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Great Battles # 13 Nicopolis 1396 (last Western Crusade)

Discussion in 'Military History' started by Austerlitz, Nov 6, 2016.

  1. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    NICOPOLIS 1396 - LAST WESTERN CRUSADE

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    BACKGROUND :


    With the decline and breaking up of the byzantine empire now confined to constantinopole,the alarming expansion of the ottoman emirate led to ever deeper inroads into the balkans.In 1392 Sultan Bayezid after reconfirming Serbia as his vassal,crushed the remanant of the bulgar kingdom advanced right upto the frontiers of Hungary,stopping at the Danube.Hungary now under direct threat and its King sigismund I,also Holy Roman Emperor (albeit an weak one) sought help from the west.Envoys were sent to the different european courts with support from the Vatican and the naval power of Venice assured.These found a receptive ear in France.

    The Hundred Years War had at that time subsided periodically since 1389 in a rare truce.The warlike knights needed other outlets to satisfy their thirst for glory,and a crusade was the epitome of chivalrous activity.France at this time was a classic feudal monarchy with the big feudal lords being very powerful and largely autonomous in their domains.(a problem compounded by the madness of the king).The most powerful of these magnates and the uncle of the king,the Duke Of Burgundy cherished a lifelong dream of going on a crusade and he was to be the main financial patron of the enterprise.Though too old to take part himself his son Jean,Duke of Nevers was to be the nominal leader of the expedition though he had never seen combat.They were supported by the zealous and enthusiastic younger knights - Marshal Boucicat and Count D'Eu,constable of France as well as old warhorses Marshal Vienne and Lord Coucy.Repelling the turkish tide was only the nominal objective,the real aim was personal glory and prestige of their houses and prospect of riches.
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    (Route of Crusaders)

    Nearly 1000 franco-burgundian knights assembled at Dijon with their retinues.From here they passed through Germany on their way to Hungary.At Regensburg being joined by small numbers of polish and german knights.They linked up with the Hungarian Army at Budapest.The War Council in Buda was immediately the forum of a fierce dispute. The previous year, Bayezid had declared that he would attack Hungary by May, yet he had not appeared by end of July. Hungarian scouts sent out as far as the Hellespont could find no sign of him, causing the French to proclaim that he was a coward. Sigismund of Hungary assured the crusaders that Bayezid would come, and advised that it would be wiser to let the Turks make the long march to them, rather than make the same long march to find them. This strategy was rejected by the French and their allies. Coucy, acting as spokesman, stated,
    "Though the Sultan's boasts be lies, that should not keep us from doing deeds of arms and pursuing our enemies, for that is the purpose for which we came."

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    ROAD TO NICOPOLIS :

    After linking Up with the hungarian army and its wallachian and transylvanian vassals the crusaders army goes on the offensive taking several ottoman castles.They move along the danube,supported by the genoese and viennese fleets.Meanwhile the western catholic crusader forces maltreat the local orthodox christians,leading to tensions.Their first target was Vidin which surrendered and the token turkish garrison was massacred.The next target was Oryahovo, a strong fortress located 75 miles from Vidin. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to show their bravery in deeds of arms, the French carried out a forced march at night to reach the castle before their allies, arriving in the morning just as the Turkish forces had come out to destroy the bridge across the moat. In fierce combat the French secured the bridge but were unable to push forward until Sigismund arrived. The forces combined and managed to reach the walls before night forced the combatants to retire. The next morning the inhabitants of Oryahovo agreed to surrender to Sigismund on the assurance that their lives and property would be spared. The French promptly broke Sigismund's agreement, pillaging and massacring the town after the gates were open, and later claiming that they had taken the town by conquest because their men-at-arms had topped the walls the night before. A thousand residents, both Turkish and Bulgarian, were taken hostage and the town set ablaze. The Hungarians took the French action as a grave insult to their king, while the French accused the Hungarians of trying to rob them of the glory of victory through combat.Then they proceeded to besiege Nicopolis,a key stronghold on the Danube which was largely impervious to assault and held by a determined garrison confident that the sultan,called Yildirim (Thunderbolt) for the speed with which he moved from front to front would come to their rescue.Moreover, given the fate of the previous garrisons,surrender was not an option.​

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    (Bayezid's advance)
    On recieving word Bayezid abandoned the siege of Constantinopole and approached Nicopolis,enroute joining the serbians under Stefan Lazarevic,his brother in law and main vassal.Sigismund had sent 500 horsemen to carry out reconnaissance in force around Tirnovo, 70 miles to the south, and they brought word back that the Turks were indeed coming. Word also reached the besieged inhabitants of Nicopolis, who blew horns and cheered. Boucicaut claimed the noise of their celebration was a ruse as he believed that the Sultan would never attack; he further threatened to cut off the ears of anyone who discussed rumors of the Turks' approach as being damaging to the morale of the crusadersBayezid sent a message to the garrison commander - ''Hold on bravely,I will not abandon you.You will see i will be there like a flash of lightning''

    One of the few to concern himself with scouting the situation was the veteran Coucy, who took a group of 500 knights and 500 mounted archers south. Learning of a large group of Turks approaching through a nearby pass, he separated 200 horsemen to carry out a feigned retreat drawing the pursuing Turks into an ambush where the rest of his men, waiting concealed, attacked their rear. Giving no quarter, Coucy's men killed as many as they could and returned to the camp.This action only increased the overconfidence of the french and also earned couchy the ire of D'Eu who accused him of trying to steal their glory.

    Sigismund called a war council on the 24th, in which he and Mircea(leader of Wallachians) suggested a battle plan in which the Wallachian foot soldiers, who had experience in fighting the Turks, would be sent in the first attack to disperse the Turkish vanguard Sigismund proposed that, once the path to the main enemy body was , the French form the front line to rush in, while the Hungarians and the other allies follow to support the attack and keep the Sipahis from sweeping around the crusaders' flanks. D'Eu denounced the proposal as demeaning to the knights, who would be forced to follow peasant footmen into battle. He reportedly stated, "To take up the rear is to dishonor us, and expose us to the contempt of all" and declared that he would claim front place as Constable and anyone in front of him would do him mortal insult. In this he was supported by Boucicaut; Nevers, reassured by the confidence of the younger French lords, was easily convinced.​

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    (Nevers,Sigismund,Bayezid)
    Sigismund left to make a battle plan for his own forces. Apparently within hours, he sent word to the camp that Bayezid was only six hours away. The crusaders, said to be drunk over dinner, reacted in confusion; some refused to believe the report, some rose in panic, and some hastily prepared for battle.In an act of senseless barbarism the prisoners taken from Oryahovo were massacred by the crusaders.At daybreak on 25 September the combatants began to organize themselves under the banners of their leaders. At this point, Sigismund sent his Grand Marshal to Nevers to report that his scouts had sighted the Turkish vanguard and asked for the offensive to be postponed for two hours, when his scouts would have returned with intelligence as to the numbers and disposition of the enemy.

    Nevers summoned a hasty council of advisors, in which Coucy and Vienne and the eldest French knight on the crusade, advised obeying the wishes of the Hungarian king, which seemed wise to them. At this, D'Eu declared that Sigismund simply wished to hoard the battle honors for himself and declared his willingness to lead the charge. Coucy, who declared D'Eu's words to be a "presumption," asked for the counsel of Vienne, who noted, "When truth and reason cannot be heard, then must rule presumption." Vienne commented that if D'Eu wished to advance, the army must follow, but that it would be wiser to advance in concert with the Hungarians and other allies. D'Eu rejected any wait and the council fell into a fierce dispute, with the younger hawks charging that the elder knights were not prudent, but fearful.At this point D'Eu picked up the standrad and crying 'Forward,in the name of God' went to lead the vanguard closing the argument.

    NEXT :OPPOSING ARMIES.
     
  2. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    THE CRUSADER ARMY

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    THE FRANCO-BURGUNDIANS :

    France was the fountainhead of european chivalry,and was at this time a classical feudal monarchy.There was no standing national army,a few royal regiments and the rest of it being feudal contingents.military service was rendered ad hoc as an obligation of a vassal, either in person and/or with a contingent raised by one's own means. This social role was crucial: a feudal overlord, was dependent upon his vassals to mobilise on his behalf in case of war. The only alternative was to replace knighthood as the core of military forces with mercenaries.

    CAVALRY :

    Knights (Chevalier) -
    The ascendancy of the heavy knight can be traced to improvements in cavalry technology from the 7th century onwards,beginning with the stirrup amongst the carolingian cavalry which provided much greater stability and control to the horseman.Around the 10th-11th century the front and back of the saddle were raised providing the knight with more support upon impact when charging with his lance, and a more secure seat when being struck. The iron stirrups grew longer, allowing the knight to stand rather than sit in the saddle - useful for close quarter combat especially against infantry with the longsword.The couched lance technique developed during this time cemented the dominance of heavy armoured cavalry on the European battlefield.( One that would endure unchallenged till the 14th and 15th centuries -when infantry began its return to prominence in the shape of the English Longbow and the Swiss Pikeman)

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    (Evolution of Knight's Armour)

    The armoured knight was the core of feudal armies in this golden age of cavalry.
    The lowest tactical unit seem to be a lance .The lance had no consistent strength of arms throughout its usage as a unit. Different centuries and different states gave it a fluctuating character. However, the basic lance of three men; a knight, a squire who served as a fighting auxiliary and a non-combatant squire, primarily concerned on the battlefield with looking after the knight's spare horses or lances, seems to evolve in the 13th century.As knights alone would not provide sufficient manpower,these elite horsemen were supplemented by Sergeants (sergeants-at-arms) - professional drawn from the lower classes, but not peasants who acted as armoured cavalry and fought alongside the knights.Together the mounted knights and sergeants were called Men-at-arms.Their proportion varied from a ratio of 1:1 to 2 sergeants for every knight in France.

    Several lances were organized into ad-hoc companies before a battle under senior knights of upto 100-400 men.Several companies could be assembled under a Banner led by a great feudal lord or knight of the realm.Some of these lords were powerful enough to have hundreds of mounted men at arms at their service as retainers.In feudalism, the rank Knight Banneret was given to those nobles who had the right to lead their vassals into battle under their own banner.Since the Crusade was a private enterprise largely funded by the Duke of Burgundy,the crusaders were formed of some these high feudal lords with their retainers,plus adventurers and religious zealots that joined them .

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    (French Knight 14th century)

    By the 14th century improvements in armour technology led to replacement of chainmail with platemail as the primary body armour type which was near impervious to arrows(except at point blank range) and edged weapons(unless finding a certain angle or gap).A platemail coat enveloping the body consisted of several separate plates joined by rivets. The plates were covered with cloth, on both the outside and the inside.(sometimes chainmail covering areas between the plates).The second half of the fourteenth century saw the increasing use of th bascinet or honskull helmet with a movable visor (German, klappvisier).Despite the great increase in protection the french knights- considered the best in Europe,had suffered decisive defeats to english combined arms defensive tactics in the Hundred Years War by launching precisely the kind of blind impetous massed charges that they would launch at Nicopolis.Moreover Burgundy was the region in France,most embedded in chivalric ideals where honor took precedence over tactics,logistics and reconaissance. Battle was never to be refused regardless of the odds or conditions.This being a privateenterprise only increased the knights thirst for glory.1000 knights(primarily franco-burgundian,also some german or polish)The superb protection offered by plate armour reduced the effectiveness of eastern horse archer hit and run tactics as these couldn't do any damage at all but the shortest of ranges,but it also meant due to the weight of the armour the knights were easily exhausted if engaged in prolonged combat.

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    (Mounted Sergeant-at-arms)

    Sergeants -at -arms -

    In feudal terminology, a serjeant was usually a vassal without knightly status. His fee, smaller than a knight's and the services he offered were mostly military .Their equipment seems to have been similar to the knights', but lighter(less expensive).In the order of battle, mounted sergeants were usually mixed with the knights.His weapons were the same as the knight - A long lance and a longsword.Sometimes perhaps dagger or warhammer .Knightly retinues also contained mounted crossbowmen in small numbers to act as nominal light cavalry.

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    Infantry -
    Infantry was the lower end of the totem pole on feudal armies but still an essential contingent.Except in times of emergency,feudal levies were not raised as they had very little combat utility.There was no national army as the feudal lords were afraid of arming the peasantry and anyway required them to work on the land.Infantry came from 2 sources - Urban militia.The towns were obligated to supply a fixed amount of militiamen with their equipment in times of need under generally a sergeant.The more favoured source were mercenaries - professional soldiers under a captain which could be recruited in groups of 50-100 men organized in companies under their own captain.This was convenient,they need not be trained and could be hired for the campaign season and then discharged instead of paying the force all year round .

    The two types of infantrymen were common - Crossbowmen and spearmen/polearm equipped soldiers.Infantry were largely incapable of taking the offensive on their own.The day of the swiss pikemen in their imposing neo-phalanxes was only in genesis in 1396 and would only see fruitition in the 15th century.The crossbow - a bow-type weapon consisting of a bow type assembly mounted on stock and shooting bolt projectiles,began to rise to prominence again in European warfare(after limited use of crude prototypes in greek roman times)in the 11th and 12th century.The traditional bow had long been a specialized weapon which required a considerable degree of lifetime training, physical strength, and expertise to operate with any degree of efficiency. In many cultures, bowmen were considered a separate and superior caste, despite being usually drawn from the common class, as their archery skill-set was essentially developed from birth and was impossible to reproduce outside a pre-established cultural tradition, which many nations lacked. In contrast, the crossbow was the first projectile weapon to be simple, cheap, and physically undemanding enough to be operated by large numbers of conscript soldiers, thus enabling virtually any nation to field a potent force of ranged crossbowmen with little expense beyond the cost of the weapons themselves.In Europe, crossbows became widely used in the early medieval period, and this led to the ascendancy of large mercenary armies of crossbowmen (best exemplified by the Genoese Crossbowmen).Crossbowmen fought with a large shield called Pavise behind which they could reload in safety.They enjoyed good range and armour penetration,but due to slow reload were liable to be massacred if caught in the open by knights.The western crusader contingent at Nicopolis took with them perhaps no more than 200-500 crossbowmen.Most mercenaries recruited from Italy or France.

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    The other type of infantryman was the pikeman/halberdier.The pike was effective for its long reach ,but being unwieldy was only effective in packed formations -which as yet only the swiss fought in(and scots but with shorter spears).The halberd polearm was a popular choice for the infantryman.It offered less reach than the pike,but was much easier to wield for single infantrymen.In essence a spear with a hook and an axe head ,it was useful for pulling an opposing horseman to the ground,or by bringing him down by crippling his horse in its vulnerable unarmoured legs.(See above).Not many infantry from western europe accompanied the franco-burgundian force.

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    HUNGARIAN AND ALLIED ARMIES :


    By the 14th century hungarian armies had become quite westernized,especially the noble cavalry and now relied primarily on the shock charge of the armoured knight rather than the steppe horse archer tactic of the magyars.The basis of the army was the Baronal feudal contingents mobilized under a Banderia.Platemail was used by the high nobility,but the feudal nobles possibly still used the more readily available chainmail .The hungarian army also possesed large numbers of light cavalry - recruited from nomadic elements that had settled in Hungary(many running from the mongols) -The szekelys,the pechenegs,the alans,the cumans.These provided horse archers and light lancers,and performed the duties of reconaissance,raiding,screening and harassment.Each mounted lancer was theoritically to be supported by 2 horse archers.A western crusader's account noted the hungarian horse archers were not as good as the turks however in quality of bows or archery skills.Hungarian infantry was almost always mercenaries of the types described above,with a feudal peasant levy only in times of national emergency.

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    (Wallachian cavalry)
    Wallachia was a pastoral landmass populated by semi-nomadic peoples,the ethnic majority being the romanian vlachs.They had a tribal military organization.Light cavalry fighting as both horse archers and light lancers were the main type and were reknowned for their irregular warfare which would preserve wallachia its independence(despite vassal status eventually to ottomans).There stradiot frontier guards and a small core of elite knights(viteji).The wallachian leader Mircea was a veteran of many wars and a somewhat reluctant ally as he feared hungarian territorial ambitions only a little less than the turkish.Moreover he was disgusted with the attitude of the western crusaders whom he regarded as making war as if it were a game.For him it was no game,but a mortal struggle for the survival of his tiny principality against the might of the ottoman empire.These factors would influence his behaviour during the battle as well as that of the transylvanian auxillaries.

    NEXT : THE OTTOMAN ARMY
     
  3. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    THE OTTOMAN ARMY

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    EVOLUTION OF THE OTTOMAN ARMY :

    The ottoman emirate under Osman emerged in the early 14th century in anatolia(which the turks had swept into after the byzantine catastrophe at manzikert and following civil wars) from the ruins of the old seljuk turkish empire which had fallen to the mongol hordes.The ottomans initially were a classical steppe nomad army based on a tribal model centred around turcoman light cavalry and a core of heavy cavalry.However contact with byzantine and islamic military systems had transformative influence over time,as did the new requirements brought about by expansion into the balkans from late 14th century -particularly infantry for sieges.This process would see the transformation of of a tribal army to a professional standing army(albeit hybrid one).Classical ottoman military organization came to rest on 2 systems.

    The Timariot System -
    The timariot system was a modified version of the Iqta system(in practice among turks since the time of Alp Arslan).The purpose of the timariot system was to provide the empire with provincial governors as well as a reserve military force which needed no salaried upkeep from the central treasury.A timar was a plot of land normally the size of a village. A timar coule be acquired through battlefield valor followed by a successful petition. A timariot's peacetime responsibilities was to manage his village, keep track of the population, protect it from bandits, settle local disputes, and collect taxes. A timariot's wartime responsibility was to serve in the army fully equipped along with a band of armed retainers(Cebeli )by using the surplus tax proceeds from the timar.These timariot land holdings economically supported the provincial sipahi cavalrymen(Timarli Sipahi) which formed the heavy cavalry of the ottoman army -the primary battle winning arm during the classical era. Unlike a European feudal lord, the timar-holder did not dispense justice; justice was the sultan’s prerogative. European feudalism was government on the local level in the absence of central government. In the Ottoman Empire central government was active and crucial.

    Ghulam System -

    Parallel to this was the ghulam system.The ghulam system had its origins in the practice that spread all across the islamic world(from Egypt to the delhi sultanate) from the 10th century.The initial arab conquests had been carried on the backs of tribal contingents which became the backbone of the new provincial armies of the caliphates.However this system soon showed strains,necessities of manpower and moreover regional factionalism between the provincial armies,disloyalty of royal guards led to frequent internecine conflict.The turks erupting out of the steppes around this time were also considered by the caliphs as superior to the arab forces who had settled down and lost much of their military effectiveness(as cavalry).The abbasid caliphs initiated the ghulam system.A ghulam was a slave educated and trained for state service.

    The real value of the Ghulams was their total dependence upon their masters.Because they were foreigners in terms of ethnic origin and geography they did nothave any local power base and relations with the local population. They did not have families to look after and were free to allocate all their time to the needs of the military.Their minds and bodies were molded according to the needs of their masters.The abbasids raised a military elite with turkish slaves(valued for their horse archery) and this system became widespread in the islamic world,reaching perfection in the Mameluks of Egypt.

    The ottomasn adopted this system ,applying it to the christian subjects in the newly conquered areas in the balkans.The most famous expression being the Janissary corps.The jannisaries being the infantry component of the new ottoman standing army (originally selected from christian subjects later extended to turkish subjects ,selected boys are then taken to Istanbul where they are educated and Islamicized.After series of tests,rigorous monastic & martial discipline they become janissaries.

    The Ottoman army(at this time) thus consisted of -
    Royal Household Regiments(Janissaries and Kapikulu Sipahis)
    Provincial Forces( Azaps and Timarli Sipahis)
    Auxillary forces(Yaya and Musellem)
    Irregular frontier forces (Akincis and Turcoman Ghazis)
    Mercenaries.(often equated with azaps)
    Troops sent by Vassals.

    CAVALRY :

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    (Akincis)

    Akincis :
    Akincis formed the light cavalry of the ottoman empire.As the ottoman empire was being centralized,existing ghazis and turcoman tribesmen were incorporated into these provincial irregular light cavalry forces.Unpaid by the state they lived and operated as raiders on the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, subsisting totally on plunder.In battle their main role was to act as advance troops on the front lines and demoralise the marching opposing army by using hit and run tactics.They could easily outrun heavy cavalry because they were lightly armed and their horses were bred for speed as opposed to strength. Akinji forces carried swords, lances, shields and battle axes as well, so that in a field of combat, they could face the enemy first and fight melee.Because of their mobility akinji were also used for scouting and as a vanguard force to terrorize the local population before the advance of the main Ottoman forces.Akinjis used to wear colourful and interesting clothes to shock and confuse their opponents. Because of their unusual appearance and their almost suicidally courageous battle tactics(valour could be rewarded with promotion to sipahi and a timar), akinjis were nicknamed by the public as "deliler" (the crazies).

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    (Sipahi & Cebeli)

    Sipahis :
    The sipahis were the main heavy cavalry force of the ottoman empire divided into the provincial timarli sipahis and the kapikulu sipahis.They were largely members of the turkish nobility or individuals having won their timar by valour on the battlefield.

    Timarli Sipahis -
    Timarli Sipahis of the classical Ottoman period usually comprised the bulk of the army and did the majority of the fighting on the battlefield. While infantry troops at the army's center maintained a static battle line, the cavalry flanks constituted its mobile striking arm. During battle, Timarli Sipahi tactics were used, opening the conflict with skirmishes and localized skirmishes with enemy cavalry. Regiments of Timarli Sipahis made charges against weaker or isolated units and retreated back to main body of troops whenever confronted with heavy cavalry. During one regiment's retreat, other regiments of sipahis may have charged the chasing enemy's flanks. Such tactics served to draw enemy cavalry away from infantry support, break their cohesion, and isolate and overwhelm them with numerical superiority. Anatolian Sipahis had the ability to harass and provoke opposing troops with arrow shots. More heavily equipped Rumelian Sipahis(recruited from balkans) carried javelins for protection against enemy horsemen during their tactical retreats. All cavalry flanks of the Ottoman army fought a fluid, mounted type of warfare around the center of the army, which served as a stable pivot.Timarli sipahis maintained their own Cebeli mounted retainers based on the size of their timar.These were more lightly armoured horsemen.(Above picture)

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    (Kapikulu Sipahi)

    Kapikulu Sipahis -
    Kapikulu sipahis were the standing cavalry of the empire,paid for and maintained by the state.Superbly equipped(generally even better armour than timarli sipahis) and disciplined they constituted the elite heavy cavalry of the ottomans.While their equipment was largely similar,they were employed as a final reserve with the commander .

    Sipahis fought with the deadly turkish composite bow for ranged combat and lance,kilij sabre and gurz flanged mace for close combat.Clad in chainmail or composite plate-chainmail armour they lacked the state of the art protection of full plate armour ,but due to their versatality,mobility and superb horsemanship were a deadly force on any medieval battlefield.

    INFANTRY :

    The Yaya Experiment -

    The need for infantry became evident as the ottoman conquests expanded,and sieges became necessary.The first large scale experiment made was with the Yaya -which ended in failure.The yaya were not true professionals.Its soldiers continued to work on their farms during peacetime without receiving salaries but were exempt from some taxes. They joined the army when called and brought their personal weapons and equipment with them.Due to their part-time nature and lack of regular military training their technical competence was low.Nonetheless a number of Yaya who could afford horses raised a similar mounted corps which came to be called Musellem.They were generally removed from front line duty and relegated to auxillary service -road and bridge building,transportation,protecting baggage train.Only in times of emergency would they be used as a strategic manpower reserve.Their numbers were fixed at 20,000 each after 1360.(Yaya seen in first picture).The Yayas were replaced by the Janissaries as an elite professional foot infantry corps and by the azaps as a semi-professional infantry force.

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    (Janissary foot archer)

    Janissaries -

    The formation of the Janissaries has been dated to the reign of Murad I (r. 1362-1389),Bayezid's father. The Ottomans instituted a tax of one-fifth on all slaves taken in war, and it was from this pool of manpower that the sultans first constructed the Janissary Corps as a personal army loyal only to the sultan.However prisoners of war being not very enthusiastic or responsive to ottoman military methods and discipline this method was soon replaced by the infamous Devisrme child-tribute system on the christian subjects of the empire(from late 16th century extended to turkish subjects looking for a lucrative career).Selected boys were taken to Istanbul where they are educated and converted.After series of tests,rigorous monastic & martial discipline they become janissaries.These were precious crack troops with superb cohesion and personal bodyguards to the sultan,owing loyalty only to him.They were forbidden from marrying or engaging in economic activity,being paid directly by the state .At nicopolis the janissary corps was still very small (~2000 men) and yet to acquire its fearsome reputation.From the 15th century they gradually switched to firearms,and from late 16th century began a decline in its discipline becoming increasingly politicized.The reputation of the janissaries began at Nicopolis.In 1396 they still wore heavy mail armour and primarily acted as foot archers and assault infantry(in sieges using swords/polearms).Their morale and high spirit can be seen from the contemporary turkish writings,as in Ahmedi's Iskander Nameh.

    ''Those who have left a famous name never died,those who have left no trace never lived,
    Surely this is why you came to earth,that men should recall your worth,
    May I not die,say you of noble birth?
    Strive then,that you leave a blessed name''


    Azaps -
    Due to the small numbers of janissaries,they were supplemented by cheap,expendable semi-mercenary force called Azaps.
    'The state decided the numbers of Azabs needed for each campaign and allocated the requirements between provinces. The governors then collected the necessary financial assets to raise the allocated numbers of Azabs from the population, which was essentially one Azab per 20- or 30-person household. Finding Azabs for a particular campaign was not difficult, as there were enough unemployed or ambitious youngsters with some
    military experiences. Initially Azabs were part-time soldiers called up or who volunteered for a certain campaign, but in time due to the nature of prolonged and constant campaigning, most Azabs became semi-mercenaries, who broke all bonds with their villages and migrated to the provincial cities looking for employment on a continuous basis.'Generally Turcoman villagers,they fought mostly as foot archers and halberdiers.

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    (Kilij Sabre and Gurz Mace)

    WEAPONS :

    The primary weapons of the ottomans was the turkish compsite bow,the lance,flanged mace,battle axe and the kilij sabre.The shorter yatagan would rise to prominence in the 16th century.The Central Asian Turks and their offshoots begun using curved cavalry swords beginning from the late Hsiung Nu Period. These swords were made of pattern welded high carbon crucible steel, generally with long slightly curved blades with one sharp edge. A sharp back edge on the distal third of the blade known as "yalman" or "yelman" was introduced during this period. In the Early Middle Ages, the Turkic people of Central Asia came into contact with Middle Eastern civilizations through their shared Islamic faith. Turkic ghulams serving under the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates introduced "kilij" type sabers to all of the other Middle Eastern cultures. Previously, Arabs and Persians used straight-bladed swords.These were called the saracen scimitar by the crusaders.

    The Kilij had a deeply curved, single edged blade with a flaring tip called a yelman. It has a cruciform (cross-shaped) guard, with a curving hilt that ends with a downturned pommel.The Kilij was primarily a slashing weapon, as its great curvature made it difficult to thrust the weapon. The yelman added weight to the tip, giving it greater momentum when swung.It was designed to decapitate with one blow.The design was so good it formed the basis of later european cavalry sabres.

    The Gurz type flanged mace was common in persian,turkish and mughal empires.These were anti-armour weapons,designed to bring down an armoured opponent through sheer blunt force trauma.Against a lightly armoured opponent they would shatter bones and skulls.


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    The turks had a national archery tradition which was cultivated by the ottomans.Turkish bowyers specialized in weapons which were particularly good for imparting high velocity to very light arrows.Turkish ottoman bows are considered the pinnacle of natural bow construction(without modern non-natural materials) -the bow was a recurve composite variety.Made of a wooden core, animal horn on the belly (the side facing the archer), and sinew on the front, with the layers secured together with animal glue.The method of shooting employed the thumb, equipped with a ring, to hold the bowstring.This was the Thumb draw or the Mongol draw,commonly used by central asian nomadic cultures.

    The Ottoman bow was a weapon of great power, derived from high draw weight and high mechanical efficiency. The combination of high velocity light arrows and the powerful bow made it possible to cause great damage to the enemy in close combat, and to effect significant disruption at a distance. It also allowed for better accuracy from horseback.

    OTTOMAN TACTICS :
    Ottoman tactics was a combination of tarditional islamic tactics with steppe nomadic tactics.Ottoman strategy was offensive but battlefield tactics were essentially defensive, allowing an enemy to exhaust itself on the strongest part of its battle formation and then launch a decisive counterattack.A defensive strongpoint was chosen on a suitable terrain feature (ridge,slope,ravine fortified with stakes) -this became the central pivot of the army and would be manned by Azap infantry supported by rows of janissary archers.The position was kept hidden behind a screen of akincis light cavalry .The Timarli sipahis would be be positioned on the 2 wings and were the main mobile assets.The kapikulu sipahis were held back with the sultan/commander to the rear as a final reserve..The Ottoman wings, by outflanking or feigned retreat, would try to force the main body of the enemy army towards this defensive position.The Akinci screen would retreat immediately after showing brief resistance in order to disorganize enemy attack. Heavy archery fire woukd further wear down the enemy and disorganize its assault formations. Finally,a counterattack would then start when the enemy lost cohesion and heart .The sipahis would attempt to surround the enemy and launch flank attacks while the janissaries charged forward in wedge formation.This formation was further perfected in the 15th and 16th century with the Wagon-ladder chained together to form an artificial fortress in the centre supported by artillery (like babur at panipat and khanua) and janissaries manning the centre with firearms used in rotating volleys to devastate the incoming enemy.Nearly all the great ottoman victories of the 15th and 16th century followed this template.

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    SERBIAN ARMY :

    Bayezid's main vassal and brother-in-law Stefan Lazerveic,Despot of Serbia brought with him 1500 Serbian knights clad in black plate mail armour.These were a formidable force and would play a key role on the battlefield.Their effectiveness is testified even in the disastrous Battle of Ankara(1402) when they broke through Tamerlane's cavalry 3 times to rescue the surrounded bayezid(he refused) before making their escape,drawing praise from Timur himself.

    NEXT : BATTLE OF NICOPOLIS
     
  4. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    BATTLE OF NICOPOLIS

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    DEPLOYMENT :

    Franco-Burgundians in Blue.Ottomans Red.Hungarians in Yellow.Crusader forces numbered perhaps around 10,000-12,000 men and the Ottomans 12,000- 15,000.No side enjoys decisive numerical superiority.
    The crusaders have the danube river at their back and the citadel of nicopolis.The eastern side is sloped preventing large cavalry outflanking moves and western side is forested.The crusader naval forces on the danube river.
    The Franco-burgundian Mounted Knights form the vanguard of the crusaders army..Main Hungarian Host composed of infantry and cavalry.
    Bayezid deploys in classic ottoman defensive formation.
    Screen of akinci light cavalry covering Ottoman infantry strongpoint ,fortified with stakes guarding a ravine. Azap infantry and jannisary archers manning this position.Bayezid plans to let his infantry absorb the crusader attack and while they are engaged frontally with his infantry,attack with his cavalry from the flanks.Timarli sipahis on flanks,the anatolians on the left and rumelians on the right.
    Bayezid with his elite Kapikulu sipahis and serbian knights under Lazarevic form the final reserve.

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    ASSAULT OF THE KNIGHTS :

    1,2.The french knights sweep aside the akinci screen who are only able to fire a few shots before the armoured charge violently punches a hole through them.Despite taking heavy casualities the akinci retreat behind the infantry to the wings,having achieved their general objective.

    3-4.The knights next encountered the line of stakes, which were sharpened and fixed to drive into the breast of any horse that might charge forward.This immobilized the horses and theTurkishinfantry began pouring arrows into them, aiming primarily at the horses as the lightweight
    projectiles were largely ineffective against thick armor.The janissaries in particular inflict significant casualities here.Knights dismount continue their attack on foot,uprooting the stakes as they went.In close combat the lightly equipped turkish infantry is slaughtered by the dismounted knights whose steel armor was impervious to most weapons.The ottoman infantry in the centre begins falling apart.

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    5.The timarli sipahis attack the crusaders from both flanks.In desperate combat the knights are able to beat them off.

    6.At this point even Bayezid is taken aback by the ferocity of the crusader assault.The ottoman crisis of the day had arrived.The western heavy men at arms had gone through the ottoman centre like knife through butter and far earlier than bayezid had expected.But here they committed a serious error,having succesfully penetrated the enemy strongpoint the wise course would have been to regroup their disorganized forces and consolidate their position and wait for the hungarians to link up with them - a course advocated by Vienne and Coucy.Instead believing the battle won,and urged on by the younger knights ,in small groups they continue forward hoping to plunder what they believed would be the ottoman camp in front of them. The French knights thus continued up the hill, though accounts state that more than half were on foot by this point, either because they had been unhorsed by the lines of sharpened stakes or had dismounted to pull up stakes. Struggling in their heavy armor, they reached the plateau on the top of the slope, where they had expected to find fleeing Turkish forces,instead they are confronted by Bayezid's trump card - The elite Kapikulu sipahis about to descend upon them. At this point a chronicler writes - ''The lion in them turned into a hare''
    Some knights immediately broke and fled back down the slope.Rset fight bravely,but with no hope of success surrender after Nevers is taken prisoner.

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    1.Sigismund sends forward the Hungarian army in a desperate attempt to establish contact with the crusader vanguard even though he is apprehensive disaster has befallen them.

    2.The wallachians and transyvanians see the empty western crusader horses returning and conclude the day is lost.They decide to preserve their modest forces for the inevitable ottoman invasion of their homelands to come and withdraw.
    3.Bayezid rounds up the last of the western prisoners and they are escorted back to the ottoman camp.

    4.The hungarians disperse the akinci screen and fall upon the reformed but much depleted ottoman infantry -and they are routed for a second time.
    5.The timarli sipahis attack the advancing hungarians from both flanks and a desperate fight ensues.

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    1 -3.Heavy fighting between hungarians and sipahis.The reformed akincis try to get into the Hungarian rear.At this critical juncture Bayezid sends forward Stefan Lazarevic and his serbian knights.These fresh troops charge into the hungarian flank and the hungarian army is routed from the combined attacks from all directions.

    4-6.The crusader army remnants flee towards the safety of their fleet on the Danube pursued vigorously by the ottoman cavalry.Small rearguard actions allow a portion to escape,especially that of an anonymous 'Knight of Poland' who makes a last stand on a hill and holds up the sipahis for a brief period before being overrun.Ottomans seize the crusader camp.A rearguard action by lombardian crossbowmen allows sigismund to escape with whatever forces remaining.He leaves famously cursing the french-''We lost the battle by the pride and vanity of those french,if they had listened to my advice we had enough men to fight the enemy''.


    AFTERMATH :

    Losses - Bulk of the crusader forces were destroyed or captured.Bayezid captured 3000 prisoners,most of which were executed when he learned of the massacre of the ottoman garrisons and flew into a rage-rest were ransomed.
    He was 'grief stricken' at the huge casualities sustained by his own forces,particularly the infantry which had been shattered twice.But his victory had been complete.

    Nicopolis marked the last major crusade.Its dismal failure ended any chance to roll back the ottoman tide in europe.Bayezid would met an igonimous end shortly after against tamerlane,but the unpleasant memories of nicopolis would prevent any western european armed intervention against the ottomans from hereforward.

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    BATTLE ANALYSIS :

    Nicopolis can be viewed as a succesful example of a defensive offensive.
    Reasons for ottoman success and crusader failure-

    1.Overconfidence- A basic maxim of war is 'Never underestimate your enemy'.The supremely arrogant french completely disdained their enemy,and even their own allies capabilities.

    2.Poor Reconaissance-The crusaders made no effort to discern their enemies strength and positions,gambling all on a all out charge.They were completely taken by surprise twice-first by the sipahis from the flanks,then by bayezid's household horseguards.Intelligence and surprise both being principles of war.

    3.Lack of co-operation-The vanity of the knights led them on a path where they acted completely seperate from the main body,if the extremely powerful assault of the knights alone almost broke through the ottoman force ,it is likely co ordinated with the whole crusader army it would have been decisive.Co-operation being one of the principles of war.

    4.No plan-The crusaders seem to have lacked any real plan,while the ottomans organized a capable defence and stuck to their scheme despite things going awry.

    5.Bayezid's Timely Intervention- Napoleon used to say-'' In battle there is but one moment,the art of war is to seize it''.Bayezid acted at a critical moment and in a decisive fashion.If the hungarians had linked up with the french,the ottomans would have been defeated.

    6.Unity of Command -A basic principle of war,the 2 sides couldn't have been more contrasting-At one side bayezid led decisively and effectively.On the other the french and hungarians differed on everything.

    7.Desertion of the Allies-The desertion of the crusader allies also widened the odds in the favour of the ottomans.

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    (Mehter - World's first military band)

    Sources -
    A Military History of the Ottomans - Mesut Uyar
    Osprey Campaign - Nicopolis
    Military Heritage Magazine. 2013.

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    Last edited: Nov 6, 2016
  5. Austerlitz

    Austerlitz Extraordinary Historian THINKER

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    Title should be number 13.Not 3.
     

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