Ottoman Invasions of Austria and Vienna Late 17th Century Part II

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Siege of Vienna 1683

The Turks, as a consequence of Kara Mustafa’s dash for Vienna, brought with them only five mortars and 112 cannon. They had no heavy pieces at all, and only seventeen of medium calibre (up to 221-pounders) (Morz, 1983, 19). However, Kara Mustafa commanded a total of 90,000 men, of whom 15,000-20,000 were elite regulars. He was well provided with miners, and among his engineers he counted a certain ‘Ahmed Bey’, a renegade Capuchin monk who had a good knowledge of the enceinte from a visit he had made to Vienna in 1682, in the company of an Hungarian delegation.

From the beginning the Ottomans directed their attack with speed and skill, and already on 14 July they exploited a gross oversight on the part of the defenders, who had failed to demolish the nearest houses and gardens of the Suburbs:

And this is truly a sign of Allah’s grace, for which we can never thank him enough [wrote the Ottoman Master of Ceremonies]. For if we had not enjoyed the facility of this Suburb, we would have had to open our trenches at a great distance, and spend several days in completing our first siegeworks. As things are, anybody who has to go to the saps can ride on horseback right up to the entry to the trenches. In short, the entire history of the Turkish Empire shows no precedent for what we have done here, namely, to layout our trenches and siegeworks in a suburb, and amid palaces with all their gardens and pavilions. (Kara Mustafa, 1960, 31- 2)

From the convenient base line offered by the Suburbs, the Janissaries drove forward three groups of trenches against the Löwel-Bastion, the Burg-Ravelin and the Burg-Bastion. The first batteries opened fire on the night of 22-23 July, and on the next day the Turks began the battle for the covered way when they exploded mines opposite the salients of the two bastions. The Christians responded by throwing in repeated sorties, and it was on the evening of 25 July, in the course of a successful counterattack against a mine breach in the counterscarp of the Burg-Ravelin, that Rimpler’s left arm was shattered. He was taken back to the city, where he died early on 3 August.

By that time the Turks had conquered a long stretch of the covered way, and they began to effect eight or nine ‘descents’ and ‘passages’ of the ditch. In this second stage of the siege, the battle for the ditch, the Turks worked forward by sap, mine and assault, while the Christians continued to launch their sorties, and maintained a deadly fire from RimpIer’s low-lying caponnieres. On the afternoon of 12 August the Turks exploded two mines at the salient of the Burg-Ravelin, and established their first lodgment in this triangle of earth and disintegrating brick. The defenders stood their ground on the ravelin until the Turks succeeded in burning one of the flanking caponnieres, and virtually embraced the work with their saps. On the night of 2-3 September Starhemberg accordingly evacuated the ravelin and the surviving caponnieres, having contested the ditch for a month. Now everything came down to the defence of the main enceinte.

The Turks burrowed ceaselessly through the stony earth, covering themselves as they went by roofings of planks, tree trunks and sandbags. All the time the Austrians pelted them with what seemed an endless supply of earthenware hand grenades, and every now and again a determined counterattack sought to winkle the Turks out of the lodgments and reclaim the ground which had been lost.

The strain of the continuous battle was telling heavily on all the belligerents. The Turkish troops as a whole were disaffected from Kara Mustafa, on account of the miserly way he doled out their pay. The Tartar leaders were offended by the rude things he said to them, and their men wished to return to their native steppes with the booty they had garnered in the countryside. More serious still the Janissaries, the kernel of the Turkish forces, were disturbed by the elapse of the customary forty days maximum of Turkish siegework, and they feared the prospect of some deal between Kara Mustafa and the garrison, which might deprive them of the sack and plunder of Vienna.

On the Christian side the garrison was reduced to 4,000 effectives, and the artillerymen refused to stand by their guns unless they were awarded heavy cash payments. The citizens themselves appeared to lose interest in the survival of Vienna, and Starhemberg had to threaten them with death before they would set to work on what were literally the last ditch defences.

On 9 September the Turkish mines blew down the salient and one of the faces of the Löwel-Bastion. The Ottoman diarist testifies that the deed

gave rise to a struggle of great violence, and the Infidels were smitten so hard by the fire of our cannon and muskets, the impact of the bombs and stones and the blows of our swords that they lost more men than in any episode since the beginning of the siege. In this sector the whole ground was covered with the bodies of our dead enemies. Our brave protagonists of the True Faith managed to take twenty-one heads, and were duly rewarded by the grand vizier. (Kara Mustafa, 1960, 100)

The assault was beaten off (though you would hardly believe it from the description which has just been given) and the Turks reverted to formal siegework, pushing saps from either side of the Burg-Ravelin against the curtain behind.

The massive charge of the Polish winged lancer-hussars which terrified the Ottoman troops and decided the Battle of Vienna. The wings made a terrifying sound as the Polish hussars came charging down the mountainside.

It is doubtful whether Vienna could have survived these last critical days without signs that help was at hand. On the night of 7-8 September signal rockets soared from the Vienna Woods to the west, and on the following days the observers in the tower of St Stephen’s Cathedral saw the cavalry of a Christian army of relief skirmishing in the plain around Vienna. By now the Austrian field forces had been joined by the 21,000 troops of King John III Sobieski of Poland, and by contingents from Saxony, Bavaria and other German states, which together amounted to a respectable army of nearly 68,000 men. Finally on 12 September the Christian force came storming down from the Vienna Woods ‘like a herd of maddened swine’ (Kara Mustafa, 1960, 108).

The Turkish army was already worn down by sixty days of combat before Vienna, and it was further weakened on the day of battle by Kara Mustafa’s decision to leave 10-15,000 troops in the trenches. The Turks were heavily defeated, and they streamed away to the east, spurred on their way by a sortie from Vienna.

Suleiman II made the last serious threat toward Habsburg territories in 1690, but his defeat at Szalankemen in 1691 and at Zenta in 1697 ended that endeavor. In January 1699 the two powers signed the Treaty of Karlowitz, which ceded Hungary to Austria and left the Turks in control of Serbia. The defeat of the Turkish invasions served to consolidate Habsburg control in central and southeast Europe, but also stopped Islam from expanding past the Balkans. The Catholics and Protestants had more than their share of struggles, but Christianity in one form or another would remain the religion of most of Europe. Hungary, under Habsburg rule, was later incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but the ethnic struggles of the myriad populations of that region simmered under Habsburg control, and to a great extent, continue to this day.

References Barker, Thomas M. Double Eagle and Crescent: Vienna’s Second Turkish Siege and Its Historical Setting. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1967. Hoskins, Janina. Victory at Vienna: The Ottoman Siege of 1683, a Historical Essay and a Select Group of Readings. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1983. Kinross, Lord [John Patrick]. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: William Morrow, 1977. Murphey, Rhoads. Ottoman Warfare, 1500–1700. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999. Stoye, John. The Siege of Vienna. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1965.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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