Siege of Malta - Stages
The Turkish armada cast anchor in the port of St. Thomas. The troops spread in detachments over the land, devastating the country. Mustafa, with the main body of the army, occupied a rising ground only a few miles from Il Borgo.Meanwhile, the Grand Marshal Coppier, at the head of a small troop, defeated some of the detachments which were scouring the country.
It was La Valette tactic to allow such encounters, in order to familiarize its fighters with the enemy, as well as with the fierce war-cries of the Turks. After the knights incurred some losses, the Grand Master ordered his troops to remain within the walls of the town.
Beginning of the Siege: Fort St. Elmo
The Siege of Malta began with the attack against Fort St. Elmo, as the Turkish council of war decided. Heavy cannons mounted on Mount Sciberras started pounding the walls of the fort. The small garrison resisted heroically, and on June 16, Dragut himself was killed. On June 23, the final assault took place. After one month in which a handful of warriors withstood the whole strength of the Turkish army, Fort St. Elmo was taken.
Only nine knights, captured by the corsairs of Dragut, and left alive for ransom, survived. The wounded knights were either tortured and killed, or nailed to huge crosses, and launched into the harbor.
The northern peninsula, with Il Borgo, and at its extreme point having the castle of St. Angelo, was defended by better fortifications than St. Elmo. Each bastion was named by the langue defending it. Thus, the Spanish knights were defending the bastion of Castile, on the eastern corner of the Peninsula. The parallel slip of land was crowned by the fort of St. Michael. In St. Angelo, La Valette took all possible measures to make sure all resources are used wisely. He recalled the troops form other parts of the island, and the guns from the ships were removed and mounted on the walls. He made sure all provisions will be used with maximum economy.
Arrival of reinforcements
The besieged received reinforcements from Sicily, four galleys with forty knights and seven hundred soldiers, drawn chiefly from the Spanish garrisons in Italy. Once landed, the commander, the Chevalier de Robles, under cover of night, led his men at a gunshot of the Turkish lines, and they reached the English harbour, opposite Il Borgo, were boats awaited their arrival.
In the meantime, the Turks proposed the surrender of the island in exchange for the knights to freely leave for Sicily, which the Grand Master vigorously refused.
The turning point of Malta Siege
The Siege continued with the attackers mounting cannons on every high ground surrounding the forts, cutting all communications lines on land, and a fleet detachment cutting the entrance to the Great Port. Early in July the circle of batteries opened fire on the fortresses, the towns, and the ships at anchor in the Port of Galleys. The guns of St. Angelo and St. Michael returned fire.
Mustafa decided to attack the weaker Fort St. Michael by land and sea. As he could not bring his vessels in the Grand Port without exposing them to the guns of St. Angelo, he ordered around 80 large boats to be dragged across land, and launched them in the harbour near Fort St. Michael.
Fortunately for the besieged, a Turkish deserter informed the Grand Master about the enemy plans. To deter the assault, La Valette ordered a row of palisades, bound together by heavy chains, to be sunk in the mud at the bottom of the harbour. A body of Turkish swimmers, armed with axes, tried to force an opening in the barrier. They were able to inflict some damage, until a troop of Maltese, swimming with their swords in their teeth, beat the Turks, and restored the palisades.
In the morning of July 15th, the attack began. At the bastion of Spur, two mortars on the ramparts failed to fire, and the attackers managed to advance to the walls and to mount the ladders. A spark falling into the magazine of combustibles caused a huge explosion, and, after its clouds dissipated, the garrison found that the enemy was already at their side. A timely reinforcement arrived from Il Borgo through a floating bridge La Valette laid not long before.
About ten large boats with a reinforcement of one thousand Janissaries was sent to support the assault. In trying to avoid the palisades, they exposed themselves to a battery in St. Angelo. Mounted at sea level, the battery had five guns, under the command of Chevalier de Guiral, who waited till the enemy had come within range, then he gave the order to fire. The pieces were loaded with heavy balls, and with bags filled with chain and bits of iron, and the effect was devastating. Nine out of ten boats were shattered to pieces, and probably this strike saved the fortress.
The reinforcement send by La Valette attacked, and the garrison, invigorated at their sight, did the same. The Turks, pressed on all sides, gave way. Some tried to escape to the shore, but were killed by their pursuers.
At Fort St. Michael, the assailants were also repulsed many times, but reinforcements were sent to their aid, and the small garrison was in danger to be overwhelmed by numbers, when the victorious troops from the Spur came to their support, and together they forced the enemy back in their trenches.
The day belonged to the Knights of Malta, and the victory raised the spirits and inspired confidence. In order to protect the town against assault from the side of the English Port, vessels laden with heavy stones were sunk not far from shore. They were secured by anchors bound to one another with chains, forming a strong barrier against any approach by water.
More on the Malta Siege: