Battle of Lepanto
by JBS President Emeritus John F. McManus
On October 7, 1571, the decisive Battle of Lepanto saw Catholic forces under the overall command of Don Juan of Austria defeat a larger and more experienced Ottoman fleet led by the seemingly invincible Ali Pasha. The victory of the numerically smaller force and its fewer fighting men has long been considered the savior of Western Europe from the designs of militant Islam.
Even in our day, commemoration of this remarkable event is marked by historians, especially in countries undoubtedly saved by the victory of the Western forces. During this very year, church leaders in Poland called for a massive rosary procession involving as many as a million people lining their nation’s eastern border. Their goal: letting neighboring countries and potential refugees know that Poland remains determined to retain its independence and its Catholic religion.
The famous one-day battle in 1571 won its name from proximity to the Strait of Lepanto, a portion of the Ionian Sea close to Western Greece. Historians tell us that the struggle was the last naval battle fought between vessels propelled by oarsmen. Warships then relied on sails for propulsion. The forces led by Don Juan numbered slightly more than 200 ships and 68,000 men while Ali Pasha commanded 250 vessels and 81,000 men. Some chroniclers of the battle attribute Don Juan’s victory to the efforts of his loyal rowers. Ali Pasha relied on his Janissaries, many of whom were captured and enslaved Christians. They weren’t as reliable as the free men who propelled Don Juan’s fleet.
By the end of it, it was little more than a single day of conflict with troops from either side boarding their enemy’s vessels and engaging in hand-to-hand combat, the Christians lost 10,000 men and 17 ships. The Turkish-led forces lost approximately 40,000 of their number, and 200 of their ships were sunk or captured. A noteworthy aside saw the victors freeing 12,000 Christian oarsmen, all victims of enslavement and, as a result, undependable.
The victory at Lepanto put an end to further advancement westward by Islam’s naval forces. But it did not end Islam’s territorial designs on the non-Muslim West. In 1683, a force of 200,000 Turkish ground troops commanded by Mustafa surrounded Vienna where they sought to starve the city’s occupants into submission. Polish King John Sobieski arrived in time with 80,000 troops and defeated the numerically superior Muslim force in a surprise attack. For his remarkable deed, King John has long been known as the “Savior of Vienna and Western Europe.” The defeat constituted Islam’s last major ground incursion westward. But Islam’s determination to control all of mankind has never ceased.
Defeated in naval and land campaigns, today’s descendants of Mohammed are carrying out their long-range plan to win the West with immigration, population increases, and an undermining of Western culture. Western leaders would be wise to understand this development. There is less a need for military giants like Austria’s Don Juan and Poland’s Jan Sobieski. There is, instead, a need for realism.