The Golden Sabre

24.08.2014 § 1 Comment

Прохода Шипка

The Monument at Shipka Pass

[Reposted in honour of the 137th anniversary of the battle of Shipka Pass]

It is well known that in history often insignificant circumstances can change the fates of nations. For example, the battle for Shipka pass in August 1877, the trial by fire of the newly formed Bulgarian volunteer corps and its most costly victory, was fought because of a sabre. A beautiful sabre, made of gold and encrusted with diamonds, but still, merely a sabre.

The summer of 1877 brought variable success to the Russian army on the Balkas. Since the beginning of the Russo-Turkish war, General Gurko had crossed the Danube and conquered parts of Moesia and three key Balkan passes, but the Russians’ attempts to claim the powerful fortress of Pleven were met with the fierce resistance of Osman Pasha, fortified there with his armies. An enormous part of Russia’s military might was tangled in the blockade of the strongest Ottoman outpost in Northern Bulgaria and every day’s delay was a day gained by Suleiman Pasha’s army, which was travelling from the South in relief of the besieged. These armies’ merging would spell defeat for the more poorly provisioned Russian army and for Bulgaria’s seedling hopes for liberation. All Suleiman had to do is cross the Balkan mountains.

Being aware of the Ottoman sultan’s impatience for news and to curry his favour, Suleiman sent a courier to Istanbul with the message that he had already crossed the Balkans through Shipka pass and was advancing on Pleven. In response sultan Abdul Hamid II sent him his blessing, accompanied by a gift: a golden, diamond-encrusted sabre.

On August 21 Suleiman reached the pass and while attempting to cross it encountered the desperate resistance of the defending Russian garrison, which contained a large number of Bulgarian volunteers under the command of General Stoletov. Then, instead of retreating and crossing at another, more poorly guarded pass, for four straight days Suleiman ordered his armies forward, up the slope. With the golden sabre on his belt, he had to cross at Shipka. Any other outcome would mean dishonour before the sultan. After all, against some 5000 poorly armed volunteers he had 30 000 elite troops and 48 cannons.

His calculations however failed to account for the indomitable spirit of the Bulgarian volunteers, who were acutely aware of how much hinged on the outcome of this battle.

Then Stoletov, our General brave,
roars: “Young defenders,
crown Bulgaria with laurel garlands!
To your strength the King has entrusted
the passage, the war, even himself!”
With these strong words the proud battalions
await courageously the Turkish hordes
frenzied and tumultuous! Oh, heroic hour!
The waves find cliffs then,
there are no more bullets, but the will endures,
the shield breaks – the chests remain,
and the sweet joy of their shared death
in front of the whole world, on this glorious ridge,
with one death heroic and one victory.
“The whole of Bulgaria now looks upon us,
this peak is high: She will see us,
if we are to run: better to die!”

At the cost of over 3600 heroic deaths, at Bulgaria’s Thermopylae the Ottoman armies were repelled for seventy-two bloody, torturous hours. On the morning of August 24, General Radetski arrived from the North with three Russian regiments which took over the defence of the pass and shattered Suleiman’s hopes of relieving his besieged compatriots.

Osman Pasha surrendered Pleven on December 10, 1877 and the Russian army went on the offensive, which culminated on March 3, 1878 10 km from Istanbul after the intervention of the Great Powers of Europe. The Ottoman empire lost the war and the Bulgarian nation was resurrected, won with the blood of its sons.

Because of a sabre.

The battle for Shipka pass

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