One of the most important battles was the sea battle of Chesma in 24-26 June 1770. It is important to note that some of the Maltese knights took part in this battle. Among them was the Commander of the Order of Malta Massimi. He left the detailed description of that event. There were other Maltese knights who joined the Russian fleet including Joseph de Maisonneuve who became the officer in the Army of General Rumanzoff and Guglielmo Lorenzi, who was in command of few Russian vessels and his own ship called “La Fama”.
The battle of Chesma became the worst loss for Turks since the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. It was one of the events showing the decline of the Turkish naval power.
Though Grand Master Pinto still could not give an official support to the Russian navy, he found a way to help. Russian officers were invited for training in Malta and few of the Maltese knights took part in the Russo-Turkish war including the battle of Chesma.
As a symbol of a victory over Turks, Czarina has sent her glorious portrait by Dimitri Levitzky to the Grand Master. This portrait is still exhibited in the Ambassador’s Room of the Grand Master’s Palace among the portraits of various European rulers.
During the restoration of this prominent portrait, the curator of the Grand Master Palace Emanuel Magro Conti asked Denis Galea Vella Maslennikov to confirm the translation of the signature which was in old Russian style, signed on the shield lying at the ground. It was a unique opportunity to explore the messages shared by the Czarina with the Grand Master Pinto. It said: “И мечъ твой лаврами обвитъ. Необнаженъ воин пресѢкъ ”.
In the interpretation of the author it said: ”And sword of yours with laurel leaves enlaced. The sheathed blade succeeded.” This immodest phrases were designed to underline the successful experience of Catherine the Great as a commander in chief of the Russian Army and Navy. The laurel leaves symbolised victory and the “sheathed sword” meant that Czarina could succeed even without taking a sword out of the sheath.
The message of this portrait was to show the Maltese Grand Master, that Russia, represented by Czarina, is a powerful ally fighting against the same enemy.
(N.B: This information was provided to us by Mr. Denis Galea Vella Maslennikov who did his research about ‘Personalities and their role in establishing the Maltese-Russian relations’ for his National Diploma in Tour Guiding.)