The Ships And Admirals at LepantoSince the time of the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1455 the ever-encroaching ring of Islamic states appalled the Christian west. With the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the capture and cruel treatment of the Venetian Ambassador Bragadino, (flayed alive, his body then stuffed and hung from the yardarm of a ship sailing to Constantinople along the coast,) the Christian states became sufficiently mobilized in order to address the problem of Moslem expansionism. Much of the credit must go to Pope Pius V.
An alliance was formed with great difficulty by the Papacy consisting of Marc Antonio Colonna of the Papal States, Andrea Doria of Spain and Sebastino Veniero of Naples. All of the above were if not antagonistic to one another, at least cool to the idea of forming an alliance. Spain was more interested in the western part of the Mediterranean, the route to the Americas, Venice the east as her trade was in this direction .The Pope was interested in stopping the Moslem expansion which for hundreds of years had inexorably flowed westwards. As Cyprus was attacked and sacked the Christian galleys, galleasses, nefs, cogs et all assembled at Zarra on the Dalmatian coast and then moved south in order to intercept the Turkish fleet. Don John of Austria the Habsburg emperor was placed in charge.
Andrea Doria was an immediate cause for concern for the alliance as he was of Italian stock from Naples subject to Philip II of Spain, Naples being a fief of Spain. Doria was a great nephew of a renowned seaman who the Venetians despised as they believed that he was the reason for their defeat while allied with Naples, Doria accused of leaving the Venetians at a critical time of the battle. Don John was the peacemaker of the alliance taking his cue from the pope who had managed to bring the three together. This battle was the last major fleet actions in which the galley participated
The galley is the earliest known fighting ship tracing its roots back to the times of the Egyptian, Carthaginian, and Greek and Roman navies. The earlier ships had a single bank of oars and a single square sail which was taken down in time of battle and left upon the shore. The first great innovation was the adding of another bank of oars in 500 BC bringing into being the biremes, leading to the placement of an additional bank of oars bringing into being the trireme. During the Roman period greater oar placement occurred resulting in the quinqereme .It is doubtful whether the Romans actually added to more decks, the probable arrangement being the adding of extra men to a cross section of oars or extra oars fitted in to the same cross section. Ships were classified according to the number of men assigned to a bank of oars when viewed from the ends, and the total number of rowers assigned to each section regardless of which deck they occupied. For example, a six could be a bireme with two men to each oar, four on top and one man to each of the lower oars. The combinations were as endless as ship design.
These oar banks were named from top to the bottom: Thranite, Zygite and Thanite. The Romans continued with the original Greek when naming their decks. Some would dispute the above by pointing out the construction of the present day Olympus, a replica based upon conjecture, which has a single man assigned to each oar in a three decked arrangement. This may have been a common design at one time or another but one must take into account that the age of the galley encompassed roughly 1500 years; design was not static so of course there were variations.
In early Byzantine the main armament consisted of a siphon spewing what was colloquially known of as Greek fire, in essence crude oil scooped from above the ground and sprayed on to the enemy ships.Salpeter was added to the mix in later times allowing the mixture to burn when coming in contact with water thus making it hard to extinguish and also bringing about the first cannon as it was found that it was better to place a stone in the mouth of the siphon thus causing even greater damage. Experimentation eventually led to the introduction of gunpowder and the true ships gun. Demi- culverins, (nine pounders ), were mounted in the bows replacing the spur which had been used in order to wreak the telera, a type of outrigger allowing the oars to swivel at a greater distance, and in Christian ships between the rowing ports on the lower deck. With the covering of the telera with a wooden deck guns began to appear upon the upper deck and were used against rigging and men.
An engagement would begin with a shower of long bow arrows or cross bow bolts. When one side was sufficiently worn down the ship would come in closer and attempt to spray quick lime into the wind in order to blind the enemy .Liquid soap was also thrown on to the decking so as to cause slips and falls. When the hulls were just about touching sickles on poles were brandished so as to cut rigging and thus cause the collapse of the masts. The final phase was to board and kill the crew and soldiers, the officers held for ransom. Boarding was the ultimate aim of all sea warfare.
The average thirteenth century Galley was 130 -145 feet long from stern to tip of the forward spur with a of 25 feet, a mast of 66 feet holding a triangular sail upon a great antenna which was longer than the mast .The mast was placed one third of the way from the bow upon the center line of the ship. There was usually two feet of free board below the apostis, the fore and aft piece connecting the telera. Between each oar on the level of the apostis, pavesades, square shields, were placed so as to protect the rowers .In board rowers were armed with a small pike and swords .The middle man was armed with a bow while those outboard carried a supply of stones only. This pertained only to those of Venice as they of all of the nations of the time were the only one not to employ slaves as rowers. The use of slaves was prevalent in the fleets of Pisa, Genoa and in those of the Ottomans, each side using captured nationals of the enemy or their own convicts or those given to them, the great fear of the Ottomans the uprising of their Christian slaves.
In the Italian galleys of the sixteenth century the oars were arranged in groups of three placed on a single rowing deck, the rowers seated upon thwarts angled in a herringbone pattern thus leaving enough room whereby each man could control a single oar. This arrangement led to the construction of a long narrow hull allowing for great speed under both oar and sail. However, one wonders how such vessels behaved in a storm. When viewing a Venetian galley from the side a single bank of oars could be seen grouped in to divisions of three, a slight gap between each set. By this time in the Italian states the oar placement change from that of the empire had been accompanied by the use of the telera .This consisted of a horizontal or beam piece yoked to the hull at the ends and then connected vertically or end to end by what was called an apostis, one at each gun whale. Running down the centre line was the corsia under which were the various compartments containing ship stores. The principle ship of the Empire and of the Ottomans was the Drohman, (racer), featuring two banks of oars, and multiple rowers at a single oar. Turkish galleys were single banked vessels much smaller than the Drohmans. Both were eventually classified as Drohman's as the single bank of oars came to be more pervasive. During combat the masts of both Italian and Turkish ships, (with the exception of the navis [nefs in English] which had no oars), were placed horizontally upon the deck.
The precursor of the battle of Lepanto was the demand by Suleiman II for possession of the island of Cyprus. Venice refused this demand and then had to look for allies. She was refused assistance for a long time and finally the Pope intervened bringing together a coalition consisting of Spain, Venice and the Papacy. All were placed under the Austrian Don John, Austria being part of the Hapsburg Empire. Fleets were moved about the Mediterranean in order to find each other at the most opportune moment. At one time the Venetian fleet was at a disadvantage as there had been one of the pestilences so common aboard unsanitary ships of the day where 20,000 rowers had died.
Rumors of the antagonism among the alliance was common knowledge to the Turkish commander Pasha Ali .A game of hide and seek developed in the Aegean and Mediterranean as the fleets hunted one another. With the fall in Cyprus of Nicosia and then Famagusta both came to realize the other would be concentrated in a certain position. The meeting came about at the confluence of the Gulf of Corinth as the Christian fleet moved south out of the harbor of Pelera,the Turkish fleet ensconced behind the guns guarding The Gulf a Corinth. Both fleets sailed south and then turned about their axis in order to face one another both still slowly advancing.
The opening moves consisted of the attempt by Mehmet Sirocco on the Turkish right to go around the Christian left which failed as Bragadino although not having the same knowledge of the area as did Sirocco, did deduce that if he could go as close to the shore, which he did, thus allowing a Christian reserve force to come up under the Admiral Alvero de Bazan the Marquis of Santa Cruz and future Admiral of the Spanish Armada and victor of the battle of the Azores.(He died before the actual battle of the Spanish Armada through natural causes.) There was a general Turkish collapse here; ships captured run aground on the shoals, troops in the cliffs were fired at with ships cannons.
In the centre the Royals met, and after hard fighting the Christians prevailed, boarding the Turkish flag ship and killing the fleet commander Pasha Ali.
On the Christian right Genoas Gian Andea Doria perceived that Uluch Ali was attempting to out flank the Christian fleet and so moved south in effect falling behind, although the galleasses still were to the fore. These had been placed so as to rake the Turkish ships as they passed , no Turkish commander wanting to engage such a formidably gunned ship. The move left caused a split in the line leaving the right flank of the Christian exposed. Some of his ships noticing this moved into the gap Uluch Ali moving to intercept them planning to attack what was now the weak Christian centre.
Sequence of Events
Weight of Shot per ship
Philips advisors, if not Philip himself, realized that in order to subdue the rebels they would have to subdue England .The Catholics in England and Scotland were stirred up. Mary queen of Scots was put forward as the right full Queen as she was next in line after Elizabeth. The Queen herself vacillated between a policy of war and of peace .In 1577 she sent Francis Drake on an around the world voyage in which from one Spanish vessel he took twenty six tons of silver, a deed for which the Queen awarded him a knighthood.
Spain occupied Portugal .An action was fought of the Azores the Admiral Alvero de Bazan Marquis of Santa Cruz, who had so distinguished himself at Lepanto commanding the reserves, was again victorious. In 1584 the Duke of Anjou died .Henry of Navarre ,a protestant, was now next in line for the French throne .Catholics in France were now so occupied with internal matters that there was no danger of them becoming involved in the Spanish English quarrel. Spain seized English ships in Spanish ports containing grain ,Spain at the time suffering due to the interrupted supply of silver from the new world due to the activities of the rebel ships interdicting Spanish shipping. Letters of marquee were issued authorizing English ships to seize those of Spain up to the amount of damages inflicted. Spain called in to question that under law no raids could be made upon the colonies .England countered that as outside trade was forbidden in Spanish American possessions they were not true colonies but part of the high seas.
The ships of the age varied in size and structure, the Spanish San Filipe1500 tons to the English Michael of 20 tons. Most of the bigger English ships were in the Queens Navy, although this never mustered more than thirty capital ships throughout Elizabeth reign. One of them might be lent as admiral or flagship to an expedition the Queen was interested in, the remainder private vessels owned by personal enterprises. Although English ships were greatly improved design regarding speed and manoeuvrability the primary concern was to have a stable platform on which to mount the gunnery.
The largest cannon in use were the basilisk with a bore of 8.75 inches. It would throw an 18 pound metal ball a distance of a mile or so. The weapon was up to fifteen feet in length and so was not handy to have on board ship, its main use as a shore battery. Most tall ships however carried a battery of demi -culverins ranged on either side of their gun decks. These measured from eight to ten feet and had a 4.50 inch bore and weighed nine pounds. Tackles were used for lateral aiming and a wedge for elevation. The guns would be run out, fired and then after being swabbed out left to cool for five minutes or so. Shot was either chain, metal balls chained together, canister, thin jacketed shells filled with nails etc., and iron ball used to penetrate the hull. In addition there were smaller guns mounted on a swivel which could be rail mounted or placed in the bow of a pinnace or other smaller boats. Bases and bombards where also employed being the mortars of the day.
Drake embarked on a Caribbean expedition seizing Cartagena and Santo Domingo which in addition to its great financial blow was also a crushing moral blow to Spain calling into question her mush vaunted superiority. Elizabeth sent troops to those opposing the Duke of Alva citing her reasons as being: religious persecution; the Papal expedition against Ireland of 1579 and the attempt of the Spanish ambassador in London to arrange for the invasion of England, the seizure of English and Dutch shipping, the arrest of these countries citizens and the seizure of their property in effect declaring war against Spain putting into motion the invasion of England. Drake conducted raids along the Spanish coast seizing shipping and causing great havoc. The duke of Parma, the Spanish commander in the Netherlands played a game with Elizabeth of England where he pretended to be interested in coming to an agreement with her so as to avoid war. Holland continued to blockade Spanish shipping attempting to re-supply the Spanish forces in the Netherland.
Spainís economy was hurting with the strain and so it was resolved that in order to quell the rebels it would be necessary to invade England. It took two years in which to assemble the Armada. England managed to cobble together a defence force in two months, the Queens reluctance to part with money greatly handicapping the effort. She is said to have been tight upon the purse strings in order to keep a reign upon her captains and admirals in order to prevent them from going off upon expeditions of their own
Nineteen years after Lepanto the galley, but for the troop transports, had virtually disappeared. Ships were now more of an armed merchant man based upon the galleass having but a few oars. English ships had become more manoeuvrable than those of Spain, and with the reduction of the width of the poop deck, able to sail better down wind .
They also provided a better gun platform as their heeling motion was not great, the main impediment to naval guns being the angle of the ships deck to that of the water. The English seven hundred ton galleon Jesus of Lubeck carried a complement of 100 crew members; the 40 ton George carried a captain and nine crewmen while the 20 ton William carried a crew of five and a boy. Spanish shipping was composed of Galleons, Caravels, Galleasses, Galleys and Zagrebís, the latter being lateen rigged and able to sail closer to the wind. Contrary to popular belief Spanish ships were not much larger than those of England, the Spanish Grande Felipe an exception being of 1500 ton, the largest English ship 1100 ton. Regarding the rest of the ships there was not much of a difference in size. The best 45 English ships, with a total of 1600 guns fired 7500 pounds of shot, the best Spanish 45 ships with 1350 guns fired 4500 pounds.
The Spanish admiral Medina had placed his Galleons to the fore backed up by the Galleasses, the other ships placed on the wings or in the rear. Henry Seymour had placed his squadrons in the neck of the English Channel while Howard of Effingham attacked the main fleet, staying if possible just within gun shot range, and retiring after delivering a broadside. The key to the battle were fire ships.
Drake had delayed the Duke of Parmaís landing barges in French waters, Spain thus forced to place troops in the Galleons who, in addition to hampering crews, added extra weight. The English found that their ships were more handy than those of Spain, able to rush in deliver a barrage from the bow guns, and then turn broadside and deliver a further broadside then falling away and letting the ships following them repeat the process. The Spanish had expected to be able to repeat the boarding tactics which had worked so well at Lepanto, but things had changed,the galleasses no longer able to be placed so handily to front of the squadrons as now the prime motive power was sail.
At the peak of the battle the Spanish ships edged north close to the French coast ,the English following prudently behind ,forty ships per side engaged in battle out of a combined number of 400 or more. The Spanish took greater damage than they gave, the killed and injured figure between 1,500-2,000 causing the Duke of Medina to elect to return to Spain, as he feared that as the season was late and Spain would be in the coming year, exposed to the English and the Dutch fleets.
That so little damage occurred can be put down to the reluctance of Elizabeth to provide sufficient funds for the ammunition and victuals of the fleet. Letters were sent to her ministers constantly, in some cases the messengers were rebuffed with instructions to go through the proper procedure. Pestilence, due to inadequate provisioning, eventually forced the English ships to return to port.The English, although defeating the Spanish, suffering a great number of casualties which were inflicted by their Queen through her parsimonious conduct. Storms raging in the channel caused the Spanish to break off the engagement and to retire to the north of Scotland, where they were further harassed by Admiral Seymour . Out of the 130 Spanish ships that started out, only 80 returned to Spain.