Battle of Vienna

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Karl von Blaas (1815–1894): The Defence of Vienna against the Turks 1683, painting from around 1865 with a wounded but resolute Feldzeugmeister (artillery general) of the Imperial Army and Kommandant of the Viennese garrison Ernst Rüdiger Graf von Starhemberg[1] in the center.

The Battle of Vienna occurred when the Turks under their Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha besieged the imperial city (Reichshauptstadt) Vienna from 11th July to 12th September 1683. The victory at Vienna set the stage for the German reconquest of Hungary and (temporarily) some of the Balkan lands in the following years by Louis of Baden, Maximilian Emmanuel of Bavaria (Maximilian II. Emanuel von Bayern) and Prince Eugene of Savoy (de). The Ottomans fought on for another 16 years, losing control of Hungary and Transylvania in the process before finally desisting. The Holy Roman Empire signed the Treaty of Karlowitz with the Ottoman Empire in 1699. The battle marked the historic end of Ottoman imperial expansion into Europe.


Map showing Ottoman territorial losses 1683-1718 after the failed Siege of Vienna and the Roman-German and Venetian counter-offensive (first major Ottoman territorial losses after centuries of expansion and conquest). By 1699, large parts of Hungary and Transylvania had been recaptured. Brandon J. Bates writes:

The main body of the Ottoman army was decimated and any hope that the Turks had of further European conquest was shattered. This pivotal battle not only marked the end of Ottoman territorial expansion in Europe, but also the beginning of what was to be a long decline of the Ottoman Empire, the end of which would not come until 1920 at the council tables of Sévres.[2]
Karl (V.) Herzog von Lothringen (de), the "conqueror of the Turks" (Türkensieger)[3]
Identitarian Patriots of Europe in 2017 celebrating the Battle of Kahlenberg in 1683 and the deliverance from the Islamic threat after the 2nd Turkish siege Türkenbelagerung (the first siege of Vienna was 1529).

When the Ottoman army reached Györ (German: Raab), starting from Szekesfehervar (Stuhlweißenburg), on 1 July, fear in Vienna escalated. Roman-German Emperor Leopold escaped from the city to Passau (Bavaria). 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 (de) 20,000 Austrians, the allied army numbered over 66,600. The Duke of Lorraine, although cursed with a pockmarked face and a limp leg, his proven combat history against both the Turks and the French, his personal courage, humility, and charm gained everyone’s affection and admiration. On Lorraine’s recommendation, Supreme Command was given to Sobieski, King of Poland. Sobieski, held the highest rank and had demonstrated his valor and skill by defeating the Turks at Khocizm in 1673. Albeit past his prime and so fat that he was unable to mount his horse without assistance, Sobieski nevertheless retained a sharp mind and, decked out in luxurious garb and armor, still looked like a charismatic commander-in-chief. 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.[4]

After the vanguards of the Ottoman army reached the city on July 13, the army under Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha's command reached the city walls of Vienna with a four-hour walk on July 14. When the Viennese did not surrender, the siege started. Facing the army of the Ottoman Empire with c. 200,000 men[5] stood within and without the city the army of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation made up of Austrians, Bavarians, Saxons and Franks under Margrave Louis of Baden (Ludwig Wilhelm I. Markgraf von Baden-Baden). The Viennese garrison with c 15,000 soldiers, 8,700 volunteers and 370 cannons was led by Feldzeugmeister of the Imperial Army (de) Ernst Rüdiger Graf von Starhemberg (de). A stalemate had developed. The arrival of the relief forces, 50,000–60,000 Germans and an additional contingent of cavalry,[6] but also infantry (15,000–20,000 men[7][8]) from Poland under King John Sobieski (who thus became the senior commander in the field), tipped the balance and the Turks were defeated.[9] The Ottomans suffered heavy losses (during the siege of Vienna, 20,000 Turks fell, and another 15,000 to 40,000, depending on the source, fell at the Battle of Kahlenberg) and were severely weakened. However, during the siege, the inhabitants of 44 % of the houses in Vienna and Lower Austria had been killed, 30,000 Christians were executed in captivity by Ottomans. The Coalition of Christians established the Holy League under Pope Innocent XI to further push back the Ottomans.

The Ottomans had 130 field guns and 19 medium-calibre cannon, insufficient in the face of the defenders' 370 cannon. Mining tunnels were dug under the massive city walls to blow them up with substantial quantities of black powder. According to Andrew Wheatfield, the outer palisade was around 150 years old and mostly rotten so the defenders set to work knocking very large tree trunks into the ground to surround the walls. This seriously disrupted the Ottoman plan adding almost another three weeks to the time to get past the old palisade. This combined with the delay in advancing their army after declaring war, eventually allowed a Polish relief force to arrive in September. Historians have speculated that Kara Mustafa wanted to take the city intact with its riches, and that he declined an all-out attack, not wishing to activate the right of plunder which would accompany an assault. The Ottoman siege cut virtually every means of food supply into Vienna. Fatigue became so common that Graf Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg ordered any soldier found asleep on watch to be shot. Increasingly desperate, the forces holding Vienna were on their last legs when, in August, Imperial forces under Charles V, Duke of Lorraine defeated Imre Thököly of Hungary at Bisamberg, 5 km north-west of Vienna. [...] The King of Poland Jan III Sobieski prepared a relief expedition to Vienna during the summer of 1683, so honouring his obligations to the treaty. He left his own nation virtually undefended when departing from Kraków on 15 August. Sobieski covered this with a stern warning to Imre Thököly, the leader of Hungary, whom he threatened with destruction if he tried to take advantage of the situation — which Thököly in fact attempted. Jan Kazimierz Sapieha the Younger delayed the march of the Lithuanian army, devastating the Hungarian Highlands (now Slovakia) instead, and arrived in Vienna only after it had been relieved. Immediately, tensions rose between Poland and the various German states, above all Austria, over the relief of the city. Payment of troops' wages and supplies while marching was predominant among these. Sobieski demanded that he should not have to pay for his march to Vienna, since it was by his efforts that the city had been saved; nor could the Viennese neglect the other German troops who had marched. The Habsburg leadership hurriedly found as much money as possible to pay for these and arranged deals with the Polish to limit their costs. The main Ottoman army finally laid siege to Vienna on 14 July. On the same day, Kara Mustafa sent the traditional demand for surrender to the city. [...]
On 6 September, the Poles under Jan III Sobieski crossed the Danube 30 km north-west of Vienna at Tulln, to unite with the Imperial troops and the additional forces from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia. Louis XIV of France declined to help his Habsburg rival, having just annexed Alsace. [...] The confederated troops signalled their arrival on the Kahlenberg above Vienna with bonfires. Before the battle a Mass was celebrated for the King of Poland and his nobles. The battle started before all units were fully deployed. At 4:00 am on 12 September 1683, the Ottomans attacked, seeking to interfere with the deployment of the Holy League troops. The Germans were the first to strike. Charles of Lorraine moved forward with the Imperial army on the left, with the other Holy Roman Imperial forces in the centre and, after heavy fighting and multiple Turkish counter-attacks, took several key positions, especially the fortified villages of Nussdorf and Heiligenstadt. By noon, the Imperial army had already severely mauled the Turks and had come close to break through. Though shattered, the Ottoman army did not crumble at that moment. [...] In the early afternoon, a large battle started on the other side of the battlefield as the Polish infantry advanced on the Ottoman right flank. Instead of concentrating on the battle with the relief army, the Ottomans continued their efforts to force their way into the city.:152 Hence, the Poles could make good progress and by 4:00 pm, they had the village of Gersthof, which would serve as a base for their massive cavalry charge. The Ottomans were in a desperate position, between the Polish forces and the imperials. Charles of Lorraine and Sobieski both decided on their own to resume the offensive and finish off their enemy. The imperials resumed the offensive on the left front at 3:30 pm. At first, they encountered a fierce resistance and were stopped. This did not last long, however, and by 5:00 pm, they had made further gains and taken the villages of Unterdöbling and Oberdöbling. They were now very close to the central Turkish position (the "Türkenschanze"). As they were preparing to storm it, they could see the Polish cavalry in action. [...] The allies were now ready for the last blow. At around 6:00 pm, the Polish king ordered the cavalry attack in four groups, three Polish and one from the Holy Roman Empire. Eighteen thousand horsemen charged down the hills, the largest cavalry charge in history.:152 Jan III Sobieski led the charge at the head of 3,000 Polish heavy lancers, the famed "Winged Hussars". The Lipka Tatars who fought on the Polish side wore a sprig of straw in their helmets to distinguish themselves from the Tatars fighting on the Ottoman side. The charge easily broke the lines of the Ottomans, who were exhausted and demoralised and soon started to flee the battlefield. The cavalry headed straight for the Ottoman camps and Kara Mustafa's headquarters, while the remaining Viennese garrison sallied out of its defences to join in the assault. The Ottoman troops were tired and dispirited following the failure of both the attempt at sapping and the assault on the city and the advance of the Holy League infantry on the Turkenschanz. The cavalry charge was one last deadly blow. Less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna. The first Christian officer who entered Vienna was Margrave Ludwig of Baden, at the head of his dragoons. At one point during the battle, Kara Mustafa panicked and ordered the execution of 30,000 Christian hostages.[10]

Strength and strategy of the defenders

A total of 13,015 men were deployed within the Viennese garrison as of 10 September 1683: 10,600 infantry, 600 cuirassiers and 1,815 citizens' militia in 8 companies (stocked up to 5,000 militia and volunteers shortly before the battle). Soldiers, projectiles and powder could still be brought to the city by ship across the Danube at the last moment. The garrison had 312 cannons (only 141 operational as of 10 September 1683), stocked up to 370 shortly before the battle.

The Polish contingent was made up of 10,000 to 14,000 horsemen (mainly hussars), 7,000 to 10,000 foot soldiers and 28 field guns. These numbers are questionable, so-called paper numbers, and vary depending on the source and ideological intention, other estimates (Polish sources) state up to 27,000 Poles. Given that Poland had almost exhausted herself in endless wars, notably the First Northern War, first against Russia, and then Sweden, it seems unlikely they could have mustered significant numbers to march all the way to Vienna. The Polish cavalry also consisted of seven Zaporozhian Cossack detachments (3,000 men) recruited by Pope Innocent XI for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, they were so similar to the Tatar horsemen in the Ottoman army in terms of clothing and weaponry that Sobieski is said to have recommended them on the morning of the Battle of Kahlenberg (12 September 1683) to tie bundles of straw to their armor (arms, helmets) so as not to be mistaken for enemies. Louis XIV of France declined to help the Empire, having just annexed Alsace. The Pope also supplied money: The Roman-German Emperor Leopold I received one million guilders from him and Sobieski half a million guilders.

47,000 to 50,000 Germans belonged to the coalition (later the Holy League):

  • The Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire (8,100 infantry, 12,900 cavalry, 70 field cannons)
  • The new standing army of the Electorate of Bavaria (7,500 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, 26 field cannons)
  • Armies of the Southwest German principalities of Franconia, the Swabian Circle,[11] Upper Principality of Hesse (Oberhessen) and Duchy of Lorraine (7,000 infantry, 2,500 cavalry, 12 field cannons)
  • Army of the Electorate of Saxony (7,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, 16 field cannons)

Some were left behind to guard bridges at Tulln and Lager, plus 2,000 Imperial cavalry (not listed above) were left behind behind the Danube as an iron reserve. These troops stood against up to 200,000 (80,000 of them military supply train or Tross) and even 300,000 Ottomans (combatants and military supply train).[12][13][14] Other estimates are 150,000 to 170,000 Ottomans as of 10 September 1683, 120,000 Ottomans were at the Battle of Kahlenberg Mountain near Vienna on 12 September 1683.

At two o'clock in the night from 11 to 12 September 1683, Italian volunteers under Imperial commander Carlo di San Martino, Marchese di Parella defeated the weak Ottomans at the Leopoldsberg and Kahlenberg. Afterwards, the "Giauren" (Turkish: condescending to non-believers) occupied the heights of the Kahlengebirge. The battle started before all units were fully deployed. At 4:00 am on 12 September, the Ottomans attacked, seeking to interfere with the deployment of the defending troops. The Germans were the first to strike back. Duke Charles of Lorraine (Karl Herzog von Lothringen) moved forward with the Imperial Army on the left and other imperial forces in the center. The Imperial infantry marched with artillery support from the Leopoldsberg and Kahlenberg. The Saxons under John George III came through the Wildgrube and over the Krapfenwaldl. Simultaneously Saxon and Polish dragoons stormed against the Ottoman defenders of the Kahlenberg village. The cavalry finally succeeded in conquering the village with great losses. Around 10 a.m. Imperial troops were already on the Nußberg. An Ottoman counterattack was launched and repelled. In Nußdorf, a costly fight developed for every ruined house, every Wine cellar and every alley. Finally, Nußdorf was freed by Imperial troops. The Saxons took over Grinzing and the hotly contested town of Heiligenstadt.

After heavy fighting and multiple Ottoman counterattacks, the Germans took several key positions. By noon, the Imperial Army had already severely mauled the Ottomans and come close to a breakthrough. Coming from the Hermannskogel and Vogelsangberg the Franks, Swabians, Upper Hessian and Bavarians under the Prince Georg Friedrich von Waldeck advanced towards Latisberg (Cobenzl) and Pfaffenberg. At one o'clock in the afternoon Sievering could be taken without much resistance. Jabłonowski's troops immediately countered from Exelberg towards Neuwaldegg and Dornbach and expelled the Tartars from the Wilhelminenberg. Around 3,000 riders secured the right flank of the allies against the Wiental.

At 1 p.m. – after bitter hand-to-hand fighting – then the first break. The sight of the banners of the Polish horsemen gave new momentumto the German troops who had been fighting since the early hours of the morning (although many German commander were angry, the Poles had lingered so very long), and at the same time the Turks became aware of the impending danger. The attack of 15 thousand Tatars, which was bloodily repulsed, formed the prelude. Kara Mustafa then quickly began to divert his forces to the threatened flank.[15]

By four o'clock in the afternoon the Poles and Germans were ready for a cavalry attack. Dragoons from the Schulz regiments, Count Rebate's cuirassiers, the Saxon units advanced. However, Sobieski first wanted to inspect the terrain to make sure that the Turks had not prepared any traps and sent Prince Aleksander's hussar banner for a test attack, followed by two more banners led by Stanisław Potocki. Casualties were significant, Potocki fell in battle. However, the attack showed that the attack, assisted by the troops of Prince von Waldeck, could be rated as promising. At 5 p.m. the Turkish front line collapses; at the last moment the Christian prisoners are killed or maimed. The city's defenders tracked down and killed 600 Turkish miners and janissaries. At 10 o'clock in the evening the last shot was fired; Vienna was liberated.

Numismatist and author Johann Newald (1817–1886) wrote in his respected standard work Beiträge zur Geschichte der Belagerung von Wien durch die Türken im Jahre 1683 (published by Kubasta & Voigt, Wien 1883) how Sobieski's share of the victory was completely exaggerated and glorified by the Poles:

"The fact is that the left wing of the relief army came into action early in the morning of 12 September, and, amid heavy fighting, drove the enemy out of all positions, so that victory was as much as decided when the right wing [i.e. the Poles with their king], at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, only moved into the line of battle. […] No one will want to belittle the importance of Polish aid for the rescue of Vienna in the slightest. But the efforts that want to make people believe that Vienna owes its salvation only to the Poles must be countered with the truth. […] The honor of the day went to the Duke of Lorraine."

Finally, after the victory over the Ottoman troops, Sobieski's spontaneous entry into Vienna, without waiting for the Roman-German Emperor, caused a serious rift between Leopold I and the Polish king. Later, the Allies were prevented from entering the city, and disagreements arose over the distribution of the spoils.[16]

On 25 December 1683, Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, having arrived in Belgrade on the retreat, was strangled on the Sultan's (Mehmed IV) orders with a silk cord. The defeat of the Ottoman Army outside the gates of Vienna is regarded as the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. Not only was further Ottoman advance on Christian territories stopped, but in the following war that lasted up to 1698 almost all of Hungary was reconquered by the army of Roman-German Emperor Leopold I. From 1683, the Ottoman Turks ceased to be a menace to the Christian world. With Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden-Baden (de), the "Turkish Louis", and Prince Eugene of Savoy (de), Emperor Leopold I also gained experienced generals who were able to stabilize what had been won and thus lay the foundation for the reincarnation of the great power of the Empire.

External links

In German


  1. Count von Starhemberg (1638–1701) was a proven military leader in the wars against the French and Turks under Raimund Fürst von Montecuccoli since the 1660s. In 1674 he was promoted to Generalfeldwachtmeister, in 1675 to field marshal lieutenant (Feldmarschall-Leutnant), in 1680 to Vienna city commander and colonel of the city guards and in 1682 to Feldzeugmeister. In gratitude for the rescue of Vienna, Count von Starhemberg was appointed field marshal (Feldmarschall) by the Roman-German Emperor Leopold and received the dignity of Minister of State and Conference as well as the right to use the Stephansturm in his coat of arms.
  2. The Beginning of the End: The Failure of the Siege of Vienna of 1683 (2003)
  3. Franz Pesendorfer: Der Türkensieger Karl V. und sein Kampf um Lothringen (1675-1690), in "Lothringen und seine Herzöge", 1994, p. 139–158
  4. The Battle of Vienna: 17th century campaign still affecting modern European politics
  5. Zweite Türkenbelagerung (1683)
  6. When John III Sobieski (1674-96) raised an army to help fight the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, his troops were accumulated very slowly from amongst the feudal noble cavalry, foreign mercenaries, and the infantry of the Crown Armt. A feature of Polish armies was their preponderance of cavalry, recruited from the ubiquitous nobility, instead of cheaper and more flexible infantry. By the early eighteenth century the ratio was as high as four horsemen to each foot soldier, when most European armies enjoyed an inverse proportion.
  7. Battle of Vienna – Decisive Christian Coalition victory
  8. In: Peter Broucek, Walter Leitsch, Karl Vocelka, Jan Wimmer, Zbigniew Wojcik: Der Sieg bei Wien 1683. Österreichischer Bundesverlag, Wien 1983 10,000 infanterie and 14,000 cavalry from Poland-Lithuania are claimed.
  9. Baedeker, Karl, Austria-Hungary, 10th revised edition, Leipzig & London, 1905, p.13.
  10. Battle of Vienna
  11. The Circle of Swabia or Swabian Imperial Circle (German: Schwäbischer Reichskreis) was an Imperial Circle of the Holy Roman Empire established in 1500 on the territory of the former German stem-duchy of Swabia (today part of Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland). However, it did not include the Habsburg home territories of Swabian Austria, the member states of the Swiss Confederacy nor the lands of the Alsace region west of the Rhine, which belonged to the Upper Rhenish Circle. The directors of the Swabian Circle were the Bishop of Constance and the Duke of Württemberg. As of 1792 the Swabian Circle consisted of 88 territories, of which only the Duchy (later Kingdom) of Württemberg, the Margraviate (later Grand Duchy) of Baden and the Bishopric of Augsburg were of any significance.
  12. Harbottle, Thomas (1905): Dictionary of Battles, E.P. Sutton & Co, p. 262.
  13. Clare, Israel (1876): The Centennial Universal History: A Clear and Concise History of All Nations, with a Full History of the United States to the Close of the First 100 Years of Our National Independence, J. C. McCurdy & Co., p. 252
  14. Drane, Augusta (1858): The Knights of st. John: with The battle of Lepanto and Siege of Vienna, Burns and Lambert, p. 136.
  15. Johannes Sowa: Die Schlacht am Kahlenberg vor 333 Jahren, January 2017
  16. Von König Sobieski & den Jag(i)ellonen