Serbo-Turkish War (1876–78)

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For other Serbo-Turkish wars, see List of Serbian–Turkish conflicts.
Serbian-Ottoman War 1876–1878
Bitka za moravac.jpg
The Morava Battles – August 1876
Date 30 June 1876 — 3 March 1878
(1 year, 8 months and 1 day)
Location Principality of Serbia, Principality of Montenegro and surrounding regions
Result Ottoman victory in the first stage (1876–77); Serbian victory and independence in the second stage (1877–78)
Principality of Serbia
 Russian Empire
 Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Mikhail Chernyayev
František Zach
Đura Horvatović
Abdülkerim Nadir Pasha
Osman Nuri Pasha
100,000[citation needed] 139,000[citation needed]
Casualties and losses
2,000[citation needed] 3,000[citation needed]

The Serbo-Turkish War (Serbian: Српско-турски рат), sometimes called the Serbian–Ottoman War, was fought between the Principality of Serbia and the Ottoman Empire from the Serbian declaration of war on 30 June 1876 until the Treaty of San Stefano of 3 March 1878. In 1876 Serbia couldn′t lead offensive war with aim to destroy Ottoman Empire, but could lead a war with limited aims. Serbia deployed larger number of units at the beginning of the war. Serbia commanding fragmented those forces, without distinctive attacking point which allowed Ottomans to at first stop Serbian offensive and then in counteroffensive to beat fragmented Serbian forces with their concentrated attacks. Concentration forces on left side bank of South Morava gave Ottomans double supremacy on the battlefield and during autumn they have continued their successful offensive which was crowned with victory on Đunis height. During final truce signing, situation od Serbian forces was not as bad as it looked because Ottomans were not capable to continue their offensive because of very bad operative position and general strategic situation, so thay needed peace as much as Serbs did. The war merged with the Bulgarian uprising, the Montenegrin War and the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78).

Background and the opposing forces[edit]

In 1875 a Serbian revolt broke out in Herzgovina, in the province of the Ottoman Empire, sparked a series of rebellions and uprisings against the Ottoman forces on the Balkan. In such circumstances, without the possibility to stay on the sidelines, the two semi-independent Principality, Serbia and Montenegro, declared war on Ottoman Empire on June 18, 1876. Political circumstances in the world were not in favour of the Serbs in this war. As Russia was considered the main rival to interests of the West- European powers in the Balkans, Europe didn’t support the Serbian war against the Ottoman Empire. All official pleas that the Serbian government sent to Europe were ignored. Serbia was left to herself.

Serbian military camp during the war in 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.


Chief of General Staff of the Ottoman army Abdul Kerim
Serbian ambulance in 1876.

The ambitious Serbian plan was to mask Niš and attack Sofia with the main army under Cherniaev. Other armies would launch diversionary attacks. In the west these were repulsed and in the North-East Lesjanin was defeated at Kior. He failed to hold the Turkish counterattack on the Timok river and fell back to the fortress at Saicar which itself fell on 7 August 1876. The main advance in the south began well, thrusting down the Nišava valley and capturing the important heights at Babina Glava north of Pirot. The Turks then responded with two columns under Suleiman and Hafiz, flanking the Serbs and forcing them back up the valley. The Turkish commander Abdul Kerim decided against storming the difficult mountain position between the Timok and Morava. Turkey was transferring new reserves to that war theater, whereas Serbs did not have sufficient human reserves. Instead he 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 stretched across both sides of the Morava and into the mountains. Turkish firepower followed by a frontal attack with the bayonet drove the Serbians in rout back to Aleksinac. Only Abdul Kerim's indecision and the arrival of Horvatovic's fresh division steadied the line at Djunis. Following a brief armistice and the failure of negotiations the new Serbian commander Horvatovic attacked the Turkish positions from Djunis to Aleksinac on 28 September. They were repulsed all along the front. The Turks regrouped and on 19 October the Division of Adyl Pasha launched a surprise attack on the Serbian right. This attack eventually forced the Serbians back to Deligrad.

The atrocities of the Ottoman Empire in suppressing unrest in the Balkan provinces eventually led to the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, which ended in Turkish defeat, and the signing of the Treaty of San Stefano in March 1878, followed in July of the same year by the Treaty of Berlin, severely reducing Ottoman territories and power in Europe.


In Popular Culture[edit]

  • 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.

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