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RUSSO-TURKISH WARS

John Henry Verrinder Crowe
11th edition Encyclopedia Britannica, vol 23, ppg 931-936

The encyclopedia entry does not have maps, so we have added the maps in Beskrovni's Atlas of Russian Military history - map 1 - map 2 - map 3 - map 4map 5a - map 5b - map 6 - map 7 and diagrams showing the organization of the Russian and Ottoman armies

RUSSO-TURKISH WARS (1828-29 and 1877-78). The earlier wars between Russia and Turkey possess little military interest today, and are scarcely remembered except as the occasion of Suvarov's exploits. The first of the three 19th-century (1806-1812) wars, however, though much less vigorously fought than the preceding wars, at any rate introduced the "Eastern question" into European politics as a factor affecting the balance of power, and its cessation at the moment of Napoleon's advance on Moscow had a great effect on the emperor's Russian campaign.
The second war is more celebrated. It was a reflex of the Greek War of Independence, and began with the invasion of Rumania by the Russians in May 1828. One corps invested, and took Braila, another passed by Bucharest and besieged Rustchuk and Silistria, and a third crossed the Danube below, Isacka. The first and the last were united as an army under the tsar and advanced through the Dobrudja on Shumla. But after a considerable amount of fighting it was decided that the Turks here were too strong for the invaders, and the tsar drew off his forces by degrees towards Varna, which was besieged next. But the Shumla troops were thus gradually set free to join the Turkish field army under the grand vizier, which, however, merely menaced, without seriously attacking, the besiegers of Varna. The place surrendered on the 10th of October 1828, and the tsar at once turned upon the grand vizier, attacked him on the river Kamchik (15th October) and forced him to retreat to Aidos.
Meantime, however, Silistria offered a gallant resistance. Even when the besiegers were reinforced from the main army they could not master the defence, and when winter came on the siege was abandoned, and the Russians drew off into Rumania into winter quarters. In Asia, meanwhile, a Russian army under Prince Paskievich had advanced from Tiffis, and captured Kars and other places, while the Black Sea fleet secured the surrender of Poti. Paskievich next defeated the Turks at Akhalzik (27th August), captured Ardahan, and advanced by Bayazid to the upper Euphrates. But coming there into conflict with the fierce Kurds, he gave up further enterprises and, leaving garrisons in the strong places, took his army back into the Caucasus for the winter.
In 1829 Diebitsch took over the comnsand of the 70,000 men on the Danube, and resolved to carry the war over the Balkans. As a preliminary the fleet seized Sozopolis (Sisepol). A second and vigorously pressed siege of Silistria ended with the surrender of the place on June 30th, the Turkish operations for the expulsion of the Sozopolis garrison and the relief of Silistria being dilatory as before. The Turkish army was at this time in process of reorganization on a European model, which added to the difficulties of their situation. The grand vizier, Reschid Mehmet, in May attempted to combine the Rustchuk and Shumla garrisons for the expulsion of the Russians from Varna, but unsuccessfully, the two columns being beaten in detail. Soon afterwards Diebitsch, with part of the army investing Silistria, marched against him and defeated him at Tcherkovna (11th June). Immediately after this Diebitsch carried out the brilliant passage of the Balkans and advanced to Adrianople, which laid Constantinople at his mercy, and brought about an immediate peace. A month after its signature, a Turkish army from the west, attempting to recapture Adrianople behind Diebitsch, was defeated on the 10th October at Arnaut Kaliessi. In Asia, meantime, Paskievich, after relieving Akhalzik, where his garrison had been blockaded, won two victories on two successive days at Kainly and Milli Duzov (1st and 2nd June), and captured a number of fortresses, his victorious advance being arrested only by the terms of peace.

The War of 1877-78. On 24th April 1877, the tsar declared war against Turkey, with the avowed object of righting the wrongs of the Christians in Turkey. The Turco-Servian war was just over. Contrary to expectation the Turks had proved victorious. Hostilities had ceased in October 1876, though it was not till 1st March 2877 that peace had been signed. During 1876 the Turks had also quelled an insurrection of the Christians in Bulgaria, when the treatment they meted out to the Christians and the cry of "Bulgarian atrocities" had aroused the sentimental sympathies of Europe.
The Danube formed the Turkish frontier. Flowing west to east along the southern boundary of Rumania, it turned to the north and then to the east to the Black Sea, enclosing the Dobrudja, an inhospitable and difficult region, of rectangular shape, some 100 m. N. to S. by 30 to 60 m. E. to W., which was the extreme northern part of the Turkish dominions.
The Russians did not anticipate that the opposition to be encountered from the Turkish forces would be of a serious nature. As for natural obstacles, there were the Danube and the Balkans directly across their route, but the passage of these was not likely to cause any serious delay.
The Turkish fortresses of the Quadrilateral Rustchuk, Silistria, Shumla and Varna could be avoided, and Nikopol and Vidin were more or less isolated. It would only be necessary to cover the lines of communication from the action of the garrisons of these places. It was known that Osman Pasha was at Vidin with what remained of the Turkish force which had defeated the Servians the previous year, and it would be necessary to detach a force to operate against him. There would be some delay in the forwarding of supplies, due to the fact that the Rumanian railway was of different gauge to the railways of Russia, but this would not be serious. This line, the only railway through Rumania, ran from Galatz to Bucharest, where one branch ran west by Slatina and the other to Giurgevo on the Danube, where it connected with a line south of the river from Rustchuk to Shumla and Varna through Rasgrad. It was generally imagined that the advance to Constantinople would be of the nature of a triumphal march. By a clause of the Treaty of Paris of 1856 the Russian naval forces in the Black Sea had been destroyed, and though this clause was revoked in 1871, in 1877 the Turks possessed the undoubted command of the sea. Had things been different, an advance through the Dobrudja, with a safe line of supply by water, would have offered many advantages. Under existing circumstances, with Turkish gunboats on the Danube and ironclads on the Black Sea, such a course was out of the question.
The plan of campaign formed by the Russians was as follows: One corps was to enter the Dobrudja to protect the line of communication against any Turkish advance east of the Danube, while the remainder would cross the Danube between Rustchuk and Nikopol, cross the Balkans and advance on Adrianople. Detached forces would meanwhile mask the "Quadrilateral" and the Turkish force at Vidin.
A Convention had been made with Rumania, allowing the passage of the Russians through the country. The Rumanians proclaimed their independence of Turkey, and although the tsar declined their offer of active co-operation for the time being, their troops occupied Calafat, facing Vidin, and early in May their batteries engaged the guns of Vidin across the river. The Russian army with which it was proposed to carry on the war, consisted of six army corps and two rifle brigades. Each corps was formed of one cavalry and two infantry divisions. There were in addition 74 squadrons and 52 guns of Cossacks. Each infantry division had 48, and each cavalry division 12 guns. This force had been mobilized in the November of the previous year, and was now distributed as follows:

Commander-in-chief: The grand-duke Nicholas, with headquarters at Kishinev.

VII. Army Corps - Odessa and Tatar Bunar
XI. Army Corps - Tarutinskaja and Kanszany
VIII. Army Corps - Kisinev
XII. Army Corps - Ungheni,
IX. Army Corps - Winnica
X. Army Corps - Crimea
Rifle Brigades Bestomak .


The mobilization of the IV., XIII., and XIV. Army Corps had been ordered in December 1876, hut they would not be ready to move till the following monthMay 1877. In addition to the above, there were heavy artillery with 400 siege guns, engineers with pontoon trains, naval launches, and the necessary supply trains. The total Russian forces numbered 200,000 combatants of all arms, with 850 field and 400 siege guns.
For some months prior to the tsar's declaration, Turkey had realized that war was inevitable, but such preparations as were made were far from adequate. Abdul Kerim, who had commanded in Servia the previous year, was still acting as commander-in-chief, but the task set him was not an easy one. With the Russians in front, the Servians and Montenegrins, whose action was known to be uncertain, on the flank, and the Christian population of Bulgaria, in sympathy with, the Russians, in the midst, it required a younger and more energetic man, with a greater knowledge of the art of' war than he possessed, to plan and to carry out a successful defence of the Moslem dominions. The prospect of war had aroused the Turks; and the nation had taken steps to prepare for the conflict but they lacked trained leaders. The Turkish officers were but ill-instructed. Works on the art of war did not exist in the Turkish language General conscription existed in Turkey, but there was an entire absence of organization. Theoretically, each of the six districts into which the empire was divided should have produced an army of four corps, but it was only on paper. Practically the troops were not organized in corps. At the outbreak of war, Osman's force, some 30,000 strong, was at Vidin; a few battalions were spread along the Danube from Vidin to Silistria, with a brigade of infantry at Nikopol, another at Sistova, and the best part of two divisions at Rustchuk. Abdul Kerim's headquarters were at Shumla where there were two more infantry divisions. A cavalry division `was in process of, organization. Varna was the base of supply and was connected by rail with Shumla and Rustchuk. Suleiman Pasha with some 40,000 men was still in Montenegro. The total Turkish, forces in Europe at that time were about 120,000 men with 450 guns, but they were disseminated instead of being concentrated, or grouped in view of a rapid concentration. Abdul Kerim's plan, or rather his idea, was, that the Russians would find some difficulty in the first place in forcing the passage of the Danube, and when they had succeeded in this, they would be bound to enter the zone of the Quadrilateral, where he hoped, operating with the fortresses as supports, to deal with them successfully. As regards the Turkish fleet, at the outset, in addition to a fleet of 8 ironclads below Braila, there were 7 monitors and 18 wooden ships of war on the Danube between Hirsova and, Vidin.
In the matter of armament the Turks had the advantage. The artillery were armed with a Krupp breech-loading gun, which was better , than the Russian bronze gun, while the Peabody- Martini rifles of the infantry were superior to the Russian Krenk. The firearm of the Turkish, cavalry was the Winchester repeating carbine, which was inferior to the short Berden with which the Russian cavalry was armed. But this advantage in armament was discounted by the fact that, from motives of economy, the Turkish soldier had done but little rifle practice.
Hostilities commenced on the 24th of April, when the Russian army advanced in three columns towards Bucharest, the eastern flank covered by the XI.Corps which marched to Galatz. By the end .of May, the bulk of the Russian forces were `assembled at Bucharest practically opposite the intended point of passage, with the advanced guard under General Skobelev at Giurgevo, and cavalry observing the river line from Turnu Magureli to Kalarashi. It was now decided to await the arrival of the IV., XIII, and XIV. Corps and the necessary bridging material for the passage of the Danube.
On June 15th the troops were disposed as follows: 8th Cavalry Division at Turnu Magureli; 12th at Oltenitza; 2nd at Kalarashi; Advanced Guard at Giurgevo; XI. Army Corps at Oltenitza and Giurgevo; VIII., XII., XIII., IX., at Bucharest; ½ IX. at Slatina; IV. at Slobodsia; XIV. at Galatz; VII. at Odessa; X. in the Crimea. Meanwhile steam launches were brought overland, and the Russians, by means of torpedoes, submarine mines and their shore batteries, had succeeded in clearing the Danube of Turkish vessels between Nikopolis and Rustchuk. Two of the smaller ironclads had been sunk, the remainder of the flotilla driven under the shelter of the fortresses, while barricades of mines effectually isolated them and prevented them from again entering the zone of operations. Of the large ironclads on the lower Danube, one was sunk near Sulina, and from that time the remainder stayed in Sulina harbour.
On June 22nd the XIV. Army Corps crossed into the Dobrudja at Galatz and advanced south, the Turkish detachment there retiring before them. Pontoons having been brought by rail, the necessary rafts and boats (which had been constructed at Slatina on the Aluta) were floated down to the neighbourhood of Zimnitza, and on June 24th siege batteries opened fire on Nikopol and Rustchuk, while the IX. Army Corps made a feint of crossing just below Nikopol. These measures were effective in confusing the Turkish commander as to the Russian intentions, and on the night of June 26/27th, 12 companies of rifles, with a squadron and 6 guns, were landed on the south bank opposite Zimnitza, and within twenty-four hours the whole of the VIII. Corps had. crossed the river. By July 2nd the Russians had completed a bridge' over the river, which is 1000 yds. wide at this part. At Sistova was a Turkish brigade of infantry. The commander, in the early morning of the 27th, received information from his outposts of the crossing, but instead of moving with his whole force, sent two battalions to oppose it. The Russians drove them back, and when reinforced, advanced against the heights in rear of Sistova, which were occupied with a loss of 800 men, the Turkish troops retreating to Tirnova and Nikopol. The Turks had remained ignorant of the Russians' concentration in Rumania and no attempt had been made to discover their plans. Abdul Kerim remained inactive in the fortresses of the Quadrilateral, and even when he heard of the crossing at Sistova, decided that it was but a demonstration. No measures were taken to observe the Russians. They were thus able to complete their crossing practically undisturbed, and this although it win never likely that the Russians would voluntarily select a point of passage leading into the Quadrilateral. Everything pointed to a crossing between Nikopol and Rustchuk. The best course for the Turks under existing circumstances would have been to leave garrisons in the fortresses, to observe the river line and to push reconnaissances to the north `of the river, and to dispose the field army in a central position, whence it could concentrate on any point as soon as the enemy's intentions were revealed.
On June 30th Lieut.-General Gurko was put in command of `a detachment composed of 10 battalions, 32 squadrons and 32 guns, with which he was ordered to advance rapidly to Tirnova to gain possession of a pass over the Balkans, to damage railways and telegraphs, and to endeavour to stir up a Bulgarian revolt. He crossed the Danube by the Russian bridge on July 3rd and occupied Tirnova on July 7th, the Turkish garrison retreating to Osman Bazar. At Tirnova he learned that the Shipka Pass was occupied by 3000 Turks, and that none of the remaining passes were held in any force. He then determined to cross by the Hainkioi Pass and to, turn the Shipka. He started from Tirnova on the 12th July, on which day the head of the VIII. Corps reached the town. Hainkioi was occupied on the 4th, a detachment of 300 Turks being driven away. Gurko then sent two squadrons to cut the telegraph at Yeni Zagra, and leaving a garrison to hold the pass, set out for Kazanlik on July 16th. It had been arranged that a force from the VIII. Corps should attack the Shipka Pass (q.v.) from the north on the 17th, Gurko attacking simultaneously from the south; but his advance was delayed by small bodies of the enemy, and he failed to co-operate, with the result that the attack from the north was repulsed. The Turkish commander, however, evacuated the pass that night (July 18th-19th). It was occupied by the Russians on July 19th, and held till the end of the war. Gurko's detachment was followed across the Danube bridge by the XII. and XIII. Army Corps, which crossed between July 3rd and 8th and moved towards the Jantra river; the IX. Corps was across by July 10th and advanced on Nikopol; the XI. Corps crossed July 10th15th; and finally the IV. Corps between July 20th and 30th. The VIII. Corps had meanwhile advanced on Tirnova, as we have seen.
On July 3rd Abdul Kerim received orders from Constantinople to advance against the Russians, and set out with the force from Shumla for Rustchuk, immediately preceded by the cavalry division. Still no attempt was made to gain contact with the Russians and discover their intentions. From Rustchuk, Abdul Kerim advanced towards the Jantra, and after a skirmish between the Turkish cavalry and a Russian cavalry brigade again retired. Realizing Abdul Kerim's incapacity, and rendered anxious by Gurko's successful advance, the authorities at Constantinople now decided to give the command to Mehemet Ali. He superseded Abdul Kerim on July 19th, and at once ordered the concentration of all available forces at Rasgrad. Meanwhile Osman Pasha, who had till, now been condemned to inactivity at Vidin, received permission to march.
Vidin, with its modern fortifications and heavy armament, and with the Danube on one side and marshy ground towards the interior, was a place of considerable strength. But with the Russians south of the Danube there could no longer be any justification for keeping Osman's 30,000 men isolated. Leaving garrisons in Vidin and the other towns along the Danube from Nikopol to Rakovitza, and to bar the roads from Servia, Osman left Vidin with the remaining 19 battalions, 6 squadrons and 9 batteries on July 13th. His original plan was to join the 10 battalions under Hairl Pasha, then garrisoning Nikopol, and attack the Russian flank between Biela and Tirnova; but on July 5th he received news that the Russians were attacking Nikopol, and he then decided to march straight to Plevna, where there was a garrison of 3000 men under Atouf Pasha. Osman reached Plevna (q.v.) on July 19th, and at once took up a position which had been previously reconnoitred by Atouf Pasha, on the hills to the north-east and east of the town. He had arrived just in time. (See Plevna for a detailed description of the siege.) On July 16th the Russian IX. Corps had taken Nikopol, and on the 18th orders were received to occupy Plevna with one division. At 5 a.m. on July 20th General Schilder-Schuldner, with the 5th Division IX. Corps and other forces, attacked Osman's position. No preliminary reconnaissance was made, and the Russians, after an artillery bombardment lasting about an hour, attacked at four points with separate columns. By midday the Russians were in retreat, having lost over 2800 men. There was no pursuit. On July 20th Osman was, reinforced by fourteen battalions from Sofia, and the following day sent Rifaant Pasha with six battalions, a battery and some Circassian cavalry to occupy Lovcha in order to secure his communications with Sofia.
Osman's force at Plevna, within three days' march of the one Russian bridge over the Danube and flanking their line of operations, could not be neglected, and General Krudener, commanding the IX. Corps, received orders to attack again as soon as possible. After the battle of the 20th he had been reinforced by brigades of the IV. and XII. Corps and a cavalry division. With this force, 30,000 ,in all, he attacked on July 30th. Krudener advanced in two columns, cavalry covering both flanks. Skobelev, with the cavalry on the southern flank, was subsequently reinforced by infantry, so there were practically three columns of attack. A general reserve of one brigade was kept at Karagatsch (16 m. east of Plevna). After an artillery engagement which lasted from 8.30 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. the infantry advanced. The fighting lasted till sunset, when the Russians withdrew to Karagatsch, having lost 7300 officers and men. The Turkish casualties were 2000. General Krudener, having reconnoitred the position, had hesitated to attack with the force available, and only acted in obedience to the orders received from headquarters, then 80 m. distant at Tirnova. His defeat was an unpleasant surprise for the Russians. Their plans were rudely upset, and their attention was now directed solely to the taking of Plevna. Headquarters were moved from Tirnova back to Bulgareni, Gurko was called back from south of the Balkans, the Rumanian army was called in to co-operate, orders were issued for the Guards and Grenadier Corps and the 24th and 26th infantry divisions to mobilize, 188,000 of the 1st Ban militia and three divisions of the reserve were called out, and the 2nd and 3rd infantry divisions and the 3rd Rifle Brigade from Moscow district, where they had been mobilized, were at once ordered to the front.
At this time the position of the Russians was as follows: the XIV. and part of the VII. Corps were north of the Danube, covering the communications; the IV. and IX. Corps were opposed to Osman Pasha at Plevna and his garrisons of Lovcha and Orchanie (the advanced depot of the Plevna force); the XI., XII. and XIII. Corps were along the White Lom facing Mehemet Ali, who was on the line Rasgrad-Eski Djuma with a force of about 80,000 infantry with 6o guns and a few regiments of cavalry, in addition to the garrisons of the fortresses; a small garrison on the Shipka Pass. Gurko was south of the Balkans, where Suleiman Pasha had a force of some 30,000 men. The Russian casualties since the commencement had reached 15,000, and their numbers south of the Danube did not exceed 130,000. Suleiman Pasha could have joined Osman or Mehemet Ali, avoiding the Shipka, and a vigorous offensive against the Russian flank at that time held out every prospect of success. The Shipka Pass would of necessity have been `evacuated, but all through we find the Turkish commanders with their eyes fixed on geographical, which were sometimes strategical, points, and losing sight of the fact that the Russian army was their first objective. It is true that the ministers at Constantinople were largely responsible for the faulty strategy, but the generals in the field were also to blame. It was the moment for vigorous action on the part of the Turks. The moral equilibrium of the enemy was upset and the whole army demoralized by this second defeat at Plevna, but not a move was made. Again Osman failed to pursue. He was weak in cavalry, but he had sufficient to keep in touch with the enemy, who were utterly demoralized, and could have followed on with his whole force. He was but 35 m. distant from Sistova, and the result of the demolition of the bridge would have been incalculable. He was subsequently forbidden by Constantinople to assume the offensive, but it was not necessary to consult ministers as to pursuit after a successful battle, and they cannot be held responsible for this. The other Turkish commanders received news of the results of the battles of Plevna with incredulity, and likewise failed to turn them to account.
South of the Balkans was Suleiman's army. He was ordered from Montenegro on July 1st, and, leaving garrisons along the Montenegrin frontier, embarked at Antivari on July 15th. Disembarking at Dedeagatch on the 21st, he moved thence by train to Adrianople. His command, increased by some 25 battalions under Reouf Pasha, raised in the Balkan zone, amounted to approximately 30,000 men, and he was ordered to retake the Shipka Pass and to join Osman Pasha. Suleiman arrived at Karabunar on July 20th and moved to Eski Sagra, where he was joined by Reouf Pasha. Gurko, who had been resting about the Shipka Pass, ignorant of the arrival of Suleiman, moved against Reouf Pasha on the 27th of July, and found himself confronted by their combined forces on the 31st. He was attacked by Suleiman that day and was forced to retire. His force consisted of 15,000 men, including six battalions of Bulgarian volunteers which had just been raised. The following day he retreated across the Balkans by Hainkioi, where he left two brigades to hold the Hainkioi and Elena Passes, the Bulgarian troops joining the garrison on the Shipka. Suleiman remained at Yeni Zagra till the 17th of August, when he set out for the Shipka. On August 21st the heights east of the pass were taken, and during the next few days there was desperate fighting; but the original garrison was gradually reinforced, and the Russians held on. In this fighting the Russian losses amounted to close on 4000, while the Turkish casualties were about treble that number. Suleiman now intrenched himself close to the Russian position, and there he remained till Sept. 17th, when after a three days' bombardment he again assaulted the position, but was repulsed with considerable loss. This was the last assault made on the Russian position. Suleiman replaced Mehemet Ali as commander-in-chief on Oct. 2nd, and was himself succeeded, by Reouf Pasha. Thus, under orders from Constantinople, Suleiman frittered away his opportunity and his army in a fruitless attempt to retake the Shipka Pass.
It was not till the middle of August that Mehemet Ali decided to move against the Russians and ordered an advance. The Cesarevich (afterwards Alexander III.), who was opposing him with the XI., XII. and XIII. Corps, in all about 50,000, was extended on the line of the White Lom from Pirgos to Eski Djuma. On August 22nd and 23rd there were engagements about Ayaslar, resulting in the retirement of the Russians. On August 30th he attacked at Karahassankoi and drove the Russians across the river. On September 3rd he crossed the White Lom and again defeated them at Katzelevo, the enemy retiring behind the Banitcha Lom. On September 12th Mehemet Ali continued his advance, but halted on the 24th for a week. He then made an attack on Cerkovna on the 21st, but was repulsed with a loss of 1600 men, and two days later retired his army behind the White Lom. He had effected nothing. As will be seen later, the Russian operations against Plevna had not been in any way disturbed. The containing force under the Cesarevich had retired a certain distance, but it still held the main Turkish army. Mehemet Ali's original plan had been to advance by Osman Bazar, effect a junction with Suleiman, and move on Tirnova. But Suleiman was averse to his plan and it was negatived at Constantinople, though if this plan had been carried out with vigour, the position of the Russians should have been critical. He then advanced on a front of 50 m. instead of moving concentrated, which is the explanation of his failure. It is true that he was much hampered by the state of his cavalry, which was exhausted, and consequently was without information, while the Russians were well served. Mehemet Ali now concentrated his force, but at this juncture he was superseded by Suleiman Pasha.
To return to Plevna. At this time the Russians were disposed in a semicircle round Plevna, their right or N. flank resting on Ribina and the S. flank resting on Bogot. On August 30th Osman had moved out with a column of all arms towards Pelishat. The following day he engaged the Russians. The Turks lost 300 killed and 1000 wounded, and the Russian losses were about 1000. It is difficult to say what was the object of this sortie, which was of the nature of a reconnaissance in force. It achieved nothing. The Turks were not defeated, but retired again into Plevna the same evening. By the end of August the whole of the Rumanian army had crossed the Danube, and during the first days of September the first Russian reinforcements, consisting of the 2nd and 3rd infantry divisions and the 3rd Rifle Brigade, had arrived and joined the forces round Plevna. Mehemet Ali's advance and the assaults on the Shipka had been repulsed. The Russians could expect no further reinforcements before October, and it was therefore decided to make a third attempt to take Plevna, but first of all to occupy Lovcha. Skobelev had already made an unsuccessful attempt on August 6th, and General Prince Imeretinski, with a force of two infantry divisions and a brigade of Cossacks, in addition to Skobelev's mixed brigade, was now entrusted with the task. The garrison under Rifaat Pasha amounted to 8 battalons, 6 guns and some Circassians. Fighting commenced on Sept. 1st and on the 3rd the Turks were driven out, most of the survivors finding their way to Plevna, and bringing 5 guns with them. The Russians lost 5500, the Turks 2500. On Sept. 2nd, Osman set out with a strong relieving column from Plevna, but on the 4th, hearing that the Russians had already occupied the town, he turned back and reached Plevna on the 6th. On Sept. 5th, 8 battalions and 2 batteries reached Orkhanie, and Osman's force, including the Lovcha troops, numbered about 30,000 men and 72 guns. The Russian forces, including the Rumanians, numbered about 90,000. Their plan was, after a long artillery bombardment, to attack the eastern front with the Rumanian forces, the south-eastern front with the IV. and IX. Corps and the southern front with Imeretinski's command. The attacks were to be simultaneous. The cavalry divisions were to be kept in rear and close to the flank of the attacking infantry. During the night of Sept. 6th/7th the troops were moved into preparatory position, and batteries were constructed at 3000 to 5000 yds. from the outer works. The artillery bombardment was commenced at 6 a.m. on Sept. 7th and continued till midday Sept. 11th. So far the infantry had only been engaged on the south flank, where Skobelev had succeeded Imeretinski in the command. He had succeeded in advancing to within 2000 yds. of the southern Turkish redoubts and had entrenched himself. The orders for Sept. 11th were for the infantry assaults to be delivered at 3 p.m. after a six hours' cannonade. A dense fog interfered with the artillery bombardment. At the end of the day the Rumanians had taken No. 1 Grivitza redoubt, the attack on the S.E. front had been repulsed and Skobelev had established himself within 1000 yds. of Plevna, having taken Kavanlik and Issa forts. On Sept. 12th the Turks retook these forts and drove Skobelev back. During the next two days the Russians continued to bombard the works, but no further attack was made. The Rumanians remained in possession of the Grivitza redoubt, defeating an attempt made by the Turks to retake it on Sept. 24th. The Russians then decided to retire and entrenched themselves on a line with Verbitza-Radischevo, with their cavalry extending to the Vid on either flank. There was no question of pursuit; in the first and second battles the numbers had been about equal, but now the Russians were vastly superior and Osman would have been crushed by a powerful counter-attack.
In their third battle the Turks had lost 5000, while the Russian casualties amounted to close on 20,000. The Russian bombardment, lasting four days, had effected nothing. It had not caused 200 casualties. The object of the artillery is to cover the advance of the infantry, and the arms must work in combination. The defender does not expose himself to the artillery fire unless compelled to do so by the approaching infantry. The Russians failed to realize this and practically wasted their ammunition. They had again failed to reconnoitre the position and attacked along the whole front instead of pressing home in strength at the decisive points. Their attacks were not even simultaneous, and Osman was able to shift his reserves from point to point. In addition to this, when the Russians retired one-third of their force had not been engaged. The defects in their plan of action are largely attributable to the fact that though control was nominally centred in one man, senior officers were present who interfered with his arrangements.
It was now decided to complete the investment of Plevna, and Todleben, the defender of Sevastopol, was entrusted with supreme control of the operations. He arrived on the scene on Sept. 28th, but it was not till Oct. 24th that the investment was completed, and, meanwhile, on Sept. 24th and again on Oct. 8th, strong reinforcements arrived, raising the Turkish force under Osman to 84 battalions, 25 squadrons and 96 guns, with an effective of 48,000 men. Plevna had been re-victualled and the sick and wounded had been sent back to Orchanie. General Krilov, who had been operating west of the Vid, with 52 squadrons and 30 horse artillery guns, had failed to prevent these movements, and was superseded by General Gurko on Oct. 8th. The Russian Guards Corps had all reached Plevna by Oct. 20th, and two divisions were at once placed under Gurko's orders, raising his command to 35,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and 48 guns. His instructions were to capture the Turkish positions along the Sofia road. He compelled the garrison of Dolni-Dubnik to retire into Plevna, and captured Gorni Dubnik and Telis with their garrisons after severe fighting on Oct. 24th and 28th. Osman's force was thereby reduced by 12 battalions. About the middle of November the opposing forces were distributed as follows: 6 divisions along the Lom, under the Cesarevich, facing Suleiman's army; 3 divisions holding the Shipka under Radetzky; 1 division at Lovcha; 21/2 divisions west of the Vid under Gurko; and 12 divisions east of the Vid, investing Plevna. The XIV. Corps was in the Dobrudja, the VII. Corps about Odessa and the X. Corps in the Crimea.
On the Turkish side Suleiman advanced across the Lom, leaving small garrisons in the fortresses, and attacked at Mechka on Nov.19th, and at Mechka and Tristenik on Nov. 26th, and again on Dec. 12th, but each time without success, and he retired across the Lom. South of the Balkans Vessil Pasha had succeeded Reouf Pasha on the Shipka. He continued to contain the three Russian divisions there, but made no attempt to dislodge them, beyond small offensive demonstrations made with the object of concealing the departure of large drafts which were sent to Sofia.
At Sofia and Orkhanie, the Turks were forming an army of recruits and reservists with the object of advancing to the relief of Osman. Mehemet Ali was entrusted with the command. Osman had already asked the sultan's permission to evacuate Plevna, with a view to co-operating with Mehemet Ali, but permission was refused. It was not till the investment was completed that the sultan changed his mind, too late, and gave his sanction to the move. The Russians received information of Mehemet Ali's intended advance, and as the force round Plevna amounted to 191 battalions, 120 squadrons and 650 guns, it was decided that Gurko should move with his detachment towards Sofia. He concentrated his force at Yablonitza on Nov. 5th and succeeded in driving the Turkish advanced guard from Orkhanie. Mehemet Ali now occupied a strong position covering the Arabi Konak Pass over the Balkans, and, with a force of 43 battalions with cavalry and guns, made no attempt to relieve Osman.
Osman Pasha, his supplies having given out, eventually decided on a sortie. His troops had been short of food since the beginning of November, and the number of sick had risen to 10,000. His plan was to break through to the west and make for Sofia via Berkovitz. The Russians observed the preparations made and concentrated sufficient force at the threatened point, with the result that Osman and his army of 40,000 men capitulated. The Turkish losses in the action were about 6000 and the Russians lost about 1500. The Russians now decided, notwithstanding the difficulties due to the winter season, to push on across the Balkans. The VII and X. Corps were still left guarding the Russian coasts. The Cesarevich was left north of the Balkans with 71,000 men to guard the communications. Gurko's force was raised to 80,000. Leaving a containing force to oppose the Turks at the Arabi Konak Pass positions, he crossed by the Curiak Pass. The Turks retired unobserved, and after a feeble stand at Tashkosen retreated to Kustendil. Gurko occupied Sofia on Jan. 4th. Radetzky's force at the Shipka was raised to 66,000, with which force, having defeated Vessil Pasha, he was to join Gurko south of the Balkans. Radetzky commenced operations on Jan. 5th. Keeping one division to hold the works on the Shipka, he moved the remainder of the force in two columns under Skobelev and Prince Mirski, who were to cross one on each side and attack simultaneously from the south. Vessil Pasha held an entrenched camp at Shenovo with some 12,000 men; the remainder of his force was in position on the mountains. Owing to the difficulties of the crossing, Skobelev was delayech Mirski attacked on Jan. 8th and was repulsed. The following day Skobelev and Mirski attacking together were successful, and Vessil Pasha capitulated with his force, some 36,000, of whom 6000 were sick and wounded. Vessil Pasha had pointed out the danger of his position on Jan. 7th, but, contrary to Suleiman's advice, the war minister, believing an armistice imminent, had ordered him to hold on to the Shipka Pass. Mehemet Ali's force, dangerously delayed owing to interference by the minister of war, eventually reached Tatar-Bazardjik, which was selected by Suleiman (now commander-in-chief) for the concentration of his forces. Having received news of the capture of the Shipka force he retired on Philippopolis, with Gurko's forces closely pursuing. But Radetzky's forces had already pushed on and practically cut Suleiman off from Adrianople. After some engagements about Philippopolis on Jan. 15th, 16th and 17th, he retreated towards the Aegean Sea through the Rhodope mountains, having lost most of his guns, and reached Enos about Jan. 28th, whence what remained of his force was conveyed by water to Constantinople.
Suleiman had again missed his opportunity. The Russians crossed the Balkans in a wide front of about 180 miles, and there was opportunity for successful action by a capable commander. There were not only the columns commanded by Gurko and Radetzky, but also a third column under General Kartzoff, which crossed by the Trojan Pass, after which it joined Gurko's force. There were the troops under Mehemet Ali about Sofia, Vessil Pasha's force about the Shipka, and the main army on the Lom, which had been withdrawn south of the Balkans after the fall of Plevna, so that Suleiman, who had been appointed commander-in-chief, had an available force of 130 battalions, 120 guns and a proportion of cavalry. The fortified town of Adrianople offered a strong central position at which to concentrate his forces, and with this point as support, acting on interior lines, he could have dealt with the invading and widely separated columns in detail. But he missed his opportunity and left his scattered forces to be overwhelmed by superior numbers in each instance. The minister for war was undoubtedly responsible to a great extent for this faulty strategy, but the blame falls on the head of Suleiman as commander-in-chief. There was no object in leaving Vessil Pasha on the Shipka. All available forces should have been concentrated in a sound strategical situation.
The Servians had crossed the frontier after the fall of Plevna, and the Montenegrins were also pressing on. On Jan. 16th the Russians occupied Adrianople, and on Jan. 30th they were facing the Buyuk Tchemedji lines, with their flanks resting on the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmora. Mehemet Ali was in command of what remained of the Turkish armies behind the lines. On Jan. 31st an armistice was arranged, and on March 3rd the treaty of San Stefano was signed, the terms of which were modified later at the Berlin Conference in June and July 1878.
The Russo-Turkish War proved once for all the great value of improvised fortifications, in other words, of spade work in warfare, and the advantages of field works as regards invisibility against artillery fire. It was not only at Plevna that field entrenchments were made use of. Notable instances were the defence of Lovcha by the small Turkish garrison of 8 battalions with one battery, which from their entrenchments kept Skobelev with over 20,000 men and 90 guns at bay for three days, inflicting on him a loss of over 1500 men. Again, at Gorni Dubnik on Oct. 24th, 3500 Turks with 4 guns held their works throughout the day against 20,000 Russians with 60 guns, inflicting a loss on them of over 3300, and eventually were forced to surrender by a surprise attack under cover of darkness, when their ammunition had run short, and their numbers had been reduced by 1500 casualties. In the attack the success of Skobelev stands out, and we find that he had realized the necessity of intrenching the ground he had gained.
The war was brought to a conclusion, but the Turks had not been beaten in battle. With the exception of the fighting round Plevna and the rout of Suleiman's army at Philippopolis there had been no decisive battles. The Turks had been defeated owing to the incapacity of their leaders, none of whom had previously commanded an army organized according to modern ideas. They were ignorant of strategic principles. Then, again, the interference with the generals in the field by the authorities at Constantinople had in each case resulted in the disasters which invariably follow the attempt of civilian amateurs to control warlike operations.
On the Russian side, the enemy had been at first despised, and consequently the forces originally employed were inadequate, which meant subsequent delays, losses and expense. The command of the sea had proved of little value to the Turks. Their flotilla rendered them no assistance. In the early stages it could have materially assisted by landing reconnoitring parties N. of the Danube, and by interfering with the Russians when crossing the river. The Russian bridge offered a tempting objective throughout the campaign, but commanders with the requisite dash and initiative were not forthcoming. The defeat of the Turks was due in the first place to the failure of their politicians to ensure the adequate organization and training of the army during peace time, in the second place to the want of a commander who had educated himself to undertake the responsibilities entrusted to him. (J. H. V. C.).
A separate campaign had been waged, as before, in Asia Minor. Here the Turks under Mukhtar Pasha had 57,000 men in two corps, the one on the side of Batoum and Ardahan, the other between Erzerum and Kars. His opponent, Loris Melikov, had at first only some 28,000 infantry, but a disproportionate number of Cossack Sotnias. The Russians advanced in three weak columns. On the 17th of May after bombardment the right column stormed Ardahan. The right and centre columns then closed inwards upon Kars, which they besieged, but the siege was given up in July, after Mukhtar, advancing to its relief with 35,000 men, had repulsed Melikov's attack at Zivin (June 26th). The left column occupied Bayazid without difficulty, but when it had proceeded thence on the Erzerum road the Russian garrison was blockaded by the Turks and the column retraced its steps to relieve the place. After this it halted at Igdir in the Araxes valley. Meanwhile the Turks on the coast had advanced, in concert with their fleet, and raised an insurrection amongst the Mahommedans of the littoral. They were eventually repulsed, but the insurrection was not completely suppressed until the summer of 1878.
In August Mukhtar, who had followed up Melikov's retreat from Kars, and won the victory of Kizil-Tepe, led 30,000 men in front of this position, and behind them the Kars garrison of 10,000. Ismail on the Bayazid side had 40,000; Dervish, at Batoum 17,000. But after an interval of two months Melikov was reinforced, while drafts for the armies in Europe were taken from Mukhtar, and the grandduke Michael, assuming command of the Russians, defeated his opponent completely in the battle of the Aladja Dagh (Oct. 15th). The remnants of Mukhtar's army retreated on Erzerum, and while part of the Russian army besieged Kars, and part attempted to cut off the retreat of Ismail on the Bayazid road, while the corps from the Araxes valley followed the latter up. Ismail slipped past them, however, and rejoined Mukhtar at Erzerum. But the two together were no longer able to resist the superior numbers of the Russians, who defeated them in a last battle at Dexe Boyun (Nov. 4th). Kars was stormed on the night of the 11th of November.

The author, John Henry Verrinder Crowe, Lt Colonel, Royal Artillery was Commandant of the Royal Military College of Canada and previously Chief Instructor in Military Topography and Military History and Tactics at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He was author of Epitome of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878. and the encyclopedia entry on the siege of Plevna

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