The Austro-Turkish War
The Austrians battled Turkey for three years between 1788 and 1791 in the Austro-Turkish War. In 1788, it was believed that a battle took place in which the Austrian army accidentally attacked themselves without the Turkish army even being involved. This event is known as the Battle of Karansebes.
In the 18th century, the Russian Empire waged war against the Ottoman Empire, presently known as Turkey. Led by Catherine the Great, Russia was involved in several bouts of physical conflict with the Ottomans. After many of these conflicts, the Ottoman Empire declared war against Russia in 1787.
Austria’s leader at that time, Emperor Joseph II, formed an alliance with Russia several years before that. As part of the alliance, Austria was to lend its full military capabilities to Russia in times of war. Back then, the Austrian Army was made up of different nationalities ranging from the German, French, Czech, Polish and Serbian.
In 1788, Austria fought against Turkey for the control of Danube, the second longest river in Europe. Austria fought alongside the Russians and eventually won the battle. This resulted in the retreat of the Ottoman Empire back into Turkey. However for the Austrians, there was much confusion that took place during this battle.
The Battle of Karansebes
Before the Austrian army took on the Turkish for control of Danube, they set up camp in Karansebes, a town in present day Romania. Austrian cavalrymen met gypsies in the area while they were on night patrol. The gypsies offered the soldiers Schnapps, which is liquor similar to gin, to alleviate their fatigue. The cavalrymen then started drinking in preparation of the battle ahead.
The cavalrymen refused to share the liquor back at camp with the other soldiers, which led to a scuffle between the infantry units and the cavalry. The scuffle worsened when some soldiers decided to use their guns and weapons during the fight. The lack of mutual understanding between the soldiers due to their different nationalities led to greater miscommunication within the group.
According to Reddit user brewert1995, a German soldier shouted “Alle”, meaning everybody, in an attempt to stop the conflict. However, not all the soldiers understood German and may have mistaken “Alle” for “Allah” which was most likely a war cry in god’s name for the Arab speaking Ottomans back then.
He added that at this point, most of the soldiers probably believed the Ottomans were about to attack and hence, started shooting in their drunken stupor. It was reported that 10,000 casualties resulted from the attack.
The factuality of the battle
Despite making its way into some history books, the event was only written about nearly 60 years after its occurrence. According to Wikipedia, the earliest written source of the battle is in the Austrian Military Magazine of 1831. However, there have been no anecdotes or eyewitness accounts of the battle being reported.
Furthermore, it was detailed that the Ottomans found 10,000 dead Austrian soldiers in Karansebes the next day and easily conquered the area. Considering the scale of the event and its odd nature, accounts of it took decades to be published.
Any soldier who survived the conflict may have also been killed off by the Ottomans leaving no one with exact details of the event. It is even quite drastic that friendly fire caused the deaths of 10,000 soldiers when it is highly unlikely that all of them were under the influence of alcohol.
Despite being closer to myth than fact, the battle stands to be a significant moment in Austrian history and still appears in lists of bizarre events that took place during wartime.