Κυριακή 9 Σεπτεμβρίου 2018

Living in the Birdcage, Salonika 1916

Birdcage front salonika 1916

Birdcage front, salonika 1916
At the beginning of January 1916, 10th Division including the 6th and 7th Dublins had withdrawn from the mountains to Salonika. The first 4 months of 1916 were taken up with fortifying the city of Salonika.
Reinforcements — British, French, and French Colonials — arrived in a steady stream. By the end of the winter there were some 300,000 men on the Salonika front. Meanwhile there was little to be done but train and await the possibilities of a spring offensive. The lines stretched along the Vardar for some fifteen miles from its mouth. All this sector was held by French troops. Towards the mouth the country is marshy and not many men were needed to guard this part of the line. Further north the lines were held more strongly, and Sarrail also threw a covering force across the river and held an advanced front some six miles to the west of it. Some distance to the north of Topshin the line turned at right angles east and ran almost direct across the neck of the peninsula to the Gulf of Orfano, which was reached near Stavros. This part of the line was assigned to the British. The position was naturally strong. A large part of it was defended by the Daud Baba and other hills which cover Salonika from the north. Farther east the two lakes of Langhaza and Beshik G61 protected over 20 miles of the British front. The defences of Salonika were a formidable problem to any attacking force. Farther north, too, the Allied outposts held the hilly country between Lakes Doiran and Butkovo
But during the first four months of 1916 training and road-making were the main occupations of the expeditionary force during these months. The roads, as almost everywhere where the Turk misgoverned, were few, and, in general, deplorably bad, although since 1909 a few improvements had been planned and begun. Under the superintendence of British and French engineers the country assumed a new aspect. Before the end of 1915 there were already a number of miles of new roads round Salonika. By the end of April the number was enormously greater. Light railways were laid down, and the question of transport assumed a less hopeless aspect. For the soldiers it was a cheerless time. The country in which they were camped was swampy and sparsely inhabited. In the neighbourhood of the lakes and rivers it was malarial and later on fever was extremely prevalent.
The climate, with its violent changes during daytime and night, was a treacherous one. Up in the Macedonian hills the winter was intensely cold with heavy snowfalls. Down in the plains the temperature ranged from an average of 81 deg. Fahr. in midsummer to a minimum of 14 F. in winter. To the " Mistral " of Southern France correspond the "Vardar winds," which are particularly unpleasant during the winter months and piercingly cold. They sometimes last four or five days and make life round Salonika exceedingly un- attractive. The extremes of temperature were found very trying by the British troops. Housed in brown canvas tents it was difficult for them to keep warm in this cheerless, damp cold. Yet, on the whole, the winter was a better time than summer, which brought the flies and mosquitoes and let loose malaria on the unacclimatised foreigner. The British troops put up with these hardships with characteristic stoicism.
January 16, 1916, General Sarrail , commanding the Franch forces, was appointed supreme commander of the Allied armies in Macedonia. (Till then the British contingent, under General Sir Bryan Mahon, had been independent of General Sarrail and subject only to the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Medite ranean Expeditionary Force, who was General Sir C. C. Monro, till January 9, when he was succeeded by Sir Archibald Murray).
February 3 advanced French frontier posts had a slight skirmish with Bulgarians near Lake Doiran.
February 10 General Sarrail took the precaution of occupying the right bank of the Vardar to a depth of six miles to guard against the danger of a surprise attack from the Monastir direction. Along the frontier the Greek and Bulgarian Governments mapped out a neutral zone to obviate incidents such as had occurred in December at Koritsa.
March 1 The neutral zone was violated by Bulgarian raiders at Machukovo
March 18 Bulgarians again violated neutral zone at Vetren
March 21 French troops undertake the task of expelling the invaders.
March 27 the French frontier guards were joined by British cavalry. These had a considerable amount of patrolling work to do, in the course of which chance encounters with roving Uhlans provided excitement akin to that of the old contests of the English and Scottish Border. As spring came on these skirmishes became more frequent and were supplemented by artillery duels along the frontier line.
April 18 the enemy carried out a more ambitious raid, destroying ten bridges on the railway between Doiran and Akinjali. But until the end of April there had been little serious righting except in the air.

quinine parade
May 26, a Bulgarian force suddenly advanced on the town of Rupel and the Greek Commandant surrendered this strongest of Greek fortresses after a merely nominal resistance. The key of the Struma valley was in Bulgaria's hands.
June 3 General Sarrail had now a considerable army — French, British, and Serbian — under his command and could afford to occupy a wider front and prepare for an offensive in the summer. It was arranged that Lieutenant-General G. F. Milne (who on May 9 succeeded Sir Bryan Mahon in the command of the British Salonika Army) should become responsible for that portion of the Allied front which covered Salonika from the east and north-east.
struma line 1916
June 8 the British troops began to occupy advanced positions along the right bank of the Struma from Lake Butkovo to the north end of Lake Tachinos. By the end of July, on the demobilization of the Greek Army, this occupation had been extended to Chai Agiz (" The River Mouth"), where the Struma flows into the Gulf of Orfano. Later on — between July 20 and August 2 — General Milne took over the line south and west of Lake Doiran in preparation for a general offensive.
August 17 the enemy armies invaded Greece in three main groups. On the eastern sector they advanced south from Demirhissar, the Greek troops withdrawing before them. The Greek forts of Lise and Starshiste were surrendered on demand, no resistance being offered.
August 19 the enemy communiques announced that the Vrundi Balkan (or Sharliya Planina) had been crossed. The Bulgarian armies were advancing on Seres. The allies withdrew to the right bank of the Struma. On August 21 the Anghista bridge on the Seres-Drama line was demolished by British yeomanry, engineers and cyclists in the face of the enemy's opposition, but after this operation no further obstacle was put in the way of the Bulgarian invasion of Eastern Macedonia. The British forces withdrew to the Struma-Lake Tachinos line, and left to the Greek armies garrisoning the country the task of dealing with the invader.
September 10 the Struma, which had served as a line of defence, was crossed by General Milne's troops both south and north of Lake Tachinos. Between the Lake and the Gulf of Orfano they occupied the " New Village " (Neokhori or Yeni Kioi). To the north they crossed at various points between Lake Butkovo and Lake Tachinos. Some small villages were occupied, and the Northumberland Fusiliers drove the Bulgarians out of Nevoljen, inflicting severe losses on the enemy The British troops subsequently withdrew as pre- arranged. Five days later the offensive was renewed. British forces seized the villages of Kato (or Lower) Ghoudheli, Jami Mah, Ago Mah and Komarian, and burnt them to the ground.
September 11 to 13 General Milne began a heavy bombardment of the German salient north of Macukovo, known as " The Machine Gun Knob."
September 13-14 the King's Liverpool Regiment and Lancashire Fusiliers stormed and occupied the enemy's position at Macukovo, killed over 200 Germans and captured 71. The work was, however, exposed to the enemy's artillery fire, and in face of his attacks in superior force it was found necessary to retire after a successful demonstration. The rest of the fighting on this sector consisted chiefly of raids on the enemy's trenches, but throughout the next two months these operations had great value in detaining considerable forces of the enemy which might otherwise have been available for the defence of Monastir. an enemy superior in nunbers along the whole line of front during the operations which culminated in the capture of Monastir. After that the lack of metalled roads and the heavy rain and snow storms precluded extensive or continuous activities.
September 23, in spite of a sudden rise of three feet in the river, which hampered bridging operations, a crossing was again effected and the villages and trenches occupied by the enemy were raided. Valuable reconnaissance work was effected. As the big Allied advance on Monastir proceeded it was found necessary to increase our activities on the Struma front.
September 29-30 Taking full advantage of the superiority in artillery fire which the high ground on the right bank allowed, General Milne threw considerable forces across the river, over which the Royal Engineers had succeeded in constructing bridges. At dawn the Gloueesters and Cameron Highlanders advanced, and by 8 a.m. had won the village of Karaja Kioi Bala. On their left the other two battalions of the brigade — Royal Scots and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders — pushed on in spite of " heavy and accurate " enemy artillery fire, and by 5.30 had occupied Karaja Kioi Zir.
September 30 and October 1 The Bulgarians' repeated attempts to regain these two villages and failed
October 2 the position had been consolidated.
October 3 Next day an infantry brigade composed of the Munsters and Dublins attacked and seized Yenikoi on the main road to Seres. Here they were exposed to fierce bombardments and counter-attacks, in which six or seven enemy battalions participated. In spite of their efforts, however, the Bulgarians failed to recover Yenikoi and fresh reinforcements secured the village for the British. A full account of the capture of the village of Yenikoi is given here. The 6th and 7th Dublins and Munsters were at the front line and were ordered to take the village of Jenikoj. They were successful and advanced, then being caught between their own artillery and the Bulgarians' counterattack. Confused orders meant that some men were withdrawn, others remained and the exhausted soldiers were again sent to retake the village. The total casualties in the 30th Brigade were 385 men killed, wounded or missing; 131 were 6th Dublins and 128 were 7th Dublins.
During the period from the 30th September to the 6th October 1916, when the 10th Division was in action, the admittance to hospital figures for the operation were: Wounded 836. Sick (Malaria) 554. Total 1,390.
October 4 Next morning the attack was carried out by the two Dublin battalions, now reorganized, the Royal Irish Rifles on the left, and the Composite Battalion on the right advancing in support.  The village was taken for the third time, on this occasion without opposition.  Work upon the consolidation of the new position, in both front line and support, was at once begun. Our barbed wire is up, and we are devoting long hours to the task of ridding the neighbouring country of the heaps of Bulgar dead. They are everywhere, in ditches, outside the houses in the far end of the village, on the Seres Road and all over the Plain. It is a disagreeable task, this disposal of the carnage, but it has to be done. The still sadder one of burying our own was soon over, for the number of our dead was wonderfully small, compared to the losses in killed which had been inflicted on the enemy.
October 5, after a bombardment, the village of Nevolien was occupied, the Bulgarian garrison retiring on the approach of our infantry. By the following evening the front extended from Komarjan on the right via Yenikoi to Elisan on the left.
October 7 a strong reconnoissance by mounted troops located the enemy on the Demir Hissar-Seres railway, with advanced posts approximately on the line of the Belica stream and a strong garrison in Barakli Djuma.
October 8, 1916, our troops had reached the line Agomah-Homondos-Elisan-Ormanli, with the mounted troops on the line Kispeki-Kalendra. The enemy's casualties during these few days were heavy.
October 9 6th Dublin Fusiliers relieved in the front line by Royal Irish Rifles.  Large numbers were now rejoining from hospital, and the sick-list was falling rapidly as the troops became to some extent acclimatized, and - still more important - as the temperature fell. 
October 11 29th Brigade was restored to its basis of four battalions. 
October 12 the Crown Prince of Serbia visited Jenikoj and the trenches in its vicinity and congratulated the troops upon their advance. 
October 31, a new Bulgarian defensive position in the large village of Barakli-Djuma, on the low ground near Butkova Lake, was successfully carried and 350 prisoners were taken. The whole country was waterlogged and the streams inordinately swollen. On the Strumna front during the same period successful laids were carried through by the Welsh and 12th Cheshire Regiments ; Kumli and Barakli villages were taken ; the Dublin Fusiliers captured the whole garrison at Prosenik. Prosenik was an important town on the railway, boasting some very fine houses, to say nothing of two large churches and a school. The Dublins captured it . In the hills beyond, the Bulgars were engaged in digging a regular maze of defences.
November 1 we captured Barakli Djuma, six miles south-west of Demir Hissar, taking over three hundred prisoners, and strengthened our hold on the railway north of Seres.
November 5 Nevoljen'tto the west) was again occupied,
November 8 the British forces were in possession of the line Ago Mah-Omondhos- Elishan-Ormanlu, the cavalry holding an advanced line Kispeki-Kalendhra. Not only had the enemy been pushed back, but had lost at least 1,500 men lulled, 375 prisoners and 3 machine-guns. In the opinion of General Milne the success of these operations " was due to the skill and decision with which they were conducted by Lieutenant-General C. J. Briggs, C.B., and to the excellent cooperation of all arms."
But the floods of the Struma, the wintry weather, and the strength of the enemy prevented us from undertaking any larger movement. In artillery work we had shown ourselves conspicuously superior to the Bulgarians, and our activity of the autumn won us immunity from attack during the winter trench warfare. The British had performed the task assigned to them, and immobilized Todorov while Sarrail's left wing was creeping nearer to Monastir.
british battleship off salonika
British battleship off Salonika

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