|Grand Master La Vallette leading the Knights and Maltese in victory.|
For 200 years, the Knights had their headquarters in Rhodes, but suddenly they were homeless. They settled in Malta which became their homeland. The Turkish Sultan Barbarossa was taking over most of Europe and slowly slowly, the Turkish Armada was becoming a dominant force. In 1546 Barbarossa died, and Dragut assumed command of the increasingly powerful Turkish navy. In 1550 the Knights of St John, now known as the Knights of Malta defeated his fleet at Mahdia. For revenge, Dragut attacked Malta. The island was still relatively unfortified, but the few defenders put up such a stiff resistance that Dragut had to abandon the attack. However, both sides knew that the Turks would come back to Malta. In 1557 Grand Master L'lsle Adam died, and Jean Parisot de la Vallette became the new Grand Master of the Order of St John. Educated and aristocratic, La Vallette had once been captured by the Turks and made a galley slave for four years. He was 63 years old when he became Grand Master, and he would prove to be a great leader like L'lsle Adam. The Knights built fortifications around the island, many of which still stand till this day, massive walls that were practically impenetrable.
But the Ottoman fleet approaching Malta was a mighty one indeed. It appeared as if an entire forest of armor was moving across the sea. With them came seemingly endless multitudes of the Sultan's finest Janissaries, regulars, and more than 4,000 layalars - religious fanatics who sought death over life. This Turkish force came to attack 540 knights, 1,000 foot soldiers, and a little more than 3,000 Maltese militiamen. The main fortification was Fort St. Elmo which was battered from all sides by Dragut and his troops. The Turkish Pasha then had the bodies of the knights who had died so bravely at St. Elmo decapitated, bound to crosses and floated out into the harbor in front of another Fort, St. Angelo. This was a brazen insult to the religion of the defenders. La Vallette also understood that this meant a fight to the death. In retaliation, La Vallette had a number of the Turkish prisoners executed and their bodies hung on the walls. Their heads placed in canons and blasted over to the Turks now at St Elmo.
|Forts St Elmo and St Angelo, from the Vatican Museum Geographic Maps.|
But the Knights and the Maltese stood strong, Dragut himself was killed and La Vallette injured but kept fighting with his men, helped also by another 8000 soldiers sent from Sicily. They arrived on September 8, 1565, and this day has always been regarded as Victory Day, a national holiday. It is also the feast of the Nativity of Mary. And so, just as on August 15, 1942, the Convoy of ships entered the Grand Harbor and saved the people from starvation and brought fuel to continue to fight against the Germans and Italians, September 8 will always be regarded as Victory Day, thanks again to the Blessed Mother’s intervention.
In one of the greatest examples of courage and endurance the world has ever witnessed, the Knights of St. John prevailed. Only 250 knights survived at Malta, and almost every one of them was wounded, maimed or crippled. Europe, however, was now free of the Muslim threat that had appeared so invincible. The capital city was named Valletta after the Grand Master La Vallette who led the Knights and the Maltese bravely in this Great Siege.