Russo-Austrian War Against the Ottoman Empire

Russia, along with its ally Austria, invaded the Ottoman Empire. This ill-managed and inconclusive aggression ended in a stalemate. As a result, the Russian aggressors determined to build up their army. The Ottomans, believing that their forces were sufficient to maintain their empire, failed to augment them, setting the stage for their defeat at Russian hands later in the century.

Summary of Event

The Russian-Turkish war of 1736-1739 originated in the vanity and rapacity of Czarina Anna, in the dream of Russian hegemony over the Black Sea of her foreign minister Count Andrei Ivanovich Osterman, and in the thirst for military glory of Field Marshal Burkhard Christoph von Münnich, her commander in chief. Russia did not want to fight alone, however, so it turned to the reluctant Habsburg emperor, Charles VI, with whom it had formed a military alliance in 1726. [kw]Russo-Austrian War Against the Ottoman Empire (1736-1739)
[kw]Empire, Russo-Austrian War Against the Ottoman (1736-1739)
[kw]Ottoman Empire, Russo-Austrian War Against the (1736-1739)
[kw]War Against the Ottoman Empire, Russo-Austrian (1736-1739)
[kw]Austrian War Against the Ottoman Empire, Russo- (1736-1739)
Russian-Austrian relations[Russian Austrian relations]
Austrian-Russian relations[Austrian Russian relations]
Ottoman-Russian conflicts[Ottoman Russian conflicts]
Russian-Ottoman conflicts[Russian Ottoman conflicts]
Austrian-Ottoman conflicts[Austrian Ottoman conflicts]
Russian-Austrian War (1736-1739)[Russian Austrian War]
[g]Russia;1736-1739: Russo-Austrian War Against the Ottoman Empire[0900]
[g]Austria;1736-1739: Russo-Austrian War Against the Ottoman Empire[0900]
[g]Ottoman Empire;1736-1739: Russo-Austrian War Against the Ottoman Empire[0900]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1736-1739: Russo-Austrian War Against the Ottoman Empire[0900]
Osterman, Count Andrei Ivanovich
Münnich, Burkhard Christoph von
Seckendorff, Reichsgraf von
Lacy, Peter
Bonneval, Claude Alexandre de
Neipperg, count von
Wallis, count von
Charles VI
Mahmud I
Fleury, André-Hercule de
Villeneuve, marquis de

In 1736, the Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire was at peace. Sultan Mahmud I was quietly pursuing the innovations initiated by his uncle, Ahmed III: The printing press set up by Ibrahim Müteferrika in 1724 was resuscitated in 1732, and several public libraries had been founded. The empire had acquired its first paper factory at Yalova. A newly completed aqueduct brought fresh water to Constantinople. Mahmud also recognized the need to modernize Military reform, Ottoman Empire the army: He assigned Claude Alexandre de Bonneval Bonneval, Claude Alexandre de —an experienced French soldier who had converted to Islam—to revive the neglected corps of bombardiers (Turkish: humbaraci). Bonneval submitted to the sultan a plan to modernize the army along French and Austrian lines. Predictably, Janissary opposition led to its being shelved.

Nevertheless, Bonneval was given a training ground, barracks, and workshops near Üsküdar. He engaged European officers who were Muslim converts as instructors and modernized the Ottoman cannon foundry and powder and musket factories. A new grand vizier gave Bonneval somewhat grudging support and insufficient funds but allowed him to build new facilities and schools of geometry and engineering. Despite uneven support, Bonneval persevered. His military innovations, as reported by the Russian ambassador, were impressive enough that Osterman became eager to attack the Ottomans to forestall any further military reform.

Anna declared war on the Ottoman Empire on April 12, 1736. Münnich had already launched a preemptive strike in the previous autumn against the Crimea, but with inadequate provisioning and the early onset of winter, he lost nine thousand men without ever seeing the Perekop Isthmus (the gateway to the Crimea from the Ukraine). The year 1736 saw the organization of two campaigns: Field Marshal Peter Lacy besieged Azov at the mouth of the Don River, which fell on July 1; Münnich, with a much larger force, invaded the Crimea. When the Tatars Crimean Tatars
Tatars withdrew, the Russians laid waste the peninsula, but by late summer they were forced to retreat by plague, exhaustion, and lack of provisions.

Münnich had lost two thousand men in combat, as well as thirty thousand to plague, climate, and terrain. Osterman was now desperate to draw the Austrians into the conflict, but the emperor continued to delay: He had no wish to go to war, for which his forces were ill prepared, but he was determined to retain his alliance with Russia. In Vienna, the Imperial War Council Imperial War Council (Hofkriegsrat) played for time. In Paris, Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury, fearful of a shift in the European balance of power, offered French mediation on behalf of the Ottoman sultanate.

The fighting continued in 1737 but proved inconclusive. On July 13, the Russians stormed Ochakov, owing their success primarily to the explosion of the Ottoman powder magazine, but Münnich, shaken by his casualties, withdrew into the Ukraine. In Vienna, Reichsgraf von Seckendorff was appointed commander in chief in May, and on July 14, the emperor at last declared war. The Austrian plan was to attack the Ottoman border fortress of Vidin, but because of heavy flooding, Seckendorff turned south to capture Niš in Serbia, sending a small force into Bosnia and another to occupy Novi Pazar, which soon had to be abandoned. An Austrian defeat at Banja Luka drew Seckendorff himself into Bosnia, while the approach of a large Ottoman army toward Niš led to its surrender on October 16, 1737. In effect, Seckendorff was now in retreat. The Hofkriegsrat relieved him of his command, court-martialed him for incompetence, and imprisoned him. Meanwhile, in early winter, a large Ottoman force marched on Ochakov. Münnich was certain that the Russians could not hold the town, but surprisingly, they did.

The following year proved equally inconclusive. Austria was desperate for peace, while Russia was fearful that Fleury was organizing a hostile alliance between Sweden, anti-Russian elements in Poland, and the Ottomans. By May, the bickering allies agreed that France should broker a peace settlement. Osterman informed the marquis de Villeneuve, France’s ambassador in Constantinople, that Russia was willing to restore Ochakov and Kinburn in order to retain Azov. The Austrians were willing to return to the territorial divisions that had been established by the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718). Passarowitz, Treaty of (1718) Fleury thought peace was at hand. He did not realize that the Ottomans, elated by Münnich’s withdrawal from Ochakov, were in an aggressive mood and were preparing for war at the same time they urged Villeneuve to continue his mediation.

In April, 1738, the grand vizier left Constantinople for Niš. His objective was to conquer Ada Ka’le (New Orsova), an island in the Danube River that would make an impregnable base for staging raids into the Banat. Charles VI could not ignore the danger this plan represented. With his son-in-law, Francis Stephen, duke of Lorraine (the future Emperor Francis I), in nominal command of the Austrian forces, Charles appointed as effective field commander Count Königsegg, president of the Hofkriegsrat.

On July 4, Königsegg defeated a large Ottoman force at Cornea in the Banat, north of Ada Ka’le, but when he learned that the grand vizier was approaching with a much larger army, he retreated. Vienna was furious, but because the duke of Lorraine had fallen seriously ill, Königsegg was left in command for the remainder of the year. There were no further engagements, but a great many of the Austrian troops in the field died from disease. The news was no better from the Russian front. Münnich’s goal was Bender, in lower Bessarabia, but his advance was so slow that when he reached the Dniester River in mid-August, he found sixty thousand Turkish and Tatar troops ensconced on the opposite bank, and he withdrew. Lacy ravaged the Crimea but was forced to retreat by a lack of provisions. Ochakov and Kinburn were evacuated.

By the opening of 1739, the grand vizier had taken Ada Ka’le. The Hofkriegsrat informed Villeneuve that it would abandon Serbia and Oltenia (Little Wallachia) to regain Ada Ka’le and Mehadiye. Belgrade would remain the linchpin of Austrian frontier defense. The grand vizier’s goal was to bring his two foes to the conference table under French auspices while simultaneously investing Belgrade. On May 17, the sultan granted Villeneuve the authority to negotiate a peace settlement.

Meanwhile, with another year of war unavoidable, the Hofkriegsrat appointed the elderly Count von Wallis as commander in chief. In mid-July, he joined his plague-ridden army at Belgrade, where, learning that the grand vizier and his large army had reached Grocka—between Belgrade and Semendria—he advanced to meet the enemy. On July 22, 1739, the two armies engaged in a fiercely fought, daylong encounter in which the Austrians seemingly had the edge. However, when Wallis learned that another Ottoman army was threatening his communications with the north, he overruled his staff and ordered a retreat, crossing into the Banat. He fought a successful engagement at Panchevo on July 30, after which he headed to Belgrade, only to find it already invested by Ottoman forces, including the grand vizier, Villeneuve, and a Russian representative named Cagnoni.

After Wallis’s imprudent actions in the field, the Hofkriegsrat no longer trusted him as a negotiator. It replaced him with Count von Neipperg, who, arriving in the Ottoman camp on August 17, became a virtual hostage of the grand vizier and was forced to seek Villeneuve’s protection. After grueling negotiations, Neipperg, the grand vizier, Villeneuve, and Cagnoni signed an agreement on September 18, which became the Treaty of Belgrade. Belgrade, Treaty of (1739) Austria agreed to abandon Oltenia, Serbia, Ada Ka’le, Orsova, and Belgrade. Russia was to demolish its fortress of Azov. Neither Russian warships nor merchantmen were to enter the Black Sea, but Russian merchants could trade in Ottoman territory.

By the time the treaty was signed, ironically, Münnich had taken Khotin and on September 14 had made a triumphant entry into Jassy, but it was too late. The Hofkriegsrat considered disowning Neipperg, but the treaty had been guaranteed in Louis XV’s name, and to disavow it was unthinkable. Russia was furious but, fearful of French and Swedish machinations with Polish dissidents, acquiesced. In December, 1739, the czarina, following the emperor and sultan, ratified the treaty. Both Wallis and Neipperg returned to Vienna to face courts-martial and imprisonment. Upon her accession, however, Empress Maria Theresa pardoned them both.


The relatively ineffectual conflict between Russia, Austria, and the Ottomans had significant consequences. Despite some success, Russia paid a terrible price in human and material resources. Later in the century, Catherine the Great Catherine the Great in her own Ottoman wars would demonstrate that she had learned well the hard-won lessons in geography and logistics of Anna’s war. Austria’s performance, despite some notable engagements, had left much to be desired, but the alliance with Russia was preserved. It would serve the Habsburgs well until shortly before World War I.

Fleury, by negotiating the peace, had contributed significantly to restoring France’s prestige as a great power, and, for the time being, had saved the Ottoman Empire further humiliation. Once again, the sultanate had demonstrated remarkable resilience and the benefits of military reform. Having emerged virtually unscathed from the war, the empire enjoyed an unprecedented peace from 1739 to 1768. From their resilience in the face of the Russian invasion, however, the Ottoman elite drew the wrong conclusion: Deciding that their traditional military practices and technology continued to serve them well, they rejected the need for further innovation. Reform of the Ottoman army was therefore halted for three decades. When the struggle with Russia was renewed, the Russians were immeasurably stronger, and the Ottomans were weaker. Above all, the events of 1736-1739 showed that the Ottomans needed a European protector. For the present, France served that role.

Further Reading

  • Cassels, Lavender. The Struggle for the Ottoman Empire, 1717-1740. London: John Murray, 1966. Excellent narrative, with Villeneuve as its hero.
  • Roider, Karl A. The Reluctant Ally: Austria’s Policy in the Austro-Turkish War, 1737-1739. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972. Detailed monograph based on Austrian sources.
  • Shaw, Stanford J. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976. Best account from the Ottoman viewpoint.

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