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2 Balkan Wars

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

The Balkan coalition decided to begin the war against the Ottoman Empire in the fall of 1912. The allies wanted to start the war before the Ottomans could end their war with Italy and bring additional troops to southeastern Europe. Each member of the Balkan coalition conducted a separate action against the Ottomans with particular aims. The Balkan allies had considerable forces at their disposal. The Bulgarians called upon 350,000 men, the Greeks 100,000, and the Serbs 230,000.1 The Montenegrins had little more than a militia of around 50,000 men. The Greeks alone had a navy of some strength. The Ottomans also had a navy. Ground forces amounted to 280,000 men, but potential could grow to 450,000.2

The first of the Balkan allies to act was Montenegro. King Nikola opened the First Balkan War on 8 October 1912. The Montenegrin declaration of war alerted the Ottomans to the pending conflict in the Balkans. They hurried to conclude the war with Italy. The Italians and Ottomans signed the Treaty of Ouchy, near Lausanne, Switzerland, on 15 October.

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1 Balkan Politics

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

By the third quarter of the nineteenth century three national states had emerged in southeastern Europe from the non-national Ottoman Empire. These were Greece, Romania, and Serbia. All three sought to emulate the political and economic success of national states in western Europe. From the onset of their establishment none of these small southeastern European states considered their frontiers to be permanent. All sought to expand into neighboring territories to include greater numbers of their co-nationals in the same state or to conform to romantic notions of medieval predecessors. The Greeks sought all the Aegean Islands, Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thrace, then all under Ottoman control. The Romanians had claims to Habsburg Transylvania and Romanov Besserabia. The Montenegrins and Serbs contested Ottoman territories in Bosnia Hercegovina, Kosovo, and northern Albania. In addition both the Greeks and the Serbs claimed Macedonia as part of their national legacy. Not only were these small states eager to acquire territories from the large dynastic empires that bordered on southeastern Europe, they also increasingly advanced claims that overlapped each other’s national aspirations. The only apparent means of maintaining and forwarding such claims was armed action. In this regard the peoples of southeastern Europe attempted to emulate the successes of the Italians in 1861 and the Germans ten years later. These countries had unified through conflict.

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6 The Erosion of the Bulgarian Army

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

At the beginning of the war Bulgarian morale was largely positive. While the Bulgarians were not enthusiastic to be at war again so soon after the Balkan Wars, they were grimly determined to rectify the injustices they perceived to be the consequence of the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest. Nevertheless, after a year of military success the mood in Bulgaria remained fairly good. A German report from June 1916 noted:

Undoubtedly public opinion in Bulgaria, which at the beginning of the war was for the most part pro-Russian, has changed. It has become clear to countless observers, who over the past two years here from informal conversations with all strata of people, from soldiers’ letters, from political literature indicate that the majority of the people are convinced of the correctness of the policies of the Central Powers.1

Even so there was dissension in the Bulgarian ranks from the start. At the beginning of the war several instances of antiwar activity had occurred within the army, and a military court sentenced at least seventeen soldiers to death.2 From the beginning of 1916 to 1 July 1917 the Entente command in Salonika counted 11,370 deserters from all the Central Powers forces on the Macedonian Front, including Austro-Hungarians, Bulgarians, Germans, and Turks.3 Bulgarians undoubtedly were the majority of these soldiers. Probably many of these Bulgarians were from the mixed ethnic areas overrun the during the autumn 1915 campaign. This meant they were from Macedonia, but had been drafted into the Bulgarian Army after 1915. For many of these soldiers national identity had little to do with their efforts to escape the fighting.

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8 Collapse

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

While the fighting raged at Doiran, to the west French and Serbian forces continued to advance through the gap in the Bulgarian lines opened at Dobro Pole. The Serbian First Army captured bridges over the Cherna at Rasim Bey and established positions on the other side of the river on 18 September. This placed the Serbian First Army in position to threaten the eastern flank of German Eleventh Army and its headquarters in Prilep. In the east, a French and Greek force captured the Dzena ridge, which dominated the eastern side of the bulge the Entente breakthrough had forced in the Bulgarian lines.1 The efforts of General von Reuter’s replacement division to plug the gap created by the collapse of the 2nd Thracian Division and to hold the line failed. On 18 September, General Todorov ordered the 3rd Balkan Division to new positions southwest of the Vardar River.2 This retreat severed the 3rd Balkan Division from its direct connection with the 2nd Thracian Division and from the rest of the Eleventh Army. Meanwhile the Serbian Second Army raced for Gradsko, on the Salonika-Skopie railroad and just above where the Cherna flows into the Vardar. Because of its location astride the lines of communication, the control of Gradsko was critical for both sides. For the Bulgarians and Germans, Gradsko was vital for continued connection between the First and Eleventh Armies. For the Entente, control of Gradsko would provide their forces with access to the Vardar Valley and the railroad that could accelerate their progress toward Skopie and points further north.

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5 The Lull

Richard C. Hall Indiana University Press ePub

For the Bulgarians, the results of the 1916 campaign in Macedonia were decidedly mixed. They had advanced in eastern Macedonia, and they had, despite considerable losses in territory and manpower, managed to hold on against a strong Entente offensive in central Macedonia. Their position north of Bitola was less than ideal. The Entente forces were well established across the Cherna Bend. The Bulgarians had noted, however, rumors that the British wanted to withdraw from Salonika.1 The prospect of a British withdrawal and the ending of the Salonika operation was more than merely rumor. The British were pressing their French allies to abandon the Bitola salient, and even to end the Salonika operation.2 Yet the Central Powers had no plans to take advantage of the Entente discord. Because manpower and material resources were limited, they adopted a defensive stance along the Macedonian Front in 1917.

Adding to the Bulgarian material burden were significant numbers of prisoners of war. By the summer of 1917 the Bulgarians had at least 12,000 Serbs and 2,000–3,000 pro-Venizelos Greeks.3 There were also British, French, Romanians, and Russians among these prisoners. The Bulgarians employed many of them in agricultural and mining activities throughout Bulgaria. Their exact number remains obscure. Another distraction during in February and March was an uprising in the Morava region of Serbia, occupied by Bulgarian soldiers. This Serbian revolt forced the Bulgarians to transfer temporarily some units from the Macedonian and Romanian Fronts.4 By the end of March, the Bulgarians, together with some Austro-Hungarian and German troops, had suppressed the Morava revolt.

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