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"Taken no more than 20 prisoners while our people massacred everything"

By 1683, the threat of a Turkish invasion had hung like the sword of Damocles over the Habsburg Empire and its European neighbors.

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"Taken no more than 20 prisoners while our people massacred everything"

By 1683, the threat of a Turkish invasion had hung like the sword of Damocles over the Habsburg Empire and its European neighbors. But the failed siege of Vienna and the subsequent retreat of the Ottoman army appeared to be the long-awaited turning point. In the so-called Great Turkish War (1683-1699), the Holy League, which included not only the Emperor but also Poland, Spain, Russia, the Papal States and other powers, succeeded in pushing back the Turkish troops.

But the Ottoman Empire remained a great power. While his Christian opponents, for a change, attacked each other in the War of the Spanish Succession, energetic viziers set about reforms to strengthen the empire's military power. The Republic of Venice, which had secured the Peloponnese in the Peace of Karlowitz in 1699, was identified as the first target in 1714.

But the Ottoman calculation that Austria would remain neutral because of its debt burden from the war over Spain did not work out. Ironically, the man who, after his victories up to 1699 over the Turks and then over the French and Bavarians, could finally have taken his well-deserved retirement, advocated a resumption of the war: Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), as President of the Imperial War Council and supreme commander of the army one of the most powerful men of the Habsburg monarchy.

It was 33 years ago that the prince, after a brusque refusal by Louis XIV of France, had offered his services to the then reigning Emperor Leopold I. That Eugen came from a family related to the Bourbons and based in France was irrelevant. Leopold, in great distress because of the Ottoman advance, was not bothered by the applicant's slight build, but instead gave him the rank of lieutenant colonel.

With the relief army, he moved to Vienna, fought in the Battle of Kahlenberg and soon drew attention to himself as a successful troop leader. As early as 1693, at the age of 30, Eugen was field marshal. As commander-in-chief he was able to destroy the main Ottoman army near Zenta in 1697 and thus lay the foundation for the Peace of Karlowitz. Together with the Englishman John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, he became the most successful general of the War of the Spanish Succession. After the peace treaty, he began building the Belvedere Palace in Vienna with the endowments that the Emperor thanked him for.

But that did not prevent him from his responsibility for the state. In February 1715 he described Emperor Charles VI in drastic words. the desolate situation of their own army and fortresses as well as the military efforts in the Ottoman Empire. Because that Sultan Ahmed III. There was no question for Eugen that his reorganized army would use his reorganized army in a war of revenge against Austria.

In July 1716 the time had come. The grand vizier opened the war with 200,000 soldiers. At Peterwardein, Eugen fought and after a heavy fight in the enemy general's tent he was able to dictate his message of victory to the emperor, while his people, as it is said, "found a number of Christian heads on the other side of the tent". The Christians also waged a different war than in Italy or France: "We took no more than 20 prisoners because our people were much too bloodthirsty and massacred everything," confessed an imperial officer.

Such warfare was not to Eugene's taste. He had recognized that discipline was the key to countering Turkish superiority. Added to this was better armament and a willingness to take risks.

Having managed to take the great fortress of Temesvár in 1716, Eugen wanted to take the war across the Danube the following year to reconquer Belgrade, which had once again fallen to the Ottomans. By now the great fortress had been reinforced and garrisoned with 30,000 men.

With 70,000 soldiers, the prince appeared in front of Belgrade in June. As it says in the famous folk song about "Prinz Eugen, the noble knight", to the surprise of the defenders he built a temporary bridge over the Danube and thus brought his army and material across the river. Then the siege began, which was prepared with artillery fire and the construction of trenches and tunnels.

Time was pressing because a large Turkish relief army was on the march. On July 28, flares rising from the fortress signaled that the garrison had spotted the troops' arrival. Like Caesar before the Gallic Alesia 52 BC. Eugen now had to prepare for siege and defense. But his opponent Chalil Pasha showed respect for the famous Turkish winner and initially expanded his positions. This gave the Imperials a period of grace, during which they were increasingly at the mercy of the swamp fever in the Danube and Sava river plains.

Two events boosted the morale of Eugene's troops. On August 14, a ten-pound shell from a mortar hit the fort's central powder store, destroying not just supplies but an entire neighborhood. A defector also reported that the Turks were preparing a major attack. The prince then scheduled the attack for the early morning of August 16th.

At midnight, the imperial troops began to deploy. Fog obscured visibility and muffled sounds, but caused some units to lose their positions. Even when the attack came, there was confusion in some places, which gave the Turks the opportunity to form up. A counterattack into the imperial center nearly resulted in disaster, but the prince was able to close the gap with his reserves.

"Nothing was able to hold our soldiers back ... so that the Turks turned to flee in terror," reported a colonel. But Eugen forced his people to maintain discipline and refrain from plundering the Turkish camp. Instead, as he wrote to the Emperor, he watched the escape and tried to "accelerate it by firing a few advanced pieces".

Two days later the Belgrade garrison surrendered. She was granted free withdrawal on August 22, leaving 537 guns and 69 mortars behind. In the Treaty of Passarowitz, which was concluded in July 1718, Venice finally lost the basis of its power in the Levant with the Peloponnese. Austria, on the other hand, won the Banat, northern Serbia, parts of Wallachia and Bosnia. The Habsburg monarchy thus reached the greatest extent in its history.

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