1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Plevna

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23797941911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 21 — PlevnaJohn Henry Verinder Crowe

PLEVNA (Bulgarian Pleven), the chief town of the department of Plevna, Bulgaria; 85 m. N.E. of Sofia, on the Tutchinitza, an affluent of Vid, which flows north into the Danube and on the Sofia-Varna railway (opened in 1899). Pop. (1906), 21,208. A branch line, 25 m. long, connects Plevna with Samovit on the Danube, where a port has been formed. After the events of 1877, it was almost entirely forsaken by the Turks, and most of the mosques have gone to ruin; but, peopled now mainly by Bulgarians, it has quite recovered its prosperity, and has a large commerce in cattle and wine.

Battles of 1877.—Plevna, prior to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 (see Russo-Turkish Wars) a small and unknown town without fortifications became celebrated throughout the world as the scene of Osman Pasha's victories and his five months' defence of the entrenched camp which he constructed around the town, a defence which upset the Russians' plans and induced them to devote their whole energies to its capture. Osman Pasha left Widin on the 13th of July with a column consisting of 19 battalions, 6 squadrons and 9 batteries, a total of 12,000 men and 54 guns. Hearing that he was too late to relieve Nikopol, he pushed on to Plevna, where there was a garrison of 3 battalions and 4 guns, under Atouf Pasha.

Passing through Plevna on the afternoon of the 19th of July he at once took up a position, previously selected by Atouf Pasha, on the hills covering the town to the north and east. The column had been joined en route by 3 battalions from the banks of the Danube, so that Osman's command now consisted of 25 battalions. He was none too soon. General The First Battle of Plevna. Schilder-Schuldner, commanding the 5th division of the IX. corps, which had just captured Nikopol, had been ordered to occupy Plevna, and his guns were already in action. The Turkish batteries came into action as soon as they arrived and returned the fire. A desultory artillery duel was carried on till nightfall, but no attack was made by the Russians on the 19th. Osman distributed his troops in three sections: on the Janik Bair, facing north, were 13 battalions and 4 batteries, with advanced posts of 2 battalions and 1 battery each, at Opanetz and Bukova, facing east and north-east, 5 battalions and 10 guns were posted on the eastern end of the Janik Bair; to the hills south of the Bulgareni road 4 battalions and 2 batteries were allotted, and on either side of the road, under cover, in rear of them, most of the cavalry was placed. The remaining troops formed a general reserve, which was posted on the hill just east of the town. The hills to the north and east of Plevna were perfectly bare. The Turks had covered the 115 m. from Widin in seven days, in trying heat, and were exhausted, but a few trenches were thrown up. On the 20th of July at 5 a.m., having made no preliminary reconnaissance, the Russian commander brought his guns into action, and, after a short bombardment, advanced his infantry in four separate columns. On the north flank they pressed into Bukova, and also succeeded in driving back the Turkish right wing, but in both cases Turkish reinforcements arrived and with vigorous counter-attacks pressed back the Russians, with the result that by noon they were in full retreat, having lost 2800 men out of a total of 8000. The Turks lost 2000. Osman made no attempt to reap the fruits of his victory by pursuit. He at once drew up plans for the fortification of the position, and the troops were employed night and day constructing redoubts and entrenchments. A plentiful supply of tools and daily convoys of stores reached Plevna from Orchanie, and on the 24th of July Osman’s strength was increased by 14 battalions and a battery from Sofia. In order to secure his line of communications, on the 25th of July he sent a force of 6 battalions and 1 battery under Rifaat Pasha to occupy Lovcha (Lovatz), where they entrenched themselves.

Emery Walker sc.

The Plevna garrison now numbered 20,000 (35 battalions, 8 squadrons, 57 guns and 400 mounted irregulars), who were organized in two wings with a general reserve. Adil Pasha commanded the left wing consisting of 12 battalions, 3 batteries and 2 squadrons, and held the ground from the Vid bridge to Grivitza, Hassan Sabri Pasha commanded the right wing, of equal strength, covering from Grivitza to the south. The remainder, as general reserve, was posted on the crest and slopes of the hill east of the town, with one battalion in Plevna itself. The west front was not fortified till October. Trenches were 4 ft. deep and the redoubts had a command of 10 to 16 ft., with parapets about 14 ft. thick. In addition to the trenches to the flanks, there were in some cases two lines of trench to the front, thus giving three tiers of fire.

In accordance with orders from the Russian headquarters at Tirnova, a fresh attack was made by General Krüdener on the 30th of July. He had been reinforced by three brigades of infantry and one of cavalry under General Shakovskoi, and his force numbered over 30,000 with 176 guns. After a preliminary cannonade the infantry advanced at 3 p.m., as Second Battle of Plevna. before in widely spread columns. The columns attacking from the north and north-east were repulsed with heavy loss. Shakovskoi advancing from Radischevo, his left flank safeguarded by Skobelev from the neighbourhood of Krishin, temporarily occupied two redoubts, but a heavy counter-stroke by the Turkish reserves forced him back with severe loss. The Russians retreated, the northern column to Tristenik and Karagakh, the southern to Poradim. Their losses amounted to 7300, while the Turkish losses exceeded 2000. Had the Turkish garrison of Lovcha been called in, the result would have been still more disastrous to the Russians.

The victory was decisive, but Osman again failed to pursue. His troops were elated by success, the moral of the enemy severely shaken, the undefended Russian bridge over the Danube was within 40 m. of him, but he lost his opportunity, and contented himself with strengthening his defensive works. It is said that he was tied down to Plevna by orders from Constantinople.

The Russians now concentrated all their available forces against Plevna and called in the aid of the Rumanians. By the end of August they had assembled a force of 74,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 440 guns, including 24 siege guns, about 100,000 men in all. On the 30th of August Osman moved out of Plevna, with all his cavalry, 3 batteries of artillery and 19 battalions of infantry, and on the 31st attacked the Russians about Pelishat. He returned to Plevna the same evening. The Turks lost 1300 and the Russians 1000 men. The Russians determined to occupy Lovcha, and so cut Osman's communications before again attacking Plevna. After three days fighting this was accomplished by Skobelev, acting under Imeretinski, with a force of 20,000 men, on the 3rd of September. Osman moved out to the relief of the garrison that day with a strong column, but, finding he was too late, returned to Plevna on the 6th. The survivors from Lovcha were re-formed into 3 battalions, including which Osman had been reinforced by 13 battalions, 2½ batteries of artillery and 11 squadrons of cavalry. His strength was now 30,000, with 72 guns, 46 battalions, 19 squadrons and 12 batteries. This force was organized in 4 approximately equal commands, the northern, south-eastern and southern, and a general reserve.

The Russians moved to their preliminary positions on the night of September 6th-7th. Their plan was for the Rumanians, Third Battle of Plevna. the IX. and IV. corps and Imeretinski's column to attack the north-east, south-east and south fronts simultaneously. An artillery bombardment began at 6 a.m. on the 7th of September, was carried on till 3 p.m. on the 11th, when the infantry advanced. The Rumanians took one Grivitza redoubt, Skobelev occupied two redoubts on the south front, but the centre attack on the Radishevo front failed. On the 12th the Turks recaptured the southern redoubts, the Rumanians remained in possession of the Grivitza redoubt, but the Russian losses already amounted to 18,000 and they withdrew, and entrenched themselves on a line Verbitza-Radishevo, with cavalry on either flank to the Vid. The Turkish losses totalled 5000, of which only a few hundred were caused by the artillery fire of the first few days. There was no question of pursuit. The Russians were greatly superior in numbers and the Turks were completely exhausted.

Several causes contributed to the Russian defeat. The Russian bombardment, at ranges beyond the powers of their guns and lacking the co-operation of the infantry to give them a target, had been useless. No reconnaissance had been made of the position. The infantry attacks were not simultaneous, and were beaten in detail, besides which, they were spread over the whole of a strongly fortified front in equal strength, instead of being pressed home at definite points. The lack of unity of command, in that the commander-in-chief interfered with the dispositions and conduct of the operations as arranged by the commander of the Plevna forces also militated against the Russian success.

This was the last open-force attack on Osman's lines. Investment and Fall of Plevna. General Todleben, the defender of Sevastopol, was now entrusted with the conduct of the siege, and he determined to complete the investment, which was accomplished by the 24th of October, Osman's request to retire from Plevna having been refused by Constantinople. Supplies eventually gave out and a sortie on the night of the 9th-10th of December failed, with the result that he and his army capitulated.

Plevna is a striking example of the futility of the purely passive defence, which is doomed to failure however tenaciously carried out. Osman Pasha repelled three Russian attacks and practically held the whole Russian army. It remained for the other Turkish forces in the field to take the offensive and by a vigorous counter stroke to reap the fruits of his successes. Victories which are not followed up are useless. War without strategy is mere butchery. The position of Plevna, threatening the Russian bridge and communications, was strategically important, but there was no necessity for the Russians to attack the position. On the eastern Hank was an army stronger than Osman's and the fortress of Rustchuk was nearer the bridge than Plevna, but they did not consider it necessary to attack them. They might have contained Osman's force as they did the army under Mehemet Ali, and either awaited his attack or attacked when he evacuated the position. They failed to realize the resisting force of improvised fortifications and the strength conferred by extensive and well-placed entrenchments, and despising their adversary made direct frontal attacks on a well-fortified position, instead of aiming at a flank or the rear. The part played by Plevna in the war was due in the first place to the imaginary importance set by the Russians on its capture, and later to their faulty procedure in attack on the one hand, and to the skill evinced by the Turks in fortifying and defending the position on the other.

See W. V. Herbert, The Defence of Plevna, 1877 (London, 1895); F. V. Greene, The Russian Army and its Campaign in Turkey (London, 1880); General Kuropatkin (Ger. trans. by Krahmer), Kritische Ruckblicke auf den russisch-turkischen Krieg; Mouzaffer Pacha and Talaat Bey, Défense de Plevna; Krahmer's German translation of the Russian Official History; General H. Langlois, Lessons of Two Recent Wars (Eng. trans., War Office, 1910); Th. von Trotha, Kampf um Plewna (Berlin, 1878); Vacaresco (Ger. trans.), Rumaniens Antheil am Kriege, 1877-1878 (Leipzig, 1888).