NAVAL CLASH AT PREVEZA
Ottoman admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa Outwits Holy league admiral andrea doria in a showdown in the ionian sea, september 1538
destroy the Peñón of Algiers. The garrisons of the Spanish presidios along the Barbary Coast were despised by Berbers and Arabs alike, and therefore were unable to purchase supplies from the locals. When Barbarossa returned, the Spanish garrison was low on food, gunpowder and ammunition, and was awaiting resupply. The convoy of ships bearing supplies was long overdue.
Barbarossa moved quickly. As soon as his siege guns were in position, he began bombarding the presidio. After two weeks of sustained shelling, the heavy guns opened a breach wide enough for the Turks to charge through it. Governor Don Martin de Vargas promptly surrendered, having lost threequarters of his men.
Khizr put the captured soldiers to work with other Christian slaves dismantling the fort, so that it would never again house Spanish troops. Under the bey of Algiers’s watchful eye they used the stones to build a breakwater, stretching from the mainland to the islet, to protect his fleet from the powerful northern and westerly winds.
During this time, Khizr frequently plundered the coast of Spain for slaves and riches. He also evacuated Moriscos (Moors compelled to convert to Christianity) who wanted to escape intolerant Spain. He made sure to stay in the good graces of Sultan Suleiman by sending a portion of his booty to the Sublime Porte. Suleiman considered him an able administrator and superb naval commander. As a sign of respect, Suleiman bestowed on him the complementary Islamic honorific ‘Hayreddin’, meaning ‘goodness of the faith’.
Hayreddin’s capture of Algiers coincided with the Peace of Cambrai in 1529 between French King Francis I and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The defeated Francis had to relinquish all claims to Italy. To make matters worse, Genoan Admiral Andrea Doria quit French service in order to command Charles’s Spanish fleet.
Sultan Suleiman’s admiral
Suleiman summoned Hayreddin to Istanbul in 1532 to oversee the construction of a new imperial fleet. The sultan and admiral were in agreement that the Ottomans needed to capture Tunis and destroy Doria’s Spanish fleet. While Hayreddin was in Istanbul, Doria had conducted a successful raid against an Ottoman squadron in September 1532, capturing the fortress of Coron on the southern tip of Morea (Peloponnese).
The following year Suleiman promoted the bey of Algiers to the exalted post of grand admiral. The shipbuilding initiative produced 70 galleys, each of which was outfitted with one bronze cannon in the bow. The mighty fleet departed from the Golden Horn in 1534. After raiding Calabria, it turned south for Tunis. The presidio at La Goulette (the gullet) guarded the channel leading to the harbour at Tunis.
The troops disembarked on 16 August and quickly gained possession of Tunis. The ruling Berber prince, Mulei Hassan, fled. After the fall of Tunis to Hayreddin, Hassan implored
King Charles to help him recover the city. No sooner had Charles received the request than he began assembling forces for an operation he intended to lead himself. The emperor’s 500ship armada weighed anchor near Tunis on 13 June 1535.
Hayreddin knew that he could not hold
Tunis, but he put up a spirited defence anyway. Charles landed his troops a short distance from La Goulette. It took the Spanish army 24 days of constant fighting to capture the twin towers at La Goulette. To his credit, Hayreddin safely withdrew his surviving troops. However, Charles succeeded in destroying 82 Ottoman vessels.
War with Venice
Charles’s decisive victory at Tunis did little to calm the feeling of insecurity and dread that gripped those living along the coast in Spain, Italy and the Christian-held islands of the western Mediterranean. They lived in constant fear of attack by Hayreddin’s fleet and Ottoman corsairs.
King Francis encouraged Suleiman to send vessels to assist him in his operations against Charles. Although the French had a fleet, it had recently been defeated by Doria. Suleiman duly obliged him, as he harboured dreams of capturing Rome one day. They hashed out a plan whereby Francis would attack into northern Italy and the Turks would land in Apulia and push north. An Ottoman squadron arrived in Marseilles in 1536, but Francis soon grew skittish about conducting joint operations with the Turks against fellow Christians. This diminished the French king significantly in the eyes of the Ottomans.
“AS A SIGN OF RESPECT, SULEIMAN BESTOWED ON HIM THE COMPLEMENTARY ISLAMIC HONORIFIC ‘HAYREDDIN’, MEANING ‘GOODNESS OF THE FAITH’”
Suleiman unleashed Hayreddin to wreak havoc against Charles’s Italian domains. The Ottoman admiral, who the Christians called the “King of Evil,” proceeded to ravage Apulia. Hayreddin sailed from Istanbul in May 1537 with 170 galleys and support ships bound for Apulia. Over the course of a month he torched towns, destroyed forts and carried off thousands of Christians to be sold as slaves.
In 1537 the Venetians and Ottomans went to war with each other for the third time. Suleiman ordered Hayreddin to capture the Venetian citadel at Corfu, which if captured could serve as a forward base for an invasion of Italy. But the Venetians had made significant improvements to the citadel, and Hayreddin judged it impervious to his siege artillery. He therefore concentrated on mopping up Venetian outposts in the region. He attacked 25 strongholds on the Aegean islands and Morea (Peloponnese). Of the 25 outposts, he destroyed 13 and compelled the other 12 to pay annual tribute to the sultan.
While Ottomans were preoccupied with
Venice, Emperor Charles sent envoys to Hayreddin with an invitation to abandon Ottoman service in favour of becoming a Habsburg admiral. Hayreddin strung him along, all the time keeping Suleiman apprised of the negotiations. As a devout Muslim, Hayreddin had no intention of leaving Ottoman service.
Sultan Suleiman launched an offensive that same year, designed to secure the Ionian Sea and the Strait of Otranto for future operations against Italy. To counter the threat, Pope Paul III established the Holy League in February 1538. The pope placed Genoan Admiral Andrea Doria in charge of the vast Christian armada that included fleets from Genoa, Venice, Naples, Malta and the Papacy. Doria’s 130 galleys and 50 galleons met Hayreddin’s 50 galliots and 90 galleys in battle near the entrance to the Gulf of Preveza on 28 September 1538. Because of the impregnable position of Grand Admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa’s galley fleet, Doria attempted to withdraw without fighting; however, the Ottoman galleys caught his sail-driven galleons when the wind dropped.
The Ottomans inflicted greater losses on the Christian fleet than they received from it.
In the aftermath of the Ottoman victory at Preveza, a fierce storm drove Hayreddin’s imperial fleet up the Adriatic coastline, destroying half of his vessels. Afterwards, he returned to Istanbul to build more galleys.
Hayreddin’s next noteworthy expedition came in 1543 when he led a large galley fleet to Marseilles to participate in joint operations with the French. An amphibious attack on Nice failed when Franco-ottoman troops couldn’t capture the port-city’s strong citadel.
After supporting the French in their failed attack on Nice in summer 1543, King Francis billeted the Ottoman fleet in Toulon. When they could not agree on an objective in spring 1544, Hayreddin led his fleet out of French waters. Determined to come home to a hero’s welcome, Hayreddin spent summer 1544 using his fleet and troops to methodically pillage Campagna, Calabria and Sicily. Although the inhabitants of southern Italy had built watchtowers along hundreds of kilometres of coastline, they did little good as there were no local forces sizable or powerful enough to check the Ottoman raiders. Hayreddin’s last raid was marked by sadism and cruelty designed to undermine the faith of Christians in their God. In some cases, entire villages were wiped off the map.
Hayreddin’s fleet carried 6,000 Christian captives back to Istanbul. It was to be his last great raid, as two years later he died of a fever in his seaside palace in Istanbul.
Barbarossa’s life was remarkable, if brutal, given that he rose from modest beginnings to one of the highest posts in the Ottoman Empire. He showed during the height of his career that he understood the advantages and limitations of galley warfare. He was revered for his military achievements across the Muslim world and despised for his cruelty throughout the Christian one. He remains a celebrated figure in the Turkish psyche.
“HAYREDDIN’S FLEET CARRIED 6,000 CHRISTIAN CAPTIVES BACK TO ISTANBUL. IT WAS TO BE HIS LAST GREAT RAID, AS TWO YEARS LATER HE DIED OF A FEVER IN HIS SEASIDE PALACE IN ISTANBUL”
Ottoman corsairs in oar-driven warships known as galliots attack a powerful Spanish galleon along the Barbary Coast