Siege of Vienna – Charge of the Winged Hussars – Extra History – #3


Each night for a week, a group of artillerymen climbed the tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. There they fire rocket after rocket, signaling their dire situation to the relief army they hoped was coming. Each day brought them closer to starvation, And each night they fought desperate battles in the moat by light of tar flames. But this night, a sparking rocket answers in the hills… the cavalry has arrived! (Extra History- Birth of the People) As the Defenders of Vienna fought their desperate defense, Emperor Leopold struggled to cobble together enough allies to relieve the city, because there was a problem in the Holy Roman Empire. See, it wasn’t an empire in the same way the Ottoman Empire was, Leopold couldn’t just call up troops. Instead, he had to convince the Imperial state that it was in their interest to help him. And that took money, and money was a problem. Because despite their opulence, the Habsburgs were chronically short on cash. (nice pantaloons) To get King John Sobieski of Poland-Lithuania to maintain his treaty obligations, He had to agree to fund the Polish relief force during all its operations outside of Poland, And therefore he was basically tapped out. Luckily, Leopold had an ally, Pope Innocent the Ninth, whose pet project was reconquering Catholic territory in Eastern Europe. That was his “pet project”? Really??? I mean some people crochet, or bowl, or… I don’t you know, you know what? Who am I to judge? The Pope poured vast amounts of money into Leopold’s war chest, while spinning up a 17th century PR campaign to tout the relief of Vienna as a holy war. A decisive moment in the battle between Christianity and Islam. But not everyone was buying it, After all, Europe was stretched from the horrors of the 30 Years War, Where the Habsburgs had mercilessly slaughtered Protestants. And the biggest skeptic of this campaign was “Louis XIV of France”, Who pointedly ignored the pope’s call to join his new Holy League. Because, h e h h e h, of course, he did! The Habsburgs were Louie’s main political rival. He was actually encroaching on their western border So if they had to redirect troops to the east, huh, good (delightfully devilish). With France opting out of the Holy League, OOOOOOOOOOF Leopold turned to the states of the Holy Roman Empire, the ones that would be next if Vienna fell, Bavaria, Franconia, and even Protestant Saxony signed up, But coalition warfare is… complicated. First, these armies need time to form. Second, they move slow. It was mid August by the time they marched, and by then the commanders were riven over the questions that always crop up in coalition warfare, “Who would lead?” Leopold wanted to redeem himself after his embarrassing flight from Vienna, but everyone knew that was a bad idea, So Sobieski prevailed! Now, with that decided who would use which road cross? Which bridge? Enter towns first to gain the honor of the populace, And when they finally meet the ottomans in battle, who would command the right flank? Because everyone knows that role was always given to the most important person. Oh and cannons! They were dividing all those “equally” right? Every move was a conversation, councils and protocol feasts dragged long Things only began to shake out, when Lorraine, who had just finished turning back an Ottoman reinforcement army, met up with the Holy League command. Likable and suave, he proved the key ingredient in smoothing ruffled feathers and flattering big egos, He got everyone on the same page. Finally there was a plan, September 12th midnight Inside Vienna, defenders could see bonfires in the woods. The relief army had arrived! And Kara Mustafa knew he’d been betrayed Reports said Crimean Tartars that were to be his rearguard, had not engaged the relief force But even now he stubbornly refused to give up Vienna. As he marshaled to meet the Holy League, He kept a large force of his best troops, his Janissaries and elite cavalry in front of the walls. After all, he thought, this Holy League was nothing to fear. His army was large and far better trained. He wouldn’t be distracted from the real prize. He would attack the relief force and the city simultaneously. The relief force outnumbered him, but he’d fortified a line of towns that forced the holy League to attack over bad ground. The terrain favored his light horseman. Then, at 4:00 am, he began harassing the far end of the Holy league’s line. Arrows flew, Long-ranged Janissary muskets coughed dirty smoke. Kara Mustafa had chosen his moment well, The enemy was still deploying, their troops not in position, and they took the bait. The Germans began moving down from the heights, firing back ragged volleys, Lorraine galloped forward trying to call them back, The left wing of the holy leagues line had entered battle prematurely, And, to his shock, the center was following them… They couldn’t move in a solid formation over the rough slope, instead, breaking them into little knots of men. Things were in chaos. In the broken ground around the valley, cut by Hills ridges and gullies, There was no way to keep command of an entire force. the farmlands that looked like neat fields on the map, were in fact vineyards. Their trellises provided obstacles that broke up the advance. All the while, Ottoman troops rained fire from each village. The Allied army moved forward in pieces, assaulting the strong points. Ottoman cavalry rushed the gaps in the ranks of the advancing infantry Holy League artillery unlimbered and opened fire… Cohesion disappeared in both armies, units fought not in coordination, but as individual companies Cavalry intermixed with infantry, dirty smoke blanketed the battlefield hiding both friend and foe. Fortress towns changed hands in attack and counter-attack. Lorraine galloped to the line, yelling at the men to close up, trying to keep some semblance of order and seal gaps. The day was sweltering, the hottest anyone could remember. Weapons became hot to the touch, and hours of firing left men’s faces blackened from gunpowder. Sweat drew clear channels through the grime… By noon, the Holy League had captured two major towns and began to press forward toward a high bluff where the Banner of the Prophet, The symbol of the Ottoman headquarters, flew. But where were the poles? Sobieski’s cavalry force had been the last to arrive in the heights of the previous night, making camp in darkness. and had yet to join the battle. In the early afternoon, Holy League infantrymen looked to their right and saw enormous plumes of dust rising above the ridge. The Polish cavalry was making its way slowly, Down to the flat ground where they could let loose. While in Vienna, men defended the wooden palisades they directed to cover the gaps in the wall. Ottoman attackers had tried to spring several mines, but desperate sallying parties swamped and diffused them at the last minute, Vienna was holding, but only barely… Outside the armies started to tire but, the League troops were fresh while the Ottomans were demoralized. Having spent two months in the meat grinder of siege warfare and camp diseases, some of the levies were starting to desert. AND THEN, the Polish heavy cavalry exited the forest The league’s infantry greeted them with cheers. The Winged Hussars had finally arrived ready to smash directly into the enemy camp, But it takes a great deal of time to draw up thousands of cavalry Lance’s horses and men and plate armor are no good unless they move forward in a block. Sobieski wanted to gauge their effectiveness, So he picked a hundred and twenty men to charge immediately as a vanguard, not many would come back, but it could hit the ottomans before they could mass forces to counter this new threat. The contingent powered forward. Wooden wings on the back of their horses clattering, Frightening the enemy mounts. And at the last moment, their lances dipped… and they plowed into the Ottoman line, carving a hole in their ranks. Dropping their shattered lances, they laid in with long swords and pistols. On the high ground, Kara Mustafa saw the Winged Hussar strike deep into his ranks. It was over. Once a larger cavalry formed, they could strike into his camp, cut him off from both Vienna and his retreat into Hungary. So, he retired. Escaping with the Banner of the Prophet, and his personal treasury, while dispatching messages for men in the trenches to abandon their positions. He did not want to witness. What would come next… The Holy League generals conferred, the infantry had won the day. The only question now was, whether to finish the Ottomans or wait until morning. They decided to finish them and Sobieski would land the killing blow. The king led the vanguard personally, 3,000 Winged Hussars charged down from the heights, with 15,000 lighter polish and german cavalry behind. The largest cavalry charge in history, seemed to turn the valley black The Lancers crashed into the rapidly dissolving Turkish defense then carried on with their four-foot swords. Those behind swung axes and maces, catching anyone unlucky enough to try and cover the armies retreat. This wasn’t so much of a fight as it was a rout, the Polish and German cavalry swept through the fleeing Ottomans. Plunging into their abandoned camp and there they reigned in gorging themselves on the greatest spoils of the campaign. They looted diamonds and gold and set barrels of gunpowder alight for the sheer elation of watching them explode They would loot the Turkish camp for a week! Meanwhile, the German units reached the Ottoman trench works clearing them and taking the remaining Ottoman engineers prisoner. Not quite the same as finding diamonds for a week, but whatever (j-e-alous). Vienna had been relieved, and a new alliance formed. Over the next 16 years, this holy League would strike deep into Eastern Europe, Bringing Hungary and part of the Balkans back into the Habsburg sphere. And though no one knew it at the time, the Battle of Vienna would mark the turning point in the Ottoman expansion into Europe. Paving the way for the Austro-hungarian Empire and Kara Mustafa for his part was executed for his failure. The Habsburgs and Ottomans continued to fight for centuries, each Kingdom mirroring the other’s decline. And in a final act of irony, which is a story for another time, They would in fact die together fighting on the same side (Best Bros) Their interests linked by the same geography they’d created in a war so long ago, A long ago battle “The Siege of Vienna”. (Extra Credits Outro- A Distant Enemy)

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