Battle of Karánsebes

The Battle of Karánsebes (Romanian: Caransebeș, Turkish: Şebeş Muharebesi) was a possibly apocryphal friendly fire incident in the Austrian army, recorded as having occurred on 17 September 1788, during the Austro–Turkish War of 1787–1791.

Published sources

The earliest major source detailing this battle is from Geschichte Josephs des Zweiten by A. J. Gross-Hoffinger, written 59 years after the battle's supposed occurrence, and most authors tend to cite this account. The earliest source for this battle was from History of the eighteenth century and of the nineteenth till the overthrow of the French empire, with particular reference to mental cultivation and progress, which was published in 1843, 55 years after the incident. This source refers readers to the "Austrian Military Magazine of 1831" to find a more complete account of the battle:

"A detailed account of the singular story of this night-march and its consequences does not appear to us to belong to the province of general history; it will however be found both authentic and complete in the Austrian Military Magazine of 1831."[1]

The "battle"

Different portions of an Austrian army, which were scouting for forces of the Ottoman Empire, fired on each other by mistake, causing self-inflicted decimation. The battle took place on the evening of 17 September 1788. The Ottomans took advantage and captured the city.

The army of Austria, approximately 100,000 strong, was setting up camp around the town of Karánsebes (now Caransebeș, in modern Romania). The army's vanguard, a contingent of hussars, crossed the Timiș River nearby to scout for the presence of the Ottoman Turks. There was no sign of the Ottoman army, but the hussars did run into a group of Tzigani, who offered to sell schnapps to the war-weary soldiers. The cavalrymen bought the schnapps and started to drink.

Soon afterwards, some infantry crossed the river. When they saw the party going on, the infantry demanded alcohol for themselves. The hussars refused to give them any of the schnapps, and while still drunk, they set up makeshift fortifications around the barrels. A heated argument ensued, and one soldier fired a shot.

Immediately, the hussars and infantry engaged in combat with one another. During the conflict, some infantry began shouting "Turci! Turci!" ("Turks! Turks!"). The hussars fled the scene, thinking that the Ottoman army’s attack was imminent. Most of the infantry also ran away; the army comprised Italians from Lombardy, Serbs, Croats, and Austrians, plus other minorities, many of whom could not understand each other. While it is not clear which one of these groups did so, they gave the false warning without telling the others, who promptly fled. The situation was made worse when officers, in an attempt to restore order, shouted "Halt! Halt!" which was misheard by soldiers with no knowledge of German as "Allah! Allah!".

As the cavalry ran through the camps, a corps commander reasoned that it was a cavalry charge by the Ottoman army, and ordered artillery fire. Meanwhile, the entire camp awoke to the sound of battle and, rather than waiting to see what the situation was, everyone fled. The troops fired at every shadow, thinking the Ottomans were everywhere; in reality they were shooting fellow Austrian soldiers. The incident escalated to the point where the whole army retreated from the imaginary enemy, and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II was pushed off his horse into a small creek.

Two days later, the Ottoman army arrived. They discovered 10,000 dead and wounded soldiers and easily took Karánsebes.

See also


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