I let an important date slip past last week, unmentioned and un-noticed. Not surprising, as you rarely will find this event mentioned outside of military histories these days. I wasn’t even aware of it myself until just a few years ago. I am referring to the Battle of Vienna, fought on September 11th-12th, 1683.
So what was the battle of Vienna about? Why it was the salvation of the West, and all we know and hold dear as a civilization, against a siege by the Ottoman Turks. Vienna was the culmination of over 900 years of war between Christian Europe, and the Muslim East, beginning with the Byzantine Arab wars of the 7th century, and the Muslim invasion of Spain and France in the 8th century. As a battle of Macro-historical important it is one of the top 5. Had victory gone to the Ottoman Turks the world would be a vastly different place.
A full accounting of the battle is here if you are so interested. I am only focusing on the turning point of the battle though, the fulcrum of fate where the West was saved from Muslim domination. The point where the Great Polish King Jan Sobieski led his Winged Hussars into battle and broke the Turkish line.
After twelve hours of fighting, the Poles held the high ground on the right. The Holy League cavalry waited on the hills, and watched the infantry battle for the whole day. Then at about 5 PM King of Poland ordered the attack, the cavalry attacked in four groups. One group was Austrian-German, and the other three were Polish. Over 20,000 men charged down the hills (the largest cavalry charge in history). The charge was planned and led by King of Poland Jan III Sobieski at the head of 3,000 Polish heavy lancers, the famed “Winged Hussars”. The charge broke the lines of the Ottomans, who were tired from the long fight on two sides. In the confusion, the cavalry headed straight for the Ottoman camps, while the remaining Vienna garrison sallied out of its defenses and joined in the assault.
The Ottoman troops were tired and dispirited following the failure of both the sapping attempt and the brute force assault on the city. The arrival of the cavalry turned the tide of battle against them, sending them into retreat to the south and east. In less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna.
The Winged Hussars of Poland are perhaps one of the most striking cavalry brigades in history. They were heavy cavalry, lancers, riding atop giant horses. Their signature decoration were feathered wings on the back of their armor, that ruffled in the wind and was purported to strike fear into the hearts of infantry.
So, the next time we mourn the attacks by radical Islamists on September 11th, remember September 12th, and realize that this is just another phase in a very long clash of civilizations.
And say a prayer of thanks for Jan Sobieski and his Polish Hussars.