EUROPE’S FORMIDABLE WINGED HUSSARS
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Between 11 and 12 September 1683 the Polish Winged Hussars, by defeating the Turkish forces then besieging Vienna, saved Europe from the Ottoman threat. The battle was a bloodbath in which Christian forces, led by John III Sobieski rejected the last major Turkish Muslim offensive in the heart of Europe, freeing the Habsburg capital from the siege and initiating the Christian counteroffensive.
In the final stages of the battle, the vanquished Turkish armies were left bleeding against the walls of Vienna. The Christian forces that came to the rescue of the great besieged city, that had earlier prepared to capitulate, were now ahead in the field. It was late afternoon when the king of Poland Sobieski gave the fatal order: 3,000 Winged Hussars under his command, along with other German and Polish cavalry units charged from the Kahlemberg hill.
The sight of the cavalry in charge must have been magnificent. However, in the colorful and composite army of the Holy League, the Polish Winged Hussars were surely to stand out above all. Armed with long spears painted red, iron armor and belts of leopard skins; but above all slender with long feathered wings on the back that characterized the name.
The military body of the Hussars was born in the fifteenth century by Serbian mercenary knights who served in the kingdom of Hungary after the Ottoman conquest of Serbia. The term hussar derives from the Hungarian word huszàr, readjustment from the Serbian gusar, letter “pirate”. Initially used by the Hungarian king Mattia Corvino, the first hussars distinguished themselves for their light armament and great mobility and adaptability on the battlefield.
Unlike the heavy western European cavalry covered with iron and unsuitable rapid reactions, the hussars were fast and fearsome. The victories of Matthias Corvinus against Turks and Germans made his army an example to follow. However, the birth of the Polish Winged Hussars is due to another Hungarian: Stefan Batory, who later became king of Poland.
King Batory reorganized the Polish cavalry on the winning model of Corvino’s army. On the other hand, he made a fundamental change: the Polish hussars were dressed in long spears and heavy armor. In this way, the new Winged Hussars of the Kingdom of Poland combined speed and mobility with an impressive impact force. In fact, in contrast to the hussars of other European armies, the Polish hussars abandoned the shield to base their strategy on the charge in depth. The force of the impact was their secret. These “heavy” hussars were known in Poland as Husaria. Composed of the aristocratic elite and the most wealthy and combative youngsters, the Winged Hussars did not lose a single battle.
The armament of the Husaria differed completely from that of the Serbian-Hungarian hussars or other Central European armies. In battle, they carried a kopia, a long spear (4.5-6.2 m) light with a flagpole over two meters. A heavy sword, szabla, from which derived the western saber along with other white weapons (ax, hammer or mace of arms).
The Husaria also carried a pistol, but the element that most characterized them were their ‘wings’, curved wooden supports, often painted, embellished with leather and secured to the saddles or to the back of the armour. These feathers, when the hussar charged, blew and whistled in the wind, causing a dispiriting emotional impact on the enemy.
Several interpretations have been given to the use of these long feathered wings, despite this it is certain that even before the Batory reform, the hussars used to fix feathers on their shields. Along with the feathered wings, the Polish Hussars used to wear leopard, tiger, lion, wolf, lynx and even brown bear furs.
The Husarias fused oriental armaments together with the western ones, becoming one of the most fascinating military bodies in military history. They used metal-plate armor, often produced in Western Europe. The helmets were of Turkish derivation, szyszak , along with other elements of the armament.
Invincible, when deployed on the battlefield, the Husaria were practically invincible. In fact, they won all the battles in which they fought, except for one, but perhaps their greatest merit was the annihilation of the great Turkish army in 1683. Without their intervention the city of Vienna would surely fall into Ottoman hands, bringing to completion that process of conquest of the Balkans that the Ottoman Turks had started again in the middle ages.
After the victory over Constantinople and the last Roman emperor Constantine XI Palaeologus, Islam and the Ottomans did not find great rivals on their path. Serbia, Moldavia, Romania, Wallachia, Greece, and Hungary all fell one after the other under the rule of the Sultan. Conquering Vienna would have been the culmination of an uninterrupted secular military and political success. And yet, thanks to the sacrifice of the soldiers of the Holy League and of the Winged Hussars, the Turks were repulsed. ORIGIN Fausto Andrea Marconi.
Michael Walsh was awarded ‘Writer of the Year 2011’. With 60 books bearing his name, thousands of new stories and columns, Michael is arguably Britain and Europe’s most prolific author of multi-topic books none of which have been ghost-written.
MICHAEL WALSH is a British born Irish journalist, broadcaster and the author of RISE OF THE SUN WEEL, EUROPE ARISE, TROTSKY’S WHITE NEGROES, MEGACAUST, DEATH OF A CITY, WITNESS TO HISTORY, REICH AND WRONG, THE BUSINESS BOOSTER and THE FIFTH COLUMN VOLUME I and II, and 50 other book titles.
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