12 September 2006

The Battle of Vienna

Sobieski planned to attack on the 13th of September, but he had noticed that the Turkish deployments were poorly arranged and ordered full attack on September 12. Kara Mustafa Pasha had entrusted the defense of his rear to the Khan of Crimea and the 30,000 Tartars under his command. The combined relief force numbered some 70,000 troops, 30,000 of them cavalry and 140 guns.

In the early morning hours of 12 September, before the battle, a mass is held for King Sobieski.

The allied forces took up the positions to the north of the city, at the Vienna Forrest. The Polish forces took the positions of the right flank, reaching from Rosskopf to Dreimarkstein. The forces were arranged in such a way that both hetmans with the cavalry and infantry units took up the flank positions, and in the middle there were the royal hussars and infantry--the full-time professionals of the standing army. The central positions situated in the vicinity of Vogelsang were occupied by the troops of the Bavarian elector - Prince Waldeck. The left flank on Kahlenberg consisted of the forces of the Sass elector and Prince Karol Lotaryński. The left flank was to initiate the attack.

Despite the fact that the whole Vienna was surrounded, the Turkish concentrated their main forces to the north of the city, as they were afraid of the attack from that side. The Turkish positions ranged from Schönbrunn to Döbling. The Tatars took up the positions beyond the Wiedenka.

At 6 o'clock in the morning of September 12 the left flank of the allied forces launched the attack. The infantry moved from Kahlenberg towards the Turkish positions on Nussberg. It was followed by the artillery, which halted to engage enemy with cannon fire. Sobieski ordered the batteries of the Kahlenberg slopes to support the attack with fire. At 8 o'clock Nussberg was conquered. The left flank forces kept on attacking. At noon Heiligenstad--defended fiercely by the Turk--was secured. At about noon the units of that flank approached Vienna. To prevent their entering the city, the majority of the Turkish forces gathered there, preparing for counter-attack.

Sobieski decided to attack the Turkish left flank from Severing and Dornbach. He led the Polish infantry units reinforced by artillery out of the woods. The units were commanded by General Kątski. They were followed by the hussars. The infantry attacked through a range of lower hills separating the Polish formation from the Vienna Plain. The Turkish commander - Kara Mustafa, envisaging imminent threat, directed the best infantry regiments supported by the Turkish artillery fire against them. The fierce, arduous fight for every hill, vineyard and grove began. The right flank of the allied forces from Vogelsang and the forces deployed in the centre attacked simultaneously. The Turks managed to suppress the attack of the German infantry in the centre but Sobieski supported the Germans with his own infantry and broke the enemy's resistance. The allied forces were moving forward.

At about 5 o'clock in the afternoon the Turkish forces were concentrated on the plain. To determine whether a full-scale cavalry attack was feasible, Sobieski directed a hussar troop to attack the enemy. This troop caused confusion in the Turkish lines and then fell back to the initial position. Sobieski determined at 6 o'clock that a cavalry attack could decide the battle and ordered the hussars and other armored troops to form for attack. In the meantime, Kara Mustafa gathered the majority of his forces against the Poles and supported the main Turkish camp on Schmelz with the right flank units. The Turkish cavalry arranged in three lines took the positions to the north-west of the camp. The Turks assembled a great number of cannons there.

Sobieski led 20,000 cavalry to the attack. They gathered momentum attacking down the sloping terrain. The cavalry of the left flank and the allied forces centre followed them. During the attack the Turkish artillery opened fire and the Turkish heavy cavalry moved forward to encounter the galloping hussars. The Turkish cavalry fell in a row during the head-on clash; then the hussars attacked the next array. The Turks were seized with fear and panic. A great number of Kara Mustafa’s cavalry were slaughtered, the rest fled to save their lives. They were followed by the infantry. Kara Mustafa himself panicked and fled, temporarily saving his neck. The great Turkish army was completely defeated. The infantry left in the suburbs of the city tried to defend themselves but the forces of Karol Lotaryński dislodged them. Sobieski took over the Turkish camp – Vienna was free. "It was a great battle, lasting from the noon till the sunset, it reminded the Last Judgment" wrote the Turkish chronicler. "Finally, shortly before the dusk, the Muslim army had lacked the strength to fight, thus it was defeated and escaped."

The Pope and other foreign dignitaries hailed Sobieski as the "Savior of Vienna and Western European civilization." In a letter to his wife he wrote, "All the common people kissed my hands, my feet, my clothes; others only touched me, saying: 'Ah, let us kiss so valiant a hand!'"

The Turks lost about 15,000 men in the fighting, compared to approximately 4,000 for the Habsburg-Polish forces.

On the 25th of December, 1683, Kara Mustafa Pasha was executed in Belgrade by the commander of the Jannisaries. He was strangled, then decapitated in the manner traditional for the execution of high officials in the Ottoman Empire.

The Battle of Vienna shaped the outcome of the entire war as well. The Ottomans fought on for another 16 years against a Holy League consisting of Austria, Poland, and Russia, losing control of Hungary and Transylvania in the process. The end of this conflict was marked by the Treaty of Karlowitz. but fighting against the Ottoman Empire for the liberation of the Balkans would continue for almost another 200 years.


Anonymous Zach Bush said...

Yet another tale of one distasteful ruler defeated by another. At least history is consistent. :)

What's your source? I've been looking for a good book on the Battle of Vienna.

8:35 PM  
Anonymous cMAD said...

ISTR that I've seen the skull of Kara Mustafa with the string that the Sultan sent him to throttle himself with "which is the more precious since there is only one more specimen, which is in Turkish possession" exhibited at Schloss Schleissheim, some time in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, Der Spiegel is back to normal. They interviewed Zbigniew Brezinski.

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Michael Llaneza said...

I'm about 50 pages into John Stoyes "The Siege of Vienna". So far so good, it's an interesting read as I know little about the Hapsburgs. I do know the Polish campaigns from earlier earlier in the century, so this is a fresh perspective.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Just A Decurion said...

Zach, I'm not sure how you could consider Sobieski 'distasteful', unless you are referring to the Hapsburg.

And at any rate, no European ruler deserves comparison to the Turk until the 20th Century.

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Zach Bush said...

My earlier readings on Sobieski left me with hardly a flattering picture, but are quite limited in scope. That's why I asked for a good source on the siege - it's a knowledge gap and I'd rather read a good book than poke at Wikipedia. My European history is spotty during that time period and I've recently been trying to plug the holes.

Write a post on Sobieski and his accomplishments, if you're inclined.

12:41 AM  

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