Friday, September 09, 2016

Fullbore Friday

When you read modern fiction that takes place in some quasi-Medieval world - things such as Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones - you sometimes wonder how the authors had the imagination for some of the battle scenes. Then as you read real history, now and then it hits you - these authors did not have to make up much of anything. They just paraphrased what actually happened in our world.

When reading about the discovery of the tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent's in Hungary I came across the account of the account of Siege of Szigetvár in 1566, and a Croatian Count in service to the Kingdom of Hungary, Nikola Šubić Zrinski.

There is the Count, in his isolated fortress city with ~2,300 of his men facing an army almost 150,000 led by a man almost a legend.

What do you do?
Szigetvár was divided into three sections divided by water: the old town, the new town and the castle—each of which was linked to the next by bridges and to the land by causeways. Although it was not built on particularly high ground the inner castle, which occupied much of the area of today's castle, was not directly accessible to the attackers. This was because two other baileys had to be taken and secured before a final assault on the inner castle could be launched.

When the Sultan appeared before the Fortress he saw the walls hung with red cloth, as though for a festive reception, and a single great cannon thundered once to greet the mighty warrior monarch. The siege began on 6 August when Suleiman ordered a general assault on the ramparts, although the attack was successfully repulsed. Despite being undermanned, and greatly outnumbered, the defenders were sent no reinforcements from Vienna by the imperial army.

After over a month of exhausting and bloody struggle the few remaining defenders retreated into the old town for their last stand. The Sultan tried to entice Zrinski to surrender, ultimately offering him leadership of Croatia under Ottoman influence, Count Zrinski did not reply and continued to fight.

The fall of the castle appeared inevitable but the Ottoman high command hesitated. On 6 September Suleiman died in his tent and his death was kept secret at great effort with only the Sultan's innermost circle knowing of his demise. This was because the Ottomans feared that their soldiers would give up the battle if they knew that their leader died, so his death was kept secret for 48 days. A courier was dispatched from the camp with a message for Suleiman's successor, Selim. The courier may not even have known the content of the message he delivered to distant Asia Minor within a mere eight days.

Final battle
The final battle began on 7 September, the day after Suleiman's demise. By this time, the fortress walls had been reduced to rubble by mining with explosives and wood fueled fires at the corners of the walls. In the morning an all-out attack began with fusillades from small arms, "Greek fire", and a concentrated cannonade.[Note 7] Soon the castle, the last stronghold within Szigetvár, was set ablaze and cinders fell into the apartments of the count.

The Ottoman army swarmed through the city, drumming and yelling. Zrinski prepared for a last charge addressing his troops:
...Let us go out from this burning place into the open and stand up to our enemies. Who dies – he will be with God. Who dies not – his name will be honoured. I will go first, and what I do, you do. And God is my witness – I will never leave you, my brothers and knights!...
Zrinski did not allow the final assault to break into the castle. As the Turks were pressing forwards along a narrow bridge the defenders suddenly flung open the gate and fired a large mortar loaded with broken iron, killing 600 attackers. Zrinski then ordered a charge and led his remaining 600 troops out of the castle. He received two musket wounds in his chest and was killed shortly afterwards by an arrow to the head. Some of his force retired into the castle.

The Turks took the castle and most of the defenders were slain. A few of the captured defenders were spared by Janissaries who had admired their courage, with only seven defenders managing to escape through the Ottoman lines. Zrinski's corpse was beheaded and his head taken to the new Sultan while his body received an honourable burial by a Turk who had been his prisoner, and well treated by him.

Powder magazine explosion
Before leading the final sortie by the castle garrison, Zrinski ordered a fuse be lit to the powder magazine. After cutting down the last of the defenders the besiegers poured into the fortress. The Ottoman Army entered the remains of Szigetvár and fell into the booby trap; thousands perished in the blast when the castle's magazine exploded.

The Vizier Ibrahim's life was saved by one of Zrinski's household who warned him of the trap when the Vizier and his troops searched for treasure and interrogated the survivors. While inquiring about treasure the prisoner replied that it had been long expended, but that 3,000 lbs of powder were under their feet to which a slow match had been attached. The Vizier and his mounted officers had just enough time to escape but 3,000 Turks perished in the explosion.
Because of this heroic stand by the Croatians and Hungarians, the Ottomans did not continue their march on Vienna. That gave the West another century to get ready, and to win (with a lot of help from the Poles). People wonder why modern Hungarians build walls to keep out hundreds of thousands of military aged muslim men? National hobby.

They knew their mission. They stopped the Ottomans. Fullbore.

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