Islam at Vienna’s Gates

Military Heritage Magazine October 2002

Relief came out of the woods and down from the heights

Detail from painting of 1683 relief battle of Vienna (Military Heritage Magazine, October 2002)
Detail from painting of 1683 relief battle of Vienna (Military Heritage Magazine, October 2002)

Islam at Vienna’s Gates

By Ludwig Heinrich Dyck

“For nearly two long months, from July 14 to early September 1683, Vienna endured the siege of a vast Turkish army. The Turkish Serasker (Supreme Commander), Grand Visier Kara “Black” Mustafa, demanded surrender but Count Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg, commander of Vienna’s garrison spat back, “Let him come; I’ll fight to the last drop of blood.”

“The last drop of blood had almost been reached. Turkish mines and bombardment opened huge gaps in the city walls. Sewage, rubble, and corpses littered the streets and disease ran rampant.”

The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705) had fled from Vienna.  A bookworm and music composer, the pious Leopold was not much of a warrior but he wasn’t going to abandon his capital to the Ottoman Turks either and feverishly petitioned German and Polish nobility to come to Vienna’s aid.

Leopold’s cries for help did not remain unanswered. By September a mighty relief army, over 66, 000 strong, had gathered in the Tulln valley…

“With so many prominent nobles, quarrels over command were unavoidable but were resolved through the selflessness of the Duke Charles 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.”

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Commemoration in honor of John III Sobieski, King of Poland, supreme leader of the allied army, for the relief of Vienna and the saving of Christendom on the 300th day of the year 1683 (St. Joseph Church on the Kahlenberg , L. Dyck, 2013).

“The idea was to march the army from Tulln through the Vienna Woods to the Kahlenberg heights. From the heights a broad, sweeping descent would squeeze the Turks against the city, the Danube arm, and the Vienna River.”

Church of St. Leopold on the Leopold Berg, east of the Kahlenberg heights (L. Dyck, 2013).
Church of St. Leopold on the Leopold Berg, east of the Kahlenberg heights (L. Dyck, 2013).

“With the cry of “Jezus Maria ratuj (Jesus Maria help me) the whole Polish line rode down upon the Turks. Encased in glittering steel that covered head to thighs, with their tiger and leopard pelts fluttering in the wind and eagle wings fixed to their backs, the leading units of Hussars presented an almost unearthly spectacle. Armed to the teeth with a 19-foot pennon-tipped kopia lance, a curved and a straight sword, four pistols, and a battle hammer, and mounted on a powerful armored steed, the hussar was the epitome of the Polish cavalier.”

“In the Ottoman center, Kara Mustafa entered the fray personally to prevent the imminent capture of the Holy Banner by Waldeck’s steadily advancing Franconian-Bavarian foot. Flanked by sipahi and silahdar cavalry, the Grand Visier charged against a rain of German cannon and musket fire.”

Ottoman Turkish arsenal, note the famous re-curve, composite bows, Vienna Museum of Military History, L. Dyck.
Ottoman Turkish arsenal, note the famous re-curve, composite bows (Vienna Museum of Military History, L. Dyck, 2013).

“Islam at Vienna’s Gates,” Ludwig H. Dyck’s account of the 1683 battle for Vienna,  a battle on which hinged the fate of Europe, is featured in Military Heritage Magazine, October 2002.

Military Heritage Magazine June 2002, featuring "Islam at Vienna's Gates" by Ludwig H. Dyck
Military Heritage Magazine October 2002, featuring “Islam at Vienna’s Gates” by Ludwig H. Dyck
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