Battle of Karansebes

Battle of Karansebes

The Battle of Karansebes was one of the biggest friendly fire incidents in history.

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The Battle of Karansebes was a friendly fire incident in the Austrian army, recorded as having occurred during the night of 21–22 September 1788, during the Austro–Turkish War of 1787–1791.

Different portions of an Austrian army, which were scouting for forces of the Ottoman Empire, fired on each other by mistake, causing self-inflicted casualties. The battle took place on the night of 21–22 September 1788. The Ottomans took advantage and captured the city of Karansebes.

The army of Austria, approximately 100,000 strong, was setting up camp around the town. The army's vanguard, a contingent of hussars, crossed the Timis River to scout for the presence of the Ottoman army. There was no sign of the Ottoman forces, but the hussars came across a group of Tzigani, who offered to sell schnapps to the weary soldiers. The cavalrymen bought the schnapps and started to drink.

Soon afterward, some infantry crossed the river. When they saw the party going on, the infantrymen demanded alcohol for themselves. The hussars refused to give them any of the schnapps, and while still drunk, set up makeshift fortifications around the barrels. A heated argument ensued, and one soldier fired a shot.

Immediately, the hussars and infantry engaged in combat with one another. During the conflict, some infantry began shouting "Turci! Turci!" ("Turks! Turks!"). The hussars fled the scene, thinking that the Ottoman army's attack was imminent. Most of the infantry also ran away; the army comprised Austrians, Serbs, Croats, and Italians from Lombardy, plus other minorities, many of whom could not understand each other. While it is not clear which one of these groups did so, they gave the false warning without telling the others, who promptly fled. The situation was made worse when officers, in an attempt to restore order, shouted "Halt! Halt!" which was misheard by soldiers with no knowledge of German as "Allah! Allah!".

As the hussars fled through the camps, a corps commander[who?] thought that it was a cavalry charge by the Ottoman army, and ordered artillery fire. Meanwhile, the entire camp awoke to the sound of battle and, rather than waiting to see what the situation was, everyone fled. The troops fired at every shadow, thinking the Ottomans were everywhere; in reality, they were shooting fellow Austrian soldiers. The incident escalated to the point where the whole army retreated from the imaginary enemy, and Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II was pushed off his horse into a small creek.

Two days later, the Ottoman army arrived. They discovered dead and wounded soldiers and easily took Karansebes.

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