Battle of Karansebes
The battle of Karansebes (1788) was a farcical debacle in which an army killed up to 10,000 of its own ranks, routed itself, and scattered in panicked flight without an enemy present. It occurred during the Austro-Turkish War of 1787-1791, and was fought between an Austrian army of 100,000, and itself.
Austria ruled a diverse and multiethnic empire, with an army comprised of units drawn from various ethnic groups, most of whom could not understand each others’ languages. During the night of September 21-22, 1788, Austrian hussars crossed a river to scout. They found no Turks, but found some Gypsies who sold them schnapps, and soon, the hussars were uproariously drunk.
Back in the camp, the Austrian commander grew worried by the hussars taking so long to return, so he sent some infantry across the river to check. The infantry found the hussars and demanded a share of the schnapps. The hussars refused, a brawl ensued, and escalated into an exchange of gunfire. During that fight, an infantryman shouted “Turci! Turci!” (“Turks! Turks!”), which caused the drunken hussars to flee in panic, accompanied by many infantrymen, unaware that it had been a trick by a comrade.
Across the river, the Austrian camp stirred uneasily at the sounds of distant gunfire and screams. When the panicked hussars and infantry neared the camp, shouting “Turci! Turci!“, they were challenged by sentries who shouted at them to “Halt! Halt!” – which was misheard by non-German speaking soldiers as “Allah! Allah!” In the confusion, an artillery officer concluded that the camp was under attack and ordered his cannons to open fire.
As soldiers woke up to the sounds of combat, startled and confused, some began firing wildly, and within minutes, the panic and wild firing spread and engulfed the camp. Soon, entire regiments were firing volleys at each other, before the entire army dissolved and scattered in panicked flight. The Turks arrived two days later and captured the Austrian camp, where they found 10,000 dead and wounded.