The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 79th installment in the series.
July 21 and 22, 1913: Turks Retake Adrianople, Bulgaria Asks for Peace
After laying siege to Adrianople (Edirne) for six long months in the First Balkan War, the Bulgarians finally captured the city in a bloody battle in March 1913—but only held the ancient city for all of four months, before it was recaptured by the Turks on July 21 and 22, 1913, without a shot fired.
The fall of Adrianople was the crowning loss of the disastrous Second Balkan War, when Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand attacked Bulgaria’s former allies, Serbia and Greece, over the division of spoils from the First Balkan War, only to meet with swift, stunning defeats. These provided the signal for Romania and the Ottoman Empire to attack Bulgaria from the rear, sealing its fate. While the Romanians marched into Dobruja in northern Bulgaria, the Turks advanced to reclaim Adrianople, which had been left totally undefended by the overstretched Bulgarians.
The Turkish army’s triumphal entry into Adrianople was led by War Minister Ismail Enver (above), who became a national hero, winning the honorific “Pasha” and the title “Conqueror of Edirne.” The victory also cemented the rule of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP, better known as the “Young Turks”). Ordinary Turks had been left angry, humiliated and afraid by the defeats of the First Balkan War, and they were exhilarated to see the Young Turks fighting back. Propagandists were stoking the nationalist fervor, with one pamphlet warning: “There can be no doubt that our homeland’s survival and well-being depends on the raising of our defensive strength… Ottomans!... If you do not want to become slaves, if you do not want to be destroyed forever, ready yourselves for the fight.”
Meanwhile, Enver was pushing ahead with ambitious reforms to modernize the Turkish military, including a purge of old officers who were no longer fit to command, a new structure for Turkish divisions based on the cutting-edge German model, and new, more efficient plans for conscription and mobilization. In a little over a year the new Ottoman army would prove a surprisingly formidable foe to Europeans whose (low) expectations had been shaped by its embarrassing performance in the First Balkan War.
Bulgaria Asks for Peace
With his armies reeling and enemy troops marching in virtually unopposed from several directions, in July 1913 Bulgaria’s Tsar Ferdinand moved to make peace—but too late. Having foolishly launched treacherous, ill-prepared attacks on Serbia and Greece, Bulgaria would now have to pay the price in the form of major territorial concessions.
On July 21, 1913, Tsar Ferdinand sent a personal telegram to Romania’s King Carol asking for peace—but Carol said it all depended on the attitude of Romania’s new allies, Serbia and Greece. Unsurprisingly, the Serbs and the Greeks showed no sign of wanting to call off their victorious troops, and delayed entering peace negotiations until July 31, when they finally agreed to meet the Bulgarians in Bucharest. The price of peace was going to be high.