For four months in 1538, 600 Portuguese troops were holding back an attempt to capture the Indian City of Diu against 22,000 combined enemy troops. Most of those came from the Sultanate of Gujarat, but there were also 6,000 troops from the hated Ottoman Empire. Portugal had been engaged in a series of conflicts with the Turks since 1481. Diu was just a valuable possession.
Portugal’s soldiers would be damned if they were going to let some Ottoman Turk take their Indian jewel.
And no Gujaratis neither.
The Ottomans had been trying to force Portugal out of its possessions all over Asia, from the Red Sea to India, and would partner with anyone who would help them. The Sultanate of Gujarat was just one more enemy aligned against them. Portugal controlled the flow of valuable spices to Europe through Diu, and the Turks were ready to take it from them, sending the largest fleet it ever sent to the Indian Ocean.
Portugal had a few things going for them the Indians didn’t have when Portugal first took control of Diu. The Portuguese built a fortress to protect the city, and its commander, António da Silveira, was an experienced fighter of Gujarati forces. Though the Portuguese would eventually win the confrontation, there are a few noteworthy things about this battle, not least of all the most provocative reply to a surrender demand ever sent when Silveira wrote a note to Suleiman Pasha in response to his second demand (keep in mind, I had to remove the worst parts of it):
“I have seen the words in your letter, and that of the captain which you have imprisoned through lie and betrayal of your word, signed under your name; which you have done because you are no man, for you have no balls, you are like a lying woman and a fool. How do you intend to pact with me, if you committed betrayal and falsity right before my eyes?… Be assured that here are Portuguese accustomed to killing many moors, and they have as captain António da Silveira, who has a pair of balls stronger than the cannonballs of your basilisks, that there’s no reason to fear someone who has no balls, no honor and lies…”
“António da Silveira, has a pair of balls stronger than the cannonballs of your basilisks.” – António da Silveira
In response to that surrender demand, the Turkish commander ordered an immediate assault on the Portuguese fortress, bombarding it for nearly a month with cannons from the land and from his ships at sea. He then ordered a full assault of a small fortlet that stood in the mouth of the nearby river. Inside, just a handful of Portuguese troops were holding out against hundreds of enemy troops, some of them the feared Ottoman Janissaries.
Inside one of the bastions, a Portuguese soldier believed he was the only survivor of the fortlet. He was out of ammunition but still had the powder necessary to kill the oncoming enemy. The Turks, fully believing the man was indeed out of ammunition were surprised to get shot while trying to enter the bastion, anyway. According to a Dutch priest who was present, the man ripped his own tooth out and loaded it into his weapon so he could keep fighting.
Actual photo of Turkish Galleys in retreat.
Though various Indian forces would attempt to retake Diu over the coming centuries, they would not be able to control the city until the Portuguese relinquished it to the Indian government in 1961.