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First Balkan War

First Balkan War

The First Balkan War, which lasted from October 1912 to May 1913, pitted the Balkan League (Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria) against the Ottoman Empire. The combined armies of the Balkan states overcame the numerically inferior and strategically disadvantaged Ottoman armies, and achieved rapid success. As a result of the war, almost all remaining European territories of the Ottoman Empire were captured and partitioned among the allies, and an independent Albanian state set up. Despite their success, the Balkan states were unsatisfied with the peace settlement, and the tensions among them, with the unifying Ottoman threat gone, would soon result in the Second Balkan War.

Background

Tensions among the Balkan states over their rival aspirations to the provinces of Ottoman-occupied Roumelia, namely Eastern Roumelia, Thrace and Macedonia, subsided somewhat following intervention by the Great Powers in the mid-19th century, aimed at securing both more complete protection for the provinces' Christian majority and protection of the status quo. By 1867, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro had all secured their independence, which was confirmed by the Treaty of Berlin a decade later. But the question of the viability of Ottoman rule was revived after the Young Turk Revolution of July 1908 compelled the Sultan to restore the suspended Ottoman constitution, and the significant developments in the years 1909-1911.

Serbia's aspirations towards Bosnia and Herzegovina were thwarted by the Austrian annexation of the province in October 1908, and so the Serbs focused their attention onto their historic cradle, Kosovo and to the south for expansion. Greek officers, revolting in August 1909, had secured the appointment of a progressive government under Eleftherios Venizelos which they hoped would resolve the Cretan issue in Greece's favour and reverse their defeat of 1897 by the Ottomans. Bulgaria, which had secured Ottoman recognition of her independence in April 1909 and enjoyed the friendship of Russia, also looked to districts of Ottoman Thrace and Macedonia for expansion. In March 1910, an Albanian insurrection broke out in Kosovo. In August 1910, Montenegro followed Bulgaria's precedent by becoming a kingdom.

In 1911, Italy launched an invasion of Tripolitania, which was quickly followed by the occupation of the Dodecanese Islands. The Italians' decisive military victories over the Ottoman Empire greatly influenced the Balkan states to prepare for war against Turkey. Thus in the spring of 1912, consultations between the various Christian Balkan nations resulted in a network of military alliances which became known as the Balkan League.

The Great Powers, most notably France and Austria-Hungary, reacted to this diplomatic sensation by trying to dissuade the League from going to war, but failed. In late September, both the League and the Ottoman Empire mobilized their armies. Montenegro was the first to declare war, on September 25 (O.S.)/October 8. The other three states, after issuing an impossible ultimatum to the Porte on October 13, declared war on Turkey on October 17.

Order of battle and plans

The four allies had not laid out any overall plan or made any attempt to coordinate their efforts. Instead, the war was to be conducted by each state individually, and thus it can be separated in four geographically defined fronts. Bulgarians faced the bulk of the Turkish forces, that protected the routes to Constantinople, in Thrace, with secondary operations towards Macedonia; Serbians and Montenegrins operated in Kosovo, the Sandjak, northern Macedonia and Albania; the Greeks operated in southern Macedonia in the direction of Salonica, as well as in Epirus towards Ioannina.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria, often dubbed "Prussia of the Balkans", was militarily the most powerful of the four states, with a large, well-trained and well-equipped army. The peacetime army of 60,000 men was expanded during the war to 370,000, with almost 600,000 men mobilized in total, out of a population of 4,300,000. The Bulgarian field army counted for 9 infantry divisions, 1 cavalry division and 1116 artillery units. Commander-in-Chief was Tsar Ferdinand, while the actual command was in the hands of his deputy, General Michail Savov. The Bulgarians also possessed a small navy of six torpedo boats, which were restricted to operations along the country's Black Sea coast.

Bulgaria's war aims were focused on Thrace and Macedonia, and although the latter would have to be partitioned with Serbia and Greece, the Bulgarians still hoped to seize most of it, including the important port city of Salonica. But they deployed their main force in Thrace, forming three armies. 1st Army, under General Vasil Kutinchev with 3 infantry divisions, was deployed to the south of Yambol, with direction of operations along the Tundzha river. 2nd Army, under General Nikola Ivanov, with 2 infantry divisions and 1 infantry brigade, was deployed west of 1st Army and was assigned to capture the strong fortress of Adrianople (Edirne). According to the plan for the war 3rd Army, under General Radko Dimitriev, was deployed east of and behind 1st Army, and was covered by the cavalry division, which hid it from Turkish command. 3rd Army had 3 infantry divisions and was assigned to cross the Stranja mountain and to take the fortress of Lozengrad Kirk Kilisse. 2nd and 7th divisions were assigned independent roles, operating in Western Thrace and eastern Macedonia respectively. Vievo is an example of a village from which the Muslim Turks were driven by the Bulgarian militia.

Serbia

Although far smaller in numbers than that of the Bulgarian army, the Serbian military strength was also considerable. Serbia called upon about 230,000 men with about 230 guns, grouped in 10 infantry divisions, two independent brigades and a cavalry division, under the effective command of former War Minister Radomir Putnik. The Serbian High Command, in its pre-war wargames, had concluded that the likeliest site of the decisive battle against the Turkish Vardar Army would be on the Ovče Polje plateau, before Skopje. Hence, the main forces were formed in three armies for the advance towards Skopje, while a division and an independent brigade were to cooperate with the Montenegrins in the Sanjak of Novi Pazar.

The First Army was commanded by General Petar Bojović, and was the strongest in number and force, forming the center of the drive towards Skopje. The Second Army was commanded by General Stepa Stepanović, and consisted of one Serbian and one Bulgarian (7th Rila) division. It formed the left wing of the Army and advanced towards Stracin. The inclusion of a Bulgarian division was according to a pre-war arrangement between Serbian and Bulgarian army commanders, but that division ceased to obey orders of Gen. Stepanović as soon as the war began, and followed only the orders of the Bulgarian High Command. The Third Army was commanded by General Božidar Janković and, being the right-wing army, had the task to liberate Kosovo and then join the other armies in the expected battle at the Ovče Polje.

Greece

Greece was considered the weakest of the three main allies, since it had suffered a humiliating defeat against the Ottomans in the Greco-Turkish War (1897), and was not expected to contribute decisively against the Turkish army. It was able to field only about 120,000 men. However Greece had a strong navy, which was vital to the League, as only it could prevent Turkish reinforcements from being rapidly transferred by ship from Asia to Europe. As the Greek ambassador to Sofia noted, with exaggeration, during the negotiations that led to Greece's entry in the League: "Greece can provide 600,000 men for the war effort. [...] 200,000 men in the field, and the fleet will be able to stop 400,000 men being landed by Turkey [...] between Salonica and Gallipoli."

The army was still undergoing reorganization by a French military mission when the war began. Upon mobilization, it was grouped in two Armies. The Army of Thessaly, under Crown Prince Constantine, with Lt Gen Panagiotis Danglis as his chief of staff, fielded 7 infantry divisions, a cavalry brigade and 4 independent Evzones battalions, equaling roughly 100,000 men. It was expected to overcome the fortified Turkish border positions and advance towards western and central Macedonia, aiming to take Salonica.

Further 10,000 to 13,000 men in eight battalions were assigned to the Army of Epirus under Lt Gen Konstantinos Sapountzakis, which was intended to advance into Epirus. As it had no hope of capturing its heavily fortified capital, Ioannina, its initial mission was simply to pin down the Turkish forces there until sufficient reinforcements could be sent from the Army of Thessaly after its successful conclusion of operations.

The Greek Navy, in the meantime, was expected to seize the islands of the Aegean Sea that were still under Ottoman rule and secure naval supremacy. The Fleet of the Aegean, under Rear Admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis, was assigned this task, and deployed three aging battleships, seven destroyers and the brand-new cruiser Averof, on which Greek plans for naval dominance in the Aegean principally rested. Other small task forces of destroyers and torpedo boats were assigned to scour the Aegean and Ionian seas of small Ottoman vessels. Greece joined with Serbia.

Montenegro

The Montenegrins had a deserved reputation as hardened and experienced fighters, but their army was both small and somewhat antiquated. After completing mobilization in the first week of October, Montenegro fielded 35,600 men with 126 guns, organized in four divisions, each of three brigades. Their nominal commander-in-chief was King Nicholas, with effective command in the hands of his chief of staff, General Lazarović. The main war aim was the capture of the important city of Skadar, while secondary operations were to be carried out in Novi Pazar.

Ottoman Empire

In 1912, the Ottomans found themselves in a difficult position. They were still engaged in a protracted war with the Italians in Libya, which lasted until 15 October, a few days after the outbreak of hostilities in the Balkans. They were therefore unable to significantly reinforce their positions in the Balkans as the relations with the Balkan states deteriorated over the course of the year.

The Ottomans' military capabilities were hampered by instability caused by the Young Turk Revolution and the counter revolutionary coup several months later (see Countercoup (1909) and 31 March Incident). An effort had been made to reorganize the army by a German mission, but its effects were questionable. The regular army (nizam) was well-equipped and trained, but the reserve units (redif) that complemented them, often composed of ten non-Muslim locals, were of little fighting ability.

In theory, the Ottomans could field far superior numbers against the Balkan League, but due to the control of the Aegean by the Greek navy, they would have to be transported from Asia overland, via a single railway line. In Europe itself, the Ottomans did not possess a single plan against their opponents, and their forces fought isolated battles with no overall coordination.

Operations

Montenegro started the First Balkan War by declaring war against the Ottomans on September 25 (O.S.)/October 8, 1912.

The Bulgarian theater of operations

The first great battles were at the Adrianople - Kirk Kilisse defensive line, where the Bulgarian 1st and 3rd Armies (together 110,000 men) defeated the Ottoman East Army (130,000 men) near Gechkenli, Seliolu and Petra. The fortress of Adrianople was besieged and Kirk Kilisse was taken without resistance under the pressure of the Bulgarian Third Army.

The Bulgarian high command then decided to wait a few days, allowing the Turks to occupy defensive positions on the Luleburgaz-Karaagach-Bunarhisar line. Despite this, the initial Bulgarian attack by First and Third Army defeated the Turkish forces, numbering some 130,000, and reached the Sea of Marmara. But the Turks, with the aid of fresh reinforcements from the Asian provinces, established their third and strongest defensive position at the Chataldja Line, across the peninsula where Constantinople is located.

On November 4/17, the Bulgarians launched their attack on the Chataldja Line, but were repulsed. An armistice was agreed on November 20/December 3 between the Ottomans and Bulgaria, also representing Serbia and Montenegro and peace negotiations began in London. Greece also participated in the conference, but refused to agree to a truce, in order to continue its operations in the Epirus sector. But negotiations were interrupted, on January 23/February 9, when a Young Turk coup d'état in Constantinople under Enver Pasha overthrew the government of Kiamil Pasha. Upon expiration of the armistice, on February 16, hostilities recommenced.

New Turkish forces landed at Bulair and Şarköy but after heavy fighting they were crushed and overthrown by the newly formed 4th Bulgarian army under the command of General Stilian Kovachev. The offensive at Chataldja failed too.

On 11 March, the final Bulgarian assault on Adrianople began. Under the command of General Georgi Vazov the Bulgarians, reinforced with two Serb divisions, conquered the "untakable" city. At the same time, the Serbians and Montenegrins succeeded in taking Shkodra and the Greeks took Ioannina after overcoming the Turkish fortified positions at Bizani. On 17/30 May a peace treaty was signed between Turkey and the Balkan Alliance.

The Serb-Montenegrin theater of operations

The Greek theater of operations

The Greek Army of Thessaly under Crown Prince Constantine advanced towards Salonica from the south, successfully overcoming Ottoman opposition at Sarantaporo. After a renewed victory at Giannitsa, the city and its garrison surrendered to the Greeks on October 27 (O.S.)/November 9. At the same time, the Bulgarians had dispatched their 7th 'Rila' division from the north in the direction of the city, but arrived there a day after its surrender. Until November 10, the Greek-occupied zone had been expanded to the line from Lake Doirani to the river Strymon. In Western Macedonia however, the Greeks had suffered a setback in the Battle of Vevi on 2/15 November, and the stiff resistance offered by Ottoman forces centered at Monastir meant that the city was eventually captured by the Serbs.

At Epirus, the Greek army had successfully conquered Preveza, but was not strong enough to conquer the German-designed defensive positions of Bizani that protected the apporaches to Ioannina. After the campaign in Macedonia was complete, however, a large part of the army under the Crown Prince was redeployed to Epirus, and in the Battle of Bizani the Ottoman positions were overcome and Ioannina taken on 22 February 19136 March 1913.

At sea, the Greek fleet took action since the first day of the war. From 6 October until 20 December 1912, Greek naval and army detachments liberated almost all islands of the Eastern and North Aegean sea, and established a forward base at Moudros bay in Lemnos, controlling the exits of the Dardanelles. Lieutenant Nikolaos Votsis scored a major success for Greek morale on 8 November, when he sailed his torpedo boat into the harbor of Thessaloniki under the cover of night, and sank the old Ottoman ironclad Feth-i-Bulend.

The Ottoman fleet remained inside the Dardanelles for the early part of the war; on its two sorties out of the Straits on 3/16 December 1912 and 5/18 January 1913, it was defeated in the naval battles of Elli and Lemnos, largely through the tactical initiative of Rear Adm Kountouriotis. The only Ottoman success were the actions of the light cruiser Hamidiye. In the days before the battle of Lemnos, Hamidiye was sent to raid Greek merchant shipping, thus creating a diversion that would hopefully be large enough to draw the Greek flagship Averof in pursuit, and leave the remainder of the Greek fleet weakened. The Ottoman plan ultimately failed, but the Hamidiye scored a few successes, sinking some ships and bombarding Greek harbors.

Conclusion of the war and aftermath

The Treaty of London ended the First Balkan War on 17 May 1913. All Ottoman territory west of the Ainos-Medea line was ceded to the Balkan League, according to the status quo at the time of the armistice. The treaty also declared Albania to be an independent state. Almost all of the territory that was declared to form the Albanian state was currently occupied by either Greece or Serbia, which only reluctantly withdrew their troops. Combined with unresolved disputes with Bulgaria over the division of the region of Macedonia, the Second Balkan War immediately followed.

Battles of the First Balkan War
Name Attacking Commander Defending Commander Date Winner
Battle of Sarantaporo Greeks Crown Prince Constantine Ottomans Oct 22 1912 Greeks
Battle of Giannitsa Greeks Crown Prince Constantine Ottomans Hasan Tahsin Pasha Nov 1 1912 Greeks
Battle of Kumanovo Serbians Gen. Radomir Putnik (promoted to Vojvoda after the battle) Ottomans Gen. Zekki-Pasha Oct 23 1912 Serbians
Battle of Kirk Kelesse Bulgarians Gen. Radko Dimitriev, Gen. Ivan Fichev Ottomans Mahmud Muhtar Pasha Oct 24 1912 Bulgarians
Battle of Pente Pigadia Greeks Lt. Gen. Konstantinos Sapountzakis Ottomans Esat Pasha Nov 6-12 1912 Greeks
Battle of Prilep Serbians Ottomans Nov 3 1912 Serbians
Battle of Lule-Burgas Bulgarians Gen. Radko Dimitriev, Gen. Ivan Fichev Ottomans Abdullah Pasha Oct 28-31 1912 Bulgarians
Battle of Vevi Greeks Ottomans Nov 15 1912 Ottomans
Battle of Bitola Serbians Gen. Petar Bojović Ottomans Zekki-Pasha (Gen.) Nov 16-19 1912 Serbians
Naval Battle of Kaliakra Bulgarians Cap. Dimitar Dobrev Ottomans Hyusein Rauf Bey 21 Nov 1912 Bulgarians
Naval Battle of Elli Greeks Rear Adm. Pavlos Kountouriotis Ottomans Adm Ramiz Bey Dec 16 1912 Greeks
Battle of Bulair Ottomans Feti Bey Bulgarians Gen. Georgi Todorov Jan 26 1913 Bulgarians
Battle of Şarköy Ottomans Enver Bey Bulgarians Gen. Stiliyan Kovachev 26-28 Jan 1913 Bulgarians
Naval Battle of Lemnos Greeks Rear Adm. Pavlos Kountouriotis Ottomans Jan 18 1913 Greeks
Battle of Bizani Greeks Crown Prince Constantine Ottomans Esat Pasha Mar 5-6 1913 Greeks
Siege of Adrianople Bulgarians & Serbians Gen. Georgi Vazov, Gen. Stepa Stepanovic Ottomans Gen. Ghazi Shulkri Pasha Mar 11-13 1913 Bulgarians

See also

Notes

Sources

  • Erickson, Edward J.; Bush, Brighton C. (2003). Defeat in Detail: The Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912-1913. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Hall, Richard C. (2000). The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913: Prelude to the First World War. Routledge.
  • Schurman, Jacob Gould (2004). The Balkan Wars 1912 To 1913. Kessinger Publishing.

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