Battle of Belgrade

Battle of Belgrade

The Austrian defeat of the Ottomans in the Battle of Belgrade on August 16, 1717, led to the Ottoman cession of their portion of Hungary and much of Serbia. Ottoman military fortunes, in decline following the Ottoman rebuff before Vienna in 1683, revived in 1712 when the Ottomans defeated Russian czar Peter the Great’s army on the Pruth River. With the large force mobilized against Russia still available, Grand Vizier Damad Ali decided to wage war against Venice, a long-standing Ottoman enemy, that was then in decline and seemingly without allies.

In 1714 the Ottomans retook the Morea (southernmost Greece) from the Venetians; many Greeks welcomed the Ottomans as liberators, which made the task easier. Damad Ali miscalculated the reaction of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, however. Charles signed a defensive alliance with Venice to oppose the Ottomans. The Ottoman army then headed north, crossing the Sava River and moving up the south bank of the Danube to Peterwardein (present-day Novi Sad). The Habsburg leadership, awed by the size of the Ottoman force and Damad Ali’s success in the Morea, was divided on the course to follow.

A number of Habsburg generals opposed a pitched battle and instead advocated a war of attrition. The brilliant Habsburg general Prince Eugene of Savoy carried the day, however. He respected the Ottoman soldiers for their bravery in assault but also recognized their weaknesses: antiquated weaponry, an inability to adjust to unforeseen tactics by the opposing side, and a tendency to panic in a reverse. Eugene urged an immediate offensive. The Austrians therefore marched to Peterwardein.

Damad Ali arrived there with 150,000 men to find Eugene with 60,000 Austrians drawn up to meet him. The battle occurred on August 5, 1716. The Janissaries (the Ottoman elite force) gained an immediate advantage in an attack on the Habsburg infantry in the center of the line. Eugene countered from the flanks, breaking the Ottoman formation with a heavy cavalry charge. Damad Ali galloped forward on horseback to try to rally his fleeing troops, but he was struck in the forehead by a bullet and mortally wounded. The Ottomans reportedly lost 6,000 men killed and a large number of wounded. The Austrians also secured all 140 Ottoman artillery pieces.

Following up his victory at Peterwardein, in August Eugene laid siege to Temesvár (Timiscoara), the last remaining Ottoman stronghold in Hungary. The Ottomans had controlled it since the days of Suleiman the Magnificent. Temesvár surrendered after only five weeks. This was the prelude to the siege of Belgrade the next year, which Eugene undertook with some 70,000 men.

Held by some 30,000 soldiers, Belgrade was the strongest Ottoman post in the Balkans. As Eugene prepared his forces for an assault on Belgrade, an Ottoman army estimated at 200,000 men under the Grand Vizier Khahil Pasha arrived on the scene. Eugene was outnumbered more than 3 to 1, and his position seemed critical. Ottoman overconfidence, however, and their failure to launch an immediate attack worked to his advantage.

On August 16, 1717, while elements of his forces repelled a sortie by the Belgrade garrison, Eugene took the remainder and, in a daring move that caught the Ottomans by surprise, stormed their main lines. Eugene was wounded in the attack (his 13th and last battle wound) but remained on the field. The Austrians won through the boldness of his assault and the superb discipline of their infantry, which advanced with colors flying and drums beating despite Ottoman artillery fire. Holding their fire until they were but a short distance from the Ottoman lines, the Austrians launched a bayonet charge that broke up the Janissaries and produced victory. Ottoman casualties were estimated at 20,000 men, while the Austrians suffered only 2,000 casualties. Five days later, on August 21, Belgrade surrendered to the Austrians.

The Battle of Belgrade was a watershed. Following the Treaty of Kalowitz of 1699, the Ottomans were no longer a threat in terms of conquering the West. After the Battle of Belgrade they were firmly on the defensive, no longer expanding in Europe but merely seeking to retain conquered territory.

Over the next year Eugene and other Habsburg commanders continued offensive action, driving the Ottomans from much of Serbia, Wallachia, and the Banat. Eugene was reportedly preparing a campaign against Constantinople when the Ottomans sued for peace. On July 21, 1718, the two sides agreed to terms at the small village of Passarowitz, in Serbia. Austria gained Temesvár, the Banat, and Vojvodina, thus completing the liberation of Hungarian territory from Ottoman control begun in the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699. Austria also secured Belgrade, most of Serbia, and a narrow strip of northern Bosnia south of the Sava River. The treaty made Austria a major Balkan power. Venice was forced to give up the entire Morea, retaining only Corfu and the Ionian Islands, and received some compensation in Albania and Dalmatia. However, the treaty marked the end of Venice as a power. Unfortunately for Austria, in renewed war with the Ottoman Empire during 1737– 1739 most of the gains secured at Passarowitz were lost.

References

Henderson, Nicholas. Prince Eugene of Savoy. New York: Praeger, 1965.

Kinross, Lord [John Patrick]. The Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: William Morrow, 1977.

McKay, Derek. Prince Eugene of Savoy. London: Thames and Hudson, 1977.