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The siege lasted nearly four months, from 18 May to 11 September The Knights Hospitaller had been headquartered in Malta since , after being driven out of Rhodes , also by the Ottomans, in , following the Siege of Rhodes.
The Ottomans first attempted to take Malta in but failed. The Knights, with approximately 2, footsoldiers and Maltese men, women, and children, withstood the siege and repelled the invaders.
This victory became one of the most celebrated events of sixteenth-century Europe, to the point that Voltaire said: "Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta.
The siege was the climax of an escalating contest between the Christian alliances and the Islamic Ottoman Empire for control of the Mediterranean, a contest that included the Turkish attack on Malta in , the Ottoman destruction of an allied Christian fleet at the Battle of Djerba in , and the decisive Battle of Lepanto in By the end of , Suleiman the Magnificent , the Ottoman Sultan, had forcibly ejected the Knights from their base on Rhodes after the six-month Siege of Rhodes.
From to the Order lacked a permanent home. Charles also required the Knights to garrison Tripoli on the North African coast, which was in territory that the Barbary Corsairs , allies of the Ottomans, controlled.
The Knights accepted the offer reluctantly. Malta was a small, desolate island, and for some time, many of the Knights clung to the dream of recapturing Rhodes.
Nevertheless, the Order soon turned Malta into a naval base. The island's position in the centre of the Mediterranean made it a strategically crucial gateway between East and West, especially as the Barbary Corsairs increased their forays into the western Mediterranean throughout the s and s.
In particular, the corsair Dragut was proving to be a major threat to the Christian nations of the central Mediterranean. Dragut and the Knights were continually at loggerheads.
In , Dragut and the Ottoman admiral Sinan decided to take Malta and invaded the island with a force of about 10, men. After only a few days, however, Dragut broke off the siege and moved to the neighbouring island of Gozo, where he bombarded the Cittadella for several days.
The Knights' governor on Gozo, Gelatian de Sessa , having decided that resistance was futile, threw open the doors to the Cittadella.
The corsairs sacked the town and took virtually the entire population of Gozo approximately 5, people into captivity. Dragut and Sinan then sailed south to Tripoli, where they soon seized the Knights' garrison there.
They initially installed a local leader, Aga Morat , as governor, but subsequently Dragut himself took control of the area.
The two new forts were built in the remarkably short period of six months in All three forts proved crucial during the Great Siege. The next several years were relatively calm, although the guerre de course , or running battle , between Muslims and Christians continued unabated.
He continued his raids on non-Christian shipping, and his private vessels are known to have taken some 3, Muslim and Jewish slaves during his tenure as Grand Master.
By Dragut was causing the Christian powers such distress, even raiding the coasts of Spain, that Philip II organized the largest naval expedition in fifty years to evict the corsair from Tripoli.
The Knights joined the expedition, which consisted of about 54 galleys and 14, men. This ill-fated campaign climaxed in the Battle of Djerba in May , when Ottoman admiral Piyale Pasha surprised the Christian fleet off the Tunisian island of Djerba , capturing or sinking about half the Christian ships.
The battle was a disaster for the Christians and it marked the high point of Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean.
After Djerba there could be little doubt that the Turks would eventually attack Malta again. Malta was of immense strategic importance to the Ottoman long-term plan to conquer more of Europe, since Malta was a stepping stone to Sicily , and Sicily in turn could be a base for an invasion of the Kingdom of Naples.
Meanwhile, the Spaniards continued to prey on Turkish shipping. In mid, Romegas , the Order's most notorious seafarer, captured several large merchantmen, including one that belonged to the Chief Eunuch of the Seraglio , and took numerous high-ranking prisoners, including the governor of Cairo, the governor of Alexandria, and the former nurse of Sultan Suleiman's daughter.
Romegas' exploits gave the Turks a casus belli , and by the end of , Suleiman had resolved to wipe the Knights of Malta off the face of the earth.
By early , Grand Master de Valette's network of spies in Constantinople had informed him that the invasion was imminent.
The Turkish armada, which set sail from Constantinople on 22 March, was by all accounts one of the largest assembled since antiquity.
According to one of the earliest and most complete histories of the siege, that of the Order's official historian Giacomo Bosio , the fleet consisted of vessels, which included galleys , seven galliots small galleys , and four galleasses large galleys , the remainder being transport vessels, etc.
The Italian mercenary Francisco Balbi di Correggio , serving as an arquebusier in the Spanish corps , gave the forces as: .
The Knight Hipolito Sans, in a lesser-known account, also lists about 48, invaders, although it is not clear how independent his work is from Balbi's.
In a letter written to Philip II only four days after the siege began, de Valette himself says that "the number of soldiers that will make land is between 15, and 16,, including seven thousand arquebusiers or more, that is four thousand janissaries and three thousand sipahis.
Indeed, a letter written during the siege by the liaison with Sicily, Captain Vincenzo Anastagi , states the enemy force was only 22, and several other letters of the time give similar numbers.
Before the Turks arrived, de Valette ordered the harvesting of all the crops, including unripened grain, to deprive the enemy of any local food supplies.
Furthermore, the Knights poisoned all wells with bitter herbs and dead animals. The Turkish armada arrived at dawn on Friday, 18 May, but did not at once make land.
Piyale wished to shelter it at Marsamxett Harbour , just north of the Grand Harbour, in order to avoid the sirocco and be nearer the action, but Mustafa disagreed, because to anchor the fleet there would require first reducing Fort St.
Elmo, which guarded the entrance to the harbour. Mustafa intended, according to these accounts, to attack the poorly defended former capital Mdina , which stood in the centre of the island, then attack Forts St.
Angelo and Michael by land. If so, an attack on Fort St. Elmo would have been entirely unnecessary. These articles have not yet undergone the rigorous in-house editing or fact-checking and styling process to which most Britannica articles are customarily subjected.
Questions or concerns? Interested in participating in the Publishing Partner Program? Let us know. Siege of Malta , May—September The Siege of Malta, one of the most savagely contested encounters of the sixteenth century, followed after the forces of the Ottoman Empire invaded the island.
Controlled by the Knights Hospitaller since their expulsion from Rhodes , Malta was the key to Christian defenses against Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean.
The Maltese knights had expected an attack since the Ottoman naval victory at the Battle of Djerba in The Ottomans took five years to launch their attack; the delay gave the Knights Hospitaller the opportunity to strengthen their fortifications and Christian Europe time to rebuild its fleets.
Elmo at the entrance to Grand Harbour. The sheer scale of the force—around ships and 40, soldiers—may have been one reason why it took so long to invade.
Rivalry between Piyale and Mustafa became open disagreement when the invasion started. Mustafa preferred to take the capital Mdina , followed by a land attack on the coastal forts.
It reported that the Angevin galleys were beached under the castle walls. Roger moved his galleys into line abreast at the entrance to the harbor, silencing the guard boats in the process, and connected his ships together.
At about dawn he ordered a trumpet challenge to be sounded. His reason for doing this is not clear. Perhaps he wanted to show the bravery and boldness of his crews, or to prevent anyone from saying he couldn't have won if the enemy hadn't been asleep, but since he later attacked a sleeping enemy, it would seem that he did it to draw the Angevins out to his prepared position.
It would've been difficult for him to attack in the confines of the harbor, and he would've lost the element of surprise anyway. Also, beached galleys were almost impossible to defeat in close combat, as they could be continually reinforced from shore.
The Angevin crews rushed to launch their galleys, and they moved out in a disorganized manner. Furthermore, the airfields were too small; there was no heavy equipment to work with; and even the commonest sorts of tools, such as hammers and wrenches, were all but impossible to find.
All refuelling had to be done by hand from individual drums. The shelter was also inadequate, so there was little protection for what equipment they did have.
Most aircraft were clustered together on open runways, presenting tempting targets. At Kalafrana, all the buildings were close together and above ground.
The single engine-repair facility on Malta was located right next to the only test benches. Lloyd himself said, "a few bombs on Kalafrana in the summer of would have ruined any hope of Malta ever operating an air force".
Usually, the protection of air defences and naval assets on the island would have had priority. Certainly bringing in more supplies would have made greater strategic sense, before risking going on to the offensive and thus in turn risking the wrath of the enemy.
But the period was an eventful one. RAF forces on Malta could not afford to sit idle; they could prevent Rommel's advance, or slow it down, by striking at his supply lines.
Malta was the only place from where British strike aircraft could launch their attacks. Lloyd's bombers and a small flotilla of submarines were the only forces available to harass Rommel's supply lines into the autumn.
Only then did the surface fleets return to Malta to support the offensive. With the exception of coal, fodder, kerosene and essential civilian supplies were such that a reserve of 8—15 months was built up.
Operation Substance was particularly successful in July The supplies included spares and aircraft. Around 60 bombers and Hurricanes were now available.
This convoy proved critical to saving Malta, as its supplies were deemed to be essential when the Germans returned in December. In mid, new squadrons—No.
Naval carriers flew in a total of 81 more fighters in April—May. By 12 May, there were 50 Hurricanes on the island.
On 21 May, No. By early August, Malta now had 75 fighters and anti-aircraft guns. Bristol Blenheim bombers also joined the defenders and began offensive operations.
Besides preparing for offensive operations and reinforcing the RAF on the island, Lloyd also rectified many of the deficiencies.
Thousands of Maltese and 3, British Army soldiers were drafted in to better protect the airfields.
Even technical staff, clerks and flight crews helped when required. Dispersal strips were built, repair shops were moved underground from dockyards and airfields.
Underground shelters were also created in the belief that the Luftwaffe would soon return. In the attack, 15 men were killed and 18 captured, and most of the boats were lost.
The bridge was never restored, and it was only in that a new one was built in its place. Lloyd asked his bombers to attack at mast-height, increasing accuracy but making them easier targets for Italian anti-aircraft defences.
Part of the reason for this favourable outcome in November , was the arrival of Force K of the Royal Navy, which during the Battle of the Duisburg Convoy sank all the ships, which practically blockaded Libyan ports.
Following the disaster and with a resurgence of the Axis aerial bombardment of Malta, surface ships were withdrawn from the central Mediterranean in January While Italian bombing was again proving successful against the British, the Luftwaffe returned in force in December to renew intensive bombing.
Eight Marylands, two other aircraft, three Beaufighters, one Blenheim fighter and many bombers were also lost. The mounting shipping supply losses affected Geisler's ability to support Erwin Rommel and his forces, which caused tension between the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe.
Geisler was to be returned to Sicily with his remaining air strength to solve the issue. However, the Germans backed down over Italian protests.
On 6 October Geisler did extend his air sector responsibilities to cover the Tripoli-Naples sea route to curtail losses.
They quickly eliminated Malta's striking force, which was beyond the range of fighter escort while over the Mediterranean. In the first two months, around 20 RAF bombers and reconnaissance aircraft were shot down.
The only notable triumph was the sinking of the 13,ton Victoria merchant ship, one of the fastest merchantmen afloat, by a Fairey Albacore of Squadron, flown by Lieutenant Baxter Ellis, on 23 January.
Over the island, the defensive arm of the RAF was also put under pressure. Kesselring began with a raid on New Year's Day, the 1,th raid of the war.
Of the fighters that had passed through or stayed on the island since the war began, only 28 remained. One-third of all raids were directed against airfields.
The usual tactic involved a sweep ahead of the bombers by German fighters to clear the skies; this worked, and air superiority was maintained.
Only slight losses were suffered by the bombers. Dobbie and the British naval and air commanders argued for modern aircraft, particularly Spitfires , to be sent to Malta.
The pilots told Embry that the Hurricanes were useless and that the Spitfire was their only hope. The squadron leaders argued the inferiority of their aircraft was affecting morale.
Embry agreed and recommended that Spitfires be sent; the type began arriving in March On 29—30 April , a plan for the invasion of the island was approved by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during a meeting at Berchtesgaden.
It envisaged an airborne assault with one German and one Italian airborne division, under the command of German General Kurt Student. This would have been followed by a seaborne landing of two or three divisions protected by the Regia Marina.
The Italians, in agreement with Kesselring, made the invasion of Malta the priority in the region. However, two major factors stopped Hitler from giving the operation the green light.
The first was Erwin Rommel. Due to Kesselring's pounding of the island the supply lines to North Africa had been secured. He was able to gain the ascendancy in North Africa once again.
Although Rommel believed Malta should be invaded, he insisted the conquest of Egypt and the Suez Canal, not Malta, was the priority. The second was Hitler himself.
After the Battle of Crete in May—June , Hitler was nervous about using paratroopers to invade the island since the Crete campaign had cost this arm heavy losses, and he started to procrastinate in making a decision.
Kesselring complained. Hitler proposed a compromise. He suggested that if the Egyptian border was reached once again in the coming months the fighting at the time was taking place in Libya , the Axis could invade in July or August when a full moon would provide ideal conditions for a landing.
Although frustrated, Kesselring was relieved the operation had seemingly been postponed rather than shelved. Before the Spitfires arrived, other attempts were made to reduce losses.
Lloyd had requested a highly experienced combat leader be sent and Turner's experience flying with Douglas Bader over Europe meant he was qualified to lead the unit.
All but one reached the island. By 21 April just 27 Spitfires were still airworthy, and by evening that had fallen to The overwhelming Axis bombardments had also substantially eroded Malta's offensive naval and air capabilities.
Often, three to five Italian bombers would fly very low over their targets and drop their bombs with precision, regardless of the RAF attacks and ground fire.
Along with the advantage in the air, the Germans soon discovered that British submarines were operating from Manoel Island , not Grand Harbour, and exploited their air superiority to eliminate the threat.
The base came under attack, the vessels had to spend most of their time submerged, and the surrounding residences where crews had enjoyed brief rest periods were abandoned.
Hitler's strategy of neutralising Malta by siege seemed to be working. The Germans lost aircraft in the operations.
The Allies moved to increase the number of Spitfires on the island. On 9 May, the Italians announced 37 Axis losses. On 10 May, the Axis lost 65 aircraft destroyed or damaged in large air battles over the island.
The Hurricanes were able to focus on the Axis bombers and dive-bombers at lower heights, while the Spitfires, with their superior rate of climb, engaged enemy aircraft at higher levels.
With such a force established, the RAF had the firepower to deal with any Axis attacks. By the spring of , the Axis air forces ranged against the island were at their maximum strength.
Bomber units included Junkers Ju 88s of II. After the battles of May and June, the air attacks were much reduced in August and September.
The island appeared to the Axis forces to be neutralised as a threat to their convoys. Rommel could now look forward to offensive operations with the support of the Luftwaffe in North Africa.
Even so, he was soon back in Egypt fighting at El Alamein. Despite the reduction in direct air pressure over Malta itself, the situation on the island was serious.
It was running out of all essential commodities, particularly food and water, as the bombing had crippled pumps and distribution pipes.
Clothing was also hard to come by. All livestock had been slaughtered, and the lack of leather meant people were forced to use curtains and used tyres to replace clothing and shoe soles.
Although the civilian population was enduring, the threat of starvation was very real. The move was designed to split Axis naval forces attempting to intervene.
Although he could afford this diversion, he could maintain a standing patrol of only four Spitfires over the convoy. If Axis aircraft attacked as they were withdrawing, they had to stay and fight.
Baling out if the pilots ran low on fuel was the only alternative to landing on Malta. The pilots had to hope that they would be picked up by the ships.
The losses of the convoy were heavy. Three destroyers and 11 merchant vessels were also sunk. They torpedoed and sank the heavy cruiser Trento and damaged the battleship Littorio.
A further 16 Malta-based pilots were lost in the operations. In August, the Operation Pedestal convoy brought vital relief to the besieged island, but at heavy cost.
It was attacked from the sea and from the air. Moreover, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle , one cruiser and three destroyers were sunk by a combined effort from the Italian Navy, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe.
Nevertheless, the operation though costly in lives and ships, was vital in bringing in much-needed war materials and supplies.
Indeed, according to Sadkovich and others, to pretend that the air offensive against Malta had been a purely German affair is misleading.
The Italians must thus get some share of the credit for the destruction of British fighters on Malta, and the sinking of 23 of 82 merchantmen dispatched to the island.
But the RAF preferred to credit its losses to the Germans, even though the Italians flew more fighter missions over the island, had almost as many fighters on Sicily as the Germans in the whole Mediterranean in November , and seem to have been better pilots, losing one aircraft per 63 sorties, compared to a German loss rate of one per 42 sorties.
The surface fleets were not the only supply line to Malta. British submarines also made a substantial effort. She could not go as deep or dive as quickly as the T- and U-class types, but she still made nine supply missions to Malta, which was more than any other vessel of its type.
The ability of the submarine to carry large loads enabled it to be of great value in the campaign to lift the siege. It was felt that a man with past experience of fighter defence operations was needed.This wiki. Towards the end of August, the Turks attempted to take Fort St. He landed in the midst of a raid although Lloyd had specifically requested he circle the harbour until it had passed. Two fuel-carrying ships were Kontinente Wiki, and another lost its cargo despite the crew managing to salvage the ship. Even so, he was soon back in Egypt fighting at El Alamein.