The quadrangle of the Turkish fortresses Silistria - Ruschuk - Shumla - Varna, while circumventing it by the main forces of the Russian Danube army in the Sistovo region, played the role of a bridgehead from which the Ottoman army could strike north, across the Danube, according to Russian rear communications in Romania, or to the west , on the left flank of the Russian army. Therefore, at the first stage of hostilities, the Russian high command was quite seriously afraid of this quadrangle of enemy fortresses. Historical experience showed that the Turks held the main forces of their troops here.
Indeed, the Turks had here before 70-75 thousand soldiers. Of these, about half defended the fortress, the other could be used for a counterattack on the Russian army. However, the troops at the beginning of the war were poorly organized, prepared, their morale was low. Therefore, the commander-in-chief Abdul-Kerim Pasha refused to attack the left flank of the Danube army at the beginning of the war. He knew that in the open field his troops would quickly be defeated, partly scatter and completely lose their combat capability. Then the fortress will fall quickly. It is better to keep the defense, relying on strong fortresses, behind the walls Turkish soldiers can still fight.
Not knowing about this and fearing the enemy, the Russian command moved the most powerful Ruschuk detachment of Tsarevich Alexander (12 and 13 corps) here. The Nizhne-Danube detachment of General Zimmerman (14 Corps), the detachment of General V. N. Verevkin and the Zhurzhevo-Oltenitsky detachment of General Aller were located on the same direction (together two detachments had 1 / 2 corps). Thus, the Russian command assigned the 3 1 / 2 corps to support the left wing of the Danube army. The Ruschuksky detachment was tasked with active actions to pin down the enemy on the left wing of the army, to cover the advance of the advance detachment from attempts to attack the enemy from the east and southeast, and also to prevent a possible breakthrough of the enemy on the communications of the Danube army.
In the initial period of hostilities, the Russian command could be convinced of the changing role of the quadrilateral fortress. The Turkish High Command did not dare to launch a serious offensive against the rear posts of the Danube Army. To do this, it was necessary to take a serious risk: to throw the main forces of the Turkish army over the Danube. But then there would be nothing to block the path of the Danube army to Adrianople and Constantinople. The Turkish generals were not ready for such decisive actions. And the threat to the left wing of the Russian army could be blocked in two ways: 1) leave a barrier sufficient to parry a possible threat from the enemy, and use the liberated troops to reinforce the Forward Detachment operating on the main line or as a general reserve; 2) put the Ruschuksky detachment and other forces on the left wing an active offensive task.
The commander-in-chief of the Danube army, Nikolai Nikolayevich, chose another, the worst option of using the existing troops. Against the quadrangle of the fortresses, not only were the 3 / 1 bodies pushed out first from 2 / 14, but they were reinforced by several other detachments of one body. At the same time, these compounds were assigned purely passive tasks. The Lower Danube detachment (Zimmerman’s 1 Corps), Verevkin’s detachment and Aller’s Zhurzhevo-Oltenitsky detachment covered the Danube throughout the war and did not participate in active hostilities at all, since the Turkish troops did not act against them. Thus, the 1 2 / XNUMX corps of Russian troops were actually completely turned off from the war. They were supposed to fend off a potential threat from the Turkish army, which they invented at the headquarters of the Danube army. The Turks themselves were sitting in their fortresses and were not going to force the Danube. Most of these troops, leaving a small barrier and guard, observation posts, patrols, could be used for offensive operations.
The Ruschuksky detachment and later formed neighboring detachments (Northern, Osman-Bazarsky and Yelensky) with a total of three corps almost all through the war passively carried out the task of securing the left flank of the Danube army. At different times of the war, they had to wage defensive battles, reflecting the generally weak attacking actions of the Turkish troops.
In early July, 1877, the Ruschuksky detachment reached the southern approaches to Ruschuk and began to prepare for the siege of the Turkish fortress. Planned to ship on the Bulgarian bank of the Danube 88 siege weapons. However, the situation soon changed and the detachment was given the task of moving to defense. On July 21, a new Ottoman commander was appointed Mehmet Ali Pasha. The Turkish commander-in-chief began to prepare the East Danube army for an offensive. He succeeded in sending 14 battalions from Sukhum and Batum to the East Danube army. He took a number of measures to form 36 new battalions from the Muslim population living inside the quadrilateral of fortresses. In addition, taking advantage of the passivity of the Nizhnedunaysky and Zhurzhevo-Oltenitsky Russian detachments, Mehmet Ali Pasha removed from the front against Zimmerman's troops and from the northern fortresses a number of personnel units and artillery with a total number of 25 thousand with 30 guns. Mehmet Ali Pasha used all these forces to form a field army, which from 21 to 25 July concentrated in a fortified camp at Razgrad. By the end of July, the number of this army reached 40 thousand people with 96 guns and continued to grow.
The transition of the Russian army to defense
By the beginning of August, 17 in the Danube army numbered 268 thousand people and more than 1 thousand guns. The main forces were divided into three groups - Western (45 thousand people and 208 guns), Southern (48,5 thousand people and 195 guns) and Ruschuksky (56 thousand people and 224 guns). The strategic reserve was 10 thousand people. On the approach was another division. The rest of the troops entered the Lower Danube and Zhurzhevo-Oltenitsky detachment.
The Turkish command was able to take a number of measures and concentrate more than 200 thousand people and 387 guns against the Danube army. In the area of Pleven, Lovcha, Sofia, the West Danube army was stationed under the command of Osman Pasha (64 thousand men and 108 guns). The quadrilateral fortress was occupied by the East Danube army of Mehmet Ali Pasha (it increased to 100 thousand people with 216 guns). The southern army under the command of Suleiman Pasha (about 37 thousand people with 63 guns) was concentrated south of the Balkan Mountains. Thus, in the infantry and cavalry, the forces were approximately equal, and in artillery the Russians were superior to the Turks 2,5 times. A serious disadvantage of the Turkish army and at the same time its strength was the reliance on the fortress. A significant part of the army was in the fortresses, for the action in the field the enemy could use no more than 100-120 thousand people. At the same time, the Turkish army had an important strategic advantage: the Turks from three sides covered the Russian army, stretched across a broad front.
The failure of the Russian troops in Zabalkanie and the failure of the storming of Plevna provoked delight in Constantinople, in the Turkish high command. The Sultan, the Minister of War and the Supreme Military Council decided that it was time to launch a counter-offensive in order to throw the Russians into the Danube. The Turkish High Command prepared a plan for the encirclement of Russian troops by concentrating the offensive of the three armies in the general direction of Sistovo. Suleiman Pasha’s army was to take Shipka and force the Balkans. The West Danube army of Osman Pasha had to keep Pleven before Suleiman Pasha’s break through the Balkan Mountains, and then go on the counteroffensive. East Danube army Mehmet Ali Pasha received the task of active actions to tie down Russian troops to facilitate the breakthrough through the Balkans of the Southern Army. The implementation of this plan could put the Russian army in a dangerous position. The problem was that the Turkish command could not ensure the normal interaction of the three armies, and the quality of the troops was inferior to the Russians.
The beginning of the war was successful for Russia: the Russian army triumphantly crossed an important and difficult Danube frontier, established control over the mountain passes of the Balkans, making it possible for the main forces of the army to pass into Zabalkanie, took Nikopol, went to Pleven and Rushchuk. However, then the general situation on the Balkan front began to take shape not in favor of the Danube army. Largely due to the mistakes of the Russian high command. The offensive of the army in divergent directions led to the dispersion of forces, disruption of interaction between individual units. The vanguard was too weak to operate effectively in Zabalkanie. The Western detachment failed to capture Plevna and was stuck near this Turkish stronghold. The Ruschuksky detachment and other detachments in this direction acted indecisively, which allowed the Turks to create a powerful grouping in the quadrangle of the fortresses. The Russian reserves were used, it turned out that when the “Russian Blitzkrieg” plan failed, the available forces were not enough to conduct a long campaign. A good war plan turned out to be unsecured with forces and means, it was necessary to change the strategy of struggle.
War Minister Milutin, who was under Alexander II near the theater of operations, saw all the ugliness that was going on in the army, and realized that further, this way, like during the storming of Pleven, you cannot act. You can destroy the army. DA Milyutin in a note to Tsar Alexander II of 21 July (2 August) 1877 of the year soberly assessed the situation: “... Turkey, which seemed so close to complete disintegration ... still retained a lot of vitality and has large military means with powerful foreign support. Regarding tactical, we cannot always fight, rushing openly, boldly, directly to the enemy, even incomparably superior in strength, especially when he managed to strengthen himself. If we continue to always count on one boundless selflessness and courage of a Russian soldier, then in a short time we will destroy all our magnificent army. With regard to the strategic, it is obviously impossible to hope that with one quick, bold attack forward for the Balkans ... to create panic in the enemy army and the people and after a few weeks of time under the walls of the capital itself to prescribe to him peaceful conditions. "
The position of the Danube army on July 30 was estimated by Miljutin as extremely negative. “In the absence of a general reserve,” he wrote, “the whole army is divided into small units along a vast semicircle, closing the occupied space of the region. The semicircle has at least 320 versts of stretch, and in no one point of this semicircle are there more than two or three infantry brigades with several cavalry regiments. ” Further, Milyutin noted that to remedy the case "it is possible only by refusing for a time the offensive enterprises, before the arrival of stronger reinforcements, to scatter the scattered forces into a small number of points, to take advantageous positions and, where necessary, strengthen." This proposal was approved by the Russian tsar and 22 July (3 August) 1877, he sent a note to Milutin, commander-in-chief of the Danube army, with a postscript: “It seems to me to conclude it perfectly correctly, and therefore, if you also divide it, you must immediately start execution and ensure themselves strongly fortified positions from all sides and in them to expect suitable reinforcements, before thinking of a further attack. "
“Strong reinforcements,” about which Milutin wrote, could only arrive in late autumn. The High Command, the headquarters of the Danube Army, have developed vigorous activities to increase the size of the army. Until the end of August - mid-September, the previously mobilized 2-th, 3-i and 26-i infantry divisions, 3-I infantry brigade and 2-I Don Cossack division could have arrived in the Danube army. All these units, together with the additions received in August, in total amounted to about 50 thousand people, that is, they could form only one common reserve of the Danube army. But these forces were not enough to go on the offensive. Therefore, the guards were mobilized, the 1-I Grenadier, 24-I and 26-I infantry divisions, and a little later - the 2-I and 3-I grenadier and 1-I cavalry divisions. All of these compounds (except for the 1 Grenadier Division, destined for the Caucasian Front) could arrive in the bulk only in the middle - end of October. These events were given before 90-100 thousand people of fresh troops. In addition, negotiations were conducted with Romania on the issue of attracting her to actively participate in the war. In September, the Romanian army prepared for war. Romania’s participation in the war yielded even more 40 thousand people. Thus, the Russian Danube army had to keep the defense for up to three months, until strong reinforcements arrived, with the help of which it was possible to go on the offensive again.
Having decided to go over to strategic defense along the whole front, the Russian high command paid special attention to keeping the passages through the Balkan mountain range. Passes were defended by the Russian Southern detachment under the command of General FF Radetsky, dispersed by small units in an area of 120 km. Of the total number of 48,5 units, thousands of people with 195 14 guns, thousands of soldiers and 66 guns, were located at Turnovo, as a reserve. At the head of the reserve was M. I. Dragomirov. Radetsky believed that the timely maneuver of a strong reserve could with any unexpected strike by the enemy to fight back.
Successful implementation of the defense plan depended on the correct definition of the plan of the Turkish command. However, Radetzky did not have accurate data on the possible actions of the enemy. He assumed that Suleiman Pasha would try to break through the connection with the East Danube army Mehmet Ali Pasha and therefore, apparently, would move in a northeast direction, in the area of the quadrilateral fortresses. Based on this analysis, Radetzky in the morning of 8 (20) in August 1877 began the advancement of the reserve to the left flank of the detachment. In reality, Suleiman Pasha decided to break through not to the north-east, but to the north - through the Shipka Pass, where he defended a small Russian-Bulgarian detachment under the command of Major-General N. G. Stoletov.
Artillery battle near Plevna. Battery siege weapons on the Grand Duke's mountain. N. D. Dmitriev-Orenburg