First Balkan War – Bulgarian theater of operations

Serbian_artilery_at_Adrianopoli

The Serbo-Bulgarian guns leveled Adrianople, causing great losses both in Turkish military units and the civilian population.

balkanair

Bombardment of Adrianople from the air.

A-Bulgarian-infantryman

Bulgarian Infantrman.

Just days after peace was concluded in the ITALO-TURKISH WAR OF 1911-12, the Porte (Ottoman government) found itself at war with Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria, united for the first time in an effort to take possession of the remaining Turkish possessions in the Balkan Peninsula. Soon joined by Montenegro, this Balkan League, like the Italians, argued that their nationals, all Christians, were being maltreated by Muslim Turks, especially in badly administered Macedonia. The league was at first ready to accept reforms, including autonomy for Macedonia, but the Porte hesitated and thus found itself, unprepared and badly officered, involved in violent hostilities. Greek forces advanced from the south, trapping a large Turkish army, capturing all its artillery and transport, and then liberating Salonika. Serbs moved from the north, defeating Turkish armies in battles at Kumanovo and Monastir (Bitola) in the fall of 1912. Bulgarians arrived from the east to invade Thrace, won victories at Kirk Kilissa and Lule Burgas, where they engaged the main Turkish army and drove it into retreat toward Constantinople supply problems saved Adrianople (Edirne) and Constantinople from being captured. Greece and Montenegro ignored a Bulgarian-Turkish armistice (December 3, 1912), and the London Peace Conference failed to settle the warring parties’ conflicting aims in the Balkans. The Young Turks then seized control of the government at Constantinople, denounced the armistice, and renewed fighting. On March 26, 1912, Adrianople fell to a besieging Bulgarian-Serb force three weeks after the Greeks had forced the surrender of the Turks at Yannina (Ioannina). With the fall of Scutari (Üsküdar) to Montenegrin troops on April 22, 1913, the Ottomans reluctantly accepted the Treaty of London imposed by the great powers, losing Crete and its European possessions (save the Chatalja and Gallipoli peninsulas). (Istanbul), the Ottoman capital. Only Bulgarian supply problems saved Adrianople (Edirne) and Constantinople from being captured. Greece and Montenegro ignored a Bulgarian-Turkish armistice (December 3, 1912), and the London Peace Conference failed to settle the warring parties’ conflicting aims in the Balkans. The Young Turks then seized control of the government at Constantinople, denounced the armistice, and renewed fighting. On March 26, 1912, Adrianople fell to a besieging Bulgarian-Serb force three weeks after the Greeks had forced the surrender of the Turks at Yannina (Ioannina). With the fall of Scutari (Üsküdar) to Montenegrin troops on April 22, 1913, the Ottomans reluctantly accepted the Treaty of London imposed by the great powers, losing Crete and its European possessions (save the Chatalja and Gallipoli peninsulas).

BALKAN DIPLOMACY AND THE BALKAN WARS, 1908- 1913

Shortly before the GNA met in Tûrnovo a new government had been formed under Ivan Geshov who had succeeded Stoilov as leader of the Nationalist Party. Ferdinand was known to loathe Geshov deeply primarily because the Nationalists were amongst the fiercest critics of the prince’s personal rule. If the king so mistrusted the Nationalists on internal affairs their elevation to office must mean that the king approved of their views on foreign policy. Geshov’s first priority in this area was better relations with Russia, and as Russia had been calling for some time for a Bulgarian-Serbian alliance it was widely believed that Geshov had been appointed to bring that about.

There was reason enough for the two Balkan states to move closer together. Young Turk rule had not brought peace to the peninsula and in particular had angered the Albanians; these former loyal servants of the sultan were now subjected to more central government in the form of taxation, conscription and an attempt to disarm them. They rebelled every summer from 1909 to 1912. This increasing disorder raised two great dangers for the surrounding Balkan states. The first was that the powers might intervene to impose reforms which would work and which they would supervise. The second was that one or more powers might itself occupy part of the peninsula, and when Italy declared war on Turkey in 1911 over territorial disputes in North Africa this danger became more ominous. In either case the door would be closed on expansion by the Balkan states. But if two or more of those states could form an alliance they would make intervention by any external power more difficult. Russia meanwhile feared Austro-Hungarian rather than Italian encroachment and saw in a Balkan alliance the best barrier against it.

When negotiations between Belgrade and Sofia began Russian diplomacy was under the illusion that the two states were aiming for a defensive alliance. The Bulgarians and Serbs knew full well that the alliance could only have an offensive purpose. They wanted to seize the Ottoman Empire in Europe before there was time for reform or intervention by the powers. The negotiations were not easy. The Bulgarians, obviously hoping for a second Eastern Rumelia, pressed that Macedonia should be given autonomy; the Serbs insisted on partition. To this the Bulgarians eventually agreed but it proved impossible to draw final lines of division and the central area around Skopje was declared the `contested zone’ whose fate would, if necessary, be submitted to the tsar for arbitration.

A treaty on these lines was signed in February 1912. In the spring the situation in Macedonia deteriorated yet further and the Greeks hastily concluded a treaty with the Bulgarians, so hastily in fact that there were no clauses regulating the division of any conquered territory. The Greeks also concluded an alliance with the Serbs. Montenegro was not to be left out and concluded verbal agreements with the other three states.

By the summer of 1912 Macedonia was in chaos. The annual Albanian revolt spilled over into the Vardar valley and reached as far as Skopje, forcing the Young Turk government to resign. The Bulgarians faced mounting pressure at home for action to defend the exarchists in Macedonia, pressure which culminated in a huge, prowar rally in Sofia on 5 September. Two days later the king and cabinet decided upon war and set about making the final arrangements at home and with their allies. Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 8 October; the other allies followed suit ten days later.

For the Bulgarian army the main task was to drive back the enemy on the plains of eastern Thrace, although other small forces were sent to join the Serbs in Macedonia, and to race down the Struma valley in the hope of reaching Salonika before the Greeks. In their main campaign the Bulgarians were stunningly successful. By the first week of November the Ottoman forces had been driven back to the Tchataldja lines around their capital.

The king and most politicians wanted to push forward and attempt to take Constantinople; Ferdinand was even said to have ordered a sumptuous uniform for the occasion. The general staff was less enthusiastic; the troops were exhausted and there had been an outbreak of cholera in some units. The civilians prevailed but the soldiers’ caution proved justified, and on 17 November the attack was abandoned. Within days an armistice had been signed and all the belligerents had agreed to meet in St James’s Palace, London, to determine the terms of a peace settlement. The great powers had in the meantime let it be known that an independent Albania must emerge from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire in Europe.

Whilst the discussions in London were in progress fighting broke out again on 3 February 1913 in Thrace when the Bulgarians launched an attack on Adrianople, one of the few fortresses left in Ottoman control. The fighting lasted until the surrender of the garrison on 26 March; during the siege Bulgarian aeroplanes carried out the first aerial bombardment in European history. Despite their success in Adrianople the Bulgarians were faced with a diplomatic problem for which no satisfactory conclusion could be found. The Romanian government had demanded territorial compensation for the gains of its neighbours and, it said, as a reward for its good behaviour during the war. Such compensation could only come from Bulgaria and after an ambassadorial conference in St Petersburg the Bulgarians were forced to concede the southern Dobrudja to a line from Silistra to Balchik.

The general settlement of the war came later with the signature of the treaty of London on 30 May 1913. The treaty stated that an Albanian state should be created and its borders defined by an international commission; the rest of the former Ottoman possessions, north of a line from Enos to Midia, were to be divided amongst the allies as they saw fit. This was not going to be easy. The loss of the southern Dobrudja intensified Bulgarian determination to secure its full share of the Macedonian spoils. Sofia pressed for `proportionality’, arguing that as Bulgaria had contributed the major share of the fighting it should receive the largest gains. The Greeks and Serbs invoked the notion of `balance’, stressing that the future peace of the Balkans could only be secured if the victors emerged from the war more or less equal in strength. The core of the problem was the contested zone. When the Bulgarians suggested that the question be submitted to Russia for arbitration the Serbs refused, insisting instead on direct negotiations in which the Greeks must take part. The talks were as futile as the Bulgarians had feared. When they collapsed Geshov gave up and was succeeded as prime minister by Danev.

Geshov was much discouraged by the powerful war lobby then forming in Sofia, a lobby greatly bolstered by the knowledge that a Greek-Serbian alliance had been signed. In the war party were to be found most Macedonian groups, the non-socialist and non-agrarian opposition parties, the general staff, the king and finally Danev who was at last persuaded that nothing acceptable could be expected from Russian arbitration. On 29 June the Bulgarian army attacked its former Serbian and Greek allies.

At first all went well for the Bulgarians but after two weeks of fighting news came that the Romanians were mobilising, shortly after which the Ottoman army crossed the southern frontier and took Adrianople. The northern borders were undefended which meant there was nothing to stop the Romanians entering Sofia and the Bulgarians therefore sued for peace. In the treaties of Bucharest (10 August) and Constantinople (13 October) they lost much of the territory recently acquired. They retained only Pirin Macedonia to a point half way down the Struma valley and a strip of Thrace which included the Aegean port of Dedeagach.

LINK

Advertisements

Leave a Reply