Monday, November 19, 2007

The Battle of Saint Gotthard (Hungarian: Szentgotthárd) was fought on August 1, 1664 between an Austrian army led by Raimondo Montecuccoli and an Ottoman army under the command of Ahmed Köprülü. The battle took place at Szentgotthárd in Western Hungary, near the present-day Austro-Hungarian border. The Turks were militarily defeated but were able to negotiate the Peace of Vasvár, which was highly favorable to them.

Battle of Saint Gotthard Preparations
More so than military power, the Austrian victory was achieved due to diplomatic efforts. Although Leopold personally objected to Protestantism, he had to rely on his Protestant German princes to provide military aid. Even worse was the military aid from France, which was (and continued to be until the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756) Austria's arch-nemesis. Despite numerous objections from some Protestant princes, help was not short in coming. The League of the Rhine - a French dominated group of German princes - agreed to send a corps of 6,000 men independently commanded by Count Coligny of France and Prince Johann Philipp of Mainz. By September 1663, Brandenburg and Saxony had also agreed to contingents of their own. In January 1664, the Imperial Diet agreed to raise 21,000 men, although this army did not yet exist other than on paper. Meanwhile, the Turks had declared war in April 1663, although they were slow in executing their invasion plans.

Battle of Saint Gotthard Diplomatic efforts
Köprülü's army might have numbered 120-160,000 Probably included some 60,000 Janissaries and spahis, 100,000 azaps, akincis, silidars,tatars and vassals.
Montecuccoli's army consists of Austrian, Hungarian and German forces, French brigades and approx. 2000 Croatians.
The Turkish invasion began in the spring of 1664, a full year after their declaration of war. This delay was key to the defense of Austria, as Montecuccoli was waiting for help to arrive. Finally in July 1664 the Imperial forces were assembled and they set out for the River Rába, which separated the Turkish forces from the Austrian duchy itself. If they were allowed to cross, the Turks could threaten both Vienna and Graz. Montecuccoli intercepted the Turks before they crossed the river but the division of command made effective deployment of troops impossible. On 1 August 1664 Turkish forces crossed the river near the monastery of Saint Gotthard and beat the Austrians back. Although initially plagued by disunity, Montecuccoli was finally able to convince Coligny and Leopold Wilhelm of Baden-Baden (commander of the Imperial detachment) to mass their forces and attack the Turkish troops, who were reorganizing in a nearby forest. The attack stunned the Turks, who fled in confusion back to the river, with a large number of them drowning. Due to the confusion of the panicked troops, Ahmed Köprülü (Vizier 1661-1676) was not able to send the rest of his army across the river and instead retired from the field.
Casualties were heavy on the Ottoman side and significantly, most of the casualties were in the elite corps of the army. Köprülü was left with an army of ill-trained irregulars and auxiliaries while Montecuccoli's casualties were light and mostly in the Imperial contingent. Despite the victory, the Austrians were still outnumbered nearly three to one.
In his work THE OTTOMAN CENTURIES, Lord Kinross reported that the Turks took huge casualties from the French bayonetmen in the Austrian ranks. This was the first Turkish experience at fighting soldiers using the bayonet and musket in disciplined ranks. But the Turks, in their conservatism, were slow to adopt new economic, military, and social methods, and thus were becoming at this time gradually outclassed by Western European states.

Although many in Europe, especially the Croat and Magyar nobility, expected the Austrians to finally liberate Hungary once and for all, Leopold abandoned the campaign. Many have criticized him for this decision (both in the past and the present). Although Montecuccoli's army was largely intact, there was no interest among the allies to liberate Hungary. Any invasion of Hungary would undoubtedly have to be done without the help of the French and German troops. Leopold noticed that the French officers had begun to fraternize with the Magyar nobles and encouraged them to rebel against Austrian rule.
In addition, Leopold had always been a member of the "Spanish faction" in Vienna. With the last Spanish Habsburg, Carlos II, about to die at any given moment, Leopold wanted to ensure that his hands were free for the inevitable struggle against Louis XIV of France. Although the liberation of Hungary was a strategic interest of the Habsburgs, it would have to wait until later. Throughout his reign, Leopold had always been more interested in the struggle against France rather than the Ottomans. Therefore, he signed the humiliating Peace of Vasvar, which did not take into account the Battle of Saint Gotthard. The Battle of Saint Gotthard is still significant, however, for it stopped any Turkish invasion of Austria, which certainly would have prolonged the war and led to an even more disastrous resolution. The Austrians would also use the twenty-year truce to build up their forces and begin the liberation of Hungary in 1683.

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