Wednesday, 18 December 2013


Ottoman Army

Very little is understood or written about the Ottoman armies in English after the campaigns of Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566) and they are largely written off as mindless hordes with outdated weaponry and tactics reflecting the apparent decline of the empire as a whole.

However, the influence of Ottoman military practice on the rest of Europe is enormous.  The hussar and the grenze (literally German for border)light infantry were developed by the Austrians to counter Ottoman superiority in these troop types.  Napoleons use of divisional squares at the battle of the Pyramids was because he had read of Russian use of this tactic since Peter the Great, and was the only way Russian armies could withstand the fury of an Ottoman cavalry charge.  Western observers throughout the period were amazed by the speed with which huge Ottoman armies could be assembled, and the magnificence of their equipage, which was all indicative of a sophisticated logistical organisation.  Frederick the Great wrote that an army of 45-50000 was the ideal number that could be sustained in a European campaign during the mid-eighteenth century and yet the Ottomans fielded 100,000 on several fronts.  In fact it was a French general later in the century who had served with the Ottomans who introduced the novel practice of properly built camp toilets because he had been amazed at the cleanliness and lack of disease among the Sultans troops; his name was General Latrine.

However, Ottoman battlefield tactics were behind that of Western Armies.  European renegades were being recruited to reform artillery and infantry tactics, but the military units of this huge empire remained conservative and resistant to too many changes.  


The Janissaries were no longer the elite they had once been and were not very different in quality than locally raised troops.  Indeed, local Bosnian and Albanian infantry were often considered far superior.  They fought in a semi organised fashion and were able on many occasions to give a good account of themselves, especially behind defences, but they did not have the discipline of regular European infantry and did not have bayonets.  In close combat they were ferocious and with the scimitar they could quickly demolish a shaken unit.


Split into regular (Sipahi) and various irregular cavalry, they were ferocious in the charge, and man for man, far superior in close combat than their Imperial adversaries.  However, once held by disciplined troops they could quickly become spent and their main advantage was numbers.


During this period, the artillery was the first to benefit from reforms.  Famous for their huge siege artillery, the Ottomans were beginning to deploy some very effective field guns.  They possessed a technical academy in Istanbul and seemed to attract the brightest officers within the Empire who often showed a very high aptitude for field fortifications, which was another area in which the Ottoman army could often excel Western armies.

Army of the Holy Roman Empire

By and large the Emperors army was competently equipped and organised, despite being made up of troops from several princes and electors from within the Empire.  However, its great leader, Prince Eugene had died the year before and the army had been beaten in the recent war with France and Spain.  In general, it lacked a certain confidence in its leadership which was dangerous when facing an Ottoman army that could often attack swiftly and with fury.

I won't go into the detail of the main constituent parts as these are typical of the period.  However, when fighting the Turk, the imperials adopted some novel tactics.  

Cavalry would prefer to deploy stakes to break up an initial Ottoman charge and would use firepower (just like reiters in the thirty years war) before countercharging.  Austrian and Imperial curassiers went into this war fully armoured with lobster tail helmets, to counter the Ottoman superiority in close combat!

Infantry would adopt battalion and divisional squares with artillery on the corners (just like Kitchener would use a 150 years later in the Sudan) to protect flanks and offer a wall of firepower against Ottoman charges.

The Austrians used Hussars and Croat (Grenze) light infantry to counter Ottoman superiority but never fielded them in quite the same numbers.  In general, it was acknowledged that the best tactic was to use firepower to break up and demoralise the Ottomans before counter-attacking.

I hope the above helps give a flavour of the two different armies and if I get a chance tomorrow I shall post an outline of the rule amendments for this particular battle.



  1. The main Turkish advantage was the colour of their pantaloons!

  2. I will take my chances with the Ottomans tomorrow please Ian.
    I'll be happy just to have some of your fine coffee in the morning so don't do any breakfast for me thanks.