Balkan Wars

views updated May 29 2018


the first balkan war
second balkan or interallied war

The Balkan Wars of 1912–1913 initiated a period of conflict in Europe that would last until 1918 and would endure in one form or another until 1999. These Balkan wars originated in the aspirations of the small nationalist states of southeastern Europe, already having achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century, to incorporate members of their nationalities remaining under Ottoman rule and thus achieve their maximum nationalist claims. In this way, the states of Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia sought to emulate the nineteenth-century nationalist successes of Germany and Italy.

Competing claims to Ottoman-held territories, especially Macedonia, had long prevented the Balkan states from cooperating against the Ottomans. When the Young Turks threatened to reinvigorate the Ottoman Empire after their 1908 coup, the leaders of the Balkan states began to seek ways to overcome their rivalries. Russian diplomacy facilitated their efforts. The Russians wanted to compensate for their setback in the Bosnian Crisis of 1908–1909 by establishing a pro-Russian Balkan alliance intended to impede any further Austro-Hungarian advances in the region. In March 1912, the Bulgarians and Serbs concluded an alliance under the aegis of Russia. Contained within this alliance agreement was a plan for the settlement of the Macedonian problem, including a provision for Russian mediation. The Bulgarians and Serbs then made individual agreements with the Greeks and Montenegrins, who themselves reached an agreement. By September 1912 this loose confederation, the Balkan League, was ready to achieve its goals.

the first balkan war

Montenegro began the First Balkan War on 8 October 1912 by declaring war on the Ottoman Empire. Before the other allies could join in, the Ottomans declared war on 17 October on the Balkan League. The Ottomans were confident that their army, recently upgraded with the help of German advisers, would quickly prevail against their Balkan adversaries.

The main theater of the ensuing conflict was Thrace. While one Bulgarian army besieged the major Ottoman fortress at Adrianople (Edirne), two others achieved major victories against the Ottomans at Kirk Kilisse and at Buni Hisar/Lule Burgas. The latter was the largest battle in Europe between the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 and World War I. The Ottomans rallied at the Chataldzha, the last lines of defense before Constantinople. An attack by the exhausted and epidemic-ridden Bulgarians on 17 November against the Ottoman positions failed. Both sides then settled into trench warfare at Chataldzha.

Elsewhere the Serbian army broke the western Ottoman army at Kumanovo on 23 October. The Serbs then advanced against diminishing resistance into Macedonia, Kosovo, and on into Albania, reaching the Adriatic coast in December. The Greek navy prevented the Ottomans from shipping reinforcements from Anatolia to the Balkans. The Greek army advanced in two directions, entering Salonika on 8 November, and further west, bringing the town of Janina under siege. Montenegrin forces advanced into the Sanjak of Novi Pazar and besieged Scutari.

The Ottomans signed an armistice with Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Serbia on 3 December. Greek military operations continued. By this time, Ottoman Europe was limited to the three besieged towns of Adrianople, Janina, and Scutari; the Gallipoli peninsula; and eastern Thrace behind the Chataldzha lines. As a result of the Ottoman collapse, a group of Albanian notables, supported by Austria and Italy, declared Albanian independence on 28 November 1912. While delegations from the

Balkan allies attempted to negotiate a final peace with the Ottomans in London, a conference of Great Power ambassadors met also in London to ensure that the interests of the Powers would prevail in any Balkan settlement.

A coup on 23 January 1913 brought a Young Turk government to power in Constantinople. This government was determined to continue the war, mainly in order to retain Adrianople. They denounced the armistice on 30 January. Hostilities recommenced, to the detriment of the Ottomans. Janina fell to the Greeks on 6 March and Adrianople to the Bulgarians on 26 March.

The siege of Scutari, however, incurred international complications. The Austrians demanded that this largely Albanian inhabited town become a part of the new Albanian state. Because of this demand, Serbian forces aiding the Montenegrin siege withdrew. The Montenegrins persisted in the siege, however, and succeeded in taking the town on 22 April. A Great Power flotilla off the Adriatic coast forced the Montenegrins to withdraw less than two weeks later, on 5 May.

Meanwhile in London, peace negotiations resulted in the preliminary Treaty of London, signed on 30 May 1913 between the Balkan allies and the Ottoman Empire. By this treaty, the Ottoman Empire in Europe consisted of only a narrow band of territory in eastern Thrace defined by a straight line drawn from the Aegean port of Enos to the Black Sea port of Midya.

second balkan or interallied war

During the First Balkan War, while the Bulgarians contended with the major portion of the Ottoman army in Thrace, the Serbs had occupied most of

Macedonia. Austrian prohibitions had prevented the Serbs from realizing their ambitions to an Adriatic port in northern Albania. The Serbs then sought to strengthen their hold on Macedonia in compensation for the loss of an Albanian port. The Greeks had never agreed to any settlement over Macedonia, and also indicated that they would retain the Macedonian areas they had occupied. The Bulgarians had fought the Ottomans for Macedonia. They remained determined to obtain this area. Hostilities among the allies over the Macedonian question escalated throughout the spring of 1913 from exchanges of notes to actual shooting. Russian attempts at mediation between Bulgaria and Serbia were feeble and fruitless.

On the night of 29–30 June 1913, Bulgarian soldiers began local attacks against Serbian positions in Macedonia. These attacks became the signal for the outbreak of general war. The initial Greek and Serb counterattacks pushed the Bulgarians back past their old frontiers. Just as the Bulgarian army began to stabilize the situation, Romanian and Ottoman soldiers invaded the country. The Romanians sought to obtain southern Dobrudzha to broaden their Black Sea coast and to balance Bulgarian gains elsewhere in the Balkans. The Ottomans wanted to retake Adrianople. The Bulgarian army, already heavily engaged against the Greeks and Serbs, was unable to resist the Romanians and Ottomans. Under these circumstances, Bulgaria had to sue for peace. By the resulting Treaty of Bucharest signed on 10 August, Bulgaria lost most of Macedonia to Greece and Serbia, and southern Dobrudzha to Romania. The Treaty of Constantinople, signed on 30 September 1913, ended Bulgaria's brief control of Adrianople.


The Balkan Wars resulted in huge military casualties. The Bulgarians lost around 65,000 men, the Greeks 9,500, the Montenegrins 3,000, and the Serbs at least 36,000. The Ottomans lost as many as 125,000. In addition, tens of thousands of civilians died, from disease and other causes. Deliberate atrocities occurred throughout every theater of war, especially in Kosovo.

The consequences of the Balkan Wars inflamed the nationalist appetites of all participants. The Greeks sought additional gains in Asia Minor, the Serbs in Bosnia, and the Bulgarians seethed with a desire, still unrealized, for Macedonia. The Ottomans also wanted to regain power lost in the Balkan Wars by participating in World War I. These pursuits led to catastrophes for all during or after World War I.

The Great Powers struggled to manage the Balkan Wars. The ambitions of the Serbs to northern Albania and the Adriatic coast and of the Montenegrins to Scutari caused some tensions among them, particularly between Austria-Hungary supporting Albania and Russia supporting Montenegro and Serbia. The Powers themselves coped with these tensions at the London Ambassadors Conference. They even cooperated to eject the Montenegrins from Scutari.

One important consequence of the Balkan Wars was the alienation of Bulgaria from Russia. Up until 1913, Bulgaria had been Russia's most important connection in the Balkan region. Bulgaria's proximity to Constantinople, especially after the gains of the First Balkan War, afforded Russia with a valuable base from which to bring pressure upon this vital area. The failure of Russian diplomacy to mediate the Bulgaro-Serbian dispute over the disposition of Macedonia led to Bulgaria's catastrophic defeat in the Second Balkan War and Bulgaria's turn to the Triple Alliance for redress. This left Serbia as Russia's only ally in the Balkans. When Austro-Hungarian chastisement threatened Serbia in July 1914, the Russians had to act to protect Serbia or else lose the Balkans completely.

The ambitions of the Montenegrins and Serbs in Albania greatly increased Austro-Hungarian antipathy toward these two south Slavic states. The Viennese government became determined that the Serb power should not increase in the Balkans. On three separate occasions, in December 1912, in April 1913, and again after the Balkan Wars in October 1913, the Austro-Hungarians came into conflict with the Serbs and Montenegrins over Albanian issues. Even though war resulted in the summer of 1914 from an event in Bosnia, the conflicts over Albania facilitated the Austrians' decision to fight the Serbs. World War I was not the Third Balkan War, rather the Balkan Wars were the beginning of World War I. Nationalist conflicts persisted in the region from 1912 to 1918. Problems of nationalism, especially in Kosovo and Macedonia, endured over the rest of the twentieth century.

See alsoAlbania; Bulgaria; Greece; Montenegro; Ottoman Empire; Serbia.


Erickson, Edward J. Defeat in Detail: The Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912–1913. Westport, Conn., 2003.

Hall, Richard C. The Balkan Wars 1912–1913: Prelude of the First World War. London, 2000.

Hellenic Army General Staff. A Concise History of the Balkan Wars, 1912–1913. Athens, 1998.

Helmreich, E. C. The Diplomacy of the Balkan Wars, 1912–13. New York, 1969.

Richard C. Hall

Balkan Wars (1912–1913)

views updated May 11 2018

BALKAN WARS (19121913)

Warfare among the states of the Balkan Peninsula that affected the balance-of-power politics in Europe and contributed to the outbreak of World War I.

In the first Balkan War (October 1912March 1913), the Ottoman Empire fought against the Balkan League composed of Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro. The second Balkan War (JuneJuly 1913) pitted the former allies against each other and also involved Romania.

The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 in the Ottoman Empire precipitated changes in the Balkan status quo. Bulgaria declared independence, and Austria annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina, reducing Ottoman control in Europe to Thrace, Macedonia, and Albania. Fear of Austro-Hungarian expansion and the vulnerability of the Ottoman Empire, at war with Italy over Libya since 1911, prompted the formation of the Balkan League with Russia's blessing. The Christian Balkan states temporarily reconciled conflicting geopolitical ambitions and irredentist disputes over ethnically mixed Macedonia. They hoped for a more advantageous repartitioning of the region at the expense of the Ottoman state.

Montenegro opened hostilities against the empire over border disputes. At the same time, Bulgaria and Serbia, which had launched in March 1912 the series of alliances that led to the Balkan League, mobilized their armies. The Ottoman government hastily concluded peace with Italy and declared war against the Balkan allies on 17 October 1912. The Ottomans suffered defeats in both Macedonia and Thrace, as Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in November. On 16 December 1913, upon a ceasefire agreement and appeals from Anglophile Ottoman Grand Vizier Kamil Paşa, ambassadors convened at the London Conference. The Ottomans surrendered Macedonia and Western Thrace but refused to yield Edirne, which was besieged by Bulgaria. Failure to agree on revised borders led to a Bulgarian offensive in February 1913. This action forced the Ottomans to surrender the European territories to the west of the EnezMidye Line, a situation formalized at the London Conference of 30 May.

Disagreement about the repartitioning of Macedonia revived old rivalries. Bulgaria, dissatisfied with its allotment, surprised former allies Serbia and Greece with an attack on 29 June. This led to an anti-Bulgarian realignment that also included Romania, which feared losing territory to its southern neighbor. The Ottomans exploited the disarray to recover Edirne from the Bulgarians in July. The Treaty of Bucharest of 10 August 1913, between Bulgaria and its former allies, was followed by the Istanbul Treaty between Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (29 September 1913), which left Edirne in Ottoman hands. The Ottomans concluded separate treaties with Greece (in Athens on 14 November) and Serbia (in Istanbul on 14 March 1914). Greece obtained the Aegean islands, except the Dodecanese, which went to Italy. The Muslims of ceded territories were given a choice of immigrating into the empire. The borders that emerged at the end of these treaties have changed remarkably little despite the shocks of World War I and later events.

In the Balkan wars, the Ottomans lost more than 80 percent of their European territory inhabited by 4 million people. The new demographic and geopolitical realities triggered domestic political and ideological change in the Ottoman Empire. On 23 January 1913, the Committee for Union and Progress implemented a coup against Kamil Paşa, ostensibly because he lost Edirne. At the end of the wars, with the Ottoman relinquishment of predominantly Christian territories, the empire was largely reduced to its Muslim-dominated Asian lands. This fact was reflected in the ideological reorientation toward a distinctly Islamic Ottomanism and in the proliferation of Turkish cultural activity.

see also committee for union and progress; edirne.


Király, Béla K., and Djordjevic, Dimitrije, eds. East Central European Society and the Balkan Wars. Boulder, CO: Social Science Monographs; Highland Lakes, NJ: Atlantic Research and Publications, 1987; distributed by Columbia University Press.

Stavrianos, L. S. The Balkans, 18151914. New York: Holt Rinehart, 1963.

Hasan Kayali

Balkan Wars

views updated May 18 2018


Following the Bosnian crisis of 1908 to 1909 and the formal annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary, Russia abandoned its policy of reaching a modus vivendi with Vienna on the Balkans. Weakened by the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905 and the Revolution of 1905, it now sought a

defensive alliance with Serbia and Bulgaria as a way to regain influence in the region. Although the diplomatic discussions that ensued were not intended to further the already fractious nature of Balkan rivalries, events soon ran counter to Russia's intentions.

The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 had sought to revitalize the Ottoman Empire but instead hastened its dismemberment. In 1911 the Italian annexation of Tripoli laid bare the weakness of the Turks, and the remaining Ottoman holdings in Europe suddenly became inviting targets for the states in the region. With Russian encouragement, Serbia and Bulgaria joined in a pact in March 1912, the genesis of a new Balkan League. Two months later Albania revolted and called upon Europe for support. That same month, May 1912, Bulgaria and Greece entered into an alliance, and in October, Montenegro joined the partnership.

What Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonov saw as an alliance to counter Austro-Hungarian influence in the Balkans was now a league bent upon war. The March pact between Serbia and Bulgaria had already presaged the conflict by calling for the partition of Macedonia. Reports of impending war in the Balkans during the summer and fall of 1912, and also of a belief that Russia would come to the aid of its Slavic brethren, led Sazonov to inform Sofia and Belgrade that theirs was a defensive alliance. Nonetheless, by autumn public sentiment in southeastern Europe left the Balkan allies little choice.

On October 8, 1912, Montenegro attacked Turkey. On October 17 Serbia and Bulgaria joined the conflict, followed two days later by Greece. The Balkan armies quickly defeated the Turks. Bulgarian forces reached the outskirts of Istanbul, and in May 1913 the Treaty of London brought the First Balkan War to a close. The peace did not last long, however, as the creation of a new Albanian state and quarrels among the victors over the spoils in Macedonia led to embitterment, especially on the part of Sofia, which felt cheated out of its Macedonian claims.

On the night of June 2930, 1913, one month following the peace treaty, Bulgarian troops moved into the north-central part of Macedonia. The other members of the coalition, joined by Romania and, ironically, the Turks, joined in the counterattack. Bulgaria was quickly defeated and, by the Treaty of Bucharest, August 10, 1913, was forced to cede most of what it had gained in Macedonia during the First Balkan War. In addition, the Ottoman Empire regained much of eastern Thrace, which it had lost only months earlier. Romania's share of the spoils was the southern Dobrudja.

Serbia was the principal victor in the Balkan Wars, gaining the lion's share of Macedonia as well as Kosovo. Bulgaria was the loser. In many respects, Russia lost as well because the continuing instability in the Balkans undermined its need for peace in the region, a situation clearly demonstrated by the events of the summer of 1914.

See also: albanians, caucasian; bucharest, treaty of; bulgaria, relations with; greece, relations with; montenegro, relations with; serbia, relations with; turkey, relations with; yugoslavia, relations with


Jelavich, Barbara. (1964). A Century of Russian Foreign Policy, 18141914. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Rossos, Andrew. (1981). Russia and the Balkans: Inter-Balkan Rivalry and Russian Foreign Policy, 19081914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Richard Frucht

Balkan Wars

views updated May 09 2018

Balkan Wars (1912–13) Two wars involving the Balkan states and the Ottoman Empire. In the first, the Balkan League (Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Montenegro) conquered most of the European territory of the Ottoman Empire. The second war (mainly between Serbia and Bulgaria) arose out of dissatisfaction with the distribution of these lands. Serbia's victory added to the regional tension before World War I.