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Story of the Final Balkan Campaign, Which Started the Collapse and Surrender of the Central Powers
By GENERAL MALLETERRE
Himself a maimed veteran of the great war, and now the military expert of the Paris Temps, General Malleterre is especially qualified to summarize, as he here does in a few lucid pages, the swift and little known events on the Saloniki front which forced the surrender of Bulgaria and foreshadowed the end of the war. That the Bulgarian disaster caused Field Marshal von Hindenburg a month later to advise Germany's surrender is shown in the following extract from a letter which he wrote to the German Government on Oct. 30, 1918, and which the Wolff Bureau has made public:
In consequence of the disaster on the Macedonian front, with its attendant weakening of the reserves of the west front, and in consequence of the impossibility of replacing the great losses sustained in recent encounters, there is now, humanly speaking, no longer any possibility of our being able to Impose peace on the enemy. Our opponents are constantly receiving reinforcements.
While the elements of our rear still hold together and may still offer some resistance to the renewed attacks of the enemy, our situation Is becoming very precarious and may at any moment place the army command under the necessity of making a comprehensive decision.
In these circumstances It is imperative that we cease the struggle in order to save the German people and our allies from unnecessary sacrifices. Every day's loss in this respect costs the lives of thousands of German soldiers.
On receipt of this letter, says the Wolff Bureau, the Government had no choice but to take steps at once to obtain an armistice and offer to conclude peace. General Malleterre's narrative follows:
k BULLETIN of the Army of the under the blow, was already inclining
/\ East announced on Sept. 15, 1918, toward the capitulation which the su
1 \ that this army, so long immobil- preme shock of the Italian attack was to
ized at Soloniki, had just attacked precipitate. Victory in the East was
the Bulgarians east of Monastir. Other heralding the coming triumph in the
bulletins, increasingly brilliant, followed West.
from day to day. The operation was be- This battle of Macedonia was so uncoming a great battle. The Bulgarian foreseen, so overwhelming, that the mind front, pierced at the centre, was melting of the world did not fully grasp it amid away from left to right. On Sept. 29 Bui- the increasing emotion of those unforgaria capitulated. A few days afterward gettable months of the struggle for freeTurkey, mortally stricken by the British dom. Macedonia and Eastern Europe victory in Syria, also gave up the were so far from Paris, from London, struggle. from the Allies in the West. Men were
The whole eastern front fell. The thinking only of pricking off upon the
allied troops reached the Danube. The map the daily progress of the allied
Serbian Army reconquered its devastat- armies on the road to Germany. The
ed country, Rumania took up arms successive deliverance of Lille, Valen
again, and the far-reaching nature of ciennes, Bruges, Mezieres, Maubeuge,
these events was measured by the in- made a deeper impression than the entry
ability of the Central Empires to carry of troops into Uskub, Veles, and Nish.
aid to their discomfited allies and to save Our soldiers in the East were bitterly
a critical situation—as in 1915 and aware of this fact. They felt that their
1916—by swift intervention. Austria, work did not receive the attention it de
served. They believed that they had done a great thing and that the victory in the East had been a singular contribution to the definitive victory. The officers and men of the French, English, Serbian, Greek, and Italian Armies were not ignorant of the fact that the war had begun with the Eastern question, and that if the Allies had been masters of Turkey and Constantinople in 1914 and 1915 the war would have made a short turn much sooner against Germany, who had unchained it for an altogether different object than that of placing Serbia under vassalage to Austria-Hungary. I have before me the official reports of this battle of Macedonia. I cannot in this brief article even summarize the battle so as to give each army its legitimate part; but I hope at least to do justice to the main achievement of the heroic poilus in the East, who deserve as much from their country as their magnificent comrades in the West.
THE ARMY AT SALONIK1
The Army of the East, better known as the army at Saloniki, was necessarily composite. In the beginning it was formed of French and English divisions from the Dardanelles. The effectives were gradually increased in varying proportions from 1915 to 1917, but never became strong enough to undertake the necessary offensive to break through the Bulgarian front and join up with Rumania after that nation's entry into the conflict in 1916. Russian divisions joined it, and it was reinforced in 1916 with Serbian divisions that had escaped the frightful retreat of the Winter of 1915-16, and which had been rehabilitated at Corfu and in Tunisia. Later, in the Winter of 1916-17, Venizelos, having broken with the traitorous Government of King Constantine, formed three fine divisions of Greek soldiers who had rallied to his banner—the divisions from Seres, Crete, and the Greek Archipelago. The Russians disappeared in 1917, but the Serbs were reinforced with Jugoslav soldiers, and the Greek Army, after the fall of Constantine, increased steadily to ten divisions, creating odds that permitted the Allies to engage in the battle of Macedonia.
In September, 1918, the Army of the East, under the orders of General Franchet d'Esperey, comprised eight French divisions, four British divisions, six Serbian divisions, ten Greek divisions, one Italian division—a total of twenty-nine divisions. [About 725,000 men.] The army was in excellent condition, ready for the offensive which circumstances were about to impose and at the same time to favor.
Before it the Bulgarian Army stood alone. The Austro-German divisions that had buttressed it in 1916 and 1917 had been called away to the West. There was still, indeed, the so-called Eleventh German Army, but its commanders and General Staffs alone were German; the troops were Bulgarian. In Albania a few Austrian battalions were opposing the Italian troops. The Bulgars, therefore, were holding the entire Macedonian front from Lake Ochrida to the Aegean Sea, with sixteen divisions, or about 400,000 men. They had created a defensive organization, limiting themselves to opposing any offensive that might snatch from them the fruits of the campaign of 1915-16. The prolonged inaction of the Saloniki army, which had only made partial and limited attacks in the region of Florine, Monastir, and the bend of the Tcherna, kept them in the illusion that the war would end in reciprocal lassitude, and that they would be able to keep their unjust conquests.
Advices from Bulgaria, however, showed that the people and the army had had enough of it, that King Ferdinand had grown unpopular, that the German influence was decreasing in proportion as the divisions lent for the victory of 1916 decreased, and that the Bulgarian Army, worn out by war, by insufficient food, and by long inaction, would be unable to resist an unexpected and sweeping attack. Perhaps the new Government of Radoslavoff, which had replaced the pro-German Ministry at Sofia, was quite willing, before intrusting itself to the good-will of the Entente, that such an attack should come. A defeat would justify a separate and much desired peace.
GENERAL D'ESPEREY'S STRATEGY
Besides, General Foch, while raining blows on the badly shaken armies of Ludendorff in the West, had not lost sight of the East and of the effect which the elimination of the Bulgarians and Turks would have upon the decision of the war. With that clairvoyance and measured audacity which characterized his method of forcing victory, he planned the double operation of Macedonia and Syria, and intrusted its execution to two leaders—Allenby and Franchet d'Esperey—whose aggressive spirit he could trust.
General Franchet d'Esperey, who had arrived in July, had received from his predecessor, General Guillaumat, precise information regarding the situation of the Bulgars. His personal study suggested a plan of attack which appeared to meet both the strategic and tactical difficulties.
The sketch map accompanying this article shows that the Vardar cut the Macedonian front into two almost equal parts, but with this difference between the sec
tors, that every attack in the west would come to an end at that oblique line of the Vardar as in an impasse, whereas an attack on the east would turn the Vardar and threaten the direct routes to Sofia by way of the Struma. But the Vardar Valley was also the great communicating highway between the Central Empires and the Macedonian front by way of occupied Serbia and Nish. An offensive plan could therefore choose either to break this direct line of communication between Negotin and Uskub or to attack in the direction of Sofia by way of the Struma. In the first proposition Monastir would form the point of attack on the road to Uskub, but the bend of the Tcherna, a tributary of the Vardar, made the operation difficult; it would be necessary to combine with it a secondary attack east of the Tcherna. The region between the Tcherna and Vardar was particularly arduous; mountain peaks, hardly scalable, made it easy to defend. The Bulgars had a solid hold on the Sokol, the Dobropolje, the Veltenik, the Dzena.
ATTACKING IN THE MOUNTAINS It seems that the Bulgarian and probably the German General Staffs had excluded the possibility of a successful attack upon any of these peaks along the Tcherna, and that they were watching rather in the direction of Monastir and Lake Doiran, from which an offensive to break through seemed more logical. It was on this preconceived idea of "the most logical plan " that the French command decided upon the manoeuvre which was about to strike at the point which appeared strongest, but whose possession would give it the greatest chances for decisive exploitation of an initial success. If the offensive, in short, were to carry the peaks of Dobropolje, Sokol, and Veltenik and the defensive system of Koziak, the assailants would emerge along the shortest line to the Vardar, thus turning the curve of the Tcherna, which would be crossed more easily than in the lower
The principal breaking-through operation was prepared by a general bombardment of the whole front, and supported by a connected series of attacks in the Monastir sector, in the interior of the Tcherna loop, and especially by a powerful Anglo-Greek attack in the Lake Doiran sector, an attack which, under the form of a diversion, was first to hold back the two Bulgarian armies on the right wing and even to attract the reserves, and then was to become a basic offensive against Strumitza, if the central attack succeeded.
It should be noted that the defense of the whole sector west of the Vardar fell to the Eleventh German Army, which alone constituted almost half of the enemy forces. The three other Bulgarian armies were echeloned east of the Vardar, the first Bulgarian Army forming a sort of reserve.
GOING OVER THE TOP At 5:30 on the morning of Sept. 15, after the bombardment, the French 121st and 52d Colonial Divisions, with the Serbian division from the Choumadia, bounded from their trenches. It was the first attack, which was to be followed later in the day by another Serbian division and the Jugoslav division. Then the 3d Greek
Division on the left and the First Serbian Army entered the battle on the 16th. Under the irresistible shock of the allied troops a breach was opened on the 17th. I will cite only this extract from the official report:
Access to the chaos of rocks that forms the peak of the Sokol Is possible only by two narrow roads upon which the enemy artillery and machine guns are concentrating their fire. On the left the granite rises perpendicularly; the attacking units depart for the assault, carrying ladders. Balancing themselves on the irregularities of the cliff, the men climb up under a barrage fire of extreme violence. • • • The battalion clings to a foothold 150 yards from the summit During the whole day it resists the enemy's counterattacks. Only at 10:30 In the evening does It gain the summit by a vigorous effort.
The strategic exploitation began on the 18th with the advance of the two wings on the Tcherna and Vardar and by pursuit to the north. Cavalrymen and aviators vied with each other in their ardor to precipitate a Bulgarian rout. On the 19th the two extreme armies, the French Army, under General Henrys, and the Anglo-Greek, under General Milne, attacked in the region of Doiran, advancing northward. The Franco-He.-enic detachment under General d'Anselme energetically supported the central attack amid the granite cliffs of the Dzena.
On Sept. 22 the Vardar was skirted from Gradzko to Demir-Kapou. On the 23d it was crossed. The Bulgarian Army was cut into two segments. On Sept 28, in a bold raid, the cavalry of General Jouinot-Gambetta entered Uskub.
ENEMY ARMY TRAPPED Everywhere the retreat of the Bulgars was becoming a rout and a debacle. But if the fragments of the First, Third, and Fourth Bulgarian Armies could get back into their own country, it was otherwise with the famous Eleventh German Army, which was obliged to beat a retreat to Uskub by a single road between Albania and the Tcherna. It was outstripped by the ardent pursuit of the French Army under General Henrys and penned up without food in the high wildernes regions where the Vardar has its sourct and in inhospitable Albania. The Italian troops, moreover, closed the exits from Albania. After the Bulgarian plenipotentiaries had signed the capitulation on Sept. 30 the Eleventh German Army, trapped in a blind canon, surrendered to General Henrys; 66,000 Bulgars, including five Generals and 1,287 officers, with 476 Germans, of whom fourteen were officers, defiled before the French Army at Uskub. General Henrys's order of the day on Oct. 6 thus summed up the capitulation of the Eleventh Army:
By a situation, unique in history, the Eleventh German Army, consisting of four divisions, being entrapped in a defile ninety kilometers in length, has surrendered. To the creators of this great victory, to the chiefs and the general staffs which have so ably served my thought, to the troops whose heroism in combat and superhuman energy in pursuit have vanquished the enemy, to the aviators who have always kept me perfectly informed and who have spent them
selves to the extreme limit in order to attack the enemy, to the services—particularly the automobile service—which, by their faultless functioning have permitted the advance of the army on a front of 200 kilometers and to a depth of 150, to all those whose devotion, spirit of absolute sacrifice, and unshakable confidence despite the Isolation of the distant East, have made it possible to inscribe in our military annals the glorious page of the victory of Uskub, thanks!
The same words of praise might be addressed to all the allied troops in the East.
Such is the story, in mere outline, of the very remarkable battle of Macedonia, which freed the Balkans from the Germano-Bulgarian terror. I believe it will count among the most carefully planned and most decisive of the war; among the most admirable in military history. The French command in the East, as in the West, had demonstrated its mastery over the German command.
Britain's Share in the Macedonian Fighting
Summary of General Milne's Official Report of the Final Balkan Campaign
GENERAL SIR GEORGE MILNE, who, under General Franchet d'Esperey, commanded the AngloGreek Army near Lake Doiran in the battle of Macedonia, submitted his official report to the British War Office, which made it public on Jan. 22, 1919. It dealt with the operations in the Balkans from October, 1917, to the end of October, 191S, when the armistice with Turkey was signed. The British Army's part in the final campaign, if less spectacular than that of France and Serbia, was equally essential and decisive. On the Lake Doiran heights the British had to assault prepared positions of great natural strength, and they paid a heavy toll for their success. But they achieved their object:—the pinning down of the enemy's reserves in the Vardar Valley while the Franco-Serbian Army swept forward through the breach in the centre. General Milne disclosed the interesting faet that after Bulgaria's surrender an
allied army, under his command, was formed for an advance on Constantinople. This force was on the point of seizing Adrianople when the conclusion of the armistice with Turkey put an end to the operations.
During the greater part of the period covered by the dispatch the British force was responsible for the whole of the eastern sector of the front from the mouth of the Struma River to the Vardar Valley, a line of about 100 miles. The strength of the army had already been reduced by the transfer to another theatre of two divisions and two cavalry brigades, and in the early part of the Summer a fourth of the remaining infantry was transferred to France. The deficiency was made good by drawing upon the Greek forces. Up to the opening of the final offensive only minor operations were undertaken, consisting of raids on the enemy's positions. It was during June that the first indications of a low