King Stépan IV's pleasure dome at Kragoneidin, on the shores of Lake Polishov

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

King Ivan's Campaign of 1683


Shozod, the dusty Bordurian capital located in the Danube basin, had been transformed into an Ottoman military camp by the early spring of 1683.  On behalf of the Sultan, Kara Moustafa Pasha had amassed over 150000 men under arms from such places as Rumelia, Bulgaria, the Bosporus, Anatolia and the exotic oriental fringes of the vast Ottoman Empire; by early May, these troops were billeted in the city of Shozod, capital of Borduria and awaited orders there, or were on their way.  This astonishing army was rapidly stripping Borduria barren of food and fodder, despite the seemingly endless trains of wagons, mules and even camels bearing supplies for the army.  Kara’s Mustafa’s orders were to subjugate the upper Danube and the Kingdom of Hungary (comprising the territory of northern Hungary, now in rebellion against the Habsburgs; southern Hungary, or Transylvania, was already an Ottoman vassal), and secure a defensible frontier within Austrian territory.  Kara’s Mustafa was an extremely ambitious and capable man who had risen from nothing to become second only to the Sultan; his vanity and ambition were his Achilles heel however; he had already laid out plans to exceed his orders and to take as much of the territory of the Imperium as possible (to his own advantage) by striking its fat underbelly, the capital of Vienna.  The Habsburg Imperium crushed, he dreamed of turning south, of taking Venice and invading Italy, even of taking Rome itself.

The Pasha took stock of the reserves of men and materiel available to him and of the time he would need to win his major immediate objectives for the campaign.   Heavy snow and then protracted rain in the early spring had saturated the roads and slowed transport of supplies and his plan was now running late.  New supplies could be wrung out of Hungary and the southern Austrian provinces once crops were ready, but even maraudage takes time, as do sieges of heavily fortified cities. Kara Mustafa knew that he had to move quickly to be in secure winter quarters in Austria by autumn.  Nevertheless, he had not yet gained complete control over the Balkans.  Syldavia, Ragusia and the Venetian client state of Dalmatia were of some strategic importance in the long term but were not essential immediately, nor were they real threats to Ottoman control of the Danube.  Surely their fall would be inevitable, as would that of Venice itself, once the power of the Imperium was broken.  So, on the 20th of May, 1683, Kara Mustafa commanded his army to march north into Hungary, where it would meet up with the forces of allied Wallachia and Transylvania, and thence march on toward Austria.  The Ottoman threat thereby passed Syldavia by and King Ivan gained a reprieve. 

Having ignored Kara Mustafa’s attempt to coerce a Syldavian surrender and having in fact taken up arms against the Ottomans (technically alongside the Venetians), King Ivan I was preparing himself for the worst, a large-scale invasion of Syldavia from Borduria.  A more cautious man would likely have bowed to Kara Mustafa rather than face the rather awesome force he had assembled in 1683.  Unable to think of backing down, King Ivan put his regiments on alert and drilled them endlessly, he saw that fortifications were supplied and ordered patrols to comb the frontier for evidence of an invasion.  Ivan also brought up the strength of his army by training new drafts of men and by calling militia companies to assemble at regional forts where they were amalgamated into auxiliary battalions. 

In August 1683, finding the Bordurian frontier only lightly guarded, Ivan ventured a proactive move and sent nearly his entire army into the field.  A major force (including the King’s Musketeers, the Wladir and Ragusia infantry regiments, the Hum militia, the irregular “Grenzer” company, the Cuirassier Regiment, a squadron of irregular scout cavalry and artillery (with a handful of heavy siege guns, recently obtained at a good price from the Venetians) moved up the Wladir river from Djordjevaro.  With them, Ivan forced his way through the small, fortified frontier towns of Mocjiro and Orehovo on the north bank of the Wladir river and finally laid siege to Klow itself. If it could be taken, Klow (and the adjacent St. Vladimir Grad fortress) presented strong points from which the Ottomans might be better resisted when they returned.

Typically ambitious, King Ivan also sent a strong detachment (consisting of the Travunia and Zeta infantry regiment, elements of the Ragusia, Travunia and Zeta militias, the Dragoon Regiment and the small squadron of the Household “Husjzar” Guards (acting as hussar scouts) north over the St. Mihailo Pass with the intention to cut off eventual reinforcement or resupply of Klow from the east. This force stormed the weak Bordurian fortification guarding the pass and then descended into the Wladrujan plain.  While the presence of this second force did cause the Bordurians distress, and paralysed the Bordurian detachments in Istow and Neidzdrow, Ivan found that he was unable to remain in effective contact with it.  The force bumbled about for a time before moving, as intended, to occupy the small town of Ottokardin, east of Klow, which controlled principal routes of access to the city from the east.

No real relief force for Klow was mustered immediately by the Bordurians, as they were weakened by their commitments to Kara Mustafa’s army and caught unprepared by King Ivan’s offensive.  The undermanned Bordurian garrison of Klow proved to be determined, however, and the Syldavian army amply showed its inexperience in this sort of technical warfare.  Furthermore, the Syldavian army was short on suitable artillery necessary to force the issue and lacked professional engineers.  The direction of the siege rested in the hands of several of the new émigré officers, largely in the artillery (a branch overlooked by King Ivan to this point) who possessed some idea of the principals of military engineering.  The siege endured nearly three weeks before the artillery officers had trenches and a redoubt in place that could bring the army’s handful of heavy cannons to bear on a vulnerable portion of Klow’s walls and on a city gate.  Once these were breached, Ivan launched an assault which resulted in a short but sanguine battle that ended with the Syldavian troops taking control of a section of walls and opening the city gates.  Bordurian resistance collapsed at that point and the city was taken. 

A 19th century artist's impression of the entry of King Ivan into Klow, 1683.
Some details are erroneous.  Count Nikolai Mikolic,
shown mounted at left centre, was not present nor were the Household Husjzar horse
(in yellow and red uniform), and the King's Musketeer Regiment (background,
 wearing blue uniform) were still wearing round hats). Nevertheless uniform colours
are thought to be accurate.   

It was a day of great rejoicing in Syldavia and in Klow, when Ivan entered the old capital city of the Almazoutian dynasty.  He was the first Syldavian king to do so since the Ottoman conquest of Wladruja in 1430.  The downtrodden city, which still remembered well its former days of glory, turned out to welcome Ivan.  The mood of the countryside was more mixed, however.  Communities of old-time Syldavian farmer families flocked to the King’s banner, while those of more recent settlers, from Borduria and the Ottoman empire, installed since the Ottoman conquest were anxious at best.  Some of these, including families descending from janissaries and holders of timar feudal holdings, packed up their households into wagons and streamed off into Polishov as refugees rather than remain.

A Bordurian relief force was, in fact, being amassed as Klow fell; its advance was halted when scouts reported the presence of the second Syldavian force in Moltuja, which was assumed to be waiting to entrap the relief column.  A second halt came when news arrived regarding the siege of Vienna.  Incredibly, Kara Moustafa’s siege had been broken by the counter-attack of a united Austrian-Polish army under King Jan Sobieski and Archduke Charles of Lorraine.  Even harder to believe was the news that the Ottoman army was routed with huge losses at Vienna and that its ruined remains were streaming in chaos back south toward Shozod with the Austrians hot on their heels.  The Bordurians were stretched very thin as the majority of their army went with Kara Mustafa to the disaster of Vienna (though one imagines that the noted Bordurian talent self-preservation would bring some of those soldiers home…).  The Bordurian pasha, Hassan Muhtar, still on his hurried way home from Vienna, was in no position to intervene directly and so district commanders in Borduria were forced into a very defensive posture to protect Borduria’s northern frontier as well as the provinces of Polishov and Zympathia.  Accordingly, the relief column intended for Klow was used to reinforce the St. Vladimir Grad fort.  The weak and now isolated Bordurian posts in Moltuja, Wladruja and Zympathia had to fend for themselves for the time being.

Theatre of Ivan's campaign of 1683, showing approximate routes of his two attacking
forces along the Wladir River (left) and over the St. Mihailo pass (right).
Defensive positions of the winter of 1683-84 are noted in magenta;
very small towns and villages are in green and large towns are indicated in yellow.  

King Ivan was greatly encouraged by the progress of his campaign (naturally enough, he now had control of Klow, the strategic hub of Syldavia) and the trouble that his enemies found themselves in.  After leaving a garrison in Klow, Ivan attempted to exploit his advantage by eliminating Bordurian detachments in western Wladruja that could menace his supply lines and then by attempting to besiege the Bordurian-held fortification of St. Vladimir Grad, which commanded the frontier between Wladruja and Polishov.  It was late in the year however and again the conduct of a siege proved a challenge for the Syldavian army.  With no real progress and few local resources left to sustain his army, Ivan broke off the siege and retreated to winter quarters.  He established the bulk of his force in Klow and set up defensive positions at strategic posts controlling access to the city (Ottokardin, Nie Zilheroum, Klasdroje and Orehovo).  He established a new supply depot in Klow and waited for spring while he cogitated impatiently for a plan of attack.  

2 comments:

  1. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - this is so good, it feels like a real historical account! Gripping stuff, indeed.

    (Belated) Best wishes for the holiday season, and good gaming in the New Year.

    ReplyDelete
  2. If only real historical accounts were always so entertaining and well written!

    Interesting 'modern' (18th C., old units are traditionalist) uniformology hints...

    ReplyDelete