Decision at Kumanovo

2014 October 24
- Nebojša Malić

The first Balkan War began on October 8, 1912, when Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire. Within days, the rest of the Balkans Allies followed: Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. Though the war officially ended on May 30, 1913, with the Treaty of London, its outcome was determined by the end of October.

The decisive engagement of the war was the Battle of Kumanovo, which took place on October 23-24, 1912. Though their battle plans -- developed by the Turks' German adviser Colmar von der Goltz -- called for a defensive action in Macedonia and Albania and a decisive battle against the Bulgarians in Thrace, the Ottoman command decided to go on the offensive against both the Bulgarians and the Serbs.

The Serbian 3rd Army entered Priština on October 20, liberating Kosovo. The 1st Army was marching south into Macedonia. Facing them was the main Ottoman body, the Vardar Army commanded by Zeki-Pasha. Though outnumbered, the Turks counted on the element of surprise; all sources suggest the Serbs did not know they were facing the main Turkish host.

On October 23, Zeki-Pasha's troops launched an attack on the left flank of the Serbian army, but failed to break their defenses. The Turks were pushed back and kept suppressed by Serbian artillery. Zeki-Pasha relaunched his attack the following day, but ran into fresh Serbian divisions that had arrived during the night. The Serbian counterattack that developed around noon captured the strategic height of Zebrnjak and broke the Ottoman line. By 3PM, the Serbs were in Kumanovo, while the Vardar Army was retreating in disorder.

Kumanovo turned out to be the decisive battle on the central front of the war; the Serbians were able to redeploy the Second Army to aid the Bulgarians besieging Adrianople (Edirne), while the Third Army marched to the Adriatic. Having captured the bulk of Ottoman artillery at Kumanovo, and later at the supply base in Skopje, the First Army went on to another victory at Prilep (November 3), advancing over open ground in parade order.

Ottoman resistance till the end of the war consisted principally of defending fortified cities (Yoannina, Scutari, Salonica and Adrianople) from the besieging Allies. All were eventually taken. Eventually, the British, Austro-Hungarians and Germans intervened to save the Ottomans from complete defeat, and at the peace conference in London attempted to undo many of the allies' gains. Encouraged by Vienna, Bulgaria turned on the allies in June 1913, but was quickly defeated. The Turks took the opportunity to recapture Adrianople (now Edirne), thus keeping a foothold in Europe.


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