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The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913

a series of campaigns launched by the Balkan League against the Ottoman Empire

The Balkan League

Military alliances against the Ottoman Empire were formed by Bulgaria and Serbia, and between Bulgaria and Greece, in March of 1912. The alliances became known as the Balkan League when Montenegro joined by informal agreement in September of that year. Montenegro initiated hostilities when it declared war on the Ottoman Empire on October 8; the rest of the League followed suit on October 17. The principal goal of the war was to wrest control of the Balkans away from the Ottoman Empire.

State Entry Exit Combat Forces Population Losses
Bulgaria 1912 1913 60,000 4,100,000 32,000
Greece 1912 1913 100,000 4,800,000 5,000
Montenegro 1912 1913 40,000 700,000 3,000
Serbia 1912 1913 60,000 8,000,000 15,000
Turkey (Ottoman Empire) 1912 1913 420,000 29,000,000 30,000

Theaters of War

All of the fighting during the Balkan Wars took place along the Turko-Bulgarian frontier of Thrace, the frontier between Macedonia and allied powers of Bulgaria and Serbia, and the frontier between Greece and Turkey.

theaters of war


Upon declaration of war, the Bulgarian 3rd Army began an advance on Kirk Kilisse. It passed the frontier on October 18-19 to the north-northwest of Adrianople, arrived outside Kirk Kilisse on October 22, and took that city the same day. Meanwhile, the 2nd Army advanced to the west of Adrianople, while the 1st Army went east and engaged the Turks about Seliolu on October 22-24; the Battle of Seliolu ended in a Bulgarian victory. The defeated Turks fled toward Lule Burgas-Burnar Hisar, where they were again engaged by the Bulgarian armies, beginning October 28. Heavy casualties were taken by both sides, but by October 30 Ottoman commander-in-chief Nazim Pasha was forced to order a general retreat to a line guarding Constantinople. The Bulgarians began an assault on the line guarding Constaninople on November 17, but were forced to halt their assault due to heavy losses. The Thrace campaign ended in a general Bulgarian victory, despite failing to take Adrianople or Constantinople.

Battle of Lule Burgas
Battle of Lule Burgas

Macedonia and the West

In Macedonia, the Serbian 1st Army was deployed about Vranje, the 3rd Army north of Pristina, and the 2nd Army and Bulgarian 7th Division about Kystendil. The 1st Army was attacked near Kumanovo on October 23, but was able to hold its ground until the rest of the Serbian forces reached Kumanovo the next day; the Serbians made relatively quick work of the Ottomans, who were forced to evacuate and retreat towards Monastir. The Serbians failed to take advantage of their victory, however, until October 29, when all three armies joined up and began advancing. The 2nd Army was sent east to aid the Bulgarians at Adrianople, part of the 3rd Army moved west into Albania, and a reinforced 1st Army moved south to help the Greeks defeat the Turks about Salonika and Monastir. By the end of October most of the Turkish possessions north of a line from Stip in the east to Scutari in the west were in the hands of the allies. The 7th Bulgarian Division then began moving down the Struma Valley towards Demir Hisar.

Ottoman soldiers during the Battle of Kumanovo
Ottoman soldiers during the Battle of Kumanovo

Greece and Salonika

At the outbreak of war, the main Greek army, under Crown Prince Constantine, was concentrated in northern Thessaly; a smaller force was assembled near the Gulf of Arta. The main army crossed the frontier on October 18, and occupied Elasson the next day. The Turks were routed to the north on the 23rd, Kozani was occupied on November 2, and the Greeks established a maritime base at Kozani on November 28. Meanwhile, Constantine sent one division to the northwest to guard his left flank, and sent the rest of his forces toward Vodena. A Greek attack at Yenije Vardar (which was on the route to Salonika) was repulsed on November 2-3; a new assault two days later was successful, however, and Salonika was in Constantine's hands by November 9. The Bulgarian 7th Division claimed Salonika for Bulgaria on November 10, but an agreement between Bulgaria and Greece was reached, preventing hostilities between the two allies. Once Salonika was secure, Constantine sent half his forces east of Vardar and the rest to aid Serbia at Monastir.

Turkish Collapse

On November 5, part of the Serbian 1st Army advanced to Prilep, where it awaited the remainder of the army for a planned assault on Monastir. Prince Alexander was delayed while crossing the hills out of the Vardar Valley, however, and was unable to commit his army to the attack until November 14. The date was then deferred to November 18, with the plan being to deliver a frontal assault and turn the enemy's flanks. But, on November 15, an isolated Serbian division delivered a premature night attack, which was repulsed; the Serbians were forced to resist a heavy Turkish assault for two days, when the main army finally arrived. The main assault began on November 18, and by the end of the day half of the Turkish army had been killed, wounded or captured; the remaining Turkish forces were forced to retreat to Yannina in Epirus. The allies now only had to march through Albania and capture key defensive positions, and to reduce the fortresses of Yannina and Scutari in order to lessen the threat of Austro-Hungarian intervention in the conflict. Meanwhile, Greek troops had arrived near Yannina on November 10 and established a loose blockade.

An armistice was signed between the Ottomans and the allies, except Greece, on December 3. A peace conference began in London, but a coup d'état by the Young Turks in Constantinople on January 23, 1913, during which Nazim Pasha was murdered and the government was overthrown, thwarted the conference; hostilities resumed February 3. Yannina fell to the Greeks on March 5, Adrianople to the Bulgarians on March 26, and Scutari to the Montenegrins on April 22. The Balkan League now effectively controlled virtually all territory in the Balkans previously held by the Ottoman Empire.

Second Balkan War

Under provisions of a peace treaty signed in London on May 30, 1913, the Ottoman Empire lost most of its remaining European territory, including all of Macedonia and Albania, but was allowed to keep the area around Constantinople; Macedonia was divided among the Balkan allies; Crete was reunited with Greece; control of Aegean islands occupied by Greece was to be determined by the Great Powers; and, the independence of Albania was guaranteed. Bulgaria was not satisfied with the division of territory, however, and assumed the offensive against Serbia and Greece over Salonika and a portion of northern Macedonia and Kosovo Polye on June 30.

Upon resumption of hostilities, the Bulgarian 1st Army faced the Serbian frontier between Vidin and Berkovitsa, the 5th was to its left, the 3rd about Kiustendil, the 4th about Kocani and Radoviste, and the 2nd between Strumitsa and Seres facing the Greeks. The Serbian 2nd Army guarded the old Serbo-Bulgarian frontier, the 1st held the centre about Kumanovo and Kriva Palanka, with the 3rd to its right about the Bregalnica. Meanwhile, the Greeks held the front between Gjevgjelija on the lower Vardar and the mouth of the River Struma. In the first offensive, the Bulgarian 4th broke between the allies and reached the Vardar, while the 3rd thrust the Serbian front back between that point and Kriva Palanka, and the 2nd drove the Greek troops back all along its front. But, by the night of July 1, the offensive had died down and Serbian and Greek troops began a counterattack.

On July 2, the Serbian 1st drove a wedge through the Bulgarian line toward Kyustendil, while the Serbian 3rd checked a further advance about upper Bregalnica. The Greek Army began its counterattack on July 3-4, forcing the Bulgarian 2nd back all along the line. The Bulgarian 2nd was outflanked by the Greeks on July 7 and was forced to retreat northward up the Struma Valley. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian 1st and 5th tried to threaten old Serbia, but were repulsed at all points by the Serbian 1st and 2nd. The Bulgarian 3rd and 4th successfully advanced in the direction of Upper Bregalnica, but the advance was checked by July 10. The Serbians and Greeks began pressing slowly forward on July 15, while Romania, which had declared war against Bulgaria by this time, began a march on Sofia; Turkey managed to retake Adrianople while the former allies fought each other. Despite efforts by the Bulgarians to retake the offensive in the Struma Valley, they were forced to sue for peace on July 31. A new peace treaty was signed at Bucharest on August 10, 1913.


Encyclopaedia Britannica Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 1957

See Also

Prince Alexander

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This page was last updated on 08/10/2018.