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Gardenerbill

100 Years ago this week in the Balkans

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Gardenerbill

By the 20th April the 66th Brigade were in position at Yanesh in support of the 7th Mounted Brigade. The 12th Cheshire, 9th Border, 9th South Lancs, 8th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and the 13th Manchester battalions made up the establishment of the 66th Brigade.

To help alleviate the chronic shortage of transport, an Indian transport company arrived in April with mule carts which could travel on the roughest mountain tracks and General Mahon began recruiting local, Maltese and Cypriot Muleteers.

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Rockdoc

The writers of the War Diaries really struggled to produce phœnetic representations of local placenames. Yanesh is often shown as Janes, Kukus sometimes has the extra 'h' on the end and Ćauśica, pronounced something like Tchaushitza, occasionally appears as Corsica!

Keith

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Gardenerbill

Keith I know what you mean, the place names in war diaries are often tricky. The 1908 Salonika map (SCS Trench map CD) has Yanesh and the Official History uses the Yanesh spelling so I will probably stick with that.

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Gardenerbill

In mid April 1916 the 7th Mounted Brigade occupied a line of hills just to the south of Lake Doiran above the village of Gola known as the Gola ridge. To get a flavour of what they were doing, here are two extracts from ‘The Derbyshire Yeomanry War History 1914-1919’ Lieut-Colonel G.A. Strutt.

‘On the 18th the regiment took over the whole of the ridge whilst the Sherwood and South Notts went into support and reserve. The method adopted by the Brigade was to maintain a day outpost line on the ridge, and from these outposts patrols were sent down into the plain. These outposts were withdrawn at night and a line of strong pickets formed about a mile further back.’

‘On April 19th the Regiment (“A” Squadron) carried out a good patrol to investigate the Doiran-Akinzali railway. Doiran station was almost reached and the bridge there found to have been destroyed, whilst on the right patrols pushed right through the wood below Patros, which up till then had always been reputed to contain a permanent force of German infantry and machine guns, and beyond it till they reached the shores of the lake.

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Gardenerbill

24th April General Mahon was given permission to move up to the Greek/Serbian border, he immediately issued orders for a second brigade to join 66th brigade near Kukus.

At the end April the Surrey Yeomanry were performing a similar role to the Derbyshire Yeomanry but in the area to the east of the Struma. Here is a quote from ‘The History and War Records of the Surrey (Q.M.R.) Yeomanry’ by E.D. Harrison-Ainsworth.

Meanwhile the remainder of the squadron remained encamped in the neighbourhood of Stavros, until on April 20th it was ordered to proceed together with Second-Lieut Druce’s troop to Orfano village. From Orfano many patrols of an exploratory nature were made, and the work which was now performed was afterwards to prove of great value, when the Bulgarians at a later date crossed the Greek frontier, and occupied all the territory over which the Yeomanry now roamed freely.’

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Gardenerbill

The big event this week 100 years ago was of course when the Zeppelin LZ85 was brought down in the Vardar marshes by naval gunners. (see ‘On Vardar LZ 85 and sailors’ topic for more information).

Other events a hundred years ago; 65th Brigade reach Kukus and Major General Gordon moved his HQ to Kukus and took command of forward troops including the 7th Mounted Brigade. General Mahon ordered Major General Gordon to move more of his division (22nd) to Kukus, this would prove to be General Mahon’s final order on this front.

Finally, all 4 French divisions had now moved up country.

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Gardenerbill

On the 9th May General Mahon was replaced by the younger Lieutenant General George Milne who was the commanding officer of XVI corps.

Around this time General Milne requested two RFC squadrons to compliment the RNAS at Stavros.

Major General Gordon Co of 22nd Division ordered remaining artillery and Pioneers to move up country.

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KGB

I think 5th Royal Irish Regiment were pioneers sent up.

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Gardenerbill

The pioneers referred to here are the 22nd Division pioneers the 9th Battalion Border Regiment. The 5th Royal Irish were the 10th Division Pioneers who at this stage were still in reserve and would not move up country until June.

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Gardenerbill

The infantry battalions of 22nd Division busy digging trenches to the north west of Kukus had not gone unnoticed. On the 14th a hostile plane dropped a bomb on Kilindir and during early hours of the morning 19th May, 5 hostile aeroplanes dropped bombs on the railway, the divisional H.Q. at Kukus and the French camp at Topsin; French aeroplanes rose in pursuit and the enemy retired.

In response to French plans for offensive action in Salonika, the CIGS War committee instructed General Milne to make it clear to general Sarrail that the British Government had not agreed to any offensive operations in the Balkans.

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Gardenerbill

British Dispositions mid May

22nd Division were in the Vardar – Doiran sector north of Kukus along with 7th Mounted Brigade.

The British sector of the bird cage line to the east of the railway near Daudli previously occupied by the 22nd division is temporarily held by a ‘maintenance detachment’.

Moving east the sector between Daudli and the Seres road at Aivatli was occupied by 28th Division.

To the East of the Seres road as far as Lake Langaza the line was occupied by 26th Division.

To the south of Lake Langaza in reserve were 10th Irish Division.

Between Lake Langaza and Lake Beshik the line was occupied by 81st and 82nd Brigade, 27th Division.

Finally the sector from Lake Beshik to Stavros was occupied by 80th Brigade, 27th Division.

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Gardenerbill

On the 26th May a combined Bulgarian and German force advanced down the Struma valley towards Fort Rupel, the Greeks in the fort opened fire and repelled the force.

The next day the Bulgarians and Germans returned in force, acting on orders from Athens the Greeks withdrew, the enemy occupied the Fort and the villages of Radova, Vetrina and Ramna covering the mouth of the Rupel pass.

This incident caused a significant deterioration in relations between the Greeks and the allies as we shall see over the coming weeks.

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Gardenerbill

French Dispositions May 1916

17th Colonial Division in the Struma valley with outposts between Lake Tahinos and Kopriva as well as repairing the Seres road.

57th Division Krusha ridge and Butkovo valley

122nd and 156th Division covered the railways and Varda valley.

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Gardenerbill

And finally the Greek dispositions May 1916

The Greek army occupy the flanks of the allied armies; to the East IV Corps, 5 divisions in the area between the Struma and the Mesta rivers at Kavalla, Drama, Seres and Demir Hissar and 1 division south of Lake Tahinos.

On the west flank, III Corps, 3 divisions on a line from Salonika through Vodena to Florina.

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Gardenerbill

The fallout from the Rupel pass incident led to a dramatic week politically in the Balkans; starting 3rd June with General Sarrail declaring Salonika in state of siege allowing him to take control of the Railways, the Post Office, Telegraph station and to censors newspapers.

French and British warships blockaded Greek ports and threatened to bombard Athens forcing the pro German King Constantine to agree to demobilise the Greek army.

The CIGS again warned General Milne not to be drawn into offensive action.

Also this week a fire broke out in the main forage store, 2,000 tons of hay and 1,500 tons of grain were destroyed and animals had to be put on half rations. All of the Serbian army was now in Salonika at 6 camps 1 division per camp in the Vasilika Deresi valley. A total of 120,000 additional troops bringing the Salonika Army strength up to 15 divisions some 300,000 troops.

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Gardenerbill

There is a note in the official History to the effect that there was ‘now only 1 German division’ left on this front, I assume this is because the Germans had moved their other divisions to the Western front for the Verdun Offensive.

General Milne altered the British dispositions:

The 10th Irish Division were moved from reserve to relieve 26th division in the right sector of XII corps between Tumba and Aivatli (Birdcage line).

The 26th Division moved west and took over the sector previously held by 22nd Division (birdcage line).

The 28th Division moved from centre sector (Aivatli to Balcha Birdcage line) to the area between L. Arjan and the Doiran railway (up country).

On the 8th June General Milne requested a separate zone of operation to avoid having to support French offensive action and to improve supply arrangements.

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Gardenerbill

At the Downing Street Conference on the 9th June the British still wanted to withdraw from the Balkans, but the French wanted to go on the offensive, the Russians and Italians sided with France leaving Britain isolated.

General Sarrail acceded to General Milne’s request for a separate zone of operation and the British army were allotted the zone south and east of a line drawn from Lake Butkovo along the Bahisli river to Sarikoi, three miles east of the Doiran railway at Yanesh (basically the Struma valley), the boundary between the two Corps was to be the Salonika Seres road.

The French Cavalry and the 17th Colonial division moved from the Struma valley in the British zone between L. Tahinos and L. Bukova and were temporarily replaced by the 29th Bde (of 10th Division) and the Sherwood rangers until the 28th Division took over the sector between Orljak and L. Butkovo.

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Gardenerbill

In the middle of June health issues become a serious problem for the Salonika Army with outbreaks of Dysentery and Malaria, particularly for XVI Corps in the Struma valley exacerbated by a shortage of Mosquito nets.

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Gardenerbill

With temperatures over 100f in the shade, infantry work details start early morning with a long mid day break starting again late afternoon.

A typical Yeomanry patrol starts at 4 a.m. halts at 11 a.m. and restarts in the evening.

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Gardenerbill

British dispositions end of June:

XVI Corps; 27th division in the Rendina gorge between Lake Beshik and the sea; 10th Division, 29th Brigade on the Struma from Lake Tahinos to Orlyak Bridge, 30th Brigade in the rear along the Seres road, 31st Brigade in the old Salonika defence line from Tumba to Aivatli.

 

XII Corps; 28th Division, 84th and 85th Brigades Struma valley between Orlyak and L. Butkovo, 83rd Brigade near Lahana on the Seres road in reserve, 22nd and 26th Divisions in camp between Dautli and Aivatli. 7th Mounted Bde under orders of Major General H.L. Croker commanding officer of 28th Division.

 

The British issued a memorandum stating their opposition to offensive action during preparations for the battle of the Somme, on the 30th the French replied that the situation had altered, the Russian offensive in the East was going well, the Italians had launched an offensive and diplomatic negotiations to bring Rumania into the war were making good progress.

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Gardenerbill

Reading the official history, there were problems with the poor state of the roads and with the increased military traffic they needed constant repair. The situation was improved with the arrival of steam rollers and stone crushers.

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Gardenerbill

The Rumanians agreed in principal to enter the war prompted by Russian successes on Eastern front. The British reiterate their position they would cooperate in offensive action only if the Rumanians had joined the war. The Rumanians stated that they would only declare war on Austria Hungary.

 

A Military formula of engagement was drawn up; the French Commander in Chief to consult the British Commanding Officer but decide mission objectives, boundaries and dates.

 

On a personal note my Grandfather William Hodgson was doing his basic training with the Loyal North Lancs at Fulwood barracks Preston having been called up from reserve under the Derby scheme in mid June.

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Gardenerbill

Preparations for active operations were stepped up in July, the War Office approved the establishment of pack transport and establishment began.

Troops carried out a great deal of training in mountain warfare.

 

Milne requested one MT Supply Column and Ammunition park per division, 100 extra lorries and 3 reserve parks were despatched and 120,000 sun helmets arrive from Egypt

 

General Joffre commander in chief of French forces on the western front, called for General Sarrail’s plan of operations; the principal effort was to be made by the Serbians in the west, French and British to be defensive and demonstrative.

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Gardenerbill

The Serbians move up west of the Vardar and take over 60 miles of front line. The Serbs agreed to have the same Military command formula as the British.

5,000 Russians troops (a Brigade) arrive in the theatre.

The 17th Squadron R.F.C. arrives and an Aerodrome is set up at Mikra bay 5 miles outside Salonika.

Finally 6 Machine gun companies arrive in mid July.

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Gardenerbill

The British War committee informed the French that they would not approve any offensive action without Rumania; as a consequence General Sarrail was forced to delay his planned offensive.

 

In July 1916 the 5 divisions regrouped their artillery in line with the other theatres; howitzer brigades were split up and distributed among other artillery brigades.

 

 

The shortage of artillery began to be addressed; 143/153 Heavy batteries and 127/130/132/134/138 siege batteries embarked for Salonika.

 

The Medical services were now fully equipped, consisting of 5 Casualty Clearing Stations, 4 Motor Ambulance convoys and 7 General Hospitals.

 

XVI Corps worked on the defences of the Struma bridges at Orlyak and Komarjan and the Greek Army began demobilising.

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