H. Collinson (Harry Collinson) Owen.

Salonica and after, the sideshow that ended the war online

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Zouave attack, the 9th East Lanes, were sent up to
support the Scotch troops on the left, being diverted
from any attack on the Pip Ridge. Gallantly led by
Lieut.-Colonel J. A. Campbell, D.S.O., who was twice
wounded, they reached the position known as The
Come, but found further advance impossible owing to
wire and heavy fire. As the Scots were unsupported
on either side, steps were now taken to withdraw them
from The Tongue. At this time at least thirty machine
guns were concentrating on them. The Scottish Rifles
and Royal Scots got back in good order, but before the
Highlanders could withdraw the enemy had enveloped
their left flank, and they had great difficulty in getting
away, the Bulgars pursuing them with heavy shell and
machine gun fire. Again the dust had largely lifted,
and the enemy had an easy target. Severe losses had



been inflicted on the Bulgars during their fruitless
counter-attacks. But the Argyll and Sutherland High-
landers had lost seventy-five per cent, in casualties, and
the other two Scottish battalions fifty per cent, each.*

This time the attack along the Pip Ridge was carried
out by the 9th King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.
Owing to the failure in the left centre a message was
sent to them not to advance at all, but it reached them
too late. P. 4i\. was empty, but on reaching the wire at
P. 4. they found the trenches heavily manned and the
air full of machine gun bullets from all directions. The
attack was persisted in and gallantly led by Captain
C. M. Whitehead, M.C., who had already been twice
wounded. But only a few men were able to enter an
advance trench, and the survivors were withdrawn to
the friendly shelter of Jackson's Ravine. In this attack
Lieut. -Colonel B. A. Jackson was wounded.

By mid-day on the 19th our two attacks had been
pushed to their utmost— and failed to dislodge the
enemy from either of his major positions. The British
casualties in the two days' fighting were 3,871 killed,
wounded and missing, t Fortunately most of the
wounds were caused by machine gun fire, and many
were comparatively light, and when the advance came
two days later over a hundred of our wounded men were

* Lieut.-Colonel R. Falconer Stewart, D.S.O., of the 12th A. and
S. Highlanders was killed. Lieut.-Colonel G. W. G. Lindesay, of
the 8th R.S.F., was wounded, and Major Scougal, who was in tem-
porary command of the 11th Scottish Rifles, was killed. Major
Scougal left his work as a missionary in China to join up, and always
insisted on being in a fighting regiment.

t It is interesting to compare with these the losses sustained by
the French and Serbs in carrying the Sokol-Vetrenik Ridge. The
17th French (Colonial) Division had 1,200 killed and wounded; the
r22nd Division about 500 killed and wounded, and the Drina Division
about 200. The other Serbian Divisions sustained very small casual-
ties. It will be seen, therefore, that the holding attack at Doiran
was a much more costly operation than the break-through on the
Serbian sector. A French Colonial Division consists generally of
six white and three black battalions.

257 53


recovered. The casualties of the 3rd Greek Regiment,
who attacked between our own troops on the first day,
were 1,350; the losses in the other two Regiments were
proportionately heavy. Against this the Bulgars had
suffered 4,600 casualties, including the 1,200 prisoners
taken, and in their case a large proportion of their
casualties were caused by heavy shell fire. When it is
remembered that the average strength of our battalions
was 400 rifles, it will be seen how heavy was the toll
taken. Our poor fellows lay thick up on the roof of
Pip Ridge, and on the right the track of the heroic
dead ran almost up to the summit of Grand Couronne.
There was no question of attacking further. We did
not possess the men. There was nothing to do but to
hold on to what we had gained. On the night of the
19th the Zouaves went into the trenches on Horseshoe,
we not having sufficient troops available to man them.
The Bulgars had received a severe hammering, and for
four days their troops had been practically without food,
cut off by our artillery fire. But the Bulgars still lay
on their ridges, looking down, and one wonders what
our men must have felt as they were withdrawn into
reserve. In four furious battles, in 1917 and 1918, they
had tried to carry those rocky heights, and they had
little to show for it but the loss of most of their com-
rades. It is unlikely that they thoroughly understood
why the British should have to fling themselves against
the Doiran fortress. The bitterness of defeat and
wasted effort must have lain heavy on their souls.
Their spirit had been simply magnificent. " Rather
than miss the opportunity for which they had waited
three years, officers and men remained in the ranks
until often they dropped from sheer exhaustion," said
General Milne in his dispatch. And it all seemed to
have led to nothing.



And then came the magic change — the great reward.
By the 21st the Serbs had forged so far ahead that they
had cut the vital Bulgarian communications on the
Vardar. Our aeroplanes, humming constantly over
the enemy lines, reported great signs of movement to
the rear, with dumps blazing and exploding. Could it
be that the impossible had happened ? It really
seemed like it. That night the Zouaves creeping for-
ward up the Pip Ridge reported that the trenches there
were empty. By Sunday morning, the 22nd, the in-
credible news was known to everybody. After two and
a half years' occupation of that mighty fortress the
enemy was at last abandoning it. The news ran through
the tired and depleted British forces like lightning. And
then gradually the meaning of it all came to them.

Victory ! Their sacrifice had brought its reward.
Alas that all their comrades lying so stiffly on those
peaceful, undulating slopes might not share that
moment with them !



The Pursuit.

The whole line moved forward, and though victory was
in the air it was in many ways a sad sight to look upon
"all that was left of them" pressing in pursuit;
skeleton Brigades of a few hundred tired men, many of
them weak with fever, with a long string of transport
following behind. These the battalions which had
ambled through a pleasant campaign ! Our troops
marched unmolested up the heights they had battled
so hard to gain ; examined the great dugouts with their
many Bulgar dead, and at the summit turned to look
down on the positions which had for so long been their
abiding place, which they had now left behind for

It was now the turn of our aviators, and they exacted
a terrible revenge. In common with the rest of the
Salonica Forces, very little had been heard of them at
home. In activity and dash they were far and away
ahead of anything else on the Balkan Front. Perhaps
if they had been merely a good second we should have
heard more of them. But their superiority was so
obvious to anybody who knew anything of the results
obtained on the Balkan front that little was said about
the Allied aviators at all.

They had helped all they could in the battle, flying

' at heights of less than three hundred feet on contact

patrols, in and out of the clouds of dust and smoke,

maintaining contact with the infantry while themselves


being hundreds of feet below the enemy machine gun-
ners on the Ridge and Grand Couronne. And now they
sailed in to administer punishment. The retreating
Bulgarian Army was offering targets such as aviators
dream of when they are sleeping badly. Horse, foot
and guns were streaming up the narrow, precipitous
road — the only practicable line of retreat — leading over
into the Sti-umitza valley, into Bulgaria. Our airmen,
like avenging eagles, swooped down on them, dropping
bombs at low heights and firing thousands of rounds
from their machine guns. For ten days, while the
Bulgar retreat continued, this work went on. Guns,
motor-cars, transport wagons, every kind of vehicle was
abandoned in the hilly roads and passes as the aero-
planes came humming over. And all this was accom-
plished without the slightest sign of opposition from
the enemy aviators. Our own flying men had so
thoroughly worn them down that following the aerial
combats of the 18th, during the first battle, only one
enemy machme was encountered up to the cessation of
hostilities, and this was promptly driven down.

Fitted with a specially strong wireless apparatus, one
of our D.H. 9's cruised constantly over the country
through which the enemy was retreating. Whatever
the observer saw that was good to look upon he
promptly wirelessed back to the aerodrome at Janesh,
and from there machines were sent at once to bomb it.
To and fro they went all the time, like homing pigeons,
bombing or machine-gunning dumps, camps, convoys
and troops on the roads. These were often black with
fugitives and traffic and very great execution was done.
In the Kosturino Pass the retreating enemy was scat-
tered time after time, and men, transport and animals
blown to bits. Wagons were lifted off the road and
flung down ravines. But the greatest execution of all



was done in the narrow Kresna Pass, a wonderful defile
through which the Struma River comes down from Sofia,
and up which the Struma Army was escaping. Here, as
elsewhere, our aviators flew as low as 20 feet above the
fugitives, machine-gunning constantly, and killing hun-
dreds. This target was sixty miles from the most ad-
vanced aerodrome, and with mountains of over 5,000
feet between.

In those hectic days of aerial pursuit, our aviators
dropped just short of 20,000 lbs. of high explosive on
the retreating enemy, and fired 30,000 rounds of
machine gun ammunition on them. And only the com-
ing of the Armistice saved the Bulgars from further
unlimited punishment of the same kind. They would
have been harried and scattered and bombed all the
way to Sofia, and they would have had no reply to it.

For over two years our aviators in the Balkans
worked under a very great handicap. They had to be
content with what machines were left over at home,
and on these had to face enemy aviators flying greatly
superior machines. It was only that wonderful and
mysterious " something " which marks the British
aviator out from all others which enabled them to
more than hold their own. Even the great flying circus
of Richthofen himself came to Salonica. On February
27th, 1917, twenty fast German machines suddenly ap-
peared over the Summer Hill camps and bombed them
heavily, causing many hundreds of casualties. This
squadron caused much trouble during the two or three
months it was on the Balkan Front, but with the assis-
tance of the R.N.A.S. our flying men tackled it at
every opportunity and brought down a number of
machines. Nearly every flying day, for years, they
were out bombing the enemy dumps, making them-
selves a terror by day and night, and the later immu-



nity of Salonica and the British area was due to their
constant and devoted efforts. They cannot be praised
too highly for the splendid work they did. And gradu-
ally their machines improved, until in November, 1918,
the Army Commander was able to write of them, "Once
adequately provided with up-to-date aeroplanes our
pilots rapidly gained command of the air, and have
succeeded in accounting for eight hostile machines for
every one of our own missing." The crown of all their
work came in the final offensive ; it was at once their
greatest achievement and their reward. They swept
the enemy from the air, and brought terror and disaster
among the retreating columns. Never once had they
refused battle. And at the end they found no enemy
of their own kind with which to fight.

From Monastir to Doiran the pursuit was now going
on — Serbs, British, French, Greeks and Italians all
pressing and harassing the enemy. The story of the
Serbian pursuit is one of the most romantic chapters in
military history. Treading their own soil they forged
ahead unceasingly. Mahogany coloured men to begin
with they became, as the pursuit went on day after day,
as white as wax. For weeks on end there was never
enough to give them a square meal ; they went ahead so
fast in front of the transport. There was no bread, and
flour had to be served out, which was made into sticky
*' dampers " when fuel could not be found. They were
once told that it was impossible for both food and
munitions to reach them, and being asked to choose,
asked for the munitions. So they pushed on, living on
the country — which had next to nothing to give them.
The strange sight was seen of thousands of Bulgar
troops, complete with their officers, coming down to
surrender to the Serbs as they advanced. The Bul-
garian armies were smashed into three portions. Bul-



garia capitulated — and still they pushed on. There
were Germans and Austrians still to fight before their
country was cleared. Veles, Uskub, Nish — the towns
of Serbia passed one after another into their hands.
And finally they entered Belgrade itself, masters once
more in their own capital. They reached there on
November 1st, forty-five days after the line was broken
at Sokol, having covered in that time well over three
hundred miles, and fighting most of the way. It was a
magnificent achievement and the world would have
thrilled to it but for the fact that just then the world
had too much to think about.

The British troops followed hot on the heels of the
retreating enemy, and we were the first to enter Bul-
garia, this honour falling to the Derbyshire Yeomanry,
who for three years had kept up their patient watch on
the Struma. They led the troops of the 16th Corps
under Lieut. -General C. J. Briggs, whose troops now
comprised the 26th and 27th Divisions, the 14th Greek
Division and the Lothians and Border Horse. The
12th Corps, on the right, under Lieut.-General Sir
Henry Wilson, now comprised the 22nd and 28th Divi-
sions, the 228th Brigade, the Cretan Division, the 2me
bis Zouaves, and the Surrey Yeomanry.

Our pursuit now took on a fantastic shape. While
the cavalry and infantry of the 16th Corps, overcoming
strong opposition, advanced along the Strumitsa
Valley, into Bulgaria, the 22nd and 28th Divisions,
together with the Cretans and Zouaves, made a com-
bined attack on the towering Belashitza Range, which
was still strongly held by the enemy. The BulgaCrs
were entrenched on summits nearly 5,000 feet high.
The depleted 22nd Division began to climb the precipi-
tous slopes of the mountain wall which for so long
had seemed to them, looming behind the Doiran heights,



the final barrier to all progress. For years they had
looked on them, swathed in a blue mist, infinitely far
away, and now they were climbing up goat tracks to
the rugged summits. Our progress up the range met
with considerable resistance, and once near the summit
there followed three days of confused and difficult
fighting for the various peaks. Had the enemy still
been what- he was only a week before it would have
been impossible for our troops to win those towering
strongholds. But he was now a beaten enemy, fighting
only to gain time. One by one he abandoned the peaks,
and we were on top of the range and over. We cap-
tured five guns up there, and much material. The 8th
South Wales Borderers, of the 65th Brigade, specially
distinguished themselves in these difficult operations.
On September 28th the Cretan Division was ordered
to sweep the Belashitza Range from west to east, one
regiment to make its way along the crest and another
(together with the 228th Brigade) to take a parallel
course down the Butkova Valley, five thousand feet
below. To the north of the range the troops of the
16th Corps were making their way in the same direction.
In three lines we were advancing to cut off the enemy
forces on the Struma.

After looking at the Rupel Pass for so long across
the valley of the Struma we were now outflanking it
from the west. The Bulgarians were streaming up
through the pass and on through the narrower defile of
the Kresna Pass, where our airmen were causing such
havoc. Two days before this, down through the con-
fusion and the slaughter, the Bulgarian peace envoys,
M. Lyaptcheff, Minister of Marine, General Lukoff,
Commander of the 2nd Army, and M. Radeff, had passed
on their way to Salonica. And when our advanced
troops were only fifteen miles from the Rupel Pass,



whose capture would have cut off many thousands of
Bulgarian troops, word came that an armistice had
been signed at Salonica at 10 p.m. on Sunday, the 29th,
and that hostilities would cease at noon on the Monday.
The aeroplanes, with their fresh loads of bombs, were
retained in the hangars, and as if by magic the sound
of war died out among the mountains.

Bulgaria had capitulated unconditionally. There was
a general idea at one time, largely fostered by the Bul-
gars themselves, that her defeat was largely "political."
On the contrary, there could not have been a more
decisive military defeat. The Bulgarian front had been
broken into three pieces, and was on the point of being
smashed into fragments, and the various parts had no
hope of re-uniting to form a homogeneous front. Under
the shock of danger the Bulgarian army had gone to
pieces. Its situation following the opening of the offen-
sive was by no means desperate, but it had utterly failed
to recover itself, as so many other armies had done dur-
ing the war. The Allied surprise was not strategical but
tactical. The Bulgars knew an attack was coming,
but failed to gauge both its direction and its weight and
once the first shrewd blow was delivered they — like
some over-estimated boxers — fought wildly, and finally
went utterly to pieces. Never once were they within
measurable distance of staying the avalanche of defeat
once it had set in. Nowhere could they throw in a full
reserve division (and here we see again the value of the
British holding attacks). Their reserves came into the
fight by regiments, and each one as it came up was
" mopped up " in the irresistible advance, or joined
the others in retreat without even coming into action.
The difficult lateral communications of the enemy had
always been his one great handicap, and the Allies,
once the chance of victory had come into their grasp,



exploited this weakness to the utmost. An army of just
on half a million men was broken, bustled, harried,
pursued without relaxation, and finally beaten to its
knees, with its country already invaded.

On the far left the so-called 11th German Army — a
Bulgarian Army heavily staffed by Germans — made at
first a desperate resistance and so consummated its own
destruction. The French cavalry entered Prilep on
September 23rd, the Serbs were forging further ahead,
and the French pressed on to Uskub. The 11th Army
was cut off, its only possible retreat now being through
Albania. The German Staff, seeing the hopeless con-
dition of affairs, behaved in true German fashion, and,
first cutting all telegraphic and telephonic communi-
cation, fled in their motor-cars, leaving the Bulgarians
to extricate themselves as best they could. The Bul-
garians continued to resist strongly, and even counter-
attacked, and for three days there was heavy fighting
on the heights of Sop, between Monastir and Kichevo.
But they were now a lost Army. When the Armistice
was signed the abandoned Bulgarians refused to believe
it. They were practically surrounded and quite with-
out communications with the rest of tlie Bulgarian
forces for two days, and only consented to believe in the
Armistice when a Bulgarian officer was sent from Sofia
by aeroplane to explain the situation. Then 11,000 of
them surrendered to the French and 9,000 to the
Italians. The French, with the Serbs, Greeks and
Italians under their command, took 77,000 prisoners,
including 3 generals and 1,500 officers; 350 guns, 10,000
horses and 20,000 cattle and sheep. The final captures
of the Allies amounted to 100,000 prisoners and over
2,000 guns, with an immense booty of all kinds. The
British were in Bulgarian territory, and would have
taken thousands more prisoners from Struma but for



the signing of the Armistice. The fighting went on with-
out cessation for twelve days following the break
through. The Bulgarian Armies were disunited, routed,
scattered. They could not re-form. Their military
situation was hopeless. They surrendered uncondition-
ally because there was notliing else for them to do. The
Germans could no longer help them, and they could not
help themselves. The first prop of the Central Alliance
had snapped before the onslaught of the Balkan



.... And After.

And after ? Well, everything happened very shortly

The British forces " had some extraordinary adven-
tures following on Bulgaria's capitulation. They were
first of all ordered to co-operate with the French and
Serbs against Austria, and Widin on the far Danube
was their first objective. We were already on the
move, and the faces of our men were set northwards,
when, by one of those brusque changes which emanate
from Allied War Councils and make the private soldier
wonder whether he is the sport of a gigantic game, our
men were turned to march eastwards on Turkey,
General Milne having received instructions to take
command of the Allied troops operating against that
Power. This advance began on October 10th. Less
than a month before few people knew that there was to
be an offensive on the Balkan Front. And now Bul-
garia was out of the war, and we were marching on
Constantinople. History was being made at lightning
speed. But one shock of success followed so swiftly on
another that the world could not realise all that was
happening. Alienby's smashing success in Palestine ;
the Balkan corridor cut, and Turkey left to her own
devices ; Haig and his victorious armies driving ever
forward in the West — there was too much wonderful
news in the newspapers for the public at home to digest.
They found the piece de rSsistance of the banquet —



the Hindenburg Line, Cambrai and Le Cateau — quite
enough for their appetite and only toyed with the en-
trees and savouries from the Near East. The imminent
ehmination of Turkey from the war — the ardent desire
of all the Allies in 1915 — was now an event discounted
in advance.

But shrouded in its usual fog of silence the B.S.F.
was finding the investiture of Turkey no easy matter.
The roads in Eastern Macedonia leading to the Turkish
frontier were practically non-existent ; at the best they
were merely mud tracks. The railway between Doiran
and Seres had been largely destroyed, and could not
be used in any way. Here our experience in road
making and our excellently organised mechanical trans-
port came to the rescue again. An Army without these
advantages could not have concentrated on the Turkish
frontier in double the time taken by the B.S.F. The
22nd Division trekked down the Seres Road, along the
valley to Stavros, and from there were transported in
seventeen destroyers to Dedeagatch, the small Bulgar-
ian port. The Navy did wonderful things in clearing
mine-swept areas, and in assisting in the transfer of
troops and stores. In less than twenty days, in spite
of the enormous difficulties of moving troops, we had
concentrated the 26th and 22nd Divisions and the 122nd
French Division along the River Maritza, the Turkish
frontier line. At Mustapha Pasha we were all ready
for an immediate advance on Adrianople. In less than
twenty days we had moved the troops 250 miles, and
were using the poor little ports of Kavalla and
Dedeagatch as bases. It was quite a striking feat.

Meanwhile at Mudros, the port of the big, bare island
of Lemnos, a great Allied fleet was concentrated. For
some time past the power of mischief which lay in the
Russian Black Sea Fleet, now in German hands, had



been taken into consideration. A sortie from the Dar-
danelles with the Goeben at the head of the Russian
ships was always a possibility, and we had nothing in
the iEgean capable of standing up either to the Goeben
or the Russian Dreadnoughts. (We did not know then
to what a state of inefficiency the Bolsheviks and the
Germans had reduced the Russian ships.) The French

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Online LibraryH. Collinson (Harry Collinson) OwenSalonica and after, the sideshow that ended the war → online text (page 20 of 23)