On July 14, the Ottoman army of roughly ninety thousand effectives set up camp in front of Vienna. An Ottoman envoy appeared at the gates with the demand that the Christians “accept Islam and live in peace under the Sultan!”
Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, who had been left in command with about twelve thousand soldiers, cut him short, and a few hours later the bombardment began. Within two days, the Turks had completely surrounded the city and, by one contemporary estimate, were within a mere two thousand paces of the salient angles of the counterscarp. The grand vizier (Mehmet himself had stayed behind in Belgrade) set up a magnificent tent in the center of what was virtually another city outside the walls. There, in the company of an ostrich and a parakeet, he dispensed favors in complete confidence of an eventual victory, and sauntered forth each day to inspect the Turkish trenches.
The situation inside the city grew steadily more desperate as water ran low, garbage piled high in the streets, and little by little the familiar diseases of the besieged—cholera, typhus, dysentery, scurvy—took hold. Yet the defenders managed to hold out for two months.
Vienna [was besieged] by the mortal foe of Christendom during the reign of Emperor Leopold I. Influenced by Louis XIV of France, the sultan sent directly against Vienna an army of 200,000 men under the command of the Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha; this army appeared before the city before the gathering of the imperial army had been completed. The defenders of Vienna were led by Count Rudiger von Starrhemberg, Bishop Leopold Kollonitz, who laboured unweariedly for the wounded and for the obtaining of provisions, and the burgomaster, Johann Andreas von Liebenberg. The Turks began the attack 13 July, 1683, and made violent assaults almost daily; the number of defenders sank from day to day, hunger and misery appeared, and the hospitals were full of sick and wounded. It was not until early in September that the relieving army, which had collected at Tulln, set out for Vienna; the commander-in-chief was the King of Poland, John Sobieski; among his generals were Charles of Lorraine, Maximilian Emmanuel of Bavaria, Margrave Louis of Bavaria, and others. The memorable battle began on 12 September; the Christian army descended form the Kahlenberg in three charges and won a brilliant victory over the Turks. Thenceforth Austria and Germany were permanently relieved of the danger of invasion by the Turks, and Vienna was released from its difficult position of being the outpost of Christendom.
On 11 Sept., Sobieski was on the heights of Kahlenberg, near the city, and the next day he gave battle in the plain below, with an army of not more than 76,000 men, the German forming the left wing and the Poles under Hetmans Jahonowski and Sieniawski, with General Katski in command of the artillery, forming the right. The hussars charged with their usual impetuosity, but the dense masses of the foe were impenetrable. Their retreat was taken for flight by the Turks, who rushed forward in pursuit; the hussars turned upon them with reinforcements and charged again, when their shouts made known that the “Northern Lion” was on the field and the Turks fled, panic-stricken, with Sobieski’s horsemen still in pursuit. Still the battle raged for a time along all the line; both sides fought bravely, and the king was everywhere commanding, fighting, encouraging his men and urging them forward. He was the first to storm the camp: Kara Mustapha had escaped with his life, but he received the bow-string in Belgrade some months later. The Turks were routed, Vienna and Christendom saved, and the news sent to the pope and along with the Standard of the Prophet, taken by Sobieski, who himself had heard Mass in the morning.
The Turks lost about 15,000 men in the fighting, compared to approximately 4,000 for the Habsburg-Polish forces. Though routed and in full retreat, the Turkish troops had found time to slaughter all their Austrian prisoners, with the exception of those few of nobility which they took with them for ransoming.
The loot that fell into the hands of the Holy League troops and the Viennese was as huge as their relief, as King Sobieski vividly described in a letter to his wife a few days after the battle: “Ours are treasures unheard of … tents, sheep, cattle and no small number of camels … it is victory as nobody ever knew of, the enemy now completely ruined, everything lost for them. They must run for their sheer lives … Commander Starhemberg hugged and kissed me and called me his savior.”
What is striking about Jan III Sobieski is the quality of his leadership. More important than arms, manpower, tactics, supplies, and even courage, leadership is what makes the difference in any war. When Jan Sobieski led his men down that hill into the Ottoman flank, it was his presence at the front of the charge that demonstrated his dauntless nature and absolute determination. Character cannot be faked, and men who recognize this kind of character in their leader will follow him into the gates of Hell.
Louis XIV, purportedly a Catholic, asked his ally Sobieski not to come to the aid of his rival, the Habsburg Emperor.
Sobieski put Christendom and the fight against the Turk ahead even of his most important alliance.
Pictured above is Sobieski sending his letter to the Pope, in which he said the victory belonged to God alone, and he paraphrased Julius Caesar, who famously wrote, “vein, vidi, vici” — I came, I saw I conquered. Sobieski wrote “Veni, vidi, Deus vicit” — I came, I saw, God conquered.
Sobieski stopped in Czestochowa, en route to Vienna, to pray for the intercession of Our Lady for victory over the Turks. (Pictured below).
His prayer was granted.