Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rings of Hell - Historical Footnotes

We often hear about the use of napalm in Vietnam. It was a defoliant that wreaked havoc on those it touched. But this is nothing new, men have been hurling pots of burning oil at each other for a dozen centuries and more.

In 1565 the Turks attacked the fortress of Malta. Held by the Knights of St. John, the fortress consisted of 1 small fort and two cities guarded by small forts and out walls. The Knights were outnumbered 4-1 and outgunned by even greater margins. For 90 days the battle raged, described by all those who survived it as a literal hell on earth. At one point so many Turks had died that their bodies filled the ditch before the walls the fortress of Castile. The bodies began to swell in the July heat; and when the next wave of Turks charged the walls, crossing the ditch over the bodies . . . amidst the wild arquebus fire, canon balls hurling overhead, swords, pikes, ladders in hand . . . the bodies began to rupture and explode beneath the Turkish feet, throwing ichorous rot into the air about the charging Turks.

Hell on earth.

The Knights invented the fire hoop during the siege. They took barrel hoops and covered them in tar and oil, wrapped linen around them and covered them in another coat of tar. These were held in readiness upon the walls so that when the Turks began scaling them, the Knights/Maltese holding the hoops with giant pliers lit them afire and sent them rolling over the parapet. The hoops rolled down the backs of Turks, over ladders and down the walls to bounce wildly into the press of men, catching everyone they touched of fire. Many of the hoops settled on more than one target, pinning  two or three people in the tar covered iron ring of fire.

During night battles the hoops bounced and rolled off the walls, spinning their flame in the darkness, like mad ring-demons from other-wordly hells.

No comments: