Serbian–Ottoman War (1876–1878)

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For other Serbo-Turkish wars, see List of Serbian–Turkish conflicts.
Serbian–Ottoman War (1876–78)
Part of Great Eastern Crisis (1875–78)
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
Result Serbian victory
Principality of Serbia  Ottoman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Mikhail Chernyayev
František Zach
Đura Horvatović
Abdülkerim Nadir Pasha
Osman Nuri Pasha

The Serbo-Turkish War (Serbian: српско-турски рат), also known as the Wars for Independence (ратови за независност), was fought between the Principality of Serbia and the Ottoman Empire between 30 June 1876 and 3 March 1878. It consisted of two phases. In conjunction with the Principality of Montenegro, Serbia proclaimed its independence and declared war on the Ottoman Empire on 30 June 1876.

The Serbian army 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 a 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.

In the second phase, between 13 December 1877 and 5 February 1878, Serbian troops regrouped with help from Imperial Russia, who fought their own Russo-Turkish War. The Serbs formed five corps and attacked Turkish troops to the south, taking cities of Niš, Pirot, Leskovac and Vranje one after another.

The war 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[edit]

In 1875, a revolt broke out in Herzegovina, 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 18 June 1876.

Serbian military camp during the war in 1876.

The main Serbian army under Chernyayev concentrated at the Southern fortress of Aleksinac. It consisted of three 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 (6,000) with cavalry support and the Bulgarian Legion (2,000). In the West there were two weak divisions (5,000 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 and 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.


First War[edit]

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

The Serbian government declared war on the Ottoman Empire on the symbolical Vidovdan (June 28), the day of the Battle of Kosovo (1389). The initial Serbian military plan was to defend Niš and attack Sofia with the main army under Chernyayev. Other armies would simultaneously launch diversionary attacks, but these were repulsed in the west. In the north-east, general Milojko Lešjanin was defeated near Kior after failing to hold the Ottoman advance over the Timok river. Although he withdrew to the fortress at Saicar, the Ottoman 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 Ottomans responded by sending two columns under Suleiman and Hafiz to flank the Serbian position.

The Ottoman 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. Chernyayev had less than 30,000 men, and unlike the Ottoman 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 Ottoman firepower. A bayonet charge shortly followed and routed the Serbian troops from the field. Thanks to Abdul Kerim's indecisiveness and the arrival of Horvatović'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, Horvatović, attacked the Ottoman positions along a broad front from Djunis to Aleksinac on 28 September 1876, but the Ottoman troops repulsed the attacks. The Ottoman 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.

Second War[edit]


Many children lost their parents in time of Serbo-Turkish War. The situation in Serbia was very serious, described by some as “children in huge groups reaching towns”. At that time Serbia had underdeveloped social care system. Being aware of all that, 50 most prominent citizens of Belgrade decided to establish the “Society for the bringing up and protection of children”, in the hotel “Kasino” on Terazije, in 1879. In this facility the first vocational school in Serbia was established.[1]


  • In 1876, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed and orchestrated the ″Marche Slave″.
  • At the close of Tolstoy's 1877 novel Anna Karenina, the character of Count Aleksey Vronsky enlists in a Russian volunteer regiment traveling to the aid of the Serbians.
  • In 1882, Laza K. Lazarević (1851–91), wrote the short story The People Will Reward All of This. The author describes the difficult position of disabled war veterans after returning from the battlefield and inhuman attitude of the state towards them.


See also[edit]



External links[edit]