Following the Ottoman naval defeat off Acropolis Point, Sultan Mehmet had Admiral Baltaoglu summoned to him. Baltaoglu was stripped of his rank and publicly flogged, but his life was spared, probably because Mehmet was wary of killing such a prominent officer and the need to keep his military commanders on-side. Many on the Ottoman faction were beginning to waver, after the initial military defeats and it was suggested that the siege could be lifted in return for political rights to the city and an annual tribute of 70,000 gold pieces. However, Mehmet’s viziers and spiritual adviser insisted that the city must be captured.
It was essential to the Ottoman strategy that the Golden Horn should be forced and the boom destroyed. The Sultan had most of the cannon taken off the Ottoman ships to bombard the boom, however, the suburb of Galata was sheltering the boom and its defenders from the Ottoman artillery. Mehmet is credited with inventing a high trajectory mortar by mounting a cannon in an elevated carriage and telling his engineers to work out the trajectory by mathematical calculations. There were probably a few handy Hungarian artillery experts knocking around as well, happy to sell out their fellow Christians for Ottoman gold.
Mehmet ordered the construction of a wooden concourse from the Bosporus, across the hills behind Galata and down into the Golden Horn. He was copying the tactic used by the Venetians, when they portaged a few galleys from the River Adige to Lake Garda. The slipway was ready by 22nd April and 72 of the Ottoman fleet’s smaller vessels were lowered into the Golden Horn, leaving the larger ships in the Bosporus. The Byzantines had lost control of the Golden Horn and the defenders had to be moved from other sectors to defend the city walls.
Believing that the Ottoman fleet still in the Bosporus had been weakened, the Byzantines made a raid with fire ships on 28th April, commanded by Giacomo Coco. The raiding force were two transports loaded with sacks of cotton and wool, two galleys and three smaller ships. Coco’s ship raced on ahead and the Ottoman ships opened fire, sinking the impetuous admiral’s ship with all hands. A naval battle raged for nearly two hours before the Byzantine ships withdrew and the Ottomans claimed a victory.
On 3rd May the defenders placed cannon on the Golden Horn walls, attempting to drive back the Ottoman ships. On 5th May Mehmet’s bombard went into action and sank a Genoese ship in the harbour. The Golden Horn was firmly under Ottoman control and the Byzantine vessels withdrew into the small harbour of Prosphorianus. The Ottomans made several attacks against the boom, but its defenders doggedly kept control. The Ottoman engineers constructed a pontoon bridge further up the Golden Horn, which the Byzantine fleet tried unsuccessfully destroy with Greek fire.
The bombardment of the land walls continued and on 6th May a breach ten feet wide was opened near the St Romanus Gate. The attack that night was beaten back and the wall repaired. Between 8th and 11th May another breach was made near the Caligaria Gate and on the 12th, the Ottomans poured through the breach and into the Blachernae palace, but once again they were driven back and the wall repaired. The Ottomans also attempted mining operations using specialist Serbian sappers. The first was in the Lycus valley but the ground was unsuitable. A second attempt sent a mine towards the Caligaria Gate, but a counter mine disrupted the Ottoman sap and an underground battle raged. An Ottoman officer was captured and under torture he revealed the locations of the other mines, which were flooded or smoked out.
The Ottomans also used siege towers, but they were vast and immobile, easily destroyed by sallies out by the defenders to destroy them with barrels of gunpowder. The constant bombardment and the night attacks were affecting the morale of Constantinople’s defenders. The days were spent hearing and feeling the crash of the Muslim artillery shot against the walls, while the hours of darkness were spent repairing the damage. There was tension between the Italians and Greeks and the Hodegetria, the holiest icon in Constantinople slipped from its platform while being carried in procession around the city. An unseasonable fog caused a strange light effect above the cathedral of Santa Sofia, which unnerved both defenders and attackers alike.
Mehmet II sent a final embassy into Constantinople, led by his brother-in-law. The Ottoman terms were that the Emperor should retire to Morea and the city must be handed over to Ottoman rule. Constantine XI replied “God forbid I should live as an Emperor without an Empire. As my city falls I will fall with it. Whosoever wishes to escape, let him save himself while he can and whosoever is prepared to face death, let him follow me.” Evan at this late stage Constantine believed that the arrival of Hungarians and the ships from Genoa was imminent.
The Fall of the City
On 26th May Mehmet held a council of war and the following day, toured his troops. Heralds announced there would be a joint land and naval assault on the city and the first man through the walls would receive high rank and great riches. The Ottomans feasted into the night and then the torches were extinguished and the hard work started. The defenders spent the night repairing breaches in the walls and Giuistiniani Longo sent a message to Loukas Notaras, requesting his artillery reserve. Notraras refused and the two nearly came to blows until the Emperor intervened. This was an indication of how poor relations between the Italians and the Greeks had become.
The following day the Ottomans rested in the siege lines, while Mehmet gave orders to his fleet. The ships were to be spread around the sea walls to erect scaling ladders where possible. The rest of the troops ashore around Galata, would cross the pontoon bridge to reinforce the main effort on the Blachernae. Ishak and Mahmud Pasha would attack the Third Military Gate with the Anatolians, Sultan Mehmet would attack in the Lycus Valley. In the late afternoon when the sun was in the defenders’ eyes, the Ottomans began filling the fosse and the artillery was drawn up as closely as possible to the city walls.
Giuistiniani Longo with 400 Italians and the bulk of the Byzantine troops were responsible for the most threatened area around the Gate of St Romanus. The Blachernae Palace area was the responsibility of Girolamo Minotto and 300 men, while the walls of the Golden Horn were guarded by the crews of the ships and Genoese crossbow men. The Golden gate area to the south was defended by Manuel of Genoa with 200 archers and crossbow men. The night before the final assault both Orthodox and Latin defenders came together, to pray and receive the sacrament of communion in Santa Sofia.
Three hours before dawn on 29th May, the Ottoman artillery began to fire and the provincial troops advanced, concentrating their attack on the St Romanus gate. They were well-disciplined and pulled back to allow the artillery to continue to batter the walls, but were hampered by the narrowness of the breaches and were forced back. A second attack just before dawn saw 300 Anatolian provincial troops surge through a breach, but this too was fought to a standstill between the outer and inner walls. Fighting was intense at other locations, particularly around the Blachernae walls and the palace.
By now Mehmet II only had one formation of fresh troops left, his own palace regiments, which included the Janissaries. Around 3,000 Janissaries attacked the main breach near the St Romanus gate. They advanced slowly and silently, without music, and accompanied by Sultan Mehmet as far as the fosse. This third phase of fighting lasted for three hours, until some Janissaries on the left found that the Kirkoporta postern had not been properly closed. Around 50 soldiers broke in, stormed the stairs and raised their standard on the ramparts. However, they were isolated and could easily have been mopped up, but they had a stroke of luck that their unique command structure and discipline could exploit.
Giovanni Giuistiniani Longo was defending one of the wooden ramparts in the breach, when he was struck by a ball from a hand gun. The projectile went through the back of his arm and cuirass, probably through the arm hole and into his chest cavity. It was to prove a mortal wound and Giuistiniani Longo moved to the rear. The Emperor who was fighting close by called out to him: “My brother, fight bravely. Do not forsake us in our distress. The salvation of the city depends on you. Return to your post! Where are you going?” Giuistinian replied: “Where God himself will lead these Turks.”
As the defending troops saw him move to the rear, many thought Giuistiniani was running away. This with the Ottoman flag on the ramparts caused a panic and troops began to retreat through the breaches. The Ottomans seized the initiative and another formation of Janissaries took the inner wall and appeared behind the defenders. Word came that the Ottomans had broken in near the vicinity of the harbour and the panic spread like a virus. Despite their being no Ottoman banners over the Blachernae, the defences collapsed. The men on the Inner walls could easily have been mopped up and the breaches held. But fear is a very contagious disease and many of the foreign defenders tried to get to their boats. The Catalans defending the old palace were all killed or captured. Giovanni Giuistiniani Longo was having his wounds dressed when he heard of the collapse of the defence. He recalled his men by trumpet and when the boom was cut, many ships escaped to the open sea. Giuistiniani Longo died of his wounds on his ship, within sight of the city he had so staunchly tried to defend.
Unsurprisingly there are two versions concerning the death of Emperor Constantine. The Byzantine version is that with his close protection knights he dashed into the fray shouting: “Is there no Christian here who will take my head?” before he was cut down. The Ottoman version is that a marauding band of naval azaps, disguised as Janissaries so they could enter and pillage the city, came across the emperor and killed him before they knew who he was.
Mehmed II granted his soldiers three days to plunder the city, as he had promised them. Soldiers fought over the possession of some of the spoils of war. According to the Venetian surgeon Nicolò Barbaro “all through the day the Turks made a great slaughter of Christians through the city.” The Muslim troops ran through the undefended city slaughtering the inhabitants, stopping just long enough to take the women and children for slaves before dispatching the rest. Women (including nuns) and boys were savagely raped.
A large group of citizens trying to escape the Ottoman horde ran to Hagia Sophia, the sixth-century church built by Justinian the Great and the largest church in Christendom. When news reached Mehmet that his troops were in the city, he rode straight for Hagia Sophia, entered, and declared it a mosque. It would remain a place of Muslim worship until 1935, when it was turned into a museum. In the end, 4,000 Christians were killed in the sack and 50,000 seized, of which 30,000 became slaves. The Queen of Cities was now in the hands of Islam. The “bone in the throat of Allah” had been dislodged.
The looting was extremely thorough in certain parts of the city. A week later on 2 June, the Sultan would find the city largely deserted and half in ruins; churches had been desecrated and stripped, houses were no longer habitable and stores and shops were emptied. He is famously reported to have been moved to tears by this, speaking “What a city we have given over to plunder and destruction.” So he really was pink and fluffy after all, wasn’t he?
On the third day of the conquest, Mehmed II ordered all looting to stop and issued a proclamation that all Christians who had avoided capture or who had been ransomed could return to their homes without further molestation, although many had no homes to return to, and many more had been taken captive and not ransomed. The Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, but the Greek Orthodox Church was allowed to remain intact. And so continues another five hundred years plus of conflict and misery.
Perhaps one of the few constructive outcomes of the First World War was the final dissolution of the declining Ottoman Empire. But it came too late to prevent the Turks from the genocidal killing of 1.5 million Armenians. Works that seek to deny the Armenian Genocide often attach qualifying words against the term genocide, such as “so-called”, “alleged” or “disputed,” or characterise it as a “controversy”, or dismiss it as “Armenian allegations”, “Armenian claims” or “Armenian lies”, or employ euphemisms to avoid the word genocide, such as calling it a “tragedy for both sides”, or “the events of 1915”. American President Barack Obama’s use of the term Medz Yeghern when referring to the Armenian Genocide has been described “as a means of avoiding the word genocide.”
Which brings us back to late 1978, a bunch of callow youths, a board game and a tanker drivers’ strike. To many the Cold War is seen as a joke shop, but not to those of us who served in Germany in the 70s and 80s and went into Soviet controlled East Berlin as we were all encouraged to do. As we were in Best Blues, we probably picked up our GRU tail within fifty yards of leaving Checkpoint Charlie. How Fraulein Angela Dorothea Kasner must have loved that horrible, grey and depressing part of the city. We never had to fight the Soviets in Germany, thank God, but those strikes of the 1970s and 1980s were a war by any other means. We fought with Green Goddesses, fuel bowsers in British cities and not Chieftain MBTs or FV432 APCs across Lüneburg Heath. It was a battle against Soviet influence and money in the British trade union movement and the Soviets failed because of numpties like us in our hand-me-down combat jackets, sea boot socks, wellies and overalls.
As for my times in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was spent, according to Margaret Beckett so that Afghan girls could go to school. My wife had to look under our car with a mirror mounted on a torch so that a lance corporal could be prosecuted for so-called crimes committed nearly half a century ago, during the euphemistically titled “Troubles.” I suppose the time, blood and treasure spent in the Balkans was so that Kosovo could enter the bloody Eurovision Song Contest.
But like the Provos, the poisonous left never really went away. They called themselves “liberals,” but they were anything but. Some continued with the class war in the trade union movement, but they were outmanoeuvred by a woman prime minister, the judiciary and a population sick to death of trade union excesses. The really smart ones had begun the long march through the institutions. They infected the education sector, local government, the NHS, the judiciary, the police, the QUANGOs and more recently the MoD and the royal family. (And what a terrible disappointment our monarch has been, throughout the sitting of this sclerotic parliament). The really evil ones became politicians and journalists, deciding what we would think and say, determined to make George Orwell’s 1984 a reality.
If this sounds pessimistic that is because we have no legal recourse left to us. If some people say that I’m defeatist, I really couldn’t care less. I’ve been around long enough and had enough life experiences to know that the catalyst for a revolution in the population’s attitudes and political awareness just isn’t there. Despite all of the “swinging cuts and austerity,” the population is too well-off, too comfortable and too lazy to consider revolt. The one spasm of dissent against the system has been ruthlessly crushed and all the protests in the world won’t stop the elite from holding onto power. And before people say “So what should we do? Nothing?” I am not advocating just sitting idly by. I have never sat idly by and gave thirty-eight years of Service to my country. I just don’t believe that there are sufficient people who care enough, to pull this country out of the degenerate state into which it’s sunk.
I said to my wife on the evening of 23rd June 2016, that there is no way the establishment will ever honour our decision. With our country’s rigged political system you can’t even get people to stop voting on a tribal basis, let alone rise up and fight for their childrens’ rights to a safe, stable and prosperous future. A case in point is Kingston upon Hull. An city that in parts feels like 1980s East Berlin, deprived, depressed and with a lot of bitter people. Yet they have three Labour MPs and continue to elect them and a Labour council. The good people of Hull East continued to return John Prescott to the Mother of all Parliaments for forty years. And what an unprepossessing bunch they all are. The last non-Labour MP represented the city in 1964, H Solomons, Conservative.
The so-called education system has produced a population of bovine, unthinking, uneducated and unquestioning drones. In my constituency they would vote for a turnip if it was sprayed blue. Some would say that they already have. Down the road in Peterborough… Well I rest my case. When a country can’t even recruit enough people to defend itself, you have to realise how deep in the ordure we’ve sunk, thanks to the politicians and their enablers in the judiciary. Ever wondered why so many politicians have studied law? Am I bitter and angry? Too bloody right I am. There are no ramparts to defend. There are no breaches in which to hurl our straining, stiffened sinews. Our Constantinople has already fallen.
I would be happy to be proved wrong in this instance and I’m sure some posters can assure me that Hull is a lovely place.
© Blown Periphery 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file