An artist’s depiction of the Battle of Lepanto, showing Don Juan of Austria
at the bow of his ship, the Real
Although the Ottoman commander Mehmed Suluk broke the left flank of the Holy League, reinforcements sent in by Don Alvaro de Bazan counter-attacked and destroyed the entire right flank of the Turks. A ferocious melee broke out between the fleet flag ships—Don Juan’s Real and Ali Pasha’s Sultana—in the center of the battle-line, with some of the Turkish soldiers able to board the Real. Fighting for their lives and bringing superior firepower to bear, the Holy League ships prevailed in the center of the line, although a late attack by the surviving Ottoman ships on their left flank had some success. The Turkish fleet commander was killed in the action and his head lifted on a pole. The Ottoman ships broke for open water, thirty escaping.
This painting is near-contemporary, but it shows an “imaginative interpretation” of the battle, as well as detailed depictions of the various ships involved, identifiable by their standards
The League lost 33 ships and about 23,000 dead and wounded; the Ottomans, about 25,000, with 84 ships destroyed and 127 captured. The League failed to recapture Cyprus but Venice was saved, along with the Island of Crete and, although the Ottomans rebuilt their fleet within a year, the loss of skilled Muslim sailors took decades to replace. Islamic ambitions to control the Mediterranean and overrun more of Europe would have to wait until the non-military swamping by millions of immigrants in the 21st century.
The Victors of Lepanto, an anonymous painting depicting Don Juan of Austria (1547-1578), Marcantonio Colonna (1535-1584) and Sebastiano Venier (1496-1578)
The Battle of Lepanto is always included in books with titles like The Fifty Greatest Battles of History, The Seventy Greatest Battles of History, The Hundred Greatest Battles of History, as well as the classic Military History of the Western World by J.F.C. Fuller. Seventeen years after Lepanto, the Spanish fleet turned on their other nemesis, England, and sent their greatest battle fleet in history, the Armada, to destroy the Protestant champions. However, the dons discovered they needed the combination to Davy Jones’s Locker rather than the accolades of the Pope, as 30% of their huge fleet was destroyed by English fireships and ferocious storms, sending the remainder limping back to Spain before a single soldier landed.