Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Expedition to the First Balkan War Battled Fields of Eastern Thrace.

Expedition to the First Balkan War Battled Fields of Eastern Thrace.

On 8 October 1912, Montenegro opened the First Balkan War. Quickly after this the Bulgarian 1st, 2nd and 3rd Armies invaded Eastern Thrace with the goals of capturing Edirne/Adrianopole/Odrin , and cutting off any communications between Istanbul/Constantinople/Tsarigrad and the Ottoman Balkans (Rumelia). The end of this campaign, in conjunction to the Greek and Serbian campaigns in Ottoman Macedonia and Epirus, and in the Aegean Sea, would be the expulsion of the Ottoman Empire from most of the Balkans, the massacre, starvation, and expulsion of hundreds of thousand of Ottoman Muslims, the creation of the modern Albanian sate, and the incorporation/liberation of hundreds of thousands of Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Slavic Christians in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria. It would also feed the demands of Austro-Hungarian Chief of the General Staff Conrad von Hotzendorf for a war with Serbia, that in time would contribute to the First World War.

The Four Riders of the Apocalypse or The Four Liberators?

We decided to do a day long expedition to visit the sites of the four key military actions  of this campaign. Those were the Battle of Kirkilise/Kirklareli (22 to 24 October 1912, New Style Calendar), the Battle of Lule-Burgas-Pinahisar (29 October 1912 to 1 November 1912, New Style Calendar), the Battle of Catalca/Chataldja (17-18 November 1912, New Style Calendar), and teh Siege of Edirne (3 November 1912 to 26 March 1913, New Style Calendar).

Let us start with a video I compiled of our expedition

And then go one to our collection of photos.

For a general introduction, watch this short but good introduction to the Balkan Wars by The Great War Video series

Part I:  The Siege of Edirne (Adrianopole/Odrin) 1912-1913

We started off at 0600 hours from Istanbul/Constantinople

the foreign liaison officers car!

On the road we passed through some inclement weather, but thankfully once we cleared it we had clear skies all day.

Before Edirne we met the 8 km long line of trucks preparing to cross the Greek or Bulgarian border

Our first stop was at Kiyik Redoubt, which is the Balkan Wars Museum. Actually it was the Balkan Wars museum. The museum is moving to Hidirlik Redoubt (under renovation) and Kiyik was closed. Still we were able to visit it.

Views of the city from Kiyik Redoubt. In the background is Greece.

Views from within the redoubt 

"This operational plan is bootless gentlemen!" 

Spanish liaison officer!

Taking poses at the Sukru Pasha memorial at Kiyik Redoubt

Hidirlik Redoubt is a much more massive affair. There is inter-interpretation/restoration work done it. It looks pretty good and gives good vistas of the low grounds around Edirne 

The imposing entry

The dith

Walking along the parapet and views from it.

it was sunny

Any high ground will do

The rolling plains of Eastern Thrace as seen from the parapet of Hidirlik Redoubt. In the background Bulgaria or Greece

An artillery position under restoration/interpretation  

The interior

Below are pictures of an original position, with the rocks with indents for the gun tracks. 

Two pictures of a restored position. Looking inwards.

Visiting Edirne and the Selimiye Mosque

Trying to emulate this historical George Scott illustration

The older Mosque 

Part II:The Battle of Kirkilise/Kirklareli (Lozengran), 1912

From Edirne we followed less or more the front lines of the Battle of Kirkilise, making a stop at Kujun-Gjaur (modern Kuyun Koy), which was one of the epicenters of the battle.

Map is from Konstantinos Travlos & Chris Pringle "Big Bloody Balkan Battles". In red is our route, and red circles mark stops.

On the road toward east. The rolling Thracian plain.

At Kujun-Gjaur (Kuyun Koy) were the Ottoman I Crops and II Corps linked. They were attacked by the Bulgarian 3rd Army.

These hills would make difficult any communication between the I & II Corps and the IV Corps fighting at Gebeler/Gabiler to the west.

Back on the road towards Kirklareli.

In the depth is Bulgaria

The first forested and ground we meet

The old station. In 1912 it would be jammed packed with units of the I,II and III Crops arriving from Istanbul.


At Seyitoglu Redoubt, one of the two ready Kirklareli Redoubts. Unfortunately Kirklareli University property and thus closed to the public.

The two redoubts of Kirklareli as seen from google maps

Kofte/Keftedes break at Kirklareli

Part III: The Battle of Lule Burgas-Pinahihar (Lule Burgash-Bunashihar), 1912

Map is from Konstantinos Travlos & Chris Pringle "Big Bloody Balkan Battles". In red is our route, and red circles mark stops.

Fortified with food, we continued our trip. Our aim now was to drive to Pinahisar and then drive south-wards to Lule Burgas along the front line, with a stop at Karagac, which was the center of the battle between the Ottoman II Corps and 4th Bulgarian Division.

At Karagac

Part IV: Battle of Catalca (Chataldja/Tsataltza)

From Karagac we followed the Ottoman line of retreat to the last stand at Catalca.

Map is from Konstantinos Travlos & Chris Pringle "Big Bloody Balkan Battles". In red is our route, and red circles mark stops.

a pillbox of the Cakmak line built to resist Operation Getrude in World War 2

This is where we witnessed the massive destruction of the battlefield 

Our final stop was the remnants of the Hamidkoy Fort. One of the four large redoubts built by the Ottomans for the battle in 1912. It is easy to locate from google maps, but harder to notice on the ground.

At 20:00 hours our expedition ended and we were back at Istanbul, exhausted but satisfied. 

Participants: Onur Buyuran, Doruk Akyuz, Bekir Becit, Nacho Perez Sanchez, Konstantinos Travlos

If you want to learn more about these key battles of the Balkan Wars we recommend the following excellent books

Our next expedition will be Chanakkale/Gallipoli and after that the battle fields of the Asia Minor Campaign during the Turkish War of Independence. 

1 comment:

Oswald said...

Thank you - fascinating to see. My wife's family are Bulgarians from Trace that left as refugees in 1913 (ending up in southern Australia). We'll visit ourselves one day!