Relieving Vienna 1683/2018

On Sunday 23 September 2018, we gathered at Rob's War Room to refight the relief of Vienna in 1683.

Historically, the Ottoman Turkish Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa Pasha, besieged the Austrian capital with around 200,000 men. The Austrian Habsburg dynasty was caught unprepared and called for assistance from the Empire, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Pope organised the Holy League to encompass the confederation of allies. King Jan III Sobieski led the combined relief army, split into three columns - the Austrian, German, and Polish. After struggling through dense woods on high ground above Vienna, the allies emerged and defeated the Turkish host blocking their route to the city. It had been a 9-hour battle, but Sobieski's winged hussars made the decisive charge, and the Polish king sent the Grand Vizier's green 'Standard of Muhammad' to the Pope with the words: 'Veni, Vidi, Deus Vincit'.

Sunday's game aimed to recapture the splendour and thrill of the original battle. It was the culmination of over a year of preparation, as Phil and I painted up appropriate figures for the major combatants, including Polish, German, Turkish, and Tartar contingents. As I was umpiring, I also needed to play test my rules - 'Sobieski!' - at the club and at my house, which helped to iron-out problems and plan the game in detail. Phil and Noel were particularly helpful with this.

The game itself was using 28mm figures; close to 2,000 were in play, with about 100 units on each side. I designated Noel to play the Grand Vizier, and he chose Peter (left wing), Pat (Turkenschanz redoubt), and Dave (right wing) as his lieutenants. I chose Rob to play Sobieski, with Jonathan and Juan commanding the left (Austrian) column; Brian in charge of the centre (German) column; and Rob and Tim the right (Polish) column.

We played for about six hours between 10.30am and 5pm, managing to fit in 15 turns.

On turn one, the allies began to move through the Wienerwald woods on top of the Kahlenberg heights above Vienna. Brian immediately decided to avoid a frontal assault on the Turkish central redoubt known as the Turkenschanz, and swing one of his German commands to the right in order to outflank that position. Meanwhile, Peter advanced on the Turkish left with his cavalry. On turn two, Jonathan began to bring on his reserves, as did Brian, whereas on turn 3, Juan attacked Noel's Turkish cavalry to the left of the Turkenschanz - it was a battle that would continue during the whole day, as both Juan and Noel fed in more and more units to gain ascendancy.

On turn four, Rob was able to start bringing on the Polish column, which arrived at 1pm historically. He activated two of his three commands. Meanwhile, Peter activated and brought on some of his 15 reserve light cavalry units. Jonathan used long-range fire to try to dislodge Dave's Janissaries from Grinzing village on the allied far left flank. Juan's cavalry fanatically continued to engage Noel's cavalry, between Jonathan's position and Brian's; the battle of faiths was in full swing!

Dave pulled back from Grinzing village on turn five; Rob was meanwhile forming his commands to Brian's right, for the long trek through the woods to the plains where he could mount a serious threat to the Turkish battle line. Brian also was slowly moving through the woods with massed infantry and cavalry, while leaving sufficient forces opposite the Turkenschanz to pin the Turks in place. Pat meanwhile was moving the Ottoman skirmish line before the Turkenschanz to engage with Juan's and Brian's troops.

By turn six, Jonathan and Dave - who commanded the largest chunk of Turkish forces - were in stalemate and shadow-boxing on the allied left. Dave was anchored on Dobling village, which Jonathan did not want to frontally assault: but he did advance beyond Grinzing. Juan and Noel's vicious cavalry battle continued. On turn seven Peter attacked Brian's troops as they emerged from the woods to threaten Gersthof village. Rob managed to activate and deploy the remaining Polish command of Hetman Sieniawski.

By turn eight, Rob had managed to clear the tree-line and begin to emerge into 'cavalry country'. Tim's Polish cavalry, exiting the woods, now fought Peter's Turkish cavalry. Meanwhile, Pat's irregular foot and Brian's German infantry fought over Gersthof village, which fell to Brian's unit. It was a foothold gained in the planned turning movement against the Turkenschanz position. Peter was now also under increasing pressure from Rob, Tim, and Brian.

On turn nine, the Turks won the initiative, and Peter destroyed one of Brian's medium cavalry units. But Brian now played a special action card and turned one of Pat's Janissary units, which joined the Allies! The Poles were by now steadily descending the hills which flanked the Turkish left under Peter. On turn ten, Tim used a winged hussar unit and a light cavalry unit to push back some of Peter's units.

On the following turn (eleven), Rob's winged hussars destroyed two of Peter's light cavalry, and occupied the far Turkish left flank at Ottakring village. The hussars began to roll up the Turkish left. Meanwhile, Brian destroyed a Turkish cavalry unit - but had his defecting Janissaries destroyed by Pat's artillery fire from the Turkenschanz - while Jonathan inflicted a defeat on some of Dave's cavalry. Peter managed to stabilise the situation in his centre-left by routing one of Tim's pancerni units. Nevertheless, the tide seemed to be turning.

On turn twelve, Tim destroyed a Turkish light cavalry unit with his hussars, while Brian destroyed one of Pat's irregular foot units outside the Turkenschanz, and a medium cavalry unit of Peter's. The next turn was a desperate back and forth as Peter's and Tim's heavy cavalry fought in the left-centre of the battle line. The Allies were by now pressing on the space to the right of the Turkish main redoubt, and Peter was under a lot of pressure.

On turn fourteen, Peter lost two more cavalry units and Brian lost one. Yet Brian was now scaling the right corner of the Turkenchanz, despite have taken considerable casualties from Pat's artillery. Ominously for the Turks, Rob now activated a special card enabling the Allies to have two consecutive turns! Rob's hussars duly sped past Hernals village and pounced on Peter's cavalry wing, by now severely pressed from Tim's and Brian's forces.

The game ended with the Turkish left close to collapse, and the Polish column having done a good job on delivering a coup de grace. In total, the Allies lost 13 units, while the Turks lost 17 units. Although stalemate had developed to the left of the Turkenschanz, and the main redoubt was not frontally assaulted, Rob's Poles and Brian's Germans had combined to seriously weaken the Turkish left. With a bit more time and a few more moves, a decisive victory could have been foreseen. As it was, I declared a marginal allied victory.

The game had gone smoothly, with players getting accustomed to the rules pretty easily. All seemed to enjoy themselves, and some even commented on the small details I had introduced such as bespoke commander cards produced on my computer. A lot of love, attention, and hard work had gone into the game, and it was very much a team effort. Thanks to all who played, with particular thanks to Rob for hosting the game, setting out terrain, hospitality, and encouragement. Thanks to Noel for play-testing and suggestions for improving the rules; likewise to Phil - who also painted the great majority of figures quickly and to his usual high standard! Noel and Rob also lent figures and terrain from their collections.

All in all a great club experience, and well worth it.