Russo-Turkish War (1877-78)

Nation: Turkey


Dates: April 24, 1877 - March 3, 1878
Turkey Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) War Cover
I. Russia Declares War
II. Russian Army Crosses the Danube
III. Ottomans Begin Heroism at Plevna
IV. Gourko Captures Mountain Passes
V. Russia Achieves Victory
I. Russia Declares War
In spite of the vigorous protests of the European Powers, Turkey had for a long while continued to deal harshly with the Christian inhabitants of her provinces. Russia, considering this a sufficient casus belli, constituted herself the champion of Christendom, and on April 24, 1877, declared war on Turkey.

At the outbreak of war the Russian invading army numbered about 200,000 men - 180 battalions of infantry, 200 squadrons of cavalry, and 800 guns. Turkey had about 250,000 men - 360 battalions of infantry, 85 squadrons of cavalry, and 450 guns. The Turkish armament was also superior to that of Russia.

Russia's objective was Constantinople. Between Russia and the general course of the Danube was situated Romania, still tributary to Turkey, though much under Russian influence. The Russo-Turkish frontier, starting from a point on the Black Sea a few miles south of Odessa, ran in a westerly direction to Kubei, whence it passed northwest, along the eastern limits of Romania, until the Austro-Romanian frontier was reached.

In 1856, Russia was prohibited from maintaining a fleet on the Black Sea. Although this prohibition became a dead letter after 1871, she had not as yet had time to build a Black Sea fleet of any importance, whereas Turkey possessed a considerable fleet of warships of all descriptions. A descent by Russia on the Turkish ports of the Black Sea was, therefore, out of the question. Instead, a treaty was made with Romania whereby the passage of Russian troops through that country was secured.

Lyde, L. W., & Mockler-Ferryman, A. F. (1905). Later modern campaigns. In A military geography of the Balkan Peninsula (pp. 149-150). London: A. and C. Black.
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II. Russian Army Crosses the Danube
The invading Russian Army passed through Romania which was supportive and provided a contingent of 35,000 men to the Danube. The Dobruja was occupied and held by the Russians without molestation, but the quadrilateral fortresses remained in the uncontested possession of the Turks throughout the war. The war itself was carried on almost entirely in Bulgaria.

The Russians advanced by three different roads to Bucharest, and one corps was sent a little later by rail to Slatina, eighty miles west of Bucharest. By May 24, the invaders were in position on the north bank of the Danube between Nikopoli and Rushchuk, as had been intended. There they remained until June 24, while stores of all kinds were being brought up by the railway (single line).

Between June 12 and 16 a bridge was thrown across the Danube at Braila, for the purpose of passing over the corps destined to occupy the Dobruja. The Turks did not oppose the construction of the bridge, but a rise in the river rendered it useless, and on June 22 Russian troops crossed in boats and rafts at Galatz. An engagement took place on the right bank, resulting in the retirement of the Turks from that part of the country.

The Turks, on becoming aware of the fact that the Russians intended their main army to cross the Danube somewhere opposite Bucharest, brought up troops to guard the likely crossing-places. They improved the fortifications of Nikopoli, Rushchuk, Turtukai, and Silistria, their forces lining the Danube from Vidin to the Dobruja, with reserves at Vidin and Shumla. On June 24, the Russians decided to attempt to cross the river about midway between the fortresses of Nikopoli and Rushchuk, from Zimnita to Svistov, as the river there was made favorable for a crossing by the presence of an island in midstream, under cover of which the pontoon boats could be assembled. On this day and the next, siege batteries, established opposite Nikopoli and Rushchuk, commenced a heavy bombardment; and on the night of the 26th one corps was sent towards Nikopoli as a feint, while the advanced guard of the Russian army proceeded to cross the river in boats, under cover of darkness.

The Turkish outposts on the heights above the river discovered the crossing of the first party, and were soon in position to oppose the landing. The Russians, however, though suffering somewhat from the Turkish fire, continued to cross to the south bank, and by 2 p.m. on June 27 had carried the heights behind Svistov, with a loss of about 800 men, the Turks retiring to Trnovo and Nikopoli.

Bridges were now thrown across the river from Zimnita to Svistov, and completed by July 2, when the bulk of the Russian army crossed.

Lyde, L. W., & Mockler-Ferryman, A. F. (1905). Later modern campaigns. In A military geography of the Balkan Peninsula (pp. 151-153). London: A. and C. Black.
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III. Ottomans Begin Heroism at Plevna
In order to carry out the plan of campaign, General Gourko advanced towards the Balkans, and on July 7 captured Trnovo, upon which two corps pushed forward to the east and took up position along the Lorn River, thus covering the left flank of the advance. The right flank was to be covered by corps occupying the line of the Isker River or of the Vid River, and with this object General Krudener, marching from Svistov, captured Nikopoli and 7,000 prisoners on July 16. The Russian losses amounted to 1,300 men.

Before Krudener could move westward and take up his flanking positions, however, the Turks had realized the situation and marched to oppose him. Osman Pasha brought 40,000 men from Vidin. and another 10,000 were pushed forward from Sofia, and occupied the strong works at Plevna, without the knowledge of the Russians, who on July 20 attempted to drive the Turks out.

The assault was a complete failure, and the assailants were driven off with a loss of some 3,000 men (about one-third of their force). The Russians were now reinforced, and the Turks did all in their power to strengthen their position. On July 30 Plevna was assaulted for the second time, and after a desperate battle the Russians were again defeated, with a loss of 7.000 men (out of 30,000). During August further Russian reinforcements were brought up, until the invaders' army in the neighborhood of Plevna amounted to 100,000 men, and on August 31 the Turks issued out of Plevna, and temporarily assumed the offensive. The day's fight was a stubborn one and, though each side suffered equally (losing about 1,000 men), the Turks eventually withdrew to Plevna.

Lyde, L. W., & Mockler-Ferryman, A. F. (1905). Later modern campaigns. In A military geography of the Balkan Peninsula (pp. 153-154). London: A. and C. Black.
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IV. Gourko Captures Mountain Passes
The Russians had not anticipated so much opposition on their right flank, but their plans were in reality so far being carried out. The Turks were being kept off both on the left and on the right, while Gourko was making his advance towards the Balkans. On July 12, he issued orders for a forward movement from Trnovo.

The Turks were known to have taken up a strong position at the Shipka Pass, and Gourko decided to separate his forces. He sent Mirsky with about 2,500 men straight towards the pass, while he himself, with about 12,000 men, moved east to the Hainkioi Pass by an indifferent mountain track. From Hainkioi, Gourko proposed marching west and attacking the Shipka Pass from the south, while Mirsky cooperated from the north.

Not being able to keep up communications between the two columns, Mirsky and Gourko were ignorant of each other's movements, but the simultaneous attack on the Shipka Pass had been fixed for July 17. Consequently Mirsky, who had reached his destination up to time, proceeded to deliver his attack forthwith. Gourko, however, in marching from Hainkioi towards Shipka, met with more opposition than he had anticipated, and was thus delayed by a day. The result was that Mirsky's isolated attack on July 17 failed signally.

During the night Gourko endeavoured to communicate with Mirsky and sent a note asking for his support in the attack next day, but the difficulties of the country prevented the delivery of the message. Gourko, unaware of its non-delivery, attacked the Turkish position and was repulsed. During the night of July 18, however, the Turks evacuated the position, abandoning their wounded, guns, ammunition, and supplies. On the 19th the Russians were in possession of the Shipka, Travna, and Hainkioi Passes.

Gourko's cavalry now did excellent service, cutting the railway-line and raiding in all directions, up to within seventy miles of Adrianople. The Turks had meanwhile fallen back to Philippopolis, and a new army of some 50,000 men (known as the 'Balkan Army') had taken the field under Suleiman Pasha. The advance of Gourko's comparatively small force was therefore checked, and early in August it was obliged to withdraw to the north of the Balkans, leaving only a small detachment at the Shipka Pass.

Towards the end of August 1877, the Turks assumed the offensive. Suleiman with about 30,000 men attacked the Russians holding the Shipka Pass, but though a fierce battle raged for five days, the Turks failed to capture it.

Lyde, L. W., & Mockler-Ferryman, A. F. (1905). Later modern campaigns. In A military geography of the Balkan Peninsula (pp. 154-156). London: A. and C. Black.
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V. Russia Achieves Victory
Early in September 1877, the Russian army (including the Romanian forces) in the neighborhood of Plevna was strong enough to give battle to Osman Pasha. The Russians numbered about 90,000 men, the Turks possibly 60,000. Although Plevna was bombarded for several days, and many of the outworks carried, the Russians were unable to drive out the defenders. An investment was then decided on, but it was not until December 10 that the place capitulated, by which time Plevna had cost the defenders 30,000 men and the assailants 40,000.

On the fall of Plevna, Serbia declared war on Turkey, threw in her lot with Russia, and put some 25,000 men into the field, when the allies had no fewer than 250,000 men in Bulgaria. Plevna had delayed the invaders' plans considerably, had diverted half the Russian army, and had thus prevented any forward movement through the Balkans until the rigors of the winter had set in. With the surrender of Osman's army, the Turkish forces were reduced to about 150,000 men. Though though the Russians dreaded a winter campaign, it was deemed advisable to deny the Turks the opportunity of recuperating their strength. Gourko had already marched round to the southwest of Plevna, in order to prevent the Turks from coming to the assistance of Osman. Immediately after the capitulation, strong reinforcements had been sent forward, when Gourko with 80,000 men made for the Balkans to the north of Sofia.

The Russian dispositions for the winter campaign were as follows: The original Dobruja force to remain where it was, a strong force to continue to guard the left flank from Rushchuk to the Balkans, Radetsky with 65,000 men to force the Balkans at the Shipka Pass and march on Adrianople, where he was to be joined by Gourko, who was to drive the Turks out of the Baba-Konak Pass, capture Sofia, and then proceed to Adrianople by the old Roman road through Philippopolis.

The plan was immediately put into execution. Gourko fought his way through the Balkans, routed the Turks, and occupied Sofia on January 4, 1878. A fortnight later he entered Philippopolis, having completely broken up Suleiman's army of about 60,000 men, with a loss to the Russians of barely 2,000. Meanwhile Radetsky crossed the Balkans in the vicinity of the Shipka Pass in three columns, and after some desperate fighting in which the Russians lost 5,500, surrounded and captured the Turkish army of 36,000 men. By January 27 the united Russian forces had occupied Adrianople without resistance, and two days later the cavalry had advanced almost halfway to Constantinople. The Turks then sued for peace, and an armistice was signed on January 31. On February 12 a British fleet passed through the Dardanelles with the avowed intention of protecting the Christian inhabitants of Constantinople, and on the 23rd portions of the Russian army were allowed to encamp at San Stefano and the neighboring suburbs of Constantinople. The Treaty of San Stefano, which concluded the war, was signed on March 3, 1878.

Lyde, L. W., & Mockler-Ferryman, A. F. (1905). Later modern campaigns. In A military geography of the Balkan Peninsula (pp. 157-159). London: A. and C. Black.
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