The Salonika campaign

The campaign in Salonika was fought between an allied coalition (France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Russia and Serbia) under the general control of France, and a coalition of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Germany.

The background to the campaign is complex in terms of politics, involving a tangle of Balkan nations and ethnic groups, but stems from the outcome of the 1912-1913 wars in the Balkans. The British forces became involved largely as a result of David Lloyd George’s ambition to encourage all the Balkan countries to engage against Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria and thereby weaken Germany.

Location of theatre of war

The Salonika theatre of war incorporated parts of today’s Greece, North Macedonia, and Albania. The British-held sector lay north, northeast and east of the city-port of Salonika. For much of the conflict the front line was relatively static and as shown by the solid red line.

British forces

The British Salonika Force included the following, along with army and corps troops units:

XII Corps:
22nd Division (from November 1915 onwards)
26th Division (from November 1915 onwards)
60th (2/2nd London) Division (December 1916 to June 1917)

XVI Corps:
10th (Irish) Division (in theatre October 1915 to September 1917)
27th Division (from November 1915 onwards)
28th Division (from November 1915 onwards)

Phases

5 October 1915: the French 16th Division and the British 29th Infantry Brigade (10th (Irish) Division) are the first of the allied forces to land at Salonika.

Advance into and retreat from Serbia

7-8 December 1915: the Action of Kosturino (10th (Irish) Division)

8-13 December 1915: elements of 22nd Division involved in the retreat

Build-up and the entrenched camp (the “Birdcage”)

British Official History. The British (red) and French (blue) forces created a defensive line. The troops often called it the “Birdcage”, as the line was thick with barbed wire defences. At this stage, the Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian enemy lay some miles to the north. This map shows the position on 1 March 1916.
Imperial War Museum photograph Q31834. With thanks. “Royal Engineers constructing a bridge across a ravine somewhere on the ‘Birdcage’ defence line in the hills north of Salonika, March 1916”.

Advance from the “Birdcage”

British Official History. Situation 20 April 1916. The advance from the entrenched camp began in April 1916. British forces shown in red. 7th Mounted Brigade and 66th Infantry Brigade have reached the area south of Lake Doiran (Dojran), with French forces on their left. The British line links up as far as the Gulf of Orfano. Further forces soon advanced to contact and then dug in. To the north, the British were now in the hilly and mountanous region facing Lake Doiran. To the northeast, in the valley of the River Struma facing Seres.

Entrenched warfare

During the rest of 1916 the force was engaged in a number of relatively small tactical engagements.

10-18 August 1916: the Battle of Horseshoe Hill (southwest of Doiran) [22nd, 26th]

13-14 September 1916: the Battle of Machukovo [22nd]

30 September – 2 October 1916: capture of the Karajakois [29th Infantry Brigade of 10th (Irish) Division and 26th and 27th Divisions]

3-4 October 1916: the capture of Jenikoi [30th Infantry Brigade of 10th (Irish) Division and 26th Division]

2 October 1916: the occupation of Mazirko [84th Infantry Brigade of 28th]

3-4 October 1916: the capture of Yenikoi [27th]

31 October 1916: the capture of Barakli Jum’a [28th]

17 November and 6-7 December 1916: the Battle of Tumbitza Farm [82nd Infantry Brigade of 27th Division]

British Official History. The British Salonika Force is operating on two main fronts. The roads to these fronts from Salonika via Sarigol and Lahana are key supply routes.

Two major battles took place in the spring of 1917 without changing the position in any significant way.

24-25 April 1917: First Battle of Doiran [22nd, 26th, 60th Divisions]

8-9 May 1917: Second Battle of Doiran [22nd, 26th, 60th Divisions]

Imperial War Museum Q69876. With thanks. A British patrol entering a village under shellfire during a typical small-scale operation in the Struma valley in 1917.

15 May 1917: the capture of Ferdie and Essex Trenches (near Barakli Jum’a) [28th]

14 October 1917: the capture of Homondos [27th]

16 October 1917: the capture of Barakli and Kumli [28th]

British Official History. Greek forces have now joined the coalition and have relieved the British in the Struma valley.

The final break through

A very large scale co-ordnated allied offensive broke the enemy in the area west of Lake Doiran, advancing deep into Serbia, and brought Buglaria to an armistice.

1-2 September 1918: capture of the Roche Noir Salient [27th, under XII Corps]

18-19 September 1918: the Battle of Doiran [22nd, 26th, 27th, 28th]

22-30 September 1918: the pursuit to the Strumica Valley [26th, 27th, 28th]

Britush Official History. Dispositions on the Doiran front on 14 September 1918, just before the successful final offensive.
British Official History. By the time the Bu;garians signed the armistice on 30 September 1918, British forces had advanced to the River Strumica.
Google Maps. The area of the campaign today. It is not an easy area for independent travel, especially in the area of the border between Greece and Nothern Macedonia. I advise anyone thinking of seeing the area to consider an organised tour: the Salonika Campaign Society organises tours and is generally a good source of information.

Statistics

Source of data: Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire.

Manpower in theatre at 1 November 1918

Officers: 5705
Other ranks: 153002
“Natives other than troops” (mainly local labour units) 24300

Casualties

Killed: 146 officers and 2653 other ranks
Died of wounds: 76 officers and 1349 other ranks
Died of disease: 103 officers and 4110 other ranks
Wounded: 794 officers and 16214 other ranks
Missing/prisoners: 118 officers and 2556 other ranks
Totals: 1237 officers and 26882 other ranks.

British Official History of Medical Services. Malaria was a serious problem for the British Salonika Force, particularly for those units deployed into the Struma valley. This is a table of hospital admissions nd deaths to this disease.


Books

Highly recommended as the best modern study of the campaign in Salonika:

Links

Salonika casualty evacuation chain

Other theatres of war

Salonika Campaign Society