Relief came out of the woods and down from the heights…For nearly two long months, from July 14 to early September 1683, Vienna endured the siege of a vast Turkish army. The Turkish Serasker (Supreme Commander), Grand Vizier Kara “Black” Mustafa, demanded surrender, but Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, commander of Vienna’s garrison, spat back, “Let him come; I’ll fight to the last drop of blood.” That last drop of blood had almost been reached. Turkish mines and bombardments had opened huge gaps in the city walls. Sewage, rubble, and corpses littered the streets and disease ran rampant. After fending off 18 major Turkish assaults, only a third of the originally 11,500-strong garrison remained fit for combat and their ammunitions were nearly exhausted. Starhemberg knew that Vienna’s defenses were at their end. The city’s only hope was the timely arrival of the anxiously awaited Christian relief army. Without that army, the Turks would pour into the city and wantonly enslave and butcher its inhabitants. Mustafa’s Fierce Ambition Mustafa had another reason to press on; he feared the Sultan’s punishment in the event of failure. By laying siege to Vienna, Mustafa disobeyed Sultan Mehmed IV (1648-1687), who intended that Mustafa do little more than capture Imperial frontier fortresses. But such modest aims did not satisfy Mustafa. Leopold I Pleads for Help In contrast to the offensive spirit of Mustafa, Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705) cowardly fled his own capital Vienna for the safety of Passau. A bookworm and music composer, the pious Leopold wasn’t much of a warrior. But he wasn’t going to abandon his capital to the Turks either and feverishly petitioned the German and Polish nobility to come to Vienna’s aid. Leopold’s cries for help did not remain unanswered. By September 7 a mighty army had gathered in the Tulln valley (30 km northwest of Vienna). There was John III Sobieski, King of Poland and Duke of Lithuania, with 18,000 Poles; the Elector Max Emmanuel of Bavaria with 11,000 men; and Prince George Friedrich von Waldeck with 8,000 Germans from Franconia and Swabia. Prince George of Hanover (the future King George I of England) arrived with a bodyguard of 600 cavalry sent by his father Duke Ernst August of Hanover, and there were 9,000 Saxons led by the Elector of Saxony, John George III von Wettin. Together with Imperial General Lieutenant Duke Charles of Lorraine’s 20,000 Austrians, the allied army numbered over 66,600. Sobieski would lead the Poles while Lorraine commanded the Austro-German forces. Beyond this each commander led his own men while adhering to Lorraine’s tactical plan. The idea was to march the army from Tulln through the Vienna Woods to the heights of the Kahlenberg. From the Kahlenberg a broad, sweeping descent would squeeze the Turks against the city, the Danube, and the Vienna River. The approach denied the Turks the natural defenses of these rivers and, because the allies would emerge from out of the wilderness, they hoped to catch their enemy unprepared. By the 10th the main army reached the Weidling Valley on the northwestern side of the Kahlenberg. Colonel Donat Heissler’s vanguard of 600 dragoons had already reached the Kahlenberg three days before to light fires and alert Vienna of its impending relief. Early in the morning of the 11th, Lorraine sent reinforcements to Heissler, who led his dragoons, musketeers, and a band of Italian volunteers against the Turkish outposts at the Chapel of St. Leopold and the ruined Camuldensian monastery at the top of the Kahlenberg. After chasing the Turks from the Christian holy places, Heissler launched signal flares into the night sky. To the defenders on Vienna’s battered walls, Heissler’s fires and flares were like a sign from God; their prayers had finally been answered. Later that day, the princes and generals met on the ridge to behold a panorama of the siege. Below them Turkish siege works and camps surrounded the city, wedged beneath the Vienna River to the south and the Danube to the north. A dim haze of smoke rose from the constant artillery barrage, exploding mines, and campfires. More worrisome was the rugged terrain of precipices, ravines, and woodlands that led down from the hills to the plain below.Angered, Sobieski claimed that the maps sent to him by Imperial commanders had misled him. He expected the terrain to have been far more level and now proposed either a detour to the south or a slow, meticulous advance. These ideas were stoutly overruled by the other generals who decided to continue with Lorraine’s original idea of a full-scale attack from the ridges of the Vienna Woods. Although the terrain was rough it was noted that Mustafa had done very little to fortify his besieging army. Nevertheless, the Polish king did manage to gain the transfer of four Hapsburg infantry battalions to support the Polish cavalry. That night Lorraine ordered his general of artillery, Count James Leslie, to place a battery along the edges of the Kahlenberg to provide supportive fire for the main advance. While the artillerymen labored, cries of “Allah” and the incessant artillery bombardment of Vienna robbed many of the Christians of their deserved sleep. Moreover, the previous day’s march had been carried out at great speed in the face of difficult terrain and stormy weather. To lighten the load, many supplies were left behind, leaving the men with empty stomachs and forcing the horses to feed on leaves. Despite these hardships morale remained high. The Ottomans Await the Christian Attack Below the Christians, over 70,000 Ottomans and auxiliaries, deployed between the Danube and the Vienna Rivers, awaited the attack. Kara Mehmed Pasha, Beylerbeyi of Diyarbakir, with 10,000 troops —including the Bosnian-Rumelians, centered on the Nussberg— made up the right wing. Behind him, on Prater Island, were a further 5,000 Moldavian and Wallachian reinforcements. The bulk of the Turkish center under Ibrahim Pasha, Beylerbeyi of Buda, and Kara Mustafa occupied the fortified ridges above the Döblingerbach and Krottenbach up to Weinhaus. Ibrahim and Mustafa’s forces, made up of cavalry, seymen (paramilitary youth), peasant militia, and janissary infantry, were about 23,000 strong. Beside them, on their left, Abaza Sari Hüseyin Pasha, Beylerbeyi of Damascus, commanded the rest of the central line. His 15,000, mostly cavalry, units covered the Weinhaus-Ottakring-Baumgarten line with smaller detachments deployed in the Schafberg area to slow down and hamper the initial Christian advance. Here the walls and buildings of numerous vineyards provided shelter for the defenders. Along the northern bank of the Vienna River, on the left wing near Mariabrunn, stood 18,000 Tartars. “By Allah, the King is really among us,” blurted their Kahn when he discovered that Sobieski, whom he knew from previous battles, led the relief army himself. In a decision opposed by Ibrahim Pasha but approved by the other senior generals, Kara Mustafa decreed that the remaining 15,000 janissaries and provincial troops would continue the siege of Vienna. To the Turks it seemed “as if an all-consuming flood of black pitch was flowing down the hills” at whose head fluttered proudly a large red flag with a white cross. Lorraine’s main concern was the maintenance of a unified front, a daunting task due to the uneven ground. Reinforced by Duke Eugene of Croy’s infantry, the Austrians routed the Turks firing at Leslie’s artillery and together with John George’s Saxons to their right established a line facing the Nussberg-Karpfenwald. Supported by light artillery fire and maintaining an unrelenting barrage of musketry fire, the Austrians slowly but steadily advanced up the Nussberg. Here there was stiffening resistance by the Turks, who skillfully used the cover of the terrain to their advantage. An Imperial regiment that had reached the outskirts of Nussdorf was repulsed, while the Turks still holding Kahlenbergerdorf threatened the Austrian left flank. Recognizing the loss of the Nussberg to be a serious threat to their right flank, the Grand Vizier and Ibrahim Pasha mounted a vicious counterattack but they were pushed back into the flatter terrain around Grinzig. A second assault proved more successful so that the Imperial infantry began to waver but was saved by the arrival of dragoons and the elite armored cuirassier heavy cavalry. John George and his bodyguard cavalry took part in the action. Wounded in the cheek by an arrow, the Saxon Elector cut down a Syrian lancer. Pursuing their advantage, the Saxons advanced down the Muckental in the direction of Heiligenstadt while the Austrians moved toward Nussdorf. The Attack on Nussdorf Supported by Leslie’s artillery, now deployed on the Nussberg, and Caprara’s advance from Kahlenbergerdorf, Saxon and Imperial dragoons under Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm of Baden and Heissler led the attack on Nussdorf. Entrenched in the village cellars, ditches, and ruined walls, the Turks put up fierce resistance and were only overcome by the arrival of Wilhelm’s uncle, Field Marshal Herman of Baden, leading the Austrian infantry. To the south, Field Marshal von Goltz’s Saxons successfully drove the Turks from Heiligenstadt and Grinzig. At noon Lorraine called for another halt to allow his troops to recuperate. The morning’s actions had been a complete success. The whole Turkish right wing of Kara Mehmed was completely overrun or destroyed. The Austro-Saxons now faced Ibrahim Pasha across the Döblingerbach. Waldeck and Max Emmanuel, who had encountered little opposition, reached Ibrahim’s flank across the Krottenbach while Caprara and Lubomirski scattered the Romanians along the Danube. The Poles Enter the Fray The Poles finally appeared on the heights after an exhausting march through the rough terrain of the Weidling Valley. In the center, Sobieski with Artillery General Martin Katski descended from the Gränberg. On the left, Field hetman Nicolas Sieniawski came down from the Dreimarkstein, and on the right Crown hetman Stanislaw Jablonowski came down from the Rosskopf. Polish infantry and the borrowed Hapsburg battalions screened the descent to allow the establishment of an unbroken cavalry front on the plains below. Thorn bushes, grapevines, ditches, hedge-rows and individual gönüllü suicide charges slowed down the Polish advance. Nevertheless, in spite of a spirited defense by Abaza Sari Hüseyin, the Poles, supported by artillery fire, steadily pushed forward. With Sobieski in the lead the Michaelerberg was reached by 2 pm. The Germans, who now came into view, gave off a terrific cheer upon spotting the arrival of their Polish allies. Beyond the Michaelerberg, on the slopes of the Schafberg, the Poles were brought to a momentary halt. Ahead of Sieniawski, 1,000 janissaries infiltrated the vineyards behind Plötzleinsdorf, disrupting the junction between Sieniawski and Waldeck’s right wing. The janissaries put up a stout defense but were dislodged with the arrival of Imperial cuirassiers. Around 4 in the afternoon, Sobieski and Sieniawski reached the level terrain east of the Schafberg. On their right Jablonowski fended off a feeble attack by the Tartars near Mariabrunn. Sobieski now called a halt in order to build a more organized and solid front. Kara Mustafa, aware of the new Polish threat to the Turkish left wing, used the respite to withdraw troops from Ibrahim in order to bolster Hüseyin Pasha. The Poles Cavalry Units Get Butchered Sieniawski reopened the battle by sending out a choragiew (standard Polish cavalry unit) of Crown hussars. These crashed through two enemy lines but the 150 or so horsemen were unequal to the task. Forced to retreat they lost a third of their number. Falsely anticipating an Ottoman advance the overzealous Sieniawski sent in a second choragiew. Stanislaw Potocki, Starhorst of Halicz, volunteered to lead the charge. Again the Poles broke through the Turkish ranks and again the Turks rallied to close the gap. Stanislaw paid for his bravery with his life; a Turk sliced off the top of the Pole’s head. Further units of Polish cavalry now charged the Turks who opened their ranks and then fell upon the Poles from all sides, inflicting heavy casualties and killing several Polish lords, including Andrzej Modrzewski, the Crown Grand Treasurer. The slaughter was followed by an all-out Turkish pursuit, which soon came under fire from the Hapsburg infantry on the Galitzenberg. Reinforcements from Sobieski’s … Continue reading The 1683 Battle of Vienna: Islam at Vienna’s gates.
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