Skip to comments.Battle of Zenta -- 9/11/1697
Posted on 09/27/2001 9:50:56 PM PDT by TruthSeeker4US
Prince Eugene of Savoy is best known to British readers as the erstwhile ally of Marlborough during the wars against Louis IX. However, it was in Eastern Europe fighting against the Ottoman Empire that he both learnt the art of war and won some of his greatest victories.
Eugene was was born in France and brought up in the court circles of Louis XIV. It was only after being refused entry to the French army that he fled France and took service with the Hapsburg Emperor Leopold I. This was 1683 and Leopold needed all the help he could get with the Grand Vezier, Kara Mustapha besieging Vienna.
The War of the Holy League
Eugene joined the command of his cousin Louis of Baden, which formed part of the Lorraine's Imperial army. Allied with Sobieski's Poles they drove the Turks from Vienna. This was Eugene's first action and he was presented with golden spurs in recognition of his bravery. He was given the Colonelcy of the Dragoon Regiment Kufstein and spearheaded the armies advance into Hungary.
For the next three years his regiment was in the thick of the action. At the battle of Szent Endre 1684 the charge of his regiment broke the Turks leading the allies to Buda where Eugene is again mentioned in dispatches in the defeat of the relief army. His success lead to promotion as Major-General in 1685 and he was twice wounded in the eventual capture of Buda in the following year.
The Ottoman army responded in 1687 and battle was joined at Berg Harsan (near Mohacs). Ottoman troops replused by Imperial firepower were counterattacked by Eugene's cavalry brigade and driven from the field. Eugene was selected to convey the good news to the Emperor and was promoted to divisional command as Feldmarschall-Lieutenant. He was only 24 years of age.
The following year Eugene was at the siege of Belgrade which fell more easily than Buda. Eugene was not present at the fall of the citadel due to a serious wound that forced him to return to Vienna. Eugene did not return to the eastern front as his talents both military and diplomatic were needed in Savoy against the French.
Whilst Eugene was in Italy the campaign dragged on in the East. In 1690 the Ottomans recaptured Serbia including Belgrade although the following year Louis of Baden captured all of Transylvania. The war ground to a stalemate for the next six years.
Eugene was given command of the army in Hungary in 1697. He joined his force of 30,000 men at Peterwardein with orders to stand on the defensive. The Ottoman Sultan Mustapha personally lead his army north from Belgrade along the River Tisza. Eugene also went North linking up with reinforcements which strengthened his army to 50,000 men. Mustapha moved on Szeged and Eugene followed with his Hussars limiting Mustapha's intelligence due to their shortage of cavalry. The Sultan lost his nerve and ordered his army to cross the Tisza at Zenta on a pontoon bridge.
On 11 September a captured Pasha disclosed that whilst the Sultan and his artillery had crossed the river the bulk of the infantry with the Grand Vizier had not. Eugene rushed his army to the high ground above Zenta. His left wing infantry used a sandbank to get behind the Turkish defences and cut off access to the bridge. Some 20,000 Turks including the Grand Vizier were slaughtered and a further 10,000 drowned. Eugene's army lost about 300 men.
This victory was decisive and lead to the Treaty of Karlowitz 1699 in which the Hapsburgs gained all of Hungary and Transylvania except the Banat of Temesvar. Eugene's reputation was made across Europe.
Whilst Eugene's command achievements were considerable the superiority of the army he lead owed more to the work of Raymond Montecuccoli. He improved mobility with smaller battalions and increased firepower by reducing the proportion of pikes. This work was continued after his death with the introduction of flintlocks with plug, ring and socket bayonet before most other western armies including the French. The Imperial forces in the Balkans also relied more heavily on light field artillery and up to a third of the army was cavalry. Dragoons (including Eugene's early command) providing firepower (often on foot) with cuirassiers for shock action. The hussars who were mainly Croats as Hungary was in revolt for most of this period were used for raiding and scouting. A vital counter to the Ottoman Tartar horsemen.
The Ottoman armies of this period were not radically different tactically from the highpoint of Ottoman expansion. Light troops sought to goad the Imperial troops from their defensive position onto the Janissaries and the heavy artillery. However, the quality of the army had declined. The Janissaries were no longer the disciplined force of the previous century and economic pressures had undermined the Timar system and with it the Sipahis. The provincial Seratculi infantry were excellent skirmishers well suited for the endemic border warfare, but of limited value on the battlefield. The main problem was simply that the army had not adopted the advances in fire discipline which gave the Imperial army its vital cutting edge.
There are no shortage of figures for these campaigns. Malburian ranges provide most of the Imperial troops which also included the distinctive Bavarians. Ottoman forces are more likely to be found in renaissance ranges although remember that the Sipahis had little armour in this period. My own 25mm army is based on the Dixon range which is designed specifically for the period.
Whilst I am a fan of the DBR rules I am not convinced that they properly reflect disciplined firepower. Equally horse and musket rules I have tried treat the Turks as colonial style cannon fodder. Neither is satisfactory and I would welcome readers views on this.
The Battlefields Today
In the last two years I have visited both the Transylvanian and (what is now) Serbian battlefields of these campaigns. Whilst the 20th century has inevitably made its mark you can still get a feel for the period. A key feature of the late 17th century River Tisza area was the swampland either side of the river and the effect this had on campaigning. Today this has been drained but an essential visit is the fortress of Peterwardein in its dramatic site above the Danube.
Prince Eugene of course went off to greater things with Marlborough during the War of the Spanish Succession. However, in 1716 he was back in the Balkans defeating an Ottoman army twice his size at the Battle of Peterwardein. He then liberated the Banat and recaptured Belgrade. But that as they say - is another story.
Sources and Further Reading
I consulted four biographies of Eugene. The best in my humble opinion is Prince Eugene of Savoy by Derek McKay (1977). Nicholas Henderson's Prince Eugen of Savoy (1964) is also good on the military aspects of his life. Colonel Malleson's 1888 work and the probably forged (but still accurate and with a good period feel) Memoirs of Prince Eugene are available from Pallas Armata.
For an overview of the military history see Europe's Steppe Frontier 1500-1800 by William McNeill (1964). For a diplomatic view of the period see Austria's Eastern Question 1700-1790 by Karl Roider (1982). For the armies Raider Books publish C.A.Sapherson's works on the Imperial armies and John Wilson on the Bavarians. There are excellent Osprey's on the Ottoman armies and the Janissaries together with Godfrey Goodwin The Janissaries (1994). Richard Watts has also published a useful booklet The Ottoman Turkish Army in the 18th Century (Agema 1997).
Could Sept. 11 have been selected as a sneak attack date by the WTC terrorists as a payback for the surprise defeat Islamic Turkish forces suffered at the Battle of Zenta some 400 years ago? Only an insane fanatic would know.
I believe it was. They turned the date from a Islamic defeat to a Islamic victory.
I know randomness exists, but I can't buy that Sept 11, 2001 was a simple coincidence.