How Turkey Bribed Bulgaria to Join the Central Powers, 1915

There were two great prizes in the game then being played in the Balkans: one was Macedonia, which Bulgaria must have; and the other Constantinople, which Russia was determined to get. Bulgaria was entirely willing that Russia should have Constantinople if she herself could obtain Macedonia.

I was given to understand that the Bulgarian General Staff had plans all completed for the capture of Constantinople, and that they had shown these plans to the Entente. Their programme called for a Bulgarian army of about 300,000 men who would besiege Constantinople twenty-three days from the time the signal to start should be given. But promises of Macedonia would not suffice; the Bulgarian must have possession.

Bulgaria recognized the difficulties of the Allied position. She did not believe that Serbia and Greece would voluntarily surrender Macedonia, nor did she believe that the Allies would dare to take this country away from them by force. In that event, she thought that there was a danger that Serbia might make a separate peace with the Central Powers. On the other hand, Bulgaria would object if Serbia received Bosnia and Herzegovina as compensation for the loss of Macedonia–she felt that an enlarged Serbia would be a constant menace to her, and hence a future menace to peace in the Balkans. Thus the situation was extremely difficult and complicated.

One of the best-informed men in Turkey was Paul Weitz, the correspondent of the Frankfurter Zeitung. Weitz was more than a journalist; he had spent thirty years in Constantinople; he had the most intimate personal knowledge of Turkish affairs, and he was the confidant and adviser of the German Embassy. His duties there were actually semidiplomatic. Weitz had really been one of the most successful agencies in the German penetration of Turkey; it was common talk that he knew every important man in the Turkish Empire, the best way to approach him, and his price. I had several talks with Weitz about Bulgaria during those critical August and early September days. He said many times that it was not at all certain that she would join her forces with Germany. Yet on September 7th Weitz came to me with important news. The situation had changed over night. Baron Neurath, the Conseiller of the German Embassy at Constantinople, had gone to Sofia, and, as a result of his visit, an agreement had been signed that would make Bulgaria Germany’s ally.

Germany, said Weitz, had won over Bulgaria by doing something which the Entente had not been able and willing to do. It had secured her the possession at once of a piece of coveted territory. Serbia had refused to give Bulgaria immediate possession of Macedonia; Turkey, on the other hand, had now surrendered a piece of the Ottoman Empire. The amount of land in question, it is true, was apparently insignificant, yet it had great strategic advantages and represented a genuine sacrifice by Turkey. The Maritza River, a few miles north of Enos, bends to the east, to the north, and then to the west again, creating a block of territory, with an area of nearly 1,000 square miles, including the important cities of Demotica, Kara Agatch, and half of Adrianople. What makes this land particularly important is that it contains about fifty miles of the railroad which runs from Dedeagatch to Sofia. All this railroad, that is, except this fifty miles, is laid in Bulgarian territory; this short strip, extending through Turkey, cuts Bulgaria’s communications with the Mediterranean. Naturally Bulgaria yearned for this piece of land; and Turkey now handed it over to her. This cession changed the whole Balkan situation and it made Bulgaria an ally of Turkey and the Central Powers. Besides the railroad, Bulgaria obtained that part of Adrianople which lay west of the Martiza River. In addition, of course, Bulgaria was to receive Macedonia, as soon as that province could be occupied by Bulgaria and her allies.

I vividly remember the exultation of Weitz when this agreement was signed.

“It’s all settled,” he told me. “Bulgaria has decided to join us. It was all arranged last night at Sofia.”

The Turks also were greatly relieved. For the first time they saw the way out of their troubles. The Bulgarian arrangement, Enver [Pasha] told me, had taken a tremendous weight off their minds.

“We Turks are entitled to the credit,” he said, “of bringing Bulgaria in on the side of the Central Powers. She would never have come to our assistance if we hadn’t given her that slice of land. By surrendering it immediately and not waiting till the end of the war, we showed our good faith. It was very hard for us to do it, of course, especially to give up part of the city of Adrianople, but it was worth the price. We really surrendered this territory in exchange for Constantinople, for if Bulgaria had not come in on our side, we would have lost this city. Just think how enormously we have improved our position. We have had to keep more than 200,000 men at the Bulgarian frontier, to protect us against any possible attack from that quarter. We can now transfer all these troops to the Gallipoli peninsula, and thus make it absolutely impossible that the Allies’ expedition can succeed. We are also greatly hampered at the Dardanelles by the lack of ammunition. But Bulgaria, Austria, and Germany are to make a joint attack on Serbia and will completely control that country in a few weeks. So we shall have a direct railroad line from Constantinople into Austria and Germany and can get all the war supplies which we need. With Bulgaria on our side no attack can be made on Constantinople from the north–we have created an impregnable bulwark against Russia. I do not deny that the situation had caused us great anxiety. We were afraid that Greece and Bulgaria would join hands, and that would also bring in Rumania. Then Turkey would have been lost; they would have had us between a pair of pincers. But now we have only one task before us, that is to drive the English and French at the Dardanelles into the sea. With all the soldiers and all the ammunition which we need, we shall do this in a very short time. We gave up a small area because we saw that that was the way to win the war.”

The outcome justified Enver’s prophecies in almost every detail. Three months after Bulgaria accepted the Adrianople bribe, the Entente admitted defeat and withdrew its forces from the Dardanelles; and, with this withdrawal, Russia, which was the greatest potential source of strength to the Allied cause and the country which, properly organized and supplied, might have brought the Allies a speedy triumph, disappeared as a vital factor in the war. When the British and French withdrew from Gallipoli that action turned adrift this huge hulk of a country to flounder to anarchy, dissolution, and ruin.

SOURCE: Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, by Henry Morgenthau (Wayne State U. Press, 2003), pp. 185-188 (first published in 1918; dedicated to Woodrow Wilson)

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