Balkan Wars of 1912–13

Balkan Wars of 1912–13


First Balkan War. The First Balkan War (Oct. 9, 1912-May 30, 1913) was waged by the states of the Balkan League of 1912 (Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro) against the Ottoman Empire, which had enslaved the Balkan peoples. The peoples of the Balkan Peninsula faced the historic task of achieving complete liberation from the feudal and national oppression inflicted by the Turkish enslavers. However, the weakness of the proletariat and the backwardness of the peasantry in the Balkans, in addition to the imperialist states’ intervention into the affairs of the Balkan countries, meant that liberation was not to occur by way of revolution, but rather through war “guided by bourgeois and dynastic interests” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch.,5th ed., vol. 23, p. 38). The Bulgarian and Serbian bourgeois circles which headed the Balkan League sought to take over much of Macedonia. Furthermore, the Bulgarian ruling circles planned to gain access to the Aegean Sea for their country by annexing Thessaloniki and western Thrace, and the Serbian bourgeoisie wanted to gain access to the Adriatic Sea by dividing up Albania with Greece. Uprisings in Macedonia and Albania and the Italo-Turkish War of 1911–12 deepened the crisis of the Ottoman Empire and hastened the start of war on the Balkan Peninsula. The occasion for the declaration of war was Turkey’s refusal to grant autonomy to Macedonia and Thrace and to abandon the mobilization of the Turkish army. Montenegro began military operations on Oct. 9, 1912 (it declared war on October 8 and put forward 35,000 men). Bulgaria (nine infantry and seven reserve divisions—about 300,000 men), Serbia (nine infantry and one cavalry division—over 280,000 men), and Greece (eight infantry divisions—as many as 110,000 men) entered the war on October 18. By the time military operations began, Turkey had fielded about 300,000 men (the eastern army of 120,000, the western army of 100,000, fortress garrisons of 30,000–40,000, and others). The allies’ plan consisted in smashing the Turkish forces in the Balkans before reinforcements could be brought up from Asia Minor; the Turkish command planned a defensive strategy until the corps arrived. Inspired by the national liberation goals of the war, the allied armies also had superiority over the enemy in weapons, especially in artillery and combat training. The Turkish army was in a stage of reorganization, and its political and morale levels were low.

The main strike, intended to rout Turkey’s eastern army (under General Abdullah Pasha) was delivered in Thrace by the forces of the Bulgarian First, Second, and Third Armies (under generals V. Kutinichev, N. Ivanov, and R. Dmitriev respectively). Crossing the border on October 20, the Bulgarian First and Third Armies defeated the Turkish III Corps at Kirklareli between October 22 and October 24; then, moving south, between October 29 and November 3 they routed the Turkish IV Corps at Lüleburgas, after which the Turkish eastern army fled in panic. The Bulgarian forces were halted only at the strongly fortified Çatalca lines (west of Istanbul); the assault undertaken by the Bulgarians on November 17–18 was repulsed. In southern Macedonia the Greek Thes-salian army (under Constantine, heir to the throne) was victorious at Yenice and opened an offensive on Thessaloniki in which the Bulgarians and Serbs delivered auxiliary strikes from the northeast and north respectively. On November 9, Greek forces occupied Thessaloniki. In Macedonia the Serbian First and Second Armies (under Aleksandr, heir to the throne, and General S. Stefanović, respectively) smashed a sizable Turkish force near Kumanovo on October 23–24, and on October 26 the Serbian Third Army (under General B. Janković) occupied Skopje (Üsküb). Fighting and moving south, Serbian troops supported by the Greeks occupied Bitola (Monastir) on November 18, after which the Turkish western army (under Ali Riza Pasha) in effect ceased to exist. The Greek Epirean army (under General K. Sapunt-zaki) cleared Epirus of Turks and on November 8 besieged Ioannina. The Greek fleet dominated the Aegean Sea and blockaded the exit from the Dardanelles. Greek landings were made on the islands of Chios, Lesbos, and others. In Albania the Montenegrins and the 20,000-man Serbian Ibar detachment (under General M. Živković) moved toward the Adriatic Sea and besieged Shkodra (Scutari).

The military successes of the Balkan League confronted the great powers with a host of complicated questions. Fearing that the occupation of the Turkish capital by the Bulgarians would place the question of the fate of the straits in circumstances unfavorable to tsarism, the government of tsarist Russia advised the Bulgarians to halt their troops and offered to mediate peace negotiations. Austria-Hungary, supported by Germany, did not want to permit Serbia access to the Adriatic Sea and so commenced military preparations on its borders. The tension and complexity of the international situation, added to the failure of the Bulgarian army’s effort to seize Istanbul, aided the conclusion of an armistice in December 1912 between Turkey on the one hand and Bulgaria and Serbia on the other. Peace was not concluded, however, since the new Turkish government established as a result of the Young Turks’ coup d’etat (Jan. 23, 1913) rejected the peace terms worked out by the London ambassadors’ conference. On Feb. 3, 1913, military operations resumed. Only after the Turks suffered new defeats, surrendering Ioannina (Mar. 6, 1913) and Adrianople (Edirne, March 26), did the First Balkan War conclude with the signing of a truce in April 1913 between Turkey and the allies (with the exception of Montenegro, which continued the siege of Shkodra). By the London Peace Treaty of 1913 (signed on May 30), Turkey lost all its European possessions except for Istanbul and a small part of eastern Thrace. Under pressure from the European powers, the Montenegrins were forced to lift the siege of Shkodra.

The First Balkan War was a progressive phenomenon despite the fact that it was involved with the dynastic interests of the Balkan monarchs and the nationalistic claims of the Balkan bourgeoisie, which were intertwined with the expansionist strivings of the imperialist powers. In particular, the defeat of the Ottoman Empire during the course of military operations hastened Albania’s attainment of independence, which was proclaimed on Nov. 28, 1912. Lenin characterized the First Balkan War as “one of the links in the chain of world events which signified the collapse of the Middle Ages in Asia and Eastern Europe” (ibid.).

Second Balkan War. The Second Balkan War (June 29-Aug. 10, 1913), involved Bulgaria on the one hand, and Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Montenegro, and Turkey on the other. It was caused by an acute intensification of the contradictions in the camp of the allies of the First Balkan War. Serbia, which had not gained access to the Adriatic Sea, demanded compensation in Macedonia. Greece laid claim to territory in southern Macedonia and western Thrace. The satisfaction of Serbian and Greek claims would have meant considerable abridgment of Bulgaria’s acquisitions in the First Balkan War. On June 1, Greece and Serbia signed a secret alliance directed against Bulgaria. Rumania joined the alliance, not wishing to accept a significant increase in Bulgarian territory and demanding compensation in the Dobru-dja (Bulgarian, Dobrudzha; Rumanian, Dobrogea) from Bulgaria for its neutrality in the First Balkan War. Austrian-German diplomacy, relying on the ruling clique of Bulgaria led by Ferdinand of Coburg, succeeded in splitting the Balkan alliance, which it regarded as an instrument of the Entente and, first and foremost, of Russia. On the night of June 30, Bulgarian troops deployed along the Serbian and Greek borders suddenly attacked Serbian and Greek positions in Macedonia. But the Serbs moved to a counteroffen-sive and between June 30 and July 6 defeated Bulgarian forces on the Bregalnice River. On July 10, Rumania entered the war; the absence of Bulgarian troops in the north allowed the Rumanian army to move unhindered to Sofia. Turkey took advantage of the Bulgarians’ difficult situation to violate the London Peace Treaty of 1913. Turkish troops began an offensive on July 21–22 and occupied Adrianople. On July 29, Bulgaria capitulated. By the Treaty of Bucharest of 1913 (between Bulgaria on one side and Greece, Serbia, Rumania, and Montenegro on the other) Bulgaria lost not only most of its acquisitions in Macedonia and Thrace but also the southern Dobrudja. In addition, by the Constantinople Peace Treaty of 1913 (between Turkey and Bulgaria) Bulgaria was forced to leave Adrianople to Turkey. The Second Balkan War helped Rumania break with the Triple Alliance of 1882 and move toward the Entente. Another important consequence of the war was Bulgaria’s shift to the side of the Austrian-German bloc.

The Balkan Wars brought a further sharpening of international contradictions and hastened the outbreak of World War I. During the wars there was progress in military technology (the use of airplanes, armored vehicles, submarines, and radio), and the value of massed artillery and rifle and machine-gun fire was confirmed.


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Lenin, V. I. “Balkanskie narody i evropeiskaia diplomatiia.” Ibid., vol. 22.
Lenin, V. I. “Novaia glava vsemirnoi istorii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Uzhasy voiny.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Sotsial’noe znachenie serbsko-bolgarskikh pobed.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “O lise i kuriatnike.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Pozornaia rezoliutsiia.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Balkanskaia voina i burzhuaznyi shovinizm.” Ibid., vol. 23.
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A. S. SILIN; A. G. KAVTARADZE and A. A. ZALESSKII (military operations)