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The Turning Point On The Danube 1664-Vol.17 & 18

Vol.17, No.6 May - June 1994

The Turning Point On The Danube, Part I, 1664

by Gwynne Jones

IN the third quarter of the 17th Century, the armies of West and Central Europe were moving decisively from their previous character of tumultuous and often mutinous hordes of miscellaneous mercenaries, (such as plagued Germany, France, Italy and Spain between the 1620's and 1650's), and were becoming recognizable as the models for the strictly disciplined professionals of the 18th Century. In the same period, weaponry went through some decisive changes. A soldier beginning his career in the 1660s, (like, for example, John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough), would do so among a soldiery armed with pikes and matchlocks. If he lived long enough, he would end his days with infantry uniformly equipped with flint-lock muskets and detachable bayonets. Already, infantry armour, worn by the pikemen, comprising about 1/3 to 1/2 of the foot-soldiery, had disappeared by 1660, and the number of pikes reduced. In an age when firearms were becoming more and more numerous and pikemen fewer and less armoured, how were the shot-men with the arquebuses, cavaliers and matchlocks to be protected from hand-to-hand fighting men?

From Spanish film "Alatriste" 2006

NOWHERE was this problem greater than in the Danube theatre of war. There, the Turkish soldiery, though skilled marksmen with matchlocks and bows, excelled and prided themselves, above all, in their mastery of hand-to-hand fighting, especially in swordsmanship. Their main opponents were the soldiers of the Habsburg Kaiser, Holy Roman Emperor, whose dynasty ruled lands in Austria, Julian Venice (Trieste)[1], current day Slovenia, a portion of Croatia, Moravia and Slovakia, and who tried to liberate Hungary from the Turks. The Emperor's troops (the Kaiserlichen) were commanded, in the 1660s, by an experienced general, Field Marshal Count Raimondo Montecuccoli, a minor noble from North Italy. It was part of his lasting legacy to the Habsburgs that he established a regular army for what was perhaps the poorest and least efficiently governed of the great powers. In the early 1660s, however, the Kaiserlichen were probably well behind the troops of France Sweden and the Netherlands, and possibly behind those of Brandenburg, England and Savoy. Yet it was in 1664 that in a testing battle the Emperor's men, with aid from other rulers, broke the chain of Turkish victories on land and the myth of Turkish invincibility.

THE circumstances of the campaign leading to this battle, an account of the battle itself, and eyewitness descriptions of the way in which the Western Christian soldiery, armed as they were at that time, faced and fought the Sultan's warriors in a contest between ferocity and science, i.e., parade-ground drill, and the discipline and manoeuvrability given by drill. All these I propose to make the subject of future contributions.

Vol.18, No.1 July-August  1994


by Gwynne Jones

FOR two centuries after the catastrophic Hungarian defeat at Mohacs, in 1522, put Hungary under the control of the Ottoman Turks, the Austrian rulers, the Habsburgs, tried unsuccessfully, in many great wars, to gain control of the whole of the old Hungarian kingdom. At least they held on to part of the whole: Upper Hungary, (now called Slovakia), plus a strip of Western Hungary, (now the province of Burgenland, in Austria), and, last, Croatia, a subordinate kingdom ruled by and joined to Hungary for over nine hundred years (up to 1918). The constant warfare practically depopulated much of Hungary; of the surviving Hungarians, divided in religion and politics, many did not support the Habsburg ruler, the Kaiser (Emperor) of the Holy Roman Empire[2] (of the German nation). Peasants often refused food to Habsburg troops, or, even disguised themselves as Turks and attacked them. The Hungarian nobles (those who were Calvinists) often sympathised more with the Turks than the Catholic Habsburgs. All nobles and bishops, however, were legally bound to give military service with their followers, and in great crisis the whole manhood of the Hungarian lands, (insofar as they were in Habsburg control), could be conscripted in the so-called 'Insurrection'.

THE origin of Kaiser Leopold I first Turkish war was in 1661, when in Transylvania, (a former great province of Hungary, then, at this time, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire), the Prince appointed by the Sultan was deposed by the nobles and executed by his successor who was supported by Kaiser Leopold. The Ottomans had been involved in long wars with the Iranians and the Venetians, but they had recently taken up again their old, aggressive, Western policy, so Leopold's meddling was a welcome challenge. Another provocation was Count Niklas Zrinyi, Ban (Governor) of Croatia, building a fortress on the River Mur as a gateway for his plundering raids into Turkish territory.[3]

IN early Spring 1663, Ahmed Kuprulu - an energetic 27-year-old, Grand Vizier of the Sultan since November of the previous year, had the horsetail standards raised and the Sultan's army assembled on the plain of Belgrade, while throughout the Ottoman Empire the call to Holy War came from the minarets and the mosques. Koprulu advanced into Upper Hungary with 100,000 men. Kaiser Leopold could muster only 28,000, mostly as garrisons to fortresses. Field-Marshal Count Raimondo Montecuccoli had barely 12,000 regulars for field operations, with 15,000 of dubious value from the Insurrection under Ban Zrinyi. Inevitably, the Kaiserlichen (Kaiser's men) could not prevent the loss of the fortresses of Neutra, Lewencz, Freistadt and Novigrad, plus, worst of all, of Neuhausel, a stepping-off place for the attack on Vienna. The Ottomans then retired to their winter quarters in Belgrade and the Southern Hungarian fortresses, being roughly handled by Zrinyi and his forces in the process.

KAISER Leopold now called for help from the Reich, (the Holy Roman Empire of which he was the constitutional head) and from all Europe. The Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648, and in which Montecuccoli and others learned their trade, had caused the almost complete political disintegration of the Reich, or Holy Roman Empire, and the Kaiser's real power now devolved from his own hereditary lands, whereas the virtually sovereign German princes of the Reich had their own independent foreign policies, often against, and only by coincidence ever in the Kaiser's interests. However, the princes and estates of the Reich were bound constitutionally to help the Kaiser if the Turkish attacks entered the Reich, spilling over from Hungary (which was not part of the Reich). This had happened in 1663, with raids into Moravia and Silesia. Besides, Neuhausel in Turkish hands was an ominous threat of serious invasion of German (Austrian) lands.

KAISER Leopold got the Pope to summon Louis XIV of France, the Spanish King, the Italian and German Catholic princes to support him "for the preservation of the Faith." A little of the old Crusading spirit was still alive. The Reichstag was summoned in February 1662, but negotiations dragged on for months. The Pope and the Spanish King gave Leopold a good deal of money and war materiel, especially gun-powder; the greatest of the German princes, the Electors of Bavaria, Brandenburg and Saxony - the last two Protestants, offered troops even before the Reichstag came to a decision. The Rhenish Alliance (West German provinces allied to France) promised 5,000 foot and 2,000 horse, and Louis XIV himself - hereditary enemy of the Habsburgs - actually sent the Kaiser, in April 1664, 4,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry, the latter including many French nobles. Finally, in February 1664, the Reichstag decreed a Reich's army of 30,000 men.

MEANWHILE, of Leopold's vassals in Hungary, the Batthyany magnates and others of the pro-Habsburg faction, raised regiments of Hussars and Heyduks. The Kaiser's own army, the Kaiserlichen, comprised of 21 infantry regiments, 14 heavy cavalry regiments (Kurassier-Koritzer), four dragoon regiments and a regiment of mounted Croats. Its authorized strength was 62,000, but there were only 36,000 foot and 15,000 horse, many in fortress garrisons.

THE Kaiser's Commander-in-Chief, Montecuccoli, would also be in command of the whole coalition army. Underneath him, the Rhenish Alliance corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General Count Hohenloe; Count Coligny and the Duke de la Feuillade commanded the French corps, and the Reich's army was under Count Waldeck. Already, in the winter of 1663-4, Hohenloe's Alliance corps had started for Hungary, but the rest of the coalition allies could not arrive before Spring or Summer 1664.

AN army from so many peoples and states - Habsburg subjects (Germans from Austria and Silesia, Czechs from Bohemia and Moravia, Slovaks, Magyars and Croats), French, Italians and even Swedes (from Pomerania!) had much mutual mistrust and built-in disunity. Quite the opposite was the Ottoman army: their leadership was unified, their obedience absolute. The Janissaries and the Spahis had warlike ferocity and religious fanaticism, as well as great dexterity with their weapons. Their discipline made them a better instrument than either the mercenary bands of the recent European past, or the raw recruits in many of the coalition's regiments.

THE Christian campaign plan was unnecessarily and dangerously complicated. Instead of the general central advance on the Danube proposed by Montecuccoli, the Kaiser's war council divided the not very great forces into three armies, each with different goals. The South army on the River Mur, 16,900 men, consisted of all the Alliance Germans, including the Bavarians, as well as the French, the Croats, most of the Hungarians and a small part of the Kaiserlichen. Under Count Peter Strozzi and Ban Zrinyi, it was to take the fortress of Gross-Kanizsa. The main army of the centre, 28,000 men under Montecuccoli, consisted of most of the Kaiserlichen, the Reich's army and more Hungarians. It was to advance along the Danube, from Ungarisch-Altenburg. The North army, with 8,500 men, including the Brandenburgers and Saxons, a few Kaiserlichen and still more Hungarians, under Count Ludwig de Souches, was to march from the River Waag against Neutra and also take the fortresses of Lewencz and Novigrad. The reserves-12,500 men- garrisoned fortresses. Concentrations could be made by April-May 1664; the Turks were not expected to advance before May. In the two centuries of war, a seasonal pattern had been established: the Turks would advance in Summer and capture fortresses; the Habsburg's Kaiserlichen would counter-attack in winter to restore the situation (as the Soviets did for a time during World War II). But this emergency was greater than usual. The obvious task of the Kaiser's generals was to hold up the Turkish advance long enough for the bulk of the coalition's allies to arrive. Nevertheless, one Habsburg general was obviously thinking in terms of the 'normal' winter counter-offensive.

BAN Zrinyi made his thrust early, on his own initiative. On 21 January, he left his fortress of Zrinyivar with 25,000 men, including Hohenloe's corps and the Hungarians of many magnates and bishops. They took Berzencze on 23 January and two more towns on the 25th. They burned Pecs to the ground on the 28th and then destroyed the vital, four-mile bridge over the Drau River and the swampy area at Esseg - one of his actual operational objectives. After 9 February, they returned to their starting-point. The destruction of the Esseg bridge, however, had been carried out prematurely and cost too many lives. When Zrinyi, Strozzi and Hohenloe attacked Gross-Kanizsa, their main objective, at the end of April, the Turks were already moving. The Christians took the town on 28 April, but the citadel held out, and on 14 May, the Grand Vizier, with perhaps 70,000 men and 100 guns, crossed the bridge at Esseg, rebuilt in three months. He relieved the citadel of Gross-Kanizsa without a fight by making a surprise thrust towards Zrinyivar on the allies line of retreat. Taking Zrinyivar, the Vizier tried to cross the Mur to seize the strategically important Mur Island. The army of the Mur desperately held back the Turks in bloody combats in which Count Strozzi died, while the main Imperial army was force-marching to their assistance.

SIMULTANEOUS with Koprulu's advance, another Turkish army of about 25,000 men under Ali Pasha of Neuhausel began an offensive against the Northern army of de Souches who, by a felicitous coincidence was also taking the offensive, despite being badly outnumbered. Just to show that the Kaiser had more than one good general in this war, we'll follow the fortunes of de Souches for a few weeks. After skilful manoeuvring, he besieged and captured Neutra. Then, advancing on Lewencz, he defeated 14,000 Turks and Tartars trying to block his path, on 7 May. On 13 June, he took Lewencz, but at once had to return to the River Waag as Tartars were advancing upon his rear,at Freistadl. However, when the Turks from Neuhausel tried to seize this opportunity to take Lewencz, de Souches hurried back and in a murderous battle at Szent Benedeck annihilated the 20-30,000 strong Turks and Tartars. He immediately pushed on to Parkany where he destroyed the Danube bridge. Lack of provisions and the (understandable) exhaustion of his troops now led him to retire and camp at Gutta, on the great Schutt Island on the Danube. This was all excellent stuff, but still the great struggle of the year had to be decided in the South against the main Ottoman army. There Montecuccoli, his regulars and their allies would be tested to the limit.

Vol.18, No.2 September - October  1994

Part III

by Gwynne Jones

MONTECUCCOLI commanding the main, central, Christian army, entered the threatened Mur "island", on 15 July, just in time to prevent the Turks from entering. Foiled, the Grand Vizier suddenly pushed North to force his way into Austria across the valley of the Raab. Montecuccoli sent out Hungarian cavalry as a flank guard and followed, but only two days later, on 14 July, so as not to be misled by a feint. He kept his distance from the Turks and ordered his approaching reinforcements to wait for him. Thus, at Mura Szombath, on 16 July, the Reich's army joined, and, on the 17th, the French infantry and Coligny's cavalry, from Italy. Gassion's cavalry arrived on 28 July, at Kormond.
ST GOTTHARD was reached on 24 July, and Montecuccoli, at once, sent all his cavalry, 12,000 of them, down the North bank of the Raab to Kormond, where scouts told him the Grand Vizier was heading. On 26 July, the Field-Marshal himself reached Kormond - virtually the same time as the Turks. On the 27-8 July, with the available French and Hungarian cavalry, he repulsed two attempts to cross the river. Meanwhile, he concentrated his infantry at St Gotthard and had a bridge built over the Lafnitz, which flows from the north into the Raab near Magesdorf and St Gotthard. The Vizier, after another unsuccessful attempt at crossing, (at Czakany), marched all his army up the South bank of the Raab. Montecuccoli's cavalry kept pace on the North bank.
MONTECUCCOLI now massed all his troops, except the Hungarians to the West and East, on either side of the village of Magersdorf,[4] between the Lafnitz and the Raab, both rivers being swollen by rains. The Grand Vizier camped two kilometres up stream of ST Gotthard, almost opposite Magersdorf. The Raab has a smooth bottom and normally can be forded. During the battle, however, after much rain, it rose to the depth of a man and its muddy banks were steep; only a few fords were usable. Where the armies camped, the Raab has a deep bend to the South; the land enclosed is about 500 metres across on the open, North-West side. From the West edge of Magersdorf to the river upstream of the bend stretched a small, scrub wood, dense with undergrowth, its Southern edges a few hundred metres from the river. It hampered movement and restricted visibility from Magersdorf and from the Allied camps, which were North of the wood, toward the Turks. In the bend was a ford and at Magersdorf another.
WEST of Magersdorf, (consisting of merely thirty dwellings), were gardens with high fences and a sunken road in a cutting, running from the Nort-West to the river. Montecuccoli's 25,000 strong army was deployed in one line, 3-4 kilometres long, about a kilometre from the river. The Emperor's troops were on the right (West), the German Allies in the centre and the French on the left, up to the Lafnitz River to the East. No clear battle orders were given on the 31 July, except the banning of separate actions and unauthorized movement to support neighbouring troops, except under the most desperate circumstances.
KOPRULUS' army was perhaps 125,000 strong, but only half were core troops - Janissaries, Spahis and the provincial levandat musketeers. This army arrived by midday 31 July and immediately the Janissaries were trying to occupy the river bend at the ford and putting guns in position opposite Magersdorf. A crossing by Spahis on the Christian right was prevented by Spork and his cavalry, during which a cloudburst made the river even harder to cross. During the night the Janissaries moved their cannon and entrenched them better. For the rest of the night, seventeen guns fired on the Christian camp and outposts. This had little effect, except that, unfortunately, fire was returned, worsening the already acute powder shortage. More importantly, the Janissaries crossed the river in silence and entrenched unnoticed.
Vol.18, No.3 November - December  1994
Part IV
by Gwynne Jones
THERE is no doubt that Count Montecuccoli expected an attack the next day. Since there was no really unified command, however, there was room for some carelessness over the outposts. A part of the Allied cavalry was also actually absent, foraging after four days' lack of fodder. Finally, the Turks showed cunning and skill in their early movements, on the day of battle. Before 4am on 1 August, in the half light, Koprulu sent thousands of cavalrymen swarming up the Raab valley, provoking Montecuccoli to send Spork with dragoons, Croats and a thousand German horse, to keep an eye on them. When the Turkish horse began to forage, Spork simply crossed the Raab and drove them back.
HOWEVER, all this distracted attention from the Turks' activity in the centre, where 1,000 Janissaries were collected secretly, in the trenches dug over-night, concealed in the bushes, in the river bend. Towards 6 am, these men, together with Spahis, began to cross the Raab, covered by seventeen cannon firing on Mogersdorf and the wood. They used the ford and a pre-fabricated bridge thrown over the river. Additional Janissaries crossed seated behind the mounted Spahis. The 200-man Reich's army outpost retired on Magersdorf, and, bypassing the village, Turkish horsemen entered the Reich army's camp. The alarm was fully raised by 7 am, and Coligny and Hohenloe consulted with Montecuccoli and the Margrave of Baden. They could not know if this was a feint or a main assault. So, they sent forward Reich's army Infantry Regiments "von Fugger" (19) and "Puech" (20), under Colonel Puech, "von Ende" (22), "Walpot-Wierick" (23) and "Zweibrucken" (24), and some cavalry. To support them, before 8 am, an advance was made upon the wood by a force including the Emperor's Kurassiers "von Schmid" (6), Infantry Regiments "Nassau-Saarbruck" (14) and Kielmannsegg" (15), under Marquis Herbert Pio of Savoy.
ANOTHER 3,000 each of Janissaries and Spahis had crossed by 9 am. Already by 8 am, the first body of Janissary attackers had reached the outskirts of Magersdorf village. At the South-West fences, they met the Puech's advance coming through the sunken road into the wood. Apparently, the Janissaries on the edge of Magersdorf fled before Puech toward the river. Puech's two regiments wheeled left to form line and attack the runaways, with the following regiments coming up on their right, in support. Suddenly, the Janissaries made a stand opening a cross-fire upon them. Simultaneously, the main body of Janissary reinforcements, with their battle-cry: "Allah!" charged fiercely from the ford onto the right flank of the deploying advance regiments, decapitating everyone within reach and spreading panic. Unable to deploy, the infantry were driven together with whatever cavalry had arrived and stood closely packed and paralysed, allowing themselves to be cut down without resistance. The senior officers were killed or incapacitated right from the start and in the total confusion the men began to flee, abandoning their weapons. Most of the officers ran with them. An eyewitness wrote:
"Although present on many such occasions, I never saw so outstanding an effect of panic. In whole regiments, soldiers allowed their heads to be cut off without retreating and without the least resistance, being so terror-struck; only shrieking ever louder to St Mary."
There are many testimonies to the skill with which the Turks used their heavy sabres, none more compelling then the account by Maurice de Saxe in his Reveries of an episode in his youth, set somewhere near Belgrade, when he saw two battalions that failed to inflict any damage on the attacking Janissaries by a general volley, immediately being cut to pieces, still without inflicting any damage on their destroyers. Of course, de Saxe was riding his hobby-horse, viz., his preferance for cold steel over fire-power. He even wanted to bring back pikes and armour - in the 1750's! His own victory at Fontenoy should have given him different food for thought.
ANYWAY, the Turkish charge between the wood and Magersdorf was an impressive success. The Kaiserliche Regiments "von Schmid", "Nassau-Saarbruck" and "Kielmannsegg" coming up on the right, were carried back by the fugitives from the Reich's army regiments and thrown into disorder. The Janissaries reached the Reich's army camp, causing the camp-followers to flee, occupied Magersdorf and the whole of the wood and then entrenched themselves. Reinforcements kept coming up to join them from across the river. A great hole gaped in the centre of the Coalition army.

Vol.18, No.4 January - February  1995
Part V
by Gwynne Jones

A great hole gaped in the centre of the coalition army. But, already, while the centre was collapsing, Montecuccoli had begun a counter-attack from both wings. He himself led the bulk of the Imperial regiments against the Turkish left flank while Hohenlohe with the rest of the Reich's troops and Coligny with the French moved to retake Mogersdorf. Count Waldeck with two companies of horse, drove those of the enemy who were North of Mogersdorf back into the village, which Hohenloe, then, between 11 am and noon, attacked in person with two battalions (29 and 30) and four squadrons (31-34). In a sharp conflict, during which the village caught fire, he eventually recaptured Mogersdorf, except for a few houses where the Janissaries preferred to be burned to death rather than surrender. The French infantry regiment, Fifica-Touraine (37) and Morvas-la-Ferte (36) occupied the edge of the village and the sunken road. The Turks tried in vain to storm the village again. At the same time, the 22-year-old Duke Charles of Lorraine led his Imperial cuirassier regiment (3) to drive back to the river any enemy between the sunk road and the river. At first unsuccessful against superior numbers, they returned to the attack with von Scheidau's cuirassier (5), brought up by Montecuccoli in person, and the infantry of La Corona (18) von Sparr (17) and von Tasso (16). These regiments now included the rallied elements of Schmid's scattered cuirassiers.

[1] I have taken the liberty to add Trieste and its hinterland (Julian Venice), omitted from Gwynne's text, since Trieste and its province has always been separate from any Slav lands nearby. Additionally, the Istrian Peninsula was part of Venice at this time, as were areas of the Dalmatian coast, and settled by Istrians and Venetians. Triestin dialect is in fact Venetian and these areas were largely populated by Italians, never by Slavs. Istria was given to Jugoslavia for political reasons in 1955, under pressure from the U.S.S.R., in exchange for U.S. suzerainty elsewhere.

[2] Take note, now, wargamer, for what follows is a useful account of a battlefield over which you might fight.
[3] Interesting to note that Lachouque, in The Anatomy of Glory, writes: "Lefebvre-Desnouettes was soon on his way with two regiments....Walther sent the Mameluks and and Chasseurs in support, then Latour-Maubourg's horse, whereupon the Russian gunners harnessed their pieces and fled. The cavalry lost 264 officers and men" (p.299). (Ed.)

[4] This was the first Reich, to which Kaiser Wilhelm's (of Hohenzollern) was the Second, and Hitler's Germany the the Third Reich.
[5] In the centuries of Habsburg-Ottoman strife, during the intervals between open war, raids by fewer than 5,000 men, not having artillery, did not count as breaches of the peace!

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