- The First Balkan War – Phase Two
The First Balkan War – Phase Two.
The Peace Conference and the Treaty of London.
The conditions of the Second Balkan War.
Pursuant to the the armistice, the belligerent countries, except Greece which was not bound by it, ceased the operations on various fronts for two months (November 20, 1912 to January 20, 1913). The Greek forces continued their military operations on land (Epirus), a strategy seeking the release of Ioannina, and on the sea. Enhanced by troops that had arrived from Macedonia, Epirus army captured Pesta (Nov. 29), where the Ottoman troops had remained fortified for two months. Then the Greek forces were immobilized in front of Bizani.
At the diplomatic level, the same day started in London the Peace Conference, initially involving only the representatives of the Powers. The Conference was chaired by the Foreign Minister of England Sir Edward Grey. On December 3rd convened a conference which was attended by the representatives of the belligerent. In fact there were two parallel processes. Head of the Greek delegation was Eleftherios Venizelos. But, it soon became clear that there was no ground of understanding, as the Ottoman Empire was not prepared to consent to the division of its European part. The Gate responded negatively to the claims of Balkan countries for the allocation of land from the Black Sea and the Dardanelles to the Adriatic and the Aegean islands. Its counter proposals to retain most of eastern Thrace (Edirne vilayet), Crete and the islands and to declare Macedonia an autonomous province under its suzerainty did not leave any room for agreement.
After the expiration of the ceasefire and as the negotiations in London were fruitless, on January 21st the First Balkan war entered its second phase. All this time at the continental front, the continuous war for the positions and the hardships under the extremely adverse conditions of the winter of 1912-13, which was heavier than in recent years, plagued both sides. Following a short suspension of military operations, the Greek forces restructured, were thrown back into battle. The attack against Bizani under the command of Constantine, who was in the meantime head of the army of Epirus, was launched on January 27. Previously, the Ottoman governor of Ioannina Esat Pasha had rejected a proposal of Constantine, who considered given the defeat of Turkey, to surrender the town without a fight. The Greek attacks were repeated, but the Ottoman forces resisted and often were performing counterattacks. The fierce battles of the artillery, by both sides, were ongoing, almost on a daily basis. On February 20, the final general attack of the Greek army was unleashed. Esat Pasha into the looming absolute domination of his opponents, this time appeared willing to surrender unconditionally. At the dawn of the next day signed the delivery protocol at the headquarters of Emin Aga. More than 20,000 Turkish soldiers were captured. On February 22, the Greek army entered triumphantly into the city.
Unlike the Macedonian campaign, where the Greek army has not encountered particular difficulties, in Epirus the situation was completely different. The Ottoman forces had carefully prepared the line of fortifications, significantly reducing the potential attack of the Greeks. The use of a limited number of crossings was virtually impossible, as the Turks covered them with sufficient concentration of artillery fire. The heavy losses on the battlefield and, more importantly, the inclement weather and the fatigue had shaken the morale of the men of the Greek army. The siege of Bizani, and generally the operations on the continental front, was the only of the period 1912-13 that had the features of a modern warfare with massive losses and could, in this level, be compared with the operations of the First World War. It is significant that while the liberation of Thessaloniki demanded a three weeks effort, the surrender of the Turks and the entrance of the Greek army in Ioannina made possible after a relentless siege of three months. More generally, the war casualties in Epirus were twice compared to those of the Macedonian campaign.
After the liberation of Ioannina, the Greek forces moved northward. The next few days were released Margariti, Parga, Filiates, Leskoviki, Konitsa and Premeti. On March 3rd, were released Kleisoura, Argyrokastro and Delvino. The same day, the Greek army arrived in Agioi Saranda and the following day in Tepeleni. The liberation of Epirus was completed. Venizelos had accurately determined the line Kleisoura - Chimarra as the extreme limit of the Greek claims. Then, the greater part of the army of Epirus gradually moved to Macedonia, where had already dawned the probability of a military conflict with Bulgaria.
On March 5, the Greek and international public opinion were shocked by the murder of King George in Thessaloniki. King George was for half a century in the Greek throne and was much admired. Immediately after the liberation of Thessaloniki he had settled in the city to highlight its Greek origin. His collaboration with Venizelos, despite the initial reservations, had developed smoothly, especially since the Prime Minister ordered the public acceptance of coexistence and cooperation rather than the direct confrontation with the palace. King and Prime Minister had developed relations of mutual appreciation and respect. George recognized the ability of Venizelos in promoting important reforms and had chosen not to interfere with the exercise of the executive power. Regarding the international orientation of the country, he shared the view that Greece had to cultivate friendly relations and cooperation with Great Britain, which was the leading naval power of the time. According to the official version, the murderer of the King, Alexander Shinas, an outcast unemployed teacher from Serres, acted alone. However, his suicide, shortly after his arrest, left no room to the exploration of his motives and allowed to be developed various theories that depicted him as an instrument of German secret services, who wished to bring under their control the throne and the Greek foreign policy.
Constantine, who succeeded his father, was closer to Germany. Compared with George, he was inexperienced and had no special skills. As the successor and the leader of the army he had shown his unconstitutional views. He believed that the palace had to formulate the foreign policy and the government to be restricted on managing the internal issues. The influence that exerted to him his wife Sophia, sister of the German emperor, and his staff was decisive. The rise of Constantine to the throne was the beginning of the end for the harmonious coexistence of Venizelos with the palace. The new king succeeded to the leadership of the army Panagiotis Daglis.
The liberation of Ioannina, followed on March 13 the occupation of Edirne, after a five-month siege by the Bulgarians with the assistance of a strong force of the Serbian artillery. On April 9, Montenegrins captured Shkodra after a siege that lasted six months. Then the control of the city passed on an international contingent and the Montenegrin forces withdrew. In symbolic terms, these three cities were the last Ottoman forts. Their loss sealed the dire defeat of the empire. Within half a year the majority of European Turkey was liberated and a new order was formed in the region. Under the weight of these developments, the empire approached the Forces, requesting their intervention to end the war. In early April, following a touch by the Powers, Greece and Serbia agreed to cease hostilities with Turkey, while Bulgaria signed a new truce, of a two-month period, in Tsataltza. A similar agreement was signed between Greece and Turkey to end the blockade of the coast of Epirus and Albania by sea. However, until the final signing of the peace treaty, the blockade of the coast of Asia Minor and the Hellespont Strait will be continued by the Greek navy.
After months of negotiations, understandings and representations, on May 17, signed in London the preliminary peace treaty. In these negotiations critical were the role played by the governments of the Great Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Great Britain, Italy, Russia), who eventually required by the belligerent countries, except Montenegro, to accept a treaty text. According to this:
- The whole of the empire on the European continent, located west of the Enos-Midia line, from the mouth of the Ebros River to the Black Sea, except of Albania, which was proclaimed an independent principality, was given to the allied Balkan states. The Powers were responsible to settle the border and the status of the newly formed Albanian state
- The Gate renounced all right to sovereignty over Crete, which formally ceded to the four Balkan states. This wording essentially tantamount to concession of Crete into Greece, as no other country had aspirations for the island. As early as February, on the islet at the entrance of Souda Bay, after the departure of the last warship of the Powers, the Turkish flag, the symbol of sovereignty of the Gate, was replaced by the Greek one.
- The Powers were responsible to settle the fate of the islands of the eastern Aegean and the peninsula of Athos.
The treaty provided the establishment of an international economic committee, which would regulate a number of issues, such as war reparations, the Ottoman debt, which would be covered by the Confederates in proportion to the territories that would be annexed e.tc. The settlement of a series of questions related to the performance of the prisoners, the judiciary, nationality and trade relations would be arranged on the basis of specific bilateral agreements between stakeholders.
In the aftermath of the signing of the Treaty of London none of the allied countries was satisfied. Into the ranks of both the winners and the Powers had already aroused serious disagreements about the settlement of critical issues still outstanding: the distribution of soils in European Turkey, the regulating of the Greek-Albanian borders and the fate of the Aegean islands.
The strategic choice of Venizelos for Greece to join the Balkan front was vindicated. He verified his prediction that the advance of the Greek army would create faits accomplis and that it could practically prevent the application of a Treaty between Serbia and Bulgaria for the distribution of soils, which devalued the position of Greece in the Balkans and did not take into account the Greek claims. The Greek side stressed the contribution of its own forces on land and especially at sea, which resulted into the exclusion of communication of the Turkish troops in Asia Minor. Furthermore, proposed a comprehensive plan for the distribution of lands, which provided the Straits to be placed under international regime, the region between Kavala and Nestos to be granted in Bulgaria and Greece to reach Thessaloniki, Kavala and Avlona. Also, the Greek government supported the establishment of a Balkan transnational formation.
For its part, Bulgaria sought to enshrine a hegemonic role in the region, citing the contribution of its forces to victory. Considered that Thrace and most of Macedonia rightfully should be attached to the Bulgarian state and appeared willing to cede to Greece only Crete and the Aegean islands. Also, claimed territories that had been occupied by Serbia, who in turn sought to revise its agreement with Bulgaria in March 1912, since after the establishment of the Albanian state had no outlet to the Adriatic.
The friction between the allies, especially of Bulgaria on the one hand and Greece and Serbia on the other, since the first hours of the coexistence of troops in the area were continuing. Since February were recorded the first Greek-Bulgarian conflicts in various regions of Macedonia (Almopia Nigrita Asprovalta). The Bulgarian aggression in the region peaked in late April and continued unabated until June. In Thessaloniki, which remained a bone of contention and the Bulgarians made no secret of their ambition to become definitive masters of the town, almost on a daily basis, the presence of Bulgarian troops caused skirmishes. The growing Bulgarian aggression worried Constantine and Venizelos, who rushed on the spot to assess the situation. On May 21, was signed in Thessaloniki the Greek-Bulgarian protocol that defined a neutral line of disjunction of the two armies from the Lake Doiran into the harbor of Eleftheroi. It was a temporary arrangement to avoid friction between the two sides, which did not specify the future borders and was greeted with skepticism by the Greek press, which considered that this way Bulgarians won time in order to prepare a surprise attack in Thessaloniki. On the same day was fixed a dividing line between the Bulgarian and the Serbian army, which since April were constantly in friction as the Bulgarians sought to expel Serbs from the disputed territories they had conquered. Sofia once again overestimated its military strength and felt that could prevail in a new confrontation with opponents its hitherto allies.
The attitude of Bulgaria eventually propelled Greece and Serbia to seek closer cooperation in order to be ensured against the growing hegemony of Sofia. Just two days after the signing of the peace treaty with Turkey on May 19, the two countries established secretly in Thessaloniki a ten year Greek-Serbian defense treaty and the related military contract.It was preceded on May 1st the signature of a Greeek – Serbian military contract. Greece and Serbia undertook the mutual assistance in case of unprovoked attack by Bulgaria. The treaty also provided the distribution of land that was liberated and Serbia's access to the port of Thessaloniki.
The clouds of a new war in the Balkans, just two months after the end of the last hostilities, were most dangerously thicken.