Battle of Karánsebes

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Battle of Karánsebes
Part of Austro-Turkish War (1788–1791)

Picture (was drawn in 1795) showing Ottoman forces decline to Caransebes
Date21-22 September 1788
Caransebeș, near the Timiș River, modern day Romania
Result Ottoman victory
Capture of Karánsebes by the Ottomans
 Habsburg Monarchy Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Habsburg monarchy Joseph II Koca Yusuf Pasha
80,000-100,000 0
Casualties and losses
Legend:10,000 dead Modern estimates:1,000 dead 0

The Battle of Karánsebes (Hungarian: Karánsebesi csata; German: Rückzug von Karánsebes; Romanian: Bătălia de la Caransebeș; Turkish: Şebeş Muharebesi) was a friendly fire incident in the Austrian army, supposedly occurring during the night of 21–22 September 1788, during the Austro-Turkish War of 1787–1791.


Different portions of an Austrian army, which were scouting for forces of the Ottoman Empire, fired on one another by mistake, causing self-inflicted casualties and severely disrupting the Austrian baggage train, during the night of 21–22 September 1788. The Ottomans took advantage and captured the city of Karánsebes (now Caransebeș, Romania):

On the march thither, the army was seized with a most unaccountable panic, believed themselves to be threatened by the enemy, fell into disorder, and mistook their own troops from the Sclavonian frontiers for enemies. The regiments fired upon one another looked everywhere for an enemy where in reality there was none, and all attempts on the part of the emperor in person to stop the firing and put an end to the confusion were in vain. He was in fact separated from his suite and wandered about ignorant of his way; it was even supposed that he had been taken prisoner when at length, accompanied by a single individual, he came to Karansebes. A detailed account of the singular story of this night-march and its consequences does not appear to us to belong to the province of general history; it will, however, be found both authentic and complete in the Austrian Military Magazine of 1831.[1]

Historical uncertainty[edit]

Other sources include one from 1843, 60 years after the battle. This has made it difficult for some scholars to draw reliable sources and evidence for the detailed account of the battle.[2]

At a minimum, the mere fact of the Ottoman capture of the strategic location, without engaging the Austrians, and with Austrian losses reported in contemporary reports, does suggest some significant friendly fire incident by the Austrian forces.[citation needed]

The paucity of records on the incident, in turn, might reflect an attempt by the Austrians to hide embarrassing details, or at least a lack of eagerness to share them.[citation needed]

Traditional narrative[edit]

The traditional narrative of the battle likely contains some exaggerations and embellishments to fill in the gaps in the history.[citation needed]

The army of Austria, approximately 100,000 strong, was setting up camp around the town. The army's vanguard, a contingent of hussars, crossed the Timiș River to scout for the presence of the Ottoman army. There was no sign of the Ottoman forces, but the hussars came across a group of Romanian people, who offered to sell schnapps to the weary soldiers.

Soon afterwards, some infantry crossed the river. When they saw the party going on, the infantrymen demanded alcohol for themselves. The hussars refused to give them any of the schnapps and, still drunk, set up makeshift fortifications around the barrels. A heated argument ensued, and one soldier fired a shot.[3][4]

Immediately, the hussars and infantry engaged in combat with one another. During the conflict, some Romanian infantry began shouting, "Turcii! Turcii!" ("Turks! Turks!"). The hussars fled the scene, thinking that the Ottoman army's attack was imminent. Most of the infantry also ran away; the army comprised Austrians, Romanians, Serbs from the military frontier, Croats, and Italians from Lombardy, as well as other minorities, many of whom could not understand one another. While it is not clear which one of these groups did so, they gave the false warning without telling the others, who promptly fled. The situation was made worse when officers, in an attempt to restore order, shouted, "Halt! Halt!" which was misheard by soldiers with no knowledge of German as "Allah! Allah!".[5][6]

As the hussars fled through the camps, a corps commander, General of Artillery Colloredo, thought that it was a cavalry charge by the Ottoman army and ordered artillery fire. Meanwhile, the entire camp awoke to the sound of battle. The panic caused by the incident demoralised the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II to the point that he ordered the army to withdraw.[citation needed]

Two days later, the Ottoman army arrived. They discovered dead and wounded soldiers and easily took Karánsebes.[citation needed]


In determining losses, accounts of this incident do not distinguish between losses that were caused by friendly fire, those that were caused by the Turks, and those that resulted from pillaging by the Austrians or by the local Wallachians. One account states that the Austrian rear guard suffered 150 casualties.[7] Another account states that in the days following the incident, 1,000 wounded men were taken to the fortress at Arad, 60 km (37 mi) north of Timișoara.[8] Another source claims that 538 men, 24 jäger, and one officer went missing after the incident, but most returned to duty. Also lost were 3 cannons and the chest containing the army's payroll.[9]

In his account of the incident, Paul Bernard, author of a 1968 biography of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, made an uncited claim that the friendly fire incident caused 10,000 casualties.[10][11] Neither the Austrian war archives' records nor those who have examined them corroborate Bernard's claim.[12] Bernard's account of the war has been dismissed as inaccurate.[13][14] Nevertheless, Bernard's claim of 10,000 casualties was repeated by Geoffrey Regan.[15]

Although tens of thousands of casualties occurred within the Austrians' ranks during the course of the 1787 campaign against the Turks, the vast majority of the casualties were the result of disease, particularly malaria and dysentery.[16]

Published sources[edit]

Contemporary sources that attest to the incident include:

The incident was subsequently recounted in:

  • "III. Geschichte des Feldzugs 1788 der k.k. Hauptarmee gegen die Türken (Fortsetzung)" (III. History of the 1788 campaign of the imperial main army against the Turks (continuation)), Oestreichische militärische Zeitschrift (Austrian military journal), 4 : 58–70 (1831); see especially pp. 58–65. (in German)
  • Criste, Oskar, Kriege unter Kaiser Josef II. Nach den Feldakten und anderen authentischen Quellen bearbeitet in der kriegsgeschichtlichen Abteilung des k. und k. Kriegsarchivs [Wars under Emperor Joseph II. According to the campaign documents and other authentic sources, edited in the War History Department of the Imperial and Royal War Archives] (Vienna, Austria: L. W. Seidel & Sohn, 1904),"IX. Rückzug des kaiserlichen Heeres nach Lugos, September 1788." (IX. Retreat of the imperial army to Lugoj, September 1788.), pp. 301–308. (in German)

The incident was also discussed in a master's thesis and in a doctoral thesis:

  • Mayer, Matthew Z., "Joseph II and the campaign of 1788 against the Ottoman Turks," Master's thesis: JoeMcGill University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1997; see especially pp. 61–62. Available at: McGill University (Montreal, Quebec, Canada)
  • Gramm, Ernst Rainer, "Der unglückliche Mack: Aufsteig und Fall des Karl Mack von Leiberich" (The misfortunate Mack: Rise and fall of Karl Mack von Leiberich), Doctoral thesis: Vienna University, 2008; see especially pp. 82–84. (in German) Available at: University of Vienna, Austria

The incident is also mentioned in:

  • Schlosser, F.C. with Davison, D., trans., History of the Eighteenth Century and of the Nineteenth Century till the Overthrow of the French Empire. ... (London, England: Chapman and Hall, 1845), vol. 6, p. 162.
  • Gross-Hoffinger, Anton Johann, Geschichte Josephs des Zweiten [History of Joseph the Second] (Leipzig, (Germany): Carl B. Lorck, 1847), pp. 292–294. (in German)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Friedrich Christoph Schlosser (December 31, 1844). History of the Eighteenth Century and of the Nineteenth Till the Overthrow of the French Empire: With Particular Reference to Mental Cultivation and Progress. Volume 6. Chapman and Hall.
  2. ^ Connor, Martin (5 March 2017). "Battle of Karansebes - History is now". Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  3. ^ "Zur Kriegsgeschichte" [On the history of the war], Real Zeitung (Erlangen, Bavaria, Germany), 7 October 1788, no. 80, pp. 723–729; see especially pp. 726–728.
  4. ^ "VI. Türkische Angriffe auf das Kaiserliche Lager. Action bey Slatina. Rückzug der Kaiserlichen Armee. Einnahme der Festung Choczim. Anderweitige Begebenheiten des Türkenkriegs." [VI. Turkish attacks against the Emperor's camp. Action near Slatina. Retreat of the Emperor's army. Taking of the fortress at Khotyn. Other events of the Turkish war.], Politisches Journal: nebst Anzeige von gelehrten und andern Sachen [Political Journal, including notices of scholarly and other works], 2 : 1052–1070 (1788); see especially pp. 1058–1059.
  5. ^ "Zur Kriegsgeschichte" [On the history of the war), Real Zeitung (Erlangen, Bavaria, Germany), 7 October 1788, no. 80, pp. 723–729; see especially pp. 726–728.
  6. ^ "III. Geschichte des Feldzugs 1788 der k.k. Hauptarmee gegen die Türken (Fortsetzung)" [III. History of the 1788 campaign of the imperial main army against the Turks (continuation)], Oestreichische militärische Zeitschrift [Austrian military journal], 4 : 58–70 (1831); see especially pp. 58–65.
  7. ^ Real Zeitung, 1788, p. 728.
  8. ^ Politisches Journal, 1788, p. 1059.
  9. ^ Gramm, 2008, p. 83.
  10. ^ Bernard, Paul, Joseph II (New York: Twayne, 1968), p. 137.
  11. ^ Mayer, 1997, p. 61 footnote 65.
  12. ^ There is no mention of 10,000 casualties in Oestreichische militärische Zeitschrift (1831), Criste (1904), Mayer (1997), or Gramm (2008).
  13. ^ Szabo, Franz A., "Paul Kaunitz and the Hungarian Diet of 1790–91", in: Kastner, Georg; Mindler-Steiner, Ursala; Wohnout, Helmut, eds., Auf der Suche nach Identität: Festschrift für Dieter Anton Binder (Vienna, Austria: Lit Verlag, 2015), p. 284, endnote 33: "Paul P. Bernard, 'Austria's last Turkish War', Austrian History Yearbook, 19–20 (1983–1984), pp. 15–31, contains major errors and is unreliable."
  14. ^ Gramm, 2008, p. 83 footnote 309.
  15. ^ Regan, Geoffrey, The Brassey's Book of Military Blunders (Washington, DC: Brassey's, 2000), p. 48.
  16. ^ In "Geschichte des Feldzugs 1788 der k.k. Hauptarmee gegen die Türken. Zweiter Abschnitt" [History of the campaign in 1788 of the imperial and royal main army against the Turks. Second part], Oestreichische militärische Zeitschrift (in German), 3: 3–18 (1831); there are monthly reports of the number of men on sick leave during the campaign: by the end of May, 55 officers and 5,306 non-commissioned officers and enlisted men had been stricken with malaria (German: Wechselfieber) (see p. 7); by the end of June, 15,000 men had developed malaria or dysentery (German: Ruhr) (see p. 12); by the end of July, 20,000 men had been stricken with dysentery (see p. 18).