When the Ottoman Turks sailed away from Malta on September 8, 1565, they left more than half of their soldiers dead on the battlefield, killed in battle or from disease.  What was to be a great triumph for Suleiman the Magnificent instead turned to disaster.

When Suleiman sent 40,000 of his best soldiers, including their elite Janissaries, to Malta to dislodge the Knights of the Order of St. John so they would have smooth passage to Western Europe, he was confident that victory would be in his hands within days. His military generals agreed. A surprise awaited them.

The Janissaries were used to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. These whirling dervishes of the battlefield, dressed in white, scimitars glinting in the sunlight, were created and trained to never turn their back on their enemy. It was kill or be killed. They lived up to their reputation.

The creation of the Turks with their policy of dhimmitude, this elite force was made up of the children of Christians, taken at age seven, and then only the strongest and best were incorporated into the brotherhood. Dhimmitude was the “third option” the Muslims gave to those they conquered. They could convert to Islam, be killed, or become the supply chain for the Ottoman military and public service. Primarily applied in the Balkans, it established a patter of hatred that has lasted to the present age.

These boys were eventually sexually compromised and encouraged to be homosexual, while discouraged from marriage and family. The were required to be celibate, so any sexuality toward women was discouraged. On retirement, should they live through the battles, they were pensioned into a comfortable lifestyle.{{1}}
[[1]]The Janissaries were not abolished until 1826 when they revolted against plans to reorganize them along European lines. Most of the Janissaries were killed in the violent repression of the revolt.[[1]]

When the Turkish military commanders established themselves on Malta in 1565, they initially used canons to soften the resistance, beginning with Fort St. Elmo. Bombardment started May 24, 1565. Supremely confident, they expected they would have the fort conquered in just a few days. But it took a month before they secured the Fort and killed or made captive its inhabitants. The Fort fell on June 23rd. On more than one occasion the Turks sent the Janissaries to finish the job of conquering the Fort, and time after time the retreat was sounded before victory could be achieved. And then they counted their dead. On just one of those days the Janissaries lost an estimated 4,000 men, while those killed in the Fort numbered 150. The Christian defenders exacted a high price from the Turkish whirling dervishes.

Providentially, the Turks were also battling diseases such as dysentery. By the end of the campaign, on September 8, Mustapha, Pascha of the army, boarded the remaining 15-20,000 troops on the Turkish boats and set sail for home.  They had run short of ammunition, found the opposition much stronger than anticipated, and the morale of the Turks was slipping away.  The Knights were aided by incompetent and careless Turkish commanders who could not always agree on strategy.  The one competent commander, Dragut, a corsair, was killed in battle on June 23, leaving Mustapha and Piyale to manage the outcome.  They failed.

Suleiman the Magnificent, the Lawgiver, had sent his armies to exact vengeance against the Knights who continually raided his ships that sailed the Mediterranean. Earlier he locked horns with them when they inhabited the island of Rhodes. In that battle, the Knights were removed, and eventually took up residence on Malta. Suleiman threatened,

Those sons of dogs whom I have already conquered and who were spared only by my clemency at Rhodes forty-three years ago — I say now that, for the continual raids and insults, they shall be finally crushed and destroyed.”

The only one who was crushed and destroyed was Suleiman himself, the pride of the Ottoman Empire, whose dreams of conquest of Western Europe were again thwarted in battle. No other major attempts were made to conquer Western Europe by the Turks in that era, for the Empire’s decline had begun.

All it takes, apparently, is a dedicated minority to change the course of history.