Battle of Kumanovo

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Battle of Kumanovo
Part of the First Balkan War
Kumanovo1912 marcossouza.jpg
First Balkan War. The Serbian Front (Serbia) The march of the armies before the battle of Kumanovo.
Date 23–24 October 1912
Location Kumanova District, Sanjak of Üsküp, Kosovo Vilayet, Ottoman Empire
(now Kumanovo, Macedonia)
Result Serbian victory
Belligerents
 Kingdom of Serbia  Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Kingdom of Serbia Radomir Putnik
Kingdom of Serbia Crown Prince Alexander
Kingdom of Serbia Stepa Stepanović
Kingdom of Serbia Božidar Janković
Ottoman Empire Halepli Zeki Pasha (Vardar Army)
Ottoman Empire Fethi Pasha (VII Corps)
Strength
132,000 men,
148 artillery pieces,
100 machine guns[1]
58.000[2] 65,000 men,
164 artillery pieces,
104 machine guns[1]
Casualties and losses
4,564 men
(687 killed,
3,280 wounded,
597 missing)[3]-In some sources 7000 men [4]
4,500 men
(1,200 killed,
3,000 wounded,
327 captured)
-In some sources 7000 men [4]
98 artillery pieces[3]

The Battle of Kumanovo or the Battle of Kumanova (Macedonian and Serbian Cyrillic: Кумановска битка) on 23–24 October 1912 was a major battle of the First Balkan War. It was an important Serbian victory over the Ottoman army in the Kosovo Vilayet, shortly after the outbreak of the war. After this defeat, the Ottoman army abandoned the major part of the region, suffering heavy losses in manpower (mostly due to desertions) and in war materiel.[5]

Background[edit]

The objective of the Serbian army plan was to destroy the Ottoman army in a decisive battle before the Ottomans could complete the mobilisation and concentration of forces. The Serbian planners assumed that the main Ottoman force would be deployed defensively in the valley of Vardar and on the strategically important plateau of Ovče Pole. The aim was to double envelop the Ottoman army by using three armies:

The Serbian Commander-in-Chief was General Radomir Putnik.[6]

  • Second Army, under Stepa Stepanović, composed of one Serbian and one Bulgarian division (74,000 men), deployed in the area around Kyustendil, was assigned to the easternmost attack, with the objective of attacking the right flank of the enemy.
  • Third Army, under Božidar Janković, composed of four infantry divisions and one infantry brigade (76,000 men), deployed in two groups, the first one at Toplica and the second one at Medveđa, was assigned to the westernmost attack, with the task to take Kosovo and then move south to attack the left flank of the enemy.

According to the initial Ottoman plan, created by Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, the Ottoman forces in Macedonia would stay in defense and, if necessary, retreat to Albania. The decisive battle would take place in Thrace, versus the Bulgarian army. However, Nazim Pasha, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Ottoman army, decided to surprise the Serbs by taking an offense in Macedonia. The plan also included the offense in Thrace. His goal was to win the initial battles against the surprised allies, hoping that the Great powers would then intervene and stop the war.

The Ottoman mobilisation in Macedonia was slow, and the Ottoman Vardar Army, led by Zeki Pasha, had little more than a half of its manpower mobilised when the war started. The army was composed of:

  • V Corps, under Said Pasha, composed of 4 divisions (32,000 men), deployed in the area around Štip.
  • Smaller units in Kosovo.[7]

Prelude[edit]

Serbian artillery, photographed during the Battle of Kumanovo

Even before the war was declared, border skirmishes occurred. On the 15 October, the front of the Toplica group of the Third Army, Serbian chetniks, acting on their own, attacked the Ottoman forces; although the Serbian deployment had not been completed yet. The Ottomans counterattacked, but they were stopped by the Morava Division II. The fighting on the border lasted until 19 October when the Ottomans were forced to retreat. On 21 October the entire Third Army began its advance and on 22 October, without serious resistance, entered Priština.[8]

On 18 October, Bulgarian 7th Rila Infantry Division of the Second Army started its advance towards Gorna Dzhumaya, while the rest of the army advanced towards the village of Stracin and captured it on 21 October.[9]

The First Army crossed the border on 20 October and in the evening of 22 October reached the outskirts of Kumanovo.[10]

At the other side, as soon as his forces were deployed, Zeki Pasha decided to take the offensive towards Kumanovo. In the evening of 22 October, Vardar Army gathered in the valley of Pčinja River. While Zeki Pasha had the precise information about the strength and disposal of the Serbian forces, the Serbian command did not realise that the battle with the main Ottoman force would start the very next morning.[11] Not expecting the attack, Serbs did not fortify their positions, which were topographically strong. Still, only two out of five infantry divisions were deployed in the front echelon – Danube Division I on the left wing, with Cavalry Division behind it, and Morava Division I on the right wing. The left flank was particularly vulnerable, because Srtevica, the important topographic object, was defended by local irregulars.[1]

During the night of 22/23 October, VI Corps (17th Infantry Division and Monastir Infantry Division) crossed Pčinja and took the position in the Ottoman centre, on the hill of Zebrnjak. The main forces of V Corps (13th Infantry Division and Štip Infantry Division) remained on the left bank of Pčinja, forming the right of the Ottoman's which was acting as a reserve and protecting the route from Stracin, while the main forces of VII Corps (19th Infantry Division and Üsküb Infantry Division) were on the left side.[1]

Battle[edit]

23 October[edit]

The morning of 23 October was foggy, and reconnaissance could not be performed properly. On the Serbian left flank, the observers noticed the troops of 17th Infantry Division in movement, but mistook them for the Ottoman battery withdrawing from Stracin. Troops of the 18th regiment of Danube Division I, which moved forward to capture it, were pushed back, as well as the reconnaissance forces of Cavalry Division.[12]

Observing the retreat of these Serbian units, Zeki Pasha concluded that the Serbian left wing was weak. Since there were no actions of the Second Army from Stracin, he decided to attack.[13] Around 11:00, with artillery support, V and VI Corps attacked the positions of Danube Division I. Soon, 13th and 17th Infantry Division forced the 18th regiment to retreat in disorder, but, instead of continuing the attack, Zeki Pasha waited for the arrival of Štip Infantry Division from the rear to use this division to attack the Serbian flank and rear.[14] That enabled the Serbian 7th regiment to aid the wavering 18th regiment and to consolidate a defense. Soon after that, the Serbian 8th regiment arrived, and 7th regiment was able to move to the left flank and reinforce the defense of Srtevica, which was endangered by an attack by the Štip Infantry Division.[15] On the right flank of Danube Division I, its 9th regiment halted the advance of the weakened Monastir Infantry Division.[16]

Around 12:00, VII Corps started its attack on the positions held by Morava Division I. However, Serbian infantry and artillery were already deployed for combat, as the artillery fire from the east suggested that the battle has started.[17] After the initial Ottoman progress, Serbs counterattacked and pushed them back to their starting positions. After the Serbian counterattack, Ottoman units were kept at bay by the well organised Serbian artillery fire until the end of day.[17]

The Serbian rear echelon divisions (Danube Division II on the left, Drina Division I in the centre and Timok Division II on the right) and the army artillery were not informed about the combat operations. They remained in the rear, without participating in the first day of the battle. The First Army command did not receive precise information about the battle and did not have any influence on the actual combat. Despite these facts, the Ottoman attack of the 23 October was not successful, mostly thanks to "the high devotion of (Serbian) troops and lower officers".[18]

24 October[edit]

The staff of 1. Armija. On the left side is the army commander, Crown Prince Alexander, the army chief of staff, Colonel Petar Bojović, is sitting next to him.

Uninformed about the situation in the field, the First Army command did not realise that the attack of the main Ottoman forces had occurred, as those forces were expected on Ovče Pole. Assuming that the Ottoman units north of Kumanovo were merely forward detachments, it ordered the troops to continue their advance towards south, as previously planned. After midnight, it received a report from Danube Division I which stated that the division was attacked by the strong enemy forces and suffered heavy casualties, but at that moment it was too late for any change of orders.[19]

On the other side, Zeki Pasha decided to continue the attack with the hope that his forces would be able to achieve victory on the following day.[19]

The Ottoman attack on their right wing started around 5:30. VI Corps was assigned to tie up as many enemy forces as possible by attacking from the front, while Štip Infantry Division was again assigned to flank attack. Danube Division I again had to withstand heavy pressure, but around 10:00 parts of Danube Division II arrived from the rear and strengthened the defense. At the same time, Cavalry Division moved to the left bank of Pčinja and slowed the advance of Ottoman forces towards Srtevica. Around 12:00, parts of Danube Division II reinforced the defense of Srtevica, definitely stopping the advance of the Ottoman right wing.[20]

On the left Ottoman wing, a lot of reservists from Üsküb Infantry Division had deserted during the night, upon hearing that the Third Army had captured Priština and that it is marching towards Skopje.[21] Still, at 5:30, VII Corps started the attack. However, Morava Division I counterattacked at 6:00 and with the arrival of Timok Division II from the rear they forced the entire Ottoman left wing to retreat.[22]

Around 9:30, Drina Division II from the rear echelon of the First Army arrived to the front and attacked the Ottoman centre. Around 11:00, Monastir Infantry Division started to retreat. The commander of VI Corps managed to temporarily halt the Serbian advance by using his last reserves, but in the repeated attack around 13:00, Drina Division I captured Zebrnjak, the main object in Ottoman defense, and forced 17th Infantry Division to retreat. With Üsküb Infantry Division and Monastir Infantry Division already retreating, the battle was resolved. At 15:00, Morava Division I entered Kumanovo.[23]

Ottoman forces retreated in disorder: VII and parts of VI Corps towards Skopje and V and parts of VI Corps towards Štip and Veles. Serbian troops missed the chance to pursue them.[24]

Aftermath[edit]

The Serbian army marches into Skopje.

The Ottoman Vardar Army fought the battle according to plan, but despite this, suffered a heavy defeat. Although Zeki Pasha operationally surprised the Serbian command by his sudden attack, the decision to act offensively against the superior enemy was a grave error which determined the outcome of Battle of Kumanovo.[25] On the other side, the Serbian command started the battle without plans and preparations, and missed the chance to pursue the defeated enemy and effectively end the operations in the region, although it had the fresh troops of the rear echelon available for such action. Even after the end of battle, the Serbs still believed that it was fought against weaker Ottoman units and that main enemy forces were on Ovče Pole.[25][26]

Nevertheless, the Battle of Kumanovo was a decisive factor in the outcome of the war in the region. The Ottoman plan for an offensive war had failed, and the Vardar Army was forced to abandon much territory and lost a significant number of artillery pieces without the possibility to reinforce, because the supply routes from Anatolia were cut.[25]

The Vardar Army was not able to organise the defense on Vardar River and was forced to abandon Skopje, retreating all the way to Prilep. The First Army advanced slowly and entered Skopje on 26 October. Two days later, it was strengthened by Morava Division II, while the rest of the Third Army was sent to Metohija and then through northern Albania to the Adriatic coast. The Second Army was sent to aid the Bulgarians in the Siege of Adrianople, while the First Army was preparing for an offense towards Prilep and Bitola.[27]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 70.
  2. ^ Defeat in detail: the Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912–1913 p.173
  3. ^ a b Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 83. The Ottoman casualties don't include the significant number of soldiers who deserted during and after the battle.
  4. ^ a b Defeat in detail: the Ottoman Army in the Balkans, 1912–1913 p.181 In this book the estimation of Turkish casualties are 7,000. In some Serbian sources:12,000 (but this book refers that 12,000 casualties were not possible) on the other side Serbians used infantries like Japanese army to stop Turks it is like a banzai attack in Russo Japanese war so the estimation of Serbian casualties might be 7.00O same as Turks
  5. ^ Enciklopedijski leksikon Mozaik znanja – Istorija, Belgrade: Interpres, 1970, page 363.
  6. ^ a b Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 39–45. Serbian war plan and order of battle.
  7. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 45–48. Ottoman war plan and order of battle.
  8. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 50–62.
  9. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 66–67.
  10. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 65–66.
  11. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 68–70.
  12. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 70–71.
  13. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 71.
  14. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 72–73.
  15. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 73.
  16. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 73–74.
  17. ^ a b Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 74.
  18. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 76. Quote in Serbian latin: "Iako vođena bez plana i bez uticaja komande armije, koja nije imala vezu sa divizijama, odbrana je uspela da odbije napad nadmoćnijih snaga neprijatelja zahvaljujući krajnjem požrtvovanju trupa i nižih starešina, posebno Dunavske divizije I poziva, koja je podnela najveći teret bitke i pretrpela teške gubitke."
  19. ^ a b Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 76.
  20. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 78–79.
  21. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 79.
  22. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, pages 81–83.
  23. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 80.
  24. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 83.
  25. ^ a b c Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 83. Result and significance of the battle.
  26. ^ Vojvoda Živojin Mišić, Moje uspomene, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1985, page 236. Mišić states that General Putnik believed that Vardar army still had the ability to fight a battle on Ovče Pole even after its defeat at Kumanovo.
  27. ^ Borislav Ratković, Mitar Đurišić, Savo Skoko, Srbija i Crna Gora u Balkanskim ratovima 1912–1913, Belgrade: BIGZ, 1972, page 87.