Orlando Magro’s story as translated from English:
Description by Orlando Magro, pilot of the main galley of the Grand Master of Rhodes, now of Malta, that arrived in the city of Messina on the 27thJune 1565. Magro recounts this…
I left the Maltese islands on Sunday 17thJune 1565 around half an hour after the sun had set. We were four altogether and we sailed on a small boat with four oars. Our job was to deliver the letters of Grand Master de Valette to Don Garcia, the Viceroy of Sicily. We were to tell Garcia what we already knew – meaning that the Ottomans had been trying to defeat Fort Saint Elmo for 18 days whilst also bombarding it with at least twenty-four huge cannons. They tried to take control of the fort several times.
During their first attack, they managed to conquer the outer part of the Fort, called the “ravellin”. The second time they attacked with 2000 soldiers, armed with ladders to enter the Fort. Their strong attack happened on Friday 15thJune. During this assault the Ottomans built a sort of bridge made from poles and wood from four ships of their own. With this the enemy thought that they could penetrate the fort’s defences and invade it easily. However, the Catholics defended the fort with all their strength. They burnt the bridge with gunpowder and strong fires. Eight hundred Ottomans died and another six hundred were injured. Our people managed to dismantle two war machines utilised by the Ottomans. One of these was owned by Captain Pjali, whilst the other was owned by Dragut. During this attack the Ottomans also utilised a cavalry of thirty horses. Once they exposed themselves on the highest point of the conflict, the canons from Fort St. Angelo on the other side of the port opened fire on them. All thirty died, among them six from the Dragut family and one named Portuch Hali who was the General Captain of Rhodes. Dragut was also injured.
This attack lasted five hours, but in the end the Ottomans had to surrender against their will. We Maltese lost a lot. Two hundred dead and one hundred and fifty injured, but the Ottomans had two thousand dead and just as many injured. Many of these were left in the trenches and ditches around St. Elmo.
On Sunday, 17thof the month, that is the day we left Malta, Dragut’s people started a fire beneath the Fort’s bastions, where there where situated four large pieces of artillery. During the night after the last assault, the majority of Ottoman troops returned to their ships. They only left around three thousand soldiers to patrol the artillery. Now they’re only firing six canons, but up till now they fired around 13,000 times on St. Elmo. Two days before the last attack, the Ottomans retreated their fleet from Marsaxlokk port and burned down the fort that they had built there, whilst their fleet sailed to the opposite side of Saint Paul’s bay.
Some of the Catholics that were captured by the Ottomans and managed to escape have told us that whilst they were prisoners they had told the Ottomans that Don Garcia had one hundred and eighty ships ready and fully armed to come to Malta. Once they heard this, the Ottomans got scared and retired from their ships during the night.
Among other things, the Grand Master informed Don Garcia that a freshwater well was found in Birgu and everyone was considering this as a miracle.
The leader of the post in the city of Messina wrote that the galleys of Commander Mislem Portuch Hali, who had died during the last assault on St Elmo, were sunk by our artillery. The pasha who kept track of the Ottoman troops and sailors found four missing ships.
Other letters that were sent from fort Saint Elmo show that when the enemy went to put in place the bridge they had built to prepare for the attack, our people were worried and scared to the point that they wanted to give up the fort. However, due to divine inspiration as well as the courage shown by a particular knight, two hundred fighters confessed their determination that they would die for their Christian Faith. This act gave so much courage to other fighters that in the end they emerged victorious. For the Grand Master, the death of Captain Miranda during that conflict resulted in great grief.
Orlando Magro ended up getting caught by the Ottomans during the night of the 23rd of July 1565. His boat was seized by the Ottomans between Malta and Gozo while performing another bold attempt to deliver the Grand Master’s letters to Sicily. He was taken as a chained prisoner in front of Birgu’s bastions with a message from Pjalì Pasha, urging the knights to surrender the Maltese islands. It appears that Magro was released, because in 1570, five years after the end of the Great Siege, he was yet again captured by the pirate Mislem Occhiali while voyaging in the sea. Once again, he was later freed from captivity. We know, however, that in Malta Magro was accused of abandoning his ship, and for this, he was sentenced to death... a truly tragic end to one of the true Maltese Heroes, almost forgotten in our history.
In the next series of blogs we shall take a look at the histroy of the Knights of St. John.