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The Balkan Wars, 1912 - 1913 , by Richard C. Hall

The Balkan Wars 1912-1913: Prelude to the First World War - Richard C. Hall


My primary motivation for reading Richard C. Hall's The Balkan Wars, 1912 - 1913, (2000) was to understand how Greece came to its current borders (after its ineptly carried out War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire in the years 1821-1830, the new state of Greece was a small fraction of the Greece we know today). The Greeks dreamed of regaining their long past glories and in 1897 commenced a war with the Ottoman Empire which resulted in a traumatic defeat that overturned the Greek government and seriously roiled the political and cultural waters in Greece. What happened next?


But Hall's subtitle, Prelude to the First World War, is completely justified - it becomes evident in this book that the First World War was an extension of the Balkan Wars, and the Eastern Front of WW I was partially a renewal of the Balkan Wars with battles re-fought on many of the same battlefields.


Hall's book is a diplomatic and military history of the first two Balkan Wars. The first was fought between the Autumn of 1912 and the late Spring of 1913, with Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro and Greece allied against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were badly defeated, but the territorial ambitions of the victorious allies were incompatible. The Second Balkan War was fought in July 1913, with Bulgaria facing Serbia, Montenegro and Greece, who wanted to keep the portions of Macedonia they had occupied during the first war, while the Bulgarians wanted the portions they thought were assured to them by their allies prior to the first conflict. Then the Romanians and the Ottomans opportunistically fell upon the Bulgarians, as well; hence, the short duration of the war.


All the while the Great Powers were sticking their fingers in the pie and becoming increasingly involved in matters which barely concerned them. Less than a year after the end of the Second Balkan War, all of Europe was at war, directly due to the occurrences in the Balkans; the famous assassination in Sarajevo of the Austrian archduke shrinks into insignificance in light of the developments described by Hall. By the summer of 1913 and as a direct result of these wars, the Bulgarians hated all of their neighbors and had re-aligned themselves with the Germans (instead of the Russians); the Serbs and Montenegrens seriously resented the Austrians, since the Austrians were doing everything they could to get in the Serbians' way, including forming a fragile Albanian state which lasted about three seconds with yet another hapless German prince set upon the Albanian throne. (The Great Powers had earlier imposed Danish and German princes upon the Greeks.) To get their way, the Austrians had actually threatened the Serbians with war. Otherwise busy, the Serbians backed down - for a short while.


Hall uses original Bulgarian and Serbian sources in this book, but for the Greek and Ottoman sides he employs sources in English, French and German. The reader therefore gets a closer view of the internal workings of the Bulgarian and Serbian minds than those of the other parties to these conflicts. Somewhat repetitive and written in a less than felicitous style, Hall's book is nonetheless well worth reading.