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Interesting History: How the Austrian Army Defeated Itself at Karánsebes
Our history is latticed with failures of all kinds, but some still stand out, often reaching ridiculous heights. One of these events was the battle of Karánsebes, a central-European myth that has yet to be properly verified.
The only sources currently available are documents from different historians decades after the battle, thus this battle is not considered "canon" when it comes to European history. However, it's still an entertaining read that raises some questions.
Location of Karánsebes today
The battle itself
The battle started in the evening, on the 17th of September, 1788. According to the historians, a detachment of hussars left the 100,000 strong Austrian main force to scout the surroundings for Ottoman forces, they however met a group of gypsies who sold the cavalrymen alcohol.
After a while some infantrymen decided to cross the river and ended up stumbling into the hussar detachment, entering an argument about the drinks, with one of the footmen firing a shot.
In the midst of the brawl, some of the participants started shouting "Turks!", to which most of the party fled in different directions. Officers trying to stop the retreat kept shouting "Halt!", but they only made things worse. Those hearing them allegedly thought they were Ottomans shouting "Allah!".
Meanwhile, the whole camp awoke to the sound of battle and set up the artillery to shell the suspected enemy, however in all the surprise the Austrian forces started fleeing from the "battle". With the dark evening and the dense gunpowder smoke, the infantrymen started shooting at any shadow they spotted, reputedly injuring or shooting their own forces dead.
The sources claim that the whole army fled that night, with Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. pushed into a creek in the midst of the retreat. The Ottoman army arrived the next day and took the town of Karánsebes without any resistance.
The interesting part
As ridiculous as this story is, sadly there have been numerous confirmed reports of friendly fire on this scale from modern history. In 1758, during the seven years war, a group of French light infantrymen managed to confuse two columns of British infantry who ended up fighting each other for the whole day. (The Epic Battles for Ticonderoga, William R. Nester).
The only source, a book from 50 years later
- History of the eighteenth century and of the nineteenth till the overthrow of the French empire. Wit
Book digitized by Google from the library of Harvard University and uploaded to the Internet Archive by user tpb.
Other articles in my Interesting History series:
- Interesting History: Secret Police during the Totalitarian Dictatorships of Hungary
During the Soviet occupation, Hungary was governed by a dictatorship closely interwoven with Soviet agents. This article aims to provide a glimpse on how the secret agencies functioned in Hungary.
- Interesting History: How a Rock Became the Heaviest Ever Ship in the Royal Navy
An article on HMS Diamond Rock, a cliff in front of a French port that was taken and commissioned as a British ship in the navy. Even today, British navy laws still apply to the rock.