the fort and wondered if anything could possibly still be living. So they sent in their Jannissaries and were surprised to meet a well disciplined wall of musket fire. The defenders were somehow still alive and were putting up such a fight that it was impossible to take the fort by storm.
Pulaski – Hussah! Then Fort Elmo sent over one of their knights to report to La Vallette. They reported that the fort would fall soon and the men were better used fortifying other positions. Now, this is where the leadership of La Vallette comes into play. This man, after considering the message, ordered that the fort was to be held at all cost. They must hold the Turks there as long as possible. Every moment was precious. The Turks had to exhaust themselves on this useless fort before turning their attention to the two main forts that actually controlled the island. He said, “We swore also on the vows of chivalry that our lives would be sacrificed for the Faith whenever, and wherever, the call might come. our brethren in St. Elmo must now accept that sacrifice.” Basically he said, “They are going to fight and die there.” These were men, that took their noble obligation seriously. For their wealth and status, the price was risking their lives for the cause. And these men knew that the bill was coming and they’d have to pay.
Buffalo – On the 10th of June there was the largest night battle…as in a battle at night…you know what I mean. I know all about night raids, they should have had some of us Cheyenne there. We’d show them how to do it! The Turks lost 1,500 men that night. The defenders lost 60. By the 14th, the Turks were growing furious. The stupid fort should have fallen a week ago! They sent an emissary requesting their surrender and offering safe passage. The Knights looked at the piles of Turkish bodies and laughed. The Imams in the army preached “Jihad” against the Knights of St. John. But then the Knights had some good luck! One of the artillery commanders saw a group of Turkish officers. Obvious due to their bright silk clothing, they were a great target. He fired cannons at the cluster of officers. By luck, Dragut was mortally wounded in the head. He’d die days later but he played no further part in this story. He’d lay semi-concious for days without saying anything. With that one cannon shot, the intelligence driving the Turkish army was gone in an instant.
Olga – ‘Bout time they got some luck, dah?
Gaspar – The cannoneer was a psychic and knew where to aim his cannon.
Zach – And the following day, a cannon ball killed the commander of the Jannissaries. Two blows against the Turkish horde. But by the 19th the situation was clear. The fort could fall any hour. La Vallette sat in his fort, waiting for the inevitable news. There was nothing he could do. He couldn’t evacuate it and he couldn’t support it. All that was left to do was pray they bought a few more hours.
Anna – The situation in the fort was dire. Everyone had multiple wounds, Turkish snipers were firing on them with no restraint and cannons pounded their position constantly. They could barely move for fear of being blown up. All they could do was wait for the end. Yet, over the course of the next few days the Turks assaulted and were constantly surprised that the Knights continued to hold the fort. The knights positioned themselves in the holes in the walls, wearing full plate and carrying giant two handed swords that they wielded like quarter staffs, they formed a wall of flesh and steel.

“For verily I have come to maul backsides and partake of snuff… and woe, I am all out of snuff.”

Two priests stayed in the fort to issue last rights and even they took up swords to defend the fort. The two priests hid the sacred relics of the fort’s church under the floor and burned to rest to prevent them from falling into Turkish hands. Then they rang the bell one last time. The Turks thought they were requesting aid from their brethren, but in reality they were preparing themselves to die. On the 23rd of June, (yeah, no surprise that the date for Sicily’s help came and gone) the entire Turkish army fell on the fort. This was no well timed attack by elite Jannissaries, this was “everyone at once.” Still the few hundred survivors in the fort held on for several hours. Two Spanish knights, so wounded they couldn’t stand, sat in chairs at the breaches and fought sitting down. La Vallette and the rest of the order could only watch as the Turks swarmed through the walls and filled the fort like a broken levy. From the other side of the harbor they saw the flag of St. John torn down and a Turkish one rise in its place. They lasted from May 19th to June 23rd, over a month: three weeks longer than anyone had any right to suspect. It was a heroic last stand and they died to the man. The Turks, upon taking the fort realized that they had payed a high price for a pile of rubble. The Knights had lost about 1,500 men with Fort Elmo. The Turks however had lost over 10,000, a quarter of their army. They turned to see the other two forts, more heavily defended and better built than tiny Fort Elmo. But General Mustapha was said to have cried “Allah! If so small a son has cost us so dear, what price shall we have to pay for so large a father?”

Two more forts? Each one bigger than the last?? You gotta be freaking kidding me!!

Mulan – By anyone standards, it was a military disaster for the Turks. Wasting so much time and so many men on one fort was too high a price. The Turks took no prisoners and mutilated the bodies of the defenders. In payment La Vallette killed all the Turkish prisoners he was keeping and fired their severed heads from his cannons. This was a signal that the Knights would likewise take no prisoners.
Anna – How barbaric!
Mulan – (shrugs)
Zach – Now the Turkish army and the Turkish guns turn toward Fort Angelo where the main bulk of the Knights waited. The conclusion to the siege awaits next week in Part 3 of this epic trilogy. Who will win? Who will die? What will be the cost and for what? Stay tuned!