July 22, 2021 – Three years after the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottoman Sultan Muhammad II, at the head of more than 100,000 Turks, marches towards the strategic fortress city of Belgrade, key to Western Europe, in the spring of 1456.
Aware of all the death, destruction and mind-boggling atrocities that this massive Muslim march foretold – the memory of the bag of constantinople was still cool – a great panic swept through the Danube region. Even the Hungarian king Ladislas V fled his capital in Vienna (under the pretext that he was going to “hunt”).
Only one stood firm: only John Hunyadi, the voivode of Transylvania who had long been a thorn in the side of the Turks. Even as the king fled west, Hunyadi rushed towards the eastern border, towards and not far from the Turkish army. He immediately occupied the Belgrade fortress with 6,000 veteran fighters at his own expense. Although he pleaded for help from the upper nobles, few responded.
Meanwhile, 70-year-old Franciscan friar John Capistrano traveled to southern Hungary calling on the people to take up the cross and defend their nation against Islam. His “searing zeal, his heart-wrenching eloquence, and heroic austerities” inflamed tens of thousands of the lower classes. Soon after, a massive Crusader force of about 40,000 peasants followed Capistrano.
The world had changed: “Where is the king of France, wonders a contemporary document, which wants to be called the Christian king?” Where are the kings of England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden…? Unarmed peasants, blacksmiths, tailors, traders march in front of the armies!
By the end of June, Muhammad’s vast forces had reached and surrounded Belgrade. If it fell, all of Hungary and further west would be exposed and eventually inundated by hordes from Asia.
Muhammad ordered the start of heavy bombing on July 4. The crashing and shrouded cannon fire is so loud that it can be heard for a hundred kilometers around. Twelve days later, on July 16, massive breaches punctuated this once formidable fortress.
It was then that Hunyadi’s army appeared, floating down the Danube on makeshift warships. Capistrano and his army marched alongside them on the ground. Seeing the puny Christian fleet approaching their professional galleons, many of which were chained by chains and formed a huge barrage on the water, the Turks scoffed, even as they braced for the inevitable crash. At the signal, loud cries of “Jesus! Jesus! – the Christian flotilla crashed against the chained Muslim boats.
The Danube sank in hot blood as a wild river battle fought for five hours. The bound massive chains of the Ottoman ships eventually broke, and the Christian fleet reached and strengthened Belgrade, which was at its final end.
A spectacular start for the relief force, it was only a scratch for the vast Muslim army. On the same day, Ottoman cannons, now living instruments of the Sultan’s wrath, exploded in a barrage of fire that rocked Belgrade to its foundations.
For another week the guns continued to rumble, until most of Belgrade’s ramparts were at ground level. Then, at dawn on July 21, for miles around, “we could hear the incessant beating of the drums announcing the attack.” Crowds of Muslims rushed to the dilapidated fortress shouting “Allah! Allah!”
Once thousands of Turks crowded between the crumbling walls and the citadel, the signal was given: at the piercing sound of the horns, Hunyadi and his men came out in charge of the citadel, even as crowds of peasants Hidden crusaders appeared above the walls. and behind the Turks. Muslims were caught between a rock and a hard place.
According to one account:
A terrible struggle ensued. The Turks, though taken further, were ten to one and armed to the teeth, while most of their opponents were barely armed. Hand-to-hand combat took place in all the streets, but the fighting was most fierce on the narrow bridge leading from the citadel to the city, where Hunyady in person was in command, and on the bastions, which were defended by crusaders brought to the city. hurry across the river on rafts.
Despite being so greatly disadvantaged in numbers and weapons, the Christians, including Hunyadi, who fought among them as a simple foot soldier, held their own and succeeded in killing many Turks.
For their part, the Muslims, who fought “like ravenous beasts”, to quote an Ottoman chronicler, “shed the blood of their lives like water instead of death, and countless heroes have tasted pure honey from the death of a martyr and were caught up. in the arms of hours of paradise. “
It was now just before dawn on July 22; the battle had raged for a day and a night, and it was clear that the Christians, having reached the limits of human capacity and endurance, were on the verge of collapsing under the great number of their enemies who flocked. High on a watchtower, Capistrano, 70, was seen waving the banner of the Cross and imploring Heaven:
Jesus, where are your tender mercies which you once showed us? Oh, come help us, and don’t delay. Save, oh, save Thy redeemed, lest the heathen say, “Where is their God now?”
At this time, the Christians, driven back to the citadel and the high places, began to rain fire on the devotees of Islam. With all the fuel they could collect – wood, dry branches, anything that could burn – “and with one accord setting them on fire,” the defenders “threw them down, mixed with searing pitch and brimstone, both on the Turks who were in the ditches and on those who were scaling the walls, ”wrote a Tagliacotius, who took part in the battle.
After all the screaming died down and the smoke cleared, the rising sun slowly revealed the bloody consequences. All around Belgrade, inside and out, were the dead and dying bodies of countless Muslims, charred beyond recognition.
The ditches and all the space between the outer walls and the citadel were filled with their burnt and bloody corpses. Thousands of them had perished there. The Janissaries in particular had suffered so much that their survivors were completely intimidated, while the bodyguard of the Sultan, who had carried out the attack, was almost devastated. Thus, after twenty hours of fighting, the Christian host was able to breathe freely again.
And yet, in terms of actual casualties, it was just a scratch on the gargantuan Ottoman army that still surrounded Belgrade. Another assault was expected; and Hunyadi ordered each to remain at his post, on pain of death, “lest the glory of the day be turned into confusion.”
At the end of noon on July 22, however, an unauthorized skirmish between the Crusaders and the jihadists prompted the former to leave Belgrade and fight the Turks. Seeing that the die was cast, Hunyadi and his professional gunmen rushed to their aid. At 6 p.m., the entire Christian army was fighting outside the crumbling walls of Belgrade.
In this ruckus, even Sultan Muhammad was seen fighting. Now, however, the masses of Turks who made up his army, who had left with the expectation of a relatively easy victory, had had enough. When the fiery Christians succeeded in capturing and turning the explosions of several Ottoman cannons on their former besiegers, the demoralization turned into panic, and the Turks, tens of thousands of them, fled, along with the Sultan. Muhammad carried in their midst, “foaming at his mouth with helpless rage,” even as some 50,000 other Turks lay dead in front of the crumbling walls of Belgrade.
It was arguably the worst defeat Muhammad the Conqueror suffered in his long career of terrorizing Christians (indeed, even the year before his death 25 years later, in 1481, 800 Christians were ritually massacred by his Turks for refusing Islam in Otranto, Italy).
And it is for this victory in Belgrade that the church bells are ringing at noon – a tradition started by Pope Callistus III to mark the moment when a small but dedicated force of Christians challenged a much larger force of Muslims bent on them. annihilate; a tradition that continues to this day, including in older Protestant churches, even though Christians of all faiths have forgotten or have been shunned from its meaning.
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This story is taken from the author’s book Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen centuries of war between Islam and the West.
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First published by the RaymondIbrahim.com Website.