Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

12 September 1683 The Battle of Kahlenberg at Vienna

The Imperial and the Polish armies defeat the Ottoman army besieging Vienna

The siege of Vienna is closely connected to the history of the Hungarian-Ottoman wars, moreover, it cannot be discussed out of context. Some people tend to ignore the fact that without a high-ranking Hungarian aristocrat, the Ottoman army could never have reached the walls of the so-desired golden apple, Vienna. It was Thököly Imre (1657-1705) whose family had promptly been alienated by the greedy Habsburg court. It was his successful uprising that gave a chance for the Ottomans to target Vienna. 

The lands occupied by the “kuruc” troops of Thököly (blue)

We know that the Ottomans became aware of his rise, and Grand Vizier Ibrahim, the Pasha of Buda offered him military aid in 1681. Soon, he became the lord of entire Upper Hungary, and Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) opened its gate before him in July 1683. It enabled the Ottoman army to march to Vienna, unhindered. Thököly was ordered to join the besiegers but he flatly refused it, though. He thought that the Turks would eventually take Vienna but after plundering it, they would withdraw, similar to the case of Buda castle in 1526.

Thököly Imre, the husband of Zrínyi Ilona

He was anticipating balancing the power between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans and weakening both empires. All in all, he wanted to liberate Hungary for himself, getting rid of both the Ottomans and the Habsburgs in the end. However, Vienna has never fallen to the Turks. Yet, we all know that it would have certainly fallen without the help of the Polish King Sobieski. It is a pity that we cannot find a statue of him in Vienna to commemorate his deed. 

King John Sobieski III of Poland

Before we talked about the final battle, we must shed the light on a lesser-known fact. Namely, that Thököly had an offer, proffered not for the first time, to the Military Council of Vienna. It was on 4 September that Thököly offered peace and his 25,000 soldiers to Vienna if the Habsburgs were willing to grant him to keep Pozsony (Pressburg, Bratislava) and the Mining Towns of Upper Hungary. Duke Charles of Lorraine supported this idea but his rivals in the Military Council turned the offer down. 

The Battle of Kahlenberg

After a one-and-a-half long siege, the defenders of Vienna were getting ready for the final general attack of the enemy. Half of the Christian soldiers were wounded and could not fight, and they were running out of food and gunpowder. They sent signals by shooting rockets from the tower of the Stephankirche to seek the urgent help of the eventual reinforcement. The united army of Duke Charles and the Polish King Jan Sobieski was gathering at Tull, with 65,000 men and 150 cannons. They set out on 9 September, marching in battle order along the Danube river. They took Wienerwald on 11 September and it enabled them to occupy the higher ground above Vienna. 

Duke Charles of Lorraine

 Their army took up positions on Kahlenberg hill. The Imperial troops stood on the left wing, led by Duke Charles, and the troops of the Saxon Elector, Johann Georg III were with him, too. The Franks, Bavarians, and the Swabians were deployed in the middle, under the command of the Bavarian Elector, Maximilian Emanuel. The Hussars of Sobieski (he was the Chief General) stood the farthest from the Danube, on the right wing. We could find about 400 Hungarian Hussars in Duke Charles’ army, led by Palatine Esterházy Pál. 

The Battle of Kahlenberg

Kara Mustafa pasha left part of his army around Vienna to keep an eye on the garrison of the city, in case they would sally. Yet, he was just weakening his forces with this. He lost lots of soldiers during the siege already so he could send only about the same size of an army against the Imperial reinforcement. The Ottoman commander deployed the troops of the Pasha of Buda and the Pasha of Diyarbekir on the right wing, opposite the Imperials. The Janissaries stood in the middle with the Grand Vizier and his bodyguard cavalry, while the Pasha of Damascus stood on the left wing, supported by the cavalrymen of the Crimean Tatar Khan. 

The Battle of Kahlenberg

The Ottoman vanguard attacked the left wing of the Imperials who were in the middle of deploying cannons at 5 a.m. on 12 September. The Ottoman cannons also joined in to shoot them. Seeing this, Duke Charles sent the whole left wing forward, and with the help of the Saxons, they could take the trenches of Nussdorf. The Christians’ middle also got into motion to keep up with the left wing. The Polish began their advancement at 1 p.m. but they had to overcome tremendous hardships to reach the hilltop. Attacking from there, the assault of the Polish winged Hussars was unstoppable, even though the Pasha of Buda tried to regroup his troops.

the charge of the Polish winged Hussars

Duke Charles saw the opportunity to turn his troops to the right so he could push the Ottomans’ right wing toward the Saxons. Soon, the Turks’ battle line was crushed but the left wing was still fighting against the Polish. However, the battle has been decided. Desperately, Kara Mustafa attempted to stop the Polish with a cannonade but they broke through the Turk-Tatar lines and attacked the camp of the Grand Vizier. 

Mustafa withdrew his troops, he had lots of casualties. Many pashas were killed or wounded, and all of his bodyguards perished. Allegedly, the Grand Vizier also wanted to die but the Agha of the Sipahies could convince him not to do so. Mustafa left the camp in secret, before sunset, and fled toward Győr castle. The defenders of Vienna had been watching the struggle excitedly, and they repelled the last assault of the Janissaries in the meantime. When the units of Louis of Baden reached Schottentor about 2 p.m., General Starhemberg, the commander of Vienna ordered the sally. Amid two fires, the Janissaries had to flee. Vienna was liberated, and the warriors of the enemy were fleeing toward Hungary, without any discipline or order. The winners began to loot the camp, they found lots of treasures, supplies, animals, and clothes there. All in all, the Ottomans lost about 15,000 men while the Christians about 1,500. At the last moment, the Ottomans slaughtered most of their captives, though.

Ottoman Sipahis at Vienna

   The battle paved the way for the reconquest wars of Hungary. As I see it (Szántai Gábor), it was because the Military Council had no other choice but to attack the enemy. What if the Turks sent a new army against Vienna next year? There might not be any Polish help next time, and Thököly could have become the ruler of Hungary before soon. The Habsburgs needed Hungary and they did not want to cede it to the Hungarians.

Source: Szibler Gábor

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