gigatos | November 23, 2021
The Saloniki Front, also Macedonian or Macedonian Front, was a secondary theater of war in World War I from 1915 to 1918, created when the Central Powers, including Bulgaria, conquered Serbia in the fall of 1915 and the Entente intervened with troop landings in Thessaloniki in favor of the allied Serbs, causing all the major European powers to invade the southeastern European area. During 1916, therefore, the front was fortified in the position between Lake Ohrid and the Strymonian Gulf on the Aegean Sea by the construction of staggered trench systems, in which artillery positions and fortifications were built in addition to running trenches, machine gun nests. In addition to the use of airships by the Central Powers to bombard Thessaloniki, nearly 300 aircraft were also used, as well as poison gas shells eventually in the Battle of Lake Dojran (September 18-19, 1918). After the Entente, after long hesitation about the strategic benefits of a massive deployment of troops in southeastern Europe, had decided on preparations for a major offensive in the late summer of 1918 under the leadership of the Serbian and French general staffs, more than 600,000 soldiers faced each other. With the presence of all the European Entente allies except Belgium and Portugal (British with Australians, French, Serbs, Italians, Russians, Albanians, and Greeks) and the presence of colonial troops from Indochina and sub-Saharan Africa, the Entente force was characterized by a strikingly large ethnic heterogeneity. It was under French leadership.
Running mainly in what is now the Republic of Northern Macedonia and the Greek region of Macedonia, it was the main front of the Bulgarian army in World War I on the side of the Central Powers, alongside the Romanian theater of war that emerged in 1916.
The collapse of this front resulted from a Serbian-French offensive with the decisive battle at Dobro polje (September 14-17, 1918). It led to the rapid breakthrough into the rear of the Saloniki front and the resulting disintegration of the Bulgarian army. This also meant the unavoidable defeat of the Central Powers. Separate armistice treaties were signed with Germany”s allies (Bulgaria 29 September 1918, Ottoman Empire 30 October 1918, Austria-Hungary 3 November 1918 and 13 November 1918). The Battle of Dobro polje ranks among the most important decisive battles of the First World War. In the interwar period, revanchist circles sought to blame Germany”s allies and their military incompetence for the German defeat.
During the early stages of World War I, both the Central Powers and the Entente made efforts to have the Tsardom of Bulgaria enter the war on their side. These efforts reached their peak after Italy”s entry into the war in May 1915. The goal of the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary, was to establish a land link with the allied Ottoman Empire by defeating Serbia in alliance with Bulgaria, in order to be able to support the latter, especially in the Battle of Gallipoli.
Serbia and Bulgaria had been bitter enemies since the Second Balkan War, in which Bulgaria claimed for itself the share of Macedonia awarded to Serbia in the First Balkan War. Bulgaria, the loser of this war, had lost large parts of the territories previously won in the First Balkan War to Serbia, Greece and the Ottoman Empire in the Peace of Bucharest.
Due to the German-Austrian successes on the Eastern Front in 1915, Bulgaria leaned more toward the side of the Central Powers in the summer of 1915, especially since the Entente powers were unable to offer comparable territorial concessions at the expense of Serbia. On September 6, 1915, identical secret treaties of friendship and alliance between Bulgaria and the German Reich and Austria-Hungary were signed in Sofia. This was followed on the same day in Pleß by a military convention between Bulgaria on the one hand and the German Reich and Austria-Hungary on the other. In it Bulgaria undertook to support the allies with at least four divisions within five days of the start of the German-Austrian attack on Serbia. This breakthrough was made possible by the Ottoman decision to cede to Bulgaria a strip of territory on the Maritsa River, which was of great importance for Bulgaria”s access to the Mediterranean Sea at Dedeagatsch.
Serbia, which had learned of the negotiations, reacted in early September by moving troops to the Bulgarian border. At the same time, it asked the Entente for help in the event of an expected invasion, since it would not be able to withstand a combined attack by the Central Powers and Bulgaria on its own. Preparatory Austro-Hungarian troop movements to the Temesvár area had been observed since late August.
On September 22, 1915, Bulgaria mobilized, prompting an immediate reaction from Greece, which also mobilized the following day. The Bulgarian government placatingly explained that the measure was in defense of the country”s neutrality. In Serbia, however, it was clear that an attack was imminent. There was a plan to give the Bulgarian government an ultimatum to end its mobilization, otherwise they would take the offensive and advance on Sofia. To do this, they asked the Entente and Greece to provide troops. Serbia”s allies reacted cautiously at first, as they did not want to provoke a Bulgarian decision under any circumstances. It was not until October 4, 1915, on the eve of the Central Powers” Serbian campaign, that they issued an ultimatum to Bulgaria to remove the German officers from the country.
Plans for intervention in Serbia had already existed among the Entente powers at the beginning of 1915, when Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos offered Greece”s support if Romania or Bulgaria agreed to participate. Similar advances had been made by Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić, who wanted to build a strong southern front against Austria-Hungary with Allied support to push it out of the war. None of the projects went beyond the planning stage, and Entente troops were sent to Gallipoli instead.
In connection with the Greek mobilization of September 23, 1915, Venizelos appealed to the Allies to come to the aid of his country. Under the 1913 treaty of alliance with Serbia, Greece was obligated to assist should Serbia be attacked. However, it shied away from the consequences of entering the war unless the great powers were prepared to assist. The French government immediately responded approvingly. On September 24, 1915, orders were issued to General Bailloud to stand by with a division (156th) currently deployed at the Dardanelles for embarkation for Salonika. The British government also promised to send a unit from the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
Wanting to prevent a rupture with King Constantine over an allied landing in Greece, which the latter refused as long as his country was neutral, Venizelos proposed that the French division be diverted to an Aegean island and held in readiness there. The French chose Limnos for this purpose. Meanwhile, the British had also withdrawn one of their divisions, the 10th (Irish) Division under Bryan Mahon, from Gallipoli.
The French were already prepared at this point to liquidate the Dardanelles enterprise completely, but they needed British approval first. For Joseph Joffre, a larger French commitment in Serbia on the scale of several corps, as demanded by the designated commander-in-chief of the Armée d”Orient, Maurice Sarrail, was unthinkable. Priority was given to the home front, where the great autumn offensive in Champagne and Artois had just begun. At the Dardanelles, however, there were just two French divisions in action, compared with thirteen British ones, and a unilateral complete withdrawal of the French was out of the question. Supporting Serbia nevertheless seemed important enough to move additional units from the mother country.
On October 5, 1915, the day before the Central Powers attacked Serbia, the first Allied troops landed in Salonika. The day before, there had been a scandal in the Greek parliament: Venizelos demanded that Greece must now side with Serbia. King Constantine summoned him on October 5, 1915, and declared that he could not support this policy. Venizelos then resigned. This was a lost opportunity for the Allies to secure the support of the Greek army.
Meanwhile, the relevant ministers of the Allied powers held several conferences. It was decided to concentrate forces in Macedonia, for which the British were to provide a corps of about 65,000 men and the French three infantry and two cavalry divisions with about the same number of soldiers, after the conclusion of the autumn offensives in France. This was nevertheless recognized as insufficient for effective support of Serbia, which alone faced a superior number of at least 500,000 troops from the Central Powers.
Advance to Macedonia
On October 12, 1915, General Sarrail landed in Salonika with the first elements of the 57th Division and took command of the Armée d”Orient. His urgent task was to shield the railroad line from Salonika to Skopje against a Bulgarian attack. Due to the low strength of his forces at that time, he decided to let his troops advance only as far as Krivolak in the Tikveš region for the time being. The main part of his forces (156th Division) was to defend the Valandovo area and the Demir Kapija gorge. From October 21, 1915, the first battles with Bulgarian troops took place here.
The British government was reluctant for the time being to stand by its Serbian ally, despite all French efforts to do so. The British government”s disinterest in Serbia contrasted with clearly deeper British interests in the territorial issues of Albania, Bulgaria, and especially in the Dardanelles, in which anti-Serbian tendencies also resonated in the leading British political circles of the time. In particular, British diplomats blamed Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić for refusing to accommodate the Bulgarians during diplomatic alliance negotiations and for alleged involvement in the Sarajevo assassination. Winston Churchill thereby commented on the stubbornness of the Serbian government during the negotiations on the alliance with Bulgaria in an undiplomatic manner: “They remained mad to the end.”
On October 24, 1915, the Bulgarians captured Skopje and cut off Allied troops from the Serbian army. From November 3 to 12, 1915, the French troops, increased by the 122nd Division, undertook an offensive in the Vardar valley and attacks against Strumica, which were repulsed by the Bulgarians. At the same time, the Serbian army tried unsuccessfully to unite with the French troops via Kačanik and push through to Thessaloniki. By November 30, the French were able to gain an assurance from the British government of their support for the Serbian army. Joseph Joffre informed the Serbian General Staff under Radomir Putnik that the Franco-British force was to be increased to 150,000 troops in support of Serbia. However, these troops would not have been available for at least two months and thus would have arrived on the scene far too late to have any tactical effect. Despite the disappointment of the lack of support, the Serbian government, under the chairmanship of Prince Regent Alexander I, decided on November 4, 1915, at a special meeting in Raška to continue the war against the Central Powers. On November 25, in Peć, it decided to continue implementing the decisions of November 4, 1915, which ruled out surrender, and to withdraw with the entire army to the Adriatic coast via Montenegro and Albania to the allies.
Meanwhile, the German Supreme Army Command (OHL) had ordered further pursuit of the Serbian army halted on November 27, 1915, in order to spare men and materiel in the difficult terrain and winter conditions. Second, the OHL believed that an expulsion of the then numerically insignificant French troops from Thessaloniki would be unfavorable for further war planning in view of the complicated territorial claims of the allies Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, and that it would therefore be advantageous to keep the Bulgarian army mobile through the presence of Entente soldiers and to tie them down on the Greek border. The OHL, on the other hand, viewed negatively the use of Bulgarian forces on other fronts. The retention of the French expeditionary army on the Greek-Serbian border was judged to be advantageous for the OHL”s own troops, since it would relieve the pressure on its own western front.
The retreat of the defeated Serbian army, which was covered by the army of Montenegro against the imperial and royal army in the Battle of Mojkovac on January 6-7, 1916. Army, took place over the winter inaccessible mountains of Montenegro and Albania between November 25, 1915 and January 15, 1916. Meanwhile, the Allies retreated behind the Greek border. They had suffered losses of over 3,000 men by this time. In contrast, the main column of the Serbian army retreating through Montenegro and Albania via Peć-Andrijevica-Skutari had lost between 60,000 and 80,000 men, who died from frostbite and starvation. 15,000 dead were also recorded among the recruits of the government column, which included Serbian King Peter I and Radomir Putnik, who was carried in a palanquin over the icy mountain paths due to his failing health, and who had taken the route via Prizren-Debar-Valona. Scutari thus reached 185,300 emaciated Serb soldiers. Continuing on to Valona, the number of survivors continued to dwindle and only 158,000 soldiers were able to be transferred to Corfu and Bizerta on French warships between January 18 and February 23, 1916. Of these, many were so weakened that 7,750 soldiers died on the Greek island and at the French base in Tunisia.
Thus, about 150,000 Serbian soldiers had survived the retreat, a third of the 1914 operational strength. However, Serbia had still been able to retain a numerically significant army as a result, in the wake of which the entire Serbian government had also escaped into exile. In the build-up of the Allied Saloniki front, the Serbian army was later replenished by the corps formed by volunteers from America, Russia and the South Slavic countries. By February 1916, 20,000 volunteers for the Serbian Army had gathered in Odessa and were first deployed in Dobruja. The British army also recruited among the Croats of the Habsburg Empire, who were brought up on imperial and royal naval ships. Naval ships, but was not successful at first. Only when the unit was transferred to Thessaloniki via Arkhangelsk and integrated into the Serbian Army did it stabilize.
The Salonika venture was up for disposal at this point. Great Britain saw no useful use for its troops in Salonika and preferred to use the divisions landed there to defend Egypt. Moreover, in the event of a German-Bulgarian invasion of Greece, the troops would have been threatened with annihilation. France and the other Allies, however, favored maintaining the Central Powers” flank threat in order to avoid an unfavorable impression on Serbia and the neutrals Romania and Greece.
Saloniki Front Structure
Due to the diplomatic defeat in the Balkans, the French government under René Viviani had resigned at the end of October 1915 and was replaced by a cabinet under Aristide Briand. The French government blamed the Serbian debacle on indecision among the Allies to support Serbia. Because of the Serbian government”s loyalty to the Alliance, despite the disastrous military outcome, the Allies felt compelled to better coordinate their differences in the future by voting on further planning for the rest of the Balkan theater of war. Nevertheless, the individual Allies had very different priorities regarding their own goals for a presence in the Balkans. From December 6 to 8, 1915, the Allied general staffs met at the Allied conference in Chantilly. The Russians favored a strong Balkan presence to deal a decisive blow to Austria-Hungary, while the French favored a wait-and-see approach so that they could then exploit a turn of events on one of the main fronts. The Italians wanted to concentrate only on their own sphere of interest in Albania, while the British had written off the Balkans altogether and demanded the immediate evacuation of troops. The representative of the Serbian General Staff, on the other hand, proposed the creation of a powerful army of up to one million soldiers, which – after eliminating Bulgaria and liberating Serbia – would directly attack Austria-Hungary in order to bring down the Central Powers from within. Although the British voted against maintaining the expeditionary force, the conference decided for the first time to continue defending Salonika.
As a security against a German-Bulgarian attack, it was decided to build a fortified camp (camp retranché de Salonique) for this purpose at first. Later, the troops standing here were to form part of the Allied offensives planned for 1916. For this purpose, the French side planned to reinforce the troops up to 400,000 men. This project was postponed at the Chantilly Conference in March 1916, as long as no other Balkan state (Romania) would intervene in the war on the side of the Entente. However, Allied troops were to move up from Salonika to the Greek border to tie down the enemy. They were also to be better equipped for mountain warfare.
Meanwhile, the remnants of the Serbian army on Corfu had been reorganized. By the end of May, they had been transported to Halkidiki. The Serbian forces comprised six divisions of 120,000 men, but were not yet ready for action. The British troops had been divided between two corps under the command of the British Salonika Army, but remained strictly defensive for the time being on the instructions of their government. Only Allies Russia and Italy favored offensive operations, but participated only with small contingents (an Italian division under Carlo Petitti di Roreto and a Russian brigade under Mikhail Konstantinovich Diterichs), which arrived in August.
Preparations for the offensive
General Sarrail had been planning an offensive against the Bulgarian-German troops in Macedonia since the spring of 1916. However, he had to take into account the British, who were not prepared to support offensive actions of the Entente without the support of Romania. In June, the Allies demanded that Greece demobilize its forces so that they would not be threatened in the rear.
Sarrail had four French divisions in the front at this time, joined by one British division. In early August, the French 17th Colonial Infantry Division made an initial attack on the Bulgarian positions at Lake Dojran, inflicting heavy casualties. Sarrail”s main attack was planned for late August to coincide with the Romanian entry into the war. On July 22, 1916, it had been decided at a conference in Paris that Sarrail, hitherto only nominal Allied commander-in-chief, could assign operational areas and objectives to British troops and determine the date of their deployment. Similar provisions applied to the other Allies. For the purpose of commanding the Allied formations, a new headquarters, the Commandement des Armées alliées en Orient (C.A.A.), was established on August 11, 1916.
The protracted negotiations with Romania reached their conclusion on August 17, 1916, when a treaty of alliance and a military convention between Romania and the Entente powers were signed in Bucharest. The treaties provided for Romania”s declaration of war and attack on Austria-Hungary no later than August 28, 1916. The Allied offensive on the Salonika front was to begin a week earlier, on August 20, 1916.
The Bulgarian Army beat the allies to the punch by a few days when, on August 17, 1916, it launched simultaneous offensives into Florina and eastern Macedonia, occupying the area of eastern Macedonia as far as Struma. The Greek IV. Army Corps stationed here placed itself under German protection at Kavala on 13 September 1916.
The Monastir Offensive 1916
The Allied offensive finally began on 12 September 1916, targeting Monastir in southwestern Macedonia. While the right wing, consisting mainly of British and Italian units, was to be defensive, the left wing, Serbian-French troops, was to attack and push back the Bulgarian 1st Army, which was on a front between Kaimakchalan and Lake Prespa.
From the beginning of October, the two-month battle of the Cerna Arc took place on the Cerna River, after the Bulgarians had retreated behind the river. They were now under the command of the German AOK 11 (Arnold von Winckler), which was provided with German reinforcements and placed under the command of Army Group Below (Otto von Below) with the 1st Bulgarian Army. Below decided to abandon Monastir (despite Bulgarian protests) on November 18, 1916. In December 1916, the Allied offensive was halted.
Preparations for a new offensive
On October 20, 1916, at a conference in Boulogne, the Allied powers had decided to considerably reinforce the forces in Macedonia (by about six divisions). Although this envisaged number was not reached, by the end of 1916 the number of Allied troops had increased to almost 500,000 men. The aim of these measures was to bring about the defeat of Bulgaria in the Romanian theater of war in cooperation with Russian-Romanian forces and thus gain the upper hand in the Balkans. This hope was not fulfilled due to Romania”s defeats toward the end of the year.
Military pressure was used against Greece, which had concentrated troops in Thessaly. Having already demanded the surrender of the Greek fleet on October 11, 1916, some 3,000 marines landed in Piraeus on December 1, 1916, to enforce another ultimatum for the surrender of artillery pieces to replace the loss of the Greek fort of Rupel, which had been occupied unopposed by Bulgarian troops in May 1916. This resulted in the “Battle of Athens” against troops loyal to the King, after which the Allies were forced to withdraw on December 2, 1916. Among other things, the Greek capital was shelled by the French battleship Mirabeau. On December 8, 1916, the blockade of Greece by Allied warships began, and on December 14, 1916, an ultimatum was issued to withdraw the Greek army to the Peloponnese. These measures caused a gradual easing of the pressure that the French commander-in-chief, Sarrail, felt on his rearward connections.
In February 1917, a minor offensive was undertaken in Albania with the objective of opening another supply route from Saranda to Korça. Further offensive operations in March were aimed at occupying strategic high-altitude positions northwest of Monastir and on the isthmus between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa and relieving the Orient Army”s western flank.
The 1917 Spring Offensive and Greece”s Transition to the Allies
Originally planned for early April 1917, but postponed due to bad weather, the Allied spring offensive began on the evening of April 24, 1917, with the attack in the sector of the British XII. Corps between Lake Dojran and the Vardar River. For a gain of only 1,500 meters of trench line, the British suffered losses of 2,600 men.
In early May 1917, further attacks followed along the front: in the zone of the French 122nd Division, reinforced by Greek volunteer units, west of the Vardar; in the zone of the Serbian Army adjoining to the west; and in the zone of the French-Italian-Russian Army in the Cerna Arc. All of these attacks achieved little or no terrain gains with heavy losses. The offensive was halted on May 23, 1917.
At the same time that the spring offensive was halted, the Allies, led by France, had agreed on further measures against the still manifesting Greek resistance. In early June 1917, Thessaly, the granary of Greece, was occupied. At the same time, troops were landed at Piraeus and on the Isthmus of Corinth.
Under this pressure, King Constantine abdicated on June 12, 1917, in favor of his second eldest son, Alexander. The latter appointed Venizelos as prime minister, and on June 29, 1917, the new government declared war on the Central Powers. However, the Greek army was not mobilized at first, but the existing three divisions of the National Defense Army were upgraded and reinforced.
The events until the summer of 1918
In August 1917, the Allies decided to release two British divisions for the Palestine Front. In the Serbian army, which had shrunk to barely 80,000 men due to a lack of recruiting opportunities, exhaustion was making itself felt, as it had in the French units that had been in the front for some time.
No major fighting took place on the Macedonian front until August 1917. To prevent a withdrawal of Central Army units to the Romanian front, Sarrail had local attacks carried out in late August and early September to feign a major offensive. In September and October, the area around Pogradec was occupied by French troops. In December 1917, General Sarrail was elevated from his post by Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau. He was no longer considered acceptable by any of the allies because of his interference in political affairs and was replaced by Adolphe Guillaumat.
The latter reorganized the Allied troops in the period up to April 1918 in view of a possible Central Powers offensive on the Macedonian front. After the armistice of the new Bolshevik government of Russia with the Central Powers in December 1917, the Russian division was detached from the front in January 1918. The French troops were divided into three divisional groups and a central reserve was created. In addition, the reorganization of the Greek Army began to have an effect with the availability of new divisions.
On April 7, 1918, Ferdinand Foch ordered Guillaumat to carry out local offensives in the Macedonian front area to disrupt the German spring offensive that had been underway on the Western Front since March 21. From late May to mid-June, the Greek National Defense Army Corps conducted its first major offensive operation, the Battle of Skra-di-Legen, in which a fortified Bulgarian position was captured. At about the same time, the French 3rd Division Group in eastern Albania also succeeded in a limited offensive venture. Overall, with the withdrawal of the bulk of the German forces, the situation for the Entente powers in the Balkans had shifted in their favor during the year.
The defeat of Italy in the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, the internal weakening of Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary, and Romania”s separate peace with the Central Powers in the spring of 1918 had had a favorable effect on Serbia”s future politico-military position in the Balkans. The Serbian government carried out intensive lobbying in exile to promote a self-interested post-war order among its allies, in which the establishment of a Yugoslav state was the declared goal. The agreement reached in the Corfu Declaration in the summer of 1917, in which the planned unification of Montenegro with Serbia was also based on the renunciation of the throne by the Montenegrin King Nikola, served as a political basis. In these matters, the Serbian government received the complete support of the United States of America, which advocated the liberation of all South Slavs from the Austro-Hungarian Commonwealth and decisively supported the line of the Serbian government in the establishment of this planned common South Slav state. For this purpose, Woodrow Wilson even energetically lobbied the Italian government to correct its ambitions on the Eastern Slavic coast.
In June 1918, a change occurred in the leadership of the Allied armies. Petar Bojović resigned as Chief of General Staff due to disagreement with Guillaumat over the enlargement of the Serbian Army”s front section and henceforth took command of the 1st Serbian Army. Živojin Mišić was appointed in his place. A little later Guillaumat was recalled from Macedonia and replaced by Louis Franchet d”Espèrey as chief of the C.A.A.. These changes were to have a positive effect on the preparation and execution of the offensive. Because of Mišić”s popularity with the French and d”Espèrey”s advocacy of a more offensive approach, a good precondition developed for the two commanders to work closely together in coordinating the events ahead. Despite British opposition to any Balkan offensive, the French government had agreed with the Serbian government in June to prepare for it, but did so in complete secrecy from the other allies. The goal was thereby set on broad guidelines: Bulgaria was to be eliminated from the war and conditions created to advance in the rear of the open flank of the Central Powers.
The British learned of the preparations a month later, but the French government was able to convince London that it would only be a local offensive in the area of the Serbian front to improve their position. After the preparations were completed, the British nevertheless refused their support for a long time. It was not until September 9, 1918 that they gave their consent for the Serbian-French offensive. However, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Henry Hughes Wilson unequivocally limited British support for it: “If the Serbs meet with failure, let them not count on us to save the day.”
Before the offensive, the Bulgarian-German force comprised 626,000 men (including only 30,000 Germans), 1,600 guns and 80 aircraft. The Entente had 628,000 troops, 1,800 guns and 200 aircraft. Of these, 180,000 were French with eight infantry and one cavalry division, 150,000 Serbs (including 20,000 Yugoslav volunteers) with six infantry and one cavalry division, 135,000 Greeks with nine divisions, 120,000 British with four divisions, 42,000 Italians with one division, and 1,000 Albanian soldiers of Essad Pasha.
Entente troops were spread out in sections along the 450 km front:
The final offensive against Bulgaria
Upon his arrival, Franchet d”Espèrey immediately resumed the preparations for an offensive that had been started by his predecessor. Unlike the latter, however, he aimed from the outset at a decisive result on this front. Since the Bulgarian-German troops were spread out along the front in the form of a cordon, without forming stronger reserves in the rear, the Serbian plan was implemented to initiate the breakthrough at the Serbian section of the front, the basic idea of which was to take the enemy by surprise. The area of Dobro Polje in the front section of the Serbian army was chosen for a concentration of troops for a breakthrough offensive, since the enemy side least expected an attack here and could not bring in reinforcements quickly because of the inaccessible area. The Serbs were to receive support here from two French divisions (122nd and 17th Colonial Divisions) and a vigorous extension of the breakthrough was to be made with the help of cavalry, which was to cut the Bulgarian army”s rearward links. Franchet d”Espèrey set about two months for the preparations necessary for this, and his target date for the start of the offensive was September 15. On that day, the Serbian troops were to go on the attack after artillery preparation, the French and Greek divisions at KožufVoros, in the Vardar valley and at Lake Doiran three days later, and the French Orient Army at Bitola eight days after the start of the offensive. Although this timing was unfavorable for the initial breakthrough, the Serbian General Staff, after a heated argument with the main commander, adopted the plan anyway, since the morale of its own troops was considered sufficient for its implementation.
For the Serbian front bisected to 30 kilometers as an attack sector, there was a twofold superiority in manpower and a 3.5-fold superiority in artillery and aircraft. In parts of the 2nd Serbian Army, which had to initiate the leadership of the breakthrough, there was a threefold superiority in manpower and a fivefold superiority in artillery and aircraft. 220 guns were positioned at the front section.
The first objective of the attacking forces was Prilep, and in the further course Skopje was to be reached. In the best case scenario, a collapse of Bulgarian resistance, the Allies would be able to advance to Sofia and Niš in the second phase of the offensive.
On September 14, 1918, the offensive began with a 22-hour heavy artillery barrage on the Macedonian mountains. At 5:30 a.m. on September 15, 1918, the 2nd Serbian Army under Stepa Stepanović went on the attack. On the left wing fought the main column of the 122nd French Division. After a fierce eight-hour battle, Dobro Polje was taken at 14:30, secured by the capture of Hill 1795. However, the left column did not manage to take Sokol, the capture of which was a prerequisite for the entry of the 1st Serbian Army, before nightfall. In the center, the French 17th Colonial Division had been forced to retreat to initial positions after initial successes. Only the Šumadija Division was able to record a full success on the first day. In just one hour it had taken Veternik Peak, which was considered impregnable. This allowed the division to assist the 17th Colonial Division, which nevertheless failed to advance. Stepanović then ordered the Yugoslav and Timoker divisions through the ranks of the 17th, which were able to take the Bulgarian defensive positions on the Krvavica and Krvavičkom kamen. At 6 p.m. these also reached the Krvavička poljana. This opened the way towards Kazjak.
On September 16 and 17, 1918, the incursion was extended. On September 18, 1918, the British and Greek troops also attacked in their front sector on both sides of Lake Doiran. The Bulgarian Army withdrew behind the Cerna and Vardar rivers, destroying its supply depots. Prilep was taken on September 23, 1918, and Skopje on September 29, 1918. The Allies had advanced some 130 kilometers in 14 days and had taken 90,000 prisoners, including five generals, and captured more than 800 guns. Their losses amounted to 15,000 men, including 3,500 dead and missing.
Already on September 26, 1918, the Bulgarians had asked for a 48-hour ceasefire. On September 28, 1918, an armistice delegation led by Finance Minister Andrei Lyapchev arrived in Thessaloniki, and at 11 p.m. on September 29, 1918, the Thessaloniki Armistice was signed, entering into force at noon the following day. On October 3, 1918, the disarmament and demobilization of the Bulgarian army began.
After Bulgaria”s withdrawal from the war, several important tasks remained for the Allied Oriental Army, first of all the liberation of Serbia. After that, the way to Hungary would be open. Furthermore, the aim was to bring the Ottoman Empire to its knees through actions against it. For this, two ways were open: the occupation of the Dardanelles to allow an allied fleet to pass through to Istanbul, or the march on the capital itself. Further, smaller units were to occupy key points in Bulgaria and support the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Albania. Also on the cards were support for a Romanian re-entry into the war and intervention in Russia.
On October 2, 1918, the Serbian 1st Army encountered Austro-Hungarian units (9th Division) near Kumanovo, which retreated after a short fight. On October 4, 1918, it reached Vranje, covered by a French cavalry brigade and the Serbian Cavalry Division. On October 9, larger German units were noted, the 219th Infantry Division and the Alpine Corps. The next day cavalry also reconnoitered units of the 217th Infantry Division. The important railroad junction of Niš was bypassed extensively by the Allied units and Kruševac was reached on October 15. On November 1, 1918, the Serbian 1st Army entered Belgrade and the 2nd Army was on the Bosnian border. On November 4, 1918, Hungarian negotiators were received in Belgrade; the day before, the Villa Giusti Armistice had already been signed in Italy, with which Austria-Hungary left the war.
During October, Bulgaria was occupied by troops under General Paul Chrétien. With a view to Romania”s re-entry into the war, the Armée du Danube was formed on October 28, 1918 with three divisions under General Henri Berthelot to provide support against the German occupation forces. The Danube was blocked at Widin on the Romanian border. The German commander-in-chief in Romania, August von Mackensen, in view of the threat to his rearward communications, suggested a retreat via Hungary to Upper Silesia.
Even before an Allied intervention in the European part of the Ottoman Empire, the latter capitulated on October 30, 1918, in the Armistice of Moudros. A French and a British division were put in march to participate in the occupation of Istanbul.
After the end of the war, the troops of the Allied Oriental Army occupied practically the entire Balkans and some adjacent territories:
Today, the Thessaloniki Front is commemorated by several military cemeteries, museums and monuments. At the Zeitenlik in Thessaloniki were buried about 8098 French, 7441 Serbian and 3500 Italian, 1350 British and 493 Russian soldiers. The Serbian cemetery was planned by Nikolay Petrovič Krasnov, who also remodeled the ossuary, originally designed by Aleksandar Vasić. On the island of Vido, where Serbian soldiers were quarantined after their withdrawal from Albania, an ossuary (built by Nikolaj Petrovič Krasnov in 193839) commemorates those who died due to malnutrition and disease, a large part of whom were buried in the sea off Vido (Plava grobnica). On the top of Kajmakčalan there is an Orthodox chapel with the ossuary of the Serbian and Bulgarian fallen. The urn of Archibald Reiss was also brought here.
The German War Gravesite Prilep was established until 1933. Here were buried 1683 German war dead and 146 soldiers from the countries Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and 8 Albanian nationals.
In Belgrade, the Floka – Observation Tower of the Serbian General Staff commemorates the Saloniki Front, which once stood exposed north of Kajmakčalan on the peak of Nidže – Greek Floka – at 2361 m and was replicated after the war in Belgrade in the garden of the Old Royal Castle, today”s Pionirski Park, as well as Ivan Meštrović”s large sculpture Merci a la France, which generally commemorates Serbia”s brotherhood in arms with France during the First World War. Živojin Mišić”s study from the General Staff period on the Saloniki front is now exhibited in the Valjevo National Museum.
In Paris, Rue du Dobropol was named after the high plateau Dobro polje (Greek: Kambos, Macedonian: Dobro pole), located in today”s Greece at an altitude of about 1700 meters. Here, between the peaks of Sokol (1822 m), Veternik (1756 m) and Kozjak (1814 m), the Bulgarian Army had its well-developed main defense positions in the Moglenička Mountains, where, in addition to the extensive high mountain area of Dobro Polje dotted with shell craters, the terrain generally above the tree line with the barrel and trench trenches and former artillery and machine gun positions still stand out today. In Marseille, the memorial Le Monument aux morts de l”armée d”orient commemorates the dead of the Balkan front.
French director Bertrand Tavernier”s 1996 film Captain Conan and the Wolves of War is set in the final stages of the war on the Saloniki Front in 1918.