Mediterranean Melee - The Battle of Lepanto (1571 AD)
Fast and Easy Rules for Students

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By Matt Fritz

Historical Background: From its origin in the thirteenth century the Ottoman Empire had rapidly grown into a superpower. The Ottoman Turks and their powerful armies of Janissaries controlled a vast area including the Middle East, North Africa, Byzantium, and the Balkans. Their expansion into Europe was a direct threat to the Christian Kingdoms, but political rivalries prevented the Christians from uniting to oppose the growing threat. Finally in 1571 Pope Pius V succeeded in uniting Spain, Venice, and the other Mediterranean Christian powers into the Holy League. The Holy League fleet was commanded by Don Juan. They encountered the Turkish fleet near Lepanto and won a decisive victory. The defeat was a major blow to the Ottoman Empire, which would begin a long period of decline. The Holy League, however, soon broke apart and was unable to follow up on their great victory. Lepanto was the largest naval battle of the renaissance, and the last great battle of the oared galleys. The galleys would were soon made obsolete by sailing ships that could out maneuver the oared warships and fire a powerful broadside of cannon fire.

Battle 1: In the early stages of the battle the Holy League scored several hits on the Turks, concentrating their fire on the flag ships. This convinced Don Juan and his men that they could win the battle with firepower. Consequently they did their best to keep the Turks at a distance, in some cases even moving backward to increase the range. The Turks were not impressed and mocked the Holy League for their "cowardice." Mehmet Pasha was the most aggressive attacker and led his ships against Barbarigo and the League's left wing. Mehmet succeeded in enveloping the wing and sank two Christian ships with ramming attacks. The fight on that flank turned decisively for the Turks when they succeeded in boarding the galleass and destroying it. The Turks overwhelmed the Holy League's left flank and had soon isolated their center. Only on the right wing was the Holy League winning the battle with devastating gunnery. The Holy League's plan seemed to be working well on the right flank. The Turks boarded the galleass on the right but were thrown back. Once their attack on that flank had been neutralized Gian Andrea Doria sent his ships to aid Don Juan in the center. They arrived just in time to turn the momentum and deliver a close victory for the Holy League.

The Fleets: Right now there aren't any cheap plastic models available in a small enough scale for this battle. Here are some paper ships you can print and user. Ships should be mounted on 2" x 1" bases.

The Board: The battle was fought on the open seas so there is no terrain to be modeled. One table edge can represent the coastline.

Deployment: The fleets should begin at least 12" inches apart as shown on the map. The Holy League should deploy their galleasses in front of their main fleet. There are no formations. The ships should deployed in one or two lines facing the enemy.

Order of Battle: Each ship model will represent approximately three galleys. The flagships represent the large galleys known as Lanternas. Both fleets had a reserve which included many smaller ships. These were primarily used to bring reinforcements to the front line ships. The reserve fleets have been omitted for the sake of simplicity.

Holy League Fleet

Left Wing - Agostin Barbarigo
1 Galleass
2 Flagships
14 Galleys

Center - Don Juan (Fleet Commander)
1 Galleass
4 Flagships
17 Galleys

Right Wing - Gian Andrea Doria
1 Galleass
2 Flagships
15 Galleys

Turkish Fleet

Left Wing - Uluch Ali
4 Flagships
16 Galleys

Center - Ali Pahsa (Fleet Commander)
4 Flagships
24 Galleys

Right Wing - Mehmet Sulik Pasha
2 Flagships
18 Galleys


Sequence of Play:
1. Holy League Move & Ram
2. Holy League Shoot
3. Grappling
4. Turkish Move & Ram
5. Turkish Shoot
4. Grappling
5. Boarding Actions

Movement: Ships can move 6" per turn. It costs 2" of movement to turn 90 degrees or less. Ships can move backwards at half speed. Galleasses were very slow and difficult to maneuver because of their size. At Lepanto they had to be towed into position by other galleys. Galleasses can move just 2" per turn, or pivot in place by up to 90 degrees. Ships can move into contact with enemy ships in order to board them or attempt to ram them. Grappled ships cannot move.

Movement Table

Galeasses 2"
Other Ships 6"
It costs 2" to turn up to 90 degrees. Ships can move backwards at half speed.

Ramming: In order to attempt a ram a ship must move 4" straight ahead and contact an enemy ship on the side. The ship can maneuver into position before moving 4" straight ahead, but the 4" ramming run cannot include any turns. The ramming ship must contact the enemy ship on the side as defined by lines drawn at 45-degree angles from the corners of the base. A ship that has rammed an enemy ship rolls one die and checks the Ramming Table for the results. A ship that is sunk by ramming is removed from play. Galleasses cannot ram and can't be sunk by Turkish ramming attempts.

Ramming Table
Die Roll

1 - 4 Ramming Fails (no effect)
5 - 6 Ramming Succeeds (enemy sunk)
Galleasses cannot ram or be rammed

Shooting: Galleys carried guns that were mounted on the centerline of the ship and could only fire to the front. Their arc of fire is to the front as defined by 45-degree lines from the corners of the base. Galleasses had centerline guns and also had some guns that could fire to the side. They have the same firing arc as other ships but can also fire at any ships that are in the 180-degree arc as defined by the front of their bases. All ships have a range of 12". Each ship that is not grappled to an enemy ship can fire at an enemy ship that is in range and in its arc of fire. Ships cannot shoot over or through friendly ships and they cannot fire at enemy ships that have grappled another ship. Each ship that fires rolls one die and checks the Shooting Table for the result. Galleasses roll two dice when they fire. Any enemy ships that are hit are sunk and should be removed from the table unless they are galleasses. When a galleass is hit by cannon fire it remains in play but mark off one fighting strength box.

Shooting Table

Roll to Hit and Sink
Galeasses (roll 2 dice) 5 - 6
Flag Ships 5 - 6
Other Ships 6

Grappling: Ships can attempt to grapple and board an enemy ship that is within 1" of its base. Ships can only attempt to grapple and board one ship each turn. Ships which have been grappled together should be positioned so their bases are overlapping. If the ship's bases are in contact either side can decide to grapple and the attempt will succeed automatically. If the ships are not in contact than the attempt to grapple might fail. If both ships involved want to grapple and board then the grappling attempt succeeds automatically. If one of the ships doesn't want to grapple then the other ship must roll one die. The attempt to grapple is successful if the roll is a 5 or 6. If grappling is successful then the crews of the ships will fight during the Boarding Actions phase. Grappled ships cannot move. If a grappled ship is sunk or its crew is eliminated then the grapple is over. The surviving ship and crew can move normally during their next Move phase. Galleasses were very difficult to board because their sides were much higher than other ships. Galleasses can only be grappled and boarded if they are in contact with an enemy ship and the enemy rolls a 6.

Grappling Table
Die Roll Result

1 - 3

4 - 6

vs. Galleass
Must be in contact and roll a 5 or 6
If the ship's bases are touching or both ships want to grapple the attempt succeeds automatically

Boarding Actions: Most of the fighting during the battle took place at close quarters after the fleets grappled and boarded each other. The fighting included firing swivel guns, arrows, and arquebuses at the enemy as well as hand to hand combat. Each ship has a fighting strength as listed in the Fighting Strength Table. A record of the fighting strength of each ship must be kept. This can be done by marking the base of each ship, using small counters, or keeping a separate written record. Ships that have grappled an enemy ship roll one die for each remaining strength point. Both sides roll at the same time. Ships score hits on the enemy on a roll of 4 - 6. Cross off one of the enemy's strength points for each hit. If a ship is reduced to zero strength points it is eliminated - remove it from the battle. It is possible that both ships will be eliminated on the same turn.

Fighting Strength Table

Fighting Strength
Galeasses 8
Holy League Flag Ships 7
Other Holy League Ships 6
Turkish Flag Ships 6
Other Turkish Ships 5

Optional Rule: The Turkish fleet used Christian slaves to row their galleys. Sometimes during the battle the slaves would revolt (this happened on Ali Pasha's flag ship). If a Turkish ship is reduced to a fighting strength of 1 roll one die immediately. If the roll is a 4 - 6 then the slaves have revolted and the ship is immediately eliminated.

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