Battle of Vienna (1683)
Earlier, I presented a hero, Charles Martel, who defeated the invading Islamic armies at the Battle of Tours in 732. While this touched off the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula, the Islamic threat would rise again from the east, this time in the form of the Ottoman Turks.
The aggressive Islamic faith/politic had threatened the Byzantine Empire in its early centuries, and ultimately defeated the eastern Empire by taking Constantinople in 1453. Like the initially successful Islamic armies in the Iberian Peninsula, European and Christian lands fell slowly and methodically. Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, and most of Hungary were overrun, and the Islamic armies attempted to take Vienna by siege in 1529, but failed. This setback was not permanent, and after consolidating their foothold in Europe, the Turks would again threaten Vienna and the west a little over a century later. It is also important to note that during this time the Turkish navies took over much of the Mediterranean to the detriment of Venice, and were finally defeated at the important Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
Periods of war and peace would ensue in the first part of the 17th century, especially in the Hungarian territories, until the Islamic armies decided to besiege Vienna again, one of the primary cultural and strategic centers in all of Europe, whose treasures the Turks longed for. The city of Vienna had some warning, and was fairly well prepared for the onslaught, which began in earnest on July 14, 1683. The Islamic leader, Kara Mustafa Pasha, sent a demand of surrender to the city, which the Viennese refused, despite being outnumbered 150,000 to 11,000 plus citizen volunteers. The Viennese commander, Ernst Graf von Starhemberg, had received news of the massacre of the citizenry at Perchtoldsdorf, who did surrender and paid dearly. Because of the solid fortifications and planning of the defense, the Turks were forced to build trenches and use their gunpowder underground, trying to blow up the walls from the bottom as opposed to using canon. Because of mass starvation and fatigue, the city was about to fall until Charles V of Lorraine defeated a group of Turkish-allied Hungarians north of the city which allowed supplies to arrive. Honoring an early treaty, Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland and Duke of Lithuania also arrived, and united with Charles. Troops from other principalities in the Holy Roman Empire would also arrive, and the King was chosen leader rather quickly, as petty differences were put aside in defense of the west and the Christian faith, and morale was high.
After an early morning church service, on September 11-12 the Holy League forces began to deploy on the “Kahlen Berg,” a large hill overlooking the city. Seeing their peril, the Turks attacked, and Charles V began to move the Austrian and German troops forward. The Turks tried to rush the city by blowing up the walls, but this was defused by an Austrian “mole,” who discovered the tunnel under the city. After the Polish infantry attacked and held the high ground, the King of Poland led one of the most massive cavalry charges in history, as head of the “Winged Hussars.” The Turks, tired from fighting on two fronts (city and the hill), broke and fled, allowing the city garrison to also join the cavalry in the pursuit. The Turks would be routed, and the cavalry charge saved the city. Sobieski would paraphrase Julius Ceaser by saying, “”Venimus, Vidimus, Deus vincit” – “We came, We saw, God won”.
This battle would mark the beginning of the decline of the Islamic threat in the eastern border of the west, with Hungary and other portions of the Balkans throwing off Turkish rule in the subsequent years. It is important to note that this threat was considered so dangerous, and so real, the Protestant volunteers from Scotland, England, and Germany also joined in the fight along side their Catholic brethren, which is somewhat remarkable given the political climate of the time. It is perhaps not a stretch to say that as Martel led the rescue of the west, so Sobeiski led the rescue of the west centuries later. The war against the Turks by the Holy League would continue for another 15 years, eventually bringing in Russia, Venice, Spain, and other European powers in support. The importance of this battle has led some such as Robert Spencer to conjecture that Osama Bin Laden chose September 11 as his date of infamy intentionally as a reference to this battle, as a way of marking the rise of Islam again. Indeed, it is a victory the Judeo-Christian western world would do well to remember.