History of War

MEHMED THE CONQUEROR

“Advance my friends and children!” Sultan Mehmed II shouted to the Ottoman troops preparing to attack the landward walls of Constantinople in the early morning hours of 29 May 1453. “Now is the moment to prove yourself worthy men!”

With parade ground precision, the provincial troops streamed forwards shouting “Allah!” As they tried to scale a makeshift barricade plugging a breach in the walls made by the sultan’s siege guns, they recoiled from the barrage of rocks, buckets of hot pitch and molten streams of Greek fire hurled at them by the Byzantine defenders.

Mehmed rode forward to check the progress of the assault. He screamed, shouted and swore in an effort to will his army into the city. He waved forward fresh units to maintain heavy pressure on the Christian defenders. After a superhuman effort, the Anatolians withdrew, having failed to overwhelm the enemy.

Mehmed had one last chance for victory on 29 May 1453, in what he had decided several days earlier would be his final attack on the city after a 53-day siege. If he combined his elite palace regiments with his janissary brigade, he would have enough men for another assault. Demonstrating the quick thinking that was the mark of a great commander, Mehmed personally led them to their jump-off point. They were eager for battle and welcomed an opportunity to prove themselves in front of their sultan.

As they fought at the stockade, Mehmed rode back and forth behind them yelling encouragement. Despite the auspicious start to their attack, it faltered like the one before it. Then a pair of fortunate incidents gave the Ottomans the advantage they needed to overwhelm the exhausted defenders.

Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, shown in 1453 at the time of the conquest of Constantinople. The 21-year-old ruler sports a beard in emulation

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