XXV: The Battle of Fail

Austria has done a lot of cool stuff in its 857ish years of existence. It has produced amazing composers, writers, scientists, and artists, as well as Pez dispensers. But no one is perfect, and every once in a while, Austria does goofy stuff. Such as attacking itself and causing 10,000 casualties.

You heard me. In 1788, the Austrian army attacked itself, and the unfortunate Battle of Karánsebes resulted in 10,000 casualties — all Austrian, of course.

On September 17, 1788, Austria was deep in the Austro-Turkish War. The 100,000-man army was camped out at Karánsebes in modern-day Romania. The army’s vanguard, called the hussars, had crossed the Timiş River in search of Ottoman Turkish troops. Thankfully, the enemy wasn’t there. The hussars did find some gypsies offering to sell them schnapps, however. Naturally, the weary warriors partook and got a wee bit tipsy.

Sometime thereafter, some infantry arrived to see what had become of the hussars. They too wanted some schnapps and were angry that the hussars were could enjoy this luxury but the infantry could not. The hussars weren’t sharing; they even built makeshift fortifications around their alcoholic treasures. At some point during the disagreement, an infantryman discharged his firearm, and chaos promptly ensued.

As more and more infantry came across the river to help their comrades fight the hussars (who, incidentally, were also their comrades), they lost track of who they were actually fighting. Some cried out, “Turks! Turks!” believing they were engaged in combat with the correct enemy. The officers who realized what was happening yelled, “Halt!” but the infantry, made mostly of Italians and Slavs who didn’t speak German, mistook this for cries of “Allah!” and, believing the Turks were really there, fled.

The retreating infantry were mistaken for an Ottoman cavalry charge by an Austrian corps commander, who ordered immediate artillery fire. In the chaos, everyone at least had the good sense to retreat, although at some point during this retreat, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II was pushed off his horse and into a creek by a very confused and panicky soldier.

Two days later, after everything had calmed down, the Ottoman army actually did arrive, only to find 10,000 dead and wounded Austrian soldiers. Needless to say, they took Karánsebes without any trouble.

Luckily for Austria, this whole thing was probably a legend made up by critics of the unpopular Austro-Turkish War. But a lot of people think it actually happened, which means it’s still rather embarrassing.

It’s also a fabulous example of how not to fight a war.


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