Russo-Ottoman War (1877-1878)

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Russo-Ottoman War (1877-1878)
date April 24, 1877 to March 3, 1878
place Balkans , Caucasus
output Victory of the Russian Empire
Peace treaty Peace of San Stefano , Berlin Congress
Parties to the conflict

Russian Empire 1858Russian Empire Russia Romania Bulgaria Serbia Montenegro
Romania Principality 1867Romania 
Bulgaria 1878Bulgaria 
Serbia principalityPrincipality of Serbia 
Montenegro principalityMontenegro 

Ottoman Empire 1844Ottoman Empire Ottoman Empire


Russian Empire 1858Russian Empire Nikolai Romanow Michail Skobelew Michael Romanow Michael Loris-Melikow Josef Gurko Iwan Lasarew Prince Karl I. Prince Alexander I. Kosta Protić Prince Nikola
Russian Empire 1858Russian Empire
Russian Empire 1858Russian Empire
Russian Empire 1858Russian Empire
Russian Empire 1858Russian Empire
Russian Empire 1858Russian Empire
Romania Principality 1867Romania
Bulgaria 1878Bulgaria
Serbia principalityPrincipality of Serbia
Montenegro principalityMontenegro

Ottoman Empire 1844Ottoman Empire Ahmed Pascha Osman Pascha Süleiman Pascha Mehmed Ali Pascha Veisel Pascha
Ottoman Empire 1844Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire 1844Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire 1844Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire 1844Ottoman Empire

Troop strength
Russia : 260,000
Romania : 60,000
Bulgaria : 40,000
Serbia : 81,500
Montenegro : 25,000
Ottoman Empire : 281,000

Russia : 15,567 dead, 6,824 wounded dead 81,166 died from illness
Romania : 4,302 dead and missing, 3,316 wounded
Bulgaria : 3,456 dead and wounded
Serbia / Montenegro : 2,400 dead and wounded

  • 30,000 killed and wounded
  • 90,000 people died due to illness
The places, streets and passes of the war zone

The Russo-Ottoman War 1877–1878 , also known as the Russo-Turkish War 1877–1878 ( Turkish 93 Harbi because of the Rumi calendar ), was a military conflict between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire . The war took place mainly in the territory of Bulgaria and ended with a victory for Russia, whose troops were about 20 km from Istanbul at the end of the fighting. However, since the other European powers saw the equilibrium in Europe jeopardized by a disproportionate increase in power of Russia, the results of the Russo-Turkish peace in San Stefano at the Berlin Congress were considerably restricted.

The immediate trigger of the war was the Ottoman repression against the Serbs and Bulgarians after the Serbian-Ottoman War and the Bulgarian April Uprising . In the context of Pan-Slavism , Russia felt itself to be the protective power of these peoples and the social mood in the country called for intervention. One of Russia's strategic goals was also access to the Mediterranean Sea free from its geopolitical rivals . The Serbs and Bulgarians, who regained their independence during the war for the first time in centuries, now consider this event to be the second birth in their national history. In Bulgarian historiography one speaks officially of the Russo-Turkish War of Liberation and of the victory over the Turks as the Bulgarian rebirth . The war also gave Romania the opportunity to declare its full independence. Although, unlike other areas of the Balkans, it was never a direct part of the Ottoman Empire, it was officially under its suzerainty . In Romanian history, the war is therefore referred to as the Romanian War of Independence .


In Bosnia-Herzegovina a revolt against the Ottomans took place in the summer 1875th The main cause of this revolt was the heavy tax burden imposed on the population by the Ottoman administration, which was financially on the verge of bankruptcy. Despite the easing of taxes, the uprising lasted until 1876 and in turn triggered the Bulgarian April uprising in 1876 . Tensions in Bosnia and Russian support encouraged the principalities of Serbia and Montenegro to declare war against their nominal Ottoman rulers.

British Propaganda: Russia is ready to unleash its war dogs on the Ottoman Empire. England is behind the fence.

The Serbian-Turkish war strengthened the imperial ambitions of the great powers Russia and Austria-Hungary , so in the July 8, 1876 Alexander Gorchakov and Gyula Andrássy the agreement of Reichstadt met with which they divided the Balkans into their two spheres of influence. In August 1876, the Serbian army, in which many Russian and Bulgarian volunteers also served, was defeated by the Ottoman army . This was the most unfortunate option for Russia and Austria-Hungary, as they now had no good prospects for territorial claims against the Ottoman Empire.

During the Bulgarian April Uprising in 1876, the Batak massacre took place , which became a symbol of the atrocities committed by the Ottoman army in both Bulgaria and Serbia, against the Slav civilians, and which alarmed the Western public. Victor Hugo , Dostoevsky , Aksakov , Garibaldi and other well-known personalities protested.

In December 1876 the Conference of Constantinople was held at which the autonomy and borders of one or more future autonomous Bulgarian provinces within the Ottoman Empire were discussed. However, the Ottomans boycotted the event and eventually disbanded it. The conference was interrupted by the Turkish Foreign Minister who informed the delegates that the Ottoman Empire had adopted a new constitution . This guaranteed the rights and freedoms of all ethnic minorities in the Ottoman Empire, and the Bulgarians would have the same rights as all Ottoman citizens.

Russia's attitude towards the Ottoman Empire remained hostile, however, as the Ottoman constitution was seen as a sham solution. Through diplomatic negotiations in January 1877, the Russians secured the neutrality of Austria-Hungary in the event of future military conflicts. In return, Austria-Hungary should be allowed to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina after this war .

In the UK , public opinion on the Balkans was mixed. Despite widespread sympathy for the Bulgarian struggle for freedom, Benjamin Disraeli was a bitter opponent of a Russian increase in power. He positioned Great Britain as the protector of the Ottoman Empire, as was the case during the Crimean War . The British diplomat Lord Salisbury negotiated a compromise agreement with the Russian envoy, Count Nikolai Ignatjew . Bulgaria was to be converted into an eastern and a western province, Bosnia-Herzegovina into a unified province and given a high degree of autonomy, including its own parliament and police. Serbia was guaranteed territorial integrity and Montenegro should be allowed to keep territories in northern Albania and Bosnia that it had previously conquered in the war.

The other powers were blocked in their freedom of action because there was broad approval in Europe for an independent Bulgaria or because they were preoccupied with their internal problems. There were general doubts about Russia's military capabilities. In April, Russia signed an agreement with Romania that allowed it to march its troops through the country. The same agreement assured Russia of the annexation of southern Bessarabia (the area was already under Russian control from 1812–1856), while Romania was promised northern Dobruja .

initial situation

Nikolai Dmitrijew-Orenburgski : Russian Crossing the Danube , 1883

Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire on April 24, 1877. The Russians marched into Bessarabia initially with an army of around 180,000 men (VIII., IX., XI. And XII. Army Corps), then came the VII. And X. Army Corps, which was intended to secure the coast of the Black Sea. On the evening of April 24th, four columns of Russians managed to cross the Prut almost undisturbed . Major General Skobelew succeeded at the same time in taking a bridge over the Sereth near Barboschi, which secured the railway line to Bucharest .

The Peace of Paris in 1856 created an artificial line in Bessarabia, which was drawn on the border between Russia and Turkey through the territory of the Danube principalities. During the war that followed, the Russians built a new railway line directly from Bender to the Dniester to Galatz, and the Romanian railway line from Giurgevo to the bridge at Zimnicea - Sistova was laid out for future operations against Turkey.

The Ottomans under Abdülkerim Nadir Pascha had gathered around 160,000 men to protect the 825 kilometer long Danube line, and they also had control over the Black Sea ( granted after the Crimean War ) . Turkish gunboats also patrolled the Danube . The Danube squadron soon lost the armored ship Lüfti-Dschelil off Braila and on May 25 the monitor Hefzi-Rahman near Matschin to Russian grenades and torpedo boats. However, due to a lack of combat readiness, the Ottomans could only dispose of 25% of their military resources for most of the time. In addition, the Ottoman Enlightenment could not get any information about Russian plans, so that the Ottoman leadership was in complete ignorance of them. Therefore, the Ottomans preferred to stay near their fortifications and wait for the enemy.

In guesswork about Russian plans the Ottoman command in Istanbul made a strategic mistake: Assuming that the Russians would have to be "lazy", the Danube to cross far from the Delta and instead the shortest route via the Danube Delta take would, though this was heavily fortified, they stationed most of the garrisons in the area. Inland they only had a well-manned fortress in Vidin on the Danube , the occupation of which with the troops of Osman Pasha was only due to the fact that these troops were only recently involved in the war against Serbia.

Caucasus Front

Theater of war in Armenia
General Michael Loris-Melikow

The fighting of the Russo-Turkish War first began in the Caucasus , where the Russian troops became offensive in April 1877. The operations in the Caucasus were carried out according to General Obruchev's plans . After the decisive actions on the Danube and in Rumelia had been planned, weaker attacks in the direction of Batumi and Kars were to be carried out in Asiatic Turkey , with the aim of diverting the Turkish armed forces in Armenia from the European theater of war. The Russian Caucasus Army (initially around 90,000, later reinforced to 164,000 men) under the nominal command of Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich Romanov was reinforced by local Georgian and Armenian militias during the war. The Russians initially faced around 57,000 Ottomans with 162 guns under the command of Muhtar Pasha . The strength of all available Turkish troops in Anatolia and Armenia was about 120,000 men with about 370 guns

Assault on Ardahan on May 5, 1877, painting by Alexei Kivschenko .

Initial course

Under the command of General Michail Loris-Melikow , the Russian troops crossed the border with the Ottoman Empire on April 24, 1877 in four columns.

  • In the north from the Rione valley and Kobuleti , the corps of Lieutenant General Oklobschio (24,000 men and 96 guns) had to begin the advance along the Black Sea coast to Batumi ; the column should then try to reach Trabzon .
  • To the left of the room Akhalkalaki advancing to the General Division was Dewel (13,500 men and 36 guns) against Ardahan set.
  • In the middle near Alexandropol the main Russian power under General Heiman (28,400 men and 92 guns) had assembled to force the breakthrough to Kars fortress. With this column was also the Commander-in-Chief General Loris-Melikow, who soon detached Heiman to Ardahan.
  • Finally, on the right wing, the Armenian Corps under Lieutenant General Tergukasow (11,500 men and 32 cannons) was to advance from the Igdir area to Bejazet (Russian Баязет, Turkish Doğubeyazıt ).
  • The general Russian reserve was concentrated in Abkhazia (18,800 men and 20 cannons), where they found support from the local commander of the coastal defense there, General Kravchenko , who had to give up the port of Sukhumi on May 16 when the Turkish fleet attacked.

Oklobschio's corps fought successfully at Khutzubani on May 11th, crossed the Kintrischi River on May 28th and then got stuck with the Turkish defense. The column of General Dewel reached the fortress of Ardahan on May 5th, which was held by about 9500 Turks under Hajji Hussein Pasha. When General Heiman's troops marched up from the south via Pankis as reinforcements, the fortress of Ardahan was enclosed on the following day and, after several attempts, was surrendered by May 17th.

General Tergukasov managed to capture Bayazet in the south by April 29, while the main power under General Loris-Melikov, supported by the cavalry under Prince Chavchavadze, opened the first siege of Kars . During the siege of Bajazet, the small Russian garrison had to defend itself against the Ottoman army in the fortress of Bajazet for 23 days. The Russian garrison (1650 men) withstood the attacks of the Ottomans (12,000 men) from June 6th to 28th, 1877. Many of the soldiers were later awarded the medal "for the heroic defense of Bajazet 1877".

Defense of Bajazet, June 1877
Ahmed Muhtar Pasha

It was not until June 9 that Grand Duke Michael appeared at the headquarters of Kürükdara and personally took over the leadership of the siege of Kars. Muhtar Pascha had already gathered 35,000 men for relief on Soghanlü Mountain and in its vicinity, while another corps of 19,000 men under Ismael Pascha was able to repel an attack by the Russians under General Melikow on June 25 at Zevin. When Muhtar's army was advancing on Kars at the same time, Grand Duke Michael decided to lift the siege on July 9th. In mid-July, Muhtar Pasha's counter-offensive forced the Russians to defend themselves.

Uprising in Abkhazia and Dagestan

In the Russian-controlled Abkhazia, in the meantime, the Turks sparked an uprising from May 1877, which also spread to the Muslim population in Dagestan and on the Terek, with around 175,000 participants. On May 12, the Turkish fleet landed about one battalion on the coast near Sukhumi, and on May 23, 3,000 Circassians were disembarked near Cape Adler. At the end of May, the entire coast from Cape Drandy to Socha , including Sukhumi, was in Turkish hands. On June 1 and 23, the Russians, under General Alkhazov, repulsed further landing attacks at Socha and Itori. On June 23, Alkhazov won at Merguli and took back the lost Ochomschiri on June 27. After the Russian counteroffensive launched on August 19, Sukhumi fell back into Russian hands on August 31. In the west of Dagestan, the column of Lieutenant General Smekalow operated against the rebellious mountain peoples , which in return destroyed the village of Telitl on October 24, 1877.

Second attack phase

In Armenia, after the defensive successes of the Turks, there was a long period of standstill until the troops under Loris-Melikov were reinforced by two divisions from Europe. The Ottomans had taken up well-fortified defensive positions and blocked the Russians who were concentrated at Kürükdara between the Aladscha-Dagh and the Little Yagni from entering the fortress of Kars. On August 25, a twelve-hour Turkish attack was repulsed in the battle of Kizil-Tepe , but the important position of Bashkadiklar close to its own positions was lost. Under the leadership of General Lazarev (1821–1879), the Russians then advanced deep into the flanks of the Ottoman defense on October 2–4 (September 20–22). The first Russian frontal attacks on the Turkish positions ended unsuccessfully with 3,700 Russians and 4,700 Turks killed.

Despite his successful position, Muhtar Pascha decided to withdraw with his troops in mid-October because of the impending winter and to move into the better fortified winter position in Kars. The following battle in the Aladscha Mountains (Russian Аладжа; Aladschahöhen) brought the decisive turning point of the war in Armenia. In the battle of Aladscha (October 15), 56,000 Russians with 200 cannons under Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolajewitsch Romanov faced 38,000 Ottomans with 74 cannons under Muhtar Pasha. As soon as the Ottoman troops were about to leave, the Russian leadership immediately started new attacks. This time the Russian frontal attacks were combined with deep thrusts on the wings. The Russians invaded the rear of the Ottomans and took Avlijar (Russian Авлияр) by storm. This split the Ottoman forces in two. Her right wing was encircled and her left wing began a disorderly retreat into Kars. The Turks lost almost half of their troops (5,000–6,000 dead and wounded; 8,500 prisoners; 3,000–4,000 deserters). The Russians lost 1,500 soldiers in their second storm. In the Battle of Alajah, the Russians first used the widespread use of telegraphs to guide their troops. For this battle, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolajewitsch Romanow received the Order of St. George 1st Class.

The retreating Turkish troops followed the Russian general Heiman with his troops and inflicted a defeat on them at Debe-Bojnu on October 23, 1877. Thereupon the Turkish troops withdrew to Erzurum . Then the Russians were able to take the Turkish fortress of Kars by storm in the Battle of Kars . On November 17, Loris-Melikow broke into the eastern fortifications and captured the fortress. This cut off the garrison , which was under the command of Hussein Pasha. Hussein tried to fight his way out, but only succeeded with a small number of soldiers. In the following weeks they attacked in the direction of Erzurum. Before they reached the city, however, the war was over. According to the peace treaty with the Turks, the Russians entered Erzurum in February 1878, but had to vacate the city again after the Berlin Congress.

Naval warfare

The Russian fleet under Makarov and Roschestvensky was active with its mine-layers and restricted the freedom of movement of the Turkish fleet, which appeared to be powerful. Several Russian attacks on the Danube and the Caucasus coast paralyzed the Ottoman naval command. The Turkish ships were ultimately withdrawn to the Bosporus.

During this war - apart from the events of 1863/64 in the course of the American Civil War - the first military use of torpedoes took place: On May 25 and 26, 1877, Russian torpedo boats sank the Turkish coast tank Seifi in the mouth of the Danube near Braila . Another success they achieved on January 26, 1878 off Batumi with the sinking of the Turkish gunboat Intaban with two Whitehead torpedoes. The Harvey torpedo was used only once during this war, but it was not ignited.

War in the Balkans

Fight on the Danube

Overview of the theater of war in the Balkans and the Caucasus
Swishtov on the Danube - Nikopol on the Danube - Pleven in Northern Bulgaria
Nuri Osman Pasha

At the beginning of the war, the troops of the Russian Danube Army under the command of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich achieved several important successes. On April 25, 1877, they seized the important railway bridge over the Sereth in the Braila area and set up battery positions near Galatz , which soon completely dominated the Danube section there. The Russians were able to sink several Turkish gunboats and mine the river on May 11th and 25th without much resistance; they thus dominated the entrance to the Danube from the Black Sea. It was now possible to cross the Danube at any point without fear of resistance. Despite this situation, the Turkish high command was not permanently alarmed and continued to insist on its previous operational plans. In space Galati and Braila the Russian XIV. Corps began under General Zimmermann on 22 and 23 June in boats over the Danube and occupied until June 26 Isaktscha, Tulcea and Hirsova . This weak demonstration reinforced the Ottomans in their suspicion that a large Russian force might be expected more directly against the center of the strong Ottoman fortifications on the central Danube line.

Nikolai Dmitrijew-Orenburgski : Turkish surrender in Nikopol , 1883

On June 26, the main Russian army bridged the Danube unhindered on barges at Zimnicea (Romanian side) / Swishtow (Bulgarian side). The following day, the VIII. Army Corps under General Radezki Infantry with the 14th Division (General Dragomirow ) began to cross. Troops and material were quickly transferred to the right Bulgarian bank of the Danube. The military operation was successful for the Russian side, General Mikhail Skobelev organized the expansion of the bridgehead on the other bank of the river, Swishtov was quickly taken and a stable pontoon bridge was built. On July 3, the 12,000-strong corps under General Gurko crossed the bridge and, as an avant-garde, began the advance on Tarnowo and Selvi to cross the Balkan Mountains ; on July 17, the latter stood in front of the Schipka Pass . To cover the eastern flank of the main attack troops, the Russian heir to the throne Alexander Alexandrowitsch, the XII. and XIII. Army corps under Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrowitsch and Baron Hahn deployed against the Danube section near Shumla and Rustschuk (Russian). General Shuvalov had meanwhile advanced south with his 2nd Guards Division and also fought for access to the mountains on July 12 in the battle of Elena.

On July 15th the XI. Army Corps (General Schachowskoi ) moved to the right bank of the Danube and positioned between Tirnova and Osmanbazar. On the right wing of the Danube Army was the IX. Army Corps under General Krüdener advanced west towards Nikopol and delivered a victorious meeting there to the Turks on July 16 . There were no significant Ottoman associations in this area. The Turkish high command ordered Osman Pasha with his troops from Vidin to march in this direction and occupy the nearby Nikopol fortress . On the way there, Osman Pasha learned that the fortress had already been occupied by the Russians and turned to Pleven (known as Plevna by the Russians until the 20th century ). Osman Pasha was able to entrench himself with his troops in Pleven just in time and on July 20 fend off an attack by the Russians under General Schildner-Schuldner .

With the invasion of the Russians, there were massive uprisings of the Bulgarian population against their Turkish masters, after the Bulgarian uprisings had already broken out during the April uprising. These were severely crushed by the Turks. Even before the war began and as the war continued, many Bulgarian volunteers (Bulgarian Opalchentsi, Opoltschenie) joined the Russian side.

On the Russian side, alongside the Romanians, there was also a strong Finnish battalion, because Finland was part of Russia at the time. Furthermore, over 12,000 Bulgarian volunteers took part, more and more of whom were recruited from the residents of liberated areas. Towards the end of the war, Serbian troops also intervened in the fighting on December 14th.

Gurkos' first Balkan crossing

Advance via Tarnowo to Stara Sagora

Pawel Kowalewski : The fight near Ivanovo-Chiflik , 1877

The Balkan Mountains (or Balkans for short, but then possibly also with the meaning of the Balkan Peninsula ) extends 600 km in an east-west direction through Bulgaria (and Serbia) and divides Bulgaria into northern Bulgaria and southern Bulgaria. For a campaign against the capital of the Ottoman Empire, the Russian troops had to cross the Balkan passes.

The Russians under General Josef Gurko succeeded in conquering the Stara Planina passes , which were of exceptional strategic importance for military maneuvers. Gurko's avant-garde consisted of 12,500 soldiers with 40 guns. They were supported by Bulgarian volunteers. His first task was to take the city of Tarnowo . This city had a key strategic position as it was located in the central part of northern Bulgaria and north of the Balkan Mountains near the Balkan Passes (the central Balkan Mountains). After the Russian troops began to storm Tarnovo, the Ottoman troops surprisingly gave up the city on July 7, 1877. With the capture of Tarnowo, the Russian troops secured an important base for their further attacks.

Stara Sagora in southern Bulgaria - Veliko Tarnowo in northern Bulgaria - in between the Schipka Pass in the Balkan Mountains (red square)

All the larger and more important passes of the Balkan Mountains were guarded by Ottoman troops. Therefore General Gurko decided to continue his way with his troops to Stara Sagora - south of the Balkan Mountains - over the smaller, unguarded Balkan pass Chainboas . On July 22nd, Russian troops under General Gurko Stara took Sagora. However, this place was recaptured on July 31st by the Turks after heavy fighting by troops under Suleyman Pasha . Süleiman's troops immediately pursued the defeated troops, Gurko's troops had to go back over the mountains to Tarnovo by August 8th. After taking Kazanlak on August 18 and the village of Shipka on August 19, Suleyman Pasha's Turkish troops turned to the nearby, strategically important Balkan Pass - Shipka Pass - to cross the Balkan Mountains to the north.

Battle of the Shipka Pass

Schipkadenkmal at the Schipka Pass in the Balkan Mountains
WW Vereshchagin : Battlefield near Shipka

The next big battles took place at the important Shipka Pass, where a total of four battles took place. In the first battle on July 17, the Russians managed to capture the Shipka Pass. In the next two battles on 30./31. On July 21st and August 21st, 1877, the outnumbered Russian defenders were able to repel bitter Turkish attempts at storming with great losses for the Turks. After taking the village of Shipka on August 19, the Turkish troops under Suleyman Pasha set out for the Shipka Pass 5 km away. The Shipka Pass was the largest and most important gateway to southern Bulgaria and further to the Bosphorus - the main destination of the Russians and the capital of the Ottoman Empire - Constantinople (now Istanbul ). However, the Shipka Pass was already occupied by combat-ready Russian troops, reinforced by Bulgarian volunteers.

The battle with the greatest number of victims on the Shipka Pass began on August 21, 1877. After their victory in Stara Sagora, the Turks had expected no greater resistance and wanted to occupy the highest points of the Shipka Pass without great effort - the two peaks of St. Nikola (Sweti Nikola; today: Stoletow, 1,327 m) and the Schipka summit. After that, the attack on northern Bulgaria should begin. On the Russian side, the Shipka Pass was defended by 10 companies of the 36th Orlovsky Infantry Regiment, 4 Cossack hundreds and 5 units of Bulgarian volunteers. This resulted in a total of 6,000 men and 25 cannons on the Russian side. They were reinforced on the second day of the fighting by troops from the 35th Brjansk Infantry Regiment. The defense of the Shipka Pass was initially commanded by General Stoletow (1834-1912), where the newly formed Bulgarian corps was also deployed. The Turks under Suleyman Pascha deployed 49 battalions with about 27,000 men, 1,300 cavalry and 60 cannons against the defenders of the pass, although their weapons were more modern. The Russian defenses were attacked from two directions - the north and the south. Twelve attacks had been carried out by the evening, but none of them were successful.

On August 22nd, the Turks tried to bypass the Russian positions. But the attacks that followed were unsuccessful for the Turks. August 23rd was the crucial day for the defense of the Shipka Pass. Suleyman Pasha threw all his reserves into the fight. His plans of attack were drawn up by his British military advisers. Suleyman Pasha was determined to destroy the enemy by the next day at the latest, and therefore ordered uninterrupted attacks. The Russians' attention was to be diverted by mock attacks. However, the plan failed. The defenders held out in bitter and costly battles, although they did not have enough ammunition and food.

The loss-making storms against the Schipka Pass are generally viewed as a major tactical mistake by the Turkish Army Command. In addition, a large number of Turkish troops were stationed on the Black Sea coast, almost without being involved in any military operations. In the last battle at the Shipka Pass (from January 5, 1878) the Russian Western Army under Gurko was able to bypass the remaining Turkish forces and force them to surrender together with the central group under General Fyodor Radezki.

Decision at Plewna (Pleven)

Nikolai Dmitrijew-Orenburgski : The conquest of the Grivitza-Redout near Pleven , 1885
Contemporary German map of the Battle of Pleven
Mikhail Skobelev

On July 30th General Krüdener began the Second Battle of Pleven with around 35,000 men (IV and IX Army Corps). The key to the Turkish defense lay in the section of the Griwitza ski jump, where 18 battalions and 80 guns were deployed. The right wing was divided into two attack columns, one from the north and one from the east. The attack on the right wing failed completely, the left wing under General Schachowskoi marched with the 1st Brigade of the 32nd Division against Radischewo without touching the enemy. Osman Pasha very cleverly organized the city's defense and was able to repel two major Russian attacks.

The Turks missed the opportunity to counterattack in August when Osman Pascha had been reinforced with 12,000 men by Hifzy Pascha and the still discouraged Russian army might have been able to push back to the Danube. The Russian general Mikhail Skobelev took over the tactical high command under Lieutenant General Zotov and began the Third Battle of Pleven on September 11th after the arrival of Romanian reinforcements under General Alexandru Cernat . Osman Pascha snatched all the jumps lost the day before, with the exception of the Griwitza hill, from the opponent with a vigorous counter-attack on September 12. Since the Russians could not take the strong fortress of Pleven by storm until September 17th, they decided to siege the city, which was not completely enclosed until October 6th. General Eduard Totleben was entrusted with the overall management of the siege work in front of Pleven. The Russians and Romanians cut off all supply routes for the Turkish garrison in the city and starved the Ottoman soldiers.

General Gurko received the order to interrupt the rear connections of the Turkish army under Osman Pasha standing at Pleven and to complete its enclosure. At the beginning of September the Turkish garrison of Lovech, 40 km to the south, was successfully smashed; a relief enterprise Osman's Pasha came too late and had to withdraw to Plevna. Due to the loss of the Lovetsch square, the fortress' important supply line to Philippopel and the connection with the Balkan army under Suleyman Pasha were lost. On October 24th General Gurko was victorious again in the battle of Gorni-Dubnik and thus finally strengthened the ring of enclosure around Pleven from the south.

The Monument to the Capture of Pleven in Moscow

On the night of December 9th (November 28th) 1877, the Turks made an unsuccessful attempt to break out in the direction of Opanez. After a five-month siege, the 43,000-strong Turkish army under Nuri Pascha Osman had to surrender to the Russian army at Pleven. The Tsar, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolajewitsch, Prince Carol of Romania and General Skobelev's troops entered Pleven on December 12, 1877. Tsar Alexander II returned to Saint Petersburg on December 15 and divided the freed troops between the Western Army under Gurko and the Radezki Corps. Of the Turkish prisoners, only 10,000 later returned home. The Russians lost a total of about 30,000 soldiers at Pleven.

Second Balkan crossing Gurkos

General Josif Gurko, Commander of the Russian Western Army

On December 10, 1877, the Pleven fortress surrendered to the Russian and Romanian siege troops and liberated a considerable number of Russian troops. The Western Army under General Gurko was reinforced to about 71,000 men, 40 squadrons and 206 artillery pieces and began the second advance over the Balkans. Gurko were for his second Balkan crossing in addition to his three guard divisions, the IX that had become free before Pleven. Army Corps (5th and 31st Divisions) under General Krüdener. The new advance took place in three columns: The main column in the middle, which gathered in Vraces, commanded Lieutenant General Shuvalov (1st and 3rd Guard Divisions under Generals Rauch and Katalei ). The right column under General Veljaminov (31st Division) advanced over the Umurgas Pass to Curjak. The left column, formed by the 2nd Guards Division, which was now led by Lieutenant General Dandeville , had to advance on the west side of the mountains at Baba-Gora on Bunovo. Meanwhile, General Krüdener and the rest of the troops had to keep the Turkish Araba-Konak altitude under fire until the end of December.

In the west, to secure the left flank, the Serbs also entered the war on December 13, took Pirot on December 28 and crossed the Morawa to begin the siege of Nisch fortress on December 23 . On December 31 and January 1, Gurko's troops, fighting with the Turkish troops under Shakir Pasha, forced the march through the Araba-Konak Pass while at the same time the Guard divisions in the battle of Tashkese and Etropol fought the march through the Slatitza Pass. As a result, the Ottoman troops under Mehemet Ali, being harassed from three sides, were in danger of being encircled and had to retreat to Küstendil in a south-westerly direction . Gurko was then able to move into Sofia on December 23, 1877 (January 4, 1878) without a fight . General Gurko set out from Sofia in the south of the Balkan Mountains to roll up the still-holding Ottoman defense in front of the Shipka Pass.

Two weeks later than Gurko, the 8th Army Corps under Lieutenant General Radezki began its attack. The Shipka Pass, where the Russians had been stuck for over five months, should finally fall. The position held by the Turks had a circumference of about 7.5 km and consisted of 14 redoubts, with well-developed infantry trenches in between. The arrival of General Skobelev with the 16th and 30th Divisions and the 3rd and 4th Rifle Brigades near Gabrowa at the beginning of January increased Radezki to 74 battalions with around 56,000 men. From January 5th to 9th, 1878 there was the fourth and final battle, which brought the Ottomans another devastating defeat. On the same day troops of the Radezki Army Group (divisions of Generals Skobelev and Svyatopolk-Mirski ) began their attack and defeated the 30,000-strong army of Wesel Pascha in the Battle of Scheinowo. In the meantime, the former Russian Rustschuk group, under the command of the heir to the throne Alexander Alexandrovich, launched an offensive that met little resistance from the Turks. On January 14th (26th) this group occupied Razgrad and on January 15th (27th) Osmanbazar. The troops of the XIV Corps operating in Dobruja occupied the heavily fortified Haji-Oglu-Bazardzhik line on January 15th (27th).

Gurko's troops won the Battle of Plovdiv on January 17th (1878) and were able to continue the advance to Edirne (Adrianople). The Russian army was only 20 km from Constantinople, and the complete occupation of Eastern Thrace seemed within reach. As in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–1829 , the Russians captured Edirne on January 20 and this time marched directly on to Istanbul. The prospect of the Russians conquering the straits worried the British very much. The British sent their fleet to the Bosporus and threatened Russia with a declaration of war if they continued their offensive. Weakened by the war, Russia could not afford a continuing war against the British. The Russians stopped their offensive in San Stefano (today Yeşilköy , a western suburb of Istanbul on the Marmara Sea ). Under pressure from the great powers, Russia had to conclude an armistice with the Ottoman Empire on January 19 (31), which ended the fighting.

The Peace of San Stefano

At the end of January 1878, the Ottoman Empire asked for a peace treaty to be concluded in the Edirne armistice . On March 3, 1878, the peace treaty of San Stefano was signed in the town of San Stefano . In this treaty, the Ottoman Empire was forced to make great concessions. It had to recognize the independence of Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria . Furthermore, the Ottoman Empire ceded the province of Kars on the edge of the Caucasus to the Russian Empire. However, the outcome of the peace was revised to the detriment of Russia three months later in the negotiations of the Berlin Congress , see p. u.

Interference of the great powers in the Berlin Congress

Map of Bulgaria - 1878 - Borders after the Peace of San Stefano (March 3, 1878) and the Berlin Congress (June 1878).

Alarmed by the increase in Russian influence in the Balkans, the other European powers called for a revision of the terms of San Stefano. Above all, Austria-Hungary was anything but happy that rival Russia was experiencing such an increase in power in the Balkans, while it did not receive anything itself. The war-weary Russian Empire could not afford political isolation in Europe and had to give in to international pressure. At the Berlin Congress organized by Otto von Bismarck , new conditions were negotiated. The biggest change concerned Bulgaria, which was split into several parts, in line with previous secret agreements by the Germans, Austrians, French and British to prevent a larger Slavic state in the Balkans. The northern and eastern parts were divided into two principalities, Bulgaria and Eastern Rumelia . The region of Macedonia that reached the Aegean Sea was withdrawn from Bulgaria and placed back under Ottoman administration.

The outcome of the war resulted in a rapid decline in the Muslim population in Bulgaria. By 1882 over half a million people fled to the Ottoman Empire, another 250,000 died.

In Russia, the revision of the Peace of San Stefano triggered a great deal of disappointment and bitterness, directed primarily against the Germans and Austrians. One felt cheated of the fruits of a costly war in which many voluntarily fought for the liberation of the Slavs and the reconquest of Constantinople for Orthodox Christianity .

Cultural and political reception

During the war, the Russian painter Vasily Vereshchagin, who was present at the front, painted numerous pictures about the war.

The book by Boris Akunin : Turkish Gambit , in which the young spy Erast Fandorin delivers a secret service duel with the top Turkish spy Anwar Pascha, deals with the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 . In 2005 the book was filmed in Russia.

Equestrian monument of the Liberator Tsar in Sofia

The Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78 ended the 500 years of Turkish rule over Bulgaria and led to the creation of the Third Bulgarian State (Трета българска държава). It is therefore referred to in Bulgaria as the Liberation War of 1877/78 and perceived as a central event in Bulgarian history. On this event the traditional friendship between Bulgarians and Russians was founded, especially since both peoples are Slavs. Since then, people in Bulgaria have traditionally spoken of the “Liberator Brothers”.

In the center of Sofia , opposite the People's Assembly, there is an equestrian monument of the “Liberator Tsar”. In honor of the dead in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (with two golden domes) was built in the center of Sofia (planning started in 1880, laying of the foundation stone in 1882, main construction phase 1904–1912).

With the Russo-Turkish war , the period of the Bulgarian rebirth after 100 years, which began with the publication of the Bulgarian history book Istorija Slawjanobulgarskaja by Paisi Chilendarski , came to an end.

In Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, too, this war is viewed as a war of liberation, as it brought full national independence for these countries.

Web links

Commons : Russo-Ottoman War (1877–1878)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


  • Felix Bamberg: History of the Oriental Affair from the Paris to the Berlin Peace , Grotesche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin 1892, pp. 515–525, 560–585.
  • Quintin Barry: War in the East: A Military History of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78. Helion & Company, Solihull 2012, ISBN 978-1907677113 .
  • Ian Drury: The Russo-Turkish War 1877. Osprey, London 2012, ISBN 978-1-78200-236-9 .
  • FV (= Francis Vinton) Greene: Report on the Russian Army and its Campaigns in Turkey in 1877-1878. D. Appleton and Company, New York 1879.
  • Hans-Joachim Härtel, Roland Schönfeld: Bulgaria. From the Middle Ages to the present. Pustet, Regensburg 1998, ISBN 3-7917-1540-2 .
  • F. Maurice : The Russo-Turkish War 1877. A Strategical Sketch (= Special Campaign Series). Naval & Military Press, 2019, ISBN 978-1783315246 .
  • Ivan Parvev: Germany and the problem of the state re-establishment of Bulgaria from the 16th to the 19th century. In: Jürgen Plöhn (Ed.): Sofia Perspectives on Germany and Europe. Studies on economics, politics, history, media and culture (= political science. Volume 133). Lit, Berlin a. a. 2006, ISBN 3-8258-9498-3 , pp. 23-39.
  • Цонко Генов: Русско-турецкая война 1877-1878 гг. и подвиг освободителей , София, София Пресс, 1979

Individual evidence

  1. Olender P. Russo-Turkish Naval War 1877-1878. 2017. STRATUS. P. 88. ISBN 978-83-65281-36-4 .
  2. a b c d Boris Urlanis: Войны и народонаселение Европы. людские потери вооруженных сил европейских стран в войнах XVII – XX вв. Part II. Moscow 1960, OCLC 713917980 , Chapter II ( ).
  3. Cornel Scafes et al .: Armata Romania in Razboiul de Independenta 1877–1878 . Ed .: Sigma. Bucuresti 2002, p. 149 (Romanian, English title: The Romanian Army in the War of Independence 1877-1878 ).
  4. a b А. Г. Мерников, А. А. Спектор: Всемирная история войн . Kharvest, Minsk 2004, ISBN 985-13-1779-9 .
  5. Brockhaus Conversationslexikon, XIII. Volume, Leipzig 1886, p. 941.
  6. Spamers Weltgeschichte, Leipzig 1898, p. 449.
  7. Brockhaus-Conversationslexikon, Volume 13, 1886, p. 942.
  8. Brockhaus-Lexikon, Leipzig 1886, Volume 13, p. 944.
  9. Brockhaus` Konversationslexikon; Leipzig 1894-1896; Volume 14, p. 65.