A Rising Star
By the summer of 1551 the Ottoman Empire was finally beginning to bring its considerable strength to bear on its enemies. The Imperial Army, the largest body of the Turkish military and possessing its greatest concentration of professional janissaries, had finally reached the threatened Crimean region. However, their long trek up the Black Sea coast had left them is a state of disarray. Arriving in long, stretched out columns the Turkish soldiers were in no state to fight the Russians. One of the Padishah’s ministers wrote that it was “[a] terrible sight, such disorder from amongst the guardsmen of the Sultan’s own house” and how upset it left Ali.
Padishah Ali was not the military commander that his forbearers had been; unlike earlier Sultans he had no experience campaigning and lacked a more subtle grasp of military strategy. Unwilling to take to the field without his entire compliment of soldiers he demurred from action for weeks, letting the Tsar’s forces raid and pillage throughout northern Crimea. By the time the Padishah finally gave the orders to march it was fall and the infamous “rasputitsa” had turned the Crimea into a muddy quagmire that slowed the Turks to a crawl.
In Russia Tsar Ivan IV waited patiently for his opponent to come to him, leaving his light cavalry to raid and harass the Ottomans while he concentrated his forces. Instead of allowing his soldiers to get worn out besieging the larger Turkish fortresses further inside the Crimea he kept them rested and fresh, knowing the real danger was not in knocking down walls but instead it was the Padishah’s armies. The Tsar’s attack was finally launched late in the fall, his armies falling upon the tired and disorganized Ottoman’s in a masterful campaign that saw thousands of Turks slain as they struggled in the deep mud.
Realizing that to continue the campaign would be a disaster, Padishah Ali ordered his armies to return to their camps at Kefe. Tsar Ivan was left in complete control of northern Crimea, but the thick mud that had aided him in besting the Ottoman’s ended up costing him true victory when unable to properly pursue the retreating Turks. Thus the forces of the Padishah were able to escape and regroup in the relative safety of the Crimean Peninsula, bloody but intact.
Further disaster struck the Ottoman Empire to the south when Persian armies overran the depleted Turkish forces garrisoned in Iraq, their commander having severely underestimated the size of the Persian force opposing him. Yet again, the Ottoman Empire was saved from complete disaster by a failure to pursue when the undisciplined Persians took to pillaging the newly conquered towns, giving the Turks the time to escape up the Euphrates and into Syria.
The Persians then settled down into camps in Iraq, using the two mighty rivers of the Euphrates and Tigris to guard their flanks from any Turkish attacks. Deciding to consolidate their hold the Persians began serious siege efforts on the last few Ottoman fortresses still intact, confident they would be able to hold onto the region and force the Padishah to come to terms. This would be a grand error on the part of the Persians, who were not aware that Ali had dispatched a large contingent of his armies across Anatolia before leaving for the Crimea. Meeting up with the survivors from Iraq these two bodies of soldiers would be free to invade Persian lands while the Persians were busy with their sieges.
While disaster seemed to be looming from every corner of the Empire, in the southern reaches of the Arabian Peninsula there would be a bright ray of hope. Marching from Muscat the Portuguese had invaded neighboring Mahra and took the lightly defended region swiftly. Flush with success they continued their advance along the coast until they reached the massive fortress protecting the important trading port of Al Mukalla. Initially the fortress had been a small portion of the cities walls, but the Ottoman’s had greatly expanded the edifice during the previous years to turn it into their major garrison south of Mecca. Its walls mounted a score of cannon and sheltered a few hundred soldiers and twice their number in militia.
Opposing the Portuguese commander was the governor Cihangir Pargali, a Turk who had been given the position after the Ottoman conquest and the subsequent removal of the Yemen monarchy. Pargali had reacted swiftly to the news of the advancing Europeans; conscripting hundreds of citizens to fill out the ranks of his force while others took to stockpiling food and water for the coming siege before filling in all the wells outside the walls and burning all farms within riding distance. By the time the Portuguese reached Al Mukalla, Pargali had turned the city into a formidable obstacle in the center of a ring of desolation.
Al Mukalla was a critical objective for the Portuguese commander, its port needed to allow Portuguese ships to resupply the army. Already low on supplies after their earlier sieges the Portuguese were desperate to take the city fast, but were repulsed time and time again by the large quantity of cannon the Turk’s had at their disposal, outranging the smaller pieces the Portuguese had brought with them. While the Portuguese were reduced to eating their horses, the guns of the fortress kept Portuguese ships from enforcing a complete blockade that allowed small vessels to sneak into the city with supplies and armaments.
The siege would last all summer before the Portuguese, most of their army lost to thirst and hunger, were eventually forced to pull back and seek an easier target. But by then it was already too late. The delay of the siege had given a large contingent of cavalry from Egypt time to reach the city and they fell upon the retreating Portuguese with abandon. Those that could waded out into the ocean to try and swim to the distant ships anchored out of cannon range or fled on horseback, but the bulk of the Portuguese force was destroyed in a short, bloody battle.
- Johannes Krieger, The Sublime State: A History of The Ottoman Empire; vol. 1