History of War

VARNA

Victorious Ottoman Sultan Murad II views the body of slain Polish King Władysław III after the battle

VARNA, BULGARIA 10 NOVEMBER 1444


On the morning of 10 November, 1444, a strong wind blew into the faces of the Crusaders manning a crescent-shaped line 3.2 kilometres (two miles) west of the Black Sea port of Varna. Suddenly thousands of Turkish foot soldiers swept down from the forested hills to the north. While Ottoman archers armed with powerful composite bows shot flights of arrows, other warriors armed with swords, axes and maces rushed towards the Crusaders’ right flank. Mounted Crusaders in the front line withdrew to a safe distance to avoid the volleys of lethal arrows. In so doing, they exposed a line of war wagons parked end-to-end that guarded the crusader camp.

As the Turkish foot soldiers rushed headlong towards the wagons, Hungarian crossbowmen and hand gunners fired into the thick mass of enemy soldiers through holes in the armoured carts. Hungarian foot soldiers wielding flails and halberds hacked and slashed at the Turks who tried to pierce the formidable barrier. The attackers managed to topple several of the wagons and penetrate the barrier, but a furious counterattack drove them back.

The Turks entrusted with turning the Crusaders’ right flank had failed to achieve their objective. From that point forward, Ottoman Sultan Murad II would have to rely on the superior numbers of his light cavalry, known as sipahis, to defeat King Władysław’s heavily armoured knights. It would be a battle to the death, as the Crusaders had their backs to the Black Sea and no easy path of retreat should they lose the battle.

Rise of the Ottomans

By the time of the Crusade of Varna in the mid-15th century, the Ottoman Turks were slowly but steadily advancing north through the Balkan Peninsula towards the Kingdom of Hungary. Founded by Osman I in 1299, the Islamic Ottoman Sultanate took root in north-western Anatolia. By the close of the 14th century the Ottomans had displaced the Byzantine Greeks as the dominant power in the region. Although at the time of the Varna Crusade the Byzantine Empire had not

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from History of War

History of War2 min read
Nazi Rocket Bunkers
In 1942 RAF Bomber Command’s first 1,000 bomber-raid against Cologne devastated the city, causing horrific destruction. Hitler demanded revenge, but the Luftwaffe was outmatched and overstretched. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect-cum-armaments minist
History of War2 min readPolitics
The End Is Nigh
Author: Robert Crowcroft Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2018 Price: £25.00 “A tale of relentless intrigue, burning ambition and bitter rivalry in British politics.” So declares the jacket blurb of Robert Crowcroft’s book. Readers might be tempt
History of War2 min readPolitics
Kiwis In Vietnam
Between 1964-72 over 3,000 military and civilian personnel from New Zealand served in Vietnam. It was also the first war where the Australasian country did not fight alongside her traditional ally Great Britain. In the aftermath of WWII, New Zealand,