The Bulwark of Christendom: the Turkish Sieges of Vienna 1529 & 1683—The Sieges of Vienna by the Turks by Karl August Schimmer & The Great Siege of Vienna,1683 by Henry Elliot Malden with an extract from The Life of King John Sobieski
The struggles for the city that saved Europe from the Ottoman Turkish Empire
The battle between the Islamic east and the Christian west raged for centuries. Its principal battleground was eastern Europe and upon the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Western Europe was distanced from the fray, perhaps to the extent that its people rarely understood the sentiments of those who lived and fought on the perennial front line of a conflict which had the potential, if unchecked, to overwhelm every European nation. The conquering armies of the crescent banner frequently swept westward, but it was in Austria, before the walls of Vienna, that the machinations of Ottoman sultans were eventually confounded. The city was besieged on two notable occasions, both of which are graphically recounted in the pages of this book. This city, which became emblematic of music and romance in later, more peaceful times, was the bastion that hurled back the Turks from the West. On the second occasion Vienna was surrounded in 1683, John Sobieski, King of Poland, earned immortal fame after rescuing the besieged garrison by charging into the Turkish encampment at the head of his winged hussars. The dramatic story of that momentous action provides a riveting account which is also included in this unique Leonaur edition.
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The retreat was conducted with such confusion, that many were forced over the parapet of the bridge, and, maimed by the fall, remained at the mercy of the Turks, who pursued so closely up to the walls, that they were only driven back from them at push of pike. At noon there was a fresh alarm that camels were conveying fascines of wood, straw, and vine-sticks to fill up the ditch. The expected assault, however, did not take place. The fire of the Turks recommenced at 5 p.m. and was maintained without cessation, which caused the soldiers to remain at their posts through the night. On the 7th, at 9 a.m., the Turks assaulted two bastions, and sprung a mine at the Kärnthner gate, by which the wall opposite the nunnery of St. Clara was destroyed for a space of thirteen fathoms.
The following night the camp was illuminated with several thousand torches, and a general shouting and alarm took place without further result. It was probably the celebration of some festival. The garrison having been assembled at their posts, Count Salm announced to them that by a trusty messenger, who had swum the Danube at midnight, he had received consolatory tidings from King Ferdinand and the Duke Frederick, who promised to come to their relief within a week. The garrison hailed this intelligence with noisy acclamation, which probably excited as much notice and surprise in the Turkish camp as their illuminations and shoutings had excited in Vienna. Though this cheering assurance raised the hopes of all, yet the difficulties of the defence became every day more urgent, and a proclamation was issued, forbidding, on pain of death, all self-indulgence and neglect of duty.
To illustrate and enforce this edict, two lanzknechts, who, over their cups, remained absent from their posts after the alarm had been given, were hanged at the Lugeek as traitors: On the 8th the whole artillery of the Turks played upon the city. The timber bulwark in front of the Kärnthner gate was set on fire, and the walls, deprived of their breastwork, threatened to fall inwards. To avoid this, possibly fatal, catastrophe, trunks of trees and huge beams were brought to their support, and a new breastwork was thrown up with incredible celerity. A similar work was thrown up before the Scottish gate, and mounted with two guns, which did much mischief in the Turkish camp towards Sporkenbühel.
On the 9th October an alarm took place at daybreak, and preparations for a storm were evident in the Turkish camp. At 3 p.m. mines were sprung to the right and left of the Kärnthner gate. The one on the left opened a breach in the wall, wide enough for twenty-four men to advance in order. The assault was nevertheless gallantly repulsed by Salm and Katzianer in three successive instances. Several Spaniards and Germans had been buried or blown into the air by the explosion; others were hurled back into the city without serious injury. The explosions would have been more effective if the besieged had not succeeded in reaching some of the chambers of the mines by countermining, and in carrying off eight tuns of the charge.
During the repeated assaults the heaviest artillery of the city was discharged incessantly upon the Turkish cavalry, and with such good aim, that, to use the words of Peter Stern von Labach, man and horse flew into the air. Upon every retreat of the storming-parties, trumpets from St. Stephen’s tower, and warlike music on the place of St. Clara, celebrated the triumph of the besieged. The Sultan, dispirited at these repeated failures, adopted a precaution which indicated apprehension on his own part of a sally from the city, for he directed trenches to be dug round the tents of the Janissaries and other picked troops. In the city, when quiet was restored, the old wall was rapidly repaired, a new one constructed, the houses which interfered with it levelled, and their materials employed to fill up the wooden breastwork.
On the 10th all was quiet, and the work of repair proceeded. Two mines were discovered and destroyed, and in a small sally of some eighty men five camels were captured.
On the 11th, towards 9 a.m., a mine was sprung between the Kärnthner and Stuben gates, which made an enormous breach, equivalent to an open gateway in the wall. Heavy bodies of men rushed on to the assault: a second mine was sprung at the Stuben gate, and, according to some accounts, the city was positively entered at this quarter by some of the enemy. This, however, is doubtful; but it is certain that a Turkish standard-bearer had mounted the wall, when he was struck down by a musquet shot into the ditch. The assault and defence were continued with equal determination for three hours.
Twelve hundred bodies were heaped up in the breach, and though new assailants seemed to spring from the earth, their efforts failed before the unshaken courage of the defenders. The conflict ceased at midday. The loss of the garrison was far less than that of the Turks; yet, at a general muster of the armed citizens which took place in the evening, 625 were missing from the numbers mustered at the beginning of the siege. The wrath of the Sultan was kindled to the highest pitch. He stormed, entreated, promised, and threatened; and on the following day the assault was renewed.
Again two mines exploded in the same quarter as before, and again the ruin of the wall was extensive. The Turks were in the breach sooner almost than their approach could be detected, as they thought, but the wall was scarcely down before its ruins were occupied by a company of Spaniards, with their colours flying and courage undepressed. The storm was fierce, but short; the repulse was again complete, and depression and exhaustion prevailed in the Turkish ranks.
From the towers of the city their officers were seen urging them forward with blows. In several places explosions were observed which did no injury to the walls. Although the attacks were several times repeated, and to a late hour in the evening, as the courage of the defenders rose that of the enemy quailed, and the latter efforts were more and more easily repelled. The loss of the assailants could not be ascertained, as the Turks, according to their custom, carried off their dead. Late in the night, however, a council of war was held in their camp, in which the former tone of confidence was remarkably lowered. The lateness of the season and the difficulty of subsistence were the topics of discussion. The latter difficulty was not indeed a fictitious one, for, under the expectation of a speedy surrender of the city, supplies had been collected on a scale quite inadequate to the present exigency. It was also remembered that three main assaults had been executed, and that three times on each occasion the troops had advanced to the charge.
This magic number had fulfilled the law of Islam, by which, whether in the field or against defences, no more than three attacks are required of the faithful. Notwithstanding these good reasons and fair excuses for immediate withdrawal, the temptation of plunder was so strong, that it was agreed to attempt on the following day, the 14th, one more assault with all their force; but, should this fail, to raise the siege. The Janissaries, who were loudest in their complaints, were pacified by a payment of the ordinary assault money, namely, a thousand aspers, or twenty ducats, to each man. The 13th October passed therefore without attack, but the preparations for one were in active progress. Numerous criers perambulated the camp, proclaiming the great assault for the following day, and announcing the following rewards:—To the first man who should mount the wall, promotion from his respective military rank to the next above it, and a sum of 30,000 aspers (600 ducats).