Medium 9780253354525

Balkan Breakthrough: The Battle of Dobro Pole 1918

Views: 555
Ratings: (0)

With the transfer of German units to the western front in the spring of 1918, the position of the Central Powers on the Macedonian front worsened. Materiel became scarce and morale among the Bulgarian forces deteriorated. The Entente Command perceived in Macedonia an excellent opportunity to apply additional pressure to the Germans, who were already retreating on the western front. In September, Entente forces undertook an offensive directed primarily at Bulgarian defenses at Dobro Pole. Balkan Breakthrough tells the story of that battle and its consequences. Dobro Pole was the catalyst for the collapse of the Central Powers and the Entente victory in southeastern Europe—a defeat that helped persuade the German military leadership that the war was lost. While decisive in ending World War I in the region, the battle did not resolve the underlying national issues there.

List price: $35.99

Your Price: $28.79

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

9 Slices

Format Buy Remix

1 Balkan Politics

ePub

By the third quarter of the nineteenth century three national states had emerged in southeastern Europe from the non-national Ottoman Empire. These were Greece, Romania, and Serbia. All three sought to emulate the political and economic success of national states in western Europe. From the onset of their establishment none of these small southeastern European states considered their frontiers to be permanent. All sought to expand into neighboring territories to include greater numbers of their co-nationals in the same state or to conform to romantic notions of medieval predecessors. The Greeks sought all the Aegean Islands, Thessaly, Macedonia, and Thrace, then all under Ottoman control. The Romanians had claims to Habsburg Transylvania and Romanov Besserabia. The Montenegrins and Serbs contested Ottoman territories in Bosnia Hercegovina, Kosovo, and northern Albania. In addition both the Greeks and the Serbs claimed Macedonia as part of their national legacy. Not only were these small states eager to acquire territories from the large dynastic empires that bordered on southeastern Europe, they also increasingly advanced claims that overlapped each other’s national aspirations. The only apparent means of maintaining and forwarding such claims was armed action. In this regard the peoples of southeastern Europe attempted to emulate the successes of the Italians in 1861 and the Germans ten years later. These countries had unified through conflict.

 

2 Balkan Wars

ePub

The Balkan coalition decided to begin the war against the Ottoman Empire in the fall of 1912. The allies wanted to start the war before the Ottomans could end their war with Italy and bring additional troops to southeastern Europe. Each member of the Balkan coalition conducted a separate action against the Ottomans with particular aims. The Balkan allies had considerable forces at their disposal. The Bulgarians called upon 350,000 men, the Greeks 100,000, and the Serbs 230,000.1 The Montenegrins had little more than a militia of around 50,000 men. The Greeks alone had a navy of some strength. The Ottomans also had a navy. Ground forces amounted to 280,000 men, but potential could grow to 450,000.2

The first of the Balkan allies to act was Montenegro. King Nikola opened the First Balkan War on 8 October 1912. The Montenegrin declaration of war alerted the Ottomans to the pending conflict in the Balkans. They hurried to conclude the war with Italy. The Italians and Ottomans signed the Treaty of Ouchy, near Lausanne, Switzerland, on 15 October.

 

3 The Establishment of the Macedonian Front

ePub

The defense of Serbia in 1914 was a rare early success for the Entente. Despite having deflected three Austro-Hungarian invasions, Serbia remained vulnerable to additional attacks from the Central Powers. Manpower and resources, depleted in the fighting in 1912–13, had scarcely recovered from the combats against Austria-Hungary. Meanwhile typhus and cholera, which originally had developed during the fighting in 1912 and had spread through military movement and refugees, proliferated throughout the country. Serbia’s Entente allies paid little initial attention to the situation in southeastern Europe. The entry of the Ottoman Empire into the war on the side of the Central Alliance on 14 November 1914 and the military woes of Russia on the Eastern Front were far more significant. In an effort to deal with both of these issues, the Entente, at the instigation of British First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, undertook a campaign to open a warm-water route to Russia and to force the Ottomans out of the war. After an initial attempt to force the Dardanelles, the water connection between the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, failed, the Entente landed British, French, and ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand) forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915 in an effort to clear the Ottoman defenses. Because of Russian misgivings, the Entente declined Prime Minister Venizelos’s offer of three Greek divisions for the operation. The Russians did not want to share control of Constantinople with the Greeks or with the British and French. The near seizure of the old imperial city by the Bulgarians in November 1912 had made the Russians skittish. In any event, neither the Germanophile Greek King Constantine nor the Greek army had little interest in participating in this venture.1 Consequently, as a result of the failure of his pro-Entente policy, Venizelos stepped down as prime minister on 6 March 1915. The Gallipoli venture caused both warring sides to increase their attentions on southeastern Europe.

 

4 Development of the Macedonian Front

ePub

The formation of the Macedonian Front, like that of the Western and Eastern Fronts, during the First World War, was accidental. Neither the Central Powers nor the Entente had anticipated establishing a line of conflict along the Greek frontier with Bulgaria and Serbian Macedonia. Both maintained forces along this front as a means of preventing the other side from employing those troops and military resources elsewhere. The Greeks interposed some military units along their frontier in between the two hostile forces to maintain the illusion of their sovereignty.

At a Central Alliance military conference on 5 January 1916 in Niš, Bulgarian military and government leaders met with von Falkenhayn and the superfluous Kaiser Wilhelm. General Zhekov insisted upon an attack on Salonika to expel the Entente troops. Neither Tsar Ferdinand nor Prime Minister Radoslavov supported him.1 No important decisions ensued from these talks. Afterward Zhekov persisted in raising the issue during the subsequent visit of the German kaiser to Bulgaria, but to no avail. Von Falkenhayn insisted that the upcoming offensive at Verdun precluded an effort in Macedonia. Zhekov later dismissed this as an “excuse” to cover the “family politics” of the Germans toward the Greek king.2 Even so, the Central Powers managed to reach some agreement on the Greek issue. On 6 January 1916, the representatives of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Germany in Athens informed the Greek government that their armies intended to cross the Greek frontier.3 Although initially the Greeks agreed to this demarche, the evacuation of Gallipoli provided the Entente with reinforcements for Salonika, and distractions at Verdun prevented the immediate implementation of this threat. It was not implemented. The Germans did attack Salonika from the air. On the night of 31 January, a German zeppelin bombed the port area of the city, killing one British, one French, and one Greek soldier and eleven civilians, and destroying a bank.4 Within a month, Entente flyers were bombing Bulgarian installations on the other side of the Greek frontier. By April they were even flying over Sofia, dropping leaflets and a few bombs.

 

5 The Lull

ePub

For the Bulgarians, the results of the 1916 campaign in Macedonia were decidedly mixed. They had advanced in eastern Macedonia, and they had, despite considerable losses in territory and manpower, managed to hold on against a strong Entente offensive in central Macedonia. Their position north of Bitola was less than ideal. The Entente forces were well established across the Cherna Bend. The Bulgarians had noted, however, rumors that the British wanted to withdraw from Salonika.1 The prospect of a British withdrawal and the ending of the Salonika operation was more than merely rumor. The British were pressing their French allies to abandon the Bitola salient, and even to end the Salonika operation.2 Yet the Central Powers had no plans to take advantage of the Entente discord. Because manpower and material resources were limited, they adopted a defensive stance along the Macedonian Front in 1917.

Adding to the Bulgarian material burden were significant numbers of prisoners of war. By the summer of 1917 the Bulgarians had at least 12,000 Serbs and 2,000–3,000 pro-Venizelos Greeks.3 There were also British, French, Romanians, and Russians among these prisoners. The Bulgarians employed many of them in agricultural and mining activities throughout Bulgaria. Their exact number remains obscure. Another distraction during in February and March was an uprising in the Morava region of Serbia, occupied by Bulgarian soldiers. This Serbian revolt forced the Bulgarians to transfer temporarily some units from the Macedonian and Romanian Fronts.4 By the end of March, the Bulgarians, together with some Austro-Hungarian and German troops, had suppressed the Morava revolt.

 

6 The Erosion of the Bulgarian Army

ePub

At the beginning of the war Bulgarian morale was largely positive. While the Bulgarians were not enthusiastic to be at war again so soon after the Balkan Wars, they were grimly determined to rectify the injustices they perceived to be the consequence of the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest. Nevertheless, after a year of military success the mood in Bulgaria remained fairly good. A German report from June 1916 noted:

Undoubtedly public opinion in Bulgaria, which at the beginning of the war was for the most part pro-Russian, has changed. It has become clear to countless observers, who over the past two years here from informal conversations with all strata of people, from soldiers’ letters, from political literature indicate that the majority of the people are convinced of the correctness of the policies of the Central Powers.1

Even so there was dissension in the Bulgarian ranks from the start. At the beginning of the war several instances of antiwar activity had occurred within the army, and a military court sentenced at least seventeen soldiers to death.2 From the beginning of 1916 to 1 July 1917 the Entente command in Salonika counted 11,370 deserters from all the Central Powers forces on the Macedonian Front, including Austro-Hungarians, Bulgarians, Germans, and Turks.3 Bulgarians undoubtedly were the majority of these soldiers. Probably many of these Bulgarians were from the mixed ethnic areas overrun the during the autumn 1915 campaign. This meant they were from Macedonia, but had been drafted into the Bulgarian Army after 1915. For many of these soldiers national identity had little to do with their efforts to escape the fighting.

 

7 Breakthrough

ePub

By the end of the summer of 1918, conditions on the Macedonian Front had worsened considerably for the Central Powers. The great influenza epidemic had caused some physical and morale problems among the Bulgarian soldiers.1 Much to the dismay of the Bulgarian command, the Germans had withdrawn considerable numbers of troops and weapons to use in the great offensives on the Western Front. At the same time, the material condition of the Bulgarians deteriorated to an appalling degree.

The morale problem in the Bulgarian army did not escape the notice of the Entente forces in Macedonia. A French report dated 15 September noted, “the Bulgarian people and army are overcome with a desire for peace, increased by a determined hatred of the Germans and Turks.”2 Deserters reported that many soldiers believed that the Bulgarian government would make peace on 15 September. This was the anniversary of the initial mobilization in 1915. Nor were the Germans oblivious to the morale problems in the Bulgarian army. A German report of 10 August indicated that the influence of Aleksandŭr Stamboliski’s antiwar Agrarian Party had grown very strong at the front. The same report noted, however, that despite the overwhelming war weariness, neither the tsar nor the government intended at that point to seek a separate peace. The reported cautioned, “The picture could change, if the Tsar and government, despite their good intentions, face opposition and lose courage to continue the war. Unfortunately we need to keep such an eventuality in mind, so that we do not have to reorient our affairs at the last possible moment.”3 The war-weary situation on the Macedonian Front and throughout Bulgaria was obvious to the Germans. The report implied that an Entente military effort could knock Bulgaria out of the war. By the end of the summer of 1918 Bulgaria, like all the other Central Powers, was at the end of its ability to wage war.

 

8 Collapse

ePub

While the fighting raged at Doiran, to the west French and Serbian forces continued to advance through the gap in the Bulgarian lines opened at Dobro Pole. The Serbian First Army captured bridges over the Cherna at Rasim Bey and established positions on the other side of the river on 18 September. This placed the Serbian First Army in position to threaten the eastern flank of German Eleventh Army and its headquarters in Prilep. In the east, a French and Greek force captured the Dzena ridge, which dominated the eastern side of the bulge the Entente breakthrough had forced in the Bulgarian lines.1 The efforts of General von Reuter’s replacement division to plug the gap created by the collapse of the 2nd Thracian Division and to hold the line failed. On 18 September, General Todorov ordered the 3rd Balkan Division to new positions southwest of the Vardar River.2 This retreat severed the 3rd Balkan Division from its direct connection with the 2nd Thracian Division and from the rest of the Eleventh Army. Meanwhile the Serbian Second Army raced for Gradsko, on the Salonika-Skopie railroad and just above where the Cherna flows into the Vardar. Because of its location astride the lines of communication, the control of Gradsko was critical for both sides. For the Bulgarians and Germans, Gradsko was vital for continued connection between the First and Eleventh Armies. For the Entente, control of Gradsko would provide their forces with access to the Vardar Valley and the railroad that could accelerate their progress toward Skopie and points further north.

 

9 Conclusion

ePub

The First World War continued the cycle of war that had begun in southeastern Europe as the inhabitants of the region attempted to form national states on the western European model. The fighting during this cycle grew to include not only the peoples of southeastern Europe themselves, beginning in 1912, but by 1914 also forces from all of the Great Powers.

At the center of much of the fighting was Bulgaria. Bulgaria’s defeat in the Balkan War caused great frustration. Especially galling was the failure to secure the main goal of Bulgarian irredentia, Macedonia. Greece and Serbia had divided the Macedonian spoils. When the Great Powers became involved in the fighting in 1914, Bulgaria’s strategic location, astride lines of communication for the Central Powers and proximate to Constantinople and the Straits for the Entente, made it a valuable potential ally for both sides. Hoping to realize the nationalist objectives thwarted by their defeat in the Balkan Wars, the Bulgarians entertained proposals from both sides. Those from the Central Powers, which promised the immediate occupation of Macedonia, proved to be the most appealing. This provided the most direct means to rectify the injustice of the 1913 Bucharest Treaty. The Bulgarians eagerly entered the war on 11 October and joined the Austro-Hungarian and German offensive against Serbia. They quickly overran Macedonia. To their astonishment and dismay, the Bulgarians found that the conquest of Macedonia involved them in fighting not only the anticipated Serbian enemy but also Great Power forces from France and Great Britain. The previous spring these same powers had attempted to offer Bulgaria at least a portion of Macedonia as an incentive to join the Entente. The Bulgarian army commander, General Zhekov, insisted in the fall of 1915 to his German allies that they should eliminate the threat posed by the Entente armies in Salonika. The Germans, however, preferred to contain the Entente armies to prevent their use elsewhere. Also the Germans did not want to undercut the neutral policies of Greek King Constantine. By the summer of 1916 the balance of forces had tipped in favor of the Entente. Additional troops arrived from Italy and Russia. Also the Serbian army, after being refurbished, joined the Entente forces. Anticipation over the entry of Romania into the war on the side of the Entente was the catalyst to provoke simultaneous initiatives from both sides at the end of the summer of 1916. The Bulgarians advanced from the western and eastern flanks into northern Greece. In the east they occupied western Thrace against little Greek and Entente resistance. In the west they reached Florina. The Entente offensive, launched in support of Romania, pushed the Bulgarian western flank back as far as Bitola. Both sides had made gains and sustained losses. During 1917 both sides remained relatively quiet. The Entente lost effective use of the Russian contingent due to the turmoil of the Russian Revolutions. It gained, however, the use of a united Greek army after ousting King Constantine and imposing a Greek unity government on Athens. Circumstances for the Bulgarian soldiers on the Macedonian Front began to erode. In the summer of 1918 the Entente prepared again to achieve a settlement on the Macedonian Front.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000031482
Isbn
9780253004116
File size
3.56 MB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata