Thursday 1 July 2021

Szávaszentdemeter, August 1523

My friend Tom visited recently to continue our series of wargames. Having fought out a clash at the Castle of St George last time,,  we were keen to try another game with the Ottomans. We decide to pit them against the newly painted and converted Hungarians choosing the last significant victory of the Jagiellonian Kingdom of Hungary as the basis for our game. 

Szávaszentdemeter, August 1523

The fall of Belgrade to the Ottomans in 1521 put ever increasing pressure on the Jagiellonian Kingdom of Hungary. Suleiman's siege of Rhodes in 1522 gave the Hungarians brief respite as enormous Ottoman military resource had been put into besieging the Hospitallers on their island fortress. The respite was to be short lived as the summer of 1523 saw Ferhad Pasha, the Sultan's brother in law, set out into the Syrmia, a region between the Sava and Danube rivers that had become something of a no mans land during the border clashes with the Ottomans and Hungarians. Under his command he had around 12,000-15,000 men with which he probably aimed to capture or destroy the fortresses of the area and reach the Danube cutting an important supply line for Hungarian border fortresses. Rednek (Vrdnik) castle in particular looks to have been a target and there seems to be evidence that some Ottoman forces did reach and begin to besiege the fortress.

Pal Tomori, Archbishop of Kalocsa was assigned the task of coordinating the defence of the region. He was well liked by his troops and was later to be one of the lead commanders at Mohacs in 1526 where he was killed. Due to illness he did not take part in the fighting around Szávaszentdemeter instead appointing Istvan Bardi, who looks to have been a captain of the court Hussars, to the role. The Hungarian force was considerably smaller than that of the Ottomans, possibly no more than 4,000 troops, comprised predominantly of veteran hussars, experienced in border warfare, and infantry forces raised from the local garrisons. Other Hungarian captains who are thought to have participated are Jakab Banffy, Bosics Radics, lieutenant of the Bishop of Pecs, Ferenc Dregi and Ferenc Bodo.

Around the 4th or 5th of August the Ottomans crossed the Sava on boats or possibly a pontoon bridge, sources differ, and left a guard with the fleet whilst the main force divided into three. They had light guns with them, intending to attack smaller Hungarian fortresses in the region. Bali Bey, a man of Bosnian origin and in charge of some of the local Ottoman fortresses, led the vanguard. He had warned Ferhad of how dangerous the Hungarian forces in this region could be. What actually took place in the battle is difficult to piece together but it seems that as the Ottoman forces advanced the Hungarians struck at the troops guarding the fleet (and possibly bridge) on the Sava, anchored near Szávaszentdemeter. When the three Ottoman forces learned of this they began to withdraw. Initially the Ottomans clashed with small garrison forces and bands of armed peasants, who were defending their vineyards. This opposition was quickly swept aside.

Bardi awaited the three Ottoman forces somewhere near the banks of the Sava and between the 6th and 7th of August they were defeated one by one. The first two were taken by surprise, perhaps because of the clashes with the local peasantry whilst the third Ottoman force was informed of Bardi's small army and managed to launch an attack on the Hungarians whilst they were still disorganised by the previous encounters. This was the fiercest of the clashes where both the Hungarians and Ottomans suffered heavy casualties. Whatever the exact detail and order of events sources seem to agree that Ferhad Pasha's 12,000 to 15,000 strong army suffered very heavy losses with possibly only 2,000 making it back to their side of the border. Bali Bey suffered a couple of wounds and escaped with some of his men. Ferhad Pasha also survived but was subsequently executed at the Sultan's orders on his return to Istanbul. His crushing defeat suffered in the Syrmia in large part contributing to the decision to have him executed.

Whilst the Hungarians under Pal Tomori's overall command and Istvan Bardi's military leadership were able to celebrate a major victory they lost around 700 men, a significant portion of the small Hungarian border army.  The losses fell amongst their most experience border troops who had spent years fighting the Turks. As events in 1526 would show, loosing this many veterans was something the Jagiellonian Kingdom of Hungary could not afford to do.

The Scenario

As usual the game was played using heavily modified "Renaissance Rampant" rules. To represent the various clashes that took place between 6th and 7th August 1523 the scenario attempted to recreate the Hungarians catching and attacking the second Ottoman division of the three, assuming that the first had already been defeated. During this clash the third Ottoman division, under the border veteran Bali Bey, would be get wind of the trap and attack the Hungarians whilst they were still disorganised at an unknown point of the game and from an unknown table edge.

A retinue under Ferhad Pasha would initially face the whole Hungarian force. If Ferhad Pasha could get a unit behind the Hungarian force and off the Hungarian table edge the second Ottoman retinue, under Bali Bey, could then start dicing to arrive on the next Ottoman turn. On a 2D6 roll of 9 or more they would arrive on that turn. The next turn they would arrive on an 8 or more and so on. The could arrive from three of the possible table edges, not the river edge, and this would be not be diced for until the moment they arrived. This guaranteed a real element of surprise for both players. The units from the second Ottoman retinue would enter the table via normal move activations. If Ferhad Pasha's retinue could not reach the other side of the table to call in the second retinue then when (if!) it got to half its unit strength then the Ottoman player could start dicing for the second retinue's arrival as per the rules above.

The Hungarians were divided into retinues under Istvan Bardi and another under Ferenc Bodo who was likely the commader of the fortress of Barka who would have brought local garrisons to the encounter.

The edge of the river Sava was impassable terrain and the vineyard tile counted as difficult terrain for combat and movement and offered cover to those within it.

The aim of both armies was the destruction of the other force.

A view of the armies with Ferhad Pasha's Ottoman force on the left and the Hungarian forces of Istvan Bardi in the background.

Istvan Bardi's border force of hussars and troops from local garrisons awaits the Ottomans at the banks of the River Sava.

The Hungarian army.

Ferhad Pasha's force, burdened with livestock it has rounded up during the attack is caught as it returns to the banks of the Sava.

The Armies

I couldn't find exact information on the composition of the forces involved, not unusual for these 16th century clashes. In some ways this was a good thing as it allowed quite a lot of freedom when making up the lists for the game. For the Hungarians we know the force was predominantly light border cavalry, including many hussars, backed up by infantry raised from the local border fortresses. There would be no gendarmes and landsknecht in this game. For the Ottomans this was not a typical border raiding force of akinji light horse but one that was intending to besiege and take smaller frontier fortresses. This gave an excuse to add some janissaries and armoured assault infantry to the armies, along with poorer quality azabs. Although we know that the Ottomans did have light guns for the sieges I chose not to include them in the game as this was very much a running battle and the sources I could find on the battle argued they would not have used them in this type of confused clash.

The Hungarians

Istvan Bardi's contingent

2 Units of Hussars (One is Istvan Bardi retinue commander)
2 Units of Balkan cavalry
1 Unit of Lancers
4 Units of Pavise infantry
1 Unit of Levy pike

Ferenc Bodo's contingent

1 Unit of Lancers (Ferenc Bodo retinue commander)
2 Units of Hussars 
2 Units of Horse archers
1 Unit of Foot Knights
2 Units of Halberdiers
1 Unit of Mercenary shot
1 Unit of Hungarian archers

The Ottomans

Ferhad Pasha's contingent

2 Units of Sipahis (One is Ferhad Pasha retinue commander)
3 Units of Akinji
2 Units of Zirlhi Nefer
2 Units of Janissary archers
2 Units of Azab infantry
1 Unit of Azab archers 

Bali Bey's contingent 
This retinue would join later in the game

2 Units of Delis (One is Bali Bey retinue commander)
4 Units of Akinji
1 Unit of Azab infantry
1 Unit of Azab arquebusiers
1 Unit of Azab archers
2 Units of Janissary infantry 

Tom chose to play as the Ottomans so I took on the role of the Hungarians. As always the photos are a good way to follow the action but a brief description of the game is also below.

The fighting begins with the Hungarians attempting to encircle and trap the Ottoman force. Some of the Hungarian light cavalry have already been forced back after a skirmish with the akinji.

Hungarian horse archers and hussars attempt to flank the Ottomans and flush them out of the vineyards.

Janissary archers defend themselves taking shelter in the vineyard.

As is often the case with these clashes the fighting began with skirmishes between the light cavalry of both sides. The Hungarian troops closest to the banks of the river, under Istvan Bardi looked as though they were going to outflank the much smaller Ottoman force and the akinji rode out to skirmish with them, pushing some of the Balkan horsemen back. At the other end of the field the light horse under Ferenc Bodo's command also attempted to outflank the Ottomans but they were held up by a force of Janissaries who lay down a withering rain of arrows from the cover of the vineyard.

The Hungarian right wing that had looked as if it would quickly overwhelm Ferhad Pasha's force seemed to settle into a more defensive position, the infantry more comfortable sheltering behind pavises or in a pike block than in pressing any attack. This meant that Ferenc Bodo's garrison infantry pushed forward in the centre, unsupported by the other Hungarian troops. Ferhad Pasha was cheered by the arrival of more Janissaries, reinforcements who had been out raiding and made it back to the main force. Seeing his chance to possibly turn the tables on the Hungarians and defeat the two forces one by one he ordered his men forward and a fierce melee developed in the centre of the field.

The infantry under Ferenc Bodo's command make a push for the Ottoman centre.

The Ottoman forces defending the vineyard, a force of janissaries has caught up with the main body of Ferhad Pasha's contingent and joins the fighting.

The noose tightens on Ferhad Pasha and his troops as the Hungarians push forward.

Heavily armoured Ottoman infantry make a push at the Hungarian centre and drive off the arquebusiers. Their role in the campaign was intended to be the storming of border fortresses but they prove just as effective in the open field. 

Akinji horsemen are pushed back as the two forces draw closer.

The Zirlhi Nefer armoured Ottoman infantry are charged by Ferenc Bodo and his bodyguard of armoured lancers.

The other unit of armoured Ottomans faces off against the halberdiers from local Hungarian garrisons.

Ferhad Pasha put his heavily armoured Zirlhi Nefer to good use on the battlefield. These men whose role should have been the storming of the border castles and towns were successful in driving back the Hungarian skirmishing shot and then pushing into the units of garrison troops that Ferenc Bodo had brought to the Hungarian army. Bodo himself charged some of them with his lancers but they held their ground and took a heavy toll on the Hungarian infantry facing them. 

The Turks holding the vineyard, having seen off the attack by the light horse, now faced a more serious assault by the arquebusiers and their accompanting pavise infantry. One unit of the Janissary archers was defeated by a hail of shot and as some of the azabs attempted to storm out of cover to attack the pavisiers they too were brought down. Fighting was taking place all along the Ottoman line.

A force of Ottoman infantry attempts to break from the Hungarian noose but is defeated by volleys of shot from behind the pavise wall.

Ferhad Pasha and his men are within strking distance of the Hungarians.

The Hungarians push ever closer but the Ottomans maintain a solid defence.

Halberdiers and Zirlhi Nefer clash in the field. The Zirlhi Nefer defeat both groups of halberdiers causing them to flee.

As the fighting intensifies akinji from Bali Bey's force arrive on the battlefield, they have joined the battle behind the Hungarian lines.

As the fighting grew heavy in the centre of the field a cry of alarm went up in the Hungarian ranks. The first of Bali Bey's akinji horsemen were arriving behind the Hungarian lines! In the confusion Ferenc Bodo and his armoured lancers charged straight for Ferhad Pasha. Bodo was slain and his lancers pushed back. The part of the Hungarian army under his command was being attacked on both sides and his units were fleeing. With their captain down a unit of Bodo's hussars then charged Ferhad and his horsemen. The confused and swirling cavalry melee that ensued meant that both the hussar unit and Ferhad's sipahis were broken and destroyed. Both the Hungarian and Ottoman sides had now lost one of their captains.

The pavise infantry who had been pressing home the attack on the vineyard were in real trouble. Bali Bey and his elite delis bodyguards slammed into them from behind breaking a unit of them. Bali Bey was himself unhorsed, being shot by an arquebusier, but this was too late to save the pavisiers as units of Janissaries charged onto the field behind the delis and defeated the surrounded Hungarians in a brief clash.

Ferenc Bodo is slain in a melee with Ferhad Pasha's personal bodyguards.

The Pasha's men then go on to defeat a charge from a force of hussars, both units of horsemen are disorganised and broken in the engagement.

Just as Ferhad Pasha disappears in the chaos Bali Bey enters the field charging straight into one of the Hungarian infantry blocks. 

The Hungarian infantry who were attacking the vineyards are now themselves isolated and surrounded with Ferhad Pasha's surviving troops to their front and Bali Bey's men arriving behind them.

Bali Bey's deli cavalry put the Hungarian infantry to flight but the Ottoman commander is himself brought down in the fighting, shot by one of the arquebusiers.

Janissaries defeat the remaining isolated infantry.

With Bali Bey being shot and unhorsed the Ottomans now had no command. Ferenc Bodo's force was completely routed or destroyed but Istvan Bardi's troops who had remained inactive on the banks of the Sava for most of the battle could now redress their ranks and begin an advance on Bey's counterattacking force.The newly arrived akinji horsemen began to give way as they were threatened by Bardi's hussars, lancers and Balkan auxiliary cavalry.

With some of Ferhad's Janissaries still holding the vineyard the Ottoman forces attempted to reorganise and face the still unengaged Hungarians who were advancing from their position by the river. Some of the Hungarian cavalry were defeated by the akinji but the Hungarian numbers were too strong. The Janissaries were broken by volleys of shot as were the azab infantry who launched an assault on the oncoming Hungarians. Bali Bey's counterattacking force was broken with only the Hungarians under Istvan Bardi's command remaining in some kind of order. As with the real Szávaszentdemeter, Istvan Bardi had won the day but with very heavy losses.

Ferenc Bodo is slain and most of his force disoganised or defeated. Istvan Bardi's men are, on the other hand, still fresh having not engaged in the initial fighting. They reorganise and start to move towards Bali Bey's force.

The Ottoman Akinji from the counterattack begin to give ground as lancers and hussars ride forward in support of the Hungarian infantry.

Bali Bey's surviving men attempt to form a line of defence against Istvan Bardi's force. Bardi takes a central position amidst his contingent with his hussar bodyguards.

Some of the Ottoman infantry from the counterattacking Turkish force attempt to break through but, as with their comrades in the vineyard, they are brought down by a hail of shot from the Hungarian infantry. The second Ottoman force is surrounded and defeated.

 This was a really exciting game with so much going on all the time. Light horse were skirmishing back and forth and the Hungarian and Ottoman units in the centre of the field had a real slogging match. There was always the tension of not knowing when and where the second Ottoman force would arrive. Once Tom's first Ottoman contingent had lost 50% of it's units he had to roll 9+ on 2D6 to see if Bali Bey and his troops arrived immediately. He rolled a 10 on his first roll and then when we diced for which table edge they arrived on the result was behind the Hungarians! I really thought it was all over at that moment of the game. The random nature of the scenario made it a challenge for both of us which made it a lot of fun. I really enjoyed this early 16th century Hungarian clash and am looking forward to more scenarios involving the Hungarians. The battles of  Tarcal 1527 and Szina 1528 with Ferdinand of Habsburg and his Landsknecht versus John Zápolya and his Hungarians and Balkan allies may be what we try next.


  1. Spectacular and superb, great looking game!

    1. Cheers Phil, I love exploring these clashes with the Ottomans

  2. One of my favourite periods, not played it in years as never found suitable rules, you seem to have cracked it though!
    Beautiful game & apparently loads of fun. More please.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thank you warpaintj, there will certainly be more of these on the way!

  3. Great looking game and wonderful AAR Oli. Looking forward to your next instalment,

    1. Thank you Peter - hopefully another Hungarian clash is happening soon...

  4. A fascinating report of an unusual encounter.
    Do you have plans at some point to share your rule adaptations?
    Do you have books you'd recommend for this period?
    Thanks for sharing this report, I really enjoyed it.

    1. Cheers Stephen, it is hard to find good stuff in English on this period, to get the details for this battle I even had to resort to a bit of google translate! If you can get it from a library this is excellent, and very detailed on the campaigns:

      If you email me oliver frg @ hotmail .com (broken up to avoid bots!) I can send you the Lion Rampant lists I have been using for these games. We tend to change stuff a lot each game as the rules very much play second fiddle to the feel of the period and the scenario.

  5. Excellent summation of our game Oli, thoroughly enjoyed reading the report. I think the bain of that game for me were those pavise with arqubusier blocks, they were solid, dealt alot of damage and advanced in a ponderous, though similarly ominous manner. Looking forward to Tarcal!

    1. Cheers Tom it was a really tense and fun game. Yes the first outing of the pavisiers was quite successful. Tarcal is going to be interesting!

  6. Splendid looking game, lovely pair of armies! I thought it was all up for the Hungarians at one point!
    Best Iain

    1. Thank you Iain, yes when the second Ottoman retinue decided to turn up behind the Hungarians I thought "well this is going to be over very quickly!"

  7. That was an intense action with changing fortunes. Such marvellous forces and a wonderful looking table.
    Regards, James

    1. Cheers James, yes it was a real cliff hanger this one, it could have gone either way.

  8. Great report, great scenario, this is what historical wargaming is truly all about. Cheers!

    1. Thank you CirKhan, it was fun researching and learning about this battle.

  9. Fabulous looking game- awesome BATREP. A fascinating scenario- 5 star all round.

    1. Thank you John, hopefully I have another of these Eastern European clashes coming up soon.