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

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