Published By Ben Hillidge
Following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand Austria had declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1916. The Allies dispatched troops – the Salonika Expeditionary Force – to help the embattled Serbs. They arrived at Salonika (modern day Thessaloniki) on 5 October 1915. They came too late to save Serbia and, after a short and miserable winter campaign with rain, snow and freezing weather, they retreated to Salonika and fortified the city and its approaches forming a line of defences known as ‘The Birdcage’.
At this time Greece was neutral and there were many in Greece who opposed the Allies who had effectively invaded and occupied a neutral country to wage war against Austrian / Bulgarian in neighbouring Macedonia to the north. It was only in 1916 when Greece entered the war on the Allies side that tensions eased.
With the failure of the 1915 offensive the British wanted to call the whole thing off. For the British the ‘real’ war was on the Western front, this would be were the enemy would be defeated, Macedonia was a ‘side show’ and a drain on resources. However, the other allies, France, Russia, Italy and Serbia, disagreed and wanted to renew the offensive in the following year, the British reluctantly conceeded. More troops arrived, many from the failed Gallipoli campaign following the evacuation from the peninsula in January 1916. For the rest of 1916 there were few engagements as each side dug itself in, the British in the Birdcage and Bugarians on the surrounding heights.
The Salonika campaign, in addition to battle casualties, was characterised by a steady stream of casualties mainly due to disease and especially malaria and dysentery. Living conditions were very poor. Inland the landscape was largely barren and rocky highlands and deep valleys whilst at the coast there were malarial swamps and marshes. Water was short. The weather ranged from scorching days to freezing nights and cases of frostbite and exposure were frequent. Roads were almost non existent making supply and movement very difficult.
In 1917 offensive actions recommenced. In April the British advanced on Lake Doiran to the north and gained ground but the bulk of the fighting was by French, Italian and Serbian forces to the west in Albania. The fighting was hard and made more difficult by the landscape, conditions and weather. The enemy, too, was strong, resilient and in well prepared defences.
The gains made in 1917 were the start point for the offensives in 1918. From July the French attacked to the west and advanced northwards towards Macedonia/ In September The British and Greek forces advanced towards Lake Doiran for the Third Battle of Doiran. The fighting lasted about 3 days ending on 18 September. For the British it was during this offensive that the most battle casualties occurred. They were attacking ridges and mountain tops were the enemy was well dug in – at Pip Ridge the British 67 Brigade – 12 Bn Cheshire Regiment, 9 Bn South Lancashire Regiment and 8 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry – advancing into artillery and machine gun fire lost 67% casualties. Very little progress was made and ultimately all failed with troops retreating to their start lines. The offensive was stopped primary due to depleted man power so exhausted and weary that further attacks were out the question, A few days after the battle it was discovered that the enemy positions had been deserted. The Bulgarian army was pulling back. The Allies followed them as they retreated back to Bulgaria. The end of the war would come 2 months later.
Salonika, modern day Thessaloniki, is a port on the Aegean Sea in northern Greece. It was the embarkation port for British Forces in 1915 and continued as the primary supply base. Later in the war, with the increasing threat of German submarines in the Aegean, and the entry of Greece into the war, supply lines came over land from Athens via towns such as Bralo, Itea and Taranto. It was Salonika though that remained as the main base of operations, it was at the strategic centre of all offensives and was the hub of the Birdcage defensive ring. Around the town were many British camps – many poorly sited in wet lands prone to mosquitoes. There were also supply dumps and transport stands, horse lines and all the other army facilities. Within the town were also hospitals, from time to time 18 general or stationary hospitals – 3 of these were Canadian although no Canadian troops were deployed in the campaign. In particular was 23 General Hospital where Shoeing Smith 146519 Lewis J Edmunds, A Battery 99 Brigade Royal Field Artillery. Died 2 October 1916, Lembit Road, Military Cemetery, Salonika died.
Bralo was an important staging point on the communication lines serving the Salonika theatre of war in Northern Greece. The town is 200km from Athens and 300km from Salonika. It grew in importance from about 1916-17 when the threat of German submarines in the Aegean Sea resulted in a change with supplies unloading at Athens/Pireaus and being transport by road to Salonika. Bralo, as with other supply bases, acquired its army infrastructure of camps, hospitals, depots and infrastructure. Also, a garrison of engineers, clerks, drivers and other personnel to maintain and operate the transport convoys. Aeound the town were military camps, it was in one of these camps that Sapper 94160 Thomas A Markey, 137 Army Troops Coy Royal Engineers. Died of burns 23 May 1918 (accident on 20 May 1918), Bralo British Cemetery. Greece was seriously burned on 20 May 1918 and from which he would die 3 days later in hospital at Bralo.
Battle of Machukovo, 13-14 September 1916.
Battle of Machukovo, 13-14 September 1916, during the BEF Offensive operations along the River Vardar. The offensive was part of a larger operation with French and Serbian troops attacking to the west. The British would push north wards from Salonika up the Vardar river valley, Machukovo was a village to the east of the river. Overlooking the village was a ridge of high ground. The position was held by a German regiment in well prepared defences. The British advance was halted and turned with heavy casualties and no gains.
Third Battle of Doiran. 7 Bn South Wales Borderers. (DATE September 1918)
The7 Bn SWB had been in Salonika since October 1915. The campaign had achieved very little and most of the casualties were due to sickness and disease rather than combat. The deadlock was finally broken in September 1918 with the Third Battle of Doiran. Situated about 75km north of Salonika (modern day Thessaloniki) Dorian was held by Bulgarian forces which had resisted all attempts to capture it. At the beginning of 1918 a major offensive was planned to finally bring the war in the Balkans to an end.
GOOGLE MAP Street view looking towards Pip Ridge along the sky line
Dedeagatch. Salonika. 2 Garrison Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment. 6 November 1918
Dedeagatch, now called Alexandroupolis, is on the Aegean Sea in northern Greece near to the Turkey border. The town was first occupied by commonwealth forces in October 1918 at the end of the Macedonia campaign.
31 CCS was posted in town until end of 1918
Under the Devil’s Eye –Britain’s Forgotten Army at Salonika 1915-18. Alan Wakefield & Simon Moody.
B&O ALL YEARS. Macedonia