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“The fog of war”*….

McKinley Valentine (in her wonderful newsletter, The Whippet) on a fierce battle “between” a single army…

The battle happened on the night of 21 September 1788, in what is now Romania. The Habsburg and Ottoman empires are Austria and Turkey (but bigger, because empires).

I’m just going to give you the bullet-point summary:

• The vanguard (part that goes ahead of the regular army) of the Austrian army crosses Timiș River to scout for Ottomans. They are ‘hussars’, light cavalry. The hussars don’t find any Ottomans, but they DO find some Romani people who sell them some barrels of schnapps.

• Some Austrian infantrymen cross the river, see the other soldiers getting drunk, and ask them to share.

• The (very drunk) hussars refuse, and set up makeshift fortifications around the schnapps barrels.

• The argument escalates until eventually shots are fired.

• Someone shouts “Turks! Turks!” Both groups think the Ottomans are attacking and try to run away – it’s enormously chaotic. An officer shouts “Halt! Halt!” to try and restore order, but the troops (who are from a bunch of different countries and don’t understand German) think they hear “Allah! Allah!” and the Ottomans are definitely attacking.

• The hussars flee on horseback back through the main army camp. The General of Artillery thinks it’s an Ottoman cavalry charge and orders the cannons to fire on them.

• Entire army camp wakes up and goes into a terrified panic.Holy Roman Emperor (head of the Habsburgs) orders the whole army to withdraw and get itself together.

• Ottomans turn up two days later, discover only some dead and wounded Austrians and no army, and easily capture the city of Karánsebes.

There are some who suggest that the account is apocryphal (e.g. here, source of the image at the top), But as Valentine observes…

Did this really happen? Some of it is a bit too neat, too story-like – esp the Halt/Allah thing – which ought to make you suspicious. But Wikipedia reckons there are a lot of contemporary accounts of it (I can’t read them because they’re in German, French and Italian), so at the very least it’s a story that sprang up at the time, rather than being internet-era misinfo. And certainly Karánsebes is a real city that the Turks captured in 1788 (you’d be amazed how many internet-era historical myths fall at 1-inch hurdles like that). My guess is: in broad strokes, yes; the specifics probably added for colour.

The Battle of Karánsebes: possibly history’s dumbest skirmish,” from @mckinleaf.

* a paraphrase of Clausewitz (“War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.”)

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As we promote peace, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781 that that French Navy defeated the British Navy in the Battle of the Chesapeake (AKA the Battle of the Virginia Capes or simply the Battle of the Capes). The French victory kept supply lanes open for the Franco-American army, providing them siege artillery and French reinforcements which were decisive in the Siege of Yorktown, which in turn effectively secured victory in the American Revolution and independence for the Thirteen Colonies.

The French line (left) and British line (right) do battle

source

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