War broke out in 1912 when the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula decided they had had enough of hundreds of years of Ottoman rule. The combined forces of Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria joined forces to push the Turks out for good.
The Serbian forces enjoyed the advantage in terms of raw numbers but suffered in terms of comparative strength of training and efficiency of equipment. They gathered close to the Macedonian town of Kumanovo on the twenty third of October and readied themselves for the first major crucial battle.
The Serbian Army maintained an enduring belief that a decisive battle would cause the Ottoman troops to retreat. Left unable to stage a counter attack following a decisive loss, they would depart permanently from the Balkan Peninsula. The rule of the Ottoman empire had suffered in the final years of the nineteenth century.
Turkey had earned the nickname of The Sick Man at the Bosphorus in diplomatic circles, and it was no secret that they were losing their hold on the Balkans.
They sought to mobilize the province of Macedonia but found it to be a harder task than they had originally speculated, as the Macedonians refused outright to join the Turkish forces, and any who did was pressed into service.
The initial aim was to double envelop the Ottoman army using three armies. The First Army would be under the control of Crown Prince Alexander I and was composed of five infantry and one cavalry division. They were deployed around Vranje and intended on a full frontal attack.
The Second Army under Stepa Stepanović, and composed of one Serbian and one Bulgarian division, was used for the easternmost attack, with the intention to attack the right flank of the enemy.
While the Third Army under Božidar Janković, and composed of four infantry divisions and one infantry brigade, would be deployed in two groups, the first at Toplica and the second at Medveđa, and intended to attack the left flank of the enemy.
On the Ottoman’s side, according to Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz, Prussian Field Marshal, and military writer, the initial Ottoman plan had the Ottoman forces in Macedonia remaining to defend, and if necessary, beating a retreat to Albania.
They were intending the decisive battle to take place in Thrace against the Bulgarian army. But this would not come to pass if they did not win at least their opening battle.
The Turks elected to attempt a surprise attack, viewing it as their only opportunity for success. They intended on picking the battlefield to the south of the town of Kumanovo, but rather than following their slated plans on the day of the battle, they instead moved north.
Meanwhile, the Serbian First Army led by Prince Alexander I, advanced towards the south to meet them while the Serbian rear was already engaged in combat.
It was this state of confusion that brought forth the day’s propitious outcome, as well as the influence of an unlikely hero. Ahmed Ademovic was a member of the marginalized Roma people and more of a musician than a soldier. His instrument of choice was the trumpet, and while he wasn’t exactly an esteemed musician, he knew enough to mimic the Ottoman sound for retreat, even though he had only heard it once.
The Turks were planning on a full frontal attack, throwing all of their numerical superiority at their enemy with the element of surprise in a determined effort to pass through the bulk of the Serbian Army, reducing it to small pockets of localized resistance, which could then be crushed. But as the Turks sounded the charge, Ademovic eased his way to the front, sneaking behind enemy lines wielding nothing more substantial than a trumpet.
More than anything, battles are won and lost through faulty communication. It’s Alan Turing solving the Enigma code in the second world war, it’s instances where lack of communication has caused drastic friendly fire incidences leading to a loss of morale and ultimately the loss of the battle, it’s Raglan’s failed charge of the light brigade from lack of clear orders, and in this case it’s a failure to subsequently hide and diversify their battlefield communications.
Ademovic simply played a lively tune on his trumpet and got it close enough to what he remembered of their signal to retreat, and prayed it worked. His bold move surprised the Ottoman Army, costing them their momentum. Some of them retreated while others continued to march, but the chaos in their ranks had the intended effect, and in this way, Ademovic was a genius. He ran back to sound the attack, and the battle progressed.
The Serbian Army had heard the call for the charge and attacked, driving the Ottoman’s off the battlefield. Even so, they misinterpreted the movement of the Ottoman advance, and suffered from their own lack of organization. Without any prior knowledge of Ademovic’s bold move, the Serbian headquarters thought that this was a mere vanguard and felt that they would soon face the bulk of the Ottoman forces, even as the battle was in its final moments.
The battle completed, the First Serbian Army traveled to Skopje, the largest city in Macedonia, and where they thought they were going to face the Turkish last stand. But the Turks had moved back all the way to Prilep, in the deep south of the country. Here, as well as in the nearby town of Bitola, the Turks mounted their counterattack, but it was too late as by this time the coalition of Montenegrin, Bulgarian, Greek and Serbian troops were well organized and determined to prevail.
Skopje surrendered without even a token defense. Ademovic received the highest military honours once his story got out, receiving the Karadjordje’s Star with Swords, along with three other Romani trumpeters. The other two were Lance Corporal Amet Ide Ametovic and Rustem Sejdic, whose rank is unknown.
Ahmed Ademovic quickly garnered himself celebrity status. He wore his medal attached to his jacket, and was both well known and well respected among his fellow citizens. His good luck lasted until the second world war, when the Nuremberg Laws declared that the Romani people were “enemies of the race based state,” and therefore in the same category as the Jewish people.
Before the war was over, the brutal occupation of Yugoslavia would cause the deaths of numerous Romani men, women and children in concentration camps scattered across Europe.
One of the great horrors of life is that a father should outlive his children, but it was so for Ahmed Ademovic, who watched both his sons, Rama and Reja, die among the 500 Romani men shot in Leskovac, on December third of 1941. After the war, their names would be etched onto a monument erected there to commemorate their sacrifice.
Ahmed Ademovic survived the war, but could never get over witnessing the murder of his sons. He spent the rest of his life living with his grandson, Fadil, and died in 1965 at the age of 92.
His battlefield cleverness is now immortalized in military textbooks in academies in both Russia and France, as a perfect and enduring example of how the cunning of one soldier can be enough to sway a battle, and snatch victory away from certain defeat.