The Balkan Wars

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Balkans were driven by nationalist tendencies that demanded the independence of their countries but also the claims of power of the European large states, which sought to expand their territorial influence and to incorporate territories.

Especially Austria-Hungary expanded its dominion clearly. Only through diplomatic negotiations could wars be prevented. Only later were wars waged between the new independent states in the Balkans, which not only led to political tensions of the major powers, but expanded into a conflagration, which in 1914 encompassed all of Europe and culminated in the First World War.





For centuries, the Balkans were part of the Ottoman Empire. But again and again the empire was exposed to wars that weakened its sphere of influence on the European part. Especially through the countless wars with Russia, the Ottoman Empire had to cede large areas.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 to 1878 and the subsequent peace treaty of San Stefano, the Ottoman Empire had already cede parts of its territories. With the Berlin Congress from June 13, 1878 to July 13, 1878 some areas of the Balkans were divided, with which the independent states of Serbia and Montenegro emerged. The Ottoman Empire, to the reluctance of Russia, could also retain some European territories. Bosnia and Herzegovina belonged to these areas, but these were placed under the administration of Austria-Hungary for 30 years according to Art. 25 of the Berlin Peace of July 13, 1878. On July 29, 1878 k.u.k. Troops with the occupation of the new areas, which led in some parts to bloody uprisings. With the Treaty of Mürzsteg of October 3, 1903, Austria-Hungary and Russia agreed to provide peace and stability in the Balkans.

In 1908, the 30 years of administration ended for the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, Austria and Russia agreed that Austria could retain the regions if Russia had the right of passage through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. Since a revolution of the Young Turks took place in the Ottoman Empire at that time, the empire was politically greatly weakened. This exploited Austria for its purposes. Other areas began to act, so Crete declared its attachment to Greece and Bulgaria declared its independence.

Meanwhile, in July 1908, the Young Turks attempted to send parliamentarians back to their parliament and regain control of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On October 4, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I decreed the annexation of the territories.

The annexation led to protests in the Ottoman Empire, in Serbia and in Russia, as the population did not want the Slavic population of the annexed territories under Austrian control. A war could be prevented only by the fact that Russia was still weakened after the war with Japan, that allied with Russia France saw no reason for a war entry and Austria was supported by Germany.

In 1909 negotiations took place between Austria and the Ottoman Empire, which after a payment of 50 million crowns and other agreements finally agreed to the annexation.


Zeitgenössische Karikatur von Leonard Raven-Hill (1912), welche die damalige Lage auf dem Balkan veranschaulicht

Contemporary caricature by Leonard Raven-Hill (1912) illustrating the situation in the Balkans at the time




The first Balkan war:

Russia initially agreed with the annexation of the territories by Austria-Hungary, as the country hoped for its own advantages. As these did not meet Russia countered the expansion of Austrian influence with the creation of the Balkan Alliance between Serbia and Bulgaria. By their own initiative of the two countries, the alliance later joined Greece and Montenegro, which changed the objectives and the alliance should no longer attack Austria-Hungary but against the Ottoman Empire.

The European powers agreed to recognize the current status in the Balkans, but were aware that the smaller Balkan states could not be controlled.

On October 8, 1912, Montenegro was the first country to declare war on the Ottoman Empire. On October 16, the declaration of war on the Bulgarian Empire took place, which led to the declaration of war on October 17, by Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. At the beginning of the conflict, the Alliance was able to draw on some 474,000 troops, the Ottoman armed forces, however, had only a strength of about 290,000 men.


Bulgarische Soldaten

Bulgarian soldiers


The first battle took place on October 21 at the Sarantaporos River, when Greek troops defeated the Ottomans. On October 24, Kozani was taken and already on November 1, Giannitsa fell. On 7 November, the Greek troops reached the city of Thessaloniki, which was held by 26,000 Ottoman soldiers. After negotiations, the Ottoman troops withdrew and handed over the city without a fight. On February 21, 1913 fell Ioannina and on March 6, the port of Valona.


Osmanische Soldaten

Ottoman soldiers


The Serbian troops managed on 6 November 1912 the capture of Üsküb and on 29 November Monastir. With the Montenegrin troops on May 3, 1913, the city of Shkodra was conquered.

With the Bulgarian victories in the battles of Kirk Kilisse and Lüleburgaz, the troops managed to advance as far as Constantinople. However, the Bulgarian troops failed to capture the city. On 20 November 1912, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire concluded a separate peace treaty, which was broken again on 2 February 1913, when Bulgarian troops with the support of Serbian troops on 26 March 1913 managed to capture the city of Adrianople.

On May 1, 1913, a ceasefire agreement was signed between the Ottoman Empire and the Alliance. With the London Treaty of May 30, 1913, the war was then ended and the Ottoman Empire renounced all European territories west of the line between Midia on the Black Sea and Enez on the Aegean coast, also joined Crete now officially Greece.


Griechische Artillerie

Greek artillery


During the war, Albania also declared its independence. It was officially recognized in the London Treaties, and Albania was given some territories occupied by Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia in particular protested against the decision because the country was denied access to the Adriatic Sea.




The second Balkan war:

Shortly after the London Treaties, there were tensions between the Balkan countries over the division of territory. Thus, Bulgaria did not agree with the demarcation of Macedonia and demanded that there be some areas back from Serbia. Serbia, on the other hand, had been denied access to the Adriatic in the treaties with the independence of Albania. To safeguard itself, Serbia and Greece entered into an alliance on 19 May 1913. The Ottoman Empire was also waiting for an opportunity to bring back the lost territories. This was the next war in the Balkans foreseeable.

On June 29, 1913, Bulgarian troops attacked the Greek and Serbian army without declaration of war. However, the defense defeated the attackers and the two states declared war on Bulgaria on 8 July. On July 10, Romania, which had remained neutral in the first Balkan war, declared war on Bulgaria, followed by the Ottoman Empire's declaration of war on July 11.

Invaded from all sides, the few remaining Bulgarian defenders could hardly resist, so that after only a few days Romanian troops were in front of the capital Sofia and the Ottoman troops were able to occupy Adrianople on 21 July.


Gefangen genommene bulgarische Soldaten

Captured Bulgarian soldiers


The Bulgarian forces were involved in battles with the Greek troops during most of the war, so they could not be used on other fronts.

As a result of the complete superiority of the allies against the self-imposed Bulgaria, this had to agree to a peace treaty. The signing took place on August 10, 1913, and the country was forced to cede almost all areas it could conquer in the First Balkan War.



Der Balkan im 10. und 11. Jahrhundert

The Balkans in the 10th and 11th centuries


Der Balkan im 14. und 15. Jahrhundert

The Balkans in the 14th and 15th centuries


Der Balkan im 19. Jahrhundert

The Balkans in the 19th century


Der Balkan bis 1915

The Balkans until 1915




The consequences of the Balkan wars:

The Balkan wars not only epitomized the autonomy of the Balkan countries against the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary, but in many ways also served as a proxy war for the major European powers seeking to extend their influence in the Balkans.

The wars were particularly marked by the brutal crackdown on the civilian population, which had to suffer particularly from the respective occupiers. Entire regions were ethnically purged by expulsion or mass murders, poisoning the conditions of the Balkan countries to the present day.

The decisive consequence of the Balkan wars was the decision of some countries not to accept the borders drawn after the Second Balkan War and to take every opportunity to revise them. This ultimately led to a Serbian nationalist shooting the Austrian heir to the throne, turning a proxy war into a Europe-wide war.






You can find the right literature here:


Prelude to the First World War: The Balkan Wars 1912-1913

Prelude to the First World War: The Balkan Wars 1912-1913 Hardcover – November 2, 2014

The fuse to the First World War was lit in the Balkans where simmering hatreds exploded into violence. Like a string of firecrackers, these hatreds had been fueled by attacks on the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the previous few years. From 1911-1912, Italy seized Libya. In 1912, the Balkan states united to drive Turkey out of Europe in the First Balkans War, and in the following year in the Second Balkans War, turned on each other in a division of the spoils which allowed Turkey to retain a foothold in Europe. This was a war of land campaigns, sea battles and amphibious operations in which the new military technology was first used. Submarine and aircraft attacked ships, aircraft made reconnaissance flights and bombed troops while even electronic warfare was used. It also saw mirror images of the events in the First World War; Bulgarians driven from Salonika where an Allied army would later be contained and Turkish troops held back in the Dardanelles, their guns driving off a naval task force. These now forgotten wars were the overture to the First World War and yet they have overtones a century later. The First World War saw echoes of these campaigns in Salonika and especially in the Dardanelles, while the ethnic tensions would erupt into further bloodshed after the Cold War ended as Yugoslavia collapsed during the 1990s.

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The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999

The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999 Paperback – September 1, 2001

This unique and lively history of Balkan geopolitics since the early nineteenth century gives readers the essential historical background to recent events in this war-torn area. No other book covers the entire region, or offers such profound insights into the roots of Balkan violence, or explains so vividly the origins of modern Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania. Misha Glenny presents a lucid and fair-minded account of each national group in the Balkans and its struggle for statehood. The narrative is studded with sharply observed portraits of kings, guerrillas, bandits, generals, and politicians. Glenny also explores the often-catastrophic relationship between the Balkans and the Great Powers, raising some disturbing questions about Western intervention.

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The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky: The Balkan Wars 1912-13

The War Correspondence of Leon Trotsky: The Balkan Wars 1912-13 Paperback – July 1, 1981

On-the-spot analysis of national and social conflicts in the Balkans, written 80 years ago, sheds light on the conflicts shaking these countries today.

Photos, maps, chronology, glossary, index.

Click here!






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