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The town of Karansebes, today Caransebeș, in Romania, stood on the banks of the Timiș River. Surrounded by mountains, it was of great strategic importance as a bridgehead to the territories of the Ottoman Empire during the Austro-Turkish War (1788-1791). On the 21st of September 1788, the 100,000-strong army of Joseph II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, took refuge near the fort to await the Turkish advance. A company of hussars was sent on ahead, while the rest of the army set up camp.
A few hours later, the hussars came across a caravan of gipsies. The gipsies, fearful of being attacked, decided to gain the soldiers’ favour by offering them brandy. In the meantime, the Austrian officers, not seeing the cavalry return, sent a company of Romanian infantrymen on patrol. The two companies met up to clash immediately afterwards over the last bottles of brandy. The hussars were setting up improvised barricades as the Romanian soldiers shouted: The Turks, the Turks! to scare the cavalry away. Finally, someone fired a shot. So a real fight between comrades-in-arms began.
In the meantime, the Austrian officers, alarmed by the rifle shots, rushed towards the fight shouting: Halt, Halt! Sadly, their cries were mistaken for Allah! Allah! The soldiers, now sure to be under attack, began to fight with more intensity, so much that, from the Austrian camp, artillery began to fire towards the battlefield. Frightened by the noise, the horses started to run wild inside the fort, creating the illusion of a surprise attack by the Ottoman cavalry. Amidst the confusion caused by charging horses and shouting, with the complicity of the language barrier, the soldiers began to attack each other because they were sure of the presence of the enemy.
The casualty count is unclear. The most reliable estimate suggests that around 1,200 men died. A few thousand were wounded, and several pieces of artillery were destroyed. Joseph II decided to retreat, even though his army was still superior to the enemy’s. After the events of the previous night, his troops were demoralised. Two days later, the Turks arrived and effortlessly recaptured the fortress.