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26 October

A War Lost in History


The Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878)
by Christian Petrie

The Russo-Turkish War of 1877 to 1878 was the last war fought between the Russians and the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. This war was primarily fought between the Russians and the Ottoman Empire over the issue of the Balkans. The origins of the war started almost a decade before the war began.

Pan-Slaivc Movement in Russia
In the 1860’s Pan-Slavism started to become popular in Russia. This movement consisted of an idea to unite the Slavic people of eastern and central Europe into a political and cultural union. Within Russia, this movement wanted the Slavic people to be protected from both Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule. Of course this rule would be replaced with Russian rule under the Tsar. This caused problems within Russia, as the government had to balance what was good for the country versus what the people wanted. This split even carried over to members of the government. Even though Tsar Alexander II was a Pan-Slavic sympathizer, he still tried to do what was best for Russia. When it came to the rebellions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Bulgaria that started the path to the Russo-Turkish War, he did not see any benefit for Russia in intervening. However, in the end, it was due to the popularity of Pan-Slavism that led to Russia entering into war with the Ottomans.

The Beginning of War
Build up to the war started during the summer of 1875. At that time, there was an uprising in the Ottoman Provence of Bosnia and Herzegovina against the Ottomans. The reason for this uprising was the burdens of taxes the Ottoman Empire placed on them to help the Empire, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina wanting their freedom, and the harsh treatment of the Catholic Croat and Orthodox Serbs. This rebellion was limited to just Bosnia and Herzegovina, but was of interest to the Pan-Slavic Movement in Russia as an opportunity to advance their cause.

After this uprising started, a rebellion began in Bulgaria in the spring of 1876. Both rebellions helped to push the Pan-Slavic movement even further. Serbia and Montenegro declared war on the Turks in both aid of the rebels and in hopes of acquiring the two rebellious Ottoman provinces. Once the Ottoman Empire started to deal with the rebellions, Russia and Serbia came to the aid of these countries. However, Russia had ready been planning how to fight a war against the Ottomans in Europe. It had originally started as a staff exercise due to the possible threat of a war in the area.

During this same time, other major powers tried to reach solutions to the problem. Germany and Austria-Hungary started by meeting with Russia and began work on what would become known as The Berlin Memorandum in May 1876. The Berlin Memorandum failed because Britain did not approve it, even though France and Italy had. When this failed, it was followed by the Reichstadt Agreement in July 1876 between Russia and Austria-Hungary. This paved the way for a conference in Constantinople. This conference involved a final attempt to resolve the Balkan uprising, which was reaching a critical state in Europe. Unfortunately, the conference failed, and on April 24, 1877 the tenth Russo-Turkish War began.

Start of the War
When the war started, Russia had an upper hand. They had made an agreement with Austria-Hungary in January, so Russia did not have to worry about interference from them. In fact, Austria-Hungary would remain neutral during the course of the war. Germany decided to remain neutral as well, while France and Italy opted to stay out of the war. Britain decided to stay out of the way, but it did monitor the situation in case it started to look like Constantinople would fall. The fighting of the war would be centered into two areas, the Balkan Peninsula and the Caucasus. However, the main focus would be the Balkan Peninsula.

War in the Balkans
As mentioned earlier, the Russians had started to plan for a war with the Ottomans. It was in early 1877 that the Russians started to gather information on the Ottoman’s military. From this information, the Russians started to prepare their war plans. The first act by the Russians in the Balkans was to secure the Danube River. Once secured, the Russians controlled the Danube, and could cross at any time they wanted to. During this early part of the war, the Ottomans helped the Russians, by not trying any proactive movements against them. Instead they waited to see what the Russians would do. This was seen in the initial battles between the Russians and the Ottomans. During these battles, the Ottomans opted not to attack first. Once the Russians crossed the Danube, the Ottomans started playing ‘catch-up’ with them, which allowed the Russians to make easy progress through the Balkans.

On June 26th, the Russians finally crossed the Danube and encountered little or no resistance at Svishtove. Thus making the crossing easier for the them. As the Russian army marched west towards Nikopol, they sent a small detachment of four divisions under Jospeh Gourko to capture the passes in the Balkan Mountains. While marching to Nikopol, the Ottomans sent General Osman Pasha from Vidin to fortify Nikopol. As he was heading towards it, the Russians captured it on the July 16th. At this point, he altered course to secure Pleven.

While the Russians were capturing Nikopol, Gourko was attacking the Ottomans at Shipka Pass. After two days of fighting, the Russians were able to secure the pass on the 19th. By this time, part of the Russian army had reached Pleven. The initial attack had moved the Turkish from the outer defenses, but Pasha, who had reached Pleven before the Russians, was able to push the Russians back. The Ottomans were finally able to hold the Russians at bay. The quick advance the Russians had made was now stalled.

Part of the Ottomans being able to stall the Russians was due to the heavy fortifications the Ottomans established at Pleven. Unknown to both sides at this time, was what would become a siege of Plevna. The siege lasted from July 20th to December 12th. Before this siege, tensions had started mounting among England and Germany over Russia’s advances. Bismarck, as he had in the past, was trying to get all of the Ottoman Empire split up, while England was not interested in it. In order to avoid getting pulled into a war with the Ottomans, England decided to wait and declare war only if the Russians occupied Constantinople. With Plevna, the Russians were held at bay during the rest of the year, which allowed tensions to ease among the Great Powers.

With both forces tied up with the siege, there were no major engagements during the summer in the Balkans. In August, Suleiman Pasha, a Turikish leader, tried to retake Shipka Pass. This attempt failed, as the Russians had built up their defenses to secure the pass. The Turks tried one last time in Sepetember to take the pass, but failed.

The Turks maintained a supply and communication line through Lovcha for Plevna. The Russians attacked on September 1st. After two days of fighting, the fortress fell, ensuring that Plevna would fall eventually. Still, it was not until October 24th, that the Russians finally settled in to cut off Plevna completely. There had been sporadic attempts by the Russians against Plevna, but they could not break through the Turkish defenses.

General Eduar Ivanocih Todleben decided to cut off all supplies to the city. This began with Gourko being called from Shipka Pass to start eliminating the garrisons that supplied Plevna. With these efforts Pleven was completely cut off. Osman had tried to retreat at one point, but was not given approval by the Ottoman high command.

The end of the siege began on December 9th. With being practically starved out, Osman tried one last attempt to escape pass the Russians. Unfortunately, the Russians had 100,000 men compared to 30,000 Turks. The escape failed, and Osman was injured during the battle. Finally, on December 10th, the Turks surrendered Plevna to the Russians. The stalemate had finished, and the Russians were free to march toward Sofia. They reached Sofia by January 4th. Their next target was Constantinople.

War in the Caucasus
Even though the Balkans was the focus of the war, it was also fought in the Caucasus as well. The war in the Caucasus started on April 27th, in which the Russians captured Bayazid. Following up with this, they also captured Ardahan and Gayar. However, in June they attempted to take Kars, but were repelled back by the Turks. The Turks counterattacked the Russians between June and August and started to turn the tide against the Russians. The Russians launched their own counterattack in October and were able to push the Turks back.

Ending the War
Even before the Russians reached Sofia, the Ottomans tried to end the war. They asked the major powers to step in and mediate an end to the war. Even though there were those in Britain anxious to end it, both the British Parliament and Germany did not want to intervene. After Sofia was captured, the Ottomans again asked for an armistice, this time the Russians agreed. On January 31st the armistice agreement was made. Things still did not settle down, as the British sent its fleet to protect Constantinople. The British sent the fleet, because they thought the Russian’s were advancing to capture Constantinople. What the British did not know, was that part of the agreement was, the Russians would occupy Turkish territory close to Constantinople. The Russians ended their march at San Stefano.

The Treaty of San Stefano and Treaty of Berlin
Russia and the Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of San Stefano to end the war. In it, concessions were made that were favorable to Russia. The main area affected by the treaty was the Ottoman’s loss of control over the Balkans. The territory held by the Ottomans in the Balkans was either granted independence or the ability to self-govern. Montenegro, Romania, and, Serbia were granted independence, while Bulgaria became a self-governing principality with an elected prince. In addition to those concessions, Montenegro, Romania, and, Serbia were granted extra land as well. The Ottomans also promised to provide reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Russians also received war reparations from the Ottomans. This included the Russians receiving Armenian and Georgian territories in the Caucasus.

However, this treaty did not sit well with the Great Powers and a new treaty was created which altered the terms. Because all of agreements favored Russia, the Great Powers were concerned that Bulgaria would become a Russian satellite that could give them more control in the area. This led to the Berlin Congress in June. Montenegro, Romania, and, Serbia were still recognized as independent states but not given the extra land. Bulgaria was divided into three parts which reduced its access to the Aegean Sea, and Macedonia was to remain under Ottoman rule. Bosnia and Herzegovina was given to Austria to control, yet still part of the Ottoman Empire. Russia still received the land in the Caucasus.

The Ottoman Empire was already in a decline before the war, the war helped to continue the decline. Eventually, the Empire would be dissolved by the events of World War I. Even though the Russians achieved the victory in the war, their gains were hampered by the other Great Powers. Because of Great Britain’s role in the treaty revision, it led to strained relations between the two countries. Additionally, the unified Slavic nation did not appear after the war and the results of the treaty would eventually lead to other problems. The issue of the Balkans would continue into the next century, where things came to a head in World War I.

Map References
War in the Balkans
War in the Caucasus

Web Articles
Balkan Crisis and The Treaty of Berlin: 1878 by L. S. Stavrianos
Meosophilism Amongst the Lemko Population in the Twentieth Century by Paul Best
Virtual War, Virtual Journalism?: Russian Media Responses to ‘Balkan’ Entaglements in Historical Perspective, 1877-2001 by Steven J. Seegel
The Encyclopedia of World History

Conflict and Chaos in Eastern Europe
Dennis P. Hupchick; Palgrave MacMillian; 1995

Reforming the Tsar’s Army
Bruce W. Menning & David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye; Cambridge University Press; 2004

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One Response to “A War Lost in History”

  1. Boink Blogs says:

    […] War Lost in History Jason placed an interesting blog post on A War Lost in HistoryHere’s a brief overviewThe […]

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