The Triumph of Szalánkemén, the bloodiest battle of the century, 1691

The painting of Friedrich Kaiser (1870s)

 The Habsburgs had already reconquered almost the entire section of the Hungarian Kingdom during the 8 years of war, even the Principality of Transylvania fell to them.  They took Belgrad  (Nándorfehérvár) in 1688, too. However, the Habsburgs had been forced to rage war on two fronts since 1689. The Turks fought back and took Belgrade back, though. It was because the French war distracted the Imperials’ attention. In spite of their success, the Ottomans could not place Prince Thököly Imre back into Transylvania.

A new Grand Vizier was appointed, Pasha Köprülü Ahmed in 1689. He knew that the Imperials were better equipped with firearms so he increased the number of his troops to balance it. He could raise an army of 100,000 men. The Ottoman Subline Port achieved lots of success in 1690 and it made the Council of Generals of the Holy Roman Empire fight a defensive war. Yet, the newly appointed chief general, Prince Louis of Baden aka “Türkenlouis”, decided to attack the enemy, although he had only 45.000 soldiers.

Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden

The Ottoman army was led by Vizier Mustapha and it was deployed in Hungary during the summer of 1691 but the army had to remain idle due to the inauguration of Sultan Achmed II. When they finally set out, the advancing Turk army took Titel castle and slaughtered its garrison. About 30,000 Ottoman warriors arrived at Belgrad aka Nándorfehérvár only at the end of July and they were waiting for the reinforcement at Zimony  (Zemun) behind fortified trenches. While Prince Luis of Baden had seasoned warriors, there were many recruits in the Ottoman army who were busily digging trenches.

The remains of Zalánkemén / Slankamen castle (Picture: Sors Bona)

Louis, hearing this, chose to attack immediately before further Turk troops would arrive so the Imperials set out from Eszék (Osijek) on 20 July. He reached Pétervárad on 29 July and stayed there until 4 August. Then, the Imperial general moved to Zimony that took a 12-day-march because of the extreme heat. Upon arriving, he dared not to attack the entrenchment. He withdrew for a 30-minute-walk distance and tried to lure the enemy out on 14 August but he couldn’t cheat Vizier Mustapha. 

A Dragoon from 1686 (by Somogyi Győző)

He succeeded in doing so only on 17 August when the Vizier made sure that the enemy had withdrawn in earnest so Mustapha’s cavalry finally set out from the fortified trenches and went after the Emperor’s army. Soon, the Ottoman riders crushed a Dragoon regiment and captured 250 wagons loaded with food. As it was, the Grand Vizier had altogether 100,000 soldiers, including 300 French military engineers and a unit of Thököly’s rebels, 600 “kuruc” Hungarians. In Zimony, he had 200 cannons defending the trenches.

The Battle of Szalánkemén (Slankamen)

Louis stopped his army at Szalánkemén where the land offered a good place for deploying his army between the River Danube and the hills of Fruska Gora. His left wing was protected by the Danube River while his right wing was at the Verdnik Mountain. As a result of this, he could wait for the oncoming battle in an advantageous position when the Vizier’s army arrived on 17 August.

an Imperial cavalryman (by Somogyi Győző)

However, many things happened during the following night. Listening to the advice of the French officers and Prince Thököly, Pasha Köprülüzade Mustafa went around the deployed Christian army on 18 August. Thus, the Vizier deployed his own army in their back, on the slopes of the Kosavac hill, cutting off Louis’ army from a possible retreat. The Ottomans stood on the higher ground, surrounded by freshly dug trenches.

Vizier Mustapha took command over the Ottoman infantry defending the trenches while he appointed Thököly and Serasker Ibrahim to lead the cavalry. The Christians were astonished and realized that their logistic lines were also cut towards Pétervárad. The Turkish flotilla managed to chase the food-supplier boats of the Christians away, too.

Reacting to this, Prince Louis of Baden made half-turns with his army and noticed that the Turks’ trench surrounding the hill slope didn’t totally reach the Danube. The right wing at the Danube was led by General Souches, and the left was commanded by the seasoned soldier, Vice-General Dünnewald. The prince placed infantrymen and riders on his left wing to break through the Turks’ right wing which consisted of riders and break into the gap. The reserve forces were under the command of Prince Charles of Holstein. The Hungarian Hussars of the Zichy and the Batthyány regiment stood in the third line of the left wing, along with the Serbian riders.

The Battle of Szalánkemén, 1691

Meanwhile, the middle section and his right-wing were going to make a frontal attack, and the left wing’s task was to distract the enemy’s attention. The two armies stood face to face on the morning of 19 August. A cannon shot signaled the attack of the Christian Army at 3 pm. The cannons of Souches were shooting the trenches and 80 Ottoman cannons were returning the fire. The right wing, led by Field Marshal de Souches advanced very fast, getting to the trenches and only 200 steps separated them from the enemy. Some soldiers had already placed their flag on the trench when the Field Marshal was mortally wounded, confusing the attackers.

The view from the castle of Szalánkemén (Photo: Корисник Путник )

Taking advantage of Souche’s death, the Janissaries could beat the attackers back by suffering severe losses themselves and only the counter-attack of Prince Holstein’s cuirassiers could push the Turks back. It was Guido Starhemberg who took over Souche’s place. The forces led by Guido Starhemberg have attacked twice but without success. The major general was wounded by arrows and he received an arrow into his chest for the third time, but he kept on fighting. Yet, the attack of the right wing got blocked.

Ottoman cavalrymen

Then, Pasha Ibrahim led his cavalrymen into battle, aiming at the middle section of the Imperial army. The battle at the middle section threatened the Christians with collapse, too, despite the personal intervention of Louis of Baden. It was the time when Colonel Zrínyi Ádám (aka Adam Zrinski), the son of Miklós Zrínyi, lost his life. 

Zrínyi Ádám aka Adam Zrinski (picture: Silverije)

It was only Lieutenant-General Bartuss who led a counter-attack with the forces of Brandenburg and somehow managed to stop the Turks. The Prussian Bartuss was the commander of the infantrymen from Brandenburg. His infantrymen bravely attacked the Turk cavalry, I think they must have used plug-bayonets. Read more about plug-bayonets here:

An infantryman from Brandenburg, 1686 (Note his plug-bayonet on his belt.) (by Somogyi Győző)

In the meantime, the Turkish flotilla broke through the line of the Emperor’s warships so Prince Louis’ army was totally cut off. The Turks were led by Pasha Mezzomorto (half-dead) Hussein. As the evening was coming, it was time to decide the battle. The Christian cavalry was still untouched on the left wing, it remained their job to do so. Towards early evening hours, Prince Louis rode there and he gave the command to Dünnewald to launch the attack.

Hungarian flag bearer (by somogyi Győző)

One part of the cavalry went around the Turkish troops and attacked them from the side, and the Hungarian and Serbian Hussars set out against the gap and assaulted the enemy from behind. It has changed the situation of the battle. The Turkish riders who were caught in their side began fleeting and ran into their camp. The Janissaries, who were defending there got confused because of that. This enabled the middle section of the Emperor’s army to attack again. Vizier Köprülü Mustapha, dressed in a black cloak was trying to stop his soldiers by crying at them: “You cowards! You who do not know how to win and do not know how to die, learn from me and follow me”


Prince Thököly Imre fought in the Ottoman army and could only narrowly escape

The Imperial troops were able to get behind the trenches everywhere. Also, they cut the route of escape by their cavalry towards the Danube. Finally, the Janissaries were pushed into the Danube and only evening stopped the slaughter. Among the 20,000 fallen Ottoman soldiers, there was Pasha Mustafa, too. He fought heroically but he was shot by a musket. Pasha Ibrahim also died, along with 12 pasha officers, including the Agha of the Janissaries. Thököly Imre fought in the Ottoman army and could only narrowly escape. Around 20,000 Ottomans died altogether. The Emperor had great losses, as well, and more than 7,000 men died. This is why this battle was called the bloodiest battle of the century.
Imperial troops in 1686 (by Somogyi Győző)

Because of his losses, Louis von Baden didn’t chase the fleeing Ottomans, instead, he marched to the north to besiege Nagyvárad (Oradea). There were celebrations all over Europe, the Emperor appointed Louis von Baden as Generalleutenant (who was under the rank of the Emperor). The Prince got control over Győr and the Spanish king granted the Golden Fleece to him. Dünnewald died a few days after the battle, he may have been poisoned. The new Ottoman sultan, Ahmed II had several pashas executed who were made responsible for the defeat.

Source: Szibler Gábor

The monument of the battle of Szalánkemén (Picture: Sors bona)


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