On 10th August 1664, with the end of the Fourth Austro-Turkish War (1663-1664), a 20-year peace treaty (the Peace of Vasvár) was signed between Leopold I Archduke of Austria (Leopold Ignaz Joseph Balthasar Felician) and Mehmet IV (Avci Mehmet, Mehmet the Hunter) of the Ottoman Empire in Vasvár, Hungary, which set the borders between the Hapsburg Austrian state and the Ottoman Empire.
However, on August 6, 1682, the sultan decided to heed the advice of his Grand Vizier, Karah Mustafa (Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha), which was to venture to succeed where Suleiman the Great himself had failed; to conquer the Hapsburg capital, Vienna. To ensure that this venture did not fail as did the first (1529), the Turks sought alliances within their vast empire, approaching particularly tribes with a strong military spirit and a militarised organisation, such as the Tartars.
As the last year of the treaty (1684) approached , the Austrians did not anticipate the prospect of renewal. Leopold I had already spent large sums, increasing his army from 30,000 to 50,000 in 1681, and improving the defences of regional towns and castles in an effort to force the invading Ottomans to conduct a siege war. Siege warfare was by its very nature tedious and time-consuming. In this spirit, Vienna was transformed into a strong fortified city.
Vienna had an ellipsoidal shape, with one side along the Danube River. It was surrounded by concentric walls, with the exterior guarded by triangular projections. In addition, there were trenches, bridges, advance posts, large gates, covered paths and other independent sections. In front of the vulnerable sections of the walls there were mounds that protected them from bombardment by cannon.
But the refortification of Vienna and the strengthening of the regional fortifications did not discourage the Turks. Their excuse for not renewing the treaty was provided by increasing Calvinist Hungarian opposition to the Hapsburg emperor. After the Austro-Turkish Peace of 1664, Leopold had stepped up measures to impose imperial domination in Hungary by increasing troop occupation, limiting the activities of Calvinist protesters against Catholic clerics, transferring key administrative positions to German hands, and methodically undermining the power of local landlords. The result was the revolt of the Magyars under Imre Thokoly, who invited the Ottomans to sieze Vienna. Sultan Mehmet IV proclaimed Imre Thokoly King of Upper Hungary, and began gathering in Belgrade an impressive army from all over the Ottoman Empire. In the spring of 1683, the Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa, crossed the border with 200,000 men (coming from all the Sultan’s provinces; the Balkans, Arabia, Syria, Caucasus, Asia Minor, etc.)
violating the Treaty of Vasvár signed by his predecessor and brother, Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed Pasha, and invaded the Austro-Hungarian territories. Within two months, the massive Ottoman army was outside the walls of Vienna. The emperor was in a very difficult position. The hostility of France’s Louis XIV prevented alliances from being made to assist the Austrian defence. To the west of the empire French armies occupied Strasbourg, and the danger of a new front seemed imminent. Even in Poland, French diplomats discouraged King John III Sobieski from responding to imperial calls for help. But the King of Poland, determined from the time of the humiliating treaty of 1676 to reoccupy Podolia from the Ottomans, repelled the French machinations and rushed to accept the establishment of an Austro-Polish alliance, signing the Warsaw Treaty on 31 March 1683. The Treaty clarified , if Austria or Poland were attacked, the other kingdom would send military assistance.
When on Saturday 10 July Kara Mustafa reached Ounborg-Altenburg, Emperor Leopold left for the safety of Bavarian Passau, about 200 kilometers northwest of Vienna.
On July 13, the Great Vizier occupied the area between Svehat and Vienna and a few miles away a raid took place along the bank of the Danube, destroying large stockpiles of timber which would have been useful for the siege , particularly for mines and trenches , a sign of lack of foresight by the Vizier but also an inability to fully control his forces.
The following day, July 14, the Ottoman army moved to the slopes of the valley of Vienna, facing the north-facing geographically important landmarks; the Canal, the Danube, the hills of the Wiener Wald behind the city and the suburbs. In the council that convened, the Turkish officers and engineers prepared their plans, based on the belief that the fortifications could be breached in the Hofburg, that is, the area adjacent to the Leopold’s palace.
From the highest point, to the left of the city, the ground was smooth and the drainage looked good, which would facilitate the concentration of engineers and artillery on the one hand, and the digging of saps and mines on the other. Thus, they would avoid digging across the eastern wall of Vienna near the waters of the Canal, which in case of rain would overflow, making the area inaccessible.
Without hesitation, the Grand Vizier guided the main force of his army across the border between the villages of Gubernorf and Xernales, while other troops were placed east and southeast of Vienna, encircling it.
Kara Mustafa then sent an ultimatum for surrender, according to the usual Ottoman practice, which was promptly rejected by Ernst Ruediger, Graf von Stärhemberg, commander of the Vienna garrison.
Initially the Turks focussed their activity south of the Burg ravelin. The Turks were divided into three sections. In the centre, opposite the fortification of Burg, was part of the army under Kara Mustafa himself, assisted by the Aga of the Janissaries and the Rumeli’s Belarbey.
On the right, the Pashas of Nyyarbakir and Anatolia, along with the Asian regiments and some of the Janissaries, took the place, and on the left, opposite the bastion of Löbel, the Pashas of Tzeno and Shiva, led by the Vizier Ahmed. That same night the troops of the centre began digging their trenches toward the fortifications of the city and on the morning of July 15 they began to make progress from the hill that was opposite the centre of the fortifications.
Until the morning of the 16th of July the trenches excavated by the Turks had reached only 200 paces from the prominent corners of the fortification moat. On the other hand, the defence preparations were almost complete. A gallows was placed on the Burg ravelin as a warning for anyone who neglected his duties in defending the city.
The system of approaches with parallel trenches led from the slopes to the prominent corners of the bastion of the Burg, the Burg ravelin and the fort of Löbel. The Turkish trenches were deeply excavated and protected by high forts and wooden roofs, while there were, at times, large dugouts where troops were stationed. The artillery played an important role in the siege, but it was at a disadvantage against the Austrian guns in terms of gun calibres and the quality of ammunition. Kara Mustafa had at his disposal 17 cannon of medium calibre, throwing projectiles weighing between 12 and 50 kilos, 95 of smaller caliber, throwing projectiles weighing between 4 and 10 kilos, and others lighter, so an effective weight of fire could not be achieved on the defensive fortifications from a distance. The bombardment continued periodically throughout the siege, although sometimes interrupted by rain.
On the other hand, the Hapsburg engineers strengthened the fortification with crossed wooden beams. The ledges were made into trenches, turning the weak points into defences. The inner corridor of the fortification was divided into sections, as they built inner walls along its length, designed to delay the attacker. Engineers paid special attention to the fortification of the Burg bastion. Through its walls, more trenches and new fortifications were built. The defense was focussed on Burg and Löbel, where the main activities of the Ottomans had been concentrated.
John Stoye, The Siege of Vienna: The Last Great Trial Between Cross & Crescent, Pegasus Books.
Paul Hoffman, The Vienesse: Splendor, Twilight, and Exile, Anchor Press.
Oscar Halecki, A History of Poland, Dorset Press.
Jan Wimmer, The 1683 Siege of Vienna, Interpress.
Bruce, George, Harbottle’s Dictionary of Battles, Van Nostrand Reinhold
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