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Gardenerbill

The First Battle of Doiran 100 years ago

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Gardenerbill

The first battle of Doiran began 100 years ago this week at the end of April 1917 and had a serious impact on the British Salonika Army. I plan to do a series of posts each day for the next few weeks summarising daily events beginning with a description from the Official History of the terrain over which the attack would take place:

 

'The ground immediately south-west of Lake Dojran is as tumbled and broken as any in Macedonia. Four to five thousand yards from the lake and following pretty closely its curves runs a steep sided , knife-edged ridge, at its highest point well over 2,000 feet.'

 

The french had given the high points on this ridge the name Piton 1, Piton 2 etc. and the British shortened this to P1, P2, P3, P4 and P5 and gave it the nick name "Pip Ridge". 

 

'Between the ridge and the lake is an extraordinary jumble of hills of all shapes and sizes, broken up by deep gullies. The biggest, the Jumeaux Ravine, 400 feet deep formed a fosse in front of 2,500 yards of the enemy's defences. Looking north-westward from the British lines above the lake shore the spectacle was presented of a rough and irregular terrace, rising to a peak about half way between the lake and "P" Ridge. This peak was the Grande Couronne, which will always share the notoriety of it's neighbour P2. Both dominated not only the British lines but all the country southwards towards Salonika, as far as eye could see, overlooking trenches, battery positions, and communications so completely as to have a serious psychological effect upon the troops, who felt that all their existence was passed beneth the enemy's eye.'

 

On the top of the Grand Couronne was an enemy observation post that became known as "The Devil's eye".

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Gardenerbill

The Germans and then the Bulgarians had spent 18 months using explosives to excavate trench systems, dugouts and bunkers in the rocky terrain. Their artillery had registered all the approaches to their defensive lines.

 

General Milne requested some 8 inch Howitzers, these were needed to take out the Bulgarian artillery positions and concrete bunkers, but the War Department failed to provide any. General Milne also requested 60,000 gas shells, only 20,000 were provided. To make up the shortfall in artillery guns had to be brought from other sectors of the line but there was still less artillery than required to do the job.

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Gardenerbill

General Wilson the XII Corps commander proposed a 3 phase plan of attack to take the 1st, 2nd and 3rd enemy lines this was rejected by General Milne in favour of a scaled back staged attack, stage 1 objective to take the enemy 1st line. General Wilson’s revised plan would take the trenches on Petite Couronne, Hill 380, Mamelon and P4 on Pip Ridge.  A diversionary raid would be carried out to the west on the Machukovo salient.

 

The 26th Division attack would be on a 3,000 yard front on the right between Lake Doiran and the Jumeaux Ravine and would be carried out by 78th and 79th Brigade. The 22nd Division would attack on a narrower 2,000 yard front to the left, the attack to be carried out by 66th Brigade. The 60th Division would carry out the diversionary attack at Machukovo.

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Gardenerbill

The XII Corps artillery consisted of; XXXVII  and LXXXII heavy groups each with two 6 inch guns, five batteries of 6 inch howitzers and five and a half batteries of 60 pounders, plus two temporary groups of 4.5 inch howitzers  with three 6 inch howitzers and an unspecified number of 18 pounders.

 

On the 21st April 1917 wire cutting began.

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Gardenerbill

22nd April wire cutting continued and a 3 day heavy bombardment began. Daily rate of fire per gun; 200 rounds 18 pdr, 175 4.5 inch howitzer, 150 6 inch Howitzer, 100 60 pdr and 100 6 inch gun.  

Edited by Gardenerbill

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Gardenerbill

23rd April heavy bombardment and wire cutting continue.

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Gardenerbill

24th April, the barrage continues during the day with zero hour set for 9.45 p.m. Due to the enemies observational advantage, a night attack was deemed more likeley to succeed.

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Gardenerbill

The wire was reported to be well cut. The heavy bombardment continued throughout the day. Bulgarian counter bombardment fell on the infantry forming up areas.

 

On the right the 79th Brigade attack failed to take any of its 5 objectives on the Petite Couronne, numbered 0.1 to 0.5. The 7th Wiltshires attacked 0.1 and 0.2, the 12th Hampshires 0.3 and the 10th Devons 0.4 and 0.5 all were driven back to start positions with heavy losses.

 

In the centre 78th Brigade were more successful. The 7th Royal Berkshires achieved its objectives taking the trenches on the northern slope of Jumeaux Ravine. The 11th Worcesters captured one of its objectives trenches on the northern slope of the Jumeaux ravine to the left of the 7th R. Berks. but failed to take its second objective a circular redoubt.

 

On the left 66th Brigade took all its objectives. The 8th Kings Shropshire Light Infantry successful attacked and occupied Hill 380 and the Mamelon. The 13th Manchesters took P4.5 on Pip Ridge.

 

The 60th Division raid at Machukovo was carried out by 2/20th London attacking a hill called the Nose. The enemy front line was occupied but the 2/20th Londons were driven out by Heavy trench mortar fire.

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Gardenerbill

On the morning of the 25th April 1917 Bulgarian counter attacks forced the 7th R. Berks and 11th Worcesters out of the enemy front line and back to start positions.  On the 66th Brigade front counter attacks were successfully repulsed. The withdrawal of the 11th Worcesters exposed the 66th Brigade right flank so a company of the 9th South Lancs was brought up to provide flank protection.

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Gardenerbill

26th April the 79th Brigade was relieved by 77th Brigade.

A heavy Bulgarian counter attack on Hill 380 forced the 8th K.S.L.I. to fall back. The 8th K.S.L.I. re-organised and retook the hill before being forced off again by a heavy bombardment. Hill 380 was finally re-occupied by the 9th South Lancs.

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Gardenerbill

The 27th April 1917 was a relatively quiet day; the new line on the 22nd Division front consolidation by the 9th Borders Pioneers and the 100th Field Company R.E. continued. The medical services, 3 Field Ambulances and 2 Casualty Clearing Stations, had been overwhelmed with casualties during the 3 days of fighting, but by the 27th the crisis was over.

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Gardenerbill

In the new 22nd Div front line the 66th Brigade was relieved the 65th Brigade. A heavy enemy bombardment began at 7.30 p.m. and caused serious casualties however no counter attack materialised. The new positions were very exposed to enemy fire not much more than slit trenches, no movement was possible during daylight hours and the casualties from the enemy artillery were mounting up.

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Gardenerbill

Casualties for the April attack:

Officers Killed 16 Wounded 92 Missing 27

Other Ranks Killed 180 Wounded 2,271 Missing 577

Total British Casualties 3,163

Bulgarian Casualties 835

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Gardenerbill

General Milne orders General Wilson to plan for another attack on the Doiran Kristali line.

Main attack at the Crna Bend will start with the French artillery on the 5th May, XII Corps attack was set for the 8th at 9.50 p.m.

22nd Division success had created a salient between LA TORTUE and HORSESHOE HILL. The main attack would be 26th Division to straighten the line with another attempt to take the positions on Petite Couronne. The 22nd Division to make a simulated attack and raids. The 60th Division to advance the line to TOMATO and WESTBURY HILLs and capture GOLDIES HILL.

22nd Div demonstrations would be carried out by 65th Bde with 8/SWB attached and 67th Brigade. 65th Brigade to raid 0.6, the Sugar Loaf, trenches Dol.L. and P4. 67th Bde to move the line forward from Whale Back to Roach Back and to raid the village of Kristali.

60th Division actions 179th Bde to advance the line onto TOMATO HILL, SINGLETREE HILL, TURTLE BACK and WESTBURY HILL.  Of these hills only a night outpost on TOMATO HILL was regularly occupied. A small trench work on Goldies Hill would also be attacked. There would be no preparatory bombardment.

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Gardenerbill

During the first attack Major General Gordon commanding officer of 22nd Division ‘strained his heart’ and was evacuated to hospital, eventually returning to England and was replaced by Brigadier General J Duncan commanding officer of 78th Brigade.

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Gardenerbill

5th May 1917

On the Doiran Kristali line the British artillery began wire cutting again.

26th Division plan was for 77th Brigade to attack 0.1, 0.2 and 0.3 of P. Couronne on the right and on the left, 2.5 hrs later, 78th Bde would attack 0.4 then 0.5 from 0.4 avoiding Jumeaux Ravine if possible.

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Gardenerbill

Second Attack 8th May 1917

 

9.50 p.m. 77th Brigade attack begins, on the right 11th Scot Rif reached their objective of 0.1 but were driven out. In the centre 12th Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders reached their final objective on 0.2 and began consolidation but were driven out by enfilade fire from both flanks due to other Battalions failing. On the left, the right Coy of the 10th Black Watch found the wire uncut, the left Coy entered the Bulgarian trenches but were driven out by a counter attack.

 

78th Brigade initially attacked with one battalion 7th Ox Bucks and went in early crossing the Jumeaux Ravine without difficulty and forming up on the slopes of 0.4. Faced with a wait of 45 minutes under heavy Trench Mortar fire they requested the artillery barrage to be lifted early. Once the artillery stopped the 7th OX & Bucks were able to occupy part of 0.4 but not all the artillery had stopped. Attempts by the 7th Ox and Bucks to advance further on to 0.4 were forced back. By the time the Royal Berkshires came forward in support, what was left of the 7th Ox and Bucks had been forced off 0.4. 

 

65th Brigade raids

On 0.6; 2 Officers and 59 ORs of 8th South Wales Borderers were caught in a searchlight and came under TM and rifle fire, finding 0.6 had been evacuated occupied the positions and remained for 10 minutes before retiring. Sugar Loaf; 1 Officer and 25 ORs of 9th Kings Own Royal Liverpool advanced on Sugar Loaf, didn’t get far before they were held up by artillery fire and withdrew. On Dol.L; 11 Officer and 25 ORs 12th Lancashire Fusiliers passed through Corne du Bois were also caught in a searchlight and came under TM and rifle fire, replied vigorously were unable to reach the trenches at Dol.L and withdrew. On P4; 1 Officer and 24 ORs of 12th LF advanced to the left of Corne du Bois where they encountered a party of 200 Bulgarians, they attacked with bombs and then withdrew.

 

67th Brigade raids

2 Coys 7th SWB and 2 Platoons of 11th RWF found the Roach Back positions unoccupied, spent the night building dummy trenches to draw enemy fire and night outposts then withdrew at first light. 1 Coy 7th SWB and a detachment of 127 Field Company R.E. reached outskirts of Kristali encountered no enemy, but came under heavy fire and withdrew.

 

179th Brigade successfully occupied all the hills as planned, a belt of wire was deployed in front of the new line and consolidation began.

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Gardenerbill

Early Morning 9th May 1917

77th Brigade prepared to launch a new attack on 0.1, 0.2 and 0.3, this time the 11th Scottish Rifles, 12th Argyle & Sutherland Highlanders, 10th Black Watch, would be joined by the 9th Gloucesters, and 11th Worcesters. The attack was planned for 2.45 to 3.15 a.m. but none of the battalions were ready and a new time was set for 5:50 a.m. The order to delay the attack however didn’t get through to the 10/BW who thought the attack was scheduled for 4.30, with a company of 8th Royal Scots Fusiliers they duly went forward on 0.3 at 4:30, reached the enemy wire but isolated and unsupported were forced to withdraw back to where the 11/Worcs were forming up. The 11/Worcs seeing no attacks on either side of them and observing that the wire was still uncut, also withdrew under heavy shell fire, however the 9/GLos had attacked and occupied the trenches on 0.2 but came under heavy fire from 0.1 and withdrew. It is unclear whether the 12/A&S went forward with the 9/Glos onto 0.2. The 11/Scot Rif went forward and engaged the enemy on 0.1 withdrawing when they saw the 9/Glos withdraw.

78th Brigade on P.Couronne 0.4 Lt Col Dene led 3 Coys of R. Berks on to the slopes of 0.4 and called for a 30 min bombardment then attacked at 5 a.m. taking all of 0.4 and bombing along communication trench to 0.5. Bulgarian heavy artillery bombarded 0.4 followed by a counter attack from 0.5 forcing British back to a line half way across 0.4. the position was held until 11.50 a.m. when the order to withdraw came through.

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Gardenerbill

14th May 1917 in preparation for an assault on FLAT IRON HILL, 179th Brigade occupied FISH BACK HILL and began digging a series of outposts between FISH BACK and TOMATO HILL.

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Gardenerbill

On the 21st May 1917 General Sarrail halted all offensive operations. The next day General Milne cancelled the attack on FLAT IRON HILL. The first battle of Doiran was finally over, total casualties for April and May 1917 were 5024.

Edited by Gardenerbill

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Gardenerbill

I have this summary of the 1st Battle of Doiran in a word document, if anyone would like a copy send me a PM with your email address and will send you a copy.

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Woodpecker1

When I work out how to send a PM, I would like to have a copy of this work please.. Wife's Grand father was in the 2/14 London Reg (London Scottish) There are entries in his diary which mention consolidating tomato hill, golders hill, single tree and turtle back.  They are entries which are out of order and at the back of his 1917 diary, which I take as being just notes.

 

He was a private and eventually lost his life to wounds sustained we think in the battle for Jerusalem. 

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Gardenerbill
42 minutes ago, Woodpecker1 said:

When I work out how to send a PM, I would like to have a copy of this work please.. Wife's Grand father was in the 2/14 London Reg (London Scottish) There are entries in his diary which mention consolidating tomato hill, golders hill, single tree and turtle back.  They are entries which are out of order and at the back of his 1917 diary, which I take as being just notes.

 

He was a private and eventually lost his life to wounds sustained we think in the battle for Jerusalem. 

 

Hi woodpecker,

Welcome to the forum, you have to make a certain number of posts before you can send a PM, not sure how many but it's only a few.

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Woodpecker1

Thanks for that info, guess i'll have to bide my time and ask a few questions

 

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