The Battle of Karansebes
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Today begins a new occasional series: Blunders and Foul Ups.
The initial item in that series is from a field rich in blunders: the military.
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
- Albert Einstein
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Back in the days when I was an Arts student at Sinnyuni I heard a story, probably apocryphal, of a Commem Day stunt. Commem Day was a lot bigger back then than it is today, the main feature being student pranks and silliness.
I managed to locate a newspaper's description of the stunt that I mentioned above:
“ . . . one University Commemoration Day, Parramatta Road (then the main western artery into the city) was in chaos because a gang of workmen were busy pulling up the tram lines. Some Machiavellian students rang the police and told them that a group of students had dressed up as workmen and were digging up Parramatta Road. Something should be done and done quickly.
Having alerted the police, the students then rushed out to the workers and informed them that it was Commemoration Day, students were running wild all over the city, and they had heard that a group of students, dressed as police, were about to try and stop the workers from doing their jobs.
The students then quietly retreated into the university grounds, found strategic vantage points, and watched a brawl break out between the police and workers. It probably never happened but it is a great story.”
Beautiful. And so simple.
I was reminded of the above story when I read an item about the Battle of Karanesebes (which has also been mooted as apocryphal by some).
The story about the battle, which took place in 1788 (the same year as white settlement began in Australia, hence an Australia Day connection) was first recorded in print in the Austrian Military Magazine in 1831.
Back in 1788 Austria was at war with Turkey. Determined to kick some Turkish butt, the Austrians sent 100,000 men to what is now Romania. On 17 September 1788 they settled down for the night outside the town of Karansebes with some of their light cavalry, known as hussars, crossing the Timis River to scout for Turks. They didn’t find Turks but they did find gypsies, who, in turn, had a large amount of schnapps. This was purchased by the hussars who then got down to some serious drinking. This attracted the attention of some Austrian infantry who had also crossed the river. The infantry demanded some of the alcohol but the drunken hussars refused, even to the extent of placing guards on their store of schnapps. An argument followed and a shot was fired.
The following then happened:
- The hussars and infantry began fighting each other.
- Some of the infantry, believing that they were fighting the Turks, called out "Turci! Turci!" ("Turks! Turks!").
- The hussars believing the claims by the infantry that they were being attacked by the Turks, retreated on horseback, straight through the infantry. The infantry, seeing the hussars fleeing, had their belief of Turkish attack confirmed and joined the retreat.
- The Austrian army was not composed only of Austrians. It also comprised Italians, Slavs and other minorities. Many of the retreating soldiers could not understand each other. In an attempt to restore order, German-speaking Austrian officers shouted “Halt! Halt!” which the non-German speaking soldiers heard as “Allah! Allah!”
It is hard to believe that the situation could get any worse but . .
- As the fleeing hussars and infantry reached the main army camp, an officer in that main camp assumed that the body of advancing yelling men were attacking Turks. He ordered his artillery to open fire. The whole camp awoke to the sound of cannon fire and also assumed Turkish attack. As with the hussars and the infantry, they fled in all directions, firing into the dark at anything they saw, that is, Austrian soldiers.
- The entire army made a general retreat and even their leader, Emperor Joseph 11, was pushed off his horse into a creek.