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be desired. Although this does not in any way justify the
ingratitude which the Serbs have subsequently shown
towards Italy, it may serve in part to explain it. Even
a cruel phrase or a lack of consideration for anyone
who has suffered so terribly are enough to cancel the
memory of the great benefits received. As we shall
see, Generals Petitti and Mombelli did everything in their
power to make the Serbians forget these unfortunate inci-
dents, and they succeeded, at least for the time being.

The bulk of the Serbian troops were concentrated at
Corfu, save a small number at Bizerta. The first convoy

1 Archibald Hurd : Italian Sea Power in the, Great War (Constable,
1918), p. 65.
a Hurd, ibid.



88 THE SERBIANS

embarked on January 6, 1916 and during the winter
the Allies, especially the British and the French, set to
work to re-equip and reorganize the army, and it must
be said the soldiers were greatly desirous of going to
Salonica as soon as possible to take part once more in
the struggle against the invader, although at that time
to hope for success seemed madness. The Serbian Govern-
ment and Parliament also established themselves at
Corfu, where they remained until after the Armistice.
The reorganization of the army was carried out fairly
quickly, and about the middle of April the first detach-
ments began to arrive at Salonica ; to these were added
the troops who escaped from Monastir or down the Vardar
Valley. Throughout the second half of 1916 and the
winter of 1916-17 the Serbians continued to arrive,
and in May 1917 the army was complete. But the Serbs
did not wait until then to begin fighting, because, as
we have seen, they took a very prominent part in the
operations of the summer and autumn of 1916. As
each detachment reached Salonica it was first concentrated
in the Serbian camp at Mikra near the city, and then
sent towards the front, and its training in modern war
methods was completed in Macedonia.

The reorganized Serbian Army then comprised about
150,000 men, divided, as we have seen, into 3 armies
of 2 divisions each. Each division comprised 3 regi-
ments of 3 battalions each. As regards armament they
were fairly well equipped, and the number of rifles x was
higher than in the other armies in Macedonia because
they had very few transport or lines-of-communication
troops. The Allies to a very great extent supplied them
with these services.

The Crown Prince Alexander, nominally Commander-
in-Chief, kept his modest Court at Salonica, but he
spent a good part of the year at the Serbian front
with the soldiers, with whom he was very popular. King
Peter also resided habitually at Salonica, where he led

1 By rifles I mean soldiers who habitually use their rifles, viz. the
infantry, excluding machine-gunners, men attached to the transport
service, etc., who are also armed with rifles.




ENERAL MOMEELLI INAUGURATING A SCHOOL FOR SERB CHILDREN BUILT BY ITALIAN

SOLDIERS AT BROD.





:#t-*.-











ITALIAN BRIDGE OVER THE CERNA AT BROD.



To face p. 68.



THE SERBIAN COMMAND 89

an extremely retired life an account of his illness, and he
saw hardly anyone. The military household of the
Prince was composed for the most part of field officers
who had been seriously wounded, and as Minister of
the Royal Household he afterwards appointed M. Balugich,
who was considered to be one of the shrewdest diplomats
in the Balkans. The various foreign Governments had
their representatives at Corfu, as the Serbian Foreign
Office was there, but the Prince Regent wished to have
a small diplomatic corps attached to his own person.
The British and French Governments acceded to this
wish immediately, the former sending Admiral Troubridge
and the latter Commander Picot as honorary A.D.C.'s.
Later on he also wished to have an Italian officer,
in the person of Colonel Bodrero, formerly Commander
of the Italian troops in Salonica and afterwards in Valona,
and the request was finally granted. Admiral Troubridge,
an attractive type of naval officer, had been Commander
of the squadron which had pursued the Goeben and
Breslau at the beginning of the war, and had afterwards
commanded the British naval batteries on the Danube.
After the Serbian debacle he followed the remnants
of the army to Corfu, and it was on that occasion that
Prince Alexander got to know and appreciate him.
Admiral Troubridge had great affection for Italy, whose
language and literature he knew extremely well, and he
liked to be in the company of Italian officers whom he
often invited to his house, and in turn, he often went to
their mess. He did his best to maintain friendly relations
between Serbians and Italians, and gave excellent advice
to Prince Alexander.

The actual Commander-in-Chief of the Serbian Army
was the Chief of the General Staff, General Boyovich, and
the armies, afterwards reduced to two, were commanded
by the Voivods Michich and Stepanovich.

In the spring of 1916, Voivod Michich, Commander
of the I Army, was appointed Chief of the General Staff
in the place of General Boyovich, who took command
of the said army in his place. The change was made
on the eve of the general offensive, because the plan



90 THE SERBIANS

of operation was to a large extent the work of Michich
himself. Although General Boyovich was an excellent
soldier and had always greatly distinguished himself,
Voivod Michich was a man of genius, one of the ablest
leaders that the Balkans has ever produced. Personally
he was a very sympathetic figure, jovial, always serene
and good-tempered, even in the most tragic moments,
and always certain of final victory. The soldiers had
such great confidence in him that during the long period
in which illness kept him in hospital, they used to say :
" We shall never be able to return to our country if we
have not Michich to lead us to victory." He never ceased
to show cordiality towards Italy, and even after the Armis-
tice, in spite of the infatuation of hatred against Italy
with which the Serbian people had been filled, probably as
a result of a propaganda conducted by persons interested
in sowing dissension, his feelings towards us never changed,
and if one day Italo-Serbian relations improve, it will
certainly be due in part to the work of the gallant Voivod.
His death, which occurred a short time ago, is a real loss
from every point of view.

In a general way the Serbians in Salonica conducted
themselves modestly, as was but becoming in their
condition of exiles living on charity — I use the word
without any intention of offence. In this connexion
they offered a notable contrast to the Russian officers
after the Bolshevik revolution. Even their Commands
and offices were very simple, and their leaders were
singularly free from bureaucratic formalities,

The Serbs were supplied by the British and French,
but even the material supplied by the former reached
them through the French Intendance. They were not
however, satisfied with this system, and often complained
of the manner in which the French treated them, both
on account of the insufficiency and the bad quality of
part of the supplies — they actually declared that the
goods of excellent quality supplied by the British were
exchanged during transit through the French offices, for
others of inferior quality. They also objected to the
tone which the French adopted towards them, never



THE SERBIAN TROOPS 91

letting them forget that it was they (the French) who
were maintaining them. The French on their part
complained of the excessive demands of the Serbians,
to whom they attributed what they called la mentalite
des sinistres.

Relations between officers and soldiers were not always
good. The soldiers complained of being neglected and
ill-treated by their officers, and even accused some of
them of financial dishonesty. An American doctor,
who had lived long in Serbia and with the Serbian Army
and knew the language well, assured me that these accusa-
tions were justified, and that the Serbian civil and military
administration was both corrupt and incompetent. He
believed, indeed, that when the Serbian Government
succeeded in re-establishing itself in Serbia it would
encounter serious difficulties with the population because
the Austrian Government, although politically oppressive,
had accustomed it to a more honest and competent civil
service than that of the Serbian State. These difficulties
were due in part, according to this same American, to
the great gap existing between the slightly educated
classes, to whom the officers belonged, and the ignorant
peasants, who formed the common soldiers. The officers
did not take sufficient care for the well-being of their
men, and a very large number of them lived comfortably
at Salonica, where they had little to do, while the soldiers
and the rest of the officers were fighting and suffering
great hardships at the front. There is certainly some
exaggeration in all this, but there is also some truth.
In a general way, the officers of the old Serbian Army
were excellent, but as a really educated bourgeoisie does
not exist in the country, most of the reserve officers,
drawn from the semi-educated middle classes, left a
great deal to be desired. Another difficulty was due to
the fact that the Government was at Corfu while the army,
which represented all that remained of the nation, was
in Macedonia, and the former soon lost all touch with
the latter. The atmosphere of Corfu had become a
hotbed of personal ambitions, intrigues and petty spite.
The Serbians themselves called it their Capua. Among



92 THE SERBIANS

the Serbians moreover, as I have said, secret societies
flourished, and these found a field of great activity in
the conditions of the moment. Even exile did not make
the Serbians forget the habit of conspiracy.

From the moment the Serbian Army took up its position
in Macedonia its front extended from the eastern arm
of the Cerna to the neighbourhood of Nonte. Divided
after its reorganization into 3 armies, these were as we
have seen, in consequence of the reduction of the effectives,
reduced to 2 of 3 divisions each, plus the cavalry division.
The I Army (Drina, Morava and Timok Divisions) com-
manded by Voivod Michich, had its H.Q. at Votchtaran
and occupied the western sector ; the II (Vardar, Danube
and Shumadia Divisions), commanded by Voivod
Stepanovich, occupied the eastern sector, with its H.Q.
at Dragomantzi. Although the Serbian G.H.Q. was at
Salonica, there was also an advanced G.H.Q. near Mount
Floka. The ground on the Serbian front was extremely
rough, with huge masses of rock, high peaks and great forests
spread over it. The area of the II Army was a particularly
uncomfortable one, as it was almost everywhere exposed
to the enemy fire. The roads were few and bad, and
communications extremely difficult. For its supplies,
the I Army made use of the Monastir railway as far as
Sakulevo, then of the decauville for a few kilometres,
and finally of the ordinary roads. The II Army could
not use the railway beyond Vertekop. At the railway
terminus there were motor parks supplied by the British,
who organized an excellent service, principally with
small Ford lorries which could go anywhere, even over
the most impossible roads. The Serbians knew how to
make the best use of the scanty agricultural resources of
the country, and although they complained that the least
fertile areas had been assigned to them, they managed
so well that their horses never lacked forage and always
appeared fat and well fed. They were indeed excellent
horse-masters.

In the early days of the Macedonian campaign our
relations with the Serbs were somewhat cold. We could
not help admiring their splendid military qualities and



ITALO-SERB RELATIONS 93

burning patriotism, although we did not fail to notice
their serious defects of character, due to Oriental tradition.
The Serbs, on their part, were irritated against us on
account of the incidents in Albania already mentioned.
General Petitti, however, made every effort to eliminate
misunderstandings by means of a conciliatory and cordial
policy. He began by the cession of materials, of which
the Serbians were in sore need> and did it with the
greatest possible tact, so as to avoid in any way hurting
their feelings. The Serbs, as we have said, were dependent
on the French for their services, and General Petitti,
knowing that the latter were not always adequate, often
assisted them with motor vehicles, movable huts, etc.,
whenever the occasion arose. As it was necessary to
evacuate the civilian population from a part of the Italian
area, he made a point of always consulting the Serbian
authorities, to whom he showed the greatest possible defer-
ence, before taking any action, and he provided transport
and even food for the people who were being evacuated.
Relations between our troops and the Serbian troops and
the civilian population never gave rise to any incident,
and the Serbians could not help admiring the order and
efficiency of our transport and other services and the con-
dition of our animals, to which they were not accustomed
in Macedonia, except in the case of their own horses. In
his work of conciliating the Serbians, General Petitti found
useful collaborators in Lieutenant Cangia, Italian liaison
officer with the I Serbian Army, in Captain Goad, British
liaison officer with the 35th Division, and in Dr. Reiss the
Swiss scientist, who was a good friend of ours and of the
Serbians.

When General Petitti was requested to grant facilities
for the journey of Voivod Michich's wife from Italy,
he arranged that she should cross on one of our best
steamers and then travel on an Italian staff car from
Santi Quaranta, escorted by an Italian officer. The
Voivod had first applied to the French authorities, who
informed him that his wife must travel via Patras.
He therefore preferred that she should avail herself of
the facilities offered by the Italians.



94 THE SERBIANS

On the occasion of the fighting in February 1917 on
Hill 1050, Voivod Michich, who had been present, sent
a message to General Petitti * expressing his unbounded
admiration for the dash and gallantry of our troops,
which was sent to Italy and published, and made a very
good impression.

Personal relations between our officers and soldiers
and the Serbians went on improving, and many cordial
individual friendships were formed. General Mombelli
continued General Petitti's policy for a rapprochement
with the Serbians and intensified it. He was on excellent
terms with the Prince Regent and neglected nothing to
render himself a persona grata with him and his army.
Our Command was very generous in concessions of motor
transport to Serbian officers and officials travelling between
Salonica, the Serbian front, and Corfu, and they constantly
applied to us for this purpose, preferring our service
even to that which was subsequently instituted by their
own Command.

We also co-operated in Serbian propaganda in Macedonia.
In the small strip of Serbian territory reoccupied after
the capture of Monastir, there was a mixed Serbo-Rulgarian
population of somewhat uncertain political sentiments,
but predominantly Bulgarian. The Serbian Govern-
ment did everything to spread the Serbian idea among
the inhabitants by means of schools and propaganda.
In the villages of Brod and Tepavci, which were in our
military area, General Mombelli had some schools built
by Italian soldiers for the native children. The Serbian
Relief Fund (a British association) and the American
Red Cross provided food, clothes, furniture etc. and also
some nurses, while the Serbian Government provided the
teachers. The inauguration of the school at Brod was
a very pleasant festival of Italo-Serb cordiality.

The great weakness of the Serbian Army was its deficiency
in effectives, and this became more serious day by day.
While all the Allies in Macedonia suffered from the same
trouble, because the Governments and General Staffs were
reluctant to send reinforcements (only our expeditionary

1 See Appendix A.



SERBIAN DIFFICULTIES 95

force was kept up to strength, at all events until the
autumn of 1917), the condition of the Serbs was far
more serious, because, save for small groups of volunteers
from Europe and America, very often of advanced age and
unable to endure hardships, there was no source whence
reinforcements could be drawn to make good the constant
losses caused by righting and sickness. " Our reinforce-
ments," said a field officer attached to the Serbian
G.H.Q., " are always the same — the men who come out
of hospital more or less cured." This was a cause of
great depression among the Serbians, and in spite of their
intense patriotism, there were, as we shall see, moments
in which their faith faltered and they contemplated
the possibility of concluding a separate peace. This
tendency among certain parties was very marked, and
resulted in sundry plots and intrigues.



CHAPTER VI

THE ITALIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

The Italian expeditionary force, as we have seen, reached
Macedonia in August 1916 ; after a short stay at Salonica
it was transferred to the Krusha Balkan near Lake Doiran,
and then to the Cerna loop, where it remained until the
offensive of September 1918. At Salonica the Italian
base was created, which subsequently became a detached
section of the Intendenza at Taranto (commonly known in
" initial " language, adopted in the Italian Army in imitation
of the British, as the " U.S.I.A.M." — Ufficio staccato Inten-
denza Albania- Macedonia). The latter comprised the sani-
tary branch, the commissariat department, the engineer
command, artillery and engineer parks, the H.Q. of the M.T.
service, many depots of various kinds, ammunition dumps,
the garrison command, the Comando di Tappa (where
officers and men were forwarded to their destinations)
the court martial, 1 the convalescent camp, the remount
camp, etc. Part of these establishments were at Zeitenlik,
some 4 or 5 km. from the town, and on the outskirts were
the three military hospitals, one of which was the old Italian
civilian hospital, enlarged and militarized.

Our base had to.be created in very difficult conditions,
because when we came to Salonica most of the scanty
resources of the country had already been requisitioned by
the French and British Armies, who had been in the country
for ten months, so that we had to be content with leavings.
Furthermore, owing to the comparatively small size of
our contingent, we had to do without many institutions
which would have contributed to the welfare of our men

1 Military tribunals in the Italian Army are organized on a permanent
basis.

96



THE ITALIAN BASE 97

as well as to our national prestige. Unlike the British
and French, we had few officers accustomed to dealing
with Oriental conditions. Nevertheless we managed to
create a base which in many respects was a model of its
kind, and our soldiers with their great ingenuity succeeded
in making up for other material deficiencies. A British
medical officer, whom I escorted on a visit of inspection
to our military hospitals, was quite astonished at the sight
of what Italian soldiers had been able to create out of
nothing, and at the comparatively low cost at which these
results had been achieved. The men showed a love for
their work which aroused the admiration of everyone.
When the Italian troops left the Krusha Balkan, where
they were relieved by the British, there was a certain
bridge which they had begun ; the men engaged on the
work asked to be left behind to finish it, because they feared
that their British successors might not carry out the plan
according to the original design.

The Italians at the base and on the lines of communi-
cation maintained an excellent discipline, and were always
noted for their good conduct and almost total absence of
drunkenness. Nor did one ever see Italian officers take
part in the outrageous orgies at the Tour Blanche or other
night resorts. If one criticism can be made it is addressed
to those who were responsible for selecting the officers to be
sent to Macedonia ; only the most educated, best mannered
and most gentlemanly men should have been chosen for
a force which was to be in such constant contact with
other armies. Whereas the great majority did fulfil
these requisites, the same cannot be said of all ; if they
never got drunk, there were some who were not a la hauteur
as regards character and conduct. The French made the
same mistake, and indeed not a few of their officers were
sent to Macedonia as a punishment. It was only the
British who, as we have seen, made a point of sending out
their best men, especially those on Staff appointments.
If this insufficient consideration of character and manners
is a general defect of our whole bureaucratic system, a
special effort should have been made to overcome it in
connexion with the Eastern expedition.

7



98 THE ITALIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE

The excellent organization of our base services was
largely due to the merit of Major (now Colonel) Fenoglietto,
director of the Intendenza, who in all the confusion of
Macedonian conditions never lost his head or his temper,
and succeeded in conciliating the most opposite tendencies
and the most crotchetty characters. Organizing capacity
such as his was particularly necessary, inasmuch as Salonica
was our only base for supplying a force of over 50,000 men ;
even when the Santi Quaranta route was opened up and
reinforcements and men going home on leave or returning
began to travel that way, supplies, munitions, and material
of all sorts continued to be landed at Salonica, and every-
thing was concentrated at that base.

There was not on the front in Italy a division or even
an army corps whose first lines were so far from their
base as were those of the 35th Division. The distance from
Salonica to Hill 1050 was not less than 170 km., most of
which had to be covered either by the Monastir railway,
which also supplied seven French divisions, all the Serbian
Army, and at different times sundry Greek and Russian
units, or by the high road, which also was in part used to
supply those same forces. The railway journey was not
a pleasant experience ; one spent the night in a sordid
dilapidated coach, often enlivened by bugs, with broken
windows and torn cushions. This train de luxe conveyed
us to Armenohor (the station for Fiorina), whence one
continued the journey by lorry. It was more interesting
to go the whole way by lorry or car, as well as quicker
and more comfortable.

On emerging from the narrow ill-paved streets of Salonica
we get on to the wide and very dusty Monastir road, over-
coming numerous obstacles in the shape of holes and other
irregularities. Right and left the British depots and dumps
spread out over vast areas. Once the last huts and sheds
are left behind, we cross the wide desert plain of the Vardar,
partly marshy and very little cultivated, enclosed on the
north-east by the mountains behind Vodena. The vast
pastures and the silvery patches of water, with the back-
ground of distant blue mountains, remind one of the Roman
Campagna, but on a larger scale, less populated and lacking



THE ROAD TO THE FRONT 99

in those stately ruins which render the country round Rome
so deeply suggestive and give it that sense of vitality
derived from the remains of the past. Here too there
are historic memories in abundance, for many splendid
civilizations flourished in this land, but the innumerable
Barbarian invasions which devastated Macedonia have
wiped out almost every trace of them, and it would be
necessary to excavate in order to find ancient remains.

Shortly before reaching Yenidje- Vardar a strange-looking
structure appears to the right of the road ; it consists of mas-
sive walls and great blocks of stone into which iron pipes
have been introduced, whence water pours out in abundance.
It is popularly known as the Fountain of Alexander, and
is, in fact, on the site of the ancient Pellas, Alexander the
Great's capital ; not far off, amid the fields, the ruined
arches of an ancient aqueduct may be seen. The fountain
has been restored by the Allied troops and is used by their
pack and transport animals. It was probably in the main
piazza of the town ; there, where the horses of the great
Macedonian king were watered twenty-two centuries ago,
those of the Chasseurs d'Afrique and of the Cavalleggeri
di Lucca and of the A.S.C. of the Armee d'Orient were
watered but yesterday.

Every now and then our car is held up by a Senegalese



Online LibraryLuigi VillariThe Macedonian campaign → online text (page 8 of 24)