Battle of Vaslui, 1475 AD History
It is the year 1470.
Although still far from being recognized as the superpower of its’ age, by the late 15th century, the Ottoman Empire has a firm foothold in both Asia Minor and in Europe, where they have conquered most of the Balkan peninsula and have extended their sphere of influence into the Carpathian region through a network of alliances and vassalships.
Ever ambitious, Sultan Mehmed II wishes to begin preparations for an invasion of the Hungarian Kingdom but soon realizes that before moving his armies towards central Europe he must first pacify the troublesome Wallachian and Moldavian princedoms, known for their incursions into the empire at the first sign of Ottoman weakness.
Sultan Mehmed II, known as Mehmed the Conqueror, sets his sights on the Principality of Moldavia, and for good reason.
Ruled by the very capable Prince Stefan III, in recent years Moldavia has become a thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire.
Stefan came to power with the aid of 6000 horsemen belonging to a certain Wallachian, Vlad III, the Impaler – known as the vampire Dracula in today’s popular culture.
But Moldavia finds itself surrounded by great powers.
Hungary, Poland, the Mongols, and most especially, the Ottoman Empire, are all vying for control over the Principality’s commercially-invaluable fortified port cities that sit on the trading routes which pass through the Danube delta and the Black sea.
But the growing strategic importance of Moldavia means that the country’s fate has never been more uncertain.
Stefan understands the difficult position his country is in and, aiming to preserve its’ independence, he begins a tradition of entering into alliances with whoever is most useful to him.
During the first decade of his reign, he declares that he wants peace with the Ottomans and continues to pay tribute as his predecessor did.
Meanwhile, he defeats the Hungarians and permanently stops their advance into Moldavia, even taking parts of Hungarian territory in a stunning counter-attack.
Furthermore, he strengthens diplomatic ties with Poland and manages to fortify Moldavia’s eastern border after soundly defeating a Mongol invasion.
Stefan’s military prowess becomes known throughout Europe, and he now begins concentrating all of his efforts towards defending Moldavia against the Ottoman Empire.
With Mehmed locked in a difficult war in Anatolia, Stefan moves against the Ottomans.
In 1470 he stops paying tribute and invades Wallachia.
After 4 years of conflict, Stefan manages to install his protégé Basarab Laiotă as the new Prince of Wallachia.
But Basarab’s loyalty is short-lived and he soon switches sides, reasoning that the powerful Ottoman Empire will better help him consolidate his rule.
Still, even with Wallachia back in the Ottoman camp, in losing Moldavia the Ottomans lost an important vassal to the north which could jeopardize their control over the Danube delta as well as their ambitions to take control over Bessarabia.
Battle of Vaslui, 1475 AD History
As you can imagine, Mehmed is none too pleased about all this and he gives his want-away vassal an ultimatum: Stefan must cease all hostilities against Wallachia, travel to Istanbul and pay tribute he is due for the past five years, and surrender the important fortified port-city of Chilia to the Ottoman Empire (which would then no doubt serve as a base for future Ottoman military operations into Bessarabia and Moldavia beyond).
Unsurprisingly, Stefan refuses and both sides begin preparing for war.
Mehmed orders his Bosnian general and governor of Rumelia, Suleiman Pasha, to end the siege of the Venetian town of Shkodër (in present-day Albania) and assemble his troops in Sofia, from where he is to advance towards Moldavia.
The long siege of Shkodër, stretching from May to August, coupled with another 30 days of marching through rough terrain takes its’ toll on the troops.
Still, they reach Sofia by late September.
According to contemporary sources the Ottoman army numbered around 120,000 troops, which is likely a highly exaggerated figure.
Looking at the composition of Ottoman armies in the 15th century, Suleiman probably commanded around 50,000 troops, with another few thousand Bulgarians performing mainly engineering tasks such as clearing roads and building bridges.
After assembling in Sofia, Suleiman turns north and moves towards the Danube.
But the autumn chill creeps in, and the ever colder days begin to increasingly hamper troop movement.
As he crosses into Wallachia via Vidin, Suleiman knows his troops are facing a harsh winter campaign and gives the men a well-deserved rest.
Two weeks later the Ottoman army marches again.
As they advance through Wallachia, Basarab Laiotă joins the Ottoman juggernaut with his 15,000-strong army.
Stefan, meanwhile, spends months appealing to the Pope and other European countries for support; aided by the Venetians in his diplomatic efforts.
But the Christian kingdoms offer little help: 1800 Hungarians, 2000 Polish horsemen, a small number of Transylvanian handgunners, and 5000 Székely infantry, personally recruited by Stefan.
The size of Moldavia’s army is, again, probably inflated by contemporaries.
It is likely that Stefan commanded no more than 30,000 troops and 20 cannons in total.
Though heavily outnumbered, the Prince of Moldavia is well prepared.
Upon entering Moldavia, the Ottomans are met with a completely desolate country; its’ waters poisoned; its’ settlements burned; its’ population… gone.
Stefan has evacuated the population and livestock, destroying anything that may be of use to the Ottomans, aiming to wear down the invaders as much as possible.
Not daring to disobey Mehmed’s orders, Suleiman reluctantly continues the march.
But his army is soon bogged down as Moldavian detachments constantly harass and ambush the Ottomans, destroying some of their supplies and hindering their advance.
Suleiman’s troops march through Moldavia for nearly 30 days in freezing conditions, searching for Stefan’s army.
But finally, on January 10th, 1475, Ottoman scouts bring news.
They find several untouched villages further north-west.
Suleiman orders the troops to cross and deploy on the other side of the Bârlad river.
There, he expects to either find Stefan or to rest his exhausted troops in the villages discovered by the scouts.
Battle of Vaslui, 1475 AD History
Heavy fog severely restricts visibility and the rain keeps pouring throughout the day, turning parts of the valley into a muddy marsh.
As the Ottoman army deploys in battle formation across the river, suddenly, Moldavian war drums and trumpets reverberate in the distance.
Suleiman is now convinced that Stefan’s entire army sits further up the valley, but cannot see them through the fog.
He orders his troops to advance slowly towards the enemy and rushes more troops across the bridge.
Unbeknownst to him, in the middle of the valley, only the Székely and Moldavian professional infantrymen are deployed, along with the Hungarian infantry.
Moldavian light cavalry is on the flanks, with a Moldavian heavy cavalry detachment and Polish heavy cavalry in the rear.
As the Ottomans advance through the marshy area, knee-deep in mud, Moldavian light cavalry suddenly appears.
Faced with repeated hit-and-run attacks, the Ottoman Janissaries and regular infantry push forward to get out of the mud, followed by the Sipahi heavy cavalry.
Unaware that they are heading straight into a trap, they march forward while fending off repeated attacks by the Moldavian light cavalry.
Midway through the valley, the Ottoman infantry clashes with the defenders.
As more Ottoman troops advance up the field, Stefan springs his trap.
Archers and handgunners shower the Ottomans with projectiles from the surrounding woods.
Cannons, hidden on a nearby hill begin bombarding the area around the bridge.
As ordered by Stefan, his troops in the valley begin a tactical retreat, luring more and more Ottoman troops into the line of fire.
Unable to see the enemy through the thick fog, Moldavian archers shoot in the direction of the sound of enemy footsteps.
Helped by the rain of arrows, Székely troops manage to crush the Ottoman left flank, but are soon pressed hard by the heavy sipahi cavalry.
Not able to see what is happening in the valley, Suleiman throws everything he has at trying to reinforce the attack.
But, soon after, the bridge collapses under the weight of the troops which nearly severs Ottoman lines of communication.
Meanwhile, up the valley, Ottoman troops rout the Székely infantry and begin to envelop the defenders.
But then, Stefan springs his final trap.
More war drums and trumpets sound off, west of the Ottoman left flank.
Expecting a Moldavian attack from where the music is playing, Ottoman commanders scramble to turn their troops and form a line, which stops their momentum in pushing up the valley.
Unable to see through the fog, they hear the sound of drums and trumpets getting closer and closer.
But the main Moldavian army is on the hill behind them, hidden in the trees.
At that moment Stefan plays his final move.
With his elite boyar heavy cavalry in the center and peasant infantry on the flanks, he charges down the hill into the exposed Ottoman rear.
Seeing the charge, panic erupts as the Ottomans think they are being attacked from three sides, and their troops break rank.
Battle of Vaslui, 1475 AD History
In a chaotic headlong retreat, the Ottoman troops are chased down and slaughtered en masse by the Moldavian army.
Basarab Laiotă flees from the battlefield without committing his troops.
Suleiman’s position is soon flooded by fleeing soldiers.
He tries to regain control of the army but is forced to signal a general retreat.
While the set-piece battle was over on January 10th, 1475, the engagement lasted for another 3 days, as Stefan’s troops chased the Ottomans all the way south to the Siret and Danube rivers.
After defeating the Ottomans at Vaslui, Stefan would go on to rule for nearly 50 years in total, eventually becoming known as “Stefan the Great and the Holy”, ushering in the Golden Age of Moldavia.