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DefenseCorrespondents in the Russo-Turkish War 1877-1878 on the Balkan Peninsula (3)

Correspondents in the Russo-Turkish War 1877-1878 on the Balkan Peninsula (3)

By Oleg Gokov

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By Oleg Gokov

Interestingly, in their notes, many correspondents of Russian newspapers agree that Russia was poorly prepared for a long war with Turkey. So, the former secretary of the Russian embassy in Constantinople, who volunteered to participate in the war of 1877-1878. A.N. Tseretelev wrote the following at the beginning of the war, after meeting Russian officers. “When I see many officers up close … firstly, ignorance is striking: for the most part they do not know where Brailov belongs to Galati, Romania or Turkey, on which side of the Danube Ruschuk … I’m not talking about the lack of any knowledge of ethnography and the geography of Turkey… But that’s not all: at every step one can already hear complaints about drunkenness, violence, outrages in taverns and coffee shops.”[115] This entry was made in Galati, April 25, 1877, and it vividly characterizes what was hushed up by official propaganda: the low level of moral and professional preparedness of part of the officer corps.

The situation has changed little over time. Nemirovich-Danchenko, passing through Zimnitsa and Sistovo in the summer of 1877, noted that “unfortunately, nowhere is a conscious attitude to the matter to be seen. The forces of the Turks in Plevna are not known to anyone; everyone is convinced that soon we will finish with Osman.”[116] Speaking about this correspondent, it should be generally noted that he did not hesitate to be critical of everything that happened in the theater of operations. So, for example, in August, he noted that the campaign was unnecessarily dragged out, and yet neither Plevna, nor Ruschuk, nor Shumla had yet been taken. “And having crossed after three victories,” he wrote, “for the Balkans, we will have to measure our strength with the third army, the army of Suleiman Pasha, which no one has ever defeated and all the fictions about General Gurko’s victory over it were created by foreign correspondents who did not bother check the rumors, just as they invented the unprecedented capture of Razgrad.”[117] His characterization of the Shipka position, which the Russian military considered key in the Balkans, is also interesting. “By the way, about the significance of Shipka,” wrote V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko in early October 1877 – This is the most inconvenient of all mountain passes. In the Balkans, dozens are better than him and less protected. We are standing here, not stepping back – so as not to cause panic in the Bulgarian population of Gabrovo, Drenov and Tarnov, so as not to give rise to alarm in Russia and to the triumph of our enemies in Europe.[118]

But M.A. Gasenkampf, among other things, devoted a lot of space in his diary to the order in the field headquarters and, in particular, to the relations of the assistant chief of staff K.V. Levitsky with officers of the General Staff. M.A. Gazenkampf himself was a General Staff officer, so this topic was close to him, especially considering how the officers of the General Staff, who were in the staff headquarters, were used. “Officers of the General Staff,” wrote M.A. Gazenkampf, – they are embittered at him (K.V. Levitsky – O.G.), because he failed to arrange their situation: inexperienced orderlies are sent on assignments for the General Staff, and the officers of the General Staff sit idle or are busy with current unimportant work ”.[119] K.V. Levitsky really enjoyed little respect at the headquarters. He was a protege of the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevich and did not differ in great abilities, if not to say that he was deprived of them. “The highest officials do not even consult with Levitsky on issues that he, as the chief of officers of the General Staff, should be in charge of.”[120] So, princes Nikolai and Evgeny Maximilianovich consulted not with him, but with M.A. Gazenkampf, which of the officers of the General Staff should be asked to appoint to be with them. It is not surprising that “officers of the General Staff,” wrote M.A. Gasenkampf, – they always want to leave the main apartment anywhere. The reasons are quite understandable: in every detachment, the officer of the General Staff is in sight and in serious work, and in the main apartment he is completely overshadowed by the adjutants and orderlies of the Grand Duke. They are given all the prominent and serious assignments, and the officers of the General Staff either pore over the papers or are forced to wander around idle.”[121]

But V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko noted shortcomings in the area that directly concerned the officers of the General Staff – the organization of undercover intelligence. Exaggerating, he nevertheless presented the situation correctly on the whole. “Also, some of our scouts are poorly organized, while Turkish spies are prowling all over the country. Back in Chisinau, people who understood the seriousness of the situation and knew Turkish forces better than our diplomats offered to organize a mass of scouts in Turkey itself. Our blindness was so great that this proposal was not put into motion. “Forgive me, we will finish the campaign in three months, why spend money on scouts!” Thanks to these far-sighted optimists, throughout the campaign we had no information about the movements of the Turks, while they received the most accurate about ours.”[122] As an example, V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko cited the example of General Boreisha at Shipka, when he “saw the army of Suleiman, but did not understand its movement”, and because of his mistake, the Russian troops were almost completely defeated.[123] True, in this state of affairs it was not so much the General Staff officers who were involved in the organization of intelligence that were to blame, but the top military leadership, who expected to end the war in two to three months.

Most correspondents noted indignantly that many wanted to profit from the war. Both states and people. So, “the Romanians took our side by virtue of the consciousness of the benefits of their role as “allies,” wrote N.V. Maksimov, – both materially and politically; that is why a very special relationship was immediately established between us, in which cold efficiency took the place of hot feelings. They tried to furnish every step of their further complicity in accordance with the requirements of their national pride, independence and honor, although this honor sometimes seemed rather dubious.”[124] Moreover, it was customary to blame the Jews for all troubles without exception. It must be said that the latter deserved such accusations (especially because of the Greger, Gorvits, Kogan company, which provided the Russian army with poor-quality food and fodder and profited well from these supplies). So, V.V. Krestovsky noted a sharp increase in prices with the entry of the Russian army into Romania. “Well, they are fighting here! – he was indignant upon arrival in Iasi. “It’s a pity especially for those soldiers who complain strongly that the Romanians and Jews cheat them in every possible way with every purchase and when exchanging money.”[125] Arriving in Ploiesti, V.V. Krestovsky was extremely surprised by the cost of hotels – 10 francs per day or 300 (about 120 rubles) per month.[126] “To the Jews, we must also owe that rise in prices for all products of vital necessity,” he noted, “which manifested itself here shortly after the crossing of our troops across the Romanian border.” “Jews, as you know, are masters of all trades, and are always ready to serve both ours and yours, so long as this service presents the possibility of a profitable gesheft. You will supply a Jew and fodder, and sometimes he will serve as a spy … In Ploesty … these days they even caught one goose, adorning himself with various orders, and who arrived here as an alleged correspondent … Meanwhile, he came to fuss about admitting him to the army, as correspondent … and for this purpose entered the office of the chief of staff, where, as they say, he was safely arrested.”[127]

A N.V. Maksimov described the situation in Romania with the entry of the Russian army in the following way. “Four main parties were noticeable in Chisinau: the party of “doers”, the party of “neutral residents” from the local intelligentsia … the party of “thirsty and hungry” and the so-called common people … The party of “doers” was busy from morning to night. They walked, drove, ran, fussed… And the more they walked and drove, the more serious they became and the more impregnable they seemed… the party of “thirsty and hungry” did not reason, but acted… The arena was wide: crackers, horse fodder , the supply of provisions, the wiring of railways, the markitanism, the acquisition of the necessary materials for crossing the Danube, and even such innocent things as, for example, telegrams.”[128] As a result, he comes to the conclusion that “at first, the arena of military activity presented itself as a wide field on which vampires of various positions and nationalities squabbled, tearing pieces out of each other’s mouths in the rear of the army and raking out everything that could be raked out from an item of public use, called a “money bag”.[129]

After the army crossed the Danube, the situation did not improve. “Since our army crossed the Danube, whole regiments of Jews, Romanians, Greeks and people of the most indeterminate nationality appeared in Zimnitsa … All these gentlemen … put together … wooden benches, laid out their goods … and began without a twinge of conscience to rob and rob anyone who only tried to buy something from them … Drunkenness was exorbitant in Zimnitsa. Theft was developed amazingly.”[130]

On the whole, it can be said that the Russian correspondents of the second group described the war in various ways in their letters, diaries, and telegrams. They showed all its unsightly underside: death, dirt, hundreds of crippled lives, the incompetence of many higher ranks, theft and corruption that corroded the army bureaucracy. In their correspondence, war is not a feat, but dirty, deadly and ungrateful to most of the army, work. “War is terribly sobering when you see it face to face.”[131] This phrase, uttered by one of the Russian correspondents, best illustrates the whole truth of the war, which such correspondents as V.I. Nemirovich-Danchenko, A.D. Ivanov, N.V. Maksimov and others tried to convey to the Russian society.

Even during the war, many of the correspondents (both Russian and foreign) were awarded awards. They were submitted by M.A. Gazenkampf commanders of the detachments with whom the correspondents were in battle, and he, in turn, submitted it for consideration by the Commander-in-Chief. So, the correspondent of the newspaper “New time” V.S. Rossolovsky and the newspapers “Daily News” A. Forbes received for the battle near Plevna on July 18, 1877 the Order of St.. Stanislav 3rd class. with swords. Correspondents of “New time” A.D. Ivanov and the newspapers “The Scotsman” Carrick were also awarded the Order of St. Stanislav 3rd class. with swords for the battle on July 18 at the village of Juranli. Ivanov took over the duties of an orderly in this battle and passed orders to the chain, and the second voluntarily undertook to provide first aid to the wounded and bandaged them under the fire of the Turks. The differences of all four correspondents were witnessed by the heads of the detachments in which they were – Gurko and Prince Shakhovsky [132]. Later A.D. Ivanov was also granted the Order of St. Anna 3rd class. with swords. The same order was awarded to the German correspondents Danngauer and von Maree for the battles near Nikopol on July 3 and near Plevna on July 18.[133]

Summing up, it should be noted that the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878. was one of the most important events in the history of Russia and the Balkan countries in the 19th century. The interest it aroused in Russia and Europe was enormous. Society demanded constant information about it, military experts were interested in obtaining information about the innovations used in its course. That is why a large role in covering the war was assigned to correspondents.

Notes:

[115] Tseretelev A.N., “Letters from the Campaign”, Russian Bulletin, No. 9 (1878), p. 219.

 [116] Nemirovich-Danchenko V.I., The Year of the War…, vol. 1, p. four.

 [117] Ibid., p. ten.

 [118] Ibid., p. 145.

 [119] Gazenkampf M., My diary 1877-78, p. 44.

 [120] Ibid.

 [121] Ibid., p. 224.

 [122] Nemirovich-Danchenko V.I., The Year of the War…, vol. 1, p. 28.

 [123] Ibid.

 [124] Maksimov N.V., “Beyond the Danube”, No. 5 (1878), p. 167-168.

 [125] Krestovsky V.V., Twenty months in the army…, vol. 1, p. 145.

 [126] Ibid., p. 164.

 [127] Ibid., p. 221-222.

 [128] Maksimov N.V., “Beyond the Danube”, No. 4 (1878), p. 258-259.

 [129] Ibid., p. 261

 [130] Ibid., No. 6, p. 362.

[131] Nemirovich-Danchenko V.I., The Year of the War…, vol. 1, p. 317.

 [132] Gazenkampf M., My diary 1877-78, p. 75.

 [133] Krestovsky V.V., Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 333.

Source of the illustration: “Snow trenches on Shipka”. Artist V. V. Vereshchagin. – Source: Vinogradov V.I. Russian-Turkish war 1877-1878 and the liberation of Bulgaria. – M.: Thought, 1978. – S. 172 (in Russian).

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