The most unusual battle in history —- The Battle of Karansebes
In 1787 Austrian emperor Joseph II, at the behest of Catherine the Great of Russia, declared war on the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). The Turks immediately took the initiative and invaded Austrian territory. In 1788 a force of 100,000 imperial troops was sent to Romania in order to halt the advance of the Ottoman Turks.
On the 17 of September the army made camp at the small town of Karansebes, along the banks of the Timis River. At the time the Austrian Empire was a large multilingual state, and its army was composed of soldiers from Austria, Italy, Hungary, Romania, and the Balkans. Most of the ethnics groups within the army could not understand each other’s languages, and many did not even get along.
During the night Austrian Hussars (cavalry) crossed the river in order to scout out the Ottoman Army. Instead of finding Turks, the Austrians found an encampment of Romani (Gypsies) who were selling schnapps. A drinking party ensued, and the cavalrymen settled down for a hard night of drinking. On the other side of the river, the Austrian commander wondered what was taking his men so long, and ordered a brigade of infantry to cross the river and investigate what was happening. When the infantry found the drunken hussars, they immediately demanded their share of the booze. A brawl ensued and after a short time a friendly bar fight turned into a vicious firefight. In the midst of the drunken battle Romanian soldiers began shouting “Turcii, Turrci!” (the Turks, the Turks!). In a panic, both hussars and infantry fled back across the river fearing that the Ottoman Army was attacking.
Meanwhile in the Austrian camp soldiers awoke to the sounds of distant screams and gunfire from across the river. As the force of hussars and infantry charged back towards the camp, Austrian officers shouted “halt, halt!” which was mistaken by the army’s non-German speaking soldiers as “Allah, Allah!” As a result an artillery officer concluded that the incoming soldiers was a Turkish charge, and order his cannons to open fire. Meanwhile soldiers awoke to the sounds of combat, cloathed in sleepwear and roused in confusion, they began firing in all directions; at every shadow, noise, and muzzle flash. The shouts and screams of the many different tongues spoken in the army added to the chaos as soldiers mistook them for Turkish. To the horror of its Austrian officers entire units of the army engaged each other in combat. Eventually the battle was reduced to shear panic as the army retreated from itself in terror.
Two days later the Ottoman Army arrived on the scene and captured Karansebes. There they found 10,000 dead and wounded soldiers.