A video clip on the charge of the winged Polish hussars on September 12, 1683, 333 years ago, that broke the back of the Turkish army besieging Vienna. John Sobieski, the Polish King, fifty-four years old, had been fighting the Turks since his youth. College educated at a time when that was rare, he had spent two years traveling in Western Europe. Multi-lingual, in addition to his native Polish he could also speak Latin, German, Italian, French, Tatar and Turkish. A scholar as well as a fighting man, he made a careful study of Turkish military methods. His skill on the battlefield and in diplomacy led to him being crowned King of Poland in 1676.
In 1683 he gained immortality in History by literally riding to the rescue of Vienna with his Polish army. A letter he wrote to his wife in the tent of the defeated Turkish general details what happened:
The Immortal God, (to whom Honour and Glory be Ascribed for Ever) has Blest us with so Signal a Victory, as scarce the Memory of Man can Equal: The Enemy was not only content to Raise the Siege of Vienna, and Leave us Masters of the Field; But also of all their Cannon, and Tents, with Inestimable Treasure, and clim’d over Mountains of Carcasses made by their own Body’s in the Flight. My Eyes were never Blest before with so delightful a Prospect as to see my Soldiers follow here a great Drove of their Sheep and Oxen, and there a much greater Herd of Turkish Captives; Nor my Ear’s e’re Charm’d with so pleasing Musick, as the Howlings and Dying Groans of these Miserable Wretches: So great was their Hast, that the Prime Visier almost alone and forsaken of all, was forc’t without the Ceremony of his Turbant, to take his Flight; But yet he left me Heir to his Tent and Riches whith were shewn me by a Renegado of his own Retinue.
I have Presented the Turkish Standard to His Holyness, who was Instrumental no less by His Money, than His Prayers, to their Overthrow. The Prime Vizor’s Horse with all his Trappings, I reserv’d for my self; And tho he was so Fortunate in his Flight to Escape us, yet his Caymecam, or Lieutenant-General, with some of the most Considerable Bassa’s [Pashas]fell by our Swords; But the approaching Night put a Stop to our Pursuit, and their Slaughter. Those Janizaries which were left behind in the Mines and Trenches, we thought not worth the dulling of our Swords, therefore we made but one Funeral Pile for ’em all, and Burnt ’em.
In the Action there were about Thirty Thousand Turks kill’d; besides Tartars, and One Hundred Thousand Tents taken. Our Souldiers, and the Burghers of Vienna, were Two whole Nights, and One Day, in Rifling their Tents and Body’s, and I believe a Week would scarce suffice to finish it.
The Rarities which were found in the Prime Vizor’s Tent, were no less Numerous than Strange and Surprising, as very curious Parrots, and some Birds of Paradise, with all his Banios,and Fountains, and some Ostriches, which he Chose rather to Kill, than let ’em fall Alive into our Hands; Nay his Dispair and Jealousy transported him so far, as to Destroy his very Women for the same Reason.
The whole Army Attributes the Glory of this Victory to God, and Us, and all the Princes of the Empire, with the Great Officers, as the Dukes of Bavaria and Lorrain, Prince Waldek, etc. were so far transported with my Valour and Success, that their Thanks and Praises were more Numerous, than was their Fears before; and Count Staremberg the Governour, Saluted me with the Title of his Mighty Deliverer. The Common People in my going to and from the Churches, pay’d their Veneration even to my very Garments, and made their Cry’s and Acclamations reach the Sky, of Long Live the King of Poland.
In the battle we Lost some of our Friends, as Prince Halicki, and the Treasurer of our Household. The Reverend Marinus Daviano, heapt on me his Pray’rs and Blessings, and told me he saw a White Dove fluttering o’re the Army, which he look’d upon as an happy Augure of our Victory.
We are now on our March towards Hungary; taking the Advantage of their Distraction, to Defeat the Remainder of their scatter’d Troops, and Surprize Gran or Newheufell. I have all the Princes of the Empire my Companions in this Enterprise, who tell me they are ready to follow such a Leader not only into Hungary, but to the End of the World.
The Prime Vizor being unable to put a Stop to our Pursuit, told his Eldest Son Mahomet Han, That he must now bid Adieu to all his Greatness, and never expect to be in Safety, whilst their Lye’s one Stone upon another in the Walls of Vienna, but withal bid him hasten to the Grand Seignor and Demand a Speedy Succour, to whom his Son Reply’d, That he knew him too well for that, and there was nothing for ’em now to Rely on but their Flight.
I am just now going to take Horse, and all my way for Two Hungarian Miles together, are so strew’d with the Carcasses of Men, Horses, and Camels, that the Stench of ’em would be insupportable to any but a Soldier.
I have sent several Dispatches to Forein Princes to give Notice of this Action, but the King of France was forgotten.
I Rejoice to see our Son Alexander of so Clear and Undanted a Courage who always stuck to me in my most iminent Dangers: and made the first onset on a Body of Turkish Spahn, with that Courage that he put ’em soon to flight, and Receiv’d the Applauses of the whole Army. He has Contracted a very Intimate Friendship with the young Duke of Bavaria with whom he equally devided the spoyl, This Prince has been very Assiduous in his Services to me; therefore I have presented him three of my Horses, the Bassa of Egypt’s Tent and Standard, and ten Pieces of Cannon. To his Sister the Dauphiness, a Locket of Diamonds. Yet there Remains such heaps of their Colours and Symeters in our possession as are not to be numbred.
All my Countrey men March’t with the same Bravery to the Relief of Vienna, as the Souldiers of Godfrey of Bullein did to the Holy Land, and the miraculous Cross that you presented me with [which was his companion in that Expedition]I Believe Contributed no less to our Victory.
Thanks be to Heaven, now the Half-Moon Triumphs no longer o’re the Cross, And ’twas thrown down from St. Stephen’s Steeple in Vienna (whom it had o’retopt so long) immediately on the Defeat: Neither have the Turks any occasion to upbraid us with their Blasphemous Mahometan Proverb. ‘Ye Christians where is Your God?
In pursuit, Sobieski destroyed a sizable portion of the remaining Turkish army at Parkany on October 7-8, 1683. Well might the Pope hail Sobieski as the Savior of Christendom and the Turks begrudgingly refer to him as the Lion of Lechistan (Poland). As for Sobieski, he sent the green banner of the Prophet to the Pope after Vienna with this simple message: Veni, vidi, Deus vincit! (I came, I saw, God conquered!)