Greco-Turkish War (1897)


Greco-Turkish War (1897)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Greco-Turkish War (1897)
place=Mainland Greece, mainly Epirus, Thessaly and Crete
date=February 3, 1897 - December 4, 1897
result=Ottoman Empire victory, Treaty of Istanbul
combatant1=flag|Ottoman Empire
combatant2=
commander1=Ahmet Hıfzı Pasha Ethem Pasha
commander2=Constantine I of Greece
strength1=121,500 1,300 cavalry 210 guns
strength2=54,000 500 cavalry 136 guns
casualties1= 1,111 KIA 3,329 WIA 16 POW
casualties2= 672 KIA 2,481 WIA 253 POW|

The Greco-Turkish War of 1897, also called the Thirty Days' War and known as the black '97 in Greece was a war fought between the Kingdom of Greece and Ottoman Empire. Its immediate cause was the question over the status of the Ottoman province of Crete, whose Greek majority long desired union with Greece. As a result of the Great powers intervention after the war, an autonomous Cretan State under Ottoman suzerainty was established the following year, with Prince George of Greece as it's first High Commissioner. It must be noted that this was the first war effort in which the military and political personnel of Greece were put to test after the war of independence in 1821.

Background

The Ottoman empire according to the Congress of Berlin, in 1878, signed the Convention of Halepa which was asking for the implementation of the organic law of 1868 that the Sultan had signed and was to give the island a status of semi-independence. The appointed though Ottoman commissioners were ignoring repeatedly the convention causing three successive rebellions in 1885, 1888 and 1889. In 1894 it was appointed Karatheodoris pasha as governor by the Sultan but his zeal for the implementation of the agreement was met with fury by the muslim population of the island and led to renewed clashes between the two communities in 1896.

To quell the unrest new provisions arrived from Ottoman empire while Greek volunteers landed on the island to support the Greek population. At the same time the fleets of the Great powers paroled the Cretan waters leading to further escalation. Nevertheless an agreement was reached with the Sultan and the tensions receded. In January 1897 intercommunal violence broke loose as both sides tried to consolidate their grip on power. The Christian district of Chania was set on fire and many fled to the foreign fleet anchored outside the city. A struggle for independence and union with Greece was declared by Cretan revolutionaries.

Greek prime minister Theodoros Deligiannis met fierce criticism by his adversary Dimitrios Rallis over his alleged inability to handle the issue. Deligiannis a populist nationalistic orator himself, fell into his own trap. Continuous demonstrations in Athens accused the King and the government for betrayal of the Cretan cause. The National Company or EEE, a nationalistic, militaristic organization that had infiltrated all levels of army and bureaucracy pushed for immediate confrontation with the Ottomans.

Prelude to war

On the 25th of January 1897 the first warships accompanied by the battleship Ydra sailed for Crete. Two battalions of the Greek army landed outside Chania winning the battle of Livadeia in the 7th of February against a 4,000s strong Ottoman force. Five days earlier despite the island being under the protection of the Great powers who guaranteed it's integrity to the Sultan, colonel Timoleon Vlassos head of the Greek expedition force announced the union with Greece. On the 5th of February the Great powers gave Deligiannis an ultimatum calling for an immediate withdrawal of Greek forces and a stature of autonomy for the island under the sovereignty of Sultan which was rejected. The general conscription called 13 days later meant that war was imminent.

Opposing forces

The Greek army was made of 3 divisions with 2 of them taking positions in Thessaly and one in Arta, Epirus. The heir to the throne Crown prince Constantine I was the only general in the army hence he took command of the forces in 25th of March. The Greek army in Thessaly consisted of 38,000 men 500 cavalry and 96 guns while that of Epirus was made of 16,000 men and 40 guns.

The opposing Ottoman army was consisted of 8 infantry divisions and one cavalry. In Thessaly front it could count on 92,500 men, 1300 cavalry and 186 guns while in Epirus it could field 29,00 men and 24 guns. Also the Ottoman army was under the guidance of a German military mission under general Baron von der Goltz. who had reorganized it after the defeat in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878). Ethem Pasha had the overall command of the Ottoman forces.

The war

On 24th of March 2,600 irregulars crossed the Greek border to Macedonia in order to provoke disarray behind enemy lines by rousing locals against Ottoman administration. As a result on the 6th of April Ethem Pasha mobilized his forces. His plan was to surround Greek forces and by using river Pineios as a natural barrier to push them back to Central Greece. Nevertheless his rear forces were halted while the center of his formation gained ground altering his initial plans. The Greek plan was calling for a wider open field combat which ultimately would cost heavy casualties against an already superior opponent.

Thessalian front

Officially war was declared on 18th of April when the Ottoman ambassador in Athens, Asim Bey, met with Greek foreign minister announcing the cutting of diplomatic ties. Heavy battles occurred between 21-22 of April outside the town of Tyrnavos but when the overwhelming Ottoman forces aligned and pushed together the Greek general staff ordered withdrawal, spreading panic among soldiers and population. Larissa fell in 27 while the Greek front was reorganized behind the strategic lines of Velestino, in Farsala. Nevertheless a division was ordered to head for Velestino thus cutting Greek forces in two,60km apart. Between 27-30 under the command of colonel Constantine Smolenski the Ottoman advance was checked and halted.

On the 5th of May 3 Ottoman divisions attacked Farsala forcing Greek forces to withdraw orderly to Domokos while on the eve of those events Smolenski withdrew from newly-recaptured Velestion to Almiros. On 17 the defenders of Domokos came under new attack but while the central and right part were halted successfully the left rear of the Ottoman formation broke through forcing a renewed withdrawal.Smolenski was ordered to stand his ground at the Thermopile passage but on 20th of May a ceasefire came in effect.

Epirus front

On the 18th of April Ottoman forces under Ahmet Hıfzı Pasha attacked the bridge of Arta but were forced to withdraw and reorganize around Pente Pigadia. Five days later colonel Manos captured Pente Pigadia but the Greek advance was halted due to lack of reinforcements against an already numerically superior opposition. On 12th of May Greek forces and Epirot volunteers tried to cut off Preveza but were forced to retreat with heavy casualties.

The armistice

On the 20th of September peace was signed between the two sides. Greece was forced to cede a small piece of Thessaly and to pay heavy reparations [ Erick J. Zurcher, Turkey, A Modern History, Tauris London-New York, 2004, p. 83 ISBN 1 86064 958 0] . In order to pay the latter Greek economy came under an international supervision. The armistice was a humiliation for Greece but laid the seeds for the revolution of 1909 in Goudi which called for immediate reforms in army, economy and society. Eventually Eleftherios Venizelos would came to power and as a leader of the Liberal party, he would instigate a wide range of reforms which would transform the Greek state leading it to the victorious Balkan wars 15 years later.

Casualties

References

External links

* [http://www.thesis.bilkent.edu.tr/0003114.pdf Mehmet Uğur Ekinci, "The Origins of the 1897 Ottoman-Greek War: A Diplomatic History." M.A. Thesis, Bilkent University, Ankara, 2006.]
* [http://www.onwar.com/aced/nation/gap/greece/fgreekturk1897.htm Onwar.com on the first Greco-Turkish war]


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