Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Austria vs. Austria-i.e. The Big Screw Up of 1788

So it's 1788 and, big surprise, Europe is at war. It's Russia/Austria versus the Ottoman Empire, and Austria is only a very reluctant participant. In fact, the only reason Austria is at war at all is because Austria is afraid of Russia, and the Ottomans pissed off Catherine the Great, so there they are.

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Catherine the Great, not a woman you want to anger
The Austrian army is waiting for the Ottomans near the town of Karansebes, and as you can imagine, the Austrians aren't super happy to be traipsing around the countryside, so it's no surprise when a group of scouts buy a large amount of alcohol off a nearby band of Roma people.  The scouts took their booze back to camp, and started having a good time. They were getting a bit rowdy around the fire when a group of foot soldiers came over, and asked if they too could have some alcohol. The scouts, who obviously failed kindergarten, refused to share. The foot soldiers weren't too pleased, and resorted to fisticuffs.

Simple fisticuffs soon turned into a full on brawl. We've got groups of angry Austrians, some of them drunk, hundreds of miles from home, fighting an enemy they have no good reason to be fighting, and, dammit, they just want to get (more) drunk. Tempers are high, and soon the guns come out.

Men are shooting at each other. The scouts with the booze have erected fortifications, and the camp is in total mayhem when some bright fellow yelled that the Turks were attacking. That's when real pandemonium breaks out. Those in command are trying to organize the men, but the soldiers were drawn from all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and they speak dozens of languages. Some of the orders sound like people shouting 'Allah, Allah', which only drives the frenzy.
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The fighting goes on for hours until the Austrian generals manage to sound a general retreat, leaving some 10,000 men dead on the field. Two hours later the, very confused I'm sure, Ottomans took Karansebes without a fight.

There is debate about the validity of this tale, given that the incident wasn't written about until some 40 years later, but friendly fire does happen, and accidentally killing 10k of your own men, and then retreating from yourself isn't exactly something that the generals want to write home to the emperor about.

Unfortunately for the poor Austrians, the Austro-Turkish war would drag on for another three years, and neither side would come out on top.  The battle of Karansebes is an amusing anecdote, but like most fighting, it was a pointless waste of life in a pointless war.

Today I Found Out

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