Second Balkan War

Bulgarian dead in the Balkan Wars

The First Balkan War ended with the Treaty of London signed on 30 May 1913. The Balkan allies Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria had ejected the Turks from Europe with the exception of the Chatalja and Gallipoli peninsulas.

However, even before the treaty had been signed, Greece and Serbia had signed a military pact aimed against Bulgaria that divided the disputed region of Macedonia between them. Bulgaria felt that their territorial rewards from the war, particularly in Macedonia, were insufficient. A further problem for Bulgaria was the attitude of Romania. They claimed the Bulgarian fortress of Silistria on the Danube as the price for their neutrality in the First Balkan war. This was a price the Bulgarians were not prepared to pay.

Russian arbitration provided for in the 1912 treaty was progressing slowly. The Russians didn't wish to lose either of their allies in the Balkans (Serbia and Bulgaria). Whilst negotiations were ongoing low level warfare continued in Macedonia mainly between Serbian and Bulgarian troops. The Bulgarian military ordered limited attacks on June 29/30 against Serbian and Greek positions, apparently to strengthen their government's bargaining position. This gave the Serbs and Greeks the opportunity to present themselves as the victims of aggression.

In essence the militaries of all the combatants were intent on war. The civilian governments were not entirely in control and Russia the one power able to intervene - dithered. For Bulgaria the war gave them the opportunity to acquire all Macedonia and dominate the Balkans. For Serbia and Greece war meant the prospect of dividing up Macedonia and preventing Bulgarian hegemony.

The Greek Front

The Bulgarian 2nd Army in southern Macedonia commanded by General Ivanov held a line from Lake Doiran (a key battlefield for British troops three years later) south east to Lakes Langaza (modern Lake Koronia) and Beshik (modern Lake Volvi), then across to the port of Kavala on the Aegean. Whilst the army had been in place since May (it fought at the siege of Adrianople in the First Balkan War) its troops were overextended and probably numbered no more than 40,000 men in two weak divisions. The Greeks claim that they were opposed by at least 80,000 men.

The Greek army, commanded by King Constantine had nine divisions and a cavalry division (120,000 men), heavily outnumbering the stretched Bulgarian forces by two or three to one.

The main Bulgarian attack was planned against the Serbs although 2nd Army was tasked with an attack towards Gevgeli and Salonika. This plan was clearly unrealistic and the low level fighting turned into concentrated Greek attacks all along the line on 30 June. The Bulgarian forces immediately withdrew from their positions north of Salonika (except the isolated Salonika garrison which was overrun) to defensive positions at Kilkis.

Battle of Kilkis

At Kilkis the Bulgarians had constructed strong defences, including captured Ottoman guns which dominated the plain below. On 3 July the Greek 4th, 2nd and 5th divisions attacked across the plain in rushes supported by artillery. They suffered heavy casualties but by the following day had carried the trenches. Meanwhile on the Bulgarian left the Greek 7th Division had captured Nigrita and the 1st and 6th divisions Lahana. On the Bulgarian right Evzoni captured Gevgeli and the heights of Matsikovo. As a consequence the Bulgarian line of retreat through Doiran was threatened and Ivanov's army began a desperate retreat which at times threatened to become a rout. Reinforcements in the form of the 14th Division came too late and joined the retreat towards Strumnitza and the Bulgarian border. The Greeks captured Doiran on 5 July but were unable to cut off the Bulgarian retreat through the Struma pass. On 11 July the Greeks joined up with the Serbs and then pushed on up the Struma River until they reached the Kresna Gorge on 24 July. At this point the exhausted Greeks had reached the end of their logistical systems and halted.

The Bulgarians admitted to some 7,000 casualties at Kilkis. A further 6,000 were taken prisoner together with 130 guns. The Greeks also suffered heavily with 8,700 casualties. It was the decisive battle on this front and the greatest Greek success in both wars.

Kresna Gorge

To the north of the Greek front the Bulgarians after a being pushed back towards Sofia had won a defensive victory against the Serbs at Kalimantsi on 18 July. This enabled the Bulgarians to shift the 1st Army to support the 2nd Army facing the Greeks in the excellent defensive position of Kresna Gorge. Constantine rejected his government's proposal for an armistice, seeking a decisive victory on the battlefield.

On 29 July the consolidated Bulgarian army launched attacks on both flanks pushing the Greeks down the Struma and Mesta River valleys. Constantine faced a Cannae type annihilation and pleaded for support from the Serbs. Unfortunately they were in no position to offer help after Kalimantsi and therefore Constantine asked his government to seek an armistice. The Greeks had lost around 10,000 casualties in the past ten days of fighting. The Bulgarian government equally wanted peace and therefore Constantine was saved from destruction.

End of the War

Despite stabilising the front in Macedonia the Bulgarian government's desire for peace was driven by events far from Macedonia. The Romanians invaded on 10 July occupying the disputed Dobrudzha and threatening Sofia from the north. To make matters worse the Ottomans took advantage of the situation to recover their former possessions in Thrace including Adrianople, which the Bulgarians abandoned on 23 July without firing a shot. The Ottoman and Romanian armies didn't lose any combat casualties although both armies suffered heavily from a renewed outbreak of cholera.

A general armistice was agreed on 31 July and the territorial spoils agreed in the treaties of Bucharest and Constantinople. Bulgaria lost most of the territories gained in the First Balkan War including the Dobrudzha, most of Macedonia, Thrace and its Aegean coastline with the exception of the port of Dedeagach. Serbia became the dominant power in the Balkans and Greece gained Salonika and its environs along with most of the Western Thrace coast. It was only a temporary settlement. Ten months later the fighting would begin again at the start of the First World War.

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