H. Collinson (Harry Collinson) Owen.

Salonica and after, the sideshow that ended the war online

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to make an end of the Macedonian stalemate, faced a
worried and anxious enemy who sensed that something
serious was about to happen but had no idea when
or how. On the morning of September 14th the
Allied artillery crashed out all along the line. From
Monastir to Doiran, along eighty miles of mountain
ranges, the enemy positions were heavily bombarded.
He certainly had no doubt now that an attack was
coming, but there was still nothing to show where the
blow was to fall. It came at 5.30 next morning, the 15th,
in the place least expected. The 122nd (French) Divi-
sion attacked the beetling crags of Sokol on the left,
and the Schumadia Division attacked on the right. It
had been hoped that all the crests would be carried
within four hours, and that the Yu go-Slav and Timok
Divisions would immediately pour through the gap.
But the enemy resistance was strong and the slopes
were so steep that in places scaling ladders had to be



used. The 122nd Division was held off its final objective
until nine at night. The Schumadia Division had done
splendid work, and on the left the first Serbian Army
was now supporting the final attack of the 122nd Division
on Sokol. By night a breach of eight miles had been
definitely made. Over 3,000 prisoners had been taken,
and 33 guns captured. The Serbian Reserve Divisions
poured through in the night, and pressed on towards
the dominating height of Koziak (about 5,500 feet),
which it had been hoped would be taken the first day.
It fell at noon on the 16th, and the enemy, knowing
its importance, made desperate efforts to re-take it.
The enemy flanks were now pushed back until the
breach was 16 miles wide. The whole of the six Ser-
bian Divisions, with their one Cavalry Division, were
now moving forward, attacking over the tumbled moun-
tainous country, and left and right the action extended,
like a prairie fire — to Albania on the west and Doiran
on the east. On either side French and Greeks joined
in, and at Doiran the British bombardment swelled
into a majestic roar. The Serbs in the centre were
pushing ever further forward. By September 21st they
had reached the Vardar and the Bulgarians, now divi-
ded, were trembling on the edge of final disaster.

But before this point was reached the British Front
had made its contribution to the beginning of the
general debacle. The breach had been made, but to
exploit the success thoroughly and make it finally de-
cisive it must be widened further and further, and the
enemy prevented at all costs from mending it by bring-
ing further troops from the east, from the British front.
As they pressed forward the Serbian and French troops
found practically no fresh enemy troops thrown in to
bar their way. This was the result of the fighting on



the British front, where the attacks against the for-
midable positions east and west of Doiran had now
been launched. On the Serb front the Allies heavily
outnumbered the enemy. On the Doiran front the
enemy heavily outnumbered us. But not a single enemy
battalion must be allowed to proceed from Doiran to
help in retrieving the beginnings of disaster which had
declared themselves further west. There was little or
no hope of the British attack succeeding in itself. It
was to be a sacrifice to ensure victory elsewhere. But
it had to be done and General Franchet d'Esperey, the
Commander in-Chief of the Allied Forces, gave the word.
The British were to try again where they had already
twice failed to achieve the impossible. And our men,
who had already charged up those pitiless bullet and
shell swept slopes in 1917, knew exactly what was before

The British attack opened at 5.15 on the morning of
the 18th. It was the beginning of a beautifully fine
September day — too fine, for the September sun in
Macedonia is very hot, and on both days of the Doiran
attacks there was a shade temperature of 100 deg. The
panorama of mountain lake and valley was looking its
loveliest. But the slopes of Pip Ridge and Grand
Couronne were already veiled in a cloud of dust from
the incessant pounding which our guns were giving them
and soon, as the attack progressed and the Bulgar guns
opened out to their fullest extent, the whole region of
the battle was enveloped in a smother of dust and
smoke from the midst of which came the flash and crash
of bursting shell. And into this roaring inferno our
troops went, with the Greeks by their side, to one of
the hardest tasks ever given soldiers to do.

Although our leaders knew only too well the nature
of the enterprise to which they were committed, they



aimed at nothing short of complete success — viz., the
capture of Pip Ridge and Grand Couronne. Our ob-
jectives were the key positions to the whole of this
sector of the enemy front. Though the attack was
primarily intended as a holding attack, with little hope
of anything more, we were determined, in the unlikely
event of fortune smilmg on us, to push our success to
its furthest limit. In other words, we thought it as
well to be killed for a sheep as a lamb. It is a homely
phrase to use in such a connection, but it exactly fits
the situation. All the odds were against us, but it was
a real and not a half attack.

The assault against the jumble of hills and ravines
culminating in the Pip Ridge and Grand Couronne was
divided into two halves, with the Bulgar trench position
known as 0.6 as the central point of attack. From here
down to the lake the Greeks of the Seres Division had
the right or eastern half to themselves. The western
half was divided into three sectors. On the left the
66th Brigade (Brig.-Gen. F. S. Montague-Bates) of the
22nd Division (Major-Gen. J. Duncan) was to attack
the Pip Ridge. The 12th Cheshires were to lead off up
the side of Jackson's Ravine and capture P.4^ and P. 4.
The 9th South Lanes, were then to advance through
them, and pushing on some five hundred yards beyond
up the steep and narrow causeway of the ridge, were
to try and capture P. 3 and the two fortified spurs, run-
ning off west, of Little Dolina and Dolina — a formidable
task indeed. And if everything went well the 8th
King's Shropshire Light Infantry were to push further
on through the South Lanes, and capture P. 2. (692
metres or about 2,100 feet high), the point of the ridge
nearest to and several hundreds of feet higher than
Grand Couronne.

In the centre of the Western half the 2nd Greek



Regiment (2 battalions with one in reserve) was told
off to take the series of rounded hills running up to
the left flank of Grand Couronne known as Sugar Loaf,
The Tongue, The Plume, and then over the Grand
Shoulder to the position known as Koh-i-noor, out-
flanking the crest of Grand Couronne itself. And on
the right of the western half of the attack the 67tli
Brigade (7th South Wales Borderers, 11th Welsh Regi-
ment, the 11th Welsh Fusiliers) were to over-run the
Bulgar first line up the steep slopes of 0.6, and then
after taking in their stride the tangle of formidable
but lesser hills known as The Knot, the Hilt and The
Tassel which formed the second line, were to attack the
west face of Grand Couronne itself, which was defended
by a strong third line. On the eastern half the two
remaining regiments of the Seres Division had to attack
Petit Couronne and the formidable front line of which
it formed part, advance up over Red Scar Hill towards
Doiran Hill, overlooking the little ruined town, and
from there push on as far as possible up the western
slope of Grand Couronne. In the extent of ground
gained this attack proved to be the most successful of
all, although it was the 67th Brigade which penetrated
furthest into the enemy positions towards Grand
Couronne. And while all this was going on between
the lake and Pip Ridge two battalions (8th D. C.L.I.
and 12th Hants) of the 26th Division (Maj.-Gen. A. W.
Gay) were to demonstrate west of the ridge ; and east
of the lake the Cretan Division, supported by the 28th
Division (Maj.-Gen. H. L. Croker) were to advance
against the mountain wall of the Belashitza.

For four days our artillery had maintained its un-
ceasing thunder, pounding the triple line of trenches,
smashing in many dugouts (but leaving many of the
strongest rock-hewn caverns untouched) and smothering



the Bulgar lines up to the crests with high explosive.
We now had several batteries of eight-inch howitzers
in action, and they did splendid work. In the hot
September sunshine and throughout the nights the gun-
ners sweated away unceasingly, often under a very
heavy fire.

On the night of the 17th-18th the bombardment
swelled up into a more majestic roar, and for over six
hours before the assault we drenched the enemy's posi-
tions with gas shells, this being the first time we had
used them on the Balkan front. They proved of little
service to us, as the fumes had very little effect on the
enemy heights, where the slightest breath of wind was
sufficient to dissipate them. And whether because of
our own gas or — as was probable — the enemy was using
gas shell himself, some of our battalions had to assemble
and make their first attack up the steep slopes wearing
masks, which added much to their exhaustion. The
assembly of our troops was a difficult matter as all the
roads were in view of the enemy and the night was
clear. But we put down a smoke barrage on the
enemy's front system, and by this means we were able
to assemble in the various ravines just behind our lines
and deploy our troops without a hitch.

The 12th Cheshires led off on the extreme left. Just
before the barrage lifted at eleven minutes past five
they climbed up the steep side of Jackson's Ravine on
to the Ridge. The barrage moved on ahead, and "A"
Company went with a rush for P.4J. As they reached
the first enemy work on the Ridge some forty Bulgars
poured out of it, and there was a check and some sharp
hand to hand fighting. Three of the Bulgars were taken
prisoners and the rest disposed of. During the progress
of this the remaining three Companies came on up to
P. 4^., but as the first of them reached it there was a


heavy explosion — due either to a mine or an ammuni-
tion dump — which caused many casualties. By this time,
owing to the unexpected check, our barrage had trav-
elled far up the ridge in advance of the attacking troops.
Machine gun fire developed from all directions, and in
addition the enemy at P. 4. opened with a trench mortar
barrage. In spite of serious casualties the Cheshires
pushed on up the causeway to P. 4. The eastern end
of this very strong work was now alive with Bulgars
who had come up from their dugouts. As our men
reached it a fiammenwerfer came into action. The
operator was kUled, but this apparatus also blew up,
causing casualties and delay. On the right of this
second fortress "D" Company found itself fronted with
heavy rifle fire and bombs. What was left of "A" Com-
pany penetrated the centre, and "B" and "C" Com-
panies pushed on rapidly up the long slope leading to
P.3., four or five hundred yards ahead. But by this
time the trenches on the spur of Little Dolina were
manned and from here and from P. 3. a sheet of machine
gun bullets poured down. Behind them, too, in P. 4.
the Bulgars turned machine guns on them. Our men
just melted away and lay on the parched brown grass
of the slope up which they were labouring. Lieut.-Col.
the Hon. A. R. Clegg-Hill, D.S.O., fell, mortally
wounded. In a few minutes the battalion had practi-
cally ceased to exist.

The 9th South Lanes., following close behind the
Cheshires, ran into a sheet of machine gun bullets, the
enemy now being untroubled for the time being by our
artillery, and having only to shoot. By the time they
had rushed up the ridge to P. 4. they had lost so terribly
that they were unable to carr\^ their attack further
than that work. Lieut.-Col. B. F. Bishop, M.C., was
killed there, and the battalion, as an official report said



bluntly, was "more or less annihilated." As the 8th
K. S.L.I. 's pressed on behind the South Lanes, they
also suffered very heavy casualties in that stretch of
about three hundred yards. The Bulgars now attacked
heavily down the slope on to P. 4. and, fighting stub-
bornly, our men were pressed back down to P. 4^.
Lieut.-Col. J. D. B. Erskine, of the K. S.L.I. 's, realis-
ing that it was impossible to continue the attack, col-
lected what men and officers he could from all three
battalions, and withdrew them to the shelter of Jack-
son's Ravine, down to the right of the slope. For a time
he commanded only four officers and 240 men, but
others gradually came in. The average strength of the
attacking battalions was about four hundred. In this
short but murderous attack we lost 37 officers and 800
other ranks, or about 65 per cent, of the Brigade. Later
in the morning a further attempt was made to occupy
P. 4^, but this had to be abandoned. The enemy's
hold on the ridge was quite unshaken. There was no
reward for British heroism on this September morning.
The fortunes of the 3rd Greek Regiment of the Seres
Division, sandwiched between our 66th and 67th Bri-
gades, were much the same. They went up into the
crashing and smoke with great dash, broke through the
front line at the hill known as the Sugar Loaf, and half
an hour after starting were assaulting the enemy's main
line, consisting of the very formidable works of The
Plume and The Warren. They captured the whole
strongly defended system, killed many Bulgars and took
about eighty prisoners. But about this time the dust and
smoke clouds of the bombardment began to lift. From
the Ridge, now clear of our men but for the dead and
woimded, and from Grand Couronne, the machine guns
began to rattle and chatter by the dozen, causing many
casualties to the Greeks. The Bulgars then heavily



counter-attacked from the Grand Ravine, and drove
the Greeks out of their main Hne. And as the Greeks
had no support on their left owing to our failure on the
Ridge, they fell back to their point of assembly, in the
shelter of one of our own ravines. As a consequence of
this an order to the 77th Brigade, in reserve, to move
up to the Warren to the left of the Greeks and attack
P.3, sheer up the mountain side from the east, was
immediately cancelled.

On the right of the western half of the attack, the
Welshmen of the 67th Brigade (Brig.-Gen. A. D. Mac-
pherson) fought their way magnificently up the string
of heights leading up to their main objective, Grand
Couronne, but it was only at the cost of heavy sacrifices
all the way. Two companies of the 11th Welsh Fusi-
liers (Lieut.-Col. A. H. Yatman), had some stem and
bitter fighting before they could carry and retain posses-
sion of the strongly defended works in and about 0.6 in
the enemy front line. The two remaining companies of
the battalion broke the line just east of the Sugar Loaf
hill, rushed and killed the garrison on The Knot, and
pressed on to the very strongly protected hill called The
Hilt. The enemy trenches were heavily manned and
there w^as concentrated machine gun and trench
mortar fire. This stronghold, too, was overcome, but
only after half the two companies had become casualties.
They were finally forced back by strong counter attacks
from The Knot. The Fusiliers were compelled to wear
their gas masks all the way from the assembly point, and
were much exhausted by it. They were in no condition
to withstand heavy attacks by fresh troops coming
downhill. Every ofRcer and all but two N.C.O.'s had
become casualties.

Following the Fusiliers, the 11th Welsh (Lieut.-Col.
L, H. Trist), also wearing masks, attacked from Shrop-



shire Ravine. They tried to exploit the advance of
the Fusiliers, and from The Tassel got into touch with
them over the ravine, on The Hilt. But from the top
slopes of The Hilt the enemy launched another
formidable counter attack. The Greeks on the
!eft were now retiring, and the 11th Welsh col-
lected its remnants and also retired. Later in the
morning they made two further attempts to occupy
Sugar Loaf, but were driven back by heavy fire.

The 7th S. Wales Borderers (Lieut. -Col. D. Burges)
followed on the track of the Greeks in the centre, but
all the same found much resistance all the way from the
Bulgars who had filtered back into the trenches. With
but few losses they went through the first and second
lines and attacked the slopes of The Feather, in the
third line. Some Greeks had joined them on their way
up, and remained with them. Up to now they had
been fighting in a gigantic dust cloud, in and out of
which, at very low heights, hovered our aeroplanes on
contact patrol. As the S.W.B.'s progressed up The
Feather they were met by intense machine gun fire.
But they reached the gaps in the wire at the top, and lay
there for our barrage to lift. As it did so the smoke and
dust cloud cleared. Our men were in full view at close
range from many machine guns. The trenches they
were now attacking were far up on the slopes of Grand
Couronne, only about 250 yards from the summit. The
trenches were very strongly manned and a terrific rifle
and machine gun fire was poured down the spur, and
from the surrounding ridges other machine guns concen-
trated. A great many of the Borderers fell, but the
rest — just a brave remnant — rushed the trenches and,
spent and weary as they were, grappled with the de-
fenders, who had done nothing more exhausting than
sit in their dug-outs. The gallant few were seen to



reach the trenches, and were seen to fall. They had
attained almost the summit of Grand Couronne, but
only to die there. The last to leave those tragic slopes
were the sole survivors of the South Wales Borderers —
eighteen unwounded men and one wounded officer*.
Out of all the gallantry and horror and raging inferno
of that early morning this was their reward — to come
back leaving all their comrades lying on the hot, bare
rocks and in the sparse scrub above. True, the bat-
talion only started a few hundreds strong. But is there
anything in our history to sairpass it ? Balaklava
grows dim beside it. But it is unlikely that any
Laureate will sing the story of Grand Couronne.

In all the murderous and confused fighting of that
terrible morning we had apparently made sure of only
one thing — our honour. But the sacrifice was a sacrifice
to victory. While our troops were falling at Doiran
the Serbs were forging ahead, far away to the westward.

On the right half of the attack, which was carried out
by the Greek troops, under British direction, and with
one of our battalions — the 2nd King's Own Regiment —
in support, we had more material gains to register.
The British command profited by our previous experi-
ence with Petit Couronne, and no direct attack was
made on it. This stronghold was " pinched out " by

* Lieut. -Col. Dan Burges, D.S.O., of the 7th S. Wales Borderers,
was badly wounded three times, and was later picked up by Germans
and carried into a Bulgar dug-out behind Grand Couronne, where
he was attended to. He was recovered in the advance, and was later
awarded the Victoria Cross. The award said : " His coolness and
personal courage was most marked throughout the advance and
afforded a magnificent example to officers and men of his battalion.
The ability he displayed in preparing and executing a most difficult
operation is worthy of all praise." Before the attack Lieut.-Colonel
Burges had made several personal reconnaissances up to the enemy's
first line, and during the attack he was able to keep direction
although every landmark was completely hidden in smoke and dust.

Lieut.-Colonel L. H. Trist, M.C., of the 11th Welsh Regiment, was
wounded, but remained on duty.



an advance along ravines to right and left of it. The
Greek troops were taken to their line of departure by a
body of guides from the 2nd King's Own. Preceded
by a heavy barrage (and accompanied by two sections
of the 83rd Trench Mortar Batter^') they soon breached
the front line, and within two hours had taken their
first objectives — the line Doiran Hill, Teton Hill and
Hill 340. Shortly after nine o'clock they pushed on up
the slopes leading to Grand Couronne, their principal
objective being the strong work known as The Orb, just
above The Hilt. The 1st Regiment got there and held
it for a little while, but it had to be abandoned owing
to our ill-success to the left. At smaller cost than our-
selves, the Greeks had advanced their line in places over
1,500 yards, and were able to hold most of their gains,
Doiran Town being one of them. Some 700 prisoners
also remained in their hands.

While all this was going on the Cretan Division, sup-
ported by the 28th Division, on the east side of the lake,
had advanced across the broad plain — some six miles
wide at this point — to attack the Bulgar positions at
the foot of the high Belashitza Range, and if possible
to turn the lake from the north. Advancing from the
foot of the Krusha Balkan Hills, under cover of dark-
ness, they went forward over the plain, formed up under
cover of a railway embankment, and from here started
for the enemy positions, the strange sight being seen of
Greek company commanders leading their men mounted
on little ponies. It was a difficult operation, which
began in the darkness and continued in hot sunshine
across the open plain over which the enemy had a per-
fect view. By half-past seven the strongly defended
village of Akindzali had been carried by assault. The
main Bulgar line was not reached until latd in the after-
noon. There was some heavy fighting there and the

2." 4


line was breached in two places, but it was impossible to
think of holding on against the artillery fire directed
against them. Nothing could now be gained by press-
ing the attack, and the troops were ordered to with-

On the whole the situation remained " as you were,"
although we had captured some important ground on
the centre and the right. And as we found out later the
enemy's losses were also heavy, chiefly from our artil-

But the tale of sacrifice was not yet ended. All day
long our artillery hammered the enemy positions. What
was left of the 66th Brigade was withdrawn and the 65th
Brigade (Brig.-Gen. B. J. Majendie), very weak in
numbers, were brought from a camp where they were
under observation for influenza, to take their places.
They consisted of the 9th King's Own Royal Lancasters,
the 8th South Wales Borderers, and the 9th East Lanes.
To take the place of the Greeks in the left centre,
three battalions of French Zouaves were brought up,
and during the night occupied the trenches near the heap
of rubble that goes by the name of D :)ldzeli village. On
the right of the western half, the 77th Brigade (Brig.-
Gen. W. A. Blake) of the 26th Division (12th Argyll and
Sutherlands, 8th Royal Scots Fusiliers and 11th Scottish
Rifles) took the place of the 67th Brigade. The 1st and
2nd Regiments of the Seres Division were to attack
again on the right, from their new line, their objectives
being The Orb and The Hilt.

The second day was much the same glorious but tragic
story, with some variations. To the Scotch Brigade fell
the task allotted to the Welsh Brigade the day before.
The Zouaves were to attack parallel with them and
then, swinging left, attack the Pip Ridge direct up its
steep eastern side — a most forbidding task — while the


65th Brigade attacked the ridge along its crest. But the
Zouave attack never developed at all, there being much
confusion in their trenches due to the Bulgar barrage,
and from the first the Scots found themselves with their
left in the air and open to flank machine gun fire.

Attacking up over the corpse-strewn way of the day
before, the Scots, after heavy fighting and resistance,
took Sugar Loaf and The Tongue. Finding nobody on
their left they consolidated this position, which the
Bulgars counter-attacked three times. The enemy
were driven off with heavy loss. The Greeks on the
right had now reached The Orb and The Hilt, but fol-
lowing this time (about nine o'clock) there was much

From the heights of the Pip Ridge and the nearer
eminence of The Hilt, a storm of machine gun bullets
was poured on the Scottish troops on The Tongue. The
Greeks were now streaming back from their advanced
positions. As a result of the non-development of the

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Online LibraryH. Collinson (Harry Collinson) OwenSalonica and after, the sideshow that ended the war → online text (page 19 of 23)