Little Mistakes from History With Huge Consequences
Little Mistakes from History With Huge Consequences

Little Mistakes from History With Huge Consequences

Khalid Elhassan - September 2, 2019

Little Mistakes from History With Huge Consequences
Ottoman army advancing on Sophia at the start of the Austro-Turkish War in 1788. Wikimedia

2. A Cascade of Little Mistakes Made an Army Defeat, Rout, and Flee From Itself

History never witnessed a combination of little mistakes that produced such catastrophic consequences as the Battle of Karansebes (1788). This calamity of screwups occurred during the Austro-Turkish War of 1787-1791. It produced what might have been history’s most catastrophic friendly fire incident. During this engagement, an Austrian army somehow managed to kill and wound up to 10,000 of its own men. In addition, they retreated and scattered to the four winds in panicked flight, without an enemy being anywhere near.

The Hapsburgs were never known for military prowess. Instead, they managed to accumulate and maintain an empire through a series of strategic marriages. Empress Maria Theresa aptly summed up her empire’s strategy: “While other nations do battle, you, lucky Austria, you shall marry“. It was probably well that Austria’s rulers seldom went out of their in search of military glory. The Hapsburgs ruled a diverse and multiethnic empire, and that diversity showed in their military. The Hapsburg army created units drawn from various ethnic groups, most of whom could not understand each other. That would prove a key factor in the farce that occurred on the night of September 21-22, 1788. Read on for the hilarious story of 100,000 Hapsburg troops terrifying themselves.

Little Mistakes from History With Huge Consequences
The Battle of Karansebes. Pinterest

1. From Small Things Mama, Big Things Someday Come

At dusk on September 21st, 1788, Austrian hussars came from Karansebes to scout across the Timis River. They found no Turks, but found some Gypsies, who sold the hussars enough schnapps to get them royally drunk. While they partied, the commander who had sent them out grew worried when his scouts were late in returning. So he sent some infantry across the river to check. The infantry found the hussars, and demanded a share of the schnapps. When the hussars refused, a brawl ensued, and soon escalated into an exchange of gunfire. During that fight, an infantryman decided to prank the hussars by shouting “Turci! Turci!” (“Turks! Turks!”). That panicked the drunk hussars into wild flight while screaming “Turci! Turci!“. Unfortunately, many infantrymen, unaware that the alarm was a jest by one of their own, joined the panicked flight.

In the meantime, the Austrian camp stirred uneasily at the sounds of tumult across the river. When panicked hussars and infantrymen reached the camp, shouting “Turci! Turci!“, sentries challenged them, shouting at them to “Halt! Halt!”. Some misheard the shouts as “Allah! Allah!”. In the ensuing confusion, an artillery officer concluded the camp was under attack, and ordered cannons to open fire. As soldiers woke up to the sounds of combat, startled and confused, some began firing wildly. 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. Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II barely survived the rout, and someone pushed him off his horse into a creek. The Turks arrived two days later, and found up to 10,000 dead and wounded Habsburgs in the abandoned camp.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Boredom Therapy – Woman Was a World Famous Dancer in Life, But People Are Still Talking About Her Untimely Death

Business Insider, June 16th, 2017. Spinach Doesn‘t Have As Much of a Key Nutrient Needed in Your Blood as You Might Think

Cracked – 21 Tiny Mistakes That Changed History

Extreme Tech – Tech Wrecks: Lessons From Some of the Biggest Hardware Screwups

Fawcett, Bill – 100 Mistakes That Changed History (2010)

Gargus, John – “The Son Tay Raid: American POWs in Vietnam Not Forgotten” (2007)

History Extra – Mary Rose Facts: When and How Did Henry VIII‘s Flagship Sink?

Pangeanic – The Worst Translation Mistake in History

History Net – The Truth About Tidal Wave

New York Times, November 2nd, 2015 – Gunter Schabowski, Whose Gaffe Helped Burst the Berlin Wall, Dies at 86

Searching in History – Tragic Death of Francois Vatel

Time Magazine, September 28th, 2015 – How Being a Slob Helped Alexander Fleming Discover Penicillin

Wikipedia – Battle of Karansebes

History News Network – Failures of the Presidents: JFK‘s Bay of Pigs Disaster

Wikipedia – Battle of Schongrabern

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