Serbo-Turkish War (1876–78)
|Serbian-Ottoman War 1876–1877|
The Morava Battles – August 1876
|Principality of Serbia||Ottoman Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Abdülkerim Nadir Pasha
Osman Nuri Pasha
|100,000||139,000|
|Casualties and losses|
|2,000||3,000|
The Serbo-Turkish War of 1876-1877 (Serbian: Српско-турски рат), sometimes called the Serbian–Ottoman War, was fought between the Principality of Serbia and the Ottoman Empire. In conjunction with the Principality of Montenegro, the Principality of Serbia proclaimed its independence and declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 30 June 1876. The Serbian army in 1876 was poorly trained and ill-equipped, unlike the troops of the Ottoman Empire.
The offensive objectives the Serbian army sought to accomplish were overly ambitious for such force, and they suffered a number of defeats that resulted from poor planning and chronically being spread too thin. This allowed Ottoman forces to repel the initial attacks of the Serbian army and drive them back. During the autumn of 1876, the Ottoman Empire continued their successful offensive which culminated in a victory on the heights above Đunis.
The Serbo-Turkish War of 1876-1877 coincided with the Bulgarian uprising, the Montenegrin War and the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78), which together are known as the Great Eastern Crisis (1875-78) of the Ottoman Empire.
Background and the opposing forces
In 1875, a revolt broke out in Herzgovina, a province of the Ottoman Empire, which soon spread to Bosnia and Bulgaria. Although the Ottoman Empire quickly defeated the revolt in Bulgaria, the fighting in Herzegovina and Bosnia continued to drag on. Taking advantage of the opportunity, the two semi-independent Principalities of Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed their independence and declared war on the Ottoman Empire on June 18, 1876.
The main Serbian army under Cerniaev concentrated at the Southern fortress of Aleksinac. It consisted of 3 Serbian divisions and a variety of volunteer formations totaling about 45,000 men. In the North-East, Lesjanin based at Saicar commanded an infantry division (6000) with cavalry support and the Bulgarian Legion (2000). In the West there were two weak divisions (5000 each), one in the South-West at Usica commanded by Zack and one in the North-West at Sabac commanded by Alympic. The main rifle was the M.1870 Serbian Peabody which had a performance similar to the Russian Krnk. Whilst this was the best weapon available to Serbian troops many had to make do with the erratic M.1867 Serbian Greene conversion or even muzzle-loaders. Artillery batteries contained a variety of mostly bronze guns almost all inferior to the Turkish Krupps. There were very few cavalry squadrons reflecting the nature of the terrain and those which existed were poorly equipped. At that time Serbia was accepting all volunteers, there were many volunteers from different countries and cities, including Italian followers of Garibaldi and Prussian officers, representatives of different nationalities were fighting – Englishmen, Italians, Frenchmen, Greeks, Romanians, Poles. In various volunteer detachments, the biggest of which were detachments of Russian and Bulgarians. During the war of 1876–77, on the initiative of Giuseppe Garibaldi a detachment was created consisting of several hundreds of Italian volunteers. Russian volunteer detachments formally independent of the Russian state stood up in defense of Serbia. The biggest number of Russian volunteers fought in the Timocko-Moravska army, their number was around 2200, out of which there were 650 officers and 300 medical personnel.
The main Ottoman army was based at Sofia under Abdul Kerim with 50,000 men plus irregular Bashi-Bazouks and Circassians. There was a garrison at the border fortress of Niš commanded by Mehemet with 8000 men. In the North-West at Vidin, Osman Nuri had 23,000 men. In the west there were small garrisons at Bijeljina and Zvornik with a larger force (12,000 mostly Arabs and Egyptians) under Dervish and Mehemet Ali in the Sanjak. Substantial numbers of Redif troops were called up for this war mostly armed with former British Sniders. The superior Peabody-Martini was becoming more widely available and was certainly used by the Egyptian troops. Krupp breech loaders are most frequently mentioned although there must have been significant numbers of bronze guns. Turkish troops performed well during the war albeit badly officered and inadequately supplied.
The initial Serbian plan was to defend Niš and attack Sofia with the main army under Cherniaev. Other armies would simultaneously launch diversionary attacks, but these were repulsed in the west. In the north-east, Lesjanin was defeated near Kior after failing to hold the Turkish advance over the Timok river. Although he withdrew to the fortress at Saicar, the Turkish army captured it on 7 August 1876. The Serbian army's main advance in the south appeared to initially meet with success when it moved quickly down the Nišava valley and captured the important heights at Babina Glava, north of Pirot. They were forced to withdraw, however, when the Turks responded by sending two columns under Suleiman and Hafiz to flank the Serbian position.
The Turkish commander Abdul Kerim decided against marching over the difficult mountain terrain between the Timok and Morava rivers and instead concentrated 40,000 troops at Niš and advanced up the easier country of the Morava valley towards Aleksinac. Cherniaev had less than 30,000 men, and unlike the Turkish commander he stretched them thinly across both sides of the Morava river and into the mountains. Consequently, when contact was made between the two forces, the Serbian troops were overwhelmed by massed Turkish firepower. A bayonet charge shortly followed and routed the Serbian troops from the field. Thanks to Abdul Kerim's indecisiveness and the arrival of Horvatovic's fresh forces, a new Serbian defensive line was created at Djunis.
Following this string of setbacks and defeats, Serbia petitioned the European powers to mediate a diplomatic solution to the war. A joint ultimatum from the European powers forced the Ottoman Empire into accepting a one month truce with Serbia, during which peace negotiations were held. The Ottoman Empire's peace conditions were deemed by the European powers as too harsh, however, and were rejected.
When the truce expired, the war continued and the new Serbian commander, Horvatovic, attacked the Turkish positions along a broad front from Djunis to Aleksinac on 28 September 1876, but the Turkish troops repulsed the attacks. The Turkish forces reorganized and regrouped, and on 19 October 1876 the army of Adyl Pasha launched a surprise attack on the Serbian right which forced the Serbians back to Deligrad.
On 31 October 1876, with the situation becoming dire and Serbian forces about to collapse, Russia mobilized its army and threatened to declare war on the Ottoman Empire if they did not sign a truce with Serbia and renew the peace negotiations within forty-eight hours. These negotiations lasted until 15 January 1877 and effectively ended the fighting between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire until Serbia, having gained financial backing from Russia, again declared war against the Ottoman Empire in 1877.
Serbian soldiers attacking the Ottoman army at Mramor.
In Popular Culture
- In 1876, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed and orchestrated the ″Serbo-Russian March″.
- In 1877, Leo Tolstoy was wrote a novel Anna Karenina. In this novel character the Count Aleksey Vronsky after a love failure is joined a volunteer regiment to the goes to Serbo-Turkish War.
- In 1882, Laza K. Lazarevic (1851–91), was wrote short storie "The People Will Reward All of This", the author describes the tragic fate son of coppersmiths Blagoja who lost his leg on the battlefield speaks about the difficult position of disabled war veterans after returning from the battlefield and inhuman attitude of the state towards them.
- The Serbian Army in the Wars for Independence Against Turkey 1876-1878, Dusan Babac, Helion & Company (28 April 2014)