The 1500's were defintely not the best years to travel the Mediterranean
sea. It was a dangerous place, riddled with pirate ships which carried slaves and pirates not too virtuous to attack and loot any galleons they might meet.
The Ottoman navy, under the rule of the fierce Muslim corsair Barbarossa, started off sea battles which ranged from one end of the mediterranean to the other. The world held its breath... a significant naval battle victory for the Muslims would snuff out the flame of hope for a Christian Europe.
A particular rivalry was strong between the Knights of St.John. Suliman having Rhodes under his command, it seemed the Turks would sweep across the Mediterranean freely.
Dragut went to arms first under the corsair Ai Reis, intent on fighting against Andrea Doria, then later he went under Barbarossa's command. Dragut brought back spoils and prisinors from the Adriatic to Tunis, where he resold them.
In 1456, Barbarossa died and the huge Turkish navy was now under Dragut's command. When in 1550 the Knights won a battle against one of his fleets in Madhia. This incured Dragut's wrath, and he attacked the Mediterranean isle of Malta, which was the current seat of the knights of the order of St.John. The island was a frequent target of Muslim attacks, and The Knights were working to turn it into a fortified and fully protected island. However the fortifications were still in their growing phase, and the shores were still relatively unprotected. Dragut was out of luck though - the battle was lost and the Turkish vessels were forced to flee. Of course, Dragut vowed to return and so he did.
It was in 1565 that he returned. Dragut's fleet consisted of the Sultan's finest... carrying multitudes of the skillful janissary, regulars, and over 4,000 layalars (religious fanatics who sought death over life). Dragut's men were hand-picked, the creme de la creme in Turkish fighting skill. This Turkish force seemed formidable, especially when it came to attack a mere 540 knights and 4,000 Maltese militiamen and foot soldiers.
Dragut's presence amongst his fleet cheered up his men, who were as yet unsuccessful with raiding parties attempted on the island. He instructed the batteries to fire on the main coastal fort in the harbour. After three weeks, the small fort was conquered... however the price paid for it was very big. Dragut himself was felled by a cannon ball and died. It is said that as he died, he cried out "Allah! If so small a son has cost so dear, what price shall we have to pay for so large a father" .
The battle continued, but the Turks were much demoralised by the loss of their leader. In the end, reinforcements were sent and the Turks lost, forced to leave.
The fierce corsair Dragut will always be remebered as a shrewd, determined, and charismatic leader in a time when the future of Europe, and of the world as we know it today, was at a crossroads.