Remembered Today:

Gardenerbill

100 Years ago this week in the Balkans

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I thought it would be interesting to start a chronological thread on the main events related to the French led campaign in the Balkans, so as a starter; according to the Gardeners of Salonika it is 100 years ago this week that French and British Staff officers arrived in Salonika ahead of the first Divisions of troops. Who were these officers and where did they set up their offices?

Edited by Gardenerbill

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Good idea Mark. Somewhere in the deep recesses (well not actually that deep) of my memory I seem to remember that the officers were possibly accommodated in the 'White Tower' at the Eastern end of Salonika town. Can anyone else confirm this?

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The Official History makes no mention of this. It says that the French 156th Division began to arrive on 5th October, with the fighting troops on the ground within 48 hours but that their transport took far longer to arrive. Two battalions of of 29th Brigade, along with its HQ, arrived on the same day and marched to a camp on the Seres Road. It is ambiguous about whether there were staff officers present earlier saying "Then came yet another delay, which this time affected the British only and adversely influenced their situation for some time to come; since it put the French ahead in their choice of camps, the hire of buildings and the control of railways - all matters difficult enough to arrange now that the Greek mobilisation was in progress."

Keith

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The missions to Salonika ahead of the main landings on 5 Oct are an interesting topic, but difficult to research!
As Keith says, there's not much at all in the official history, Military Operations: Macedonia, Vol.1.
A better account in English can be found in Naval Operations, Vol.3, pp 155-162.
https://archive.org/details/navaloperations03corb
But most of the information I have managed to find is from French sources, with, inevitably, little mention of the British involvement.

Essentially, there were two missions.

The first, which landed on 22 Sept, was purely French, the "mission des chemins de fer de salonique", headed by col. Bousquier (Chief of Staff of the Mission Militaire Française at Athens since 1914), and comprising the military attachés to Greece and Serbia the colonels Braquet and Fournier, and chef de bataillon Ferdinand Delaunay, who had been a director of railways at Constantinople pre-war.

Their job was to negotiate with the local authorities in order to "improve" the railways, which basically meant getting rid of the Austrian directors of the two Austrian-owned rail companies (the Salonika-Gjevgeli-Belgrade line and the Salonika-Monastir line), and replacing them with personnel from the third, French-owned Salonique Jonction (the Salonika-Constantinople line).
The Austrians were replaced, but on 2 Oct the Greek government requisitioned all the railways and proceeded to charge the Allies extortionate rates for using them.

Their mission was joined on or about 25 Sept by capitaine Robez-Pagillon, formerly director of movements at the port of Toulon and then at Moudros. He was to arrange facilities at the harbour in cooperation with the Greek "Capitaine de Port" Mr Tsakonas and Monsieur Pouard, directeur général de la société du port de Salonique.

On 30 Sept the "Mission Militaire" arrived, the French contingent aboard the cruiser Latouche-Tréville and consisting of her captain Charles Dumesnil, one commandant Sarrau (about whom I can't find any information except that he was active in Athens beforehand and spoke Greek), the Intendant Militaire Coignée (or Coignet), a French Naval captain by the name of Bush and an enseigne Henriot.
The British arrived a few hours later aboard the destroyer HMS Scourge - Brig.Gen. A.B. Hamilton, the Scourge's Captain Mitchell and 5 other officers, unfortunately unnamed in the French sources.

Their main task was to negotiate with the local military governor/ commander of the Salonika garrison Col. Messalas and the commander of III Corps Gen. Moshopoulos, to ensure that wouldn't be any armed opposition to the landings. They also scouted out and rented suitable locations for camps, depots, airfields etc.
In this, the French had distinct advantages, not really due to any "delay", as the British and French officers arrived only a couple of hours apart, but because the French had connections! There was already a French school in Salonika near their consulate, which became their Army HQ initially, and a French convent in Zeitenlik, which became their first hospital. There was also a significant French and Francophile population, many of them in high positions at the railway companies and commercial enterprises, willing to assist with providing or procuring premises for the French army. The British didn't have this; and Hamilton and his men did little to aid the situation! While the French had been instructed to conduct their negotiations discreetly and in civilian dress, Hamilton et al. marched around in uniform, high-handedly requisitioning hotels and public buildings, and not making any friends!

Dumesnil's own orders were for Latouche-Tréville to act as a wireless station in communications between the missions at Salonika and Vice-Admiral Dartige du Fournet aboard the Saint-Louis at Moudros. Dumesnil was ordered to attend all negotiations and report back to the admiral, but this proved difficult. For the first two days he had to sail out of the bay into the open sea every night to telegraph his daily reports to Moudros, until HMS Doris arrived in the early hours of 2 Oct and had greater success in this.
Dumesnil also supervised the depth-sounding of the bay and the laying of the torpedo nets which were essential before the transports could arrive.

The delicate political situation caused problems and delays, and there were several misunderstandings in the negotiations. The Allies were unsure about whether they should be talking to Messalas or Moshopoulos; both said they were in charge, and both reported directly to Athens. The Greeks in turn were initially under the misapprehension that they were talking to the commander of the MEF, Gen. Sir Ian Hamilton, rather than "only" Brig.Gen Alexander Bernish Hamilton.

It's confusing, and I've only really scraped the surface. There must be some English sources out there somewhere, but I haven't found anything online.

If your French is up to it (mine is just barely!), then see their official history, Les Armées Françaises dans la Grande Guerre, Tome VIII, Vol. 1, plus vol. 2 of the Annexes. These can be downloaded from gallica.bnf.fr

Also, a highly condensed version of events from 30 Sept is given in Dumesnil's autobiography Souvenirs de Guerre d'un Vieux Croiseur, available at archive.org

Many more details, including Dumesnil's orders and his correspondence with his admiral at Moudros, can be found (somewhere ... I've lost the direct link!) in the logs of Latouche-Tréville at memoiredeshommes.sga.defense.gouv.fr

Hope this helps!

Adrian

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Adrian,

Your extensive knowledge of this theatre always amazes me. Alas my schoolboy French from 40 years ago is not up to translating French texts, but I will have a look.

My source 'The Gardeners' simply states that the troops started arriving on Friday 5th of October and British and French staff officers the previous Friday (29th Sept).

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One hundred years ago this week:

5th October 1915, the first British troops, 10th Irish Division, started arriving and the French 156th Division start arriving.

‘Under the Devils Eye’ Wake field and Moody p1

‘The Gardeners of Salonika’ Alan Palmer P13

The Austro-Hungarians launched their third offensive against the Serbians.

‘Under the Devils Eye’ Wake field and Moody p3

General Sir Bryan Mahon arrives on the 7th October 1915.

‘The Gardeners of Salonika’ Alan Palmer P15

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On the 12th of October 1915 General Sarrail arrives in Salonika, he would go on to become the CIC of allied forces in the Balkans. (‘The Gardeners of Salonika’ Alan Palmer P38)

The Bulgarians had mobilised their army back in September but had not committed to joining either side though they had been having secret talks with the Germans.

On the 13th of October the Bulgarians joined the war on the Austro Hungarian side. (‘Under the Devils Eye’ Wakefield and Moody p3)

On the 14th October French 57th Division arrive in Salonika and 3 Battalions of 156th Division crossed Greek Serb border and go into action against Bulgarian column. (‘The Gardeners of Salonika’ Alan Palmer P39)

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A bit of background. In the winter of 1914-15 the Serbs had held their own against the Austro-Hungarians, but now facing the combined forces of Germany, Austria Hungary and Bulgaria under the commmand of the German General von Mackensen, they were outnumbered and in trouble.

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Ashamed though I am to admit it, after researching this theatre for nearly 3 years, I have only just acquired copies of the two volumes of the Official History Military Operations Macedonia. However I now find I am at least in part able to answer the question I posed in post#1.

'Br.- General A. B. Hamilton and other staff officers were sent to Salonika to make preparations for the landing and arrived on the 1st October.'

Official History of the Great War Military Operations Macedonia Volume 1 page 40

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21st Oct one of the French Brigades sets out for Veles where Serb army is based, the only bridge over the river Varda was destroyed in the Balkan wars (1912/13), by the time the French get across the river Veles has fallen and the Serbs are in full retreat. ‘The Gardeners of Salonika’ Alan Palmer P39

22nd October General Mahon authorised to leave Salonika but not to go beyond Greek border, 2 Brigades of 10th Division move to the area west of Lake Doiran.‘The Gardeners of Salonika’ Alan Palmer P40

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Does anyone know which 2 Brigades of the 10th Irish Division moved upcountry on the 22nd October?

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When did the 10th Irish Division move north?

‘Under the Devils Eye’ seems to contradict ‘The Gardeners’; it states on page 13 that on the 29th October the 10th Irish Division started to move north and on page 14 on the 31st October the first British units move into the front line; 6th and 7th Royal Dublin Fusiliers, between Hasanli and Causli.

This is backed up by the official history page 55:

‘The 30th Brigade began it’s move to Gevgeli on the 29th. On the 31st two of its battalions relieved two French battalions in reserve at Hasanli and Causli, north west of Lake Dojran....’

At the same time the French 57th and 122nd Divisions were planning a limited offensive in the Crna valley.

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There is nothing in ‘The Gardeners’ or ‘The Devils Eye’ specifically for this week.

The official history records that the French 122nd Division arrived between the 1st and 8th November and that the French were holding 30 miles of railway in the Vardar valley up to Demir Kapija Station in an attempt to secure the Serbian communication line to the sea. Unfortunately by this time the Bulgarian 2nd Army had cut off the main Serbian army from the French.

The official History also mentions that a composite Yeomanry regiment moved up to the front with the 10th Irish Division, this was made up of squadrons from the Sherwoods and Derbys.

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By the 10th November the 10th Irish Division were now established at the front to the north west of Lake Doiran. The French were engaging with the Bulgarians and the French frontline stretched along the Vardar as far as it’s confluence with the CRNA where they were able to attack the Bulgarian flank.

The British 22nd and 26th Divisions started arriving in Salonika and Lt Gen H. F. M. Wilson arrived.

The French take Fortin Bulgare and hill 526 in the Belasica Planina forcing the Bulgarians back and reaching the outskirts of Ormanli and Kosturino.

Further west the Bulgarians had halted the French advance at the Vardar Crna confluence.

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17th November when British War Office refuse General Sarrails request to send troops to Support Serbian detachment at Monastir he directs Generals Lardemelle and Leblois to prepare to withdraw.

20th November under pressure from newly arrived Bulgarian units at Vozarci bridgehead, Lardemelle orders troops to withdraw across the Crna

Official History of the Great War Military Operations Macedonia Volume 1 page 62

22nd November Serbian offensive to recapture Skopje fails. French begin to retreat south. British 10th Division now occupy line from Kosturino to N end of L. Doiran.

‘Under the Devils Eye’ Wakefield and Moody P16

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23rd November Serbs admit defeat and begin to cross the mountains into Montenegro and Albania.

'The Gardeners of Salonika' Alan Palmer

.

French begin the evacuation of the great quantities of material which had been accumulated between the Vardar and the Crna.

Balkan winter rain turns to snow with freezing temperatures and begins to affect the 10th Irish Division still recovering from Gallipoli, 600 men of 30th and 31st Brigade evacuated suffering severe fatigue.

Official History of the Great War Military Operations Macedonia Volume 1

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3rd December the bad weather clears but 23 British Officers and 1,663 men have been evacuated from the front line. The French retreat down the Vardar valley begins in earnest.

4th December at the Calais conference; French, Russians, Italians and Serbs all oppose the British anti Balkan position, Britain is isolated on this issue.

General Mahon orders all none essential kit to be returned to Salonika. Brigadier General Nicol (10th Irish) requests an additional brigade for reinforcement, but only the pioneer battalion of the 22nd Division, the 9th Border Regiment is sent.

28th Division start arriving in Salonika.

Sources of above information are:

'Official History of the Great War Military Operations Macedonia Volume 1'

‘Under the Devils Eye’ Wakefield and Moody

‘The Gardeners of Salonika’ Alan Palmer

For reasons that will be obvious to some I will include the events of the 6th December in next week’s post.

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6th December, the Bulgarians have been shelling the British line along the Kosturino ridge intermittently since the 2nd but a heavier bombardment started on the 6th and small groups of Bulgarian troops are seen moving down the ridge opposite Rocky peak. There is a detailed description of the deployment of British units along the kosturino ridge in the official history.

The Bulgarians, numbering approximately 80 Battalions, now outnumbered the Entente forces and were exerting significant pressure but the French had successfully retired to their first intermediate position at Demir Kapija.

7th December, before dawn the Bulgarians attacked Rocky peak, there is heavy fighting all day with the British withdrawing to their second line on Crete Simonet, the British had to abandon two artillery batteries in the retreat, at the end of the day the Bulgarians had occupied Rocky Peak. The serious situation resulted in orders being issued for 65th Brigade to be brought up.

8th December, two French battalions and a mountain gun were brought up to strengthen the left flank. The night had been quiet due to fog and the main Bulgarian attack didn’t start until 2.00 pm. 31st Brigade fearing they might be surrounded began to withdraw back towards Dedeli leaving 29th and 30th Brigades little option but to withdraw from Crete Simonet also back to a new line between Dedeli and the North end of Lake Doiran.

9th and 10th December, the Bulgarians continue exerting pressure but launch no major attacks, and the French speed up their withdrawal, the lull in fighting and the fog allow them to escape down the Dedeli pass. A second intermediate line is established running south west between Lake Dorain and the river Vardar. The 65th Bragade take a position at Kara Ogular at the North west side of Lake Doiran. The 10th Division begin to retreat from the Dedeli line leaving small detachments to hold up the enemy.

11th Bulgarians advance down the valley of the Furka Dere and take Bogdanci, the 65th Brigade begin to withdraw but leave one company of the 12th Lancashire Fusiliers behind most of whom are captured or killed.

By the 12th December all the British forces are back inside the Greek frontier and by the end of the day all the remaining French forces are as well.

P.S. there is a thread with some image overlays of the ground over which the battle of Kosturino was fought.

Kosturino

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No mountain guns were sent with the initial landings at Salonika so they did what they could with their 18-pdrs, which were dragged into place by the gunners. The French artillery commander had refused to deploy his 75s in similar positions because he feared them being trapped. He was correct, the British guns could not be quickly withdrawn and had to be abandoned when the Bulgarian advance became too swift. Mountain guns are designed to be rapidly dismantled and the components are intended be transported on the backs of a number of mules or horses but field guns had to be moved intact.

Keith

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According to the official history, the guns had to be hauled up hillsides to get them into positions where they had fields of fire, this would have made them even more difficult to withdraw.

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The ground around Kosturino and Memesli, like most of the landscape in the Salonika front, is rolling limestone hills, running roughly east-west. The need was for howitzers to fire over the ridges into the valleys beyond but they only had field guns and their flatter trajectory meant getting them higher to achieve the same effect. This is Piton Rochau (Rocky Peak) taken from the Kosturino Ridge in 2011. The image should be clickable.

th_IMG_5127_zps0u6s9k0l.jpg

Keith

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Kosturino. I wonder has anything been organised?

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Ronan,

I am not aware of anything happening this week, the Salonika Campaign Society run two trips a year to Macedonia and usually take in Kosturino, but the next one will not be until the spring. Another consideration however is that Kosturino is in FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and given the current refugee crisis crossing the border from Greece may be an issue.

Keith,

that photograph helps to understand the difficulties of fighting in this area, thanks for posting it.

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The official history doesn't give British casualty figures for Kosturino but it does give those for the winter campaign as a whole.

The important thing is that we remember that 1 officer and 98 men died, 20 officers and 366 men were wounded and 12 officers and 712 men were missing in the Macedonian winter campaign of 1915.

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ID: 25   Posted (edited)

The Salonika Campaign Societies September 2015 issue of 'The New Mosquito' magazine is dedicated to the centenary of the winter campaign 1915:

 

Link was no longer valid, the Salonika campaign society have been changing their web site:

 

New Link

Edited by Gardenerbill

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