EdB’s facebook Post in the League of Deplorable Gentlemen led me to comment on Vienna, 9/11/1683, when the barbarians were at the gates.
SEPTEMBER 11, 1683
At the Battle of Vienna, the Poles were divided into three corps: King Jan Sobieski (with his 16-year old son Jakub Ludwik) in the center, Sieniawski on his left flank, and Jablonowski on the right flank. The Polish forces were mostly cavalry: 15,000 horsemen divided in pancerny, light cavalry, and the famed 2,670 winged hussars.
“The Hussars are the first Gens d’Arms of the Kingdom and without contradiction the finest Cavalry in Europe, in respect of the Mien of the Men, the goodness of the Horses, and their Magnificent and Noble Apparel. They are reserved only for Battles and other Distinguished actions. They are composed of handsome Men, mounted on the finest Horses of the Kingdom, with divers other led-horses, richly caparisoned.”–Dalerac, The Secret History of the Reign of John Sobieski the Third, 1699.
The elite heavy cavalry winged hussars squadrons were part of the nobility. Each nobleman (towarzysz) took with him a group of horsemen who were under his direct command and fought close to him in battle.
The armor in its entirety was very effective and functional. Its weight rarely exceeded 15 kg. The breastplates were made of bright steel, on average 3-5mm thick, and were bulletproof, all the portions were articulated and well adapted to the body (made to measure). In fighting, nothing hampered the wearer’s movement. Brass was the principal ornamental material, combined with brightly polished steel. The wings, made up of eagle, crane, or ostrich feathers, and even used in the campaign, were fixed to the backplate of the man’s armor, which was furnished with holders. Should a hussar be without armor or without a backplate, he could fix the wing, or a pair of wings, in the holders of the cantle of his saddle.
The hussar’s lance, the kopia, was single-use. Those were ultra-light, 2–3 kg with length up to 6.2m, longer than anything their opponents had. They were mass manufactured in Commonwealth royal armories. It was common in battles for the lance to go through three and more opponents.
The hussar saber was versatile, designed for direct, swinging, and arc-like cuts, executed from the shoulder and elbow. The blade, between 82 and 87cm long and of the same width almost for its whole length, was double-edged towards the point. Most blades were of Polish manufacture. But the true merit of the hussar saber lay in the hilt, which had the quillons prolonged in a knuckle-guard and a thumb ring riveted to the inner languet, while the grip of wood was covered with sharkskin or leather and bound with iron or silver wire; the pommel was almond-shaped. The most important feature of this hilt was the thumb-ring: the pressure exerted by the thumb ensured a quick and efficacious cut! Hussars also sported a pair of flintlock pistols.
The horses were bred to run very fast with a heavy load and to recover quickly. These were hybrids of old, Polish equine lineage and eastern horses, usually from Tatar tribes. As a result, a horse could walk hundreds of kilometers loaded with over 100 kg (warrior plus armor and weaponry) and instantly charge.
The opposing military forces were those of the Ottoman Empire and Ottoman fiefdoms, commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha. The Ottoman army numbered approximately 170,000 according to documents on the order of battle found in Kara Mustafa’s tent. They invested Vienna on 14 July 1683.
Historians have speculated that Kara Mustafa wanted to take the city intact with its riches and declined an all-out attack, not wishing to initiate the plundering that would accompany an assault and was viewed as the right of conquering soldiers.
The hussars entered the battle late in the day. Fierce fighting had gone on for 12 hours. The Poles felt the Ottomans ready to break and sent in the winged Hussars, who routed the Muslim hoard.
It was a classic example of cavalry correctly used at the correct time.