Siege of Pleven
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|Siege of Pleven|
|Part of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878)|
| Russian Empire|
| Grand Duke Nicholas|
Prince Carol I of Romania
|Casualties and losses|
|40,000 killed or wounded||25,000 killed or wounded|
The Siege of Pleven (or Plevna) during the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), saw a major struggle between the joint army of Russia and Romania; and the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish defense held up the main Russian advance southwards into Bulgaria, ensuring other great powers of the time to actively support the Ottoman cause. Eventually, superior Russian and Romanian numbers forced the garrison to capitulate.
In July 1877, the Russian Army, under the command of Grand Duke Nicholas, moved toward the Danube River virtually unopposed, since the Turks had no sizable force in the area. The Turkish high command sent an army to reinforce the city of Nikopol under the command of Osman Pasha. Before Osman reached Nikopol, the Russian vanguard easily took the city in the Battle of Nikopol (16 July 1877) and Osman settled on Pleven, a town among vineyards in a deep rocky valley some twenty miles to the south of Nikopol. He created a strong military fortress, raising earthworks with redoubts, digging trenches and quarrying out gun emplacements. From Pleven Osman's army dominated the main strategic routes into the heart of Bulgaria. Hours after Osman constructed fortifications, Russian forces began to arrive.
General Schilder-Schuldner, commanding the Russian 5th Division, IX Corps, received orders to simply occupy Pleven. Schilder-Schuldner arrived outside the city on July 19 and began to bombard the Turkish defenses but made no attack. The next day, Schilder-Schuldner attacked and succeeded in driving the Turks from some of the outer defenses. Osman brought up reinforcements and launched a series of counter-attacks which drove the Russians from the captured trenches, inflicting 2,800 casualties at a cost of 2,000.
Osman Pasha strengthened his defences and built more redoubts while the Russians sought and obtained reinforcements from the army of Prince Carol of Romania (later king Carol I of Romania), who made the condition that he should be given command of the joint besieging force. General Nikolai Kridener arrived with the entire Russian IX Corps and Osman's forces grew to 20,000. On July 31, Russian headquarters ordered Kridener to assault the city, which took place from three sides , with every expectation of a Russo-Romanian triumph. Kridener had a cavalry division under General Schakofsky and an infantry division under General Mikhail Skobelev. Schakofsky attacked the eastern redoubts and Skobelev assailed the Grivitsa redoubt to the north. Schakofsky managed to take two redoubts, but by the end of the day, the Turks succeeded in repulsing all the attacks and retaking lost ground. Russian losses amounted to 7,300 and the Turks lost 2,000.
After repulsing the Russian attacks, Osman failed to press his advantage and possibly to drive off the besiegers. He did however make a cavalry sortie on August 31 that cost the Russian 1,300 casualties and the Turks 1,000. The Russians continued to send reinforcements to Pleven, and their army reached 100,000 men, now personally led by the Grand Duke. On September 3, Skobelev reduced the garrison at Lovech guarding the Turkish supply-lines before Osman could move out to relieve it. see main article: Battle of Lovcha. The Turks organized the survivors of Lovech into 3 battalions for the Pleven defenses. Osman received an additional 13 battalions, bringing his total strength to 30,000; the highest it would reach during the siege.On September 11, the Russians made a large-scale assault on Pleven. The Turks were dug in and were equipped with Krupp manufactured steel breech-loading artillery and American manufactured Winchester repeaters and Peabody-Martini rifles. For three hours they poured murderous fire into the waves of advancing Russians. Alexander II of Russia, the Czar, and his brother the Grand Duke Nicolas watched from a pavilion built on a hillside out of the line of fire. Skobelev took two southern redoubts and a Romanian division took the Grivitsa redoubt. The next day the Turks retook the southern redoubts, but could not dislodge the Romanians. From the beginning of September, Russian losses had amounted to roughly 20,000, while the Turks lost 5,000.
Growing Russian casualties put a halt to frontal assaults. General Eduard Ivanovich Todleben arrived to oversee the conduct of the siege as the army chief of staff. Todleben had proven command experience in siege warfare: he had previously gained renown for his defense of Sevastopol (1854–1855) during the Crimean War. He decided on a complete encirclement of the city and of its defenders and by October 24 the Russians and Romanians had completely surrounded Pleven. Osman requested permission to abandon Pleven and retreat, but the Ottoman high command did not allow him to do so. Supplies began to run low in the city and Osman finally made an attempt to break the Russian siege in the direction of Opanets. On December 9, the Turks silently emerged, at dead of night, threw bridges over and crossed the Vit River, attacked on a 2-mile front and broke through the first line of Russian trenches. Here they fought hand to hand and bayonet to bayonet, with little advantage to either side. Outnumbering the Turks almost 5 to 1, the Russians drove the Turks back across the Vit and wounded Osman in the process. Osman Pasha was wounded in the leg by a stray bullet, which killed his horse beneath him. Rumours of his own death created panic. Making a brief stand, the Turks eventually found themselves driven back into the city, losing 5,000 men to the Russians' 2,000. The next day, Osman surrendered the city, the garrison and his sword to the Romanian colonel Mihail Cerchez. He was treated honorably, but his troops perished in the snows by the thousand as they straggled off into captivity. The more seriously wounded were left behind in their camp hospitals, only to be murdered by the Bulgarians as retribution for the massacre of Bulgarian population in places such as Panagurishte, Perushtitza, Bratzigovo and Batak. 1877.
- A large new factory building, completed in 1877, of the Finlayson & Co cotton mill in Tampere, Finland was named Plevna commemorating the battle and the Guard of Finland that took part.
- The city of Plevna, Montana in the United States was given its name by Bulgarian immigrants building the railroad there in honor of the battle of Plevna.
- In other countries, there are five cities and towns named after Plevna, and there are eighteen Plevna streets in Britain alone.
In popular culture
- The best-selling Russian detective novel The Turkish Gambit, the second book in the Erast Fandorin series, is set at the Siege of Pleven. The plot involves Fandorin attempting to discover a Turkish spy believed to be inside Russian headquarters.
- A famous Mehteran (Ottoman military band) piece "Osman Paşa Marşı" (March of Osman Pasha) honors the courageous defense of the Plevna; and is one of the most well-known marches in Turkey.
- In the Romanian Western The Prophet, the Gold and the Transylvanians, Traian Brad is a Romanian who fought in Plevna where he got a medal and a Turkish gun.
- ^ M1866 Turkish Contract Winchester (.44 Henry Rimfire)
- ^ "The Plevna Delay: Winchesters and Peabody-Martinis in the Russo-Turkish War: A small Turkish army is trapped, but with the help of surprising firepower, they hold up the entire Russian Campaign for over five months." by Richard T. Trenk, Sr. originally published in Man At Arms Magazine, Volume 19, Number Four, August, 1997
- ^ Page 107 and 108, Virginia Cowles, The Russian Dagger: Cold War in the Days of the Czars, Harper & Row (1969), hardcover, 352 pages
- ^ Lord Kinross, The Ottoman Centuries, 1977, pp. 522, Morrow Quil
- ^ http://www2.finlayson.fi/finlayson-en/history (see year 1877)
- ^ www.davidkidd.net/20Plevna.html.
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain. (vol. 21 pp. 838–840, article by John Henry Verrinder Crowe)
- Compton's Home Library: Battles of the World CD-ROM
- Battles of the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878)