The Battle Plan
The rallying of the forces of the Holy League
As general commander of the allied forced had been appointed, following Philip's demand, his half-brother Don Juan of Austria, aboard the flagship La Real. The ships of the Holy League set off from Barcelona, Genoa, Rome, Venice, Malta, Corfu and Crete in order to gather at the Sicilian port of Messina. On September 17th 1571 the allied fleet comprised over 270 ships (206 galleys, 6 galeasses and 70 firkatas together with auxiliary ships). Aboard these ships were at least 28.000 men, of which 8.000 are estimated to have been Greeks, serving as mercenaries. The entire manpower, together with the rowers and the auxiliary personnel is estimated by some historians to have been about 70.000 men.
The rallying of the forces of the Ottoman Empire
Upon receiving the news of the rallying of the Holy League's fleet, the Ottoman Sultan Selim II proceeded to the rallying of an even larger fleet. The naval force of the Ottomans consisted of the fleet which was active at the Cyprus campaign, as well as of allied forces from Cairo and Algiers. The total number of ships reached 328, of which 208 were Ottoman galleys, 56 galliots and 64 fustas. Muezzinzade Ali Pasha was appointed commander general and he came aboard his flagship, the Sultana. The largest part of the fleet was initially rallied around Corfu and the neighbouring Albanian shores, where it stayed for most part of August. As the summer came to its end, though, and the threat of war seemed to fade away, the Ottoman fleet headed towards Naupaktos (Inebahti at the time).
While the allied forces' fleet was in Messina, the entire expedition almost fell through. There was tension among the crews often manifesting itself with deadly fights, the men were infected by diseases and the delay created doubts as to whether the expedition would in fact take place. Meanwhile the Ottoman convert bay of Valona, Kara Hodja, got the chance to sail among the allied fleet in order to spy upon the ships and define their number. His black ship passed unnoticed because the Pope's admiral Marcantonio Colonna, had ordered his ships to be clad in black as well, as a sign of mourning for the death of his beloved daughter. Kara Hodja, however, failed to see a contingent which was buoyed at a bay nearby and thus provided slightly wrong information. The allied fleet left Messina on September 16th, however they had to remain in Croton for a while due to heavy northern winds. They headed towards Corfu, where they were informed that the Ottoman fleet was stationed; the latter, however, had already left for its stronghold, namely Naupaktos. On September 26 the forces of the Holy League were reaching Corfu, whereas Gil de Andrade had been secretively sent to Naupaktos in order to assess the Ottoman forces. The prevalent opinion was that it was too late for open war and that they should attack the Albanian coasts and return to Italy. The final decision for battle was taken by Don Juan of Austria himself and the Maltese Knight Romegas, whom Juan trusted. In the camp of the enemies the tendency was also to avoid confrontation, but a military council on the evening of the 4th of October judged that, if the Westerners attacked, the Ottomans should counterattack.
During the night of the 6th of October 1571, the Ottoman fleet left the port of Naupaktos in order to meet the fleet of the Holy League. The Ottoman forces arrayed along the entrance of the Gulf of Patras, thus barring the western forces from reaching the naval basis of Naupaktos. At the same time, the allied fleet of the westerners, which had made a final stop at Kephallenia, started to prepare for battle.
The dawn of the 7th of October found both fleets facing each other at a parallel array at the entrance of the Gulf of Patras, south of Cape Scrofa, with the northern parts of both fleets reaching the Curzolaris (Echinades) islands. Don Juan was particularly careful with the array, so he divided his forces in three branches, placing two powerful galeasses in front of each branch. On the left branch (B) were placed the Venetian galleys under the leadership of Agostin Barbarigo, who had the difficult task to confront the Ottoman galliots. The central branch was formed by Spanish galleys under the guidance of Don Juan, whereas in the right branch were the Papal forces together with the Genoese. The hinder line of defence was kept by the admiral Santa Cruz with 35 Venetian and Spanish ships.
When the battle started the right branch of the Ottoman fleet under the leaderiship of the Algerian admiral Mehmet Suluk aimed at outflanking the left branch of the League's fleet. During this process the Ottomans tried to avoid the galeasses, which were more heavily armed, by opening up their array. Thus the isolated Ottoman ships ended up either facing the larger galleys of Barbarigo or were sunk by the Venetian galeasses of the left branch. The left branch of the Allies' fleet managed to avoid being outflanked and thus getting surrounded by the enemy with disastrous results, despite the fact that they suffered a lot of casualties by the Ottoman archers.
Upon seeing this, the corsairs in the Ottoman fleet focused on taking over Barbarigo's sheep: they sent 5 ships against it. The Venetian galleys hurried to help their admiral, who had been injured by an arrow in the eye, and they managed to push the corsairs' ships on the rocks of the coastline. In combination with the mutiny of the Christian members of the crew, the left flank of the Ottoman fleet suffered severe losses.
At the central branches of both powers the battles were fought hard. The Ottoman galleys focused on the flagship of Don Juan, against which were initially sent five Ottoman galleys with Janissaries. Don Juan's flagship managed to sink three of them, whereas the Western reserves managed to fight back against the continuous bombarding of the Ottoman artillery and arquebuses. At the right branch (N) the western powers with 50 ships ahead of which was Gian Andrea Doria, did not engage themselves in equally exacting battles. Upon seeing the Algerian admiral Uluj Ali with 90 ships, Doria turned south, thus making way for the ottoman fleet. The Ottoman ships took advantage of this space and started banging against the Venetian galleys, thus capturing 5 of them. When the Algerians took hold of the flagship of the Maltese knights and killed the entire crew, UlujAli saw the battle in the central part being lost.
The final outcome
At the other side the Sultana came face to face with La Real, aboard which stood Don Juan. The two ships gripped one to another and the battle was fought man to man. The Ottoman Kapudan Pasha Muezzinzade Ali Pasha was killed when a musket bullet got him on the head. The Spanish decapitated him and put his head high up on a beam, in order to discourage his fleet. They also displayed the holy banner of the Chaliphs which they had meanwhile recuperated. The death of Ali Pasha and the position of the flag at half mast on the Ottoman flagship had a direct negative influence on the psychology of the crews. Furthermore the western galleys of the central branch attacked the Ottoman fleet under Uluj Ali, who realized that the battle was lost and headed to the souther side of the entrance of the Gulf of Patras and then escaped to the Ionian Sea; he managed to return to Istanbul with almost his entire force.