Siege of Rhodes 1480: Knights Hospitaller Defend the Ancient Island
Well despite their difficulty in taking Constantinople, the Ottomans were in a huge position of power after they finally gained the great capital they wanted. Soon they decided to scoop up some of the many islands of the Mediterranean and Rhodes, at about ten miles off the coast of Ottoman territory, was high on the list. The headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller, the city was ready to put up a stout defense.
Landing with around 70,000 men supported by over 100 ships, the Ottomans faced around 500 knights and about 3,000 regular soldiers. The Ottomans decided to attack the tower of St. Nicholas which split and defended the two major harbors of the city. The Knight’s Grand Master Pierre d’Aubusson led the defense of the tower as other sections of the city walls came under attack.
Knowing that the Ottoman cannons would eventually break through the walls the defenders dug interior trenches and funneled fortifications just behind their walls. As breaches formed the rushing Ottoman infantry were met in good order by elite Christian knights in several different bottlenecks. The failed attacks cost thousands of Ottoman lives.
After a few months, with regular bombardment, the Ottomans copied their strategy at Constantinople and launched an all-out attack. The mass of troops was well defended against as the Grandmaster ran from spot to spot to inspire and lead the defense. Eventually, the elite Janissaries entered the fray and were able to secure a section of the walls and rush into the city.
Instead of panicking, the defenders rallied in the streets and organized a fierce resistance. Gradually, and with the Grandmaster suffering several grievous wounds, the assault was slowed, halted and pushed out of the city. The Ottomans were confused and disorganized and eventually routed. A Hospitaller counterattack went all the way to the Ottoman’s camp before heading back to the safety of the walls. The Ottomans would leave Rhodes in a shameful retreat soon after.
The elder Sultan Mehmed II was furious and resolved to retake the island the next year, but he died before plans could be made. The Rhodians would enjoy over 40 years of freedom before the Ottomans came back with an army and navy three times larger than their first force. Even with such a huge advantage, it took six months to take the city during the second siege.