1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Servo-Bulgarian War

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37364081911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 24 — Servo-Bulgarian War

SERVO-BULGARIAN WAR (1885). The Berlin Congress of 1878, by its revision of the treaty of San Stefano, created two states in the Balkan Peninsula—the principality of Bulgaria owning a nominal suzerainty to Turkey, and the autonomous province of eastern Rumelia, presided over by a Turkish governor-general, and apparently intended to remain in-close relations with the porte. This settlement came to an end when the movement in favour of a united Bulgaria culminated (September 1885) in a revolution in the Rumanian capital. Prince Alexander of Bulgaria, recognizing that the movement was irresistible and that, unless directed by authority, it might degenerate into anarchy and civil war, placed himself at its head, and, proceeding to Philippopolis, formally accepted the government of the united Bulgarian states. As it was assumed that the sultan would reassert his claim by force of arms, the Bulgaro-Rumelian forces were concentrated as rapidly as possible near the Turkish frontier. Prince Alexander, however, had taken the step of acknowledging the sultan's suzerainty; and Turkey was not inclined to begin a war which would probably cause a revolt in Macedonia and might end by rendering Russian influence paramount in Bulgaria. But, while a conference of ambassadors was vainly discussing the situation at Constantinople, the Gordian knot was cut by the announcement that Servia, seeking compensation for the aggrandizement of Bulgaria, had constituted herself the champion of the treaty of Berlin.

King Milan had issued orders for the Servian army mobilization on the very day of Prince Alexander's proclamation at Philippopolis, and large forces were concentrated (October 1st–12th) on the Bulgarian frontier. On the 10th the prince ordered troops to the quarter thus threatened, but it seems certain that, whilst in eastern Rumelia every preparation had been made for war, Prince Alexander had so little expectation of, and wish for, a war with Servia, that few measures were taken to supply the needs of a field army on that side, though fortifications were begun at several places, notably at Sofia and Slivnitza, towards the end of October.

Unlike the Servian army, which contained few permanent units and consisted mainly of militiamen, the standing army of Bulgaria, trained and commanded by Russian officers since 1877–1878, was organized on the German system of filling up relatively strong cadres to war strength and forming additional units. When fully mobilized the field army numbered about 55,000 men. The Rumelian forces (militia) consisted in all of about 35,000 men. Besides these forces was the “Bandit brigade” of Captain Panitza, an irregular force some 3000 strong, composed of Macedonians, Turks, Jews and other miscellaneous volunteers. This force did good service as a flying right wing of the main army. In the Bulgarian army the whole of the staff and superior officers, as well as about half the regimental captains, were Russians. When the mobilization of the Bulgarian and Rumelian forces was decreed by the prince, the whole of the Russian officers were at once withdrawn, and the heavy task of creating a staff and selecting young officers for all the superior commands had to be undertaken in front of the enemy. Moreover, when on the 14th of November Milan finally declared war, the Bulgarian forces were mostly far away beyond the Balkans on the Turkish frontier. The Servian main army (under King Milan), and the army of the Timok promptly crossed the frontier and soon came in Contact with small forces of the enemy. On the Timok little or nothing of importance took place throughout the war, as the forces opposing the army of the Timok near Vidin effectually neutralized that force. In front of Dragoman and Trn the Bulgarians fell back, engaging in stubborn rearguard combats at every favourable place. The Servian “Army of the Nishava” advanced but slowly and with hesitation, while the most strenuous exertions were made by Prince Alexander and his newly-formed staff to collect their far-distant troops in the Slivnitza position. Every commander was given the simple order to march on Slivnitza. The civilian population was warned to be ready with supplies to meet the troops by the roadside, and under these peculiar conditions, and extraordinary difficulties of country and weather, the Bulgarians marched on the decisive point at the highest possible speed of man and horse. Some remarkable marches are recorded: the 8th infantry, 4500 strong, covered 59 m. in thirty-two hours, leaving only sixty-two men behind; the 3rd and part of another Rumelian battalion reached Sofia so exhausted that they were sent to the front on horseback, two men to each horse; the troops that were sent up by rail were packed in open trucks, sixty men to a truck. The furious energy displayed had its reward on the field of battle. Before the last shot of the battle of Slivnitza was fired, nearly half of the entire forces of Bulgaria and Rumelia were in the lines, and 14,000 men more faced the army of the Timok at Widdin. With the main army—a striking display of what could be accomplished by patriotism and vigour—were fifty-six pieces of artillery, most of which had been dragged over the Balkan passes in mid-winter.

The position of Slivnitza, barring the high road between Nish and Sofia, had been extensively fortified, but when the Servians opened their attack on the 17th of November, there were but few troops available to occupy the works. On the right of the Bulgarian line was the Meka Krud height, occupied by some battalions under Captain Benderev; here fighting went on through the short winter day, which ended with a gallant, and for the time successful, counter-attack by six Bulgarian battalions led by Benderev. The prince, not yet ready for the offensive, withdrew these troops to their original position. In the centre, near the high road, a hot and, at one moment of the day, almost successful attack of the Servians ended with their complete repulse. The latter had had 17,000 men against the Bulgarians' 11,000; yet they had, owing mainly to faults in the superior leading, been unsuccessful. Next day their chances of victory would be even less, for the defenders were hourly reinforced from Sofia, and on the 18th were actually somewhat superior in numbers. On this day the Servians made a very heavy attack on the Bulgarian left wing, which was eventually repulsed, though not without great difficulty, by the newly arrived troops from Sofia. Later a half-hearted attack was made on the centre, and from his position on Meka Krud Benderev again attacked the Servian “Danube” division. On this day a Servian division pushed the Bulgarians out of Breznik, but made no farther advance either on Sofia or on the left flank of the Bulgarians at Slivnitza, in spite of orders to do so. On the 19th alarm and consternation at Sofia, caused by the presence of hostile forces at Breznik, were so great that Alexander left the command in the hands of his chief of stad, Major Guchev, and hurried back to the capital in order to organize the defence. The Servian leader was, however, as inactive on the 19th as on the 18th, and when he at last moved forward towards Slivnitza it was only with a portion of his force; this was driven back, by a detachment from the left wing of the Bulgarian position, to Rakita. Meanwhile, the active Benderev had reopened his attack on the Danube division. Twice he was repulsed, but finally at about 3 P.M. his battalions carried the heights held by the Servians. A little before this the Bulgarian centre likewise moved forward, and, though a final attack of the Servians on the gap caused by the absence of the Bulgarian troops detached towards Breznik came near to success, the prince returned to the battlefield to find his troops everywhere victorious and driving the enemy before them. Two days later, reorganized and reinforced, the Bulgarians took the offensive and carried the Dragoman pass.

On the 25th Prince Alexander received at Tzaribrod proposals for an armistice from King Milan; these were not accepted, and the Bulgarian army, crossing the frontier, advanced in several columns upon Pirot, where the army of the Nishava took up a defensive position in the town and on the surrounding heights. A two-days' engagement followed (26th and 27th of November). On the 26th the Bulgarians were successful, but a heavy counter attack on the following day almost snatched the victory out of their hands, and it was only after a severe contest lasting eleven hours that the Servians finally gave way. The Bulgarians were not permitted to reap the fruits of their success. As they were preparing to pursue the defeated and now greatly demoralized enemy on the 28th, the Austrian minister at Belgrade arrived at headquarters and hostilities ceased. The intervention of Austria saved the Servian army, which was greatly demoralized, and was now threatened by the united Bulgarian force of nearly 55,000 men. On the same day the army of the Timok was repulsed with heavy loss in an attack on Vidin.

Servia escaped almost unpunished from her war of aggression. The young Bulgarian army, with its improvised staff and newly appointed field officers, displayed admirable marching power and fighting qualities, and the Rumelian militiamen proved themselves to be good soldiers. The Servians had, however, fought with great bravery also, and the victory must be ascribed in the main to the personal influence, the strenuous exertions and the sound military judgment of Prince Alexander; and the brief but decisive campaign set the seal to, Bulgarian unity.

Bibliography.—Dragoni Edler von Rabenhorst, Strategische Betrachtungen über den serbisch-bulgarischen Krieg (Vienna, 1886); Hungerbühler, Die schweizerische Militärmission nach dem S.-B. Kriegsschauplätze (Frauenfeld, 1886); von Bilimek-Waissolm, Der serbisch-bulgarische Krieg (Vienna, 1886); A. E. von Huhn, Der Kampf der Bulgaren um ihre Nationaleinheit (Leipzig, 1886; Eng. trans. The Struggle of the Bulgarians for their National Independence, London, 1886); Möller, Der serbisch-bulgarische Krieg, 1885 (Hanover, 1888); Regenspursky, Die Kämpfe bei Slivnitza (Vienna, 1895); Der serbisch-bulgarische Krieg bis zum Waffenstillstande (Berlin, 1886); Der serbisch-bulgarische Krieg, eine militarische Studie (Berlin, 1887); Kunz, Taktische Beispiele aus den Kriegen der neuesten Zeit: I. Der serbisch-bulgarische Krieg (Berlin, 1901); Bujac, Précis de quelques campagnes contemporaines: I. Dans les Balkans (Limoges and Paris).