1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Greco-Turkish War, 1897

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19776301911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 12 — Greco-Turkish War, 1897George Sydenham Clarke

GRECO-TURKISH WAR, 1897. This war between Greece and Turkey (see Greece: Modern History) involved two practically distinct campaigns, in Thessaly and in Epirus. Upon the Thessalian frontier the Turks, early in March, had concentrated six divisions (about 58,000 men), 1500 sabres and 156 guns, under Edhem Pasha. A seventh division was rendered available a little later. The Greeks numbered about 45,000 infantry, 800 cavalry and 96 guns, under the crown prince. On both sides there was a considerable dispersion of forces along the frontier. The Turkish navy, an important factor in the war of 1877–78, had become paralytic ten years later, and the Greek squadron held complete command of the sea. Expeditionary forces directed against the Turkish line of communications might have influenced the course of the campaign; but for such work the Greeks were quite unprepared, and beyond bombarding one or two insignificant ports on the coast-line, and aiding the transport of troops from Athens to Volo, the navy practically accomplished nothing. On the 9th and 10th April Greek irregulars crossed the frontier, either with a view to provoke hostilities or in the hope of fomenting a rising in Macedonia. On the 16th and 17th some fighting occurred, in which Greek regulars took part; and on the 18th Edhem Pasha, whose headquarters had for some time been established at Elassona, ordered a general advance. The Turkish plan was to turn the Greek left and to bring on a decisive action, but this was not carried out. In the centre the Turks occupied the Meluna Pass on the 19th, and the way was practically open to Larissa. The Turkish right wing, however, moving on Damani and the Reveni Pass, encountered resistance, and the left wing was temporarily checked by the Greeks among the mountains near Nezeros. At Mati, covering the road to Tyrnavo, the Greeks entrenched themselves. Here sharp fighting occurred on the 21st and 22nd, during which the Greeks sought to turn the right flank of the superior Turkish central column. On the 23rd fighting was renewed, and the advance guard of the Turkish left column, which had been reinforced, and had pressed back the Greeks, reached Deliler. The Turkish forces had now drawn together, and the Greeks were threatened on both flanks. In the evening a general retreat was ordered, and the loose discipline of the Greek army was at once manifested. Rumours of disaster spread among the ranks, and wild panic supervened. There was nothing to prevent an orderly retirement upon Larissa, which had been fortified and provisioned, and which offered a good defensive position. The general débâcle could not, however, be arrested, and in great disorder the mass of the Greek army fled southwards to Pharsala. There was no pursuit, and the Turkish commander-in-chief did not reach Larissa till the 27th. Thus ended the first phase of the war, in which the Greeks showed tenacity in defence, which proved fruitless by reason of initially bad strategic dispositions entailing far too great dispersion, and also because there was no plan of action beyond a general desire to avoid risking a defeat which might prevent the expected risings in Macedonia and elsewhere. The handling of the Turkish army showed little skill or enterprise; but on both sides political considerations tended to prevent the application of sound military principles.

Larissa being abandoned by the Greeks, Velestino, the junction of the Thessalian railways, where there was a strong position covering Volo, seemed to be the natural rallying point for the Greek army. Here the support of the fleet would have been secured, and a Turkish advance across the Othrys range upon Athens could not have taken place until the flanking position had been captured. Whether by direction or by natural impulse, however, the mass of the Greek troops made for Pharsala, where some order was re-established, and preparations were made to resist attack. The importance of Velestino was recognized by sending a brigade thither by railway from Pharsala, and the inferior Greek army was thus split into two portions, separated by nearly 40 m. On 27th April a Turkish reconnaissance on Velestino was repulsed, and further fighting occurred on the 29th and 30th, in which the Greeks under Colonel Smolenski held their own. Meanwhile the Turks made preparations to attack Pharsala, and on 5th May the Greeks were driven from their positions in front of the town by three divisions. Further fighting followed on the 6th, and in the evening the Greek army retired in fair order upon Domokos. It was intended to turn the Greek left with the first division under Hairi Pasha, but the flanking force did not arrive in time to bring about a decisive result. The abandonment of Pharsala involved that of Velestino, where the Turks had obtained no advantage, and on the evening of the 5th Colonel Smolenski began a retirement upon Halmyros. Again delaying, Edhem Pasha did not attack Domokos till the 17th, giving the Greeks time to entrench their positions. The attack was delivered in three columns, of which the right was checked and the centre failed to take the Greek trenches and suffered much loss. The left column, however, menaced the line of retreat, and the Greek army abandoned the whole position during the night. No effective stand was made at the Furka Pass, which was evacuated on the following night. Colonel Smolenski, who arrived on the 18th from Halmyros, was directed to hold the pass of Thermopylae. The Greek forces being much demoralized, the intervention of the tsar was invoked by telegraph; and the latter sent a personal appeal to the Sultan, who directed a suspension of hostilities. On the 20th an armistice was arranged.

In Epirus at the outbreak of war about 15,000 Greeks, including a cavalry regiment and five batteries, the whole under Colonel Manos, occupied a line of defence from Arta to Peta. The Turks, about 28,000 strong, with forty-eight guns, under Achmet Hifsi Pasha, were distributed mainly at Iannina, Pentepagadia, and in front of Arta. On 18th April the Turks commenced a three days’ bombardment of Arta; but successive attempts to take the bridge were repulsed, and during the night of the 21st they retired on Philippiada, 26 m. distant, which was attacked and occupied by Colonel Manos on the 23rd. The Greeks then advanced to Pentepagadia, meeting with little resistance. Their difficulties now began. After some skirmishing on the 27th, the position held by their advanced force near Homopulos was attacked on the 28th. The attack was renewed on the 29th, and no Greek reinforcements were forthcoming when needed. The Euzones made a good defence, but were driven back by superior force, and a retreat was ordered, which quickly degenerated into panic-stricken flight to and across the Arta. Reinforcements, including 2500 Epirote volunteers, were sent to Arta from Athens, and on 12th May another incursion into Turkish territory began, the apparent object being to occupy a portion of the country in view of the breakdown in Thessaly and the probability that hostilities would shortly end. The advance was made in three columns, while the Epirote volunteers were landed near the mouth of the Luro river with the idea of cutting off the Turkish garrison of Prevesa. The centre column, consisting of a brigade, three squadrons and two batteries, which were intended to take up and hold a defensive position, attacked the Turks near Strevina on the 13th. The Greeks fought well, and being reinforced by a battalion from the left column, resumed the offensive on the following day, and fairly held their own. On the night of the 15th a retreat was ordered and well carried out. The volunteers landed at the mouth of the Luro, were attacked and routed with heavy loss.

The campaign in Epirus thus failed as completely as that in Thessaly. Under the terms of the treaty of peace, signed on 20th September, and arranged by the European powers, Turkey obtained an indemnity of £T4,000,000, and a rectification of the Thessalian frontier, carrying with it some strategic advantage. History records few more unjustifiable wars than that which Greece gratuitously provoked. The Greek troops on several occasions showed tenacity and endurance, but discipline and cohesion were manifestly wanting. Many of the officers were incapable; the campaign was gravely mismanaged; and politics, which led to the war, impeded its operations. On the other hand, the fruits of the German tuition, which began in 1880, and received a powerful stimulus by the appointment of General von der Goltz in 1883, were shown in the Turkish army. The mobilization was on the whole smoothly carried out, and the newly completed railways greatly facilitated the concentration on the frontier. The young school of officers trained by General von der Goltz displayed ability, and the artillery at Pharsala and Domokos was well handled. The superior leading was, however, not conspicuously successful; and while the rank and file again showed excellent military qualities, political conditions and the Oriental predilection for half-measures and for denying full responsibility and full powers to commanders in the field enfeebled the conduct of the campaign. On account of the total want of careful and systematic peace training on both sides, a war which presented several interesting strategic problems provided warnings in place of military lessons. (G. S. C.)